Posted in Excelling in Your Job While Still Building Your Career

Becoming Your Own Consultant…Avoid The Employee Mindset

Employees believe it is their employer’s responsibility to task them. They come to work and do the tasks they are given. They often complain their boss doesn’t delegate enough to them and spend a lot of time justifying their lack of output. This was my mindset for several years.

Traditional consultants are brought in by organizations to evaluate. They are hired for an outside perspective and to institute new procedures, technology, or sometimes office culture. Often consultants are hired for one reason and end up achieving success for something totally different. They are there to help the analyst use new technology in order to work quicker and realize that it is actually a lack of organization that has slowed them down. Consultants are not permanent they are hired to improve and move on.

You must think like a consultant even when you are a traditional employee on paper. I was inspired to write this blog because in less than 24 hours I heard the same advice on two podcasts. Both Colin Cowherd (sports) and Dave Ramsey (finance) said something along the lines of “we are all contractors/consultants a lot of us just have one client.”

Right now I only have one client and that is the Military Commissions Defense Organization. I try my best to approach each day like a consultant. My job is not to sit and wait to be given tasks but to identify areas for improvement and take it on! To leave the office better than I found it. On campaigns they call it ‘work yourself out of a job’ meaning you create enough structure while training those below you that three months later your job is being done by others and you are able to focus more on higher goals. Just like a consultant I look to make my client (bosses) life easier in any way possible. I look at my job as a one day contract each day and each day I make their lives a little bit easier I know they’ll want me back the next day.

Apply the consultant mindset to your job search as well. Imagine if someone was paying you to find your next job and build out your network….would you be fired soon? I work with many job seekers, primarily in D.C. Hopefuls Fellowship, and they fall victim to life. They get busy with other things, friends come to town, or they got a lead and decided to just sit idle until they hear something. It happens to us all! I use to wish that I could just pay someone else to build me a network and find me the right job. Of course I quickly learned only I could do that for myself and that I was not being a good consultant for myself, I had adopted the employee mindset. I expected people to just help me because I asked and waited for things to fall in my lap. I would go several days without doing anything and blame other people for my lack of success. Much like employees I waited for things to come my way rather than take the initiative!

I challenge you to take 5 minutes and reflect over the last month. If you had hired yourself as a consultant to go out and build the career you have always dreamed of would you fire yourself?

We are less than a month into 2018 and I’ve already to spoken to several young job seekers who probably all would fire themselves right now. The common short-coming of each person was the lack of a plan. They had no real strategy or goals they were all just throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. D.C. Boot Camp is a 16 module course that provides not only information you are lacking on how to best build the career you want but more importantly it shows you how to plot out a plan for success. Having a clear drawn out strategy with measurable benchmarks will do absolute wonders for your mental health, stress, and overall career success.

As you know by now D.C. Boot Camp is still free to the first 60 people who join D.C. Hopefuls Fellowship. Drop the employee mindset and become an amazing consultant for yourself!


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Posted in Excelling in Your Job While Still Building Your Career

Knowing the Difference Between Co-Worker and Friend

At my first job out of undergrad in D.C., I was incredibly blessed to work with Dave and Ben. These two guys who sat in the cubicles next to me have remained two of my closest friends for the last seven years. My work time with Ben was brief while Dave and I worked together for over a year.

When I went to my second job I quickly and totally bought into ‘their amazing culture’ where everyone went to work happy hours, shared pictures from their weekends, and joked around with one another. I would go grab a beer with the co-founder of the company and talk to him like a friend as I complained about my difficult client or my relationship. It would take me several months to realize these people were not my friends. They were simply trying to build an image to sell to clients. By portraying this hip, open, and fun culture they believed they could beat out the ‘top button’/’stiff’ competitors. They were creating an image.   As my job started going south, I openly confided in several co-workers about my struggles and actually thought I could have an open and honest conversation with the co-owner as if we were friends. Quickly my openness about my struggles and weaknesses were used against me. I was called out for ‘talking negatively about my job’ when I thought I was seeking comfort from a friend. It actually took my therapist to point out to me “Tommy stop acting like these people are your friends, you give them your time and energy, they give you money, which is not friendship.”

Dave and Ben were different because I made friends with them outside of work. We did things together on the weekends and while we shared lunch and spoke at work we never really mixed the two. We quickly knew our friendships were much more than the fact we worked at the same place. In my second job, that wasn’t the case. I misunderstood a ‘work happy hour’ for hanging out with my new friends. These new co-workers were playing the game and I was being played. The majority of them were nice people, but they understood that you cannot suddenly make ten new friends every time you get a new job.

