Seneca for the CEO Set

The year:1992
The place: Assumption College, Worcester, MA
The class: Comparative Literature
That is where my love for the classics first began. I can remember sitting in that room like it was yesterday. I had never had a proper introduction to the works of ancient Rome and Greece in high school, so it was up to college to stoke that fire. And it has burned brightly ever since. (OK that make have been a too cheesy a metaphor. Must be an undergrad flashback.) While I went on to become an English teacher, I try to bring in the classics when ever I can.
So it has been heartening to see one of my favorite Roman writers getting his due among the popular blogging set recently.
Seneca seems to be everywhere lately. I read about the value of being alone over at Brain Pickings. Someone tweeted out Tim Ferris’ 2009 posting of On The Shortness of Life, one of Lucius Seneca‘s most famous letters. Then I came across Shane Parrish’s take over at Farnam Street where he has had three different posts on the ancient philosopher since July.
So with all the recent love for the prolific statesman who died nearly 2,000 years ago, I thought I would share some of my own favorite selections. Much of Seneca’s works are particularly relevant to those who aspire to be leaders in the workplace, or the community at large. His advice is simple, timeless and true.
The following all come from Letters From a Stoic, a Penguin Classics edition that still sits on my shelf reminding me of college days gone by.

Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one. People learn as they teach.

Having a support network of mutually accountable peers is one key to future success. Following the advice to surround yourself with people whom you can teach, and in turn learn from, will allow you to grow as a leader. I know it has certainly helped my own career as a teacher and writer.

No one should feel pride in anything that is not his own.

In an era where managers all to often take the credit for work down by those they manage this short piece of advice is sorely needed. If you want those who work for you to feel empowered to take risks and help your department shine, then you need to be prepared to fade into the background and give credit where credit is due.

What is required is not a lot words, but effectual ones. 

And:

As it is with a play, so it is with life—what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. 

After recently reviewing Talk Like Ted, it seems clear that this is something we constantly need to be reminded of. We don’t need to have 60 minute meetings, and endless Power Point presentations don’t have to be the norm just because we’ve always worked that way. The saying, less is more, is a maxim for a reason.
So whether you are an up-and-coming MBA student, or you are a fire-tested CEO, reading a little bit of Seneca now and then is time well spent, and the easy-to-read translation from Penguin, Letters From a Stoic, is a great place to start.
 
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What a Resume is Not

Today let’s focus on what not to do on your resume.

1.A resume is not a biography. You may have had a number of amazing jobs and experiences, but the person reading your resume is not interested in reading your life story.

Save the story-telling session for the Christmas party after you’ve landed the job.

2. A resume is not a work of prose. Many people can write well. Not many people can write resumes well. There is a difference. When writing a resume fancy words and turns of phrase are not much of an advantage. In fact they can actually hurt your chances. Clarity and brevity are key.

Leave your inner Dickens locked up when you sit down to create the documents whose job it is to land you an interview.

3. A resume is not a list of job descriptions. Many people have a tendency to cut and paste their position’ s job description into their resume. I understand why people do this, but it does nothing to sell yourself to potential employers.

Hiring committees already know what the job entails. What they don’t know is how good and innovative you are at doing it. Tell them.

4. A resume is not a four page document. This should be a corollary of number one. Too often people think they have to cram every bit of information about themselves into their resume. A resume is an advertisement, nothing more, nothing less. Give enough information to sell yourself.

5. A resume is not a place to show off your artistic skills. Don’t try to add excessive graphics, pictures or fancy stylings to your resume. More often than not the formatting won’t hold when someone opens it anyway. Simple is always the best choice. Let your words do the work.

6. A resume is not about your hobbies, family, religion, sports etc. This is all just filler that might have worked on your high school resume, but when applying for professional positions they just don’t cut it.

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Want to see how your resume stacks up? I’d be happy to take a look- no strings, just paying it forward.   If you decide you want help? Then we can talk. Shoot me an email today.

