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Professional Confessional

A blog providing tips and resources for life after college

2014 November

Gratitude…Today and Every Day

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.
~Marcus Tullius Cicero


noun: gratitude

1. the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Benefits_of_GratitudeBe thankful for what you have as opposed to the consumerist desire for wants or needs.  It’s about giving without the expectation of receiving. There are benefits to having gratitude. If you intentionally cultivate giving thanks, you will increase well-being and happiness. In addition, it has been linked to increased levels of empathy, energy, and optimism. Be ready to express appreciation no matter the day or situation. You may discover a happier, healthier you. Here are 5 simple tips:


1. List 3 things you are thankful for each day.
These things can be very simple. It does not have to be anything exorbitant.  It can be having an umbrella when an unexpected rain comes along. Or someone smiles at you when you needed a little sunshine.

2. Share gratitude with others. If you are grateful for something or someone, tell them. Don’t miss the opportunity. You may not have another opportunity to share it. You make the person feel good as well as yourself. It can be infectious; encouraging others to pay it forward.

3. Reflect.
Take a few minutes at the end of each day to reflect. What are you thankful for? You can use this as a mindfulness exercise to focus energy toward positivity. Sit quietly for 5 minutes and center your attention on gratitude.

4. Send a Thank You note.
Handwrite (not type) a personal note to those you are thankful for in your life. You may be surprised that they didn’t know they made an impact. Tell them. They will be thankful. 

5. Be a blessing hunter.
Search for what you are grateful for. It’s there. Sometimes you have to search for it and sometimes it smacks you in the face. It’s the small things that are the biggest blessings.

Give thanks. Today. Every day.

Happy Thanksgiving!


How to Target and Find the Best Employers for You

How to Target and Find the Best Employers for You

A few hours of systematic searching can make all the difference.

Published on October 26, 2014 by Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. in Career Transitions for Psychology Today

I recently had the pleasure of attending a workshop conducted by Mr. Steve Dalton, MBA, who is a Senior Career Consultant and Associate Director at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. As you might expect he works with students who are seeking employment in some of the most competitive fields around: finance, investment banking, consulting, etc. Like all of us, his students are busy, and they are not enamored with spending hours and hours researching and digging up potential employers. As a result, Mr. Dalton created a “work smarter, not harder” logical and systematic process to help his students target key employers most likely to hire them. His book, The 2-Hour Job Search, which describes the system in great detail, is available from Ten Speed Press, online or at your local book store.

While it’s described as a “2-hour job search,” don’t be concerned if the process takes you a little longer. Also, because it is designed for individuals seeking mid-to-high level business positions, this process assumes a certain sophistication with spreadsheets or Word table documents. But I think it has tremendous value for almost any job seeker (including new college grads and mid-career changers) so while you might need more time to idenitfy employers and work the system, given its value, I think you’ll find it worth it.

One of the hardest parts of the job search is creating the list of possible employers you want and need to reach. Using Dalton’s approach you move quickly and systematically through a 3-step process: Prioritize, Contact, and Recruit. You start by creating a prioritized list of employers; what Dalton calls a “LAMP” list. The acronym LAMP stands for: List; Alumni; Motivation; Posting. Here’s a 5-step breakdown to create your LAMP list.

1. First create an Excel spreadsheet or a Word table with the following columns: List, Alumni, Motivation, Posting. Then do a fast (40 minute) brainstorming session of potential employers. Start by identifying your chosen career field. Identify companies you already know about and would like to work at. You can use search engines like Google or Reference USA (check your library for access) to help broaden your list. In some fields you can Google a “top fifty” list to work from. (If need be, you can target this initial list by geographic region, willingness to hire H1-B, or other factors that pertain to your situation.) Enter the names of the companies you discover under the heading “List” on your spreadsheet. Dalton recommends that you list at least 40 organizations if possible.

2. Now use LinkedIn to find potential alumni or other connections. Start by going to the company employee list and search using the name of your college or university. No luck? Try entering your high school. Enter the name of your hometown. What you’re looking for is some sort of common ground and reason for that person to be willing to speak with you. Be sure you click the “3rd degree connection” button so that you will reach the largest number of individuals within that organization who have a connection to you. In the Alumni column of your spreadsheet or table put a “Y” or “N” to indicate if you found an alumnus or close connection at the organization. (Dalton offers many more tips for finding connections in his book, including joining targeted LinkedIn groups.)

3. Decide how motivated you are about each organization on your list. Dalton encourages you to do this from a “gut” perspective rather than research. Remember, you’re trying to do this quickly and research is going to take time. In the Motivation column, rank each company from a “5” (meaning “I am psyched to work for this place”) to a “2” (“I’m not really than interested”). If you don’t know enough about the organization to make a judgment call, rank it as “1” and plan to research later.

