Freelancing vs. Full-Time – Which is Better?
Do you prefer being a full-time employee or working as a freelancer / consultant? Is one a better choice than the other? Which is right for you?
I’ve helped a lot of people transition from employee to consultant, as well as the other direction – and I’ve been both a W2 employee and a 1099 consultant. While there is no universally right choice, there are certainly pros and cons to each. It often comes down to a lifestyle preference.
Early in my career at Unisys, we hired a consultant to help us with some of our engineering projects. The guy was really talented, but no smarter or more capable than any of the other team members. Yet he was getting paid an hourly consulting rate nearly 30% more than everyone else. Surprisingly (to me), he didn’t want to be a consultant – he wanted to be converted into a full-time employee, knowing full well that his rate would be dropped back into the standard engineering range for Unisys.
I asked him why he wanted to take such a huge pay cut. His answer probably won’t surprise you: “Anthony, I really want the security of a full-time job.”
But, the world has changed in the years since that conversation took place. There is no such thing as job security anywhere. Yes, certain states in the US make it difficult to terminate an employee, but for the most part, if the company wants you gone, you’re done. (I’m obviously not referring to gigs involving tenure or other forms of legal contracts that preclude a person from being laid off.)
Nonetheless, there is a certain prestige or status that comes with being an employee, and everything else being equal, a company will terminate consultants before its employees. So, you could argue that an employee does have a bit more “job security” than a consultant.
On the flip side, as a consultant, you have the benefits of higher pay (usually) and the tax breaks of deducting legitimate business expenses from your income. And perhaps most significantly, you choose the projects to work on and can be your own boss.
In many consulting gigs, you determine the hours you will work – although there will be times when you’ll need to align your work activities with the company you are supporting.
The first consulting gig I had required me to spend one day per week in the company’s offices – but the rest of the time was completely mine to schedule – so long as I met the agreed upon commitments.
Do Companies Want Consultants?
Why would a company choose to work with a consultant (and pay more) instead of hiring a full-time employee?
Many reasons, but here are some of the big ones:
A. Project Timing and Simplicity
The company has a specific task that needs to be completed in a certain period of time. If they don’t have the current resources and in-house expertise to meet the deadline, they can go through the lengthy process of onboarding a new employee and all the items that go along with that such as:
- back-and-forth negotiating of the salary/sign-on bonus
- waiting for the person to complete their two-week farewell to the prior company
- new employee onboarding for benefits/office/computer/phone/etc.
Or, the company can find a consultant that can do exactly what needs to be done and begin contributing within a matter of hours.
Furthermore, once the project is done, the company can easily (with no pain) end the contract with the consultant and part ways as friends.
Yes, the company will likely pay a higher rate for a consultant, but the company won’t be paying any health benefits or employment taxes (or any other benefits such as 401K matching). So, the hourly rate might be higher, but the overall total cash outlay is likely less. It also costs far less to end a contract with a consultant than it does to terminate an employee.
C. No Baggage and Perceived Value
A strange thing happens within companies (both large and small) – they tend to develop a certain set of politics and silos. And each employee is “granted” access to various resources based on their title and influence. Yet an external consultant has no baggage – at least none apparent.
Here’s an example of what I mean. We had one project at Unisys that required a thorough analysis across multiple departments (engineering, marketing, and sales) as we were developing a particular product strategy. We could have assigned an internal task force to pull all the information together, process the data, and present the findings.
Had we done that, the task force would likely have been stonewalled at various junctures, plus once they presented their findings, no one would have taken them too seriously since it would have been assumed the results were skewed toward what the individuals within the task force wanted.
By bringing in an external consultant, all those challenges can be negated – presuming the consultant has the cachet and expertise required. Which is exactly what we did at Unisys, and the results were superb.
D. Focused Specialization
While a company deploys employees onto a particular project, there might be a specialized skill that is only needed for a portion of the project. For example, a healthcare IT company might have a bunch of full-time developers writing the code, but need a database security expert to ensure all the right protections and reporting pieces are in place. Instead of hiring a full-time security person, the company might prefer to hire a consultant for just that piece of the project.
What are the challenges being a consultant / freelancer?
The big challenge with being a consultant or freelancer is ensuring you have enough gigs lined up to cover your expense requirements.
I don’t know too many consultants who have anything booked more than 3-6 months out. That is the nature of consulting work. One might reasonably ask, “Isn’t that scary not knowing where your income will be coming from in a few months?” But, if you have skills that are in-demand and you have the ability to network and/or leverage references/testimonials from past clients, then down-time is rare.
Another challenge that many consultants face is lack of human interaction. While some gigs require you to spend time in the company offices or interacting with other company employees, there are many projects where you are working alone. For many days, weeks, and even months at a time.
Perhaps you may welcome such seclusion. But I know many consultants who spend their working hours in coffee shops just to be within the din of human activity.
Some of the smaller challenges with being a consultant include responsibility for your health benefits, paying self-employment taxes, tracking hours and periodic invoicing, and purchasing your own office supplies/equipment. All of these are fairly simple, but it is work that needs to be done.
Is one path better than the other?
No. They are just different. If you are the kind of person who likes variety, being your own boss (mostly), choosing which projects you’ll work on, and having more “control” over your professional path – then you might consider the consulting route. But then you are also buying in to ensuring you have a sufficient runway to meet your expense requirements.
The simplest test I’ve found for determining whether someone is cut out for consulting is this: Does the thought of being your own boss, managing your own time, and choosing your projects get you really excited? If the answer is not a resounding “hell yeah”, then consulting work may not be for you.
