What do you want to be when you grow up?


By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

Many of us begin our careers thinking we know exactly what we want to be.
As we engage in our work, we slowly begin to realize that what we were looking for cannot be found in the job we have taken on.
Now, this is not always the case, but if you do not have absolute clarity around what you want to do and achieve, you can easily become a wandering generality, coasting along until there is no time left to decide.
What was is that you wanted to be when you grew up again?
If you are not sure, it is time to do a bit of reflection and self-exploration.

Do You Know What You Want?
If you already know what you want out of your career, that’s fine, and there is no need to delve any deeper.
However, if you feel like you lost sight of your goals, you are not passionate about the work you are doing anymore, or you are in a rut, now would be a good time to consider your future.
Sometimes, it can be hard to get present to what you truly want out of your career. Seeking out the help of a coach or mentor during this process would be wise, as they can shed some light on your blind spots.
Before you can clarify and identify your next steps, first you will need to determine what you would like to achieve.

Are You On The Right Career Path?
You may have started down a path thinking it would eventually get you to where you want to go.
As you started taking some of the opportunities that came your way, it is entirely possible that you got off course. Now you are on a path that may not lead to the destination you had in mind.
Nobody likes paying their dues when it comes to getting what they want, but it may be time for you to get back to your roots. Take a role that will help you get to where you want to go.

What Are You Passionate About?
School counselors often ask students what they are good at and what they are passionate about.
While these are not the only questions you should be asking as you look to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, passion is a significant point to pay attention to.
If you are passionate about what certain organizations are up to, you are more likely to be excited and enthusiastic about the work you would get to do in those companies. This will also mean that you will be more likely to stay longer in the role too, which can be another important factor for success.

Where Can You Make The Biggest Impact?
Do you see an opportunity to make an impact in the world? Is there a problem you can solve?
More than ever, workers are connected to their values and what matters to them. If you know what matters to you, that means there is a good chance you would be more effective in a role where you know you can cause meaningful change.
So, it is worth evaluating where you can make a difference, as the work you do could far outlive you, leaving a legacy for others to enjoy.

Final Thoughts
People tend to put themselves under a lot of pressure when it comes to making decisions regarding their careers. If they do not make a perfect decision, they end up feeling like their decision was wrong. This leaves you in analysis paralysis.
The reality is this: there probably isn’t a perfect decision you can make – only a decision that is right for this moment. It is far more freeing to think in terms of the opportunities available to you now, and which are the right fit for you, versus trying to manufacture an opportunity that may not even exist.

Let’s get to work!
If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or lindavan@myexecutivecareercoach.com

The Truth About Impostor Syndrome and How to Deal With it

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back

You land your dream job. There is just one problem – you do not feel qualified or experienced enough to do it well. You feel like an imposter.

Everyone tends to feel a little awkward in a new role. It could take several weeks or even several months to acclimatize in your leadership role. 

If you are still feeling some discomfort beyond that point, and your personal sense of worth is not catching up, there is something more going on.

The reality is that there are likely people throughout the organization that feel the same as you about their own abilities.

You are experiencing Imposter Syndrome. Now, what exactly is Imposter Syndrome?

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

You have accomplished a great deal to get to where you are in your career.

You might not have any prior experience in the industry you are now in. Perhaps this is the first leadership role you have taken on.

But if you look back on your accomplishments in a fair and balanced way, you will see that you worked hard to get to where you are.

The problem?

You have not internalized your successes.

This is the definition of imposter syndrome. Instead of internalizing accomplishments, you have started doubting them and now you fear being exposed as a fraud.

People who suffer from imposter syndrome tend to chalk up their successes to good timing or luck, not acknowledging the role they played in causing achievement to occur.

How To Deal With Imposter Syndrome

If you feel like a fraud, those feelings are not just going to go away on their own. They must be dealt with.

Here are a few things you can do to deal with imposter syndrome:

Acknowledge It

If you are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, you need to acknowledge those feelings and thoughts.

It is important that you put those thoughts and feelings into perspective.

Observe your thoughts instead of engaging them, as though from a third-part perspective.

