Michael Akbar's Career Transformation Journey
A Blueprint for Your Career Transformation
How I went almost overnight from no income to earning $370,000/year in an industry I knew nothing about has become a career transformation blueprint for our clients. While many professionals who engage us are looking for career growth and making more money, many of the clients I work with aim for living more fulfilling lives. What I discovered works for both objectives. I started my journey with only two of the six levers of success you will learn about. It all started with a call from American Express.
How Recession Helped My Career Transformation
I hung up the phone feeling numb. The representative had politely informed me that my business account was closed, and I had been put in a special payment program to pay off my remaining debt.
I had no idea how I was going to make good on that. When I got home, I was welcomed by a letter from Bank of America stating that the balance of $98,000 on my SBA loan was being sold to a private company in Texas. Over the next few weeks, that company would be coming after my house.
Well, at least I was still married to a beautiful wife. Little did I know that at dinner that evening, she was going to tell me she had decided to move on.
Yes, 2008 was proving to be a tough year for me, as client after client defaulted on the money they owed me. Over the course of the next few months, as the recession took its toll, I went from living in a million-dollar home to having $1,200 to my name.
Most of that money went toward the payment of the rent deposit on a basement that for the next 15 months became my new home and workplace. I was a broken man. I was living in the most affluent area of Northern Virginia, and now I could barely afford to eat.
For many years before starting the business, I had worked for employers, enjoying the security of having a W-2 paycheck and benefits. But the price I paid for that security was having to put up with unhealthy cultures and characters over whom I had little control. That’s why I had tried my hand in owning my own business.
But now, 13 years into it, the recession was breaking my back. I had employees to pay, a family to feed, and a bloated mortgage I never should have gotten.
War Front or Refugee? Choose.
This was not the first time I had found myself in a pickle. Right out of college, while most of my classmates were congratulating each other on their job offers, my choices were bleak: going home to be drafted in a bloody Middle Eastern war or becoming a refugee in Thailand, a country where I could barely speak the language. Guess which option I picked.
With a few hundred dollars in my pocket, I could have not survived in Thailand for too long. The fact that I did was a hint from the universe about the many lessons that I am about to share with you here.
I was too preoccupied with my own miseries to get the bigger picture, so I kept doing the only things I knew: sending resumes, knocking at doors, and making cold calls begging for a job. The only job offer I had was from a university where most of the instructors had fled the local insurgency. I only found out about this when I asked why the building I was going to work at was surrounded by tanks. (Not sure if the tanks were intended to keep the insurgents out or to keep the instructors from fleeing!)
Then one day, I got a call from an old girlfriend who wanted to take me to lunch. I accepted immediately—not out of any hope for a romantic recovery but because I was looking forward to a good meal. Being so preoccupied with all the uncertainties in my life at the time, I had no idea of how my life was about to change. But first, let me take you back to 2008 and finding myself broke and broken in NoVA.
A Friendship that Produced a Miracle
A year earlier, while on LinkedIn, I had seen a notice that John, an old friend I had not spoken to for years, had just been promoted. As if an invisible force was holding my hand, I posted a congratulatory note for him—something that, as a self-absorbed individual, I rarely used to do. He reached out, and we met for lunch.
As we were leaving the restaurant, we ran into his friend Simon. We had a brief conversation about what we did and exchanged cards. Then, a year later, Simon’s unlikely entry into my life was about to turn into a miracle. He called and wanted me to speak with the president of a federal contracting company regarding a job.
The president needed help, and Simon was convinced that I was the one who could help her. Simon had a better opinion of my capabilities than my self-esteem allowed me at the time.
Heck, I didn’t even have a resume! When the president’s administrative assistant called, asking for a copy of my resume, my excuse was that I was still working on it. “Would you mind if I just brought one to the meeting?” She agreed.
I thought about writing my resume. The last one I had written was in 1987, 21 years earlier! I had no idea how to translate my small business lending and advisory experience into anything relevant to federal contracting. Years later, when I started working with my current wife, a master resume and cover letter writer and editor, I learned the formula.But back then, without a resume, I had to come up with another ploy not to disappoint and embarrass my new friend, Simon.
The Genesis of Interview AikidoTM
So that weekend, instead of writing my resume, I sat down and pulled together everything I had learned about the psychology of persuasion and consultative selling. From this, I crafted an unconventional interview technique that, years later, my now-wife branded Interview AikidoTM, because the technique leverages your opponent’s strength to your advantage.
At the time, I did not realize that I had stumbled upon one of the key secrets to effective career transformation: rather than mimicking the better-positioned folks you are bound to compete with, identify and leverage your unique gifts, skills, and experiences. Sometimes this is hard to do on your own. That's where people who know you well—or a career coach—can be very helpful.
The following day, and for the first time, I test drove Interview AikidoTM on my prospective employer. I came away with an immediate, lucrative job offer!
