Monday, November 23, 2020

What You Need to Know Now About Remote Interviews

I've given advice in the past about being a good detective when you're interviewing for a job. This means that you do a little sleuthing on the employer, such as doing online research to check out the financial health of the employer and checking out the employer's location to see if the workplace looks a little shoddy and the employees are downtrodden and stressed.

Those can all be signs you don't want to work at such a place and require some hard thinking about whether it would be a smart move to work for such an employer.

But with more employers hiring remotely -- and offering remote jobs during the pandemic -- how can you perform your due diligence when you can't go into a physical workspace?

There are several ways you can still check out an employer:

1. Do a drive by. While you may not be able to go into the employer's business because of restrictions, you can still drive by the place of business and check out the area. Go during the day and at night -- you never know when you might work late and have to walk to your car or the subway stop by yourself. Would you feel safe? Does the area provide safe parking, nearby parks or affordable eateries? These might seem trivial now, but they can make a difference in work satisfaction when the employer does fully reopen and bring back employees.

2. Talk to employees. An employer who has nothing to hide should be willing to let you talk to other employees via Zoom or other means. Ask the same questions you would in person, such as what the typical work day looks like, the positives and negatives of the company, management style, opportunities for advancement, etc.

3. The work structure. If the company is now working remotely, how does the work flow? Who managers what teams? How is communication done? How will you be trained? What will be the hours of operation? If the company plans to make the position permanently remote, will be you be required to spend some time in the office? How will your productivity/performance be measured? How will opportunities for promotions be given? How will feedback be given?

Don't think that just because the world is turned sideways at the moment that you can't do your homework when considering a job. In fact, it's more important than ever that you go into any interview prepared to ask questions since you may not get a chance to observe and learn from what's happening around you during an interview.

Monday, November 16, 2020

The First Thing to Do After a Job Interview

Even though you may have more phone or Zoom interviews during your current job search because of the pandemic, the basics of job searching remain the same: do your homework on an employer so you're prepared for an interview; dress appropriately; ask questions -- and always, always, always send a thank-you note.

I cannot tell you how many hiring managers say that they're always impressed by thank-you notes, and how it helps candidates stand out. With that in mind, here are some things to think about when writing a note:

  • Send it within 24 hours. While etiquette rules say you can wait about three months to send a thank-you note for a wedding gift, it needs to be much sooner than that after a job interview. Send an email within the first day of an interview, then send a handwritten note by the next day.
  • Recap the highlights. Thank the person for his or her time and take the opportunity to mention two or three things you might have discussed, such as your skills for the job. If you feel like there is a key point you forgot to mention earlier, include it in the thank-you note.
  • Stay professional. I can't believe I need to mention this, but here I go: Be professional when writing these notes. Don't swear or use emojis in your email. Don't use pink glitter stationary. Use correct grammar and spelling (there is no automatic spellcheck available when you're handwriting a note).
  • Be unique. It can be tempting to send a form thank-you note that you find online, and that's OK to a point. But they all read the same, and the receiver will recognize a template. So, try to come up with something unique to include, such as "I really enjoyed hearing about your master gardener class," or "Hearing about your love of golf makes me want to start taking lessons."

Monday, November 9, 2020

3 Keys for a Great Recommendation

When searching for a new job, we often just focus on what we will say to employers about our skills and experience. We practice answers to questions such as "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?"

Employers understand that you've practiced these responses, and expect you to offer reasoned answers. They won't really learn anything earth-shattering from these responses, so they may look elsewhere for real insights into your talents and abilities. This usually leads them to ask for references. 

Unfortunately, this is where many job seekers mess up. They haven't really prepared the people who will speak for them, and that can lead to such lackluster or unhelpful recommendations that their job chances may be diminished.

You should always put as much time into preparing your references as you do any other part of your job search. Your references will appreciate it (they're busy people and may not remember all of your stellar qualities) and will ensure that a hiring manager hears a flattering account about you.

Here are some things to think about:

  • Get specific. Think about how a reference can showcase skills most important to a particular employer, whether it's resolving customer disputes, coming up with new ideas for products or  being great at quality control. Remind your references of where you showed such skills -- they'll appreciate not having to dig through their own memories.
  • Cast a wide net. References don't have to just be former employers or teachers. If your pastor or rabbi has worked closely with you on a spring break project, for example, then think about having him or her write a letter outlining your ability to work collaboratively. In addition, the more diversity you have in your references, the better able you will be to offer the right reference for various employers or jobs.
  • Offer a template. If you think your reference is fine with recommending you -- but uncomfortable in writing a recommendation letter -- offer a template or at least relevant talking points.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Yes, Your Boss is a Person, Too

During this pandemic, we've all been doing a lot of self-care, and caring for our family and friends any way we can.

How about your boss?

What have you done lately to take care of your boss?

You may resent such a question. After all, you take care of the boss by doing your job every day and doing what he/she requests of you.

But what else? Do you do anything on a regular basis that makes the boss feel seen as a person, or cared about as someone who is trying to do a good job?

I've had bosses -- both new managers and seasoned veterans -- tell me that one of the hardest things about their jobs is the loneliness they often feel. They understand when the team goes out to lunch or hangs out on the weekends and don't invite him or her. They know their team might feel awkward with the boss around.

But, that still doesn't make it fun to be excluded from the everyday things we do to show others that we care about them. Do you ever ask the boss about his weekend? About how he's coping with working from home or trying to juggle kids and a career? Do you ever say to your boss, "Hey, we're starting a virtual book club and we'd love for you to join us"?

Do you ever offer a genuine compliment or "thank you?" to the boss? (I'm not talking being a brownnoser and delivering sappy, overly contrived messages.) Do you take the time to offer a smile and a genuine "How are you?" before launching into your latest problems?

Or, do you instead provide a little "snark" in your emails, a little passive-aggressive behavior when interacting with him or her? Do you fail to acknowledge when he or she is obviously stressed?

Be assured that the good bosses out there are feeling a lot of stress these days over making sure that everyone on their team is OK. They are trying to take extra work off of them, putting in long hours every day and on the weekends.

If you've got one of these managers, congratulations. Now it's your turn to make sure the boss is doing OK. Do this daily or at least, weekly. Let him or her know that caring isn't a one-way street.


Monday, October 26, 2020

This is One of the Biggest Mistakes Being Made by the Unemployed

The standard advice when you're unemployed is to be evasive about that fact when applying for new jobs.

Why? Because employers don't want to hire someone who is unemployed, believing that something is "wrong" with someone who is jobless or that the candidate will seize any job that is offered, whether it's truly wanted it or not.

Of course, this advice flew out the window when the Great Recession hit more than a decade ago, and the same is true now. Employers understand that millions of Americans have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and have valuable skills and talents that can be used elsewhere.

Still, there are some caveats: You cannot expect employers to be impressed that you've spent your unemployed hours making a playhouse for your daughter out of toilet paper rolls or that you've done nothing to enrich yourself intellectually or professionally during this time off.

During the Great Recession, companies were not offering free online classes or dropping fees for various certifications. But with the pandemic, companies have eliminated or reduced fees for classes, training sessions or certifications. In other words, there's no excuse why the only enrichment you're getting during this time is re-creating the 1910 World's Fair out of popsicle sticks and aluminum foil.

Employers will be the most attracted to those who have shown that they have continued their education, have taken some online training or even completed a certification process. Keep in mind that it's not enough to aimlessly take a bunch of random classes online with no clear plan or goal. Employers need to see a focused approach to your plan and how it can be applied to any future position.

As winter approaches and the pandemic stretches on, it can be worthwhile to set a battle plan for how you plan to grow your career during these months. Set a goal and then set up a schedule of how you can achieve it. As you continue to apply for jobs, you will be buoyed by the fact that you're not wasting time, but actively arming yourself to compete in the job market.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Best Way to Help Employees Feel More Positive

Telling employees not to worry these days or to "be happy and look on the bright side" isn't very helpful when it comes to motivation. The times right now are too uncertain, too tough, to think that such platitudes will work.

Still, it's also not good for business that employees mope around -- either on site or while working remotely -- and there needs to be some way to put some positivity into their lives if they're going to be effective. But how?

Maria Konnikova, author of "The Confidence Game," explains in The New Yorker that research shows you can't really mandate positivity because it ends up creating a negative backlash when "feeling happy" is being forced upon employees by a boss or a colleague.

In addition, when employees feel like they have to somehow "monitor" their positivity, it sucks up their mental energy and that can end up hurting their work performance. 

When all is said and done, trying to force employees to be positive all the time has the opposite effect. Employees who are told to "smile" and "be upbeat" all the time -- and can't just be themselves even when customers aren't around -- may find it an emotional strain they can't handle.

One way that experts say you can help employees be more positive on their own is by giving them more control. 

When employees are given instructions on how to behave, then they feel trapped and disrespected. But if you give them a framework of what they need to do, then they can figure out the specifics on their own.

For example, "make customers feel welcome" is a framework while "Greet customers with a smile, ask them about their day, ask them what they're looking for...." is too restrictive.

At a time when we're all trying to adjust to a new way of doing things, it helps if platitudes are put aside and we simply provide the support employees need so that they feel trusted and respected. 

That's the way to put a smile on someone's face.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Learn How to Say "No" at Work

When the job market is tough like it is now, it's very difficult to say "no."

You don't want to say "no" to a request from a colleague for fear of not being seen as a team player. You don't want to say "no" to a boss for fear of being fired. You don't want to say "no" to a customer for fear of losing that customer.

There's a lot of fear and angst these days, and that's understandable being that we're in a global pandemic. But that doesn't mean you have to be afraid of saying "no" -- even to your boss. (Of course, this isn't about saying "no" just because you're feeling lazy and don't want to work.)

In fact, it's essential that you retain your ability to say "no" if you're going to keep your sanity and your career on track. That's because when you can't say "no," then you say "yes" to things that aren't a good use of your talents. You waste your time and energy on things that won't be of the greatest value to your career and to your employer. 

Still, it takes some preparation to know when -- and how -- to say "no." Here's some things to think about:

1. Why do you want to say "no"? Don't dismiss your reasoning as "silly" or "dumb." There's a reason you want to say no to a request. Is it because you believe it means it will take you away from more important work? Or because you feel it's being dumped on you by a colleague who doesn't want to do it? Perhaps it's something more serious: You want to say "no" because you believe what's being requested is illegal.

2. Offer other options. If someone senses they can bully you into saying "yes," then you've already lost the battle. Instead, take on the role of thoughtful colleague or employee. "Hmmm....I'm sorry, I don't think that will work. But what if you tried xyz instead?" By proposing another resource or strategy, you can deflect the person's focus on trying to pressure you into saying yes.

3. Take a breath. If you feel backed into a corner and someone is pressuring to you say "yes," then it's OK to say: "Can I get back to you? I need to make a quick call before I think about this." Then, find some quiet time to reflect -- or call a friend or family member who can help you stiffen your backbone and stick to saying "no." You're likely to get someone who tries to push you into complying, so stay calm and don't let this person antagonize or intimidate you.

4. Look for common ground. Everyone has had that boss who thinks you should work 24/7 -- or at least on weekends. You may want to say "no" but don't know how. In this case, try reminding the boss that he/she also needs some time off. "I know you're a great golfer. How about we resume this on Monday so that you can have some time this weekend to work on your game and I can spend some time working in my garden?" That helps you find common ground to work out a solution.

Finally, think about times you wish you had said "no" and how you could have handled it differently. Practice such scenarios with friends or families so that when they arise at work, you're better prepared to calmly say "no" and make better decisions.