They understood it is important to bond with co-workers while maintaining certain professional boundaries. By all means, go to work happy hours! Become friendly with your co-workers and take an interest in their lives. I would even highly encourage you to attempt to make a close lifetime friend if possible but remember that is not the goal. You are at work to earn money, advance your career, and advance your organization. I believe all of those are done through building great, positive and meaningful work relationships but not necessarily friendships. So when you are getting lunch, going to the happy hour, or at a ‘mandatory fun’ event remember just because you are not in the office you are still at work. Do not complain about your job unless you know it will be received well, do not talk about how you are bored, or looking for other positions. Do not tell that story about the time in college  you acted crazy or got in trouble.

In a job do not assume anyone is going to become a good friend. You can avoid a lot of confusion and hurt feelings this way. Behave in such a way from the beginning that you are respected and well liked in a way that also keeps a wall between your professional and personal life that few are allowed to break through. This will help you immensely during difficult days in the office and help you avoid major office drama. If you are truly compatible with someone a friendship can still eventually evolve, but that should be a great bonus not an expectation.

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Posted in Excelling in Your Job While Still Building Your Career

Workplaces with Participation Trophy Culture

I stunk at sports as a kid. I don’t think I ever got a hit in baseball and avoided contact like the plague in football. But basketball was different. In first grade I joined my school’s basketball team and did not score a single point the whole year. My dad then did something great; he put up a goal in our driveway. I spent all summer pretending I was Michael Jordan or Corliss Williamson out on that driveway. The first game in 2nd grade I scored 10 points! Now I was not some basketball prodigy by any stretch of the imagination but my hard work really paid off! As I went into 3rd, 4th and 5th grade I grew tired of the school league. We all got equal playing time and every team/player got a trophy at the end. I remember thinking this isn’t fair! I practiced all the time and was better than all but two players on my team, so why did the kid who skipped practice and not care get equal playing time and a trophy? My dad explained ‘son you are young and right now it’s about learning the game. Your coach has to look out for all the kids who signed up, it is not about winning yet.” I eventually moved on to ‘competitive leagues’ for kids who did care. This really woke me up and I realized I wasn’t as good as I thought but at least I knew. Not playing as much wasn’t fun but I couldn’t argue, there were players better than me. It motivated me for a few years to get better and eventually let me be at peace with giving up basketball.

Sadly ‘participation trophies’ don’t end in 3rd grade. I have been in work environments where people receive physical awards/trophies for simply doing their job. It can be infuriating. At my last job as an analyst I was trapped in a participation trophy culture and you will likely find yourself in one at some point in your career. The key is GET WHAT YOU NEED AND GET OUT. As a kid I learned the game and then made the leap to the ‘competitive league.’ At my last job I got stuck for 8 months waiting for my clearances to come through and in that time the government (smartly) decided to cut 8 analysts down to 5. I was the obvious choice to be cut since I didn’t have my clearances and didn’t have ‘intel’ experience. As you recall I fought my way into an analyst job and excelled. I did 8 briefings in 8 months while others did 2 briefings in 18 months.

I was called on by our Director for my expertise and received real awards for going above and beyond what any had ever done. This didn’t seem to matter. Our manager did everything she could to make sure we were all equal.

When the opportunity would arise for travel she would insist on others going first since I “had already done a lot of things.” By things he meant go to trainings and classes that were offered to everyone and only I cared enough to attend. His job quickly became not to identify talent and grow our expertise to the government client it was make sure everyone was treated the same regardless of attitude, ability, or effort.

Be on the lookout for managers who want to spend their time protecting weak performers rather than help strong performers. Maybe they do this because there is no upward mobility for them so they are rattled by high performers below them. Usually I think it is the fact they don’t want to admit they made a mistake by hiring someone or they fear if they fire someone they won’t be able to replace them and suddenly they don’t manage as many people.

You don’t have to avoid these places just have a plan. For me I really wanted to get exposed to intelligence and finally begin applying my degrees. That job was perfect. The bar was so low that even my initial failures weren’t considered failures. I was allowed to work independently and learn what I wanted to learn. Within two weeks I was better than 3 of the 4 other analysts. It was quickly apparent that there was no upward mobility, in the 6 years of this contract no person in my position had ever moved up within the company or was hired directly by the client. So I got what I needed and got out. I left with great experience and amazing connections. This wasn’t a place to hunker down and build a career it was the school league to learn the game.

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