Killing PowerPoint: The Future of Public Speaking

It never fails. Every September I get butterflies- make those bats- in my stomach thinking about open house night.  You see, by day I am a mild-mannered English teacher and once a year I have to stand up in front of a room full of adults and tell them what their kids will be learning about in the 8th grade.

Yes, I can hear you now, “But you‘re a teacher. You talk in front of people every day!”  I know; I get it, and it doesn’t change a thing. Teaching kids is easy compared to speaking in front of adults for an introvert like me. However, the next time open house comes around I have a secret weapon in the yearly war against those bats: Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds

A great handbook for those who need to improve their public speaking skills-

-in other words, all of us.

According to Carmine Gallo, the author of Talk Like TED, ideas and information are the currency of the twenty-first century business world. If you want to succeed you need to be able to persuasively present yourself and your ideas. This, in all probability, is the single greatest skill that will help you accomplish your career goals.

Gallo’s Premise
As Daniel Pink says in To Sell Is Human, “Like it or not, we are all in sales now,” and according to Gallo TED has perfected the art of selling yourself and your ideas in the public presentation.

For the uninitiated TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. It began as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design were covered, hence TED. However, today the topics covered cross a wide array of disciplines.

One of the tenets of TED is that people remember best when presented material in threes. When one goes beyond this they tend to have a hard time synthesizing content. Gallo seems to have taken his own advice as he breaks the TED formula down into three parts, Emotional, Novel and Memorable. Each part is then broken down into three sections.

Gallo’s Proof
He spends the first third of the book discussing how to make an emotional impact on listeners. In doing so he mentions something I have often found instrumental in teaching students the art of persuasion, the Aristotelian Triangle.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle is one of the founding fathers of communication theory. He believed persuasion occurs when three components are represented: ethos, logos and pathos. Ethos is credibility. We tend to agree with people whom we respect for their achievements, title, experience,etc. Logos is the means of persuasion through logic, data and statistics. Pathos is the act of appealing to the emotions.

Gallo goes on to break down different popular and successful TED talks to determine what percent of each presentation focuses on these three key areas. Not surprisingly he finds pathos to be the dominant component taking up 65% of most speeches.

Career lesson:  Business presentations tend to focus primarily on logos- facts, figures, data, the stuff PowerPoint is made of. Don’t forget that you are talking to people, not machines, and people respond to emotion.

Part two of Talk Like TEDrevolves around the concept of novelty- in the sense of being new, original or unusual. Gallo shows that the most successful presentations are the one where the listeners are taught something new or are shocked into engaging with the presentation.

One way that he recommends a speaker engages the audience is through a Jaw-Dropping Moment.

 The jaw-dropping moment in a presentation is when the presenter delivers a shocking, impressive, or surprising moment that is so moving and memorable; it grabs the listener’s attention, and is remembered long after the presentation is over…[These] create what neuroscientists call and emotionally charged event, a heightened state of emotion that makes it more likely your audience will remember your message and act on it.

He goes on to present quite a few examples of just how this can be incorporated into a presentation, from using awe inspiring statistics, to humor, to props.

Career lesson:  In order to grab the room’s attention, try to lead with something that provides a shock-and-awe element. As long as you can then connect it to the premise of your presentation you will have gone a long way to ensuring your message is remembered.

The final third of the book discusses how to be truly memorable. Gallo spends a fair amount of time detailing the science behind why 18 minutes is the optimum length of time for a presentation, and this confirms what my experience in the classroom has shown to be true. After 20 minuted minds begin to wander.

Another thing that causes minds to wander will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever attended a work-related conference- Death by PowerPoint. While he does not advocate for the end of PowerPoint (a temptation to be sure) he does call for using it in a vastly different way.

I am not advocating the end of PowerPoint as a tool, but the end of traditional PowerPoint design cluttered with text and bullet points. The average PowerPoint slide has 40 words. It is nearly impossible to find one slide in a TED presentation that contains anywhere near 40 words and these presentations are considered among the best in the world.

He goes on to give some specific recommendation on the use of PowerPoint.