Begin to examine them more critically. Start questioning your thoughts and ask yourself how they got there.

As you begin to examine your thought life, you will gain more clarity on whether the thoughts you are harboring are helpful or detrimental. Recognizing them as such can help you take them in a more productive direction.

Reframe Your Thoughts

You may tend to compare yourself to others unfairly.

Do not compare your failures with someone else’s success. This is a surefire way to feel inadequate.

The reality is that you are just as capable as others. The only difference is in how you respond to challenges.

Remember that you can always ask for help or learn a new skill. Even if you are not good at something now, over time you will gain expertise.

Share Your Thoughts and Feelings With A Trusted Friend

Explore your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend, colleague, mentor, counselor, or psychologist.

You will begin to see that others struggle with the same feelings as you and it will seem less scary. It is normal to doubt yourself from time to time. But you do not want to let that doubt take control of you.

A burden shared is a burden halved. So, do not hold on to your doubt. Be willing to share with others who can help.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with imposter syndrome does not necessarily mean never feeling like an imposter ever again.

Once you have gained the tools necessary to move past it, it will become easier for you to identify and redirect your frame of mind to something more positive and accurate.

Let’s get to work!
If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or lindavan@myexecutivecareercoach.com

How to Negotiate Your Salary the Right Way

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

When it comes to job satisfaction, money is not everything.
It is important to be paid fairly for your expertise and experience, but you also want to feel valued and be able to meet your personal needs.
Negotiating salary is a bit like walking a tight rope. You have to find the right balance. Some people – even executive level professionals – can feel awkward trying to ask for what they need while respecting the company they are working for (or looking to work for).
Here are several key strategies for negotiating the salary you deserve.
Be Clear About What Works For You
First, identify the maximum amount that would represent a stellar offer. Then, figure out the minimum you would like to be paid.
So long as you are in between the two values, there is room for negotiation. But, never go below the minimum you have established.
Second, never start low and try to work your way up. This rarely works, and leaves you with no room for negotiation, as you’ve already laid your cards on the table. Instead, start high and work your way down if necessary.
Third, be honest about your needs. If a win-win scenario cannot be achieved, then one side is always going to end up resenting the other and the arrangement is not going to work out.
Research The Role You are Applying For
Ensure that you know everything there is to know about the role you are applying for. 
The most important question to ask is: ‘what are others in the same role being paid?’ This is something you should be aware of as you look to negotiate your salary. If possible, talk to current or former employees. Alumni of your college or university who hold similar positions or who are employed by the same company may provide you with useful information. LinkedIn can be a good source of contacts for this.
If you quote an amount that is too low, they may assume that you do not have the experience and skills necessary to take the job.
If you quote an amount that is in line with what others in similar roles are being paid, they will know that you are in the right ballpark.
Do not be afraid to ask for more based on the maximums and minimums you have established as guidelines for yourself.
Salary Calculators are a terrific aid for your research. Salary.com; Glassdoor.com; SalaryExpert.com http://www.salaryexpert.com/ ; Robert Half International Salary Guides (accounting, finance, financial services, technology, legal, creative positions, administrative jobs)
http://www.rhi.com/salaryguides are some that I use to investigate the latest salary information.
Demonstrate Your Value
As a leader, you must be able to demonstrate the value you can bring to a company. You need concrete examples of how you have increased a company’s bottom line, drove revenue, cut expenses, boosted productivity and efficiency, and so on.
These examples should always be relevant to the specific company or role you are applying to.
If there is enough evidence to suggest that you can help a business grow, an employer is more likely to take you seriously and pay top dollar for your tenure.
Prove Your Worth
Negotiations do not always go as planned and you may not get the amount you have asked for. The company may not have the resources to give you the amount you are asking for, or they may be looking for you to prove your worth first.
Work with the boss or HR department to come up with ideas on what you can do to prove your worth and set up deadlines for these goals. Take notes on these conversations and then report on your progress regularly. As you meet targets, you will likely get raises.
Additionally, it is important to understand that sometimes items besides salary are up for negotiation. This includes items like your preferred vacation accrual, work schedule, training opportunities, and tuition reimbursement.
So, if you can negotiate for favorable terms in this regard, the job may still be worth taking. Sometimes, you can work up to your salary goals over the long term.
Final Thoughts
Take genuine interest in the company and role you are applying for. Understand that their needs are and what they are looking for in a new hire. You will be better able to serve the company in the capacity they need to help them grow and move forward. And, that will increase your worth as a leader.
Let’s get to work!
If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or lindavan@myexecutivecareercoach.com

