How/When To Narrow Down to the Right Niche #JobSearch

May 2nd, 2017

I got some great questions from William:

I love your site and find your videos very helpful and very insightful. I am currently an active job seeker, a position that I have not really been in before, and been having problems getting my mind set around searching for a job. Your videos have been helping me in that department, giving me tasks to do and strategies to think about which works well for me since those are a couple of my strengths.

I just finished your “Developing a Killer Personal Brand”. You spoke about Niche vs. General Purpose which I am having challenges getting my head around. I spent my entire career getting good at one aspect of Information Technology (IT) and then moving on to another area. For example I spent 10 years honing my skills supporting and architecting server environments before moving over to supporting and architecting networks.

I am defiantly fighting people’s conception of a mile wide and an inch deep which I don’t believe is the case for me.

Five years ago, after some soul searching, I decided to focusing on Information Security which in itself has many facets to it. This bring me to my questions, “How do I identify what area of information security I should be focusing on when I love all of it?” and “Is this what you really meant by identifying the Niche?”

Any other advice you can give me on the subject would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you, William, for these questions.  Before we dive into this, I should say that the videos he is talking about are my Pluralsight videos.  I have about 30 of them on Pluralsight, and they are soft skills, job search, career management, and professional development.  All JibberJobber users can get a 30 day… just login and you’ll see the links.

William says he is essentially branded as being a mile wide and an inch deep. When I started my career in IT I was branded as a mile wide and a mile deep. I didn’t have nearly that much breadth or depth, but people thought “oh, Jason does web development… we should ask him why my computer is slow.” Or, why my mouse doesn’t work, or if he’ll design a logo, or (true story) if he’ll hang my new TV. Because any IT means all IT, right?

If you are in IT you know that is absolutely false. But people outside of IT seem to think that’s the way it is.

So, what do you do?  What is the difference between these statements?

I’m a web developer

I’m a front end developer

I’m a full stack developer

I’m a database programmer

I do networking.

Each of those is pretty specific, although one I find hard to believe (a full stack developer means that you do all of the technology… my guess is that generally you are decent on one end and poor on another, but you can hack your way through it all).  That is where our faulty assumptions come into play… or as William says, people assume he’s a mile wide (lots of skills) but an inch think (not good at any of them)… as we used to say, Jack of all trades.

It is our job to clarify what we really do, and communicate it in a way that everyone can understand it.

We need to make sure that even people outside of our field, who don’t understand our jargon, can get what we do, so they can talk about us!  I can’t emphasize that enough! That’s why we need to come up with messaging that people (like our spouse, kids, neighbors, friends, etc.) can share with others.

If your message is “I can do everything in this field (industry, job, profession, etc.) then your message might be too vague to understand.

When I counsel people on LinkedIn, I tell them to focus more on your results, or the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) for your client.  Instead of “I am a front end developer,” how about “I make websites beautiful, easier to use, and increase sales with my designs.”  WHAT A DIFFERENCE!  Switching from your job description to the value you bring shifts the conversation!

I know this gets harder as you have more years and diversity in your career.  William says he has 10 years experience in one area, than 10 years in another related-but-different area.  How do you communicate that?  The most important thing to consider is that your answer isn’t to provide a comprehensive list of job titles or accomplishments, but to take the right experiences and accomplishments for the actual job you are applying to.  Don’t start at your history, start at the client’s (hiring manager’s) needs, and work backwards.

The next topic/question is about narrowing down from all security to certain security.

The thing is, William has a lot of experience… and he probably can do a lot of different security roles. Or, said another way, he has a lot of breadth and a lot of depth.  Security is a fast-moving field, and his background should show that he can learn and adjust, and has the proper background, training, and exposure to excel in security.  I would suggest that he focuses on that message, and come up with stories (or mini-stories) to illustrate those points. He should figure out where he wants to get his hands dirty (web, network, WAN, mobile, etc.) and go deep there… or, honestly, he sounds like someone who could be a great CTO.  Sounds like the world is at his feet… he just has to identify which direction he’s really interested in, and then narrow the stories and messaging so they really support the idea that he would be perfect for the role he’s looking for.

That is my answer to the last question, on what is niche?  It’s the last few sentences in that last paragraph.

