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Tag Archives: margaret smith career coach

working with a mentor

With any job, we all rely on guidance from our supervisors and peers to learn the ropes and develop new strategies for accomplishing tasks. These people serve as coaches and mentors, and can be a principle reason for creative and professional success.

A mentor’s experience is a resource as valuable as any skill in your personal toolbox, but finding the right person for the role can be challenging in a new environment. As you begin your search, you may find a few of these strategies useful:

1. Identify your process and values

As we grow, we try out and exchange work habits and strategies to make ourselves more effective. Finding a mentor who speaks to you starts with understanding yourself and how you work. What are the values that drive you? How do they translate to the type of work you do and which projects or responsibilities you’d like to take on?  What are the pain points and blind spots of your working style that others may need to accommodate for or address? These questions are important to ask and reflect upon when seeking a mentor. Knowing their answers to some degree will help when approaching others for help.

2. Look across disciplines

Everybody brings a unique mix of experience and ability to the table in an organization. A person’s job description doesn’t always tell you everything about the perspective they bring or their ability to teach. If you are worried or intimidated by reaching out to folks in your own department, making connections outside your usual circle and observing how people attack problems may shed a learning light you never considered before.

3. Establish rapport

Mentors are not always our closest friends, but a good mentor will be someone who respects your goals and spends time to observe and understand your learning process. Get to know folks who’ve joined the team before you and communicate your respect for their role and the work they’ve done. If you’re not familiar with these details, friendly chats over lunch or a drink can provide a way to accrue insight casually and over an extended period of time.

4. Develop yourself and network

Professional associations often offer conferences and seminars to learn the ropes of new skills or discuss innovation within a given industry. If you feel like your office lacks the means to provide the guidance you seek, attend trainings and make connections – either with fellow learners or the speakers. Handing out business cards and picking someone’s brain for 15 minutes may be all it takes to find a new teacher.

Finding a mentor isn’t always easy, but the returns for your efforts can be transformative. Keep an open mind, and be honest with yourself if you aren’t getting what you need on the first attempt. If you keep at it, often the right guidance is never too far away . Stay positive and get cracking.


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“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seems like everywhere I turn, people are trying to promote happiness.

“Buy this, and it will change your life!”

“Lose weight and feel good about yourself!”

“Enjoy a movie/shopping spree/vacation!”

While I’m certainly not against promoting happiness, I believe we have to think a little more long-term. “Happiness products” and mindsets only give us a temporary jolt of joy. We feel good after we’ve taken a nice, rejuvenating vacation. We may feel happy when we purchase a new piece of jewelry or pair of shoes. And that authentic Italian dinner? Oh yeah, you’d better believe that gives a shot of happiness!

Again, these things are not bad, but it’s a good idea to put them in context of the “bigger picture.” What life purpose do you want to serve? What do you want your everyday legacy to be? (For the difference between “Capital L Legacy” and “lowercase l legacy,” please see my blog post on the subject).

To start thinking big picture, start shifting your focus from happiness to usefulness.

When you’re useful, you create things. You help. You generate ideas. You work toward a larger goal.

When you’re useful, you not only feel productive, you are productive.

Instead of asking yourself, “How can I be happier?” start asking, “How can I be useful?” In my experience, happiness follows. When you’re productive, assisting others, helping your company grow, or creating things, you’ll inevitably feel the satisfaction that goes with accomplishment.

Your legacy is built on usefulness, not your personal happiness. Of course I want you to be happy, but sustainably happy. Instead of scratching every happiness itch, practice making a few intentional sacrifices for the sake of being useful. This is how you will leave a lasting impression on those around you.

So, get motivated! Make yourself useful! It’s fine to start small:

  • Volunteer for a project
  • Help a co-worker who is floundering
  • Grab coffee or lunch for someone who is short on time
  • Clean your workspace
  • Send a thank you card
  • Set intentional goals and work toward them
  • Be bold—speak up at meetings and share your ideas

Being useful feels good. Productivity begets productivity. Before you know it, usefulness will become a core part of who you are—part of your legacy.