I have a superstar software developer named Eli that I work with on many of my projects. He tells the story of his first (and last) professional gig as an employee. After only a few months of working as a “W2” Eli decided he never wanted to work for a boss again. Was his boss a jerk? Not at all. It’s just that Eli’s personality, work style, and drive is much more suited for consulting work. That decision took place many years ago shortly after he graduated from Drexel.
Since that day, he’s never taken a full-time job, yet the consulting gigs continually fell into his lap. Why? Because the work he does is in demand (application development), his work is exceptional (his clients love his work), and references/testimonials from past clients continually drive new opportunities.
The Best of Both Worlds
Considering a consulting gig but too afraid to leave your day job? Then try the best of both worlds: employee and consultant.
I know many people who have full-time jobs as a W2 employee, and they also do (non-conflicting) consulting work on nights and weekends. This is a great way to dip your toe in the consulting waters and see if you like what it has to offer.
But you need to be careful. When you accept a full-time job with a company, you will likely sign certain documents that determine the ownership of intellectual property, what you can (and cannot) do using company resources (e.g. laptop, stationery, phone, email servers, etc.), and what constitutes “company time” versus your own time. So, carefully review all documents (likely with legal counsel) before embarking on a parallel consulting business.
Getting Started as a Consultant
It is actually quite easy to get started as a consultant. While you aren’t required to incorporate yourself, it is wise to do so in order to benefit from the legal protection a corporation has to offer. Starting your own LLC is inexpensive – there are plenty of good legal/tax personnel who can file all the necessary paperwork and get you up and running for under $500.
You’ll also want your own website, email address, and phone number so you can begin marketing yourself. And all of those are also dirt simple (and inexpensive) to setup.
Here are some resources that might help you.
- Website – I recommend using WordPress – it is free and very easy to get started without needing to know any coding. But, you still need a hosting provider – this is where you register your domain name. I use a few hosting companies, but the easiest I’ve found is Bluehost. Their rates are good (about $5 or $6 per month) and setting up your own WordPress site requires not much more than one button click. Of course, the biggest challenge you’ll have is coming up with a good domain name that hasn’t already been taken.
- Email Address. If you use Bluehost, you get unlimited email accounts. So, if you created a new site called MyAwesomeSite.com then you can make as many <name>@myawesomesite.com addresses as you’d like.
- Phone Number. If you are comfortable sharing your cell phone on your website and with your clients, then that’s the cheapest way to go since you are already paying for that phone. But if you’d like to have a bit more of a professional feel, you can use Grasshopper which gives you an 800 number that forwards to your cell phone (without needing to give away your cell phone number). Grasshopper also lets you have custom greetings (e.g. Press 1 for support, Press 2 for sales, etc.) and everything else you’d expect in a “professional phone system”.
- Billing, Invoicing, and Accounting. You can either do it manually (spreadsheet to keep track of your hours, create your own invoices in Word/Google Docs to send to your clients each month) or you can use an online system like FreshBooks that costs something like $20/month. Another tool I’ve heard people rave about is Wave, which does invoicing, accounting, payments, and client management.
- Time Tracking. If you are billing hourly, then you’ll need to keep track of your time. You can do this with a regular watch or use a free tool like toggl.
- Legal Documentation. You can use a local accountant/tax/legal firm, but if you are the kind of person who likes to do it on your own (and perhaps save a few dollars), check out Legal Zoom.
- Other Business Ideas. Besides consulting, are you looking for other ideas to leverage your capabilities? If so, you might want to check out my friend Chris Guillebeau’s book called The $100 Startup. In here, Chris shares success stories from many people who have built their own companies for less than $100. This is a great book for inspiring you toward channeling your passions and skills into a sustainable business.
Getting Customers as a Consultant
Let’s say you’ve got all the operational stuff out of the way (website, phone, infrastructure, etc.) – now what?
Reach out to your network! Let your peeps know about your work. But don’t just say “Hey everyone, I’m doing XYZ. Send me some business.” Instead, phrase your communication in a way that makes it clear how you can impact people’s business. Instead of “I do website design” consider something like “I help companies dramatically increase their user engagement and visitor conversion rates with my website design and customer funneling services.” And if you can follow that up with a couple testimonial quotes from prior engagements, you’ve got yourself a message worth forwarding.
Testimonials and references are the best methods of growing a freelance / consulting business. Having your prior work “sell” you is the easiest (and most effective) form of selling.
And if you are struggling getting your first clients, you might want to consider doing a pro-bono project. But don’t just tell the client “I’ll do it for free”. Instead, say something like this: “My normal rate is $X per hour, and I am confident that I can _____ <some wording about the impact you’ll have for the client.> But since I’m looking to build my portfolio and reference base, I’m willing to do this gig on my nickel. However, I request two things in return if you are blown away by my work: (1) that I can use you as a reference, and (2) if you’d like me to take on additional projects, then we do so at my normal rate.”
You need to word that in a way that fits your particular style and vernacular, but you get the idea. This way, you aren’t valuing yourself at zero. You are valuing yourself at your normal rate, but are willing to do this project at no cost in order to show how good you are. Then, obviously, blow away the customer’s expectations and you are well on your way toward future (paid) work.
The decision to be a consultant (or a full-time employee) is not a “once-and-done” conclusion. You can move back and forth between the two over your career. There’s no right or wrong answer – just what is best for you depending on your interests and lifestyle at any point in time.
If you have any questions on any of this or would like referrals on legal/tax resources or help getting a website/email configured, just hit me up on Twitter @Anthonys_Desk or email.
