Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Importance of Effective Communication

Watching the presidential debates has lead me to think a lot about the importance of effective communication skills at work. After all, how many job postings have you read that call for "excellent written and verbal communication skills" or some variation of that? In truth though, there's more to it than just written and verbal skills we need to consider.

For starters, regarding the debates, in the face of searing opposition those guys are ridiculously smooth. I can't even fathom holding my composure in a forum like that the way they do. Imagine engaging someone whose sole objective is to tear apart every single thing you say for 90 minutes. Now imagine what your body would feel like. What would your body language be in that type of situation? Imagine the way your muscles would tense up. The way your blood pressure would rise and your heart would race. Oh, and then consider that roughly 60 million people are watching you. YIKES!!!

Have you noticed how much commentary there is after the debates about how the candidates looked? In fact, how they look is just as important, and may even be more so, than what they actually say. Do they appear "presidential"? Are they looking at the moderator or audience when they speak? Are they looking down at the podium or looking at their opponent when he is speaking? Are they making hand gestures? Looking at their watch? Shaking their head when the opponent is talking? Sighing, laughing, grunting or making other noises? President Obama got crushed for looking like he didn't want to be there in the first debate and you better believe that his camp spent a lot of time fixing that in preparation for the second one.

As odd as it seems, non-verbal communication is an imperative skill in the work place. The media doesn't latch onto it after these debates for no reason. They talk about it because it's clear messaging being sent to us by the candidates and there are things about them that can be learned from analyzing it. The silent messages you are sending when speaking to someone or being spoken to say as much as the actual words that are being spoken. How are you sitting or standing? Are you slouched in your chair? Do you appear actively engaged in the conversation? Are you making eye contact? Are you prepared to take notes? Are you fidgeting with a pen or something else? Are you actually engaged in something else (multitasking) while someone is speaking to you? Do you check your phone?

Be conscious of the non-verbal messages you are sending. You don't want to go through an entire meeting having not uttered a singular word yet actually having said more than anyone else in the room.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Surviving the Phone Screen

I just had the pleasure of participating in a phone screen interview. If you happen to work with me, don't worry I'm not going anywhere. My employer has a program whereby they send 900 students around the globe between semesters for immersion experiences in emerging markets and I applied to be a Program Manager.

I don't know about you but I find phone screen interviews to be really hard. It is so much easier to have a conversation with someone who is sitting right in front of you. The idea of having to make a meaningful impression on and connection with someone you can't see is much more intimidating than being able to engage someone sitting in front of you so you can read their reactions to what you are saying.

If you are faced with the prospect of a phone interview there are some basics you can do to make for an optimal setting and experience:

  • Prepare like this is any other interview because it is. Run through your talking points. Go through you practice questions. Write down a few questions you want to ask the interviewer. Always be prepared. If you are not prepared none of what follows will matter.
  • Have your resume handy so you can refer to it.
  • Make a list of talking points and refer to them during the interview. Being able to have materials in front of you is one advantage of the phone interview so use it.
  • Have a pen and paper handy so you can take notes.
  • Remove any and all distractions from the room including but not limited to: disable call waiting, silence phones not being used in the interview, shut down music/TV, email, internet, kids, pets, co-workers, spouses, in-laws, bookies, handymen, plumbers, massage get the idea.
  • Use a land line. 
  • Have a glass of water handy and don't eat, suck on candy, or chew gum.
  • Repeatedly tell yourself how AWESOME you are going to do.
  • Keep your answers brief and concise. 
  • Take your time, speak clearly and with confidence.
  • Breathe.
  • Smile!
  • Don't interrupt the interviewer.
  • Remember to ask about their timeline for their next steps and what those steps will be.
  • Thank the interviewer for his/her time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dead Tree Summary

Technology has been a break neck game changer in so many areas of our lives it's often hard to comprehend when you try and step back to think about it. Now it appears that job hunting is no longer immune to the digital age as the dead tree summary paper resume is all but phased out of the process.

This article from CNN is fascinating on so many levels. 10 years ago fax machines were integral to job hunting. When's the last time any of us sent a fax!? Might as well fire up the old telegraph while we are at it! Now it's email and even your overall web presence being used to sell yourself to potential employers

Just imagine what it'll be like in 10 more years. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Listening on the Job

Raising kids, especially two active boys, has made me revisit the importance of listening. I can't stand it when I am talking to them and I can see on their faces that they simply aren't listening. (Shout out to my parents here because I am quite certain they experienced this with me!). On the stage listening to the other actors is vital to the creation of a robust performance. Actors and musicians hone their listening skills to help them polish their craft. I am willing to bet that most people working in other professions take listening for granted, which is really a shame because it is an imperative skill to perfect.

Have you ever dealt with a bad listener? I had a boss once who didn't listen to a word I said in the three years I work for him. He was as bad a listener as my 2 year old. It didn't even have to be work related either. When we were sitting around talking about baseball I could tell that he was looking right through me. He'd talk right over me and anything he had to say was more important or relevant than what I was saying at the time.

On the job, listening is a must. If you are a new employee one of the most important things you can do is make sure that the people talking to you know you are listening to them. You can't succeed without it. So how do you do that?

It helps to take a fresh look at yourself as a listener and remind yourself of the finer points of the skill. To help you out I've found a link that you might find useful.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Facebook Responds

As they should and as one would expect. I'm a little surprised it took them as long as it did. Take a look here. One would think it's only a matter of time before this issue is settled and the practice of requiring personal login information in an interview (or any setting for that matter) is declared illegal.

In the meantime, I am going to polish my Hulk-a-Maniac membership card and get ready for the it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Job Seekers Are Required To Turn Over Facebook Login Information?

