Developing a Foolish Path to Your Dream Career

TMF-CorpRetreat_1112

Now The Motley Fool’s Chief Communications Officer, Adrienne began her Foolish career 7 years ago as an Executive Assistant. Over her time at FoolHQ, Adrienne has also excelled as a project manager and publisher within our editorial business. She recently spoke on how she shaped her dream career to conference attendees in the executive support field. 

By Adrienne Perryman

“Don’t let him keep you down!”

I emphatically said this with hands on hips – head shake and all – in front of a crowd of 250. The comment, which surprised me as it exited my own mouth, was followed by “I think it’s about time for you to start looking for a new job!” The cheers of the crowd, which was mostly comprised of women in blazers and 1 inch pumps, signified overwhelming agreement.

This kind of support in a public forum would normally be pretty awesome. But it upset me.

Here’s Why:

It’s 2014 – having a boss that won’t let you advance in your career is so out of style, Mr. Executive. And women in support roles, you’re not helping yourself either.

My agitation grew when another woman approached me after my speech with the same issue. And then another. It wasn’t just the one woman in the crowd who felt compelled to speak up about her stubborn, selfish boss who was hesitant to let her take on extra projects for their own selfish reasons. There were many. And I found myself repeating similar advice that I uttered on stage.

“It’s time for you to move on.”

“Find someone who will appreciate your interests and encourage growth.”

I felt like I was giving relationship advice. But these were hard working, eager, smart, educated women – all women – who wanted to know how to convince their bosses that their development is important.

Thankfully, this concept of not being allowed to grow, develop, and eventually move into my dream role is foreign to me. I started as an Executive Assistant at The Motley Fool 7 years ago and, from day one, was encouraged by my boss and co-workers to try new things. To use my position as a launching pad into other areas of the business; learn the business and develop to my full potential; take classes in our internal university; and talk to Fools about my development and how I can progress.

This development approach is unfamiliar to many employees, which seems confusing to me. Similar types of career barriers are a reality for millions worldwide. Why don’t executives realize it’s for their own good that their assistants love working for them, rather than feel hindered by their management?

Attention, Bosses

If you’re a manager of someone…develop them. For goodness sake, don’t hold them back! Would you like that if you were in their position? Encourage it. Incentivize it. I’m confident that if your employee is proactively reaching for more, they’ll go to great lengths to make sure your calendar, project, or needs won’t suffer. You’ll survive. And you might actually have an employee who will work harder for you because they appreciate the opportunity you’ve given them.

Attention! You Own Your Career

If you are stuck under the sticky thumb of your boss, do something about it. Have an honest conversation with your boss about your concerns, and take a plan with you to that meeting to help show them you’re capable of doing more – and that nothing will suffer because of it. Own your career. Don’t wait for someone to wake up to the fact that their style is so outdated. Make the change happen. Be the change you want – or find a new job where your development is a priority.

There’s No Perfect Job Candidate, But There Are Foolish Ones!

Ideal Candidate

Ideal CandidatePeople applying to jobs often go through the string of questions: Did I go to the right school? Did I pick the right major? Did I do the right internships? Does my resume have enough details of what I do? Is my resume too long/too short? Does my cover letter summarize how I can do the job?

In my opinion, there isn’t a right answer to these questions because there is no such thing as the perfect applicant.

Many companies or organizations go down a checklist for candidates:

Bachelors degree – check

Proficiency in office applications – check

3-5 years of experience – check

1-2 years of experience in relevant field – double check

I am happy to say that at The Fool, our checklist is bit different.  Here at The Fool, people come to us from all walks of life.  We have former bartenders and biology teachers turned investors and MMA fighter (Mixed Martial Arts) turned techie. We’ve hired Fools ranging from baristas to Tigger and Goofy from Disneyworld to NASA rocket scientists.  We do things different in all of our business aspects, so why not recruiting?

When you apply to our positions you see that we want cover letters that don’t bore us and we ask questions that aren’t the norm.  Other recruiters might ask how this helps us find the right candidates.  To us, the ideal, not perfect, candidate embodies what we call Foolishness (with a capital F) and these questions let Foolishness shine through!

So how do you prepare to be an ideal candidate?

Some might say that filling out an application or preparing for an interview was a lot easier ten years ago.  The hardest, and most asked, question to prepare for used to be, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”  Today, this question doesn’t carry the relevance it once did.  We’ve become a culture of change; change in what we want to learn and when we want to learn it all the time. Our passions and dreams change and therefore so do our career paths.

The other day I received an email about the 25 strangest interview questions.  The subject said it all…strangest.  There were questions on the more bizarre side of how many cows there are in Canada or estimate how many windows there are in New York to tell us your favorite song and perform it for us.  I often think that the people asking these types of questions are abusing the system. I can tell you I’m an extrovert and I would not get up and perform a song in an interview!