PS: Many companies that are looking for both full-time employees and independent consultants regularly reach out to me for talented resources in my network that can help them. So, if you are looking for such work then reach out to me.
As always, wishing you much success in your career!
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Forget Everything You Learned
Why? Because everything you learned regarding writing a resume rarely works – including what you hear from the outplacement firms and recruiting consultants who are actually paid to do this. But don’t fret – I’ll present you with a framework that can dramatically increase your chances of getting the job you want.
First, you need to understand the two-part secret of resume.
Secret part one: The purpose of your resume is not to get the job. Rather, the resume has one, and only one purpose – which is to leave the reader thinking, “Wow, we need to get this person in here for an interview.”
Secret part two: Unless it’s your mother, the reader of your resume likely doesn’t care about you. What they care about is their company and the challenges they have.
Doesn’t sound like much of a secret, does it? The problem is, you’d think it was the most clandestine cover-up by the way people write their resumes.
If the purpose of your resume is to leave the reader wanting to meet with you, and if the reader doesn’t really care about you – then everything you write on your resume needs to leave the reader seeing the obvious connection between what you’ve done and how you can help their company.
For every single bullet or sentence you write, ask yourself this one question: Does it contribute toward the reader thinking, “We gotta meet with this person”?
If the answer is no, then either delete it or rewrite it.
Unfortunately, most people list every job they’ve ever had, and each role within those jobs. Further, they identify every skill they’ve even slightly mastered. And some people actually write about the kind of job or role that they are seeking – as if the reader might really be thinking, “Hmm, I wonder what kind of job this candidate would like to have?”
This often makes zero connection with the reader, and that’s why most resumes get thrown in the trash.
The Sad State of Affairs
Here’s an actual bullet from a resume I received, listed under one of this person’s jobs as a procurement manager.
It’s a true statement of one of the many responsibilities for this person. The problem is, it tells the reader very little, and worse, it hardly excites the reader to want to get the candidate in for an interview.
And yet that’s what most resumes look like. A series of boring sentence fragments that contain close to zero impact value. That’s why most resumes barely get a second look. But yours doesn’t need to be like that. In fact, yours shouldn’t look like that. Stand out from the crowd (noise) and highlight your impact.
After I dug in to what this woman had actually achieved in her role, below is my “edited” version of the bullet point.
What do we learn about this “second” candidate? Well, for one thing we see someone who understands market trends and is conscientious about business results. But most importantly, we see how her initiative directly (and quickly) translated into an improved bottom line.
After reading that second bullet, you could imagine a business executive (e.g. hiring manager) thinking, “Very good – this woman could likely do similar things for us.”
Just because you use bullets doesn’t mean you need to write in boring, no-person, incomplete sentence fragments. Nor do you need to avoid writing in the first person.
Re-read those “before” and “after” bullets above. Now, put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager or HR screener role and tell me – which of those two would resonate more with you?
Your Dating Profile
Your resume is not a transcript. There is no need to list everything you’ve ever done.
Instead, think of your resume more like a dating profile.
If you wrote a dating profile that was uninteresting and demonstrated no personality (and listed every partner you ever dated since high school), how likely is it that you’ll get a response? Answer: very unlikely.
Resume screeners and hiring managers will likely receive hundreds of resumes for a given role, from which they will immediately whittle that down to about a dozen or so for further consideration. If your resume doesn’t move the reader in a way where they can see the obvious connection on how you can help their company – then your chances are very slim.
So, select a few very powerful points you can make for your major jobs and write them in a way that leaves the reader thinking, “Wow, this person looks good. We need to meet with them.”
Very few resume screeners and hiring managers are doing a cross-check between a set of skills they are looking for and what you list on your resume. Sure, if you are applying for a technical role that requires certain mastery, then you obviously need to articulate your strong competence. But, you are competing against the hundreds (or maybe thousands) of others who know the same programming languages or development tools or process methodologies or whatever else might be important for a given role.
So, simply listing your skills or bullets on what you’ve done is hardly likely to leave a reader excited.
For instance, here’s how most people write about their education: degree, major, school, and GPA.
Of course, people only include their GPA if it’s really good – otherwise they omit it. So, everyone knows that if you don’t show a GPA, you had mediocre grades. But even if you had a 4.0, what does that tell us? Perhaps that you are good at memorizing or taking tests. Maybe you are a hard worker. But we don’t really know.
Here’s how the education section looked on the resume of someone I know very well.
Yep, he’s a smart guy … 4.0 at Drexel. But do we know if he’d be a good employee? Maybe he’s just good at school work and has no interaction skills. Could he really help our business?
But as I said, I knew this person and how good he is. Here’s the updated version that I helped it.
If you were a hiring manager, which of these two people would you rather interview?
How Bad Is It?
I recently hosted a workshop on How to Write a Killer Resume. Very smart, accomplished people attended the class. Prior to the class, I asked everyone to privately submit, on a scale of 1 to 10, how they would rate their resume (1 being terrible and 10 awesome). The average across the large sample was about 7.
Since I had a chance to see many of their resumes prior to workshop, I felt the ratings were closer to about 4. And at the conclusion of our workshop, they all agreed with me. Not surprisingly, that rating of 4 is about the average given the thousands of resumes I’ve reviewed over the past two decades.
Most people think their resume is much better than it is. And that’s actually good news for you. Because if you follow the framework I suggest here, your resume will look spectacular by comparison.
New Rules – Use Mini-Stories
The way to leave the hiring manager or resume screener wanting to meet with you is by making it very clear how what you’ve done in the past directly correlates to how you’ll likely be able to help this new company.
The “new” rules enable you to write a resume that gets noticed, connects with the reader, and is far more likely to lead to an interview.
