How to Create a Thriving Career, with Jen Anderson

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 205:

How to Create a Thriving Career, with Jen Anderson

Airdate: August 21, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps people find fulfilling careers.

Every week, I interview a career expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

This week, I’m talking to Jen Anderson about how to create a thriving career.

Jen is a career strategist and coach. She teaches at Portland Community College and the University of California at Davis.

Jen is also the author of the book, Plant Yourself Where You Will Bloom: How to Turn What Makes You Unique into a Meaningful and Lucrative Career.

She joins us today in the Mac’s List studio.

Well, Jen, here’s where I want to get started, you say a thriving career depends on knowing what makes a person unique. Why is that important, Jen?

Jen Anderson:

Oh my goodness, in a very crowded world with lots of noise, employers are really looking for people who know who they are, know the special thing that they bring to the table, and they’re looking for that now. They’re looking for that unique thing that you can do better than anyone else in the world, so if you want to stand out, it’s important to know yourself. That’s rule number one, is you have to know who you are.

Mac Prichard:

We talk a lot on this show about understanding employers needs and problems; should a job seeker focus on what matters to employers first and not about themselves?

Jen Anderson:

I think that’s a great question. One of the first things I ask job seekers to think about is, what is the business problem that needs solving? When you can pinpoint what the business problem is, you can then ask yourself, “How am I uniquely equipped to do that better than anyone else?”

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so let’s talk about how to get clear about your uniqueness. In the clients that you work with, what kind of steps do you recommend people take?

Jen Anderson:

I recommend thinking about several key areas about who you are. The first of which, which is most important I think, is your talent. And your talent translates into the things that you’re naturally good at, the things that you really enjoy doing, and that’s what you’re doing all day. That’s, more or less, the hands-on of what’s taking up your time.

When you get to do the thing that you love to do, that you’re naturally gifted at, you’re really going to find your quality of life and your experience at work going up exponentially.

Mac Prichard:

What’s your practical advice, Jen, about how to get clear about those talents? Do you take people through self-assessment? Do you have them do an exercise? How do people know what their best talents are?

Jen Anderson:

Here’s the beauty of it, you’ve been doing it all along and it’s just a matter of thinking about what are the things that you’re naturally doing day-to-day? It’s your real life…is the best place to draw from and not necessarily just from your work experience. Things that you have just really enjoyed doing, whether it’s in your spare time, or volunteer work, as well as your work. You can also reach out to people that know you from all those different parts of your life and ask them, “What do you think I am really good at? When you need help with something, and you think to come to me, what is it that you need help with?”

Those are the things that will help you tap into just knowing what’s natural and effortless and easy for you.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say to listeners who say, “Okay, I get that but my dream is to do something else and I’ve been afraid to do that or I just haven’t had the opportunity. How do I bring that talent to the surface?”

Jen Anderson:

Oh, great question. Talents are different than skills and sometimes people don’t know what the difference is.

Skills are things that you’ve learned how to do; you’ve gotten really competent at them but they may not be something that you actually really love to do. It’s important to distinguish between those things that you’ve learned that maybe you might not really want to be doing anymore and discover the things that you really do want to be doing and here’s the fun part, really. The fun part is that it’s usually translatable to almost anything you want to do next. You may have to look at it and say, “Okay, how do I do it a little bit differently? How do I want to become even more skilled at what I’m talented at in order to make a big leap?”

The opportunities are there, though, and it’s just a matter, again, truly, of knowing who you are and what you’re really good at.

Mac Prichard:

I want to press you a bit on this because I know there are a lot of people out there who want to do something different and for whatever reason, maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s lack of opportunity, they just haven’t done it. And I get the difference between skills and talents but what would you say to a listener who wants to do something and just is both afraid and not sure how to get started? Want to go in a completely different direction.