Improving the Culture of Your Workplace

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

Though it can sometimes be hard to define, company culture is crucial to maintaining a healthy and productive workplace. A solid company culture will also help you retain your best talent.

Maybe you feel your company culture needs a makeover. Or, maybe you are just getting started in your role and you are wondering how you can instill a sense of culture from day one.

Whatever the situation, here are three ways in which you can improve the culture of your workplace.

Improvement Through Inspiration

A regular dose of inspiration can help your employees remain motivated over the long haul.

Here are several things you can do on a practical level to keep your team engaged:

  • Recognize achievements. Recognize employees who have done an outstanding job. If you like, you could award one person with the title of employee of the month and showcase them on your website and/or your social channels.
  • Bring in guest speakers. At times, your employees can benefit from an outside perspective. Guest speakers can bring fresh ideas to the table that boost morale and heighten motivation.
  • Offer ongoing training and development. Today’s workers are interested in improving their skills and in learning new things. Offer ongoing training sessions or give your team access to online and offline resources they can tap into on their own time, such as books and courses.

Do not rely on any one tactic to create inspiration. Rotate through each to create variety and engagement. Sticking to one thing for too long could prove detrimental for morale. For instance, if you are constantly recognizing a small group of people who are outstanding achievers, those who are not getting recognition are going to start feeling left out.

Improvement Through Reflection

Reflection is one of the most powerful tools available to leaders and workers alike. Thinking about what has and has not gone well can offer valuable insight into how to improve. This can lead to breakthroughs in the workplace.

Here are a few ways in which you can use reflection as a tool to improve company culture:

  • Hold brainstorming sessions. Get your team together to think about how company culture could be improved. Make this a planned session rather than a spontaneous one and get your team members to come prepared with a couple of ideas.
  • Gather feedback. Gather feedback from individual team members and reflect on the answers they give you. You can collect feedback in a variety of ways, but the number one thing you need to establish is trust. If your people don not trust you, they are not going to give you honest and transparent answers.
  • Encourage personal reflection. Group reflection can be beneficial, but as we all know, meetings can easily become unproductive, especially without an agenda, and care and attention to organization and planning. Perhaps, at the end of each week, you could encourage your employees to reflect individually for 15 to 30 minutes or so.

Improvement Through Teamwork

“Joe should really connect with Sue, because Sue could help him gain perspective and understand his responsibilities better.”

Have you ever caught yourself saying something like this?

You must acknowledge that you are making a bit of an assumption here, as Joe probably is not seeing things from a bird’s eye view like you are. Perhaps you should consider pointing out the connection to Joe and give him an incentive to talk to Sue.

Many leaders wish they could encourage more teamwork and collaboration among team members. And, the reality is that you can.

Teams are often siloed off by department. So, one way you can encourage more communication is by breaking down those walls and getting everyone on the same page. This could be a literal or figurative “wall”.

But there is another way of looking at this. You could also create groups that include someone from each department. You could have these groups work together, or just get together on a weekly basis to discuss happenings in their specific roles.

Regardless of how you do it, the key is to get your team members interacting with each other and understanding how their role contributes to company objectives.

Final Thoughts

Do not make company culture an afterthought. Defining who you are and what you are about gives your employees an opportunity to connect to the vision and the purpose of the business. It also helps you attract likeminded people who can help you grow the company.

Let’s get to work!

If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or lindavan@myexecutivecareercoach.com.

3 Benefits of Mindful Leadership

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

In leadership, there is often a strong focus on doing, whether it is talking with team members, connecting with suppliers and vendors, networking or otherwise. After all, without action, there is no progress.