The way to do that is instead of telling us what you’ve done, write about the impact of what you’ve done. And the best way to do that – to connect with people – is to use what I call mini-stories.
What’s a mini-story?
Tell us the problem. Then tell us what you did to solve the problem. Finally, give us the impact. That’s it: problem-solution-impact. And do it as concisely as possible.
Here’s an example from a woman who works at a financial services company.
If you were a resume screener or hiring manager and you read those three bullets, how likely would you be saying, “Wow, we need to get this woman in here right away for an interview”?
Probably not very likely because we don’t see how exceptional she is. But after I dug in to her accomplishments, it was clear that her impact was much bigger than her resume indicated.
Here is the edited version.
Clearly the “after” version shows us how spectacular this person is: they recognized there was an issue … they developed a solution to address the problems … and look at the impact! That’s the kind of person we would like working in our company. We need to meet with this woman!
That’s the key to writing a resume that leads to an interview. Select a few messages from each major gig, and tell us concise mini-stories: problem-solution-impact.
Once again, there is no need to tell us everything you did. Remember, the purpose of the resume is not to get the job – only the leave the reader thinking, “Damn, this person is good – we need to meet with them right away.”
Thus, throw away the “old” rules of writing in boring sentence fragments. They don’t accomplish anything (other than putting a reader to sleep). Write in a way that makes a connection with the reader and helps them see how you’ll likely be able to apply what you’ve accomplished in the past to make their company more remarkable.
In every section of your resume, powerfully convey your accomplishments and background in a way that keeps the reader nodding their head up-and-down thinking, “This person is good!” If you have a line, sentence, or bullet that does not contribute toward that conclusion, then either delete it or re-write it until it does.
Once you pass that filter, you’ve got yourself a spectacular resume.
Career Domination is taking the steps required to align your skills, passions, and market opportunities in a way that leaves you waking up every morning excited to be doing exactly what you are embarking upon. Life is too short to be in a job you don’t like – or to be unhappily unemployed.
Follow this guidance to potently articulate your game-changing capabilities. The old rules no longer apply. Don’t be held back by them. Unless you want to end up like this:
I’m Here to Help
This post just touched on a few examples of how to tune your resume for maximum impact. But we can do better than that.
I’ve created a free email series that will walk you through every section of the resume and what you need to do to significantly improve your chances of making the cut and getting an interview. Simply enter your first name and email below, and you’ll receive the first lesson in your Inbox.
Is this really free?
Yep. I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes (literally) in my various roles of manager, director, CEO, board member, and investor. And I’ve made countless hiring and thank-you-but-not-interested decisions over that time. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work.
Unfortunately, most resumes fall into the “doesn’t work” category. My passion is helping people land their dream jobs and not settle for mediocrity. The first step is having a killer resume. This email series is one small way that can help.
So, go ahead and sign-up – and let’s get your resume to a point where HR screeners and hiring managers read it and think, “Wow, this person is good! Let’s get them in here right away for an interview.”
Why Do You Want to Work for Us?
People often ask me: During an interview, how should I answer the question “Why do you want to work for us?”
This question is so popular that it is definitely worth considering before you interview.
First, here are a few answers that likely won’t go over well:
- Because you guys are awesome
- For the money (or related, such as benefits, perks, commute time, work environment, etc.)
- Because I don’t have any other offers
The purpose of the interview is to leave each interviewer feeling like, “Wow, this person is good … we need to make them an offer!”
And the best way to leave each interviewer feeling that way is to make it very clear how you can help their company be more remarkable. And you do that by describing the impact that your skills and accomplishments have had on your prior companies/clients/teams.
The reason it is so important to discuss the impact of what you’ve done (versus just detailing what you’ve done) is to help make the connection for the interviewer on how you’ll likely be able to help their company
Here’s a real example from one of the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted. In this particular case, I was looking to hire a project manager for a software organization – someone who knew agile, scrum, and those sorts of things – to help reduce the number of bugs that were creeping into our releases and decrease the number of customer complaints.
Most candidates gave me an answer like the following when asked, “How can you help us?”
As the project manager for the XYZ product, I implemented an agile development approach so product and customer issues could be quickly escalated and priorities re-established in real time. I have a lot of experience in these areas and I’ll be able to bring those skills here.
Now, compare that answer with something like this:
I’m a big proponent of lean startup methodologies and being able to rapidly iterate product feature testing to ensure market acceptance. One of the ways I did that was with ABC Inc. and their XYZ product where I implemented an agile approach so product and customer issues could be quickly escalated and priorities re-established in real time. Through the daily stand-up meetings, which I coordinated and led, every team member was kept in sync and we were able to cut our average team meetings from 10 hours per week to just 1 hour. Our delivery times dropped by nearly that same 10 to 1 ratio. But most importantly, our customer satisfaction scores went from an 80 up to a 92 because our releases were coming out faster and the features contained exactly what our customers wanted.
Do you see how that second “answer” does so much more than just tell us what the person did? By going into the impact (shorter meeting times, faster release cycles, improved customer satisfaction) we are clearly left with this thought: “Hmm, if she did that for ABC Inc, she likely could do the same for us.”
And that is the secret. Again, make it clear how your skills and accomplishments could likely impact the company – by showing how they impacted your prior companies, clients, or teams.
Most people just blab on about what they did, never really getting to the impact. And without making a connection to what the interviewer cares about, your words won’t have much weight.
So, go in to every interview having 3 to 5 real-life examples showing how what you’ve done in the past can be directly applicable to this opportunity.