The AP recently ran a story about job seekers being required to turn over their Facebook user name and password during the interview process. If you are anything like me, you use the same password for numerous logins so turning over your password to one would compromise your online profiles in several other places. To begin with, that's the first of many reasons I would never work for an organization that asks me for that kind of information.

Job seekers should never be forced to reveal private information about themselves in an interview and since Facebook pages contain a wealth of private information they too should be off limits. The idea that a job seeker would be asked to actually hand over any type of login information is especially ludicrous. Why don't I grab my bank account number and PIN for you while I am at it?  

It seems that if it is illegal to ask about your martial status, age, disability, whether you have kids, your sexual orientation, or your religious affiliations during an interview, employers shouldn't be able to actually log into Facebook as you to poke around your public and private profiles. Wouldn't they be able to glean at least some if not all of that information from a person's Facebook page thus answering some of the questions that are otherwise illegal to ask? Seems like a pretty clear invasion of privacy doesn't it? Even requiring a job seeker to be a Facebook friend crosses the line in my estimation as it will provide an eye into the personal life of employees that should not be used in consideration for employment.

Naysayers may ask what you have to hide. But that's not the point. The point is that I have a right to hide it if I want to. That's why Facebook protects its users with a login system and why I am the only one who can log in to see it. Let's take it a step further and say that in your free time you like to engage is some type of activity that you might not want people to know about. Maybe you are a die hard WWE fan and like to dress up in body paint and go to matches wearing a Speedo and you don't want your colleagues at work to know. Maybe you like Justin Bieber more than a pre-teen schoolgirl. Or maybe you participate in some other type of completely legal activity outside of work that others who don't understand the culture might use to judge you and you have pictures which aren't even available to the public stored on your Facebook page. How does the fact that your are a card carrying Hulk-a-Maniac affect your ability to do your job and do it well? It doesn't. And revealing such information shouldn't be part of the interview process.

It's hard to imagine the Facebook question remaining legal if it hits the courts. However, this issue brings up an interesting question: how do you deal with this in an actual interview?  As a job seeker, it is our responsibility to know what questions interviewers are and are not allowed to ask.  We also need to know how to deal with the situation if one of them is asked. Whether someone is asking you how old you are, whether you have kids, or asking for your social media login information, you have a few choices for how to respond. Mind you, the social media question isn't actually illegal (yet) like the others:
  • Tactfully point out that the question is illegal (if it is) and that you are uncomfortable answering it as a condition of consideration for employment: "That question is illegal to ask in an interview as a means to assess my qualifications and I respectfully decline to answer it."
  • Point out that the question is illegal, but still answer it: "While that question is actually illegal to ask in an interview I don't see any harm in letting you know that I am an energetic, well qualified and competent 32."
  • Don't point out it is illegal but still don't answer it: "I don't see how my age (or marital status, disability, religious affiliation, etc) would affect my ability to perform the duties of this position and in fact I am confident it wouldn't get in the way whatsoever."
  • Sidestep the question: "Are you asking me if I have kids because you are worried about my ability to travel? There's no need to worry because I am ready, willing and able to travel as much as needed to help this company reach its goals."
  • Answer the question anyway: sometimes we need the job really badly and we simply have to avoid the risk of alienating the interviewer or creating a confrontation.
Hopefully you'll never have to deal with this situation but if you do you need to be ready for it. As for Facebook and turning over your login information, as you probably know I don't have a Facebook page and thus don't have to worry about it. But many of you do and until this question is rendered illegal by the courts you should probably decide whether you are comfortable handing over your user name and password to an interviewer.

Monday, March 19, 2012

How do you know when it is time to go?

A colleague, who we'll call Chris, recently approached me about feeling like it was time to look for a new job. This is actually a conversation I've had a few times recently, including with my own manager. After reading up on it a little bit it was clear to me that Chris has several of the tell tale signs of someone who should think about moving on.  Here are three resources you can use as a quick reference to see if you should be thinking about moving on from your current position:

Feeling like you need to leave a job is completely natural, especially today. Very few people do the same job over the course of their entire career. Life circumstances change, our interests change, opportunities come and go, the organizations we work for change and we as employees are left to deal with all of this in an effort to do what is best for us as individuals. What's interesting, however, is that this issue is not something that we feel comfortable talking about openly at work. Chris came to me in confidence, which is the natural reaction of someone who has made this decision. While publicizing a job search and networking are the most important things you can do when looking for a new job, we feel like we can't do them with those that we currently work with even though our co-workers and colleagues are probably some of the best people with whom we can network. This adds a level of complication to the decision to leave a job that's not easily overcome.

I'm lucky to currently have a manger who is very much down to earth when it comes to looking for a new job. I've had several conversations about what's next for me in my career and gotten a lot of great advice. The department philosophy realizes that employees come and go for all different reasons and that the best thing they can do is support the person rather than making it harder for them to go. After all, as you can imagine an employee who starts to show signs of needing to leave is not going to be as enthusiastic or productive as the employer needs them to be so supporting the person who reaches this stage is probably a smart way to keep them engaged while they execute their transition. But not all managers and employers are like that so many of us need to be cautious with whom we share our intentions. Thus, it's best to proceed carefully as you hit this stage because you certainly don't want to risk making a difficult situation worse.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

10 Tips for Negotiating Your Salary

Your heart races. Your palms are sweaty. Your mouth is dry. Pound!...Pound!...Pound! heart is about to fly out of your chest...

If you've been faced with negotiating your salary you're likely familiar with these feelings. After surviving the interview process, this is probably the hardest part about taking a new job.  There's no doubt that it's not fun and no one likes it but if you don't do it right you are seriously losing out by leaving money on the table.