Add images, or include background pictures to pie charts, graphs and tables. I recommend striving for no more than 40 words in your first 10 slides. This will force you to think creatively about telling a memorable and engaging story instead of filling the slide with needless and distracting text. Kill bullet points on most of your slides.

Career lesson:  The advice to completely rethink the use of PowerPoint alone is worth the price of the book. Everyone from team leaders, to managers to CEOs could do worse than take this section of the book to heart.

Talk LikeTed: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds does what it sets out to do. It gives everyone the tools to improve their public speaking skills in a very easy-to-read book.
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Job search like an entrepreneur.

I have written many times about how job searching is basically a job in itself. And if you happen to be unemployed while searching then it is a regular full time position requiring 30-40 hours a week.  In other words, you are currently a self-employed entrepreneur. So how do you fill all those hours? This is where I recommend you start:

Network on LinkedIn. Do not stop with the occasional status update. Actively participate in groups, and try to make as many authentic connections as you can.

Pound the pavement. Go to local job fairs. Meet people at the local Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Join groups at your local library. The number of places you can go will be dictated by where you live, but there are opportunities out there if you look.

Rewrite you resume for each job opening. Let me say that one again. Rewrite your resume for every job opening. If it isn’t targeted to the position it isn’t being read. Period.

I would call these the big three, but there are other ways to work at finding a new job. Job boards, while not as powerful as they once were are still viable. Cold calling companies you are interested in can work in the right situation. Asking your personal network for leads is always an option. You get the idea. There is plenty to be done.

But if you have never worked for yourself, scheduling a “work day” like this can be intimidating. Where do you start?

One technique that has gained quite a bit of popularity lately among the entrepreneurial set is called the Pomodoro Technique. Rather than reinvent the wheel I’ll let successful entrepreneur and productivity expert Michael Hyatt explain this:

“The Pomodoro Technique is one method for batching tasks. Here’s how it works:

  1. Plan and prioritize the tasks that need to be completed, by writing them down.
  2. Set a timer for for 25 minutes and devote that time to a task, or to a group of similar tasks. Larger tasks can be broken into multiple blocks or “pomodoro’s,” and smaller tasks (responding to email, returning phone calls, etc) can be grouped into a single block. After completing each Pomodoro, you put an “X” next to it and mark the number of times that you were distracted.
  3. Take a 5 minute break.
  4. Begin another block of time or “pomodoro.”
  5. After completing 4 pomodoro’s, take an extended 20 minute break.”
That’s it. So if you are currently looking for that new job or career and you are feeling like you are just spinning your wheels, set up a to-do list from the above recommendations and then give the Pomodoro technique a try.

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Maximize your productivity the (really) old fashioned way

Writing career advice for 21st century job seekers can make you feel like you are on the cutting edge of workplace productivity and management. Then you pick up an old book from college on a whim called Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, and realize that you are not so new and innovative after all.

For the uninitiated, Aurelius was the Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 and not only was he thought of as one of the good emperors, he is also considered one of the most eloquent proponents of Stoic philosophy. Turns out those Stoics knew a thing or two about maximizing productivity.

Most of what we say and do is not essential. Eliminate it, and you’ll have more time and more tranquility. Ask yourself, is this necessary? ~ Marcus Aurelius

There is more than a little wisdom in that quote. How much of what we do, day in and day out can really be considered essential. Never-ending email threads, paperwork, mandatory 60 minute staff meetings, paperwork, lunch meetings, did I mention paperwork? So much of the average worker’s day is spent doing the adult version of “busy work,” rather than actually innovating or improving processes which should be the core of just about any knowledge worker’s job.  

So why do we do it? Why do we spend so much time doing the non-essential when clearly mankind has been aware of this problem for literally thousands of years? My guess: tradition. Above all, humans are creatures of habit, and if we have grown accustomed to working in a certain way we have a hard time envisioning an alternate way.

Scott Berkun in his book, My Year without Pants, talks about this issue in detailing how WordPress.com overcomes it through a corporate structure of remote working.