What else can you do to make yourself useful this week? I’d love to hear from you!


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ask for and get a raise

We’re closing in on the holiday season. You’re busy; your boss is busy. Everyone around you is trying to dot their i’s and cross their t’s before the end of the month festivities strike. It may also be the time of year when people receive their annual bonuses.

With so much going on and the company doling out bonuses, how could NOW possibly be a good time to ask for a raise?

To be frank, now is as good a time as any. The time of year has less bearing on your chances of getting a raise than a host of other factors:

1. Have you been consistently meeting and exceeding standards for a year or more?

2. Do others in your industry with a similar job title make more than you do?

3. Have you gone above and beyond on certain projects or initiatives?

4. Are you consistently reliable, deliver good work, and show leadership potential?

5. Could you make a solid case for your raise?

If you answered yes to several of those questions, it’s time to ask for a raise despite the busy time of year. In fact, asking in December is great because it’s a logical bookend to the year. You can cover all the many accomplishments you’ve made over the past 12 months.

Another reason it’s not a bad idea to ask for a raise now? The joy factor.

Despite the busyness of the season, there’s a backbone of joy behind the whole thing. It’s a time for good food, family, joyful little decorations, and get-togethers. Even in the most subdued of office atmospheres, a little holiday joy is bound to leak in. Take advantage!

Yet another reason to ask for a raise at the end of the year is that it helps the company budget for the year ahead. Depending on how your company’s financial calendar works, expenses may be estimated at the beginning of the year. If that’s the case, your raise can easily factor into the list of added expenses.

Just keep in mind: some people (your boss included) travel over the holiday season. If that’s the case, make sure you schedule your one-on-one meeting well before your boss is scheduled to leave. That way, she won’t be thinking too much about her upcoming holiday instead of the meeting at hand.

When going into your meeting, prepare accordingly. Keep in mind the following tips:

  • Make sure you set aside intentional one-on-one time with your boss, or whoever has the power to grant you a raise.
  • Prepare a thorough case: Make a list of your accomplishments (be as concrete as possible), and reasons you think you deserve a raise. Go over what you’ve done over the past 12 months.
  • Ask for a specific amount. Aim high, but be realistic. Remember: You may be asked to justify the figure you give. Be prepared to do that by either listing your achievements or showing comparable pay rates in your industry and position.
  • If you are immediately granted or denied the raise, have a response prepared.  A hearty thank you (and a request for more details regarding when to expect the raise) may be in order if your request is accepted. If it is not, have a few questions prepared to figure out why the raise was denied. Don’t get defensive. Simply prepare a statement like, “I respect your decision. Could you help me understand why my request wasn’t granted and what I could do differently next time?” You may also want to ask when you might be able to ask for a raise down the road.

If you’ve had a solid, productive year, why not ask for a raise? There’s no time like the present and, in fact, there are a few reasons why the holidays are actually a good time of year to request a pay raise. What’s holding you back? If you have a few reservations, or would like to hone your approach, please contact me and we’ll strategize. It’s time to be paid what you’re worth!

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Valuable Interview Tip

One of my top interview tips is simply this: Ask for the job.

Though it’s easier said than done, it is one of the most effective ways to make yourself memorable and appear confident and competent to your interviewer.

Now, you might be thinking: “What?! What do you mean? How could I possibly be so bold?”

You can. And you should.

Keep in mind that you are one person amid a sea of candidates. Think of yourself as part of a gigantic choir. How will you make your voice stand out? How will you deliver a solo that can be heard above the rest?

I have several strategies for developing your “solo” (if you’d like to learn more, let’s talk), but one of my key strategies is to have the confidence to ask for the position you’re seeking. Note that this is different than begging. You’re not on your knees, desperately pleading with the interviewer. Instead, you’re self-assured, enthusiastic, and authentic. You demonstrate that this job means a lot to you and you know it’s aligned with your skill set.

So, HOW do you ask for the job?

Start by affirming that, yes, this is the right fit for you. Research the company and the position. Read reviews on Glass Door. And listen to your gut–if you walk into an interview and notice that everyone in the office seems to be anxious and stressed, this might not be the company for you. Or, if your interviewer is curt and unfriendly, that might be a warning sign of what’s ahead. Trust both your instincts and your research. If you’re impressed with the company and you get a good feeling when you walk through the doors, that’s a good sign you should make the bold move of asking for the job.

When you’re asking for the job, timing is everything. Your ask should come toward the end of the interview. Usually, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions or anything you’d like to add. This is your chance to make your move.

Start by complimenting the company (but be sure you sound sincere). Say something like: “When I researched ABC Company, I was really impressed by your annual growth and the way you give back to the community. Now that I’m here in person, I’m even more impressed by the atmosphere and the way everyone has treated me with such warmth since the moment I walked through the door…”

Then, deliver your ask. Be confident. Practice asking for the job in front of the mirror so you become accustomed to how it might sound. Here are a few ways to do your ask:

“Your company seems like a great fit and I can picture myself thriving here. What can I do to convince you that I’m the right person for this position?”

“I can tell this position aligns with my skill set and I would very much like to work here.”

“This job sounds like a perfect match for my skills and experience. What can I do to demonstrate that I’m ready to work with you and your team?”

“I’m even more enthusiastic about this position than when I came in this morning and I’m confident I would be a good fit. What is the next step in the hiring process?”

REMEMBER: Go into your ask with grace, confidence, and the realization that the interviewer may respectfully decline OR hire you on the spot. Are you ready to get out there and put your new skill to work?


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find voice and own it

Your thoughts matter.

Do you believe that simple sentence? Have you internalized your worth as both a human being and a key component of your workplace?

I’ll say it again: Your thoughts matter.

Far too often, people feel like their ideas, opinions, or points of view do not mean as much as others’. They feel minimized or silenced. They feel some kind of invisible barrier, holding them back from speaking up.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been at a meeting and decided against speaking up or voicing your opinion? Have you ever felt shut out of a conversation, even though you had something to contribute? Why?

Unfortunately, a few dominant voices tend to rule the workplace. Whether they became the “big players” through experience or by aggressively asserting their point of view, these are the people who do not easily share the floor with others.

So, how do you break in? How do you find your professional voice and speak it?

Start small. Try a few of the following steps and keep building your confidence–and your voice–through intentional actions.

  • Practice speaking your mind in one-on-one meetings or informal lunch gatherings.
  • Build your confidence before you go into a meeting. Try using Amy Cuddy’s power pose or repeating affirmations.
  • Set a concrete goal (i.e. I will speak up at least twice during our next meeting).
  • Have a candid discussion with those who shut you out of meetings (they may not even realize they’re doing it!). Don’t be confrontational, be conversational. Present your case by using the D4 feedback model.
  • Involve others. If you notice someone else itching to say something, be an advocate for them. Say something like, “It looks like Susan has something to say.” Your gesture won’t go unnoticed and (hopefully) the favor will be returned at some point
  • Be prepared and know your stuff! Do your research before walking into a meeting and come prepared to ask at least three good questions (I’m a huge proponent of asking good questions!).
  • Keep it up. Even when you’re not feeling especially assertive, keep up your confidence through affirmations, intentional breaks (get away from your desk!), and by practicing good all-around self-care.

Your voice is valuable! It’s time others heard it.


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4 steps to start job searching

If you’ve been feeling discontent in your current role and are thinking about seeking a new one, NOW is the time to get started. Don’t wait until you’ve had it “up to here” with your current job and are feeling desperate to get the heck out of there. Instead, take a few simple steps to prepare for a potential upcoming job hunt. Your future self will thank you!

1. List Your Accomplishments

Spend some quiet time reflecting on what you’ve accomplished in the past year or two. Are you able to quantify any of your achievements? For example:

  • I helped reach XX% more customers through a new marketing initiative
  • I helped save the company $XX through the implementation of new technologies
  • I led XX people in a team project.