Then, you are perfectly prepared to answer the original question of this post: Why do you want to work for us?
I greatly enjoy leveraging my passion and skills around _____ to help companies be more remarkable. And from what I know about your company, the team, and your vision for how you want to grow the organization – that all aligns very well with my career interests, and I believe I can make a huge impact here.
Remember this: the company likely would not have invited you in for an interview if they didn’t believe you have what they need. So, make it obvious that you do by articulating the impact of what you’ve done.
If you make it clear how your skills and experiences match their needs, demonstrate your likeability, and make it apparent how you’d be a good fit within their culture – then you will blow away each interviewer.
Wishing you much success in your interviews!
Nearly 50% of Successful People Suffer From This
Me: Tell me about an accomplishment you consider to be the most significant of your career so far.
Woman: [Long pause] Umm, I’m not sure any of my accomplishments have been that significant.
Me: What about the website and marketing plans you built for the financial services client who said your work blew them away?
Woman: Oh, that was okay – it wasn’t really that big a deal.
Me: You seem to consistently downplay your achievements.
Woman: To be honest, I think I’m a fraud … I’m not sure I should be recognized as a marketing expert.
Sound farfetched? I had nearly the identical conversation with over a dozen people who signed up for one of my Career Domination classes. And these were all very smart, accomplished, driven business folks looking to advance their career.
Were they outliers?
Hardly. Research indicates that nearly 70% of the population has considered themselves to be similarly “affected” by what is known as Imposter Syndrome. While initial studies focused on high-performing women, the data transcends gender.
People like Denzel Washington, Tina Fey, Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO), and Meryl Streep all confess to having suffered from imposter syndrome. Even one of the greatest authors and poets of our time, Maya Angelou, stated that each time she publishes a new book she thinks, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now.”
With so many honors, degrees, and accomplishments under her belt, Dr. Margaret Chen currently heads the World Health Organization. Yet she stated, “There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe this about me? I’m so much more aware of all the things I don’t know.”
And so it is that we easily fall prey to this sense of deceit.
We have two “voices” in our head – one that gently, confidently speaks to our virtues and capabilities assuring us that we belong and that everything is OK. The other voice loudly shrieks in disdain at our faults and mistakes, eager to convince us that we are frauds and not good enough.
It is this second voice we listen to when we choose to be our own worst enemy.
But that need not be.
Curing the Dis-Ease
There are many techniques for conquering the dis-ease of imposter syndrome. The first step is to recognize we are doing this to ourselves. We can’t counteract the effects until we realize we are indeed choosing this “negative” voice.
Anytime we catch ourselves stating we aren’t good enough or feeling like a fraud – that’s the trigger.
Next, step back and look objectively at the assertion. For example, in the case of the woman who told me that none of her accomplishments were that significant – is that really true? By this point in her career, she had built many websites and effective marketing programs for dozens of clients. Is it true that none of them were of significance?
When we can step outside of the situation, ideally without emotion or attachment, we can see things much more clearly. I knew of at least two clients who were very pleased with this woman’s work, gave glowing testimonials, and referred other clients. Thus looking at the data objectively revealed that evidence not only wasn’t there to support her claim of insignificance – in fact, just the opposite was true.
Of course, this is often the case.
And if you find it hard to step-back and look objectively, here’s another technique that can work well: ask a trusted friend or personal advisor whether or not they would agree. It is always easier for an outsider to look with a little less attachment and prejudice.
But I would feel awkward asking someone else about my insecurity.
That’s why we use trusted friends or personal advisors. These are the people who know us well and have our best interests at heart. A simple ask might look like this:
I’m feeling a bit like my web designs don’t count for much and aren’t that significant. I’m not sure if I’m tapping in to a true developmental opportunity where I need to enhance my skills – or if I’m just being my own worst enemy and not seeing things clearly. Can you give me your honest perspective to help me process this emotion?
Those people who know you well will help quickly determine whether the “imposter syndrome” is indeed the cause – or if perhaps there is a skill area that can be further developed and mastered.
Open Yourself to Confidence
Our body chemistry plays a large part in how we feel. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is raised when we are feeling pressured and anxious – and is lower when we are relaxed and poised. Testosterone is a hormone that increases with feelings of power and confidence, and drops when feeling insecure and defensive.
Are there natural ways we can increase testosterone while simultaneously lowering cortisol? Turns out the answer is yes – by “opening” ourselves up.
Research by Amy Cuddy (a former imposter-syndrome sufferer) at Harvard and Princeton demonstrated that by spending two minutes sitting or standing in a pose where our arms are opened up in a “victory” stance can work wonders. Picture having just accomplished an amazing feat and you throw your arms up with a big smile and huge exclamation of “Yes!”
Participants who performed such a “pose” registered dramatically higher levels of testosterone (+20%) and significantly lower levels of cortisol (-25%). In subsequent job interviews, these people were far more likely to receive job offers.
Conversely, participants who spent two minutes in an “imposter” pose fared much worse. An imposter pose has our head hung low, legs and/or arms crossed, defensive, often with our eyes cast downward. These people registered lower levels of testosterone (-10%) and increased levels of cortisol (+15%). In subsequent job interviews, none of these participants received offers.
The data is quite compelling – and that is just spending two minutes either opening up or closing inward. A lesson here: before you engage in a presentation, job interview, or any other activity where you’d like your confidence and strength to shine through – try spending two minutes in such a “victory” pose. And if you’re worried about looking silly, just use a bathroom stall.
The result: you will feel more confident, passionate, enthusiastic, and authentic.
The reason this works is because using such a pose shuts off (or at least greatly diminishes) the “negative” voice telling us we aren’t good enough and that we don’t belong.
