Common Interview Mistakes

September 30, 2012

Here is a post I wrote for the Microsoft JobsBlog:

Dear Microsoft JobsBlog:

What are some of the lesser-known but still common interview mistakes that candidates make?

This is a great question since I have been compiling a list in my head for the past few weeks. Glad I can write a post and get my thoughts out, not to mention potentially help Microsoft interviewees in the process!

1)      Lacking self-awareness during the on-site interviews – One of the key traits we look for in candidates at Microsoft is self-awareness. What does it mean to be self-aware? It means having a solid understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and how your actions and behavior can impact others around you. During the interview process you may be asked, “How have your interviews gone so far?” The candidates who possess a fair degree of self-awareness will be apply to reflect on each interview in order to determine what went well and what areas could have been improved. So, during your interviews, really think critically about each interview in order to provide a well-thought answer if you are asked how your interviews have gone.

2)      Not taking feedback to heart from interviewers – Besides self-awareness, we also look for candidates who are “coachable.” What does this? Microsoft looks to hire strong candidates who are willing to take feedback in order to improve themselves. During on-site interviews, candidates will often receive direct feedback from interviewers such as different ideas of how to approach a problem, tips for future interviews, and areas to improve. The goal in providing feedback to candidates is not only help candidates excel in the interviews but also to see if: a) they are actively listening b) they can learn and grow in a short period of time c) they don’t have the mentality of, “it’s my way or the highway.” Those candidates who are able to accept constructive feedback and accept/implement ideas from others, will be the ones who really standout in the interview process. We see these types of candidates as having enough mature and confidence to work effectively with others and grow in their careers.

3)     Forgetting to relax and have fun! – Let me preface this interview mistake with a personal story that will (hopefully) help clarify my point. During college I ran cross-country and during a training run one day, I was cruising along at a fairly decent pace. My coach came up beside me and asked a really pertinent question, “Colleen, do you realize how much faster you run during practice than in meets?” What I hadn’t realized is that my relaxed self who absolutely loved to run for the fun of it, performed so much better when I wasn’t putting expectations on myself. When it came to race day, my body tensed up and I became plagued with fear. The result: slow race times.

 I often see candidates so nervous during the on-site interviews that they often have trouble thinking clearly, just as in my situation when I couldn’t run fast during races due to an overly tense body. The more relaxed and at ease we are in situations, the more we will allow our strengths to really shine through. The key is to not put expectations on yourself but instead, just to have fun and see the interview process as an opportunity to meet some really dynamic people, solve some cool problems, and learn more about Microsoft.

 

 

 

 

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What I Learned In Bikram Yoga Class: Relax Into Life and Reduce Stress

June 1, 2012

During Bikram Yoga classes I have learned an important lesson about life: the more we immerse ourselves in the flow of life, the more at peace we are with life. Whenever I find myself struggling to get into a pose, or hold a pose in class, I become stressed out, anxious, and typically just fall a part on the yoga mat. As a result, I become frustrated and my mind is flooded with thoughts such as, “Why can’t I do this?” or “What is my problem today?” or “Why is this so hard?”

When I let go of expectations and just completely relax my body, the poses come easily to me. Forcing poses only causes my body to be stressed out, which makes the poses harder. While staring into the mirror I also empty my mind of any thoughts. What I have noticed is that any self-talk, especially negative self-talk, clutters my mind and prevents me from being fully present with my breath and completely in my body.

As a former competitive runner, I was used to aggressively forcing results. I was always trying to run faster, push myself farther, and ultimately beat the person ahead of me. Yoga taught me that life isn’t always about exerting brute force to get ahead in life. On my yoga mat I have learned to completely immerse myself in the flow of life and I have allowed myself to just be, in whatever energy state I am in.

A friend once remarked that trying to force life is like paddling upstream. Imagine taking a canoe trip and spending the whole time paddling upstream. Think about how exhausted you would be after a short period of time. Unfortunately most of us spend our whole lives wearing ourselves out by trying to move upstream instead of easily floating downstream with the natural current of life.

The more we force life, the more stressed we become. When we relax into life, all of a sudden our life is easy, effortless, and peaceful. What does it mean to be in the flow of life? It means accepting what is, instead of rebelling against what isn’t. For example, people experience road rage when they don’t accept the fact that as a result of traffic, their car isn’t moving along at the speed they would like. Yes, traffic can definitely cause stress, especially when we are trying to get somewhere on time. Can we change the fact there is traffic? Nope! Becoming angry, honking our horns, and shouting profanities will not do anything to help move the traffic along. All these things will do is cause stress for ourselves and others, and prevent us from living in the flow of life.

The next time you find yourself stressed out, ask yourself if you are fully immersed in the flow of life. Are you trying to force life? Are you rebelling agains the current state? Are you refusing to accept what is? Are you trying too hard for something that isn’t meant to be? If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, it’s time to “Let Go and Relax Into Life.” You will find that life becomes easy and effortless.

An In-Depth Look at the Software Development Engineer in Test Role at Microsoft

February 26, 2012

When I contact candidates about the SDET (Software Development Engineer in Test) role at Microsoft, there is initial hesitation about being in a “test” role. In order to help provide clarification on what it means to be an SDET and dispel misconceptions about testing at Microsoft, I enlisted the help of a current Principal Test Lead (John Rodrigues) with the Hotmail Team.