Jen Anderson:

Yeah, so the fear is real and I think that there is a lot of information out there about, to feel the fear and do it anyway and I recommend doing it in a way that feels really comfortable for you. So you can stick your toe in the water, dabble with it a little bit, build up that courage and that confidence. I never think it’s a great idea to make a wholesale leap into something new without getting that courage up and that confidence really even more important than courage in the initial stages.

Mac Prichard:

What does that look like in practical terms, Jen? Are we talking about volunteering? Doing a project? What do you see your clients do when they want to surface a talent or try a talent that they haven’t had an opportunity to exercise?

Jen Anderson:

Well, you said the magic word, which is project and I actually call them pet projects. I actually…that’s one of the pieces, one of the steps in the book, is to create a pet project, one that you can have that opportunity to practice, to play, to explore, be creative. And bring other people in on it at the same time so that you’re not trying to create something in a vacuum with no input from other people and their creative ideas and suggestions about how you can develop further.

I heard a great piece of advice the other day that I would love to share. When you’re bringing in other people on your dreams, one of the things you want to really take into consideration is that you may not want to take criticism or advice. Well, criticism from people that you wouldn’t go to for advice. Really think about, who are those people that you want to bring in on your pet project, to make it come to life and create that opportunity for you to feel confident and moving forward?

Mac Prichard:

Okay, what other steps should people take to identify what makes them unique? You talked about getting clear about talents and skills, and before somebody begins that job search or is revisiting their career goals, what else should people be doing besides looking at talents and skills?

Jen Anderson:

This is one that I know is near and dear to your heart as well, it’s to really get clear on what your values are. And values are not morals and ethics, those are things that are important but they’re kind of the man-made rules of how to get along in society. Your values are things that you find valuable; they’re the things that are really important to you. Even if you can’t explain why it’s so important to you, somewhere deep inside you, you know that it is.

When you find out what those values are, they translate into the difference that you’re making in the world and that’s one of the number one things I hear from people that are unhappy in their current work. They really want to be making a difference in the world and I challenge them, I push them to say, “What is that difference?”

It’s not just making any difference, there’s a difference you want to make, so what is that? And that’s really found in determining what your core values are, the things that you really find important.

Mac Prichard:

Values aren’t always about social change or making the world a better place. There are other values people should consider in their career. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jen Anderson:

I can. Just last night I was working with a gentleman who really had as one of his top core values, leisure, leisure time, and we got to talking about, well, what kind of a career would honor the value of leisure time and make that difference in people’s lives? And he was coming up with really fun things, like taking people on tours, guided tours of things like amusement parks. He had, just, a lot of different ideas and applications so you know, being able to relax and enjoy yourself and have fun is a value too.

Mac Prichard:

I meet so many people, too, who want to make sure that, while their job is important and their career matters, that there’s time for family and friends and other things as well.

Jen Anderson:

Mhm, and that’s one of the other areas that I have people explore about themselves, is their lifestyle. What lifestyle do they really want to be leading? Work needs to fit into that to support it. Many times, family is the number one important value that people have and I always say, let’s take that one as given, that your family is a value and look at some other ones that would support you in really honoring that value of family.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I want to talk more about lifestyle in a moment but let’s, for listeners who are wondering how to get clear about their values or the best way to consider them when doing either a job search or reflecting on their career, is there an exercise you recommend?

Jen Anderson:

I have a couple of fun ones that I have people do.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Jen Anderson:

One thing is, believe it or not, people are always showing us what their values are and one fun thing to do is to go look at your clothes that have slogans on them. If you care enough to wear something around town with a statement on it, chances are really good that it’s a value of yours. You may need to play with it a little bit to see how it might translate into your work world.

There’s always bumper stickers on cars, memes, things you post on social media, those are all big clues as to what you really find important.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, so people’s identification with brands or ideas or campaigns or local community groups.

Jen Anderson:

You bet. Believe it or not, there is a value behind whether you would choose to work for McDonald’s or Burger King. Which one would you choose?