Positive Reinforcement Folder
Negative feedback generally has four-times the impact of a positive comment. In other words, it takes four positive comments to counter-balance the effect of one negative statement.
And if we are the ones making the negative statements then we don’t have to travel very far to hear such criticism.
Of course, we tend to dwell on the negative feedback much more so than the positive. We quickly forget the complimentary, uplifting comments – but carry the disapproving ones quite a long way.
One technique to help counter this phenomenon is to maintain a Positive Feedback folder. Anytime we receive a praising email, phone call, text message, or any other sort of communication – drop a copy in the PF folder.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly this folder grows when we honestly look at the true value of our work. And periodically looking in this folder can quickly eliminate all doubts about whether you belong.
A Cure for the Illness
So, if you really want to push through the imposter-syndrome, consider using the techniques described above, summarized here:
- Recognize we are doing this to ourselves. The trigger is any negative comment, thought, or feeling regarding our abilities.
- Step outside of the situation by asking ourselves, “Am I really looking at this objectively, or am I being my own worst enemy?” If you find it hard doing this yourself, ask a trusted friend or personal advisor how they would view the situation.
- Spend two minutes in a “victory” pose with a big smile on your face.
- Review your Positive Feedback folder.
- Check back in with yourself and confirm you no longer feel like an imposter. How would you rephrase the original “negative assertion”? For example, an original statement of my web designs are just okay … nothing special might be transformed into clients tell me they are very happy with my work … I seem to be making an impact.
Do this anytime you feel the dis-ease beginning to attack.
By using a process like this, we begin to see how often we listen to that “imposter voice” and heed its divisive directives. Like any other skill, with practice comes perfection – and in this case, it doesn’t take much practice to begin reaping the benefits. One honest day of looking, considering objective alternatives, and developing reframed, affirmative declarations will have immense impact.
Everyone has game-changing skills and capabilities within them. The challenge many of us have is articulating those in a way that enables us to best serve others and ourselves. This practice will help.
I have seen so many people transformed from imposter to impressive with this simple exercise. And you can too.
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Discover YOUR Dream Job in 45 Minutes [Worksheet Included]
What is your dream job?
It’s such an elusive question that confronts all of us at various points in our career. Perhaps during times we wake up in the morning dreading the work ahead. I don’t like this job? I don’t feel like I’m adequately paid for the work that I do. I don’t feel appreciated for my contributions. The commute sucks, and I am often stuck in traffic.
Maybe it’s more subtle than that. I like this job, but I don’t feel really stimulated by what I’m doing.
For me, it was a job that wasn’t intellectually challenging yet I was being paid a lot of money. It was a senior role for a big company – but I still wasn’t happy.
So what makes a “dream job”?
Experience has taught me that the following components come in to play:
- The work is intellectually stimulating and challenging
- It involves something you are passionate about – and likely has been a passion for quite some time – often tied to a certain “purpose” in your life
- Incorporates an extremely comfortable work environment (whatever that means to you)
- Has plenty of growth potential (not just in title, but in true learning experiences)
- Is financially rewarding
The challenge for most of us is how do we find such a confluence?
It all starts with finding the intersection between these three elements:
- Skills – what are you very good at
- Passions – what do you love to do
- Market Needs – in what areas will the market pay handsomely for
I read a great book several years ago by Keith Ferrazzi called Never Eat Alone. The book provided very practical tips for developing useful, professional relationships. Along the way, Keith used the term “blue flame” to describe the intersection of our talents and desires and suggested that a great force propelled us along once that flame was ignited.
I think it’s a terrific metaphor. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of their “blue flame” and are in jobs they consider to be mediocre. This is actually a curse because there isn’t enough pain to step back and question, “Is this what I really want?” And thus they lead their lives from one distraction to the next, feeling stuck in their situation yet not taking the initiative required to affect a change.
In a strange paradox, it is more often the people that are laid off or suffer some other professional upheaval who are willing to face the situation head-on and declare, “I’m going to do something about this.”
So, the first step toward finding your dream job is getting in touch with what you really, really want. And what you really, really want is one onion-layer deeper than what you really want.
Here’s what I mean.
Many people say they really want stuff (new house, new car, more money, etc.). I suggest that when you get to the “why” behind each “want” – then you begin hitting on the “really, really” want stuff. For example, for years I wanted to be the CEO of a new company. Whenever someone would ask me what I wanted or what my career goal was – my answer was always the same: I want to be the CEO of a startup company. Unfortunately, it took me years to even begin to contemplate the “why”. Why did I want to be the CEO of a startup? What was the meaning behind that?
As I sat down and gave serious consideration to the “why”, what I discovered was that I greatly enjoyed leading a team in a new endeavor with formidable challenges. I found tremendous meaning (for myself) in leading a group of people focused on such a daunting goal.
Oftentimes when we get what we want, we aren’t satisfied. Perhaps momentarily, but not for long. You see it all the time when you think, “If I only had _______.” And then you get it, and after a bit you realize it didn’t really bring you the happiness you expected.
Thus if I had been CEO of a services-based consulting firm, for example, I would have been miserable. There is no real product, and not much of a team to lead. (Often in a small consulting practice, each partner has her own book of business with her own clients.) But having the opportunity to run a software IT startup in the healthcare market was a dream come true for me.
When you begin focusing on what you “really, really” want then you begin to crystalize those things that can truly lead to great joy.
Worksheet for Success
Forget theory – let’s make this real. There are steps you can take right now to discover your dream job. I created a worksheet to help you with the process.