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Associations in JibberJobber Just Got Easier

April 28th, 2017

In JibberJobber we have “associations.” You can associate, or connect, a Contact to a Company. Doesn’t that make sense? As you network into a target company, you will talk to people… so you have a person (or a contact) that is tied to the company.

In JibberJobber you can associate multiple Contacts and Jobs to Companies, multiple Jobs and Companies to Contacts, multiple Contacts and Companies to Jobs, and all of those to Log Entries.  That might sound confusing, but trust me that associating is awesome, powerful, and useful.

In a Log Entry, at the bottom left, are buttons/links to associate Contacts, Companies, and Jobs (and create Action Items). Let’s say you apply to a job, and followed up with someone… now, in the Log Entry, when you want to associate type @ and then three letters (1), and you’ll see a dropdown (2), like below.  Choose any name from the list and that Contact will be associated to the Log Entry!  More coolness to come…

jibbejobber_LE_at_smartness

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How To Organize Your Job Search / What Is JibberJobber

April 27th, 2017

This is the video that we are going to put on the front page of JibberJobber soon:

How to Organize Your Job Search (JibberJobber) from Jason Alba on Vimeo.

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When You Don’t Say It All In A Job Interview

April 26th, 2017

What do you do if you had a job interview that goes pretty well, but after the interview there’s at least one question that nags at you.

Not the question, but the how you answered it.  It’s the familiar taste of regret.

“Oh, I should have answered this way, I should have said that!”

The big question is, now what?

Do you go back to the interviewer and clarify it?  The answer is maybe.

Does it really matter?

Did you really mess it up?

Is your other answer so much better that it merits another point of communication? Or just a little better?

Don’t get me wrong, I like points of communication, but you have to be careful that you take the opportunity to communicate with the interviewer with something that will be impactful… the most impactful!

I don’t want to scare you away from communicating with people who in any other situation are your peers and colleagues, but I want to encourage you to reach out with information that can have a real influence.

The best suggestion I heard in this situation is to include your alternative answer in the follow-up you do after your interview. You are doing that, right?

For example, let’s say you were asked “tell me about your most successful project you’ve worked on, and why was it successful?”

Your answer was okay… it was fine.  But after the interview the question nags and nags at you, and having thought about your career you think of a few other answers.  In the follow-up, you might say something like:

“John, thank you for the opportunity to talk about the product manager opening you have at your company. I’m very interested in this role and think that I can add a lot of value to your team, and the direction of your product.  I look forward to the next steps in your interview process, and welcome any follow-up questions.

In our interview you asked me about the most successful product I have managed. I talked about XYZ, which of course I’m very proud of. There are a couple of other products that I worked on earlier in my career that I didn’t think about when you asked, but I’ve thought a lot about it since then.  The first was ___________…..”

Here is why this is so powerful.  First, most candidates don’t send any follow-up.  When you do, no matter what you say, you will stand out as different.

Second, in this follow-up, instead of saying what the interviewer (aka decision maker or influencer) is expecting, and what other people write, you are carrying on the conversation. You are reminding them who you are, what your story was (from your first answer), and then going on to say “and that’s not all… here are some other great things you should know.”

One of the problems with the job search process, from the job seeker’s perspective, is that a resume does not represent all of the breadth (amount of things a person can do, has done, skills, abilities, etc.) and depth (length of experience, amount of expertise).  Let’s say that you have a lot of breadth and a lot of depth… and you have a few tools that help you convey the scope of your breadth and depth. Namely, your resume and the interview.

Can you see the problem here?

When your resume is one or two pages, providing a very summarized view of your awesomeness.

When your interview is 45 minutes (give or take), you don’t get to go to the extent of your breadth, or the end of your depth.  You get to convey a few snapshots… points in your career, but 45 minutes isn’t enough time to really tell your story, is it?

How, then, can you fill in the gaps?

A follow-up letter, like the example I shared above, is a great way to do that.  Also, a great LinkedIn Profile with mini-stories that fill in the blanks.  Having a brand such that others talk about you (the right way) and perhaps a blog (that can really fill in the gaps on breadth and depth) and perhaps an about.me page… all of those are tools to help you go from someone who is maybe right for this position to someone who is, no doubt, without a question, right for the position!

 

 

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JibberJobber Flyer for Coaches, Job Clubs, Your Friends, etc.