Mac Prichard:

I expect we could do a whole episode on that. So, I like that but how do you turn that into something practical because, you know, put yourself into the shoes of someone who’s thinking about that next job or maybe thinking about a career direction, and they want to translate those values into applications, and ideas, and presentations, and interviews. How do you see people do that, Jen?

Jen Anderson:

The thing to keep in mind about this, and I may be just kind of slanting off a little bit of what you asked, and that is to remember that values are not the only piece of the puzzle that you want to take into consideration when you’re going after your dream job. There are things like your interests, what are you really curious about? What could you learn more and more about on a regular basis that would just kind of fuel your curiosity and your intellect?

Your knowledge, what do you already know? What certifications, trainings… there are quite a few things to take into consideration so I wouldn’t focus too heavily on one over another but we can talk more about that if you want me to go more directly to the original question.

Mac Prichard:

I’d like to dig into that, and so what I’m hearing is, you need to be unique and you need to think about the needs of the employer and when you do that, you’ll identify the problems that you’re uniquely positioned to solve and that your definition of uniqueness begins with getting clear about your talents, your skills, your values, and I know you mentioned lifestyle, as well.

Are there other areas people should be exploring as they define their uniqueness?

Jen Anderson:

Absolutely, one that people don’t think about and it’s surprisingly important is environment. What environment brings out your best work? I work from home, which I feel really blessed to get to do, and I love the flexibility of that. I kind of call it my command center, but a lot of people don’t want to work from home but they do have a really distinct idea in their mind. Do they want to work downtown? Do they want to work…there’s a lot of different possibilities but in the outdoors versus indoors. There’s a lot to take into consideration.

What really brings out your best? Where are you creative and inspired?

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, hold that thought. We’re going to take a break and when we come back we’ll continue our conversation about how to create a thriving career.

You go to a professional conference. During a break, you meet two people looking for work.

The first one tells you she’s a digital marketer. And she wants a job as a senior account director with an ad agency in the travel and hospitality industry.

She’d like to stay in Portland. But she’s willing to relocate to Seattle or San Francisco. She mentions a few of the top employers in her sector and asks if you know people at those firms.

The second person tells you he’s doing a job search. He’s open to anything. In fact, he might even move across the country if the offer was right. And he’d be grateful if you’d let him know if you hear of an opening. Any opening.

Which one do you think will find a job faster?

The applicant who knows what she wants and what makes her unique? Or the one who’s not sure what to do next and doesn’t tell others what he has to offer?

And which person sounds like you?

If you’re struggling with your own goals, I’ve got a free guide that can help. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

Go to macslist.org/focus. It’s free.

The people you meet during your job search do want to help. And when you know what you want, others are more likely to think of specific jobs or contacts you can connect with.

Learn how to set your own job search goals. Get your free copy of Finding Focus in Your Job Search today.

Go to macslist.org/focus.

And now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Jen Anderson. She’s a career strategist and coach.

Jen is also the author of the book, Plant Yourself Where You Will Bloom: How to Turn What Makes You Unique into a Meaningful and Lucrative Career.

Jen, before the break, we were talking about the different steps you take your clients through to define what makes them unique and the benefits of doing that when creating a thriving career and you mentioned environment.

Any additional thoughts about why environment is so important in building a career that allows people to thrive?

Jen Anderson:

I think the world of work has changed pretty dramatically and the settings in which people are asked to work can be, sometimes daunting to things like focus, concentration, really feeling inspired. In fact, last night I was teaching a class and I asked them how many of them felt really happy working in cubicles and there were quite a few people in the room but nobody raised their hand.

The reality is, sometimes you have to work in a cubicle but I find that people who are really determined to find their dream job and find work that they’ll really love, it pays off to think about what environment can you really thrive in, so that you can test the water and see as you’re exploring different career options or actual job opportunities if there might not be some leeway to negotiate a bit about what your work environment will look like. And I find that most people don’t think that that’s even a possibility, to ask for that, and it is, and very often you can negotiate to something that feels more like a good fit for you and bring out your best work.

