Why Sharing Career Lessions Needs Translation

Recently I got laid off.  I could probably add “again,” but I’m living in Silicon Valley, where “laid off” is sort of the minor flu of careers.  We all catch it occasionally and it’s not that remarkable.

So beyond my job search, I’ve also been working on learning lessons to use into my suddenly-delayed book on job search.  I appreciate the irony, and wanted to make sure I not only applied what I learned to my search (which is working) but captured new lessons.

I’m used to doing this; sharing my experiences with others.  In fact, I encourage other people to share their own career experiences.  But I came to realize as I discussed my delayed project and lessons with people, I’ve missed a crucial fact: translation.

I miss this because I try to do it.  I try to explain things to people in different situations.  I try to put it in their terms.  Thus, rather ironically, I’m rather terrible at talking about it since by now I don’t know when I’m doing it.

So if you’re going to share your geeky career experiences, which I would strongly encourage in the most aggressive way that’s still civil, you’re going to need to learn how to share what you’ve discovered in ways others can use them.  After all if they can’t understand or apply your lessons, everyone is kind of wasting their time.

Here’s the methods I’ve found work best:

1) Generalize.  Learn to take your experiences and figure out where – and won’t – they apply to people in general.  When you can do this (which you can’t for every lesson) you’ve got a valuable, easy to share experience.

2) If you can’t generalize, go all the way back around and specialize.  Maybe you can’t apply the career experience broadly, so instead explain the lesson in its specific contexts.  This way people are aware of the highly specialized knowledge you’re applying and can easily extract information – or ignore what’s irrelevant.

3) Give examples and find examples.  If you’re in that horrible middle ground where it’s hard to explain things, give specific examples, and perhaps find examples from articles, books, or people you know.  This is good to use anyway, but especially good to use when you’ve got some career experience, lesson, or technique to share that’s hard to communicate, and/or is in the middle ground between being something to can generalize or something you have to describe specifically.

4) Give a system or put the ideas in order.  This list?  This is a way of organizing thoughts so I can communicate them – and you’ve noticed I have a tendency to put things in series anyway.  This organizes the lessons you’re sharing in ways that make it easy for people to adopt – people naturally work with systems.

5) Use the right language.  In general this is “simpler” language that most anyone can understand, but sometimes you have to use specialty language simply because you can’t avoid it (such as technical or career-specific terms).  This usually requires knowing your audience.

6) References.  We’re in the age of the internet, you can hyperlink to anything.  Provide people plenty of links and references so they can see what you mean, get informed, or in some cases just understand what you’re talking about in the first place.

7) Next steps.  When at all possible (which should be often), provide actual next steps in the lessons and experiences you share.  This gives people a way to get active – and helps them understand what you’re sharing.  Sometimes “learn by doing” is the only way to learn – and certainly is efficient.

So with this said, what’s your next step?  I want you to look at your blog, the notes you take for friends and their job search, your recruiter list, something you share to help your fellow career geeks.  I want you to take one thing out of what you share with others and apply the above lessons, shape it up into something that truly is sharable.

If it’s already good?  Well then pick another . . . I’m sure you’ve learned a lot.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.