You need to remember a couple of things. First, no one works for free and the person offering you a job knows this. Second, everything is negotiable. EVERYTHING. The process of negotiation involves two parties with mutual yet sometimes conflicting interests working together to find common ground. It is important to remember that both parties want to find a suitable agreement and that each will need to give and take in order to make that happen. The employer wants you and has a number in mind they would like you to accept. They also have a number they are willing to go up to in order to secure your services. Likewise, you want to work for the employer. And likewise, you have a number you would like to make as well as one you can't go under. Now, the trick is finding out what each other's numbers are.

The worst thing you can do when accepting a new job is accept less than you think you are worth. Even though you think you won't, you'll end up resenting the employer because they are under valuing your services and that could harm your entire time of service at that organization. Yes, this process may be uncomfortable for a few minutes but accepting less money than you need and want has the potential to be uncomfortable for years! And once this process is over, any reasonable employer isn't going to give the negotiating process a second thought. They will be glad they have you aboard and be ready to get started.

1. Be prepared for the negotiating process. Do your homework and find out what positions such as this one pay in your geographical area so that you can set your expectations. Then you'll have a scale on which you can place the initial offer to know if it is high, low, or just right. When you feel that an offer might be coming, make sure you spend some serious time thinking about the salary and your own financial picture. We all have bills to pay. You need to know how much you need to earn in order to really assess if what is being offered will be enough for you to live on. Realistically, think of your salary in three ways: Bare minimum you need, the amount you can settle for, the amount you want. Head into the negotiating process with a clear head so you'll know how the initial offer will affect your life.

2. Don't become emotionally attached. You need to be willing to walk away if you can't get the employer to offer the amount you need to live on. If you have $3000 per month in bills and they offer $2700 a month and won't go a penny higher you can't take that job. It's that simple. Be ready to respectfully decline the offer and walk away.

3. Listen to the offer. Thank the person for such a generous offer. Tell them you are very excited by the possibility of working for them. And then ask them when they need a response because you need to think it over. Hopefully they'll give you some time to go away to "think" a counter offer. At the very least, try to get them to agree to let you think it over one night and then call them with an answer in the morning. If not and they need a response right then and there, take a minute or two to gather your thoughts. Remember, you should be prepared for this (see step #1) so it won't be that big of a deal to do it on the spot. And then launch into the process of a counter offer.

4. Consider the benefits package. Your compensation isn't just the amount of money you are taking home, although that is obviously a substantial part of it. It's the entire package you are being offered including: sick time, vacation time, personal days, medical and dental benefits, retirement options etc. Factor all of this into your thinking. Maybe they aren't offering as much money as you'd like but the other benefits are so terrific that you can afford to not bring home as much in your paycheck.

5.  Always ask for more money. ALWAYS. You will never know if you could have gotten more unless you ask. And trust me, they aren't just going to thrown more money at you then they need to so you absolutely have to ask for more. Determine your counter offer. Don't be afraid to ask for more money. It's what you are supposed to do. Even if you only get a few hundred dollars, your first salary increase, every increase thereafter, and any potential retirement contributions they make will all be based on that higher number. So you won't just be making more now, you will be affecting your future earnings.

6. Make your counter offer higher than you really want or need. This one is tricky. How much higher should you go? You need to counter with something within reason so don't be greedy. But at the same time don't short yourself. Your real goal here is to create wiggle room in the negotiating so that you can have room to come down to where you need to be while getting them to come up as high as possible. If you get the high counter offer, then you've just made extra money. If they counter it, you'll have a place to go down to without going further than you want or need. Use this initial high counter and work down from it to where you need to be.

7. Ask about standard of living increases, merit increases and bonuses. When are they awarded? What is the criteria for determining such increases? Can you get more money now and defer your first increase? Can you accept less now but increase the level of that first increase? You need to know how your future salary is going to work as much as you need to know about your current one.

8. Once you land on an acceptable salary, start talking about everything else. Are there other places the employer can give if they aren't giving on salary? Is there a charge for parking at work? Can they buy you a permit or at the very least increase your salary to cover parking? Can you get additional vacation days, personal days or sick days? Can their contribution into a retirement plan be increased? Is there any subsidy program offered for using public transportation? What is the health insurance like? How much of the premium does the employer pay? This is your one and only chance to find out about your benefits package and see if there is room for the employer to improve it. Again, if you don't ask they won't improve it. So ask.

9. Find out about your hours. This is the time when you want to figure out when you will be working. Is it 8-4, 8-5, 9-5, or 9-6? Is there a lunch break? Do they have a flexible schedule program? These days many employers are willing to consider work from home or other flexible schedule scenarios and you'll never know about them unless you ask. You need to know heading into the job when they will expect you to be there and if that will work with your life so ask about it now rather than on your first day and come to an agreement before accepting the job..

10. What if they say "NO!"? It depends on what they are saying no to. If they are saying no to your need for more money and you can't possibly work for the amount they are offering and they won't budge then you need to think about declining the offer. But if they are saying no to something relatively inconsequential that doesn't mean that much to you, accept the no and move on in the conversation. No big deal.

Always remember, you'll never get anything unless you ask for it. Employers aren't in the habit of offering employees extra money and benefits but that doesn't mean they won't.  The only way to find out if they will is to ask. They are going to offer the minimum they think they need to offer in order to secure your services and it is our job to increase that offer in any and every way possible. Everything about going to work for an organization is negotiable even when they say it isn't. Just ask.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My Thoughts on 10 Job Search Rules to Break

Thanks to Alison Green we have some insight about shifting trends in job searching and we can start to dispel rules that have become outdated.  Below, I offer my comments on her suggestions for what rules we can now break in the world of job searching:

Limit your resume to one page: I love it that this is #1 on the list! I actually recently did the exact opposite. I had a two pager for a few years and recently paired it back to one. I was talking to a Career Counsellor who liked my 2 pager but as an exercise told me to try to get it down to one page by listing only those things I am most proud of about each job. It was actually much easier to do than I thought it was going to be and I love the results. It is very clear and concise. So I am back down to a one pager but that doesn't mean you have to be too. The point here is that now both are acceptable whereas previously two page resumes were frowned upon.