Mac Prichard:

I’m struck as you talk, that I don’t  think people think about their environment when they’re negotiating either a job offer or doing a search at all. When you, in your conversations with the people you work with, how does environment come up? When people reflect on that, are they thinking about past experiences where they did their best work or how do they understand what kind of environment is going to allow them to shine?

Jen Anderson:

One story I can tell you is that, I’ve worked with quite a few millennials and one of the things that I love about them, they seem to have an unspoken slogan that they all know about, which is, “Tell me what you want me to do and then leave me alone and let me do it.” They really have this sense that they can be in charge of their work product and doing it in a way that…in an environment that brings out their best.

I think that it’s really important to recognize that both for job seekers, but also for employers, to recognize that things are shifting a bit and it really is an important aspect.

Mac Prichard:

We haven’t talked about money yet. How do you recommend listeners think about money when planning their career or doing a job search?

Jen Anderson:

Money is crucial and I always tell my clients, “Think about 3 different levels of income.” One is, what would the “cut back a little bit in order to make a leap into something new”, possibly, (although I find that they don’t usually have to do that), but what would be that cutting back number.

What’s the number that you currently need and then add 10 to 15%, because I find that so many people undercut themselves and try to skimp when it’s just not…you can’t do your best, you can’t be your best if you’re struggling with money.

Then, for fun, there’s the “sky’s the limit number” and I…that is really near and dear to my heart because I love helping people to think bigger than they’ve ever thought before and money is, it’s a non-negotiable. You have to have money in order to function in this world, so let’s just start talking about it and let’s figure out what that real number is.

The beautiful thing, Mac, 20 years of doing this, I have yet to have a client have to take a pay cut in order to do what they really love to do and most of the time they make significantly more money.

Mac Prichard:

I think that would surprise a lot of listeners because I meet people who think, if they’re in a job, particularly 5, 10, 15 years into their career, the best thing they can do when they switch positions is perhaps increase their salary 3, 5%, maybe 10, if they’re lucky and many people tell me that if they’re considering a career switch, they’re prepared to take a cut.

What would you say to folks like that?

Jen Anderson:

Well, one thing to think about is the possibility that it’s just in your own mind that you’re going to have to do that. What I tell people to do is to ask what the range is of what the position would pay and then ask, what skills, talents, problem-solving abilities are needed within that range? Then you can look at it and you can say, “Alright, if this is what they need and this is what I have available to them, it makes sense that I might be at this pay rate.”

If there are things that are actually identified that you can do at the higher end, then you can go in and ask for more money and you’re well equipped. When you understand that business problem that they want solved and you understand what you’re bringing to the table, then negotiating that higher amount is easy.

Mac Prichard:

How do the people you work with, Jen, do that kind of research? Because I can imagine listeners saying, “Well, that sounds right but I’m not sure how to figure out what the range is for the work I do or I’m just not going to be able to find that out.” What do the people you work with do to get that data?

Jen Anderson:

Because I am mainly working with people who are really wanting to change their carer, do something different, I take them through a process of reaching out and doing what I call “advice chats.” They find people who are doing what they would like to be doing and they ask them that question. To do what you do, to solve the problems that you solve for people, what skills, talents, are you using and what is the pay for that?

It’s something that you don’t even have to think about it in terms of going to the organization that you work for. You can find people who are doing it in other organizations and begin to kind of collect that data. Real-world, that’s the key with advice chats. You’re getting real-world advice and there are 3 things to talk to people about, which is, what is your job? What do you actually do all day, hands-on? What is your company like? What are the problems that the company is facing and in the industry? What are the trends in the industry that you see that I need to be aware of to really add value, as I’m offering what it is that I have out there?