In our applications and interviews, we aren’t trying to embarrass you or make you feel uncomfortable but rather we want to know what makes you…well YOU!  Letting us in, even just a little bit, to see different sides of you is all we want.  How will we know if we want to sit next to you everyday? Or if you might participate in our office banter?

I recently had a friend tell me that she would hate to sit through one of my interviews because she wouldn’t like being put on the spot with some of my questions.  I thought a lot about her comment when I went into my next interview and realized that it really isn’t about what the answer is but more the insight it gives me into the person.  Answering with one word doesn’t provide much to me but answering with something that starts a conversation and shows your interest in something…that is what we want to see!

So next time you’re applying to a job, writing a cover letter, or preparing for interview, think about what makes you you and let that come out!

Surviving the Shift to Growth Mode

A Growing Company

A Growing Company

In the 14 years I’ve been with the Fool I’ve seen us take on a huge amount of capital from venture capitalists, septuple our workforce on a fragile business model, turn around and reduce our workforce seven times after said model collapsed, slowly build a sustainable business model, get to cash flow positive, and, recently, payback our VC’s. All without having to go public or sell the company. In short, we now own our future and are heavily reinvesting back into our business.

Surviving

In our early adolescence we developed habits and behaviors specifically geared towards nurturing our cash machine. Quality, Robustness, Craftsmanship, Uptime, and Process Improvement all mattered. And they still do, but they are the very same behaviors that tend to work against us now in our growth initiatives.

As we seek out new revenue streams, and scale existing ones, we find that it requires a different set of habits and behaviors from our workforce. Move fast, try new things,  try a lot of things, use some duct tape if you have to, are the orders of the day as we look for the next new thing that we hope will delight customers.

We realized quickly that we faced a pretty big cultural behavior challenge. How do we change a workforce of highly skilled craftsmen and women into business thinkers?

Here are a few things we’ve done to address it:

Shout it from the rooftops! – <Insert your best halftime speech here> but make sure it includes a message about how you plan to grow and what new behaviors are needed from your employees. “Win one for the Gipper!”

Get them training – We have a companywide business education program. It teaches business fundamentals and the nitty-gritty of our business model.   Every Fool has to complete it in order to receive a certain percentage of their yearly bonus.

M.V.P. – If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it’s  Minimal Viable Product. Put another way, “What is the bare minimum I need in order to see if my idea has legs?” Your employees should be intimate with the term. BTW product documentation is NOT part of MVP!

Turn the org chart upside down –Change starts from the top. Make sure you have the right players in your leadership ranks.

Incentives – Consider incentive programs for behavioral change.

Coaching – Any kind of change is uncomfortable. Some of your employees may need someone outside of their department to help guide them through it.

Don’t discount the old behaviors – There is a time and place for slow and deliberate just as there is a time and place for fast and furious. Help your employees understand when and where to apply them.

Carefully building robust solutions for unproven products is wasteful until they become…well…proven. Don’t ignore that your workforce needs help understanding this context shift and don’t neglect helping them develop the new behaviors that go along with it.

Setting Goals for the New Year? Let Motivation Lead You to Success!

Goals

GoalsHow do you measure success in exercise? Do you measure it by X amount of pounds or body fat percentage lost? Or by X inches gained/lost, depending on your goal? How do you measure success in business or your personal life? Do you measure it by how many promotions or personal triumphs you’ve achieved? Success is incredibly relative to an individual but one common denominator that (should) define success is your effort level.

I recently read a great article in a popular health magazine, discussing what it takes to reach your absolute max potential in exercise. There is only a fraction of a percentage of folks who tap into their reserve, and literally give everything they have to whatever race, event, max lift, etc., they are attempting to complete. The example they provided was a physical stress test on a treadmill: Imagine you have nodes and a breathing apparatus attached to your body and you’re walking on a treadmill and gradually the doc increases the incline and speed to the point where you’re sprinting “as hard as you can go.” Are you in fact sprinting all out? Most likely, since this is just a stress test, you’d eventually give up as any normal person would. The example continues by asking the client what they would do if they were offered a million dollars to continue for another minute. Everyone in their right mind would do everything in their power to stay running for that extra 60 seconds. My point is that most people find themselves quitting before they really need to; I’m not advocating you push until injury, but there are many levels one can push themselves to between when they’d actually quit and their literal max.

If you aim to reach any of those levels in any aspect of your life, not just exercise, you’ll probably find yourself accomplishing a lot more than you thought was possible. I’ve helped mentor a handful of coworkers who have reached their personal success in very different ways. One Fool had the right mindset and wanted to get super healthy due to a risk of inheriting some unfavorable health traits. We came up with a 6% body fat reduction goal and he surpassed it by providing maximum effort every week, while shifting priorities and changing his lifestyle. Another Fool had a goal of working his dream job at TMF and,since I had recently lived this fantasy a couple years ago, I helped him realize his goal by doing everything in his power to succeed (volunteering on projects, putting in side work to help his cause, etc.) while letting the decision makers do the rest. Both Fools gave their 100% effort without knowing what the results would be. Both Fools happened to succeed.