April 25th, 2017

Want to share JibberJobber with others? I made this flyer a year ago to share with job clubs… if you go to a job club, take some. If you are a coach, have them handy.  Feel free to share these with anyone who is in transition who could use help staying organized and with their follow-up.

Download in Word.

Download a .pdf.

jibberjobber_job_club_flyer

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Job Searching With Vocal Handicap #UserQuestions

April 21st, 2017

I got an interesting email from someone who has seen my Pluralsight courses… he says:

I’ve completed a couple of your courses on Pluralsight and have found them to be most helpful. Having been with the same IT consulting firm for almost 19 years, I’m doing a relatively “late career” networking/job search. Your courses (Build a Killer Brand, Career Management 2.0, Informational Interviews) have helped me jump-start a process that, frankly, has been difficult for me in the past.

One reason for the difficulty is because I am vocally handicapped, the result of a work accident 24 years ago. Networking in a crowded, noisy room such as at a conference is just plain difficult. Presently, I’m doing the informational interview thing and the one-on-ones are much easier than talking to someone at a large function. But I just can’t easily walk up to someone and strike up a conversation when there’s background noise.

I’m wondering if you have any tips for someone like me who cannot easily project his voice and, if I have to, tire very easily.

What a great question. I imagine that Charles feels unique, and at a disadvantage.  Here’s what I’ve learned: we all feel unique, and at a disadvantage.  Every single job seeker I’ve met feels that way.  

Well, not the ones who are Type A, and just starting their job search. But time has a way of wearing on you, and once you are at the third week, or the third month, you feel unique, and at a disadvantage.

I don’t say this to minimize Charles’ voice issues. Not at all. But I do want you (everyone) to know that everyone in this job search community feels inadequate, with challenges to overcome.  Well, maybe there are those who don’t feel that way, but they are the weirdos :p

Anyway, what is my recommendation for Charles?  I’ve had a couple of days to think about this, and here’s my advice:

Don’t worry about networking in groups.

That seems to be the crux of the “problem” from his email.  He has this idea that you, as a job seeker, are supposed to go to network meetings and … network.

Well, that’s true. You should. But let’s redefine network meetings and network:

Redefining network meetings

The high impact network meetings might be job clubs (or job ministries, depending on where you live), industry or professional luncheons, meetings sponsored by a company with a special speaker, conferences, etc.  These are places where there (a) are lots of people, and (b) is lots of background noise. You know who really has a hard time at these types of network meetings? Introverts.

But a network meeting doesn’t have to be a conference, event, etc. It could be much smaller, and more intimate.

When I read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi I realized that networking doesn’t mean meet a ton of people at a place, shake a lot of hands, collect a lot of business cards, and have a lot of superficial conversations with people I’ll probably not talk to again, even though there were promises like “let’s have lunch sometime!”  Ah, sometime.  That time in the future that never happens.

Redefining networking 

What I learned from Ferrazzi is that networking doesn’t have to be big-crowd and superficial. The goal, actually, is to start relationships and nurture relationships. For me, that happens one-on-one, and over time.

I hated the idea of networking because I thought it was big crowd, pass business cards, smile a lot, ask them about themselves (a la How To Win Friends and Influence People), and maybe… just maybe, have a second meeting in a more intimate environment.

But Ferrazzi gave me permission to ignore the benefit of inefficiencies (that is, that you could get a bunch of connections in a large group) and rethink networking at a one-on-one exercise.  This realization was liberating.

How does this apply to Charles?  Let me suggest that if being in a crowd where his voice isn’t heard because he can’t project is not fun, nor productive, that he goes with a different purpose. I almost wrote “that he doesn’t even go there, and do other networking stuff.”  But really, if he can go to networking meetings and have face-time with people, he should. Having a physical presence is a good thing. But instead of thinking that you go to these big crowd networking events to talk to a lot of people, what if you went in with completely different goals?

When I go to a network meeting now, my goal is to talk to at least one person. But it has to be the right person.  Let me give you an example… a few years ago I went to a really big, really noisy networking event. It was where all of the Pluralsight “authors” (or, content producers like me) met, with a bunch of the Pluralsight staff.  The truth is, I have very little in common with the authors (except that we all spent a ton of time and energy making videos by ourselves… so there’s a camaraderie there), and really not much to talk about with the staff.  I was kind of a black sheep at Pluralsight, not offering technical training (which was their core), instead doing these weird courses on how to listen better… soft skills as they called it, professional development as I would come to call it.