Why is it that work has to start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m.? Why are meetings sixty minutes long, by default, and not thirty? We have little evidence these habits produce better work. Instead we follow these practices because we were forced to when we entered the workforce, and over time, they became so familiar that we’ve forgotten they are merely inventions.

The concept of thinking outside the box has become a management cliché, but it is exactly what many of us need to do. Stop and analyze why we do what we do. Is it truly necessary? If not, let’s stop just spinning our wheels and let’s take the advice of a first century philosopher in order to recreate work for  the 21stcentury.


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Thinking of Applying to Grad School?

I had the opportunity to write for the site Teach.com on a 5-part series on how to apply for graduate school. Teach.com is part of the USC Rossier School of Education and has been providing teachers with a comprehensive educational web resource dedicated to discovering, discussing and encouraging great teaching around the world for a few years now, and I was excited about the chance to work with them on this project.
The finished product is live on their site, but here is a snippet of what the completed project looks like. If you happen to be thinking about grad school it should be helpful. 
Part One: Timeline for applying to Graduate School
Applying to graduate school can seem a daunting process, so below is a step-by-step, 4 season guide to get you from that first sitting at the GRE all the way to your first day of classes.
Summer: Prep Work
Just about every grad school requires applicants to take one of the major standardized tests for graduate education. These include the GRE, MCAT, GMAT, LSAT, or DAT, depending on which advanced degree you are pursuing. If you have not already sat for one of these exams you must do it over the summer before the official application process begins.
A second item to cross off the to-do list over the summer is to email 2-3 faculty members and ask if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. If they agree send them a copy of your transcript as well as a basic student resume. The easier you make the task for them the better recommendation you will receive. Summer is a great time to do this as many professors will have some down time and may be more willing to write one for you…
 Part Two: Getting the Right References
One of the harder aspects of applying to graduate school is asking for help. All schools require references and often applicants have a hard time going about this part of the process. Whether it is because they don’t want to impose, or they can’t decide who would represent them best to the school of their choice, this task is often left for last on the list of things to do when applying.
However, cultivating references not only shouldn’t be last on the list it should be first. In fact, cultivating positive personal relationships is an ongoing and ever-present part of a successful career. If this isn’t already part of your regular practice, you should start today.
The process is pretty straightforward. Here are a few guidelines to help you get started.
1. Choose the right people.
If you are going to enter the field of education then the first place to look for recommendations would of course be former professors. Ideally these should be people from within your particular discipline, or from your undergraduate program’s education department. Look first to professors with whom you have taken more than just one class, as these individuals will have the most to draw from in creating your reference letter….
Part Three: Crafting your Grad School Resume
Applying to graduate school can be an intimidating process, especially crafting your application resume. The ever-present warnings are always in the back of your head. Recent studies have shown that your resume has less than ten seconds to make an impression (good or bad) on the reader. Yes, it is true that a resume needs to be designed for high impact skimming, but you don’t need to tie yourself up in knots over its creation. As long as you follow the steps below you’ll be sure to have a winning resume when you’re through.
A resume can be broken into thirds. The top third is made up of your heading, your branding statement and your core competencies.
The Heading:
The heading is made up of your name and contact information. Make sure your name is the largest sized font, preferably size 24. In terms of contact info, list your full address and only one phone number. Choose either your cell or a land-line, but do not include both. Additionally, be sure to have a professional sounding email. “YourName@SomeEmailService.com” works best…
Part Four: Writing Your Personal Statement
If you are applying to graduate school, then you’ll need to write a personal statement as part of the application. Personal statements can be tricky as you do not want to simply repeat what is stated elsewhere in your application, but you also don’t want to turn it into an autobiography.  Things like your GPA, accomplishments, awards, and courses taken do not fit. Your personal statement should be, well, personal. Why do you want to become a teacher? Why do you want to earn your degree at this school?
Brainstorming
Before you start outlining your statement ask yourself a few questions to get an idea of what you’ll need to include. Jot down each of the following questions and leave some space for answering them.
  1. Who am I?
  2. Why do I want to be a teacher?
  3. How should I address my academic record?
  4. How can my experiences enhance my application?
  5. Who is my audience?
Now take a few minutes and come up with some answers to these questions. Don’t spend too much time on this step; just write down your general thoughts. Thus armed with some concrete information you will be ready to dive in and start writing your personal statement….

Part Five: Preparing For the Interview

The graduate school interview can be one of the more intimidating aspects of the entire process. But before we analyze exactly what to expect and how to prepare take a minute and congratulate yourself. You have made the admission board’s short list of candidates they are really considering. They have read your resume, gone over your transcripts, studied your personal statement and decided that you could add to their campus and program. Now all you have to do is convince them that they were right to ask you to interview.
The Purpose of the Graduate School Interview
The first goal of the interview is to make sure the person they meet in real life is the same person they met on your application. Some people look better on paper than they do in person, and for that reason interviews will often be an important part of the whole process.
The main thing the interviewers will be trying to determine is whether you have what it takes to succeed both in graduate school and later in the classroom as a teacher. Character traits such as maturity, communication skills, passion for teaching, and motivation will all be important…
Be sure to check out www.teach.com for full series.

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7 Characteristics of a Digitally Competent Job Seeker

Even if you do not work in a tech field, technology has become an integral part of just about every job. If you want to prove to potential employers that you are digitally competent make sure you can back up the following 7 characteristics in your interview.

1. You can integrate everyday digital skills into the workplace. If you can shop online then you can work online- and who hasn’t bought something on Amazon at this point? Here are a few key things you should be comfortable with:
  • Cloud storage options
  • Working collaboratively on a doc or presentation
  • Basic research skills beyond simply Googling.
2. You are open to experimentation. There are new digital tools becoming available to us every day. You should be comfortable seeking them out and implementing ones that will work for you. This doesn’t mean you have to be an early adopter of every new digital innovation that comes down the pike, but you should be able, and willing, to try new things that have proven to be helpful to others in your field.

3. You are comfortable with digital communication. Do you know the different between a status update and an instant message? Can you identify a retweet from a direct message? Do you know the rules of basic email etiquette? Being able to communicate effectively in the digital age means being comfortable with a variety of digital platforms. If you are not already there be sure to spend some time getting up to speed on the basics: email, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

4. You can evaluate digital sources. One of the great things about the internet age is that so much information is just a few clicks away. The bad thing is so much of that information is misleading, biased or just plain wrong. Today’s digitally competent job seeker needs to be able to discern what constitutes quality information and how to avoid the rest.

 I recommend for professionals the same strategy I use for my students: C.A.R.S.
  • Credibility- Does the writer have the background to legitimately offer thoughts on the topic?
  • Accuracy- Does the content appear factual?
  • Reasonableness- Steer clear of politically motivated rants.
  • Support- Are the sources listed? Des the writer link to further information?

The C.A.R.S. checklist isn’t fool proof, but it will go a long way to weeding out the misinformation strewn about the digital landscape.


5. You understand and respect privacy. At this point everyone should be aware that privacy is basically nonexistent online. Don’t make things worse by being digitally careless. If something is shared privately with you keep it that way. Don’t hit reply all unless you really need everyone in on a conversation. Regularly check the privacy settings on your various accounts as companies change their policies frequently.

6. You are a good digital citizen. Good behavior online is the same as good behavior offline. You know how to be respectful, appropriate and professional. Make sure you follow common courtesy rules in all your interactions, whether digital or in person.

7. You have a balanced attitude. Digital isn’t everything- unless of course you are applying to a tech firm, and then you should eat, sleep and breathe digitally. For the rest of us though, don’t let your enthusiasm for technology overshadow your competence and passion for your actual field.

I have seen this happen in my field, education, all too often. Educators become more interested in the toys and being tech pros than they are excited by working with children. Remember your core. Digital tools should be a compliment, not a focus.

So before you email that next resume, or post a new update on LinkedIn make sure to perform a quick self evaluation. Do you have the 7 characteristics of a digitally competent job seeker?