Christine Zust is an experienced professional who is an expert on facilitating meetings, getting things done and on helping people present a better professional image. I interviewed Christine about her book and advice on how to help people be more successful and avoid pitfalls, which are becoming more treacherous every day.
Christine, you have written a book about professional presence. Who is the book geared towards? What problems did you see, and how does your book address them?
My book, Everything I Do Positions Me: The Simple Path to Professional Success, was the culmination of what I experienced firsthand throughout my career. It was designed with three distinct primary target markets in mind for the following reasons:
- Young professionals who are new to the workplace. They often have no formal understanding of what it means to be a professional or how to act in a professional manner. This book provides a primer on professional presence.
- Experienced workers who want to reach that next level in their career. Often people who have been in the workplace for 10, even 20, years, find themselves “stuck” where they are. They may have applied for promotions several times and been turned down or may not have been asked to serve on special sub-committees or task forces. They may be at a point in their career where they need to evaluate themselves. This book helps them do that.
- People returning to the workplace after a hiatus. This person could be someone who has been unemployed for several years or who put their career on hold to rear their children, take care of an aging parent, settle a parent’s estate, or resume their life after a challenging life event and are now ready to return to the workplace. This book provides advice and tools to help them ease back into the marketplace.
A strength of this book is that it was written as a resource guide and is very practical and easy to use. It includes simple strategies for success, along with models and ready-made templates.
What kinds of things should college students be doing to improve their positioning all through college?
Since the workplace is much more competitive today, here are a few specific suggestions:
- Get to know professors. In addition to the required college courses is a core curriculum within every major. Whatever the field of study, professors know what is happening in the marketplace. They also know companies and organizations that may be looking for interns or part-time employees. Beyond just “showing up” in class, students benefit greatly by building relationships with their professors.
- Complete multiple internships. Many college degree programs require students to complete one internship before graduating. The star students, the ones who really stand out, are those who pursue multiple internships. A few years ago, I met a marketing scholarship recipient who, by her senior year, had completed four internships, each one in a different area of marketing. It positioned her, in my mind, as someone who was a hard worker, diligent, and eager to work and learn more about her chosen field.
- Get real world experience in one’s chosen field. A typical interview question is “What experience do you have in…” Many students are paying their way through college, often with minimum wage jobs. To stand out in a sea of competitors, students must find paid work in their field of study. For finance majors, for instance, it’s best to find a paid job in an organization that provides them with that experience. By the time they are graduated and enter the workforce, they already will have acquired valuable experience.
- Think big. Whether it’s an internship or paid work, students need to think big and broad. Beyond finding work in their hometown, other opportunities may await them with prestigious professional sports teams, national media outlets, or top corporations.
- Join professional organizations. Most college majors offer student organizations that are affiliated with professional organizations. By getting involved, students will meet professionals who are already working in their chosen field and who could potentially serve as mentors or even open doors to employment.
In the book, you reference a phrase called “Power Positioning.” What is that?
I define power positioning as “The art of putting yourself in a place that you want to be, which maximizes your talents, skills, and contacts. In other words, it reminds us that we truly control our own destiny, and that we can develop a strategic action plan to position ourselves as the true professionals we desire to become. Professionals often look at the goal of where they want to be without listing the important steps they need to take to get there. I use a simple model to get people thinking about their own positioning by asking three simple questions:
- Where are you currently positioned? (Self-assessment)
- Where do you want to be positioned? (Your ultimate positioning goal)
- What action steps will you need to take to get you to your ultimate goal?
To get from where you are today to where you want to be in the future, you need to do the hard work by defining what specific steps you need to take to achieve your desired results. It looks simple on paper, yet success requires countless hours invested in creating and executing a strategic action plan.
How has the explosion of online and social media affected a potential employer’s process for hiring?
We live in a much more transparent world today, where potential employers can simply look you up on Google to learn more about you. Most likely, they will first review your LinkedIn page, since it is the most recognizable networking site for professionals, to check employment history, job responsibilities, volunteer experience, membership in organizations, articles or posts, and interests. They can also check other forms of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and many others to glimpse an individual’s personal life. Sometimes the best way to get your foot in the door is to strategically position yourself online as a talented, qualified worker.
Remember that current employers also review employees’ social media platforms. How do you remain employed? Don’t talk negatively about your current employer on any social media platform. Individuals who talk poorly about their boss or co-workers may end up in the national news…not in a favorable light, and without a job.
What can professionals do to avoid negative backlash on social media?
This has been and continues to be a hot topic…how to avoid sabotaging your career success through social media. Here is a short “What to do/What to avoid” checklist that professionals of all ages can follow:
What to do:
- Think before you post. Choose your words and tone very carefully.
- Have something important to say. Useless information clogs social media space. Make what you say count.
- Avoid strong opinions on controversial topics. Unless you are a political pundit or social commentator, remain neutral and be careful about sharing strong opinions. You could alienate friends or lose followers.
- Post appropriate visual content. Remember, employers and prospective employers view your social media content. (Extra tip: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, until someone posts it online. If you have friends who love to take group photos and post them online, ask that they check with you first before posting).
What to avoid:
- Stop whining online. It positions you as a negative person.
- Avoid hard selling. Social media is a platform for sharing, not selling. Cut the hype.
- Posts are not intimate conversations. You may think you’re speaking with one person; in reality, you are speaking to potentially thousands of people through your posts.
Can you give us an example of someone who did a major positioning overhaul and got great results?
There are several standout professionals whose careers I have watched over the years. Here are some commonalities these people share:
- Set a goal. The goal needs to be a clear one. If you want to lead a department or an organization some day, you first must get experience and work your way up in the organization. If there is no room at the top for you in that organization at that time, then move to another organization that offers you a higher position. Keep moving up until you achieve the goal of leading a department or an organization.
- Find one or several mentors. Those people who have had the greatest career success are those who have tapped into the wisdom and sage advice of mentors. Mentors offer a unique perspective, especially when they have achieved the kind of success that you desire. Mentors offer unlimited access to ideas, opinions, advice, and can often assist in furthering your career.
- Assume greater responsibilities. Those who stand out are those who, at pivotal points in their careers, decided to take a giant leap to take on a higher level of work. This could include working on larger projects, supervising more people, or expanding to a national or international market. The caveat, of course, is you must do an excellent job!
- Become more visible. People who rise to leadership positions are also actively involved in their professional organizations and in the community.
The more people who see the good work you do, the better your chances are of getting someone’s attention…a future employer or a community board, perhaps?
- Expand your network of contacts. Technology makes it easy to connect with people and expand your base of contacts. If a potential employer is searching for a dynamic, well-connected vice president of marketing, and reviews your LinkedIn site only to learn that you are connected to only 45 people, you will not get the job. Cast your net wide, and diversify your network.
- Remain humble. Sometimes success is accompanied by an inflated ego. Truly successful professionals are people who, amidst their great achievements, honors, and recognitions, have remained humble, willing to help others along the way.
How can people find your book and find out more about you?
The link to my book, Everything I Do Positions Me, The Simple Path to Professional Success can be found only through the Zust & Company website: http://zustco.com/christine_zust_books.html
Through my website, http://www.zustco.com, you can find information about my keynote presentations, training programs, and coaching services. You can also find a link to the archives of my monthly newsletter, Q-Tips: http://zustco.com/christine_zust_Q_tips.html
In addition, here are other important links:
LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christine-zust-6019373/
Office phone: (440) 777-8373