So why go? Who do I talk with?  What is the reason to spend a couple of days out of my office and hang out with these guys?

I had ONE meeting that changed everything. It changed my relationship with Pluralsight. It changed the courses I would work on. It changed my enthusiasm for where they were heading. The meeting was so impactful that I realized I needed to get home, finish what I was working on, and then totally change directions with the content I was proposing.

That one meeting, with the right person, has impacted my work and my income every day for the last few years.

Instead of trying to meet as many people as I could, and “brand myself,” and get X number of business cards over the weekend conference, I went in with ONE question, and I wanted to ask someone who was in a position to answer the question with real knowledge (not just assumptions).

I found the person, asked the question, and the rest is history.

One question, one person.

How does this apply to Charles?

Let me suggest that when you go to network meetings, you fully understand the purpose of going. It is not for the food, it is not to get out of the house, it is not to be seen… it is to make the right one connection with the right one person.  If you make a great connection with more than one person, great! Bonus!! But don’t fall into the trap that this is a numbers game and if you come back with less than ten business cards then you failed.

What’s your one question?  Who’s the right connection?

If it were me, I would go in with the purpose of starting a relationship with someone who could help me move to the next level. I would probably try to eventually get an informational interview with that person, not then, but later, and then build that relationship. Or, get introductions from that person and have more informational interviews.

This is networking. Finding and building relationships over time. Networking is not being in a crowded room, competing for talk time. No matter what everyone tells you, you don’t have to go to networking events to network.

In fact, many of my JibberJobber users live in places where there aren’t appropriate network events they can go to. They might live in a town that doesn’t have any, or a city that has none of their peers or colleagues. They might be in such a specialized niche that there are only a few hundred, or a few thousand, people they should network with.

So what do they do?  Well, in the olden days (a few years ago) they would go to industry conferences. Expensive and time consuming, but great to meet the right people.  Today, a lot of what you need to do can be done online. While there are a number of sites to do this, LinkedIn is the 8,000 pound gorilla.  There’s really no compelling reason to go to another site, at least at the beginning of your online networking ventures.

Here’s what I suggest to Charles: (a) know what his questions are, and then (b) find the right people he should talk to about those questions. Find them on LinkedIn and reach out to them, and start the relationship.

It might be just an email or message at first, but eventually he should get to the point where he is on the phone, face-to-face, or simply just having deeper and more frequent emails.

That is networking. Nurturing relationships with regular communication. It’s not strutting around a conference room like a peacock, showing off or acting extroverted… it’s real, meaningful relationships.

My guess is that Charles already knows this… but if he was like me when I started my job search (and when I first started networking), I had assumptions of what was successful and what was failure. Staying home, unbathed and on the computer (I’m talking about me, not Charles :)), was failure, especially when there was a networking event I should have gone to.

Ferrazzi’s book, and learning about relationships, simply gave me permission to do what I already knew I should have been doing: finding and nurturing relationships, one-by-one.

Deep down, I knew what to do, I just needed permission to not do what I thought job seekers did.

If that’s you, I give you permission to do what is right for you. If that is going to lots of meetings, great. But for many of you, it’s sitting behind your computer, using LinkedIn as a tool, finding the right people, and then starting your professional relationship with them.

 

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LinkedIn Open Candidates: Letting Recruiters Know You Are Available

April 20th, 2017

My friend at a top eMBA program asked if I recommend turning on the Open Candidates section of LinkedIn, for job seekers.

Haven’t heard of Open Candidates?  That’s okay, I haven’t talked to anyone who has.  The blog post in October 2016 is titled: Now you Can Privately Signal to Recruiters You’re Open to New Job Opportunities

Basically, what they are trying to solve with this solution is letting recruiters know that you are looking (or open, or available), without letting your current employer know.  It’s supposed to help you be an undercover job seeker, and not set off the alarm at your own company (lest you get fired for looking).

It’s a cool idea, and I don’t not suggest it. I honestly don’t know how effective it is… how many recruiters are getting notified that you are now available?  If they aren’t seeing this anywhere, then it’s not doing much good, right? However, it’s a simple process to turn on, and it could help, so why not?