Over the next 12 months, I started mastering another technique later branded Executive AccessTM. Despite my introverted nature, I was able to develop an entirely new network consisting of federal executives and the heads of companies who wanted to do business with them.I helped the president grow and sell her company and then repeated the cycle of using Interview AikidoTM and Executive AccessTM to get my next jobs. I was now starting to realize the effective use of Aikido also for enhancing my relationships, both at work and in my personal life.
Since that fateful lunch in Thailand with an ex, I had taken 30 years to crack the code of how to talk my way to career success. On that day, she had mentioned a former IBM executive. I had connected with him and eventually got my first professional job through him. The night before the interviews with his colleagues, I had to buy a book just to understand the title of the job I was applying for!
A year into that job, he had asked me, “How’s your wife doing?” This awkward question was a reference to the former girlfriend I had never seen again! Months of cold calling, sending hundreds of resumes, and knocking at even more doors had come to little before that job came through. But my ex’s introduction to this man—albeit based on a misunderstanding—had changed my life, leading to future jobs with IBM and GE.My next job with General Electric came as the result of a single phone interview while working in Singapore. Not only did GE fully pay for my move to Virginia, but my boss also had to lend me a tie for my first day on the job! I now realize that everything I had accomplished boiled down to a few lessons: using the precise portion of the right ingredient, at the right time, in the right sequence.
Enable Others to Give
For most of the highly accomplished people I have come across, to do good is the most potent intoxicant. I found this discovery to be consistent with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The more we enable others to do good, the more we both benefit from the exchange.
All the good fortune in my life can be traced back to someone’s feeling good about helping or working with me. No wonder giving back and serving others has now become not only the central value of our own business but also a source of immense pleasure for my new wife and me!
Create the Right State of Heart
Bringing someone to the state of wanting to give deep from their heart requires building rapport, a central component of Interview AikidoTM. You know you have achieved this goal when the person you just met with is left with an inexplicable feeling that they can’t help but like you.
I must have achieved this feeling with my now-wife, who left our first date reportedly thinking, This guy would make a great friend. Now she tells me almost daily that I’m her best friend. Just like the Grinch, my heart has grown three sizes.
Experience Your Power
How did I win this amazing woman? Part of it was volunteering to help her as a business coach. By using Interview AikidoTM, I had learned that she had a yearning to be successful in her business that had a fantastic name and great reputation but not a lot of revenue.Helping others without any expectation of return has an empowering impact on us. When as a job seeker we exercise this power, we are sending a signal to our brain that we are perfect, powerful, and happy. How can we fail with such strong mental reinforcement?!
Great Questions Are the Answers
This became the foundation of Interview AikidoTM, as well as our executive coaching and career advancement programs. Questions are how we win offers, succeed in negotiations, learn how to support our bosses to win, get to know teammates, and learn how to motivate them. They are also how we build happy and fulfilling personal lives.
Asking great questions is only the beginning, of course. You have to interact intelligently with the information you get in the responses. But once you know what people need, making them happy and wealthy becomes within your reach. And as a result of making them happy and wealthy, you also become happy and wealthy.
Win the Inner Game
But how do you get started when you’re unhappy and broke yourself? On my bumpy career journey, I had started to notice that my thoughts were influencing the actions I was willing to take—and my poor results, in turn, were influencing my thoughts. I had to break the cycle.I started to learn that we can consciously influence this cycle and use it to achieve goals beyond our comfort zone. In the process, our comfort zone expands! Now, applying these same strategies, our coaching clients not only enjoy the career transformation process but also accelerate their success, with amazing results.
The Formula for Your Edge for Success
Clarify Your Goals
Build Your Strategy
When I first started my career journey almost 30 years ago, I only knew a fraction of the tools and strategies that I have mastered along the way. Today, I have the full set of tools I developed, plus numerous certifications and the experience of having coached hundreds of professionals and executives in almost every industry.
Most importantly, I also have the career marketing material the team develops under our award-winning writer president (yes, my wife). As a result, our clients can achieve more ambitious goals, much faster. And since I don’t wish my initial bumpy experience on anyone, let me leave you with that perfect framework that gives you your edge for success (which is the cool business name my wife had created).
Our work with our clients starts by getting clarity on what they want. Borrowing from Dr. Steven Covey, we don’t want them to have a meteoric rise to the top of the ladder only to discover the ladder was resting against the wrong wall! As a refugee, I did not have the luxury of thinking this through, and I wish no one the fears and uncertainties I had to live with.
Build Your Strategy
The second step is building our clients’ success strategy. For us, the strategy is more about adapting the proven action formulas that hundreds of our clients have applied in 12-week sprints. On average, the sprint ends early with a new offer at the 8th week. That is why we can guarantee our that our coaching clients will receive an acceptable offer.
Leverage (the Verb)
What creates the magic of this fast pace in getting one’s dream job is leverage—that is, leveraging the experience of a caring accountability partner, your coach. Equally important is leveraging the unique outreach skills we teach, as well as leveraging other people’s networks to discover opportunities that are not even announced (like my own first job).
While for some clients our engagement ends with their new job, for all, the mental, action, and communication skills they learn become lifelong success tools.
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