Write in formal language: I very much agree with this one. Your resume is a representation of you and thus should sound like you. Hey, if you speak in a formal mechanical language then go ahead and make your resume like that too.

Include an objective: I didn't even realize people still listed objectives on their resume. I'm not even sure why anyone would have ever used one in the first place. The very nature of me giving someone my resume should make my objective pretty clear shouldn't it?

Lead with your education: This is very true but is also very tricky if you are just starting out. So if you're not just starting out definitely list your work experience first. In many cases, the employer isn't going to care what you actually got your degrees in and will just be looking to see that you have them. But if you're on the hunt for your first job out of school and your college career amounts to the most significant thing you've accomplished then listing it at the top is probably your only choice isn't it? If this is the case, consult with your college's career office and get their help on your resume.

Include "references available upon request" on the bottom of your resume: This is just like listing an objective. It's not needed and takes up space you can otherwise use to articulate the value you will bring to the company.

After you submit your resume, wait a few days and then call to schedule an interview: Making this phone call stinks and is awkward. I was so glad to read it on Alison's list. The Career Counsellor I worked with when I left the theatre told me that I should call every organization I apply to so I can get them to find my materials and bring them to the top of the pile. I hated doing it and from what I can tell it has never paid off for me. Thanks to Alison I won't be making any of these calls any more.

Arrive early for interviews: While I understand what she is saying, there is no possible way I would ever risk being even one second late for an interview. The only alternative to that is to be early. That being said, I'd never actually appear more than 10 minutes early and generally I shoot to be less than 5 minutes early. This definitely means sitting in the car or around the corner. So I say, be early. Be as early as you want to be to make you feel comfortable. The most important thing you can do is assure that you are on site on time so do whatever it takes to do that. But also, yes, don't actually report to the interview until it's time.

When an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, answer with a positive framed as a weakness: To begin with, this is such a stupid question. Everyone has faults and weaknesses including the interviewer. I hate being asked this. But at the same time, I am prepared with an answer. If you want to win you have to play the game right? So yes, admit your weakness like Alison says and then let the interviewer know how you are proactive about overcoming it.

Don't name a salary number first. Talking about salary is so taboo in our society that it has made us all afraid to talk about it when we actually need to. So by all means, don't be afraid to bring it up first assuming that you do so at the appropriate time. Knowing when the right time is, however, is another story all together as you need to be reasonably confident that you are their top choice. If the interviewer knows one thing, it's that you are not going to work for free. He/She knows that you will be getting paid so talking about the amount you are getting paid shouldn't be as hard as many people find it to be. I am going to get into the process of negotiating a salary later so keep your eyes out for that post.

Ask for the job. As Alison says, treat the interview as a collaborative process. You need to know if you could work there just as much as they need to know if they want you. It pretty much goes without saying that by submitting your resume and attending the interview you have already asked for the job. Assume the interviewer is required to go through some sort of process and that actually asking for the job during the interview isn't going to do you any good because they wouldn't be able to upset their process and give it to you on the spot even if they wanted to. Rather, use your thank you note to reiterate your interest in the position without going so far as to ask for the job directly.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Breaking Job Searching Rules

We've all met the know it all who insists that everything needs to be done a certain way. It seems that when it comes to careers and job searching the know it alls know even more and are doubly insistent about the breadth and accuracy of there expertise. Increasingly, however, when it comes to searching for a job the standard know it all rules are becoming obsolete. So tell your know it all co-worker or friend to pipe down a bit, open their mind a little and consider breaking the steadfast rules of job searching we've all come to know.

I am going to turn to Alison Green again for guidance on this matter. She writes a fantastic blog called Ask a Manager and has recently written about 10 Job Search Rules to Break. While I don't agree 100% with everything she says there's a lot you can learn from this post. I will comment specifically about each of her 10 suggestions in a few days. In the meantime, take a look and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ug...the Performance Review

I had my yearly performance review the other day. In truth, I have been here almost 4 years and this was only my second review. So it's not at all yearly. While I've never actually had a bad one (knock on wood), it's still not my favorite thing. You schedule this meeting at which you know the potential exists for you to receive criticism and then you have to spend the next few days anticipating what's going to be said. It's that anticipation I don't like. It'd be a heck of a lot easier if I could just be blind sided by the review so I don't have to spend time worrying about it. Just call me down to an office out of the blue and lay it on me. I can take it. But, like I said, I've never had a bad one. I subscribe to the notion that if there was a problem with my performance they wouldn't (and shouldn't) wait for my review to tell me about it.

Since nothing remarkable happened this year I thought I would tell you about an interesting review I had several years ago. One of my previous bosses travelled a lot. When I say a lot, I mean A LOT. He would go away for two weeks, come back for 2 days and then leave for another week. He would even take a red eye back to the office, work for the day and then head to the airport after work that same day for another multi-day trip. I was his executive assistant. In fact, I was one of his two assistants. So what work there was to do, and there was a lot, was split between two people.  Needless to say, when he wasn't around there wasn't much to do. There were very few, if any, self sustaining parts of the job description that didn't require his presence. No boss meant no letter writing, no phone calling, no emails, no calendar maintenance, no meetings to schedule and prepare. He'd call in once a day but that was about it when he was away.