With 2013 looming, we all have a great chance to start fresh through some New Year’s resolutions. Set yourself a few attainable goals and if you are 100%, without a reasonable doubt, giving your everything, you can live with the results whether good/bad; there is literally nothing else you could have done. Even upon “failing,” you have gained much more through maximum effort in terms of discipline and development. So let’s take 2013 as a time to lose the extra 10 pounds, or foster a better relationship with your coworkers, or spend more quality time with your family. Because if you’re not trying as hard as you can, why waste your energy and try at all?

More Tips on Standing Out in a Sea of Job Candidates

Application Tips

Application TipsI wrote a post last January that generated a lot of traffic – tips on how to get your job applications to stand out. It seems a lot of you are here (rightly so!) to learn about career opportunities and how to get them. Since then, I’ve read through countless more applications and made lots of connections at conferences and networking events. So what else can you do during your job hunt to make it a success?

  1. Make sure you’re applying to the actual job that’s listed. If the opening is, say, for an editor, and you go on and on about how you want to work in market research, you’re not the ideal candidate for this job. It’s better to spend more time on fewer applications and make sure they’re the best they can be and appropriate for the job opening, rather than sending generic applications out to hundreds of places a day. Quality, not quantity.
  2. Do some research about the company you’re applying to. Let them know what you learned in your application. Mention how your skills would fit into the company’s work.
  3. Actually write a cover letter. A real one, not just “I’m applying to this position. You can reach me here.” This is a marketing document. Brag about yourself! List relevant accomplishments! Show the recruiter your personality! An amazing cover letter fills in the gaps on your resume. Are you looking to switch career fields? Your resume will show no relevant experience, but a cover letter can list your transferable skills. Are you a recent graduate just starting your career? Your resume might be a little empty for now, but your cover letter can discuss student leadership roles, volunteer work, and other ways you got experience even though you haven’t held many jobs yet. Trust me – applications with no cover letter get eliminated from consideration immediately at a lot of companies!
  4. Show gratitude. A lot of people helped you get to where you are, so write them a quick thank-you email. The recruiter who interviewed you? Always send a follow up email to thank them for their time and reiterate interest in the job. The person you met through a friend who answered your questions or introduced you to someone who was hiring? Thank them too! No need to send flowers – just a nice, sincere note.

A Problem With Perception

Perception

Perception

There are two things to consider when undergoing any kind of improvement initiative:

  1. The actual improvement.
  2. The perception by others that improvement has happened (or is happening).

Improvement and perception don’t go hand-in-hand. We often expect they do and can get off-put when no one takes notice of the improvements we’ve made. We fail to realize that significant improvement alone usually results in little to no change in others perceiving we’ve made an improvement. This is especially true for anyone trying to change a prickly interpersonal behavior.

Branded

Let’s take “Late Guy.” He’s late to meetings so often that his team just expects him to be late all the time. Some of his team even, in a weird way, root for him to be late in order to play up to his annoying behavior so they can top the most recent “Late Guy” water cooler story.

Parched Pete: “You can NOT believe how late ‘Late Guy’ was today!”

Dehydrated Diane: “Tell me about it. That guy is a hot mess.”

Let’s say “Late Guy” suddenly decided to fix his tardiness problem. How long would it take his team to notice? If he just worked at being on time and not his team’s perception of him being on time, what are the odds that his team would stop rooting for him to be late? When would they stop expecting “Late Guy” and start noticing “On Time Guy”?

Digging Out

So how do you get yourself out of this mess? Here are three things you can do now:

  1. Own the Perception Problem!  Other people’s perceptions of you is Your Responsibility, not theirs.  This means stop looking at other people to blame for not seeing the better you. Look in the mirror, “Billy Blame it All!” It’s time for you to be accountable for how others see you.
  2. Apologize When Necessary.  If what you are trying to improve has affected anyone in a bad way in the past, say you’re sorry. This can quickly stomp out any bad blood from the past and put the focus on an optimistic future.
  3. Tell Everyone and Ask for Help.  Tell your team. Tell your manager. Tell your family. Get it out there. “Hey everyone! I’m trying to get better at X and I need your help.” By doing so, those people are more likely to become problem solvers with you and not a critic of you. They will start looking for the new you in place of the old you and will expect the positive behaviors that come with it.

Conclusion

Take ownership of managing others’ perceptions of you. Don’t let yourself be victimized by them.  Be genuine with yourself and others in resolving to right any bad perceptions and communicate your intent to do so.

This post is largely inspired from something I read in the book Mojo by Marshall Goldsmith. At best this post is a bad representation of a great book, but the book alone has inspired a lot my Coaching career here at the Fool. I highly recommend reading it.