4. Now use Indeed to see if each of your organizations has openings at the present time. The openings may be above your current skill level, but that’s all right because if they promote from within as many companies do, lower level positions may open up. The point is to ascertain if the organization is hiring. In the Posting column, score each organization as: “3” if they have a posting that’s directly relevant to you, “2” if the posting is somewhat relevant, or “1” if not hiring.

5. Now you’re ready to work the magic. Sort your table first by your Motivation column (with 5 at the top). Then, sort again by the Posting column (with 3 being the best). Finally sort by Alumni = “Y.” You now have a list of the “top ten” or so companies where you are most likely to find career opportunities which relate to your interests and field. These are the companies to start researching more thoroughly and making connections with the alumni or other potential contacts you might have. Dalton stated at the program that most people don’t need to go past their top ten before they have an offer or opportunity.

Now that you’ve created your LAMP list, the next part of the process involves identifying and connecting with the key people at your desired organization. Dalton presents in great detail his 5-point email for connecting with your contact. In this email he recommends that you use fewer than 100 words and do not mention the word “job” at all. He also presents a nice system for tracking all your connections so that you stay in touch on a regular basis and don’t forget to follow up to those who haven’t responded to you.

Finally, once you have identified your key organizations and contacted your identified connections, Dalton presents the third step of the process which he calls “Recruit.” Dalton dives into a deep explanation of information interviews, and encourages you to “build likability—don’t ‘sell yourself.’” He encourages you to prepare for the information interview by creating several questions to ask your contact focusing on their experience with the organization as well as what advice they might have for you.

If you’ve been feeling that your job search approach has been rather haphazard and you’re looking for a systematic way to identify and connect with employers in your field, Dalton’s system has a lot going for it. Listening to him explain the system, I was impressed with how organized his approach is. I’m not totally convinced that it can all be done in two hours but that’s a small issue. The system is thoughtful and efficient.

Mr. Dalton’s talk was sponsored by the Market Readiness & Employment team at Wake Forest University.  

©2014 Katharine S. Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.


Job Search Series – The Worst Critic in Your Job Search – Part 2

The Worst Critic in Your Job Search – Part 2

Now that you’ve identified the critic, it’s time to disempower it.

Published on July 20, 2014 by Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. in Career Transitions for Psychology Today

In my last post, I described a therapeutic process called Internal Family Systems (IFS), developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, which can be used to reduce the power of the inner critic living in your head. The inner critic can have a devastating effect on the job search if it prevents the job seeker from exploring new opportunities, or destroys their confidence to interview well and present a positive face to the employer. Before you read further, I recommend you read the previous post and take a few minutes to describe your inner critic. 

Early and Weiss identify seven types of inner critics. See if any of them sound familiar to you:

  1. The Perfectionist sets high standards for behavior. It you don’t live up to those standards at all times, the perfectionist inside will attack you. In the job search, perfectionism can keep you from finishing your resume, writing a great LinkedIn profile, etc.
  2. The Inner Controller uses shame to punish you for impulsive behavior like over-eating, using alcohol or drugs, or playing excessive computer games.
  3. The Taskmaster uses words like “lazy”, “stupid”, or “incompetent” to get you to work harder. It is the voice warning you that you are a loser if you don’t keep working. The Taskmaster can make you hate your job search by making it all work and no play—it removes the artistry and creativity from the search.
  4. The Underminer fears rejection so it tries to keep you from taking any risks. It warns you that you probably aren’t good enough to do whatever the task is you plan to do. It cautions you to not get too big or powerful or visible. An Underminer can keep you stuck in the same job too long, or keep you from considering a more meaningful career field. It can keep you from publicly displaying your portfolio for fear of appearing vain.
  5. The Destroyer is a powerful force that attacks your self-worth and dignity. The Destroyer effectively destroys ideas, creativity, and energy. The Destroyer can keep you stuck in your current job.
  6. The Guilt Tripper reminds you of actions you took (or didn’t take) that harmed someone else. It makes you feel bad and casts a pall over your day. The Guilt Tripper can keep you from investigating your true desires because of family or other obligations.
  7. The Molder wants you to conform to a certain ideal. Molds can take all forms in the career search: from believing you have to pursue a particular career because of family heritage, or because of a degree you obtained.

Now that you have this list of inner critics, which ones apply particularly to you? When do they show up? What part of the job search have they inhibited? What do you want to do that you haven’t attempted yet because one (or more) of these critics are hovering around?

If you want to learn more, read the full blog post here.

©2014 Katharine S. Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Job Search Series – The Worst Critic in Your Job Search – Part 1

 The Worst Critic in Your Job Search, Part 1

We all have parts we need to deal with.

Published on July 20, 2014 by Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. in Career Transitions for Psychology Today

A client of mine recently described her experience applying for a new job. “I’m so frustrated with this job search. I see a job opportunity and I get all excited. I start targeting my resume, come up with ideas for my cover letter, and then somewhere in the middle of it all, I just give up. It’s like there’s this voice in my head that just says: why bother, you really aren’t qualified for it. It’s like one part of me really wants the job, and has all the confidence in the world, but then there’s this other part of me that says I can’t do it. Isn’t that crazy?”

Of course, it’s not “crazy” at all; and it’s not the sign of a serious mental health issue such as schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. We all have “voices” in our heads that seem to come from somewhere. But where do they come from? And why do they have so much power?

Buddhist scholars and practitioners call these states of mind habit patterns or mental formations. Depending on the type of psychology one studies or practices, they might be called schemas, archetypes, subpersonalities, or ego states. Perhaps they represent an ongoing interaction between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.  Dr. Richard Schwartz, the author of Internal Family Systems Therapy, simply calls them “parts.” Schwartz calls these different parts of our personality our “inner family system (IFS).” These parts emerged throughout our lives in response to various internal and external triggers and now they serve in various roles.

Don’t think you have “parts”? Just stop for a moment and notice how you’re reacting as you read this. A part of you might be interested or intrigued right now. Or a skeptical part might be reacting and criticizing this. And maybe you’re feeling both parts at the same time.

Psychotherapist Dr. Jay Early and licensed social worker Bonnie Weiss have written extensively about the most common “parts” which exist in us. A body of their work focuses on the parts they call the “inner critic.” In their book, Self-Therapy for Your Inner Critic, they describe the inner critic as causing unnecessary suffering, smothering initiative, wreaking havoc in relationships, and defeating efforts to change. The more important the situation; the more likely the inner critic will show up. (This is similar to Steven Pressfield’s definition of Resistance.)

Your part’s voice can be self-hating, demeaning, and self-doubting. It is shame, guilt and fear-inducing. It can cause you to question anything about yourself—your appearance, your competence, your intelligence, etc. It can be a nagging background hum, or a full-blown attack shouting in your head. Sometimes it appears from nowhere to ruin a perfectly good experience. Sound familiar to anyone?

If you’re in the job search, the inner critic part may be showing up in various ways: by criticizing you for not having the right degree, the right education, or the right experience. You can feel shame or guilt from the inner critic’s comments like, “Why didn’t you do better when you were in school? Now you’re paying for that.” Or “Why should YOUR work be any more meaningful than anyone else’s? Isn’t it irresponsible to your family not to select the highest-paying job?” Or “What were you thinking when you chose that outfit for your interview?” Or “You seriously think you will get this job when so many other qualified people are out there?” Or “You might as well stay in your current job. You really can’t do much better than what you have. Don’t even try.”

These comments spill out all the time in career counselors’ offices. And the good people who say them honestly believe those statements—at least believe them enough to stop moving forward on their plans. And then clients often double-down on this negative voice by agreeing with it or getting angry, frustrated, or depressed about the voice– thus adding to their suffering.

So how do you deal with these parts? A turning point in the process is when you recognize that this voice is just a part—it is not you. And it is not accurate.

Early and Weiss identify common responses to the inner critic that are not particularly helpful. One common response is to “ignore it and think positively.” While thinking positively is better than believing the critic, it is really just a cover-up that will fade. Another common response is to argue with the critic. To counter it by saying that it’s wrong and lying. But arguing gives the critic power and may cause an even stronger counter-argument. Finally, we often try to banish our inner critic: just “give it the old heave-ho” as Early and Weiss describe. But that’s actually not a good idea because you generally can’t make it disappear. It is part of you and will always be part of you.

So what do you do with this sometimes relentless inner critic part? To start, recognize it.

Take a few moments to jot down some signs of your inner critic. When does it appear? In what situations are you most likely to encounter it? What does it cause you to change in your behavior? What might you otherwise do that this inner critic keeps you from doing.

Then, turn your experience of the inner critic around. When I studied sociology, we learned a term, “structural functionalilsm.” Basically it meant that anything that existed had a purpose or it wouldn’t continue to exist. So the inner critic might be serving a function for you. Maybe (believe it or not) this voice has your best interest at heart. Maybe it wants to keep you from making a mistake. Or maybe it wants to make sure you don’t get out of your comfort zone. Or maybe it’s just afraid. So take a few minutes and ask yourself what might be the good intentions of this part of you? Why might it be saying what it says?  What is the positive intent even if the voice used is harsh and not helpful?

Notice your inner critic’s language: its “persona” so to speak. Maybe you can even picture it: some people describe their inner critics as everything from a mean old lady or man, to a courtroom judge angrily banging down a gavel, to a librarian with her hair in a bun saying “Shhh,” to a fire-breathing dragon just behind their shoulder. What form does your inner critic take? Can you describe or draw this inner critic?

Now that you’ve examined and maybe even put a face to your inner critic, want to find a better way to deal with it? IFS therapy techniques will help you recognize other internal parts that are more helpful and can be used to reduce the power of the inner critics: the “inner champions.” Read my next blog post to learn more about identifying and defeating your inner critic.

©2014 Katharine S. Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.