During one of my yearly reviews he told me that he knows he isn't around a lot but I "need to do a better job finding things to do" to keep me busy. Really? OOOOO...K?

This was by far the most head scratching comment I've ever gotten in a review. I understand this as a piece of useful feedback on face value. If you are a server in a restaurant on a slow night you might clean the coffee machine, wipe out cabinets and sort silverware. But this was an office and I was there to work for this man in any and every way he needed. When he would leave town for 10-12 days I would be left at work for several days in a row without even speaking to him. I could go an entire month of work and only see him for 3-5 work days stretched out over that entire period. I would even go into his office before a long trip and ask him for work to do while he was gone. When you are an executive assistant and you haven't seen your boss in 5 days and aren't going to see him for another three, there are heaps of time when there's nothing to do. I wasn't upset with the comment, it made me laugh more than anything because it was so absurd. Mostly, I couldn't believe he said that.

After some consideration, I realized that this comment came as one piece of criticism in a review that was extremely positive. He felt the need to at least offer up some level criticism as my boss and that's what he came up with. I mean, I know I am perfect and all, but he probably didn't want me to know that I knew he knew I was perfect!!!!

I learned that in our reviews we need to be prepared for whatever comes our way no matter how insane it may sound. How we react to it, in what context it was delivered, and what we do with it is what make all the difference. It is important to not react emotionally during your review as hard as that may be.

There are a lot of great resources available to help us survive our reviews. has a great guide so try starting here:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

So What Should Scott Do?

I thought I'd start with things that Scott shouldn't do before I talk about what he should do:

Set up a meeting to speak with the Regional Director to confront him about all of the Friday presentations that are then asked about on Monday to prove that his Friday presentations are thorough and well prepared.

In general, it's never a good idea to confront your manager no matter how right or wrong you think you are. Think about it this way, the people that are above you on the career ladder, while perhaps not because they are smarter, more talented or even a better person, got there by doing their jobs well in a way that works for them. Could they learn to do things better? Probably! But for the most part, they are usually there because they are good at what they do. It will help you a great deal if you understand that you probably aren't going to get them to change and it could be a problem for you if you try. It's a classic case of the risk far outweighing the reward. Instead, think about trying to understand who they are, how they work, and what you need to do in order to compliment their style rather than pointing out what is wrong with it.

Complain to his coworkers about how frustrating it is to work with the Regional Director but don't really change the way he's handling the Friday presentations.

Let's face it, it helps to vent. And if you have a trusted colleague (and I mean TRUSTED), then by all means go ahead and vent. But do not go spouting off to anyone who will listen about all of your supervisor's flaws. And certainly, venting to a colleague isn't the only thing you should do because it is a passive response that won't yield anything but trouble no matter how good you feel afterwards.

So this leaves us with what Scott should do:

Try creating a PowerPoint slide and then handing out a one page synopsis of his Friday presentation that people could take away from the meetings and refer to later.

Now there is no guarantee that this will work. Perhaps Scott's boss isn't someone who responds well to hand outs or slides. But what this does show is that Scott is being proactive in trying to find effective solutions. What he has done here is create new a presentation style that he thinks might positively affect the most amount of people. The PowerPoint is designed for those who respond well to taking in information visually. The handout is designed to help those that understand and absorb information by reading. Those two, combined with his verbal presentation, now gives Scott a fair chance to reach everyone in the room and makes sure the information is going to be retained by almost everyone. After all, if you don't absorb information by visual aids, reading or listening than chance are you don't retain much now do you?

A more formal name for what Scott is doing is Managing Up, which means going above and beyond your actual job description to enhance the work of you manager. Making his/her life easier by providing what he or she needs, anticipating those needs and often satisfying those needs before you are asked. It's a method of assessing the working styles of those around you are figuring out ways to compliment them for the benefit of efficiency and progress.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Importance of Determining Working Styles

When I was a student in college picking my classes I payed almost as much attention to who was teaching a class as I did to what the actual class was about. I wanted to know before enrolling what my chances were of getting a good grade. And even then, after enrolling and starting the class the first few weeks were all about figuring out what I needed to do to survive the course and (hopefully) bring home the A. What are the professor's expectations? How hard does he/she grade? How many tests and papers will there be? How strict or lenient are they regarding deadlines and punctuality?

Believe it or not, many people forget about these survival techniques after they enter the work force. But when you think about it, a big part of managing your career should be about figuring out how to work with those around you, especially your boss, in order to reach your desired level of success.  In this respect, you are learning how to do that in college just as much as you are learning the subject matter of your courses yet  many people don't realize this part of their education and how important it is. Everyone around us has a particular working style and learning what those are can be crucial to our success.

Considering the following example:

There is a 10:00am meeting every Friday at which department heads meet to report to the Regional Director. They are required to summarize their department's progress during the week that has just past and look ahead to their goals for the week ahead. Each department head gets 10 minutes and must present a clear and concise picture to the Regional Director.

Scott has been with the company for 18 month and has realized that the Regional Director routinely forgets what he said on Friday and often has to call on Monday and ask Scott about things he had just presented the Friday before. Not only does this frustrate Scott because it takes time away from the things he needed to accomplish Monday morning but it also makes him feel that his Friday presentations are inadequate no matter how well he prepared them.  At the same time, the Regional Director is frustrated at having to call Scott every Monday to ask questions about the things he felt Scott should be telling him. This became such an issue that it was brought up in Scott's yearly performance review and he became very discouraged.

Scott decided to spend some time thinking about ways to solve this problem and came up with three ideas:

  • Set up a meeting to speak with the Regional Director to confront him about all of the Friday presentations that are then asked about on Monday to prove that his Friday presentations are thorough and well prepared.
  • Try creating a PowerPoint slide and then handing out a one page synopsis of his Friday presentation that people could take away from the meetings and refer to later.
  • Complain to his coworkers about how frustrating it is to work with the Regional Director but don't really change the way he's handling the Friday presentations.
Which, if any, of the above should Scott do?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Setting Goals: Cracking the 7 Minute Mile

If I learned anything about life from my high school basketball coach, and believe me I probably learned more about life than I did about basketball, it was the importance of setting goals. He broke each season down into individual goals the team could strive to achieve and showed me that life very much proceeds through the goals you set. You can't always achieve all of your goals unfortunately, but to not have them is to not have a direction in life, something tangible to work towards. And when you are working towards something, you are much more focused on getting there to the best of your ability with maximum effort.

Two years ago I started participating in triathlons. Trust me, it sounds a lot more significant than it really is. These are very short: .3 mile swim, 15 mile bike and 3 mile run. Not so much an Iron Man but still good chunks of exercise being done one after the other.  After the NYC Marathon in 2003 I had always thought that triathlons would be something I would enjoy. I really like the variety of the training you have to do and because the distances are short the training sessions can be done in manageable segments in between work and home responsibilities.

Breaking the 7 minute mile barrier had always been a goal of mine but I had never been able to achieve it. In all of my trainings and in all of the 5k races I had run in my adult life, I had never cracked 7 minute miles. I eventually filed it away in the back of my head and assumed that as I got older this goal would get harder and harder to achieve. Certainly I never expected to do it after having swam .3 miles and biked 15. But sure enough this past summer during the Timberman Triathlon I found myself with gas left in the tank turning for home in the run and I emptied it. Not only did I crack 7 minute miles, I crushed it! My time was 20:23 and my overall pace ended up being 6:47/mile. I did the second half of the race 2 minutes faster than the first. And this was after having swam and biked! I was beyond thrilled.

It's not that I ever gave up trying to achieve my goal. I continued to train as hard as I could.  I pushed myself every step of the way. But I definitely lost focus of that particular goal and stopped thinking about it. Yet, it was at this point that I ended up achieving it. Perhaps I need to stop thinking (and if you know me you know it's more like obsessing) about it in order for it to happen.

Career wise, goals are imperative. If they weren't, employers wouldn't ask "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" during interviews. They not only want to know if you are projecting yourself in a career in the field but also they want to see if you have a sense of purpose and direction guiding you. So no matter where you find yourself in your career, be sure to set goals. It's completely fine to not achieve them or to alter them down the road, goodness knows I have done both, but if you don't have them at all you'll have nothing to go after every morning when you wake up.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pull Up a Facebook Stool and Have a Drink

James Power is the co-owner and broker of record at Advantage Relocation Consultants, providing exclusive buyer and renter representation in the New York City Real Estate marketplace. He specializes in employee relocation and is an avid user of Facebook and social media in general. He was kind enough to guest post a counter argument supporting the personal and professional value of using Facebook.

I recently took the MBTI personality test, a professional assessment that breaks down your personality into types. I am an ESFP, or Extraversion/Sensing/Feeling/Perceiving. I think it’s a little comical to break down my personality into a paragraph, however, when I read the results I definitely said to myself “That’s me!!” ESFP’s are outgoing, friendly, accepting, exuberant lovers of life, people and material comforts. They enjoy working with others to make things happen, bringing common sense and realistic approaches to work, and trying to make work fun by doing things differently. They are also flexible and spontaneous, adapt readily to new people and environments, and learn best by trying a new skill with other people.

My results say a lot about why I am an avid user of Facebook, both personally and professionally. Personally, I am exhaustive about keeping in touch with people.  That is to say, everyone. In this respect, Facebook was made for me. I need to know what everyone is doing. I am not talking about people like my closest college roommates that I still communicate with on an almost daily basis, but rather I am referring to my first college roommate with whom I was crammed together into a cement box of a dorm room when we were 18 and just about every other person I've ever met. I enjoy seeing pictures of weddings even though I wasn’t invited.  I like seeing pictures of people's kids and showing them pictures of mine and seeing what’s on people's mind. If they want to share with me what they had for breakfast that's great too! Once I meet someone, chances are it will not just be a passing acquaintanceship as I try to build long lasting friendships with people that I care about and who interest me.  Facebook feeds this social addiction to keep in touch.

Yes, of course, there are some awkward Facebook moments. I recently became Facebook friends with someone I knew in grammar school. I had not seen this person since the 8th grade and we scheduled a play date with our kids because I posted where I was going to be and it just happened to be right around the corner from where she lives. We met, talked a bit, caught up (as much as you can since we have not seen each other in over twenty years!) and it was definitely a little uncomfortable. But it was also awesome. Here’s someone I hadn’t seen or thought of in years and we connected! We both realized that chances are we will just be Facebook friends and we will not take it to the next level. I have nothing in common with her husband, and to say that this person and my wife are alike in any way is just silly. All of this aside, since we were close in grammar school, there is a piece of me that likes the connection we have on Facebook because I am energized by relationships no matter what level they are on.

Professionally, Facebook has proven to be a lucrative tool as well as simply a great way for me to network. I own a real estate company called Advantage Corporate Relocation and since the day I started in the business I have always felt like I am one connection or phone call away from something big. It is this feeling that keeps me energized and motivated to continue promoting, selling, and marketing myself and my business. Facebook has an amazing reach that can benefit all of us professionally. 1 in every 13 people have a Facebook account.  That’s 1 in 13 people in the WORLD! That is astonishing. As we all know, having an online presence right now is imperative. I attended a seminar last fall and was told that not having a TOTAL ONLINE presence (i.e. FACEBOOK/TWITTER/BLOG/LINKEDIN) is like owning a business in the 1970’s-80’s and not having an ad in the Yellow Pages. The Internet has become our Yellow Pages. Business is happening online and Facebook is the key player.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is where it’s at now days. When you Google (yes, Google......I did not say open the YELLOW PAGES...frankly I am not even sure we are listed in the Yellow Pages) my company name, my website and my Facebook page come up. From a business and professional perspective, a Facebook page ranks right there as something we all need.

I am guilty of only having 500 friends. Imagine that for a second...only 500 FRIENDS! Also, I am guilty of not using Facebook to its full potential as are, I find, most people. But to not use it at all is to completely lose out. You never of my connections could know someone that will be the connection that catapults my business to the next level where I have been trying to take it for years. The tipping point where I am not the Real Estate broker......but the Real Estate Magnet.  LinkedIn is the business meeting. Facebook is the cocktail party. Pull up a stool and have a drink.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More than 800,000,000 use Facebook. Why don't I?

(Gasp! Whispers! "He doesn't have a Facebook page?" "How could you not be on Facebook?" "Dude, it's 2012, get with the times." ).

I have never been one to do things simply because everyone is doing it. In fact, when I was younger if everyone was doing something that was good enough reason for me to not do it. I have vivid memories from junior high of walking down the hall wearing tie died shirts and telling my friends that I was listening to Freakie Styley by the Red Hot Chili Peppers on my Walkman. Oh the looks I got!

This brings me to a long running conversation with a friend regarding why I don't have a Facebook page. Honestly, for the longest time, I didn't even realize I didn't have a Facebook page. Nor did it occur to me that it mattered. Increasingly, however, as social media evolves further into every day life I am realizing that this issue is deserving of some further consideration.

The first indication beyond my conversation with my friend (who you will meet later by the way) that my absence from Facebook might be worthy of addressing was in a job interview when the interviewer flat out asked me "Do you use Facebook?".  (Ummmmmmm...huh?...) While I was more than prepared for that interview, I was not prepared for that question. Since then, I've thought about whether to get with the times.

So to finally address this subject, I am going to make my case for why I'm not a Facebook user:
  • Why all of the sudden would I want to be on Facebook?:  I don't quite understand the need. Is it to keep up with my friends and what is going on in their lives? To let everyone know what I am up to? To reach out to old acquaintances from the past and to allow them to find me? With the exception of perhaps a small handful of people I've lost touch with I already feel pretty connected to my friends. Will Facebook deepen that connection?
  • Time: By the time my kids are fed, bathed and in bed, my lunch is made, and my clothes are laid out for the next day (things you need to do when you get up as early as I do) I am exhausted and it's roughly 8:00pm or later. If I don't check my Facebook page then, I would have to check it and use it a lot at work, which is a habit I am wary of getting into.
  • The Decision to NOT Be Someone's Friend: Someone sends me a request to be friends and I have no interest in accepting it. When I ask Facebook users about this it doesn't seem to matter to them. They say you just ignore the friend request, which means you are also getting ignored. I am not sure I like the idea of sending someone an overt message that I don't want to be their friend nor do I want to receive that message from others.
  • Why again should I do this?: I've yet to be presented with an actual compelling reason how and why a Facebook page would improve my life. Things have been going just fine thus far without it so why start now?
  • Privacy:  While not an original reason of mine, in reading up on why others don't use Facebook I learned that there are some legitimate concerns regarding user privacy and Facebook's practices of protecting and sharing your browsing and personal information.
To present the other side of this argument I have invited my friend to write guest post supporting why he thinks I should join the nearly 1 billion people as a Facebook user. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To The Class of 2012

I had the pleasure of attending a Career and Networking Seminar held by my college's alumni association last week. Yes, this is the same seminar I attended during my career change referred to here.

At the seminar I met some of the class of 2012 and I realized that there's a lot in my blog posts that may be of use to them as they slide, or crash as the case may be, into the work force over the coming months.  So to help them out I am going to try and offer them some useful content and perhaps address how they might apply what I am talking about to the early stages of their careers.

To start with, I found this blog post that should be of some use: 10 Tips for New Grads Entering the Workforce. It's written by Allison Green and I find her blog to be incredibly useful and timely.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Post Script to Overcoming Career Setbacks

There are two significant details regarding the end of my story about overcoming career setbacks.

First, the hiring manager that rejected me for the job told me during our followup meeting after the interview process that she was leaving her position to take another job. She'd be leaving just after the start date for the position for which she had just rejected me. The person that did get the job would be taking the position essentially without a manager until a new one was hired.

Second, about 6 months after being rejected for the job I learned that the person that was hired upped and walked out one day. It's not often that you hear about people quitting their job these days in this economy. While I don't know the exact reasons why this person left so abruptly after such a short time, it's not hard to imagine that a lack of a manager played into it and that working conditions were not optimal.

Knowing those two things, I can comfortably say that it ended up being a good thing that I didn't get hired and that a better job that is more right for me is waiting out there. Maybe, just maybe, that hiring manager did me a favor by not hiring me. And maybe, just maybe, the people consoling me saying that things happen for a reason were right!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Overcoming Career Setbacks

Unless you are extraordinarily lucky, there's a pretty good chance that at some point in your career you're going to be confronted with some type of setback or adversity. You might get laid off. You may get passed over for a promotion or denied the chance to work on a project. Thinking now about how you'll deal with it in advance of it actually happening will help tenfold as you try to recover from the setback and move on.

Here's my example:

I was mingling at the company holiday party with a department head who asked me what my career plans were and if I would be interested in learning more about her department. I had actually identified her department as a potential landing spot for me in my next career move so I was thrilled to learn that she was thinking of me as well. Over the next couple of weeks I played all of my cards perfectly by the book.

