Monday, March 1, 2021

When Was the Last Time You Invested in Your Career?

Just because you can't travel or meet with a lot of people right now does not mean it's OK to stop investing in your career.

In fact, it's more important than ever that you be proactive in making sure that you're growing your network, keeping your skills up-to-date and understand the trends in your industry and how they will affect you.

It's understandable that you may have grown a bit lax in some of these areas, but you need to change that starting now. With more vaccinations and more businesses ramping up their plans for the future, you can't afford to still be lounging in your pajamas with your laptop.

It's time to start investing in your future. Here's how:

1. Set a career goal. Most career goals went out the window when the pandemic started, but now it's time to reassess. Where do you want to be in one year? In three years? Are you on track to make that goal happen? What do you need to alter to make it a reality? Who do you need to contact? Will it require training or additional education? 

2. Reverse engineer. Once you've identified that goal, then start working backward on how you can make it happen. For example, let's say you want to be a registered nurse. You need to set a target date for when you'd like to graduate. Now, start working backward on how much schooling you will need. When will you need to be admitted for classes? When will you begin pulling together necessary records to meet that admittance deadline? When will you select the school you want to attend? When will you begin your research on schools? You will probably discover along the way that  you need to get moving now to make your dream a reality.

3. Check in with mentors. As the world begins to return to some sort of normalcy this year, you need to be ready to go. Talk to a mentor about where you are in your career, and new goals. Are past goals still realistic? Does your mentor think you need to turn in a new direction? 

4. Shift into a new gear. For many of us, just getting through the last year has been a great achievement. But now it's time to take it up a notch. Are you taking time to brainstorm creative ideas? Are you finding ways to challenge your thinking with new podcasts or books? Are you proposing new ideas to your boss or your team -- or to a job interviewer?

5. Attend industry events. Many professional organizations are doing a great job of moving their events online. This is the time to jump in -- attend seminars, go to training events and meet new people and reconnect with others. This will not only ensure that you're keeping up with industry trends, but that you're investing in your network and your career.

A lot of people have taken a career hit over the last year through no fault of their own. It's been a helpless feeling. But now that there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, it's time to be proactive and set your own course for what lies ahead in your career.

Monday, February 22, 2021

This is Why Meetings are Such a Hot Mess -- and What You Can Do About It

It often seems that many meetings go off the rails right away. Someone shows up late. Another person won't stop texting. Still another participant stares into space and seems to be in another world entirely.

Collaboration expert Dick Axelrod says in a recent interview that the trouble with meetings often occurs even before participants show up, because people "arrive at meetings prepared to be disengaged."

He explains they may still be thinking about their last phone call or interaction, or be distracted by many other things such as an upcoming deadline.

The key is grabbing the attention of folks right away, he contends, before they have a chance to mentally drift away. That can be done by:

1. Doing a warm up. There's a reason that musical acts or other entertainers often have a warm-up act: It gets attention and prepares people to be engaged. One way to do this is the spend a few minutes letting people speak freely and greeting people individually.

2. State the purpose. Have you ever been in a meeting and wondered what it's about and why the heck you're there? If you feel that way, it means that the facilitator hasn't done a good job of clearly stating the purpose and how it's linked to a larger problem that needs to be solved by the group's collective creativity or expertise.

3. Provide a roadmap. This should be a quick explanation about what the group needs to do during the meeting. This can be done by going through the agenda briefly and addressing any questions.

While this may sound like a simple formula, I'll bet we've all been in plenty of meetings that seem disorganized, rambling, too broad or very, very dull. With a few tweaks, it seems that we can all make better use of our meeting time.

Monday, February 15, 2021

3 Tips for Writing an Appreciation Letter

When you're in a job search -- or land a new job -- one of the key ingredients for your career is to make sure you write letters of appreciation.

These letters should be written to those who have given you recommendations -- either in writing or via phone calls to potential employers -- and to anyone else who has helped you along the way. (This may also include a mentor who has offers advice, a former co-worker who provides a contact or even a supportive colleague.)

The reason you want to write these missives is because it is more meaningful to someone rather than a "thx" text from you. The time you spend writing and sending the note will stick with the receiver, boosting your professional and personal connection. In addition, the person is much more likely to want to help you in the future when it's clear you appreciate efforts made on your behalf.

Here's how to write the letter:

1. Be prompt. Don't wait six weeks or six months to write a letter. Try to get it done within days of the person helping you. If it takes you a while to write the letter, don't let that be an excuse to not send it. A late note is better than none at all.

2. Be clear. "I'm writing you because I want to express my appreciation for ...." 

3. Include a few details. You don't need to offer a long explanation, but a couple of details about why the person's help was so valuable will help personalize the message and make it more sincere. "By providing a recommendation letter, you helped open doors for me and make my dream of becoming a sales manager that much closer."

The appreciation letter is often forgotten in other ways -- did you send an appreciation letter to the boss who gave you a raise or promotion? Did you send an appreciation note after a colleague covered for you without complaint?

Sending such notes doesn't take but a few minutes of your time. Instead of scrolling through Instagram for 5 minutes (or more), use the time send a thank-you note. 


Monday, February 8, 2021

Why You Need a Letter of Recommendation Now

Since the pandemic began, many people have been laid off, or taken positions that "underemploy" them. In other words, they haven't been in their "real" job for some time.

As the job market starts to improve this year, many people will want to return to their "real" jobs. The competition will be keen, of course, so that means those who are well-prepared, focused in their search efforts and finding ways to stand out will have a better chance of landing a new job sooner rather than later.

One way to get an edge on the competition is through a recommendation. While some employers don't ask for a recommendation until a job candidate is in the final stages of consideration, you can also offer a letter of recommendation when you apply for a job.

Even if the application is made online, there's no reason you can't send a letter of recommendation to the hiring manager or even the company's human resources department as a way to open the door a little wider. 

Some may feel a little reticent about asking for a letter of recommendation, but that's negative thinking. First, managers tell me they get such requests all the time, even from employees that they may have supervised decades ago. Second, the only thing that can happen is the person ignores you or declines to write the letter. If that happens, you're no worse off than before.

Still, there is a proper way of asking for a recommendation. Do it well, and the person may come through for you. Do it poorly, and you're likely to not get a letter.

Here's how to ask:

1. Choose your targets. A former boss makes sense -- especially from your last job -- as this person can speak directly to your work ethic, talents, soft and hard skills, etc. But also think about those who have watched you work, such as someone at a volunteer organization or colleagues that worked closely with you. Family and friends aren't good choices as employers will see these as biased.

2. Make contact. Send an email or make a phone call to the person to make your request. Tell them that you're applying for jobs and you are trying to be proactive by also supplying employers with a recommendation letter.  

3. Prepare. Don't just expect someone to write a letter of recommendation about you without some context. If you do, you're risking a very generic, uninspiring letter. Instead, you want to supply key information so the letter is targeted and favorable. Send the person your current resume and remind them of your key skills that also match the job you're seeking. For example, you may want to remind the person of how you're detail-oriented, have the right technical skills, are a team player and have a great work ethic. You might want to even mention one or two examples of these skills to jog the person's memory. (You can even attach examples of recommendation letters.)

4. Deadline. Mention the deadline in your initial call and then post it in bold in your email.

5. Send a thank-you note. Always follow up with an appreciative email -- a handwritten note is even better -- once you receive the recommendation.

Start getting prepared now to be proactive once jobs start to become available in your chosen field. Make sure your resume is polished, your interview suit still fits and letter(s) of recommendation are ready to go.

Monday, February 1, 2021

4 Ways to Make Sure Your Career Thrives While Working from Home

Working for home has become the norm for many workers since the pandemic began, but would you like to continue to do so once it's safe to return to the office?

For some employees, the question is moot since their companies will require them to return to the office. But other employers like Twitter say their employees may continue to work from home forever.

If you are given the choice to continue to work from home, however, you need to keep in mind that there could be some downsides to your career.

One of the most obvious is that you're going to miss out on a lot of watercooler conversations or chance meetings that can help you make critical connections or grab new opportunities. These things can still happen when you work from home, of course, but it's going to be more difficult.

Another issue is that when you work from home, your boss or your colleagues may not believe you're working as hard as them. This is strange considering they will all claim they worked really hard when they were at home, but there you have it. It will be hinted by some that since you're still at home, you're not as committed to the job or the company, or that you're taking five naps a day and watching "Gilligan's Island."

So how do you ensure your career continues to thrive if you choose to continue working from home?

1. Attend meetings. Don't just call in to participate -- use Zoom to show that you're really attending. Dress like your colleagues in the office and don't multitask while on the call (no painting your bedroom or doing the dishes).

 2. Make phone calls. While using Slack or emails is fine, when you're working from home you want to make sure that those in the office are hearing from you personally. Instead of sending five emails to settle an issue or discuss an idea, for example, phone your colleague. This gives you a chance to have a more personal connection, and also catch up on some of the watercooler talk you may have missed.

3. Keep track of your work. Even if your boss doesn't require it, record when you're working, what you're getting accomplished, new contacts you may have made, ideas that have been developed, etc. This will be critical when it comes to an informal or formal performance evaluation. You want to offer concrete proof of your contributions, and if you don't record them, you'll forget them -- and so will your boss.

4. Be helpful. One thing you may notice while working from home (if you don't have too many distractions), is that you get a lot done in a shorter amount of time. You can think more deeply about problems or issues and you have more time to develop innovative ideas. Let your boss know this is a bonus -- send her some of your fully developed ideas or notify her of an emerging trend you've spotted.

Monday, January 25, 2021

What Job Hunters Need to Know Now


As the job market opens up, the competition for jobs is going to be pretty tough. Those who are unemployed or underemployed are going to be vying for positions with millions of others.

So how can you stand out to employers and beat the competition? It's not difficult -- but it will take some preparation and effort. Here are some ideas:

1. Clean up your social media. Do a search on yourself. What turns up? Working at a local soup kitchen, posting industry think pieces or drinking games with your friends and curse-word laden posts on favorite movies or celebrities? Employers will conduct due diligence on employees before they hire them because it can save them a lot of headaches down the road. Your profile needs to be squeaky clean.

2. Update your resume. You may feel that you don't have anything new to add to your resume if you've been unemployed during the pandemic. But if you've volunteered at a local food bank, gotten a relevant online certification or even launched a new blog on industry trends, then that's worth mentioning.

3. Make a good first impression. After being in lockdown, you may need to dust off some of your professional skills. Whether you're interviewed via Zoom or in person once vaccines are widely available, you've only got seconds to make a good impression. First, you need to smile. Put your shoulders back, hold your head up and look the employer in the eye (or camera). It may sound simple, but be nice. Remember your manners and say please and thank you. Surveys show that the most desirable traits in a candidate are sincerity, kindness and patience. So, no peeking at your phone, letting your eyes and mind wander during the interview and sighing because you're bored.

4. Know your skill set. While you'll be asked about specific skills depending on your industry, employers are going to zero in on certain abilities no matter what your job. They include being detail-oriented, being a fast learner, being a self starter, being a team player, having initiative and being dependable. Try to think of specific instances where you've displayed such abilities -- these are the examples you can work into your interview.

Predictions are that the job market will start to really heat up in late spring or early summer, but don't wait until then to prepare for interviewing. Look for gaps in your resume or skills set and seek to fill them with online training or education. Record yourself on a Zoom interview with a friend to see how you can improve your video presence and background and start keeping a list of ways you've shown teamwork, initiative and dependability in past jobs.

Monday, January 18, 2021

3 Tips for Dealing with a Perfectionist Colleague


For most of us, we have great days at work when we're really on top of our game. Then, there are other days when we don't do our best work, and we know it. 

But a perfectionist can never let anything slide. He or she believes that everything has to be perfect, every single time. They cannot walk away until they feel something is just right.

When you work with someone like this, it can be a blessing and a curse. A perfectionist often catches mistakes or ensures quality control, making everyone's work shine brighter. So, that's a blessing.

But when this same perfectionist co-worker makes everyone stay late on a Friday night because he's obsessing over every detail for a presentation to be delivered Monday, then it's a curse.

So how do you best deal with a perfectionist colleague?

1. Know there is good and bad. It's unfair and unprofessional for you to trash talk this person when you know that he adds value to any project with his attention to detail and quality of work delivered. But it's OK to also feel exasperated when this colleague holds up work or puts more pressure on others with perfectionist tendencies. Remind yourself that while this person may believe in perfectionism, you know that doesn't exist. In other words, the perfectionist isn't perfect and neither are you.

2. Pick your battles. It will make for an increasingly stressful work environment if you constantly fight with a perfectionist, who feels there is nothing wrong with offering unsolicited advice on what you do wrong. Here is where you can choose to control your reaction: 1) thank him for his comments and go on with your day; 2) tell him that you don't agree and walk away; or 3) try to see some merit in what the perfectionist offers, but don't let it undermine your self-esteem. How you respond will depend on the situation, but try role playing with a trusted colleague or friend to see how you feel reacting in various situations and are prepared so that you respond appropriately and not in anger.

3. Have excuses ready. If the perfectionist seems to corner you with his advice, always have something ready to move yourself away from the situation. "I've got a meeting/call soon. I'm going to have to go." Or, "I can't chat now. Maybe later. I've got to go." Even, "I just remembered I forgot to give Brad an important message. I'm going to have to cut this short."

How do you deal with perfectionists?