If you are really concerned about a current employer seeing that you are broadcasting yourself as a job seeker, even though they are paying your salary, then I would probably recommend you DO NOT turn this on. Why?

LinkedIn says: “You can privately indicate to recruiters on LinkedIn without worrying. We will hide the Open Candidates signal from recruiters at your company or affiliated company recruiters.

Sorry, but my paranoid self thinks that this could go wrong. LinkedIn says to not worry, but what if they make a mistake and somehow, a recruiter (or worse, my boss) at my company sees that I’m open?  What if the recruiting company they outsource to finds my resume and submits it?  But, you say, LinkedIn said “or affiliated company recruiters.”  What if they make a mistake, and don’t know about all of the affiliated company recruiters?

What if all the technology works fine, but, well, didn’t you know that recruiters talk?  They are human, after all. And they can get you in a heap of trouble.

So, turn it on? Yes, unless you are in a confidential job search.  Then, stay confidential, and don’t trust that technology mean to broadcast your availability to keep you confidential :)

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Job Search Therapy & Physical Therapy #healing

April 19th, 2017

The theme for this year is healing. On Monday I went to my last surgery follow-up where they took an x-ray and said “looks like it’s healing great! You don’t need to come in anymore!”

Yeah!

This was the first time in the surgeon’s office that I went in (a) by myself and (b) without a wheelchair.  I walked hobbled in on my own two feet. It was quite epic… a couple of months earlier I asked the doctor if I would ever walk again!

I am short-sighted on many things that have to do with healing, and getting back to some kind of normal. Just sixty days ago I really wasn’t sure that I’d ever walk again. And here I am.

I attribute this progress to a few things… one is just time.  Healing takes time. Time, they say, heals all wounds.  Even though I was short-sighted, time really was healing my wounds, and getting my ankle back to usable. I’ve had many notable milestones over just the last few weeks… all because of this idea of time healing the wounds.

Another thing I attribute my healing to is physical therapy. My surgeon gave me two specific exercises to do, which I have done each day for hours. Last week I went to a physical therapist because I have a big trip coming up and I want to be able to walk, and not re-injure my ankle.  He took the two exercises that my surgeon gave me and expanded on them.  He also added zapping (electrifying my ankle) and heat, and after each session (and every night for ten minutes) an ice pack.

I have looked most of this up on Youtube, but I wanted someone who could know exactly what my needs were, and give me the exact, and personalized, treatment I needed.

They say physical therapy hurts…. well, not so far. I feel pain on one exercise I do… the rest feel really good. Progress doesn’t have to be painful, but sometimes it is.

Your progress, as you work your job search, can be painful. Talk to someone who knows what you are going through, and knows what you should do (and think).  They can let you know if it’s good pain that will help you heal, or if it’s bad pain that can hinder your search and healing.

Yes, you can go it alone.  Many people do.  You have to be extra smart, and flexible… ready to adjust your strategy, and learn from others.  Nothing wrong with that. But there’s also nothing wrong with getting help, healing better, faster, and deeper.

Who is your trusted job search therapist?

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Embracing Change #JobSearch #ProfessionalDevelopment

April 18th, 2017

Many years ago, I think in 1999, I worked at Simplot in Pocatello, Idaho. I was in school and took on an internship where I was a Cold Fusion developer, working on intranet applications.

One day, after a bunch of closed door hush-hush meetings with the heavies (not me… definitely not me), an announcement came out: the office was closing, and they would move everyone, or most everyone, to Boise, Idaho.  Boise isn’t far from Pocatello… only a few hours. But it would mean that anyone who moved would effectively say goodbye to family, friends, homes, and their lives in Pocatello.

My boss asked me to create a section on the intranet where employees could read articles about “change.” I was a student at the time, and I was not impacted by this announcement at all. I was not planning on staying with the company (although it would have been an awesome career). I was not going to move to Boise because I was just an intern. I just had another project to do (figure out how to present the change management articles)… but I am an observer of people. I love to watch people, and learn about them, and learn from them.