But all these actions can benefit from one thing – being more mindful.

Today, mindfulness is often linked with meditation, breathing, stretching and so on. These are all good practices to implement, as they can relieve stress, make you calmer and more focused, and even cause you to be more empathetic, which is a good quality to cultivate as a leader.

But mindfulness is not just an exercise. It is something leaders can practice in their daily work lives.

In today’s busy culture, it is easy to forget how important being mindful is. Here are several ways in which mindfulness can positively impact your leadership.

  1. Managing Your Team

Picture this: Your employee, Charlie, is late delivering a report.

Additionally, Charlie has 18 projects assigned to him. He is doing the best he can to complete all of them to the best of his ability. The reason Charlie was trusted with the report in the first place is because he is known for his quality of work and timeliness.

Being mindful of the fact that he may already be overwhelmed can help you make sense of the delay. Instead of coming down hard on him, as a stressed and overburdened leader might be inclined to do, you could help him out by asking another employee to assist him with completing this task.

You can build a stronger relationship with your team members by practicing mindfulness. Ultimately, this can increase your team’s productivity.

  1. Communicating More Effectively

Internal dialogue is a constant within every one of us. Sometimes, we assume that the conversation going on in our head is exactly the conversation others are having with themselves. But, there is a good chance it isn’t.

It is easy to make up stories about others, what they know, what their predisposition is and how they handle challenges. This is where communication can easily break down.

You may think you told your team members that reports require cover sheets. Did you send out a memo or an email stating this? Is it in the procedure documents? Did you follow up using the internal messaging system, or restate it at your latest meeting?

The best leaders are effective communicators. If you are mindful about how you are communicating, you will find fewer things slipping through the cracks.

  1. Developing Better Strategies

Some of the best leaders are known to spend a considerable amount of time just thinking. This is a form of mindfulness all its own.

Thinking allows you to establish clarity on goals to set, next steps to take, how to innovate and create a competitive advantage for your company and more.

Leaders should be spending time on high-value tasks, and strategic thinking should be considered high value. Leaders need to be cognizant of what to do next, as the demands of the market are constantly changing.

Strategic thinking can lead to new ideas and insights, new ways of doing things and even a more proactive and innovative company culture. You can develop a more effective team by directing your focus towards strategy.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness can extend into every facet of your life. As you achieve success in one area, it will empower you to make worthwhile changes in other areas. It is important to understand the impact that your personal life can have on your career life and vice versa. If you want to be more effective in every area, then bring your presence and awareness to every situation.

Let’s get to work!

If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or lindavan@myexecutivecareercoach.com.

Informational Interviews: The Link Between Where You Are & Where You Want To Be

When you’re looking to create new opportunities and meet influential people, it’s easy to forget that there are many ways of achieving this end. With the right tactics, these two goals are actually one in the same.

An exploratory interview is this opportunity.

In practice, it doesn’t differ from a job interview that much. The main difference is that there may be no openings for you to fill, so the pressure is off!

Decision-makers generally welcome the chance to speak with high level talent. And, if they think you would be a good fit for their company, your name will come up when there’s an opening before they even post the job.

Exploratory interviews give you the opportunity to network, gather information, and expand your career options.

Informational Interviews: The Link Between Where You Are & Where You Want To Be

Are there any skills you need to gain as you look to take on a high-level leadership role?

Do you need to develop new processes, have more experience, or build new connections?

All these factors are important, but oftentimes the key to opening the door that leads to new career options is connections.

As you look to transition into a new position, informational interviews will prove an essential way in the door. Executive positions aren’t always promoted, and even if they are, it may only be a formality, as the company in question may already have several people in mind.

In an exploratory interview, you can connect with important stakeholders in the company without all the pressure that comes along with a formal interview. Asking and answering questions in a casual setting allows you to build relationships that will help you land your next job.

An Opportunity To Learn More About A Company You’re Interested In

Companies tend not to reveal every detail concerning a position or its accompanying requirements. Though it is valuable to dig into publicly available information, this will only take you so far. What you need is an insider’s perspective.