There are two versions you can choose:
- One where you can download it and print it out. In this version, you will be filling it out by writing directly on the form. Download this worksheet here.
- I also created a Google Docs version where you can use virtual post-it notes to stick on the worksheet. This version is for those of you who prefer to keep everything digital. Access the Google Docs worksheet here.
So, pick one of those and have it handy as we go through the rest of this article.
Identify Your Wants
It starts with making a list. What are the things you want – and for each of them, think about why you want it. What is the meaning behind the want?
There are no wrong answers. If money is one of the items, list it. But also consider what it is that you’d like to experience with the money. Perhaps it’s a sense of achievement, or maybe peace of mind.
The key with this exercise is to be honest with yourself. There is no need to pretend you aren’t human or don’t have human desires. Most of us have healthy egos. It does no good trying to repress or deny that. But it can do a world of good to start looking at the why’s behind the things we want. You won’t be sharing this list with anyone, so go ahead and let it all hang out.
You may begin to see a pattern behind several of your wants as you dig into their meanings. Spend a few minutes on your list right now – go ahead, I’ll wait. At least get a couple items written down.
Where You’re Great
Now that we have a start at exploring what you really, really want – the next step is to examine those areas in which you’d be considered an expert, or at least very good.
If you asked your most genuine friends and trusted colleagues the following question, what would they say: In what areas would you say I’m pretty damn good?
Another question to ask yourself is this: What am I the go-to person for?
You can also try asking your family members what they think you’re good at – although keep in mind that the tacit adoration of relatives can hinder the opportunity for deep insights.
The responses to those questions are usually pretty good indicators of where your expertise lies. So let’s capture those items in another list.
A method that I’ve seen work well is to first put your own list together, answering the questions above based on what you think your genuine friends, trusted colleagues, and insightful family members would say. In parallel, reach out to those people and ask them to answer these questions for you:
- In what areas would you consider me to be an expert or at least very good?
- In which arenas do you see me as the “go-to” person?
- If you were building a team where I would be your top-pick, what would be the focus area?
Oftentimes the way others see us is far different from how we see ourselves. Thus, doing this exercise from both perspectives is very important.
What You Love Doing
Tapping in to your passions is one of the most fun exercises you can complete. What are all the things you greatly enjoy doing? Don’t hold back – remember this is private – just write them all down.
Some questions to help with this exercise:
- What have been some of your greatest moments of happiness and fulfillment?
- What activities do you greatly enjoy and find the most fulfilling in your professional life?
- If you think back over the past year, what were you doing in those instances when you were “in the zone” and could have gone 24 hours without sleep?
- If you are a college grad, why did you choose your particular field of study?
It’s OK to list things that are not professional (e.g. perhaps you really enjoy sleeping – I know I do). The key here is to get everything out on the table so that we can begin to craft the ideal role(s) where you will be most fulfilled.
The first time I did this exercise, my “greatest moments” tended to be cases where I had overcome some significant challenge. In one instance, I had a crazy idea for a new mainframe for Unisys Corporation (at the time, I was an engineer for the company). One of the smartest senior engineers at Unisys (a person with the title of “Distinguished Fellow”) reviewed my concept and declared it could never be done.
At the time, I didn’t know if it could or couldn’t be done, but I had a strong sense that his reluctance was less based on the laws of physics and more based on politics and other such shenanigans that often occur in large companies. So, I spent a weekend of my own time and fleshed out the concept – I worked the entire weekend without sleep because I was so filled with excitement that it could actually be successful.
I came back to the office on Monday and presented the company with my idea plus the logic diagrams showing that it could indeed be done. That mainframe went on to generate millions of dollars for Unisys, and I was very proud of the feat. That was my first sense that I really enjoyed leading a team of people to build amazing products. Of course, I was still too young, naïve, and selfish to see it that way – in my mind, I thought I wanted to be a CEO so I didn’t have to deal with naysayers like this Distinguished Fellow telling me it couldn’t be done.
So, put together your list of what you enjoy doing. As you list more and more items, you will begin to see “trends” where you’ve been the most motivated and extracted great satisfaction from your activities.
Where Magic Happens
Hopefully you felt some excitement completing those last few exercises. But we’re shooting for much more than just some momentary thrill – we’re on our way to helping you identify your dream job.
At this point, you might be wondering where all this is going. Answer: The Synergy Zone.
And I can guarantee you that when you are there, it feels magical. The Synergy Zone is the intersection of all the exercises we’ve been completing thus far. And this is where your dream job lives.
So, the final exercise is to list the types of jobs that fall in your Synergy Zone. At this point, there is no need to name specific companies or even known job openings. For now, just list the types of jobs that intersect your expertise, passions, and core desires.
Some of these roles will have little income potential while others might be high. So, let’s use a simple H, M, and L indictor for each role identifying if it has High, Medium, or Low income potential.
For example, let’s say you are a good creative designer who is competent with all the hot web tools/platforms (e.g. WordPress, PHP, CSS, wire-framing, etc.). You love designing and figuring out how to take someone’s amorphous website concepts and turning them into an attractive, concrete reality. And, you really, really want to work for yourself – either as your own company or as an independent contractor. Then the role of web designer would likely fall into your Synergy Zone. The income potential for such a role is probably an H. I know many people making a ton of money as web developers – hence the “H” indicator.
I recently spoke with a person who’s been working for recruiting firms over the past five years. He’s not happy and is looking to do something more aligned with his skills and passions, particularly in a larger firm with solid benefits and room to grow. He thoroughly enjoys working with people and majored in psychology because of his love for understanding how to relate to people. On the skill front, he is a good business-problem-solver and is considered a superb listener. He asks probing, insightful questions and quickly gets to the core of issues.