I set up a meeting with her to chat about me, her department and an opening she had. I did my due diligence into her department by speaking with a friend who had recently worked for her. I prepared for each encounter I would have making sure I knew my key talking points. I was more than ready to present my skills and how I felt I was right for her department and equally ready to hear why she thought of me and what she had to say about being a member of her team.

During our meeting I did have one reservation because of a weakness in my skill set that would create a larger learning curve than she may want. It really wasn't a weakness so much as a lack of experience in certain skills that other candidates may have. If this was going to be an issue for her I wouldn't bother applying but she assured me that indeed it was nothing to worry about. Over time, we both agreed, I would have no trouble making up for this deficiency.  She said she likes to diversify her team and she saw obvious strengths in me that would compliment her current team members thus compensating for any short term weaknesses. We had a great initial conversation, found a match between my interests and skills and her needs and she encouraged me to apply because she thought I'd make a great candidate. So of course I did.
 I ended up as one of 3 finalists.  I knew I had nailed the interviews (all 7 of them...yes 7 interviews with a total of 10 different people!) including a training session I was asked to develop and present. The job was perfect for me and I was perfect for it. While I was waiting to hear back about whether I got the job, the few friends and family I had told about it were assuring me that I'd get it. One went so far as remind me that the hiring manager came to me about the opening. You don't get turned down for jobs when they come to you, it just doesn't happen.

When I finally heard back, I didn't get the job. The hiring manager indicated that I was her second choice and that she ended up hiring a person who was stronger than I was in the one area of weakness in my skill set, the one she had assured me wouldn't be a problem. I was crushed and frankly felt a little bit betrayed. She had come to me about the job, encouraged me to apply, indicated a weakness in my current skill set wasn't a problem and then rejected me on the basis of that very weakness. I hadn't felt the bottom of my professional life drop out this fast and this furious before. The same friends and family that were days before assuring me I was a shoe in were now looking at the bright side trying to cheer me up and I wanted no part of it.

Was it OK for me to wallow in misery for a while? Heck yeah it was! No one likes set backs and no one should be asked to overcome them with grace, ease and expediency. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't get over them eventually and have a plan to do so. If you allow yourself to hide inside your own pity party too long you risk putting yourself too far behind thus making your recovery from the setback that much harder.

To help you out here are some things to think about so that you'll be prepared when the time comes:

Go ahead and feel the disappointment. It's a natural reaction. Remember what it feels like to have wanted the job or the promotion you didn't get and then catalogue the feelings of disappointment and rejection.  Remember them when great things start happening to you again so that you can maintain the proper perspective. Recalling the depths of your failure during times of great triumph make your successes all the sweeter. It might also help to set a timeline for your disappointment so that in a week or two weeks you can tell yourself it is time to start moving on. After all, you don't want to get carried away.

Don't hold it against the people trying to show you the bright side. They are just trying to help. I know it is frustrating to hear positive thoughts when you feel so lousy.  And you know what? They are usually right. So listen and remember what they are saying because as time passes you'll realize that things do happen for a reason, when doors close other will open, and it will get better. Thank them for caring because you are lucky to have people in your life thoughtful enough to want to pick you up when you are down. Let them know that you know they are right and that you are sure in a short time you'll be right back on your feet.

Learn from this experience. My current manager suggested that after I felt better about being rejected for that job I should ask the hiring manager to sit down for a chat so I could ask about the process and learn why I wasn't hired, what I did well and what I should work on. Eventually, I did this. While it wasn't easy, it definitely was helpful. I did, however, wait a few weeks before approaching the hiring manager to make sure I was in the right state of mind. I ended up explaining how disappointed I was after being approached about the job, encouraged to apply, assured that my weakness wouldn't be a problem, and then rejected because of that very same weakness.  She completely understood and we had a great chat. The conversation turned the negative into a positive. While you don't always have this kind of access to a hiring manager or boss who has just turned you down you might be surprised at a person's willingness to talk with you if you give it a try. My current manager does a lot of interviewing and told me that she wishes more interviewees would call to chat after the fact because she'd be glad to help them. So try following up so you can learn why this setback has happened. Then you can make sure it doesn't happen again.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Making a Career Change: Step 11 Your Job Right Now Is Getting a New Job

Previously: Step 10 Applying for Jobs

Step 11: Your Job Right Now Is Getting a New Job
Obviously and inevitably it all comes down to this. Hopefully you've found this process rewarding and helpful. There really is no end to making a career change and managing your career. You just need to keep repeating the processes over and over in order to keep your career fresh and alive and the same goes with the process of making a change. Keep repeating the steps as needed until you start seeing your desired results.

I wish there were more that I could do for you from here but it's now time for your own persistence and positive attitude to take over. This I am well aware is not easy. It's more than OK to get down every now and then as this process moves forward but you can't allow yourself to give up. There will certainly be setbacks as there are in all things in life. Learn from them and allow them to make you stronger. And then get back up and get after it again. Your new job is out there and it will find you and you will find it. Until then, stay focused, stay positive and keep at it because you never know when your next break will come.

For your convenience I've linked to the previous steps in the process so that you can reference them all in one place:

Making a Career Change: Step 1 Get a Handy Dandy Notebook

Making a Career Change: Step 2 Looking Back

Making a Career Change: Step 3 Looking at the Now

Making a Career Change: Step 4 Looking Inside

Making a Career Change: Step 5 Looking in the Mirror

Making a Career Change: Step 6 Looking to Others

Making a Career Change: Step 7 Putting It All Together

Making a Career Change: Step 8 Looking to Your Network

Making a Career Change: Step 9 Informational Interviews

Making a Career Change Step 10 Applying for Jobs