If you’re not able to quantify an achievement, are you able to describe it in a sentence or two? Have you won any awards or gained any recognition that might impress future employers? Make a list of everything you’ve accomplished.

2. Update Your Stuff

It’s time to take a peek at the ol’ resume and make sure it’s up-to-date. Additionally, make sure your resume reflects the skills that will be required in your potential future job. If a chronological resume doesn’t quite capture your relevant skill set, try creating a functional resume, which highlights skills/abilities instead of listing your jobs chronologically.

While you’re at it, update your LinkedIn profile as well!

3. Focus on Your Connections

  • Start writing out a list of anyone and everyone who may be a valuable connection or reference when you begin your job hunt. It’s helpful to use a spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel.
  • After you’ve made a list of at least 10-20 people, find their contact information and add it to your spreadsheet.
  • Then, order your contacts from “most likely to be an asset” to “least likely.”
  • Finally, make notes about whether or not you regularly keep in touch with each person. If you do not, jot down a plan for how and when you’ll revitalize your connection with that person.
  • Start networking and reconnecting! I can’t emphasize enough how important personal connections can be in a job hunt.

4. Search for Skills Gaps

If you’re thinking about pursuing a role that it significantly different from what you’re currently doing, take some time to identify any skills gaps you may have. What are 10 key skills required for you dream job? Which skills do you already have? Which could use a boost?

If you’ve identified some major skills gaps, consider enrolling in a certification course, a continuing education program, or conducting an informational interview with someone who works in the position you’re pursuing.


Even if you’re not quite ready to start your job search in earnest, you can take several small steps to get started. Today, I challenge you to reflect on your accomplishments, update at least a few items in your resume, start listing out your valuable connections, and identify your skills gaps. Even if you only have half an hour, you can at least get started on your path to a new job. It’s time to invest in YOU.



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Name Your Failures

No one wants to focus on failure. This kind of thinking is not fun, it drags you down, and it reminds you of your imperfections. While that’s true (and it’s certainly not great to dwell on screw-ups), there is POWER in acknowledging your failures and calling them out by name.

What do I mean by that?

Instead of either A) ignoring a failure and pretending it didn’t happen OR B) letting yourself be consumed by the failure, reflect on it and write about it. This exercise could be utilized for any setback or misstep you experience, big or small.

ALSO, make sure you jot down a note about what you learned from your failure or a strategy to avoid that specific error in the future.

Here are a few examples:

Failure: Not preparing for the company meeting
Main Lesson: I need to set aside half an hour before future meetings to prepare for them.
Action Steps: I will set a notification in my e-calendar whenever I schedule a meeting to help me remember to prepare.

Failure: Missing too many of my daughter’s basketball games
Main Lesson: She won’t be young forever. I need to do a better job of balancing family life with work.
Action Steps: I will schedule her games into my calendar and set them as a top priority. If I can’t make a particular game, I will schedule one-on-one time with her during the subsequent week.

Failure: Sticking with an ill-suited job for too long
Main Lesson: I need to pay attention to my inner GPS and know when I’m experiencing discontentment with my work.
Action Steps: If I start to feel like my job isn’t working out, I will immediately take steps to figure out the best course of action, such as taking time for deep reflection or consulting a career coach.


Calling out your failures is powerful. According to Stanford researcher and author, Tina Seelig, keeping a kind of “failure résumé” helps you to compartmentalize your mistakes and avoid them in the future.

Your failure résumé should be a living document—add to it whenever you have learned a life lesson, whether significant or minor. Writing down something as simple as “Don’t send out an ‘emergency email’ to my supervisor on a Friday” or “Don’t offer Karen coffee—she doesn’t drink it,” can help you avoid the everyday, minor mistakes that we tend to make.

Isn’t it time to wrangle your mistakes and keep them somewhere, rather than tripping over them? I think so. Calling them out won’t make your future mistake-free, but it will help you avoid making the same mistake twice.



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