From this very brief list, we quickly identified several roles that fall in his synergy zone: combining his skills, passions, and wants. One that particularly grabbed his attention is working for a reputable consulting firm, such as a McKinsey or Accenture, particularly on the resource deployment and staffing management fronts. Given his experience in recruiting for the past several years, he could quickly hit the ground running leveraging his skills to make an immediate impact on a firm and its clients.
So, list all the types of roles you can think of that fall in your synergy zone. If it crosses your mind, get it on the list.
Now take your list and look at those with an M or an H indicator. These represent that magical confluence of your skills, passions, and market demand.
Imagine working in a role that combines all three. Imagine waking up every day excited about the work you are about to do. Imagine the feeling of being able to honestly say, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!” That’s what it’s like working in your Synergy Zone. And this first step – the most crucial, and quite frankly the hardest – of identifying those potential roles puts you on a path toward achieving that reality.
Hopefully you’ve already printed my Dream Job worksheet and have been filling it out. If not, click on the image below to print your own and get started.
If you’d like to use an online version of this worksheet, I created a version of the Dream Job Worksheet in Google Docs. This version enables you to create mini post-its in each section and other cool editing features. See the Getting Started section on the right side of the Google Doc and then you’ll be good to go. Let me know in the comments below if you have any problems or questions with this Google Doc.
Life is too short to be in a job you don’t love – or to be unhappily unemployed. I recently helped a woman identify and land her dream job at Zynga – including renegotiating a huge bump in her base salary and relocation package. She followed all the tips above. You can too. Discover your dream job and get started on the path toward loving what you do.
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This Skill Will Change Your Life
Public Speaking. Yes, I know it is scary. Yes, I know many people are more fearful of public speaking than of dying. But learning how to be an excellent public speaker – and actually enjoying it – are not as hard as you might think.
I should know. My first attempt at public speaking was awful. I didn’t sleep at all the night before the presentation. And during the talk, my hands shook like crazy each time I advanced the slides. Today, I love presenting in front of groups. What changed?
I did. I learned how to transform that nervous, debilitating energy into a relaxed confidence that allowed me to powerfully articulate messages that move people. And you can too.
The big breakthrough for me came with a workshop I attended called SpeakEasy. The first part of the seminar focused on how to craft a message that achieves its desired outcome – typically moving a person or group to take a certain action. But the second part of the seminar was the most intimidating.
Each of the attendees spoke for 5 minutes on a random topic. And if that wasn’t painful enough, each talk was recorded and then played back in front of the audience where the instructor picked apart everything we did wrong: how we were standing, where our hands were, where our eyes were looking, how our feet were planted, how we handled pauses, and so on. You can imagine how challenging that must have been.
But there is an amazing benefit to watching yourself on tape with a quality instructor who can point out tips for how to improve. By the third or fourth take, each of our presentations was far better than the first. By the end of the workshop, the most nervous and intimidated among our group was eager to get up in front of the room.
The techniques we learned on how to channel our nerves into delivering a compelling message and how to position our body for maximum impact were invaluable. The founder of SpeakEasy, Sandy Linver, wrote a terrific book called Speak and Get Results that encapsulates much of the workshop. The book is a bit dated and there may be more modern reads, but the original probably still holds up well. Another organization worth considering is Toastmasters. I’ve never used their services, but I know a few people who are big fans.
I also just came across this free class being offered by Coursera [HT to @myasmine] called Introduction to Public Speaking. It looks like the 10-week class covers everything related to preparing your actual message as well as the delivery. It is all online and includes instructor/peer feedback as you progress. I don’t know the fellow teaching the class, nor do I have any affiliation with Coursera or the University of Washington – but I wanted to make you aware. The next session begins on March 31, 2014.
I’ll be writing more on this topic of learning how to ace public speaking gigs, but for those of you looking to immerse yourself in a class that might help – check it out. Let me know how it works out.
Ask Me Anything: Free Career Domination Counseling Sessions
I’ve been running career-related workshops over the past few months. The sessions have focused on helping people best articulate their skills and accomplishments – whether that be for creating a killer resume, getting discovered, acing an interview, or negotiating a contract. The workshops entail live resume editing, mock interviews, and other hands-on activities to turn the theory into a practical reality usable by each participant.
I have witnessed so many “aha” moments as participants get a concept. And I’ve seen the positive changes it is having – including watching many of them land their dream jobs! It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.
After another workshop last week, a thought crept into my mind. How can I help more people land a job they love? That thought led to this post.
I am opening up virtual office hours with a central place to field questions to help you land your dream job and wake up every day loving what you’re doing.
All for free.
Why am I doing this?
Transforming lives is my passion. That’s what I love waking up every day doing.
I’m trying out this concept of virtual office hours to see how it goes – so it may be for a limited time. There are three ways you can connect with me:
1. MeetMe.so – These are one-on-one sessions where we will chat over Skype, Google Hangout, or plain ol’ telephone. Register for my virtual office hours here.
2. Yabbly – With Yabbly you can ask me any question you like – at any time – and I will answer as quickly as possible. Your questions (and my answers) are public. Access my Yabbly page here.
3. Google Hangout – I will be hosting a weekly Google Live Hangout on Friday afternoons at 1 pm eastern. These video hangouts are limited to 10 people, so I will take registrations each week on a first-come, first-served basis. Each hangout will be recorded and posted on my site, indexed so others can search on relevant topics. Signup for my next Google Hangout here.
What is stopping you from waking up every day excited to get into work – and how can I help?