In this interview with John, he helps explain how testing is different at Microsoft versus other companies, what some of the technical challenges are that SDETs face on a daily basis, and what types of candidates Microsoft looks for when hiring SDETs.

Tell me about your background. How did you end up in the test discipline at MSFT? What is your current role?

Since I am a Bay Area native, I decided to stay close to Silicon Valley when I was searching for colleges because I wanted to be close to the hub of technology. I ended up attending the University of California at Santa Cruz and focused my efforts on acquiring an engineering degree. Several years, and many pizza boxes later, I graduated with my Bachelor of Science degree. In early 2003, I joined Microsoft working as an SDET with the MSN Calendar team. The position wasn’t familiar to me at first. I’d spent several nights and weekends developing programs for classes and figured I would eventually move into a Software Development role. When I delved into the SDET role however, I learned how technically challenging testing is at Microsoft.

The technical demands and requirements for the SDET role were the same as an SDE role. What I really liked about the discipline, and continue to love to this day, was the breadth that came with it. I wasn’t just coding an API in my office all night long. Rather, I was helping to design the API, write code to validate it, work with partners to integrate with it, verify that it would work around the world for multiple markets and languages, and ensure the scalability of it in the future. It has helped me grow into a well-rounded development engineer today.

Speaking of today, I’ve had the opportunity to work at Microsoft for about 9 years. During that time, I moved into several different teams and have had lots of different responsibilities. Starting in 2005, I moved into a leadership role, managing a small team of 3 engineers. Since then, I’ve built up experience in not only building large scale services, but also in managing teams. I’m currently a Principal Engineer managing five teams in the Windows Live Hotmail Team where I work on the storage and anti-abuse platforms.

How is testing different at Microsoft versus other companies?

When someone typically thinks of a test position, thoughts of manual testing or button pushing often come to mind. Upon closer inspection however, one may notice a few interesting things about the position at Microsoft. First is the title. In the early 2000’s, Microsoft went away from hiring test-only engineers, commonly referred to as Software Test Engineers. We are now focused on hiring Software Development Engineers in Test. We’ll talk more about the differences in just a bit. Second, are the requirements of the role, which have changed over the years. The expectations are that folks have a development background and are able to meet the same type of technical hiring bar as SDE candidates. Third, SDET’s are a first class citizen in the engineering triad. They are responsible and involved from Day 1 of a project until that project is terminated. Microsoft is committed to building high quality products that scale the globe as rapidly as possible; SDET’s are core to this commitment.

So, what are some of the key differences when it comes to the SDET and SDE discipline? To put it simply, we hire developers who have a mindset bent on understanding how something truly works and then breaking it. SDET’s are involved in the end to end design of how a product comes together and how the integration points will work in the eco-system. Once a design is flushed out, SDET’s work alongside their counterparts to build instrumentation and automation into the product. Often times, this code will ship and be used for validation of a deployment or for debugging and triangulation purposes.

Here’s an example: Let’s say that we need to add an API to Hotmail to retrieve a message for a user from a data store. We’ll call that API ‘GetMessage’. The SDE and SDET would work together to draft up how this API will work, ensuring the requirements for it are met. Requirements may entail such things as what data it will return, the format it will be returned in, the performance of the API, etc.. Once the requirements have been flushed out, the SDE and SDET go to work on writing and validating this new API. The SDE will code up the API and use the in-house test framework to ensure that the right data is being returned in the right way. The SDET, in tandem, is building up the necessary collateral to validate the API. It isn’t as simple, however, as just validating input and output. An SDET needs to have in-depth knowledge of the eco-system and how things will work end to end. For example, how many requests per second will be made and from what locations? Will there be cross data-center calls and, if there are, what type of latency will we be dealing with? If the latency is too high, will we run out of threads waiting for responses? What happens if a particular disk is responding slowly or not at all and you can’t retrieve a message; how do you make sure it is retrieved from another location without user impact? Validating the input and output is the easy part and most tests can either be auto-generated or quickly added with ease. It doesn’t stop at the API level either. Our products often have an advanced user interface that customers use.

Continuing on this topic, think about how one would automate Hotmail UI such that the same test case works across multiple browsers and operating systems. On top of that, what would you do when the UI changes and elements are moved or modified? How do you ensure validation of the product and quality are taken into account without slowing down the product? SDET’s are responsible for these types of questions – both asking them and checking what happens. They will spend significant energy on ensuring we can ship a reliable product that our customers love. When it does come time to ship a product, the SDET team makes the call on if the product is ready or not. They are the gatekeepers to releasing bits into our customer’s hands.

As a final point, it is worth noting that people often move between disciplines at Microsoft. Due in part to the requirements we have for each role, people can move between PM, SDET, and SDE with relative ease. We have people who make the jump from SDET to SDE, SDE to SDET, etc.. Movement like this helps to broaden the perspective one can bring to the team.

What are some of the technical challenges faced by SDETs?

Microsoft creates products for the masses. Be it cloud or client software, we expect people from around the world to interact with our products daily. Working with this in mind, you can quickly start to see some of the challenging aspects of the SDET role: scale, permutations, performance, globalization, integration, security, privacy and more.  Each of these is a complete topic in and of itself, so I’ll pick one and give some examples of the technical challenges an SDET works with daily.

Let’s talk about one of my favorite topics, scale built into Microsoft’s DNA. We know what it takes to build software that can be used around the world by millions to billions of people. This holds true for our client and cloud offerings. In the Hotmail team, our focus is geared primarily towards the latter. With over 1.1 billion Hotmail accounts provisioned around the world, we have a host of challenges that SDET’s face in order to deliver a quality product in a timely fashion. We have different hardware permutations to think through, different user types from small to large to heavily customized to multi-locale based users, numerous hardware failures from different architectures and regions of the world, and different browsers and clients that access Hotmail on different OS’ and device types. This is the tip of the iceberg, but paints a picture of what our engineering team works on. SDET’s work heavily with their SDE peers to design new features, debug existing problems, and plan for better efficiency in this ever changing world. They work on writing instrumentation into the product and using that instrumentation to build a set of highly effective automated suites that ensure quality on every check-in and user transaction. This translates heavily into ensuring data integrity is kept even when we are struck by the most pathological situations possible. On top of this, the team has produced significant collateral in scalability, capacity, and performance analysis that uses instrumentation from the real world to assess changes to code and hardware with minimal to no human work required. Our ability to ship and scale our product up quickly would not be possible if it wasn’t for the SDET’s we have in place today and the strong and diverse backgrounds they bring to the table.

As stated earlier, the requirements for the role are similar for SDE and SDET. We expect SDET’s to come in with a strong computer science fundamentals, the ability to quickly solve challenging problems, great communication skills, and a focus on understanding how things can and will break. Having these skill sets and a mindset focused on the ins and outs of how the product works, enables an SDET to solve some of the most difficult problems we face when building software. It is a rewarding and inspiring role.

How do SDETs interact with fellow PMs and SDEs?

SDET’s are a part of our core engineering team which, in most parts of Microsoft, are comprised of three disciplines: SDET, SDE, and PM. They are a first class citizen within this engineering triad and work daily with their counterparts to design, develop, qualify, ship, and maintain software. From conception to termination, an SDET is involved in all aspects of the software development lifecycle. You will be expected to engage in product and feature decisions, architectural road map, product designs, prototype development and testing, automation development, bug analysis and fixing, and debugging.

Often, a small team of SDET’s, SDE’s, and PM’s are created to tackle a particular component or feature. This small triad of engineers has a close working relationship and will typically meet daily to discuss the work completed, complications that arose, and what is left to ship. The SDET is the gatekeeper for when a component, feature and overarching product is ready to go live. Simply put, these three disciplines are at the core of Microsoft’s engineering DNA and work together to build some of the most widely used products in the world.

If a candidate has been in more of a development versus testing role in the past, will the SDET role be a good fit?

Some of the best candidates we’ve hired into the SDET role have come from a strong development background. We often look for developers who are proactive about understanding how something really ticks, how it might be used from start to finish, and how customers will interact with the product. Folks that are heavily engaged in debugging activities, proactively writing unit tests, and understanding and coding for pathological scenarios will often do quite well in an SDET role. They get to combine their knack for improving the quality of the code and experience for the customer with a strong foundation in computer science.

One will typically notice that the interview questions, focus areas, experience, and knowledge requirements are similar between the SDE and SDET role. The key differentiation, which was touched on above, is really finding that person who has a mindset bent on understanding how things work, how they break, how things can be made more resilient. The hiring bar for each role is the same and we often see folks moving between the two disciplines. Both have the potential to excel in their career with no caps.

What do you look for when hiring strong SDET candidates? How much emphasis do you put on prior testing experience?

By now, folks should have the impression that the SDET role is different at Microsoft when compared to similar roles out in the industry. We are looking for people that have a strong foundation in computer science and top notch problem solving skills. SDET’s code and apply engineering principles to problems daily. They focus on algorithmic problems, have a passion for quality, and have the ability to keep the user in focus at all times. SDE, SDET’s and PM’s are involved from birth to termination, and together, form the core of our engineering group at Microsoft. SDET’s are significantly involved in shipping major products to potentially billions of users around the globe.

When scanning for potential candidates, we have a similar approach for SDE and SDET. We look for development work done in the past, a degree in computer science (or similar field), good problem solving skills, passion for technology, passion for quality, an ability to think about end-to-end product usage, and excellent communication skills. Once we have a strong set of resumes that meet our basic criteria, we drill in to spot differentiations between potential SDE’s and SDET’s. Prior testing experience is one possibility, but more often than not, we look for folks who speak to reducing the number of defects per line of code, those who work across multiple components or features to see the product through to completion, or who have spent significant time debugging and improving a product once live. By now, you can probably see we put a heavy emphasis on hiring for strong development skills coupled with a passion for ensuring the quality of our product is top notch when it goes into the hands of our customers.

What Makes a Strong Recruiting Team?