Scheduling an informational interview is a good way to learn what the needs of the company are as well as the challenges they’re facing in their corporation. You can gather information around what they require in an executive and what their industry is lacking.

There is a great deal you can uncover about a company’s needs and what you can bring to the table. Essentially, you will gain access to information you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

A Way To Identify Critical Next Steps

You may not be looking for a position right now. But an informal interview is nevertheless an effective tool for your ongoing job search efforts.

Sometimes, the need to find our next career is unexpected. Working out your next moves now will yield wonderful options, even if you don’t expect them soon! Exploratory interviews can help you stabilize and mitigate against potential risk.

Final Thoughts

Exploratory interviews will help you:

  • Reaffirm the path you’re on and what you’re doing to uncover next steps.
  • Take a close look at your skill set and identify any gaps that need to be filled in.
  • Find new ways of looking at your career path. You may discover that you’d prefer to work in a different industry!

Be courteous when booking and participating in exploratory interviews. Your questions should be guided by your interest in the company, industry, or position and not by a desire to “spy” on the competition or uncover some juicy tidbits that could help you in your current job.

Do your research, delve into your findings, keep it short, and follow up with the people you connect with.

6 Tips to Boost Your Productivity!

Productivity always begins with self.

As you are leading others, it will prove difficult, if not impossible, to show them how to be more productive if you aren’t efficient yourself.

This isn’t to suggest the methods you learn will always prove beneficial to others. But as you test out different strategies for yourself, you will gain access to more resources and insights you can share with your team.

1. Turn Off The Notifications On Your Phone

We take our smartphones with us everywhere we go. And, they tend to provide a rather constant source of distraction. From a productivity standpoint, that’s a problem.

Take a moment to turn off all notifications on your phone. Then, try not to look at your phone while working, especially if you’re engaging in high-level work.

Unless your work requires you to constantly be on your phone, turning off notifications will instantly make you more focused and productive. Most messages you receive are not urgent and can wait until you are ready to deal with them.

2. Track How You’re Spending Your Time

You might be working 12-hour days, but do you know exactly how your time is being spent? Unless you can create a complete breakdown for your day, you aren’t fully aware of how effective you are (or aren’t).

Track your time and figure out how you’re spending it. Use an app like RescueTime to see how you’re spending time on your computer too.

3. Restructure Or Eliminate Meetings

Meetings can actually be the worst contributor to suffering productivity in practically everyone’s schedule! Unless your meetings are particularly well organized, they can end up wasting everyone’s time. You shouldn’t spend an hour talking about something that can be addressed in an email.

If you must have meetings, restructure them to be a better use of everyone’s time, including yours.

4. One Task At A Time

If you are multitasking, your productivity may be suffering.

Sure, you may be good at it, but multitaskers tend to miss important stimuli and take a lot longer to switch from one task to another. That’s a big problem if your work requires you to be detail-oriented.

Create a priority list, choose which task to engage in now, and give your full attention to it (until completion).

5. Take Breaks

Take regular breaks at intervals that make the most sense to you. Some studies show the optimal amount of time to work before breaking is 90 minutes. But this doesn’t work for everyone. So, find what works for you. Get up and walk around. Drink some water. Go to the washroom. Snack.

6. Meditate

Yes, you read that correctly! This practice was adopted by corporations like Apple, Google, and Yahoo. “91 percent of participants reported it positively impacted the culture and 60 percent reported increased focus and better decision-making skills.”

Meditating calms the mind and allows you to function at a higher level for longer. Meditation can also put you in an alpha state (which occurs when you are daydreaming or practicing mindfulness) and even a theta state (which occurs during the deepest states of Zen meditation). This, in effect, is equivalent to sleeping and most people are not sleeping enough.

Approaching your work with clarity and a sense of peace allows you to mitigate stress and unnecessary mind chatter.


Put yourself in an environment where you can work and remain inspired. Oftentimes, we aren’t even aware of how our surroundings are affecting us.

Place plants in your office, hang attractive photos or paintings, and keep your workspace organized. This will have a positive impact on your mind and your productivity.