Mac Prichard:

Why do people take meetings like that, Jen? Because some people might say, “She’ll never see me, she’s so busy with her job.” Or, “I don’t know her.” Why would somebody not only make the time but share those insights?

Jen Anderson:

The keyword is advice and you’ll notice I didn’t call it an informational interview. When you attach that word, “interview,” it immediately makes people think job, and if they don’t have any openings, they’re going to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” When you approach them and say, “Hey, I was wondering if I could get some advice from you.” It changes the game significantly and I don’t know about you, Mac, but I know a lot of people who love to give advice so…

Mac Prichard:

I do, too.

Jen Anderson:

When you ask people for advice, it’s flattering and they want to give back. That’s the thing about people that I think it’s so important to keep in mind. They really do want to help, they want to give back and if they can see a way that they can, they always will.

Mac Prichard:

I also find with the most senior people, the reason they’re more successful is that they don’t tell others what to do. They ask questions and so when someone approaches them and actually wants advice, and lots and lots of information, and direction, they’ve been waiting for that person for a long time, haven’t they?

Jen Anderson:

Beautifully put. Absolutely, yes.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific.

Well, we’ve talked about money, environment, lifestyle, values, skills; what are some of the other elements people need to consider when creating a thriving career and getting clear about what makes them unique?

Jen Anderson:

Well, there is one last key one, which is people. We haven’t talked about the role that people play.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, let’s dig into that.

Jen Anderson:

Mac, do you know the number one reason people cite for leaving their current job?

Mac Prichard:

I would imagine they’re unhappy either with the people they work with or with their boss or both.

Jen Anderson:

Their boss, it’s their boss. They tend to stay longer than they should because of their coworkers. They love their work family and they’ll be really loyal to them. The number one reason is their boss and so it’s so important to take the time to think to yourself, what kind of a boss brings out my best work?

Mac Prichard:

How do people discover that? Should they be reflecting back on previous supervisors they’ve had, and if you’re just getting started, how do you figure that out?

Jen Anderson:

Great question because that’s a reality. So yes, it can be if you’ve had a great boss you can say, “Okay, what worked for me? What were the traits and qualities of that person?” Even a bad boss, you can say, “What did they do that didn’t work for me?” And then you can possibly flip that but really, I have people think about their favorite people in the world from any aspect of their life. What are they like? What is interacting with them like for you? What makes you feel good? What makes you want to create? What inspires you?

Really, the evidence is all around you if you take the time just to think about the people that you love to be with.

Mac Prichard:

Well, this is a wonderful process. There’s a lot of room for reflection here, and some action to take, like you mentioned the projects and advice chats. How do people act on all this? Do they write these things down? Do they turn it into a to-do list? What do you see the people who are successful at creating that thriving career and getting clear about their uniqueness do?

Jen Anderson:

First is really exploring each of those areas, and that’s primarily, when I’m helping people that’s what I help them do first, is explore each of those areas and here’s what’s fun, it actually becomes a checklist. You can envision it any way you want, depending on what your way of thinking about things is. It could be a bubble chart, it could be an actual checklist, but category by category. And then when you’re thinking about what you want to do and you have a direction, as you’re talking to people, getting their advice, you can go back and form questions from that checklist so that you’ll know what kind of advice you’re actually looking for and then when you get a job opportunity in front of you you can go back to it as a checklist and say, “How many of these things fit into this opportunity?”

Mac Prichard:

What’s your experience with the amount of time it takes to do something like this?

Jen Anderson:

When I take people through a process, it’s about 2 months and it takes that time, I think, to really kind of get used to the process because it’s a different way of thinking about things. Most of us are just used to looking at what we’ve already done and trying to put together a resume and hope we can find a job listing where it makes sense to adapt that resume and make it fit.

For this one, it’s more introspective and I think there’s some real value in taking your time and going through it and thinking about it critically and really saying…you’re asking yourself, how can I go deeper? What else is important here? Why is this important?

