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Having Trouble Promoting Yourself? Try an Alter-Ego to Land a Job

Photo courtesy of Gwenael Piaser from flickr open source (NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic: http://bit.ly/1AQcsqF).

Photo courtesy of Gwenael Piaser from flickr open source (NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic: http://bit.ly/1AQcsqF).

Chuck Lorre is a television producer who struck gold as the writer and creator of Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. Despite his overwhelming career success, the 62-year-old producer suffers from “imposter syndrome,” a psychological phenomenon where people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. In a 2012 interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Lorre admitted when he writes a script that “stinks” he feels like a fraud, and needs to go and hide. The phenomenon is prevalent among high achievers. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg even discusses the problem with Oprah.

If we turn the imposter syndrome around for the purpose of job seeking, we have the idea of building up confidence. It is a way to mentally push past the hesitancy of many job seekers to fully promote themselves during the job search. When it comes to searching for a job, many candidates don’t promote themselves nearly enough. Many people balk at the idea self-promotion, and it is easier to talk about the value someone else brings to a future employer than it is to talk about oneself.

As a career coach, I see the connection between people who fail to portray their value as an employee and their lack of career advancements. I also saw as a recruiter that the job didn’t always go the highest qualified candidate. It went to the candidate who was able to build rapport and promote their value. These candidates often negotiated a salary higher than what we were told was “possible.” The prevalent tendency of job seekers is to shy away from self-promotion. It becomes much more difficult to advance your career, or make a job transition if recruiters don’t know about your skills or how you could bring value to their company. Learning to promote yourself means that employers will know the potential value you bring to their organization. Self-promoters understand being able to communicate their abilities, skills, and value as a worker are essential to taking their career to the next level. If you are feeling uncomfortable with the idea of self-promotion, perhaps just consider it a change in your promotional tactics. The trick: create an alter-ego that is your agent and will promote your value.

Consider this 2014 report on NPR: Emily Amanatullah, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, realized negotiation tactics were a difficult subject for women to master. She ran an experiment where she had both men and women negotiate starting salaries for themselves and on behalf of someone else. The results were telling. The women who negotiated salaries for themselves asked for an average of $7000 less than the men. However, the women often negotiated for better starting salaries if they did so on behalf of a friend. Creating an alter-ego to self-promote during a career transition could go a long way toward getting that advancement. If it is easier to advocate for a friend, then why not become that friend?

An alter-ego, or second self has been used by figures throughout history. Many people have used alter-egos to keep their true identities secret, or to compartmentalize difficult opinions or actions. One of the most famous alter-egos of today is Stephen Colbert. In the satirical The Colbert Report, he is an outspoken rightwing pundit. The real Stephen Colbert is very private, claims to be less political and his true personality isn’t very well known. For our purposes an alter-ego would be an idealized version of yourself who constantly promotes your skills and value during the job seeking process.

Self-Promotion Matters:

In my article, “Why some people never get ahead” I wrote about why the lack of self-promotion can cause people to stagnate in their careers. If you’re uncomfortable with letting others know about your tremendous value as an employee, your professional network won’t take notice. The way you portray yourself to your networks can inspire people to make introductions that may lead to enticing job offers. For employers, you could be the solution to their problems. If you’re not out there promoting yourself, not only do you miss an opportunity to advance, but the employer misses an opportunity to secure great talent.

Avoid the mindset that simply keeping your head down and working hard will bring you the advancements you seek. Michael Cruse’s article “The importance of self-promotion in your career,” points out that employees seeking a promotion must act on their own behalf. It is rare that someone in a position to promote you will act as a personal champion for you, especially if they don’t know you’re seeking a promotion. Millionaire author T. Harv Eker writes about the people who believe talent alone is enough to bring them success in his book, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind. Here is a very poignant excerpt: “You’re probably familiar with the saying ‘Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.’ Well, that’s only true if you add five words: ‘if they know about it.’” Sheryl Sandberg has stated in her book, Lean In, that an internal sponsor is critical to success. It is great to have someone willing to vouch for you, but you also have to be your own sponsor.

In short, self-promotion is the life blood of career advancement.

Creating a self-promoting alter-ego:

How do you create an alter-ego that is your agent? Imagine that it’s not you you’re promoting, but the solution that you provide, on behalf of someone else. That “someone else” could be your child, spouse, other family member, or a friend. Think of your best qualities, skills and talents as theirs, and formulate a plan to promote them. For example, if you’re a project manager, imagine talking up those achievements to get your friend promoted. If the idea of being a family member or friend is too abstract, try simple role-playing. Create an idealized version of yourself, freed from the shackles of your own limitations. You want to come as close to perfection as possible, and you are brimming with endless possibilities. Nothing is beyond your reach. You want everyone to know great this person is, and how they are the solution to employer’s problem. Even the greatest performers have created alter-egos for themselves!

When it comes to the job transition you first have to become your own best advocate. Sometimes it is necessary to create an alter-ego in order to promote yourself. Friends, family and professionals in your network may recommend you, but those introductions will only go so far. And while they love you and want what’s best for you, they won’t even know what to say about you to help you in an optimal way until you can articulate even to them what value you present to your future employer. No one can demonstrate your value to employers, except for you. Self-promotion is the key to moving forward in your career and your finances. Imagine the ultimate version of YOU. The rock star you. The version of you interviewed by Katie Couric. The version of you who travels to exotic places and can make heads turn at a gala. You ARE the center of attention and everyone wants you as the solution to their problems.

