Saturday, March 20, 2010

Success Stories Inspire Successful Programs

Counselors, program analysts, and researchers are often great problem-solvers. They have excellent skills for defining a problem, analyzing it, and then finding a solution. Problem solving is an important skill, but problem solvers may find themselves looking at the big picture and missing a simple solution. A recent article in Fast Company magazine, taken from the book, “Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard,” describes a unique approach to change. The authors begin by looking at what is working, rather than what is broken. Then they find ways to duplicate the success that exists.

One anecdotal success story in the article describes an employee of "Save the Children" who goes to Vietnam in 1990 to fight widespread malnutrition. The contributing problems of poverty, poor sanitation, and impure water systems seemed overwhelming and were out of the control of the organization. So rather than trying to solve everything that wasn’t working, the managers looked for children who lived in poor conditions but were not malnourished.

The company’s research showed that the mothers of children who were not suffering from malnutrition had slight differences in their cooking and eating habits. To improve the eating habits of children suffering from malnutrition, a community designed program for malnourished families was set up. The mothers learned new behaviors that soon became habits. Practicing healthy actions helped the women change their thinking. The change arose from knowledge gleaned from their own community rather than instituting strategies designed by outsiders. As a result of their work, the article states that 65% of the kids learned and maintained better nutrition.

As a personal/career coach and program manager, I learn from the experts, but then I look at the needs of the community. It is important to find out what systems and habits are working well. While managing the Pathways to Success Program for a nonprofit serving the homeless, I found the general wisdom was the belief that people first need a stable home before they can get a job. Paying for a home without an income is impossible for many people. Interestingly, I learned that it wasn’t always the people who had an address that got the job. After starting a career center, facilitating workshops, and implementing career coaching programs, I found that those with good job search skills, self-esteem, a cell phone, and professional clothes were often the ones who got the job. I was able to offer workshops, provide accountability, and assist in helping people find professional clothes. I couldn’t solve the homeless problem, but I could help people develop better relationships, lifestyle habits, and job search skills that helped participants with no home find a job.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Fast Company,
February 1, 2010, Issue 142, Dan and Chip Heath,, online 3/15/10.

This website is intended for informational purposes only. For professional personal/ career coaching, call or email Nancy for assistance with consulting, resources, and information to meet your personal needs. See links on the side panel for professional organizations. Copyright LWD © 2005 Nancy Miller

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My Avatar Interview

The sharp buzz of the alarm hits my ears at 6:00 AM. It’s a blustery January morning in the year 2020. It’s time to get moving. The interview is at noon. I’ve had a good night’s sleep, and it’s time to shop for my avatar. Over fresh fruit and a whole grain bagel, I tell my computer to wake up. After being unemployed for 6 months, I hired a professional career coach to make sure I would be prepared for my job interview. After visiting the virtual company as my coach suggested, I know that the atmosphere is friendly and somewhat casual. A classic sport suit will work well. Since I eventually want to be a buyer for the sportswear department, I will choose a very fit avatar with a golden bronze complexion and dark brown hair.

I double check the time and make sure my login and passwords are close at hand. I know where to find the virtual office protocol, and exactly how long it will take to get in. I know that customer service is the number one priority for the company, with efficiency and fiscal management close behind. I take a deep breath and give a sigh of relief that I no longer have to shop ahead, press my jacket and polish my shoes ahead of time as I did in 2010. I don’t need to test drive my route and fill my gas tank. The competition is intense, so choosing the right avatar and wardrobe is essential, but it’s fun and creative to tailor my look to my interests.

I know what strengths, skills, and experience the company is looking for, and I have individualized my ePortfolio accordingly. After getting the interview, I practiced possible questions and answers with the latest job search program, and then improved my confidence and voice tone with my coach. Several practice sessions later, I can quickly answer the questions verbally and in writing. I took time to make sure I know how to move around skillfully in the virtual world. In the year 2007, a Wall Street Journal article described gaffes such as interviewees floating in the air or showing up in jeans. I would not be taken seriously in today’s work world without a basic understanding of virtual technology.

The avatars have leveled the playing field in many ways. There are no more worries about transportation, traffic at the mall, being introverted, too young or too old. Although many aspects of job search are simpler now, the basic principles of interviewing never really change. Background checks, skills testing, and assessments are the norm since the employer is not seeing the real me in my body language and facial expression. I will have to build trust through voice inflection and choice of language. It’s 11:45 and I look fabulous and confident. I’m ready for my interview!

Wall Street Journal (2007),, online 3/11/10

The Interview

Imagine answering these questions based on the avatar scenario. What else could the avatar say? Imagine your own avatar scenario. How would you answer these questions for yourself?

1. Tell me about yourself.

I have 5 years experience working in retail. I recently designed an online market research survey to assess the interest of customers and potential customers in a new line of sportswear. The response to the line was so positive that our buyer will soon be getting a small order to try out in the store. I have a passion for fishing, boating, and skiing, and your store has top of the line equipment.

2. Why do you want this job?

I really enjoy talking to customers about their different sports interests. Helping them find the best price on the safest, most innovative supplies makes my day. Most sports enthusiasts would rather be outdoors than in the store shopping, so my goal is to have satisfied customers out on the slopes or in the water as quickly and efficiently as possible.

3. What do you expect to be doing 5 years from now?

Over the next five years I plan to learn more about sports equipment and attire. I hope to be working with designers to find the most innovative equipment for the store. I travel to different parts of the country and visit sports events to find out what equipment the winners are using. I am constantly researching the latest concepts in sportswear.

4. Tell me about a strength/weakness?

My strength is satisfying customers. In the last year, I have had the least returns of any associate because I listen to the customer and assist them in finding the right products. My weakness is that I enjoy talking to customers about the latest sports equipment. After years of experience, I am able to keep my conversations friendly, brief, and focused on the customer and the product.

5. Describe a problem or conflict and how you solved it.

An angry customer wanted to return equipment he had obviously used over a period of time. He said the associate misled him when he made the sale. After asking the customer some questions about how he was using the equipment, I was able to show him the proper use. He decided to keep the equipment and also bought a jacket.

After all of my preparation, I felt confident in the interview. I shared my ePortfolio that included sports gear designs from Europe and Alaska. I got the job, and I will be starting next week.

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Copyright CLWD © 2007 Nancy Miller, M.S.