My mission is to help job seekers secure fulfilling jobs & to help those looking to advance their careers to leverage their influence. If you are looking for a new job or career—or want to advance in the one you have—this site is for you.

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 TED revolves 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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7 Traits to Level Up Your Career

I remember watching the original Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark in an old three-screen theater with my dad. Watching Indy globetrotting to exotic locations and having amazing adventures awoke my inner 11-year-old explorer. This impulse led to my reading about some real life explorers such as Ernest Shackleton and his expeditions to the Arctic, and David Livingstone and his travels in Africa.

Truth be told the harrowing nature of these non-Hollywood adventures (malaria, dysentery, 497 on an open boat in the Arctic!?) convinced me that the title of "armchair explorer" would suffice for my own future. But my interest in those men who were able to overcome the fear, isolation and hazards to achieve amazing goals has never waned.

The Explorers: A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success

Enter Martin Dugard and his latest book, The Explorers. Dugard, who you may recognize from his collaborations with Bill O’Reilly on Killing Lincoln et al, uses this new book to tell the account of one of history's greatest adventures, the search for the source of the Nile, and a study of the seven character traits all great explorers share.

Dugard’s Premise

He claims that all explorers share seven traits: Curiosity, Hope, Passion, Courage, Independence, Self-Discipline, and Perseverance. Additionally he posits that in our own way we are all explorers and that these seven traits can help us fight through challenges, overcome setbacks and succeed in our lives and careers. He attempts to prove this theory using the story of John Speke and Richard Burton’s search for the source of the Nile River as a jumping off point. In the process of telling his tale he further illustrates his point with examples from many other adventurers as well.

The book contains eight chapters, an introduction and then one chapter for each of the seven traits. Dugard tends to open and close each chapter with the Nile adventure, but the bulk of the narrative is a somewhat scattered sampling of a variety of different explorers and how their tales relate to each trait. While this structure hurts the cohesiveness of his tale, it allows for a treasure trove of anecdotes and life lessons that you can apply to your own life and career.

Dugard’s Proof

In the chapter on Hope, Dugard relates the story of Robert Peary and his struggles in reaching the North Pole. Many people began to see this quest as foolish but Peary pressed on not because of blind optimism, but because he possessed what Dugard claims was true hope.
Hope is not just a happy feeling. It is a dynamic cognitive emotional system that is markedly different from mere optimism. When an individual dreams of some ultimate goal they would like to achieve, the process of hope uses creative intelligence and the intricate workings of the brain to find a road map toward the eventual completion of that goal.
Career lesson:  Dreams are great. Dreams attached to a plan are better.

When discussing Passion he relates many tales of people pushed to greatness due to an almost obsessive drive to succeed. But to me one of the most powerful quotes came from Edward Whymper, the first man to ascend the Matterhorn.
Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.
Career lesson:  Passion can drive you forward, but without prudence and forethought it can lead you to disaster.

In a book on explorers it is easy to see why the topic of courage would come up. These men battled nature, natives and themselves. Courage was a prerequisite. It is harder to imagine ourselves in our white collared world of business and information needing courage. But courage is more than a singular virtue. Dugard lets C.S. Lewis explain.
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.
Pair this with Dugard’s use of French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
You rolled yourself into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as a man….Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.
Career lesson:  Courage is needed when facing a world that promotes conformity and group-think. Cliché as it sounds to truly succeed we need to think outside the box, tackle great problems and create new ways of doing things.

Explorers: A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success is an interesting read for the armchair explorer in all of us and while it can meander at times, it has some solid real life lessons to offer.

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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 21st century.

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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?
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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You Cannot Be All Things to All People

If you have a persistent sore throat where do you go? To a nose and throat specialist.

If you have fallen arches and need orthotics where do you go? To a podiatrist.

If you have a funny looking spot on your arm where do you go? To a dermatologist.

Hopefully you see where I am going with this. In none of the above examples would you go to a general practitioner (unless of course your HMO requires a referral- but that is another story). If you have a specific problem then you’ll most likely go to someone trained to offer a specific solution, right?

Then why is it that so many job hunters seek to present themselves as all things to all people? This is not only impossible, but it also hurts your chances of ever landing a job in which you can truly excel.

Clients will often come to me with a resume heading that reads something like- “multi-skilled Business Professional.” Invariably, I ask them what exactly that is supposed to mean, because I have yet to see a job posting for a multi-skilled anything.

Employers have specific problems and they are looking for professionals uniquely qualified to solve those specific problems. The sooner you can convince them that you are the one person they need to interview the better. In other words, please, do not let your opening pitch to them be something nonspecific.

If you see a job posting for a customer support specialist for a tech firm and decide to apply, make sure you present yourself directly to the perceived needs of the employer. Present yourself as someone who can translate complex technical material into everyday language that customers can readily understand. Use your resume to highlight where you have created documentation or training materials for technology products that have helped non-technical end users.

Jobseekers have a limited amount of space to attract a potential employer’s interest. Don’t waste valuable resume real estate showing how multi-skilled you are. Show how laser focused you can be on the one problem that employer needs solved today. If you do that, you’ll have an excellent chance of landing an interview.