Get into the groove of your alter-ego:

Here’s an exercise for you after you’ve created an alter-ego. Create a list of five people who fascinate you and embody the qualities that you most admire. Now, share some of the characteristics of your alter-ego. Does your alter-ego have high energy? Could he or she get a crowd to clap along with you? Is your alter-ego the cool and mysterious type? And most importantly, how do you get into your alter-ego state before show time?

Ziggy Stardust | David Bowie

Song: Ziggy Stardust / David Bowie Footage taken from BBC 4’s documentary, The Story of Ziggy Stardust

I almost toured with Kings of Leon

Harpers Ferry circa 2007

Harpers Ferry circa 2007

I’ve been in the same band with the same musicians for 13 years. Amy and Anthony D. joined Harpers Ferry in 2000, which was the same year that I met my husband, Tim. I was finally gaining confidence as a singer. I found my voice. But I also found the love of my life. My aspirations of stardom and life on the road had waned.

So a couple months before Tim and I were engaged, when a creepy little manager of a less-than-known-to-me band came into a small Irish restaurant and bar on the back end of King of Prussia and offered me the chance to go on tour with his band, I passed.

I felt like a traitor to my band even sitting with them, since the manager was trying to tell me that his band was a “real” band. They were selling out arenas in Europe. “Okay, so what are they doing here?” I didn’t ask. But we did confirm that the dates coincided with a show that they had done in Philly, so they were probably on their way to their next show. We also later confirmed that this band, Kings of Leon, was indeed selling out arenas in Europe and, what do you know, happened to be the “next big thing,” as the creepy manager had proclaimed.

In the corporate world, you are expected to have at least 48 hours to consider a serious job opportunity, perhaps up to a week if you have to relocate. In the entertainment industry, it’s speak now or forever hold your peace. Though I had humbly turned down the offer that night, I took his number and called him several days later. After I had time to think about it, I considered myself foolish for eliminating that possibility for me. After all, how many people would DIE for that opportunity, whether the band was on their way to US fame or just performing to European crowds of 30,000. By that time, he was probably like, “What chick from what bar? That was five cities ago. Moving on.” I never got a call back.

I told myself that I was at peace with this decision. I had a job that I’ve finally loved in recruiting. I had a boyfriend I was sure would be my husband. I had a band that I loved like a family and enjoyed playing with.

I recently finished the book Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. There is a chapter on how women scale back there career ambitions years before they have to in anticipation of a future family. Lucky for one of my clients, I learned a lot from this decision. She started a new job a couple weeks ago, and is expecting. When she came to me, she highly doubted that in her “condition” she would be employable by anyone else. However she could not continue to work under the current extensive travel conditions of her job, and future potential was limited by a recent acquisition. Though she is finding that on-boarding in a new job while growing a human being inside you is duly exhausting, as Sheryl Sandberg explains, when she returns from maternity leave, she will return to a job that she loves and that fulfills her.

I will always wonder, “What if?” When I hear Kings of Leon on the radio, I will always feel a little haunted. I do consider that the choice was not really between going on tour and staying in recruiting, but rather making a huge career move with a lot of risk, and starting my family. Because I know that my decision led to two beautiful children and hundreds of clients since then who have improved their careers and their lifestyles for the better, I consider that choice a miracle–maker.

Point being, don’t limit your opportunity by what you think might happen in the future. LEAN IN as far as you can for as long as you can.

Can women still be considered a minority?

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While looking into business grants recently, I was asked, “Why are women a minority?” My answer was that it is “obviously” not based on demographic disadvantage, but attitudinal. Since the feminist movement, women have made great strides in professional equality. Their salaries are becoming more comparable. Their management opportunities are becoming more comparable.  Their educational levels are more comparable.

Regardless, speaking as the youngest daughter with two much older big brothers, I was not taught that the world is my oyster. The main message that I took from Catholic grade school was to be meek and humble. I took this to heart when people teased me. My brothers were encouraging me to fight back, but that seemed like something boys do; a good little girl should just absorb it, it seemed, or ignore it, which a sensitive girl just can’t seem to do. It seems that a major component of my professional and personal growth through the years actually depends on UNLEARNING to be meek and humble, and yet still accept myself as a “good girl.”

As a teenager I really related to the No Doubt song “Just A Girl.” My brothers were given many more freedoms. They easily found jobs at 14. With work permit in hand, I applied to practically every food vendor in the mall. I finally was given a job (through my network, even though I would’ve told you that I didn’t have one) at Orange Julius at just shy of 16. Sure, I’d done babysitting, but only while my uncle was home. To be honest, I really didn’t know how to entertain kids; it wasn’t my talent, but it was the only work available to me. Even neighborhood raking and shoveling went to the strapping teenage boys.

Gabby Reese is out there promoting/defending her book, My Foot is Too Big for the Glass Slipper: A Guide to the Less than Perfect Life, in which she admits that, though she is a strong female, the best way to make her household and marriage run smoothly is to assume the submissive role. Meanwhile, Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, points out in her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, that these gender role stereotypes and adopted self-images are what keep women out of the board room and C-level positions.

15-20% of companies have women in C-level positions.

This is the major reason that women remain a minority business owner. Now, the best we can do for each other is to help one another reach for BIG goals, rather than settling for what we can squeeze out of our career with all of our other responsibilities. If you have ideas on how we can do this, please share a comment. In the meantime, I will be following more women on how to have it all and, as usual, I will keep you apprised of what I learn.

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