February 4, 2012

In order to attract top talent to your organization it is imperative that you have a top-notch recruiting team in place. I often wonder if organizations realize just how important recruiting is to the success of an organization. If an organization does not have the very best recruiting team in place, it can be at a severe competitive disadvantage. The recruiting function is the key driving force in ensuring the right hires made and less than desirable hires are avoided.

While I am not going to profess to be a recruiting guru, I felt the need to write this piece because I think organizations need to focus more time and effort on assessing potential recruiters. Organizations need to move beyond seeing the recruiter as someone who solely serves a transactional purpose and instead view the recruiter as someone who can have a powerful transformational impact.

Over the years I have heard candidates tell me one recruiting nightmare after another and it has pained me to hear these stories.  I myself have also had some less than favorable recruiting experiences and from these experiences I have learned what not to do as a recruiter.

On a positive note, I have had the opportunity to both work with, and learn from, some truly amazing recruiters. Compiling all of these experiences and data points helped me devise this list of traits I think are important to consider when assessing potential recruiters for your team.

1)      Hire individuals who are more than mere resume pushers – Resume pushers send large numbers of resumes to hiring managers without even bothering to screen the candidates. The hiring manager is then left having to do all the work. When a recruiter is a resume pusher, they are not doing his/her job and are definitely not a value-add to the organization. The best recruiters serve as consultants or partners to the business. These recruiters perform due diligence in sourcing candidates, screening candidates, and providing in-depth candidates summaries to hiring managers. If recruiters are consultants versus resume pushers, they will be respected by both candidates and hiring managers.

2)      Hire individuals who will be evangelists for your organization – If a recruiter isn’t excited about working for your organization, how can the recruiter get a candidate excited, or at least interested in working for your organization? Candidates often ask the question, “Why should I work for this organization?” If a recruiter can’t give a genuine enthusiastic answer for this question to candidates, you don’t have the right recruiter on-board. As a recruiter you should be able to easily sell your organization to a candidate. You should truly believe in the statement, “I love working for this organization! This is the best organization to work for because of X, Y, Z reasons.”

3)      Hire recruiters with a competitive spirit – The very best recruiters are extremely driven and have a strong desire to win. Recruiting can be quite competitive, especially when dealing with highly desirable candidates. As a recruiter at Microsoft I often compete against companies such as Amazon and Google for top talent. When a candidate informed me he or she was also in process with some of these big name players, I get an adrenaline rush because I knew securing the candidate will be a challenge. If recruiters lack this inner competitiveness, they may just allow top candidates to slip away without doing everything in their power to get the candidate.

4)      Hire hunters versus farmers – In order to hire top talent for your organization, you need recruiters who will do more than just wait for candidates to submit their resumes on-line. The best candidates are often passive candidates. In order to find these passive candidates, recruiters must go on the hunt for these candidates by cold calling, networking, sourcing, and maintaining long-term relationships with candidates. If recruiters just sit back and wait for resumes to come along, they are missing out on potential A+ candidates.

5)      Hire individuals who can serve as consultants to the business – At Microsoft I work with some of the most talented and successful recruiters I have ever met. The reason these recruiters stand out is because they know the business and as a result, hiring managers and candidates respect them. In order for recruiters to be true consultants, they need to take the time to learn the business. This means spending time learning from hiring managers, reading up on the business, attending presentations, and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of competitors in the same market.

6)      Hire individuals who are passionate about recruiting – When recruiters are passionate about what they do, they often go above and beyond in their jobs. Actually passionate recruiters don’t even see recruiting as a job, they see recruiting as something they love to do, whether they are working or not. The passionate recruiters I have encountered have this positive energy that is contagious. You just know they are successful because of a love for what they do.

7)      Hire individuals with a high level of emotional intelligence – Individuals with a high level of emotional intelligence standout because they can easily build relationships with just about anyone and from my experience, recruiting is all about relationship building, both with candidates and hiring managers. Individuals with a high EQ tend to figure out how to connect with people on a personal level, which helps tremendously when you are trying to fully assess someone’s fit for an organization and a specific role within the organization. A high EQ serves a recruiter well because it gives a person an ability to see beyond the obvious and use strong intuition and other soft skills to provide additional feedback on candidates.

8)      Hire courageous individuals – The best recruiters I have met are willing to stand up for their decisions about candidates, even if the rest of the interview team disagrees with them. As a recruiter it’s important you have an opinion and are willing to make a case for it. You may not always be right, but at least you had the courage to stand by your decision. Also, when it comes to negotiating offers with candidates, a recruiter needs to be confident and firm. If there is no flexibility with the offer and the candidate is pushing back, the recruiter needs to inform the candidate, “This is the very best offer for these reasons.”

 9) Hire strong communicators – As a recruiter your primary responsibility is to communicate regularly with your candidates and hiring managers. Early on in my career, a former boss once said it’s always best to err on the side of over communicating. This advice has stuck with me throughout my career and I am grateful to have received it. My rule of thumb is to never allow more than a week to pass without providing an update to candidates and hiring managers. I have heard of recruiters never getting back to candidates after on-site interviews. Here a candidate takes time off work, possibly even flies to another state for the interview, and then never hears the results of the interview. Whether or not you have good news, bad news, or no news, it is your job to keep an ongoing dialogue with candidates and hiring managers. Top-notch recruiters are proactive in their communications and never keep the candidates and hiring managers wondering what is going on.

Colleen Canney is a Technical Recruiter and Career Coach based in Seattle, WA. For more information on Colleen, please visit her website at: www.colleencanney.com.

The Happiness Equation

December 5, 2011

The Fountain of Happiness

I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness…

-Dalai Lama

Deep within every person there is a “Fountain of Happiness” ready to flow freely. For some, this fountain never flows because it’s never accessed. These individuals choose to live in a state of bleakness. Negativity consumes these individuals, often due to a lack of self-love, and nothing really makes them happy.  For others, the Fountain of Happiness is manually turned on and off. These individuals base happiness on the outside world. If life is going well, these individuals are happy and their fountain is readily flowing. If life is not going well, they are depressed and their fountain remains dormant.

Then there is a group of individuals with fountains “Open Everyday, All Day”. These individuals are happy no matter what is transpiring in the outer landscape of their world. While on the rollercoaster of life, these individuals live in a state of joy during the ups and downs. Sometimes these individuals may be throwing their hands wildly in the air, screaming in exultation during an exciting downhill ride, while other times they are merely smiling as they coast along on a straightaway. These people have figured out where the switch to their Fountain of Happiness is and it remains “on” at all times.

Up until a few years ago, I used to be one of those individuals who based my happiness on my outside world. I would be flying high if work was going well but if it wasn’t; my lack of “success” consumed me. Instead of learning from my mistakes and then letting things go, I would hold on to things until they gradually ate away at me. A former boss pointed out that I needed to stop dwelling on things and just move on. His feedback was quite perceptive and very much appreciated. During graduate school, I would clench myself in a tight ball worrying about whether or not I would achieve a 4.0. If I received anything less than an A, my self-esteem plummeted and I questioned my level of intelligence. My running race times also were a source of happiness or unhappiness. If I was running well and able to push the pace with the leaders, I was all smiles. If I had a bad run or race, I became frustrated and would tell myself I should have trained harder.

As I became a more spiritual individual and found my sense of self from within instead of outside myself, a euphoric state consumed me. I realized that I was completely at peace and happy no matter what was transpiring in my outer world. Did this mean I settled for a low GPA in graduate school, slow race times, and an average performance at work? Not at all! As an extremely driven, goal-oriented individual, I think I will always strive to be the best I can possibly be. The difference is that I am no longer attached to the outcome of my goals. What I have learned is that we can have our whole life scripted out but we need to be comfortable if the universe has other plans in store for us. If we are open and present, the universe will help guide us in the direction of our soul’s calling.

When I began to immerse myself in the natural flow of life, I no longer felt exhausted by trying to force life. I now appreciate whatever is unfolding in the present instead of worrying about what might happen in the future. Before this internal shift occurred within me, I wasn’t in tune with the natural rhythm of life and as a result, it was almost as though I felt like I was trying to constantly paddle upstream.

When I found my “Fountain of Happiness” flowing freely, there was nothing in my external world that was really going well. In fact, it was a pretty lackluster period in my life. At one point I asked myself, “Why am I so happy?” I went through my mental checklist trying to decipher what factors could be contributing to my happiness. I wasn’t in love. I wasn’t fulfilled or challenged in my job. My running wasn’t going well due to unexplained health issues. All of the things in my external reality that, in the past, had typically made me experience a superficial “high” could not be factored into my happiness equation.  I knew something strange had occurred within me and I stopped over intellectualizing the shift (see #8 below) and just allowed myself to accept my new state of existence.

While I cannot profess to be an expert on happiness, I want to share a number of factors that have played into the non-stop flowing of my “Fountain of Happiness.” Every person will have different pieces that ultimately make-up their own happiness puzzle.

1)     Become the ultimate expert on your life – While friends, family, and society may have good intentions in telling you how to live your life, ultimately you are the only one who knows what is best for you. This does not mean you should disregard any advice you receive, but instead, be mindful of whether or not the advice resonates with you. The key is to trust your intuition and stop second guessing what your own truth. Think of yourself as an artist creating your own original artwork of your life. You should strive to be a true original and lead a life that is your own and no one else’s.  When you follow others and don’t dare to be different, you are dishonoring your own individual uniqueness.

 

2)     Serve others – Walter Breuning, who was the oldest living American up until his death this past April 2011, gave an interview on 60 minutes and was asked what words of wisdom he would like to share with younger generations. He said that so often people think life is all about them, when in reality, life is about serving others. Walter’s statement brought tears to my eyes because his words rang true and were truly from his heart. I strongly believe the root cause of depression is allowing your ego to rule your world. When you are completely absorbed and tuned only into, “The Days of My Life,” it is virtually impossible to be happy. By opening your heart to another in a selfless way, your spirit soars higher and higher. Why? Your ego becomes disengaged and you are no longer consumed with your own life. Serving others sets you free from the miserable solitary confinement of your own head, which is often occupied with negative, ego-fueled thoughts.

 

3)     Connect with others – This does not mean sending encrypted text messages, brief emails, or leaving a quick voicemail message. Connecting with others means making an effort to truly connect with someone on a deeper level. From my experience, those individuals who have authentic relationships with coworkers, family, and friends, are often the most happy and fulfilled individuals I know. The reason is because these individuals are allowing themselves to be vulnerable, present, and open with others. When we hide from the world, we become overwhelmed with feelings of isolation, separation, and loneliness. By connecting with others we realize we are not alone on our journey through life.

 

4)     Greet nature on a daily basis – One beautiful fall day during my junior year in college, my best friend and I were standing on campus at UW-Madison about to go for a run. I opened my arms wide and exclaimed to the unverse, “I just LOVE fall!” Nature brings about a natural high. It’s virtually impossible (unless you are a member of the first group I mentioned above) to be unhappy when you are graced by the unconditional love of the universe.  If possible, spend time disconnecting from life during daily visits with nature. You will meet a sun, some trees, and a sky that will remind you how insignificant your worries truly are.

 

 

5)     Figure out what makes your heart sing – A number of years ago a good friend confided that she had yet to connect with anything she was truly passionate about. My heart went out to my friend because I could not imagine a life void of passion. Passion is wood for your internal stove. Without it, there are no flames, or even small sparks. In order to connect with your passions in life, you must first connect with your true self.  Remember what you used to love to do when you were a child. Think about what you would do if you had more time. Pay attention to what activities energize you.

 

6)     Love your own company – Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, learning to be comfortable alone is an important factor in finding true joy within. As someone who needs alone time for survival, I am always surprised when I hear people say they dislike being alone. When you are alone, all the outside influences are turned off and you can sit with your own thoughts and engage in self-reflection. Those who are comfortable alone are typically comfortable with themselves.

 

7)     Take the plunge from your head to your heart – During a rather long road trip from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest, my mom and I stopped at a gas station in the middle of a small town in Eastern Washington. I was minding my own business, waiting in line to buy a bottle of water, when this man came up behind me and said point blank, “You think too much!” I looked at this man and wondered why he felt the need to say this to me, especially since he didn’t know me at all. I realized I probably was completely consumed in my own thoughts and this random observant stranger picked up on it. In order to experience a liberating freedom, you must get out of your head from time to time. When I find myself constantly processing, analyzing, and over interpreting thoughts, I picture a huge waterslide connecting my head to my heart. When I take the “plunge” into my heart, I feel so much more relaxed and balanced. When you only live in your head, you are essentially cutting off 50% of your life supply.

 

8)     See the best in others – I once read a quote that stated, “When you seek out the best in others you will be amazed at what you will find.” Instead of focusing on flaws in others we need to focus on the glowing gifts that each person on this planet has to offer. Remember that just like you, each person has his or her own struggles. The journey of life can be challenging and we need to be more compassionate towards one another. People will touch your soul and warm your heart if you truly seek out the best in them.

 

 

Growing is Uncomfortable

November 14, 2011

If you feel too comfortable in life it probably means you are not growing as an individual.  By nature growth is uncomfortable. As a child I experienced Charley Horses, otherwise known as growing pains, in my legs.  I would wake-up in the middle night because I was uncomfortable. This is part of growing. Whether it is physical, spiritual, emotional, or mental growth, if you want to evolve and develop as an individual, be prepared to experience a certain level of discomfort.

Particular situations can invoke a considerable amount of uneasiness. Whether it involves moving, changing or losing a job, attending a social event alone, or trying a new sport, all of these situations are examples of ones that may force us to step outside our comfort zone. By embracing each new situation we encounter with open arms, we ultimately triumph over fear. If we never allow ourselves to move beyond fear, we will remain stagnate, flat, lifeless. This is because fear stunts our growth.

Interacting with people who trigger feelings of discomfort can also be a means of growing.  Our greatest teachers in life are often individuals who make us uneasy. If we are conscious enough, these individuals will awaken, or remind us, of the areas within ourselves that are not yet fully developed. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself, “What feelings come up when I am around this person?” Before you judge someone and think, “I just don’t get that person,” or “I can’t stand that person,” try to be patient instead of immediately reacting. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you decipher where you need to grow so your internal fire alarm is no longer set off.

The more loving and accepting you are of yourself, the more loving and accepting you will be of others.  As self-awareness and self-love increases, you stop focusing on what’s wrong with so-called “difficult” people in your life.  Instead you focus on what needs to shift within you to prevent future fires from festering. It’s easy to look outside ourselves but much more challenging to look within.  A key element to self-growth however is introspection.

In an interview featured in Yoga Journal magazine, B.K.S Iyengar, one of the leading founders of modern yoga, commented on still teaching yoga after recently turning 90 years-old, “My life and energy are still growing. Because I’m practicing age has not struck me at all.”

So ask yourself, “Am I challenging myself to continue to grow?”

Interviewing Tips

June 5, 2010

This piece came to mind because I am often surprised by how many people haven’t really thought about what type of position is the best fit for them. When I ask candidates or clients the question, “Describe your ideal position,” I often get answers such as, “I am pretty much open to anything,” or “I am not really sure.” These answers are reasonable for recent graduates, but for more senior individuals, it is important to have a well-thought out answer when asked to describe your ideal position.

There a few reasons it’s beneficial to know what type of position is the best fit for you. First, you should target positions you know will bring you happiness and fulfillment. Being miserable in a job can have a negative impact on all aspects of your life. Why not love what you do? Second, recruiters and hiring managers are impressed when candidates can clearly articulate their ideal position.  Third, having a target job in mind helps you streamline your job search. Instead of spending time randomly applying for any job that sounds reasonably appealing, you can focus on applying for jobs that match your skills and experience.

How do you figure out what your ideal position entails? Introspection is the key. By asking yourself the following questions below, you will have a better understanding of yourself and the type of job that will be the best fit for you.

1)      What are my strengths? If you don’t know what your strengths are, think about the positive feedback you have received from managers, co-workers, and friends. What are you naturally good at? When do you tend to shine the most?

A few years ago I met a Software Architect who told me he made a major career change and went from working in academia to becoming a Project Manager for a large company in the software industry. When “Project Manager” came out of his mouth, we both started laughing together because it was clear this type of role was not at all the right fit for him. After a few years of struggling as a PM and not being at all happy, he finally transitioned to a Software Architect role.  In this new role he really thrived and found a much more natural job fit.

 2)      What are my motivations for wanting a certain title or position? If you want to become a manager for example, think long and hard if this is the right position for you. Do you possess strong interpersonal skills? Are you passionate about developing people and helping them reach their full potential? Are you comfortable with conflict? Do you exude a confidence that makes people believe in you as a leader? Are you at ease making final decisions when the answers aren’t always clear? These are just a few questions to ask yourself if you think the management path is the right one for you.  For other types of positions, think about what traits and skills are required to be successful. Then do an honest self-assessment to determine if you possess these same traits and skills.

 3)      What type of work energizes me? Think about your current position and past positions. What aspects of these positions did you love?  When you are truly passionate about what you do, you look forward to going to work each day. If the alarm goes off and you think, “Great, another day at the office….sigh,” it’s time to think about making a career change.

A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a fellow colleague in Human Resources and his passion was truly contagious. He said, “I can’t believe I get paid to do what I love every day.” How many people are this energized and passionate about their jobs?

 4)      If you could do anything and not worry about a paycheck, what would you do? If fear didn’t stand in the way, what changes would you make in your career? Maybe you would go back to school, start your own business, or ask for a promotion.  

A common theme I see with my clients is that they want to make career changes but they are terrified of doing so. What are my clients afraid of? Failing. Disappointing others. Making a mistake. Giving up a title or salary. These are just some of the issues that have come up in my coaching practice. When you really take a step back and disengage yourself from fear, you realize just how powerful fear factors into the decisions you make about your life. Once you are able to overcome fear, all of a sudden the whole world opens up.

As a personal note, when fear ruled my life, I felt like the clown trapped in a jack-in-the-box with the lid tightly sealed shut. I was quite unhappy and felt my soul was dying. Once I addressed fear and moved past it, I made significant changes in my life that prompted the jack-in-the-box lid to spring open. With fear no longer suffocating me, I felt free and saw a world of endless opportunities.

 5)      What type of legacy do I want to leave? This is a question I myself had to ponder after meeting with a Director of a non-profit last summer. She left a lucrative six figure job in the private sector and took a 50% pay cut to become a Director at a non-profit. I asked this woman what prompted her to make such a major career change. She said, “I want to leave a legacy and this new job allowed me that opportunity.” I was lucky to meet with this Director a number of times and what stood out about this woman was her drive and passion. By leading a life of purpose, this Director truly felt she was making a positive impact in the world.

These are just a few key questions to ask yourself before you embark on a job search or begin actively interviewing.  The more introspective you are, the better decisions you will make about the next steps in your career.

Colleen Canney is a Career, Life, and Wellness Coach. She can be reached via email at colleencanney@live.com. For more information on Colleen’s coaching services, please visit http://www.colleencanney.com

The Importance of Cultural Fit

November 1, 2009

One of my clients contacted me in a state of despair because she was plagued with fatigue and was struggling to get out of bed for work.  The source of my client’s unhappiness wasn’t obvious from the start and it took some digging to discover the root of the problem. My client said she really enjoyed her job and felt it was a good fit. We then moved on to her manager. She said he supported her and was a strong advocate for her. From what my client shared, I really believed her manager had her best interests in mind and viewed her as a valuable member of the team. I scratched my head wondering what was going on with my client at work. There was something related to work that was draining my client’s energy.

My client then made a comment that opened the door to an explanation. She said, “I feel I am too soft at work.” When I probed a bit more I learned the organization she worked for encouraged highly aggressive, sometimes ruthless behavior. My client exuded a quiet confidence and really struggled with the overt bull dog behavior her coworkers exhibited on a daily basis. In order to try and “fit” with the culture of her company, my client was exhausting herself by trying to be someone she wasn’t. When I suggested that the company she worked for wasn’t a cultural fit, the light bulb went off. After two years of thinking something was wrong with her, mainly that she was “too soft,” she realized there may be another company where she could be successful by showing up as nothing but herself.

A few weeks later I had another session with this client and I Iearned she received an offer from a competitor. I asked her how she felt during the interview process. She said, “I felt relaxed and completely comfortable. In two years with my current employer, I have never felt that way.” Leaving one of the top companies in the world wasn’t easy for my client. On one hand she had attached some of her self-worth to working for such a well-known company. On the other hand, her self-worth was slowly deteriorating because she wasn’t being true to her most authentic self. My client accepted the offer from the competitor because she knew her health would continue to suffer if she stayed in her current job.

In one of my favorite books on leadership, True North by Bill George, Amgen’s current CEO, Kevin Sharer, is used as an example of someone who realized the importance of cultural fit. When Sharer worked for MCI, a company that proved not to be a cultural fit, he said the cultural was, “…mean-spirited and at your throat. It was eating me up as I was becoming less effective and less committed to the company. If your values are not consistent with the people you’re working with, you should not be there.” My client learned the same lesson as Sharer and as a result, she made a much needed change.

I strongly believe you should grow in a job and work on your weaknesses; however, I also strongly believe you shouldn’t have to change the core of who you are in order to fit with a company’s culture. A valuable lesson I have learned is that your most authentic self at work often leads to your most successful self at work.

Colleen Canney is a Career, Life, and Wellness Coach based in Seattle, WA. She provides 1:1 coaching to clients around the US and also provides HR Consulting/Business Coaching to organizations. For more information on Colleen, please visit her website at www.colleencanney.com or contact her directly at colleencanney@live.com.

Balancing your Energy Checkbook

May 26, 2009

I recently had an, “Uh Oh,” moment when I realized by plate was overflowing with too many commitments. As a result of allowing myself to be pulled in too many directions, my internal energy checkbook was out of balance and I was on the verge of bouncing checks due to insufficient funds. My body was telling me if I wasn’t careful, my energy reserves would be depleted, leaving me exhausted and functioning at less than optimal levels.

During the long holiday weekend I was lucky enough to be able to “unplug” at my parents’ cottage in Door County, Wisconsin.  Whenever I am in Door County it’s as though my whole body takes a deep breath and  I automatically “let go” of anything that may be weighing me down.

This weekend I found myself particularly drawn to the vast bodies of water surrounding me. After a run at Peninsula State Park on Sunday, I wandered over to the edge of the water and stared out at the shades of blue before me. In the gentle ripples of water, I surrendered to the universe and allowed myself to be at peace.

For the past few weeks I had been on automatic pilot, completely consumed with speeding through life at a 100 mph pace. When you are traveling at such high speeds, it can be easy to cruise along without being cognizant of whether or not it may be time to hit the brakes. For me, it was time to let up on the gas pedal and reflect on the direction my life was headed. I asked myself, “Am I committing to things that truly matter to me?” Without any distractions I needed to look at my life and make sure I was allocating my energy to appropriate people and situations. In the never ending purity of blue, clarity emerged and stood before me with an unassuming gaze.

It was in the stillness of the moment that I realized I needed to move forward in my life with a more purposeful intent. Life had thrown some detours my way and I learned what I needed to during these side trips. However, it was now time to get back on track and head in a more straightforward direction to reach my goals.

The next time you find your plate overflowing, ask yourself these questions:

1)      Am I devoting time and energy to people and obligations that are truly important to me?

 

2)      Do I have a clear plan for achieving the goals I want to achieve?

 

3)      Does my life feel fulfilling and energizing? If not, what changes do I need to make?

Leadership Lessons from my Little Buddies

May 4, 2009

For the majority of my life, I have felt the need to serve others and this has come in the form of volunteering and serving as a mentor. Volunteering has shaped who I am today and has taught me valuable life lessons. There have been times in my life when I haven’t volunteered due to work and school obligations takeing precedence. During these times I have only served myself, I have felt a huge void in my life. My spirit sinks into the ground and I don’t feel I am contributing to making the world a better place.

My first volunteer experience entailed being a “Big Buddy” to six “Little Buddies” when I was a senior in high school. As I sat at the head of the table every week, I felt a bit unsure of myself as six impressionable freshmen peered up at me, hoping I would provide words of “senior” wisdom. This was one of my first experiences of being a leader and let me tell you, it was uncomfortable. I felt I had to be serious and pretend that I had my life figured out at the mere age of 17. I thought, “What can I teach these young kids when I can’t even decide which college to attend?”

At the end of the semester, my little buddies completed evaluations of me. To this day, their feedback still rings loud and clear in my mind. They said I was most effective as their Big Buddy when I allowed them to get to know me. WOW! Powerful stuff if you ask me. There were times when I would let my guard down and be my fun-loving self who would share the trials and tribulations of high school. Then other times I would resort back to my awkward self –  the self who wasn’t quite sure how to act as a leader to young kids with such impressionable minds.

What I learned from being a Big Buddy is that you are most effective as a leader when you are authentic. When you pretend to be someone you are not, a barrier is put up between you and your employees. As a result, you do not fully own your power, which ultimately prevents you from being the best leader you can possibly be. When you are comfortable with you are, your employees will feel comfortable and confident with you as their leader.

Colleen Canney is a Career, Life, and Wellness Coach based in Seattl, WA. For more information on Colleen, please visit her website at: www.colleencanney.com.