Book Review: HeadStrong
From time-to-time, as we receive career-related and job-hunting books and other resources from publishers, the staff of Quintessential Careers will review them to help you make better decisions about the best books to use in your career and job search.
HeadStrong: The Keys to a Confident and Positive Attitude During Job Search, by Tim Tyrell-Smith. Paperback, 265 pages. ($9.95 for ebook version). 2011.
Reviewed by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
I haven’t before seen a career/job-search book quite like HeadStrong. It’s a basic, step-by-step guide to the job search — and I’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of those — but those basics are the filling in a sandwich in which the chewy, nutritious, artisanal bread is all about keeping your spirits up and maintaining a positive attitude while looking for a job. Not only is the emphasis on positive attitude unusual and refreshing, but Tyrell-Smith’s ideas on how to do so are unique.
Enhanced by an attractive, readable layout, the book offers discussion questions at the end of every chapter. Chapters are short, and anywhere from four to eight of them make up each major section.
Among many features job-seekers will find invaluable in the book are:
- the author’s formula for a “Killer Elevator Pitch,”
- the concept of the Target Network Profile that identifies exactly what you’re looking for so you know whom to target in networking situations and how to explain precisely the type of opportunity you seek,
- a concise list of specific goals to have in mind in networking situations,
- a list of ideas for how to talk to strangers while networking — and how to keep the conversation going,
- a wonderful list — also for networking venues — of questions to ask yourself to get at “what’s memorable and interesting about you,”
- the first and only content I’ve ever seen about succeeding in a Webcam job interview, and
- an inspiring chapter called “One Day in Job Search” that provides the job-seekers with positive affirmations about successes achievable if they keep working at it.
It’s a good thing I’m rather a fan of sentence fragments because incomplete sentences comprise Tyrell-Smith’s signature style. A few places in the book cry out for better organizational flow. For example, he presents a chapter characterizing the “average” job-seeker. The expected next chapter is a profile of the above-average counterpart — but that chapter’s not there. The author uses a fair amount of what I call “TimSpeak,” cute and memorable terms for various tools he’s developed (such as SoloSheet, Networking Bio, FlashCard Business Card, and Watchlyst). Readers can consult the tools section of his blog for more explanation of these tools, but would it have killed him to elaborate on them in the book? Overall, though, the book is highly worthwhile, especially for those who may be losing heart and feeling discouraged about their job search.
Here are the top 10 things I learned from HeadStrong: The Keys to a Confident and Positive Attitude During Job Search:
1. You will probably benefit from not spending every second of every day in intensive job-search mode. For one thing, some days are better than other for tackling certain tasks, Tyrell-Smith points out. If you’re not feeling confident, it’s probably not the best time to place a phone call to a new networking contact. He even advises taking periodic “productive days off,” especially when you feel yourself becoming selfish, obsessive, and that you’re losing perspective. He takes that idea a refreshing step further when he suggest using that day to focus on the needs of your network. Anyone who’s ever talked about networking emphasizes the importance of mutuality, of helping each other, but Tyrell-Smith is the first I’ve seen to do so in such concrete terms. To help clear your head, he also provides a list of 101 things to do other than the job search.
2. It’s wise to be an above-average job-seeker. Tyrell-Smith profiles the average job-seeker — who has a limited and local network, is not social-media savvy, and has no established personal brand. This average job-seeker is initially confident, which can lead to complacency. You have the choice to be above-average, the author observes.
3. You are probably more prepared than you think for tough times. To bolster himself with evidence that he could make it through successfully when he lost his own job, Tyrell-Smith made a list from his own life of experiences that showed he could land on his feet.
4. A positioning statement is important; it enables you as the job-seeker to stand out in a crowded marketplace and defines your candidacy clearly and simply. Such a statement is a must for networking and can sharpen a resume’s focus. Example from the list Tyrell-Smith provides: Classically Trained Consumer Marketing Executive.
5. Accomplishment statements are critical tools. Tyrell-Smith tells how to structure these statements: Action –> Relevant Topic –> Impact –> Key Metric –> Benefit. Sample statement: “Initiated a new product launch process that reduced time to market by 75 percent.” The author suggests building on these statements with detailed stories and offers guidelines for telling a good story. I have to protest his “three to five minutes” suggestion for stories told in the job search, though. Even two minutes these days is an eternity in a networking or interviewing venue and should be the absolute outside limit.
6. You need a list of employers to target. Tyrell-Smith suggests starting with a list of 100 employers and then using a set of criteria to narrow down to 25 of which 10 will be top-of-list at any one time. Great idea, but I suspect it will be difficult for some job-seekers to start with 100 and much easier to simply use the suggested criteria to develop a list of 25 in the first place.
7. Effective networking requires successful habits. The author’s chapter comprising 20 successful networking habits is a gem, emphasizing the mutually helpful aspects of networking. One of these 20 habits had special meaning for me: “Take selfless action.” In fact, Tim Tyrell-Smith had taken selfless action with me after we met at a conference in Las Vegas, and he drove me to my next conference in Los Angeles. Not everyone would extend such a kindness. And not everyone will help members of his or her network the way Tyrell-Smith describes in this chapter. But successful networkers will.
8. Procrastination is the job-seeker’s biggest enemy. Putting things off comes naturally to job-seekers, especially when they’re frustrated and discouraged. Tyrell-Smith points out that some job-search activities simply cannot be put off if you want to arrive at that new job (He prefers “arrive” to “land”) — creating a great resume and online brand, working out a budget to get through a time of unemployment, crafting a job-search strategy, reaching out to network contacts, and attending network events. And then there are activities that make you feel as though you are productive but in truth offer minimal payoff. “Do you think surfing the job-search engines for hours a day is a symptom of a procrastination problem?” the author asks. He dubs this activity “seemingly productive yet highly inefficient,” “an incredibly passive activity,” and a “classic time waster if used beyond its value.” Amen to that.
9. You don’t want to lose momentum. Even job-seekers who adjust their attitudes and get confident about their searches experience and lack of progress. Tyrell-Smith offers a list of six ways to keep the ball rolling. Example: You need fresh job leads every week.
10. Job loss is an opportunity to bolster yourself with multiple streams of income and a more balanced life. Sure, you’ll find another job, but in the meantime, build a safety net with other ways of generating income, such as consulting or writing and selling an ebook. Tyrell-Smith also points out that being out of work provides the opportunity to attend to things in your life you may have been neglecting — hobbies, volunteer work, and family and friends.
HeadStrong is the perfect basic job-search primer for those who’ve lost heart or those who fear they will become discouraged. It’s also filled with unusual and innovative ideas that should energize any job-seeker.
Check out all our book reviews in Quintessential Reading: Career and Job Book Reviews.