Watching these people make the very difficult decisions that faced them was beyond intriguing, sometimes exciting, and usually sad.  If I remember correctly, the majority chose to stay in Pocatello, a smaller, more blue-collar town with less “good job” opportunites than Boise.  Why?  Because their family was there. In plenty of cases they had child custody issues and couldn’t imagine leaving that small town, even though they would lose their jobs, because they wanted to stay in the lives of their kids.  The executive decision to move the office had a profound impact on many, many people.

Death and taxes.  They say those are the things that no one can avoid. I suggest that change is a third thing that no one can avoid.

As job seekers, we know this.  We are living through a HUGE change.

As I’m learning more about “product management,” I’m can see the profound changes in the world.  Imagine a hundred years ago, saying “people will mostly work sitting at a desk, punching buttons on a little box (keyboard), and staring into another box that has light and letters and moving things and colors… and we’ll stare at that light box for hours and hours a day. And we get paid to do that.”

The TV wasn’t even invented a hundred years ago.  It was still 10ish years away. The concept of this light box… unfathomable.

And yet, here we are. Punching buttons on a little box, staring at a light box, and not doing any farm or factory work.

That’s change.

Change is changing jobs every three years… very different than a few decades ago. It’s not all our fault, though.  It’s now a part of society, and business. In the olden days, if you changed jobs a lot it was because you had a problem. No company would let you go if there wasn’t something wrong with you. Today, though, companies don’t act the same.

That’s change.

Change makes us do crazy things.

Like start a business. Like change careers. Like move to another city. Like downsize.

Here’s my big lesson, observing many of my friends at Simplot, when they were forced to decide where to live: We must be flexible.

If you created a five, ten, or twenty year plan, great. Kudos. But be ready to adjust your plan. There are some things that are under your control, and many, many things that are outside of your control.

You can’t make a long-term plan that you swear by with so many variables.  But you can figure out how you’ll react and pivot.

You have to embrace the concept of change, and change your thoughts and attitudes enough to be responsive enough to react appropriately to the changes that come, instead of being crushed by them.

We’re all in this together.

 

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How to Sharpen Your Saw In a Job Search #SevenHabits #StephenCovey

April 17th, 2017

The seventh habit is “sharpen your saw.”  How do you do that as a job seeker?

Your number one priority is (usually) to land your next job. It’s a full-time job, it’s emotionally and mentally draining, and by the end of the day you are probably ready to drop.  How in the world can you sharpen your saw?

Let me suggest that this is a great time to study and read.  Start with the job descriptions that you are looking at… do you fully understand all of the phrases, words, and acronyms? If you do, could you write a paragraph or a page about each of them?  Could you even include some of your mini-stories.

Know what you are doing? Polishing your professional skills, and preparing your messages that you might use in an interview or networking situation.

Recently I’ve been reevaluating my role in JibberJobber, and understanding my duties as a product manager. This has been for a long time, my dream job.  I’m pretty much self-taught, since I never worked at a company that used the title product manager. But I’ve been doing most or all of the PM tasks, including interfacing with my developers, customers, stake holders, designers, and planning roadmaps, go to market strategies, and figuring out what analytics and metrics make sense to monitor.

As a product manager for JibberJobber my family (and team) completely depends on my ability to make enough right decisions, and lead my team to deliver the right solutions for our customers. The alternative is shutting down the business.  I’m not interested in that.

So, I am studying project manager topics. Even though I haven’t been formally trained as a product manager (I have a CIS degree, an MBA, was a developer, and a general manager for a software firm), I’ve done all or most of the tasks that a product manager does.

But am I doing them… well?

That’s what I’m refining.

I’m taking time to learn my craft, and to get better at it. I need to get better for the sake of my team and my customers.  All of this will result in goodness for me and my family, as well as everyone involved with JibberJobber.

When should you sharpen your saw?  Right now.  And moving forward, regularly.

In my last job I spent all my time executing and performing, not studying and sharpening my own saw. When I hit the job market my saw was dull and virtually useless. I had to play catchup. During the four years that I was creating Pluralsight courses I let my JibberJobber saw get dull.  My team worked on it, but I didn’t put as much time and effort into it as I should have. And now I find myself doing catch-up.

I’m resolved to not let this slip again. Continual education, either through reading, videos, or conversations with others, I will not let my skills get dull.  Even in a job search you owe it to yourself to spend a solid 30 minutes a day sharpening your saw.

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