Mac Prichard:

To be clear, Jen, you’re not envisioning that somebody would do this 8 hours a day for 2 months. This is over a period of 2 months, perhaps how many hours over 8 weeks?

Jen Anderson:

Oh, maybe about 8 to 10 to 12. I mean it depends.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, yeah.

Jen Anderson:

It depends on…if you’ve got some blocks, if you’ve got some things that are some sphere surface, things that you know that you need to address, which is the reality of it and why I do what I do is to help people over those things. Sometimes there can be stumbling blocks that need to be looked at but it’s…some people take a really long time and they’re really slower and some people are just really insightful quickly and it depends.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so, 8, 12, 16, hours over the course of 2 months.

Jen Anderson:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, that sounds manageable.

It’s been a terrific conversation, Jen, now tell us, what’s next for you?

Jen Anderson:

Well, actually what I’m playing with right now is finding clients who have a big idea and something that’s really sincerely coming from their heart about a difference that they want to make in the world, who recognize that it’s maybe a big process and they want to partner with a coach to help guide them to really make it come true. I’m really excited about this. This is coming from the bottom of my heart.

I feel like it’s a treasure hunt to find the right people.

Mac Prichard:

I can feel the energy and I know you have a special offer right now for our listeners. Can you tell us about that?

Jen Anderson:

I do. I have an audio that’s available and it has a funny name but it’s called The Pillow Test and it’s how to know if your new career dream is really viable and something that you actually should do and I’ll just tell you why it’s called The Pillow Test. It’s when you lay your head on the pillow at night, what happens for you when you’re thinking about doing this? So we’ll explore the different things that are important to know.

Mac Prichard:

It’s an intriguing title. I know people can find that by visiting jenniferanderson.com/macslist.

Well, Jen, given all the useful tips you’ve shared with us today, what’s the one thing you want our listeners to remember when creating a thriving career?

Jen Anderson:

You are unique. You are a unique combination of talents and preferences about your work, and when you take the time to really know what makes you tick, makes you who you are, it makes everything so much easier. Really, honestly, for the rest of the time that you want to be making a living.

Mac Prichard:

Well, thanks for joining us today, Jen.

Jen Anderson:

Thank you.

Mac Prichard:

When we think about job hunting, often our first step is to start looking for the next job. As Jen made clear, it’s important to step back and think about the career we want and what makes us different and what it is that we offer uniquely to employers, because as she said, employers hire problem solvers. I loved the process that Jen laid out for how to get clear about what makes you unique and I was also impressed, while it sounded complicated, in the end, it’s a process that takes only 8, 12, maybe 16 hours over the course of 2 months. It’s an important investment to make because if we just move from job application to job application, we can blink and decades have gone by and we haven’t had that career that we wanted, a career in which we could thrive.

If you’re still thinking about the focus of your job search and you’re unclear about your goals, we’ve got a resource that can help. It’s free and it’s called, Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

You can get it at our website. Go to macslist.org/focus.

It’s a step-by-step guide that will help you set goals for your own search and your career.

Go to macslist.org/focus.

Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Kirsten Wyatt. She’ll give us an insider’s guide to getting a government job.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

When you begin a job search, it’s important to know what makes you stand out from the crowd of applicants. Knowing what makes you unique helps employers see how you can help them and allows you to figure out where you will thrive. But how do you discover what makes you unique? Find Your Dream Job guest Jen Anderson says you need to ask yourself some key questions. What are you good at? What do you do for fun? What do people ask you for help with? Employers hire problem solvers. When you step back and get clear on what sets you apart, you will be one step closer to building a thriving career that allows you to shine.

About Our Guest:

Jen Anderson is a career strategist and coach. She teaches at Portland Community College and the University of California at Davis. Jen is also the author of the book, “Plant Yourself Where You Will Bloom: How to Turn What Makes You Unique into a Meaningful and Lucrative Career.”

Resources in This Episode: