Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hire a Hero

When signing up to serve our country, new recruits often are told how their military career will lead to good jobs when they one day re-enter the civilian world.

That appears to be complete bulls**t, according to Dan Caulfield.

I recently spent nearly an hour talking to Caulfield, an articulate, passionate and committed guy who gave me a real earful about the pitiful state of affairs regarding employment for our veterans. Despite having served with honor and serving in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, these vets have a tougher time than other job seekers looking for work – those age 20-24 often have an unemployment rate two to three times higher than non-veterans of the same age group.

Caulfield calls it the “military service penalty,” which he says comes about because too many civilians who do the hiring are personally unfamiliar with the military. He says that only those who have a “personal” relationship with someone in the military end up hiring vets.

The problems don’t end there. He says that not only does the military do a lousy job transitioning military personnel into the civilian working world, but vets lose the very thing they need most when getting a job – their military network. It’s networking, he asserts, that still is the critical aspect of finding a job.

That’s why Caulfield started Hire a Hero with about a half million dollars of his own money, because he wants to make sure that there is a community ready to do more than “than just put a yellow ribbon on their car.”

“It only makes sense that those who have done the most to protect the American dream participate fully in its rewards,” says the group’s website.

Hire a Hero focuses on helping vets connect with people locally who can help them get jobs. By allowing vets to post requests for help, and information about themselves, the site helps connect vets with hundreds of companies willing to temploy hose who have served. At the same time, the social networking aspect helps vets support each other during the difficult period of returning to civilian life and trying to find a job.

The site is filled with personal stories and requests for help. “Where do I go from here?” asks one vet. “I hope employers … do not hold it against me that I just served four years in the Army as a combat medic.”

Notes another: “Man, this is so crazy – I can’t believe it’s hard to find a job! I don’t feel like the world owes me anything for serving in the military, but can they just give me a chance.”

Caulfield says that one of the group’s missions is to continue to educate employers that vets (some 250,000 will leave active service this year) are about more than just being “disciplined,” a description he says that can come off as patronizing and one-dimensional. He says these men and women have many more valuable job skills that give them qualifications to be more than “front-line” workers.

“You learn so many valuable things in the military – these people know how to solve problems, how to work together and have a lot of personal integrity,” he says. “They make excellent employees, and they deserve a place at the table.”

Finally, while we're on the subject of networking, I've written before about how best to use LinkedIn. Now Jason Alba, of JibberJobber, has a new book, I'm on Linkedin...Now What?"


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Remaining Viable as an Older Worker

It can be stressful searching for a job when you’re in yours 20s or 30s, but what about decades later, when you’re in your 40s or 50s? It can be terrifying.

Certainly, when you’re older you have more experience to offer an employer, but, well, you’re older. And in a youth-obsessed society, that can seriously impact your ability to get the job you desire and believe you are qualified to fill. Is that fair? No. Is it legal? No. But it happens all the time, from the worker who is slowly eliminated from top-level meetings, to the job candidate being denied a second interview once the interviewer saw the crow’s feet and gray hair.

Still, the news is not all bad for older workers. Just look at the start-up companies that go begging for older executive coaches when they realize they have zero management experience, or the employers who hire back retired workers when they find they make better, more dependable employees.

At the same time, it’s best to be prepared for the way you will be viewed by others once you hit your middle years. For example, are you still wearing the tie you got from your kids in 1982? Is your hairstyle reminiscent of Mary Tyler Moore 30 years ago? Do you complain openly of your aches and pains and have no idea who Kanye West is?

If so, it’s time for some updating, so you won’t be outdated. Consider:

  • Visiting a personal stylist. Of course, you’d look ridiculous with six earrings in your ear, blue spiked hair and biker boots. But you also need to have someone qualified analyzing your appearance from year to year. Visit a department store cosmetics counter, a hair salon that caters to professionals and consider getting some new duds, or at least update your current wardrobe with alterations. (By the way, this applies to men and women.)
  • Keep up on current events. Not just what your 401(k) is earning and what’s playing on the Golden Oldies station. Pick up a copy of Rolling Stone magazine, check into some of the trendy television shows being talked about by younger staff members, and visit MySpace and YouTube so you understand what's popular. Okay, so maybe it isn’t your cup of tea, but look at it as an investment in your career.
  • “When I was your age…” Never, never, begin a sentence this way. You might as well ask for a rocking chair and arthritis medicine. Try not to recall your glory days, but rather offer opinions based on experiences in your career that are timeless and universal.
  • Offer contacts. There’s nothing quite as valuable to co-workers and company brass than the relationships you have formed over the years with vendors, customers, competitors, etc. There is be a certain level of trust among those with long relationships that can be highly valued in a competitive environment.
  • Keep the edge. Don’t rest on former glories. Always appear enthusiastic in offering new ideas or accepting new challenges. Don’t have a “been there, done that” attitude that says you’re bored, but you’ll do it because you get paid to.
  • Know when to give in gracefully. This is something time in the workplace has given you: the ability to know when it’s a no-win situation. This is when you back off and learn to fight another day. Because if you keep at it, you may end up looking like a cantankerous old blowhard who can’t work with others.

    For more information on career resources for older workers, check out the "career links" on this website.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"I'm NOT a people person"

We all like to take our digs at hiring managers, with many of us having stories of how ill treated we have been by these people. They ask us stupid questions (or none at all), they are rude, dismissive and won't return phone calls or e-mails telling us whether or not we are still in contention for a job.

But there are two sides to every story -- and the tales some hiring managers are telling may explain why some of them treat us like alien beings.

Some 150 senior executives were asked to tell about the strangest pitches they've ever heard from potential hires. Those include:

  • The person who told the interviewer "he was allergic to unemployment."
  • The candidate who said the employer should hire him "because he would be a great addition to our softball team."
  • The musical candidates -- one sang all her responses to interview questions, while another delivered his entire cover letter verbally as a rap song.
  • The applicant who admitted she wanted the job "because she wanted to get away from dealing with people."
  • The mother who came with the applicant and did all of his talking.
  • The job seeker who said "he should get the job because he had already applied three times and felt that it was now his turn."
  • Because the company had good benefits, the applicant was happy "because he was going to need to take a lot of leave in the next year."

If any of these sound familiar, because you've done something nearly as boneheaded, I urge you to get a grip. Remember that when you're applying for a job, you want to make the employer sees you as the best candidate for the job based on your skills and abilities (not your ability to rap or play ball).

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Teacher's Final Words to All of Us

Note: I wrote this post last September, and wanted to re-post it as a tribute to Randy Pausch, whose death was just announced.

For those of you who haven’t seen Randy Pausch’s final lecture to his students at Carnegie Mellon University, I urge you to take some time and watch it.

In the lecture, Pausch, who is dying of pancreatic cancer at age 46, speaks of all the things he wanted to do in his life, and all the things he has managed to accomplish.

It ranged from winning giant stuffed animals at various carnivals to working for Disney as an imagineer to floating weightless. He spoke of how he not only got to live many of his dreams from childhood, but was “able to enable” the dreams of others.

While refraining from speaking of his wife and three young children in order to keep the lecture from being a pity party, Pausch delivered a funny, insightful and inspiring talk to some 400 students and colleagues that provides lessons for all of us.

I’d like to draw from some of his comments and ask you to think about your own life and career:

“Permission to dream.” Pausch says that while he wanted to play for the NFL, that wasn’t a dream that was destined to come true. Still, by playing football as a child, he learned important lessons of perseverance and teamwork that helped him in his other career pursuits. What are you doing in your life to enrich you career in important ways? Are you looking for opportunities to do something you enjoy – not just to earn money? What key lessons have you learned from something you feel passionate about that you can apply to your career?
“Brick walls are there for a reason.” While Pausch thought his Ph.D. would gain him entrance to Disney, he notes that they wrote him the best “go to hell” rejection letters he’d ever seen. Still, that didn’t stop him and he eventually realized another childhood dream and became an imagineer for the company. “Brick walls stop people who don’t want it bad enough,” he says. Have you let a dream die because it seemed too hard? When you were a child, what did you want to do when you grew up – and is there a way to make it come true? Are you letting too many brick walls come between you and what you really want in your career?
"Have specific dreams." Even as a child, Pausch understood that with his poor eyesight he couldn’t be an astronaut. That didn’t stop him from wanting to float in space, another dream realized when he became older and was able to be in NASA’s “vomit comet” for about 25 seconds. Maybe you have a career goal, but have made it too broad to be realistic. I once knew a man who wanted to be a professional baseball player, which wasn’t going to happen. Still, he used his accounting skills to become an accountant for a minor league baseball team, keeping him close to the game he loved.
“Be Captain Kirk.” Paush admits that he revised that dream to “meeting Captain Kirk,” which he did. More important, he says that he learned that while Kirk wasn’t the smartest person on the ship, “he no doubt had great leadership skills to be learned from – plus he had the coolest damned toys.” Who is someone you admire for their leadership abilities? What can you learn from this person? How can you use those skills to help yourself and others on the job?

During his lecture, Pausch showed a beautiful, new brick home, obviously large enough to contain the energies of his young family in the years to come. He said he and his wife recently purchased it because that is what is needed for the future, one that will probably find his children growing up without him.

At the same time, it appears that Pausch left us all with something that we need. A reminder to remember our dreams and go after them.


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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friends on the Job

In the early days of my career, I was very good friends with many of the people at work. I’m not sure if this was because we were young, single and in the pressure-cooker environment of a busy newsroom, but we all seemed to be pretty tight.

We’d often play cards after work until the wee hours of the morning, we haunted pubs and pool halls on the weekends, or looked for other low-cost ways to entertain ourselves when not at work (we were also all incredibly poor).

And when we all moved into various new positions elsewhere, it was wrenching. We tried to stay in contact, but jobs in different places kept us apart.

Later in my career, once I was married, I was friendly with people at work, but never spent time with them outside the office. In fact, my boss asked me why I didn’t sort of “hang around” with others after work and seemed in such a rush to get home (I can’t imagine why this was any of his business). But I answered honestly: “I’ve had the kind of life where my personal and professional life were blurred, but at this point it’s important to me to really work on my private life in private.”

Still, I look back with great fondness on those early days when my best buddies and I competed good-naturedly for stories and talked during the day about what we would be doing that night. It sort of made work, well, less like work. And it certainly cut down on an anxiety about back-biting co-workers, because we were friends and we just didn’t function that way.

I have been reminiscing more about those days since I interviewed a Florida State University professor who co-authored a study about different on-the-job components. One of those was the fact that having a “socially supportive” workplace is related to greater job satisfaction, lower feelings of exhaustion and reduced turnover.

The study was based on an analysis of 40 years of earlier research and some 220,000 workers, and pretty much supports the anecdotes I’ve been hearing.

For example, recruiters tell me that when they try and attract college candidates, they often hire the candidate – and a couple of qualified friends. Recruiters say that they understand that it’s often very important to younger workers to have a friendly atmosphere at work, and are more satisfied and less willing to jump ship if they work with buddies.

Of course, the Gallup Organization came out with similar findings about the importance of having good friends at work, which Tom Rath wrote about in the best-selling “Vital Friends.”

So, how about you? Are having friends on the job important? Or, is being just “friendly” good enough? Are there any downsides to having friends on the job? I’d like to hear your thoughts….

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Personal Trinkets at Work Can Hurt Image

Your collection of snow globes – now numbering somewhere in the dozens – is quite eye-catching, covering nearly every available space in your cubicle. And that poster of the Hooter’s girls really adds a special touch, as does the photo of you and your buddies emptying the keg at a beach party.

Ahh…there’s nothing like having a workspace that’s, well, comfy. Something like a home away from home. (Not to mention the screen saver of your dog giving birth is just awesome!)

But according to a recent study, so many personal touches may actually hurt your professional image.

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business found that if more than one in five items that adorn a worker’s office or cubicle are personal in nature, others may view that as unprofessional. (For the record, personal touches were seen as photos, artwork, posters of movie stars, sports equipment, etc.)

Still, this may be only an American bias, since a “general aversion for blurring the work/personal boundary in the context of work is more reflective of American business practices” that those in other countries, says Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks.

Sanchez-Burks, an assistant professor of management and organizations at the school, says that Americans like to put on their game face when entering the workplace door, and don’t cotton to the idea of a lot of personal gee-gaws cluttering up the space.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Working Outside the U.S.

As images from foreign lands fill our television screens, many of us may be thinking we are grateful to be on the home turf of the U.S.A.. At the same time, there are those of us who see those pictures and long to experience foreign lands and culture, to try and understand other parts of the world.

But since it’s not always easy just to take off and travel the world, one option is to find a job abroad so that we can visit foreign lands, while getting a paycheck.

If you’re considering working overseas, there are some practical matters to consider such as work permits and visas, as well as some soul-searching to do, such as what you hope to gain from the experience. Many of those who have worked in other countries describe it as one of the greatest adventures of their lives, while others ran into enough danger to be glad to remain forever after on American soil.

Here are some things to consider if you’re looking for a job abroad:
Evaluate the risks. The U.S. State Department posts information on where it is safe to travel for Americans, and the danger zones. Still, no place — not even the U.S. — in 100 percent safe. You need to consider the level of risk you are willing to take, and for how long.
Plot your career path. Companies and jobs often don’t operate the same overseas as in the U.S., even if you are working with an American company. Local cultures and customs often dictate how business is done, as well as the input from local workers who may be employed by an American business overseas. Will you be given the right kind of responsibility? Will your skills be given a chance to grow? Are there opportunities overseas that you might not be able to experience in the U.S.?
Know the law. It’s not enough to decide you want to go overseas — you must acquaint yourself with the permission needed to gain a job in another country. Work visas are normally only offered through the company offering you the job, and the company must prove that the position cannot be filled by a local.
Decide on the type of work. You may decide to gain work experience through volunteering (if you can afford to go without a paycheck), or by teaching English as a foreign language in another country, typically a one- or two-year gig (check out the Peace Corps, and Fulbright Scholarships). Another option is an international internship for academic credit, but again, you probably won’t get paid. Still another idea is a short-term job, usually about six months, with employers such as restaurants or farms, or taking care of children.
Use foreign language skills. Even if you’ve only got one or two years under your belt, that high school or college French may come in handy when considering a job. It’s also a chance to become truly fluent in a language, which may help your career later.
Recharge your batteries. Believe it or not, helping a small village put in a well can give you more personal fulfillment than making a million dollar deal. If you’re finding yourself burned out with your life and your career, working abroad can be life-changing event that helps put your life back on track, while helping you gain skills by working with people of diverse backgrounds.
Watch the deadlines. It’s not going to be possible to decide you want to work abroad and then leave two weeks later. There are applications and deadlines that must be followed, so it’s best to make your decision and then begin the process. It may take a year to get where you want to go, and remember to apply early to increase your chances of acceptance.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Determining if a company is family friendly

I’ve been covering the work/life debate for the last 20 years, and the one thing that gets on my last nerve is some of the “best of” lists that come out every year, touting the most “family friendly” companies or the “most flexible” workplaces.

The reason it irks me is because I spend a lot of time hearing from the employees of some of those companies, and what they tell me is this: what actually goes on in the workplace is sometimes a whole different ballgame than what is portrayed in those lists.

Lori Long, a human resources management consultant, and author of “The Parent’s Guide to Family-Friendly Work,” says she has heard many of the same stories, and that’s one of the reasons she wrote her book. She agreed that there are “canned” responses to questions about family friendly workplaces, and many employers do not actually make sure those policies are being carried out by managers.

She says that while those lists can be helpful, anyone relying on them as their sole piece of information on a workplace is making a big mistake. The key, she says, is that anyone wanting to find a truly family-friendly employer has to do a little detective work.

In her book, one of the things she suggests is evaluating a potential boss. This makes a lot of sense, since even if a company makes the top of the “best of” list, it doesn’t mean the boss you work for has to follow any of those practices. (A public relations person once told me that the big project for her department that year was to make sure the company was on one of these “best of” lists – even though the employer didn’t really use family-friendly policies on a consistent or widespread basis. The company did make the list, and everyone in public relations had a big celebration because the top brass was so happy.)

So, here are some ideas from Long’s book if you’re considering a job offer and want to make sure the boss is really going to walk the talk regarding a family-friendly work environment:

How is performance measured? Long says “if you get a response such as, ‘well, as long as I see everyone here working every day, I know everyone is doing fine,’ run!”
Is overtime work common? Is so, how much notice do you give when overtime work is needed?• How do you communicate with your employees? Do you need to meet face-to-face with the boss every day? Can employees work independently?
What traits do you value in am employee? If the boss focuses on showing up on time every day, the he or she may not appreciate the person who gets things done, but on a more flexible schedule.
How would you describe your management style? If the focus is on rules and compliance, the boss may not be capable of being flexible.
What kind of benefits does the company offer? If the company offers family friendly benefits, and the boss is aware of them, that’s a good thing.
Why did the person who held this job before leave? It’s a good sign if the person left for a promotion within the company, and a less favorable one if the boss doesn’t have any insight at all. It could show he or she doesn’t have good relationships with subordinates.

Finally, as Long pointed out, flexibility in the workplace will only come about when companies can’t get qualified candidates to come on board without it. Read the “best of” lists to keep yourself informed, but know that the real answers will come with some informed sleuthing by you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Meeting Cheat Sheet

When I think of all the meetings I have sat through in my lifetime, it makes me want to chuck everything and join a crew looking for sunken pirate booty. But then I think about how the crew would probably want to hold a meeting about whose job is was to look for the loot and whose job is was to write the report…and I decide to stay where I am.

I always tell people not to ditch meetings – even if they believe them to be a complete waste of time – because it’s important to understand the group’s dynamics and the role each person plays in the organization.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a sort of cheat sheet on meeting participants, which most of you will recognize to some degree. If I’ve left anything out, please feel free to add your own thoughts:

1. The alpha dog. This person sits in the most commanding position, either at the head of the table or in the middle. The alpha dog often spreads out his or her stuff in order to say “I’m in charge.” Watch out for the tendency to pee on the conference table leg before beginning.
2. The smirker. Contributing little to the discussion, this person tries to affect the “I’m too cool for this” persona, but instead sort of resembles a teen showing off for friends in English Lit class. Lots of raised eyebrows, smirks and a tendency to mutter things like “Oh, my Gawd,” while sniggering.
3. The thumb-sucker. Terribly insecure, this person feels the need to continually pump up personal contributions, i.e. “Landing on the moon? Oh, yeah, I know a guy who once did that…he called me from outer space once. The charges were ridiculous, dude!”
4. The navel-gazer. Every issue brings up a personal story that may or may not have anything to do with the issue being discussed. This person believes that his or her experience is one that should not be missed. Works nights and weekends on a personal biography that will make Bill Clinton’s look like a comic book.
5. The devil’s advocate. While contrary opinions can generate some valuable payoffs, this person likes to throw a wrench in the works just to watch the process break down. One of the biggest causes of meetings lasting for five hours. The devil’s advocate sets the alpha dog to yapping and peeing furiously, the smirker to eye-rolling and the thumb-sucker to creating wild tales of personal importance. The navel-gazer begins telling a story about last Christmas’s stocking stuffers.
6. The time traveler. Regardless of what is being discussed, this person seems surprised to be a part of it – as if Scotty just beamed them to the wrong planet. A perpetually confused and bewildered demeanor. Always wants to know: “Should I be taking notes?”
7. The real deal. This person sits quietly, doodling on a notepad. During a lull in the conversation, the real deal will come up with something that is profound and sensible and makes everyone else look like nitwits and numbskulls. Often mistaken for a celebrity while on vacation. Destined to one day be wealthy and directing others while hunting for pirate booty.
8. The pacifier. In the midst of all the yapping and smirking and boasting, the pacifier finds the solution for all the chaos and lack of progress: send the issue to committee for discussion.

Meeting adjourned.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Job Loss: You Could Be Next

If you’re feeling a little uptight about your job these days, you’re not alone. And if you’re not feeling a little uptight, you should be.

That’s because the employment figures released last week weren’t so hot. Those lost jobs – the first time that’s happened in four years – comes on the heels of a lousy housing market and continuing costly overseas military actions.

Of course, the more optimistic among you will cite the good retail sales figures and the strong corporate profits as signs that things will again be good, and that you’ve got no reason to be worried.

Are you absolutely sure about that? Well, if so, then continue on your merry way and don’t worry about tomorrow. But for those of you who are concerned that your job may be threatened (remember, companies keep those profits high by using employees as commodities), then it’s time to take stock and prepare.

While I’ve covered some of these in my “What To Do When You Lose a Job” posting, I’d like to beef it up a bit. Even if you feel like your job is safe, you’d be foolish to turn your nose up at these opportunities that will not only benefit your job now, but help you should the pink slip be in the next paycheck:

1. Attend the next professional event. You’ve been putting this off because, frankly, you’re so exhausted after work the last thing you want to do is talk business and eat stale pretzels while trying to remember some guy’s name you met a year ago. Go to the next event and not only should you learn everyone’s name, but come away with at least three new contacts. Is your industry vulnerable to the ripples going on now in the economy? Are other companies already making noises about layoffs? What are other professionals in your industry seeing at their companies?
2. Do some snooping. Get to know the boss’s executive assistant if you don’t already. Get friendly enough to take him or her to lunch or meet for a drink after work. Is this assistant hearing anything about the boss being told to tighten the budget? Is the boss – or the boss’s boss – thinking of jumping ship? What departments are scheduled for new training, and who is being cut off from decision-making?
3. Start blogging. Make sure it’s OK with your company policy first, but this is a good chance to set yourself up as an expert in your area. Post important information from other sites, and refer readers to other places for information. Even if you aren’t allowed to blog about your job, find other bloggers in your industry and post comments. This is a good way to become known for your knowledge and expertise.
4. Know what’s being said about you online. You want to make sure that what is being presented about you online does not give a company the excuse it’s looking for to get rid of you. Remove anything questionable, and ask friends to remove photos or descriptions that make you look or sound like a total moron or dangerous human being.
5. Know where the jobs are. Make sure you understand not only what you’re worth, but what areas of the country (or world) are hiring people with your skills and abilities. Constantly assess your network and how up-to-date you are on current trends, how fast you could hit the ground running for a new employer. If you’re lacking in an area, don’t wait – get the training either through your company or on your own.

Remember, you want to make sure you’ve got a game plan in place before you see someone from security standing by your desk with a cardboard box. Waiting until you and everyone else from your company is filing out the door with those boxes could mean that you should have heeded this warning in the first place.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Exit Like a Pro

How you quit a job may be one of the most important things you ever do in your career. Because how you leave a position is often how you are remembered most by colleagues and your boss. And, as we all know, the world is often a small one – so quitting a job poorly may come back to haunt you for years to come, perhaps even adversely affecting other job opportunities.

So, how do you leave a job properly and make such a good impression on co-workers and the boss that they will have nothing but positive things to say about you? You need to:

Prepare. Before you tell the boss, understand your company’s policy about employees who quit. Some require you to be removed immediately. If this is the case, make sure you have all your personal files removed from your computer and have cleared away any questionable material from your desk.
Make it legal. Your resignation letter to your boss should be professional (no sarcasm, hateful comments, etc.) and state clearly your intentions. Include: the date the letter is written, your official last day (two weeks is the common courtesy) and your legal name, along with your signature. This is the letter that will go in your personnel file so there’s no need to be long-winded. If you can’t think of anything nice to say, think Richard Nixon. He resigned in just seven words, but we all got the point quite clearly.
Practice. Rehearse what you plan to say to co-workers and the boss when you decide to quit. Make sure you don’t make any disparaging comments about the business, or say something like how “not working with such losers anymore will be so nice.” Also, don’t offer too much information about your future plans, since it’s not good form to talk about all the exciting opportunities that await you and how you’re going to be making loads of money and working with great people, blah, blah, blah. None of that helps your boss or your co-workers, and just makes them sort of, well, hate you.
Be a pro until the end. Don’t start slacking off on your duties. In fact, you might have to put in some extra time getting files in order; briefing others where you stand on projects; informing your customers who to contact after you leave; leaving notes on where to find information that will be needed; and meeting with the boss to let him know you’re trying to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s before you leave. And, for goodness’ sake, don’t take your departure as a sign to start loading up the backpack with goodies from the supply cabinet. Be absolutely sure you don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you, not even a pencil. Check at home to make sure you don’t have any company property, and if you do, return it promptly.
Exit gracefully. If you have an exit interview, don’t use it as a chance to vent any hard feelings. Again, this will get back to the boss, and sink your reputation in his eyes and in others. Remember, bosses talk to other bosses, and human resource people talk to other human resource people. Being seen as difficult and vengeful and taking potshots on your way out the door will not help your career. Also, remember that if you criticize a co-worker today, that same person may just turn out to be a future boss tomorrow. Leaving with a firm handshake and a smile will serve you well in the long run.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Workplace Love Gone Wrong

It’s estimated that at least 58 percent of you in the working world have dated someone you work with. I, myself, married someone I met on the job.

But I have to be honest here: I didn’t want to even date him (my husband) when he started making it clear he wanted to be more than friends.

I worried what co-workers would think about us, I worried what the boss would think, I worried what would happen when we broke up (I thought that was inevitable since I had never dated anyone longer than a few months.)

But more than 20 years later, I look back and realize that it was all my worries that helped keep our workplace romance where it should be – private. And it was his concern about my worries that kept the romance from being gossip fodder and hurting our careers. (OK, it probably would have harmed mine more than his – women still suffer inequality in the workplace in most regards.)

When I spoke with mediator Barbara Reeves Neal about love contracts she noted that these are pretty much the “flavor of the month” for companies trying to protect themselves against lawsuits when love goes wrong between employees. Getting workers to sign off on “behaving professionally” should they get involved seems a bit silly, considering we’re talking about adults, not lovesick adolescents.

The bigger problem regarding romance in the workplace may be what appears to be a growing trend: relationships that are blossoming among employees who are married to someone else.

Neal said she believes part of that is because employees are working longer hours than ever before, and become more emotionally attached to someone on the job as they work towards a common goal.

Since I know of at least a handful of marriages that have broken up recently because of an on-the-job romance with someone else, I tend to agree. Still, that’s not hard scientific proof, and is unfair to those who remain faithful to a partner while working closely with someone at work.

Neal, however, felt the problem was significant enough to offer these ideas to help keep some relationships strictly professional:
• No after hour meetings if they can be avoided. “Remind yourself of the family you have at home,” Neal says. “Go home to them.”
• No hotel room meetings. This can be slightly problematic when all the men – or all the women – want to meet in someone’s room and the one person of the opposite sex feels uncomfortable with it. Still, everyone should be understanding and hold all meetings in the hotel lobby or other meeting room. When traveling on business, stay away from dimly lit restaurants or bars.
• Remember that the “good feelings” you have working with that person are because you’re working towards a common goal. Don’t infuse the relationship with personal emotional attachment.
• Keep in mind you can seriously damage your career. Former Boeing CEO Harry C. Stonecipher was forced to resign after his involvement with a female executive in the company. Other Boeing officials found out about the affair between the married CEO and the woman when they got an anonymous tip. Your employer can dismiss one or both of you for violating a company’s code of conduct.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

When You Make a Mistake at Work

It’s always tough to mess up at work. Feelings can range from chagrin over committing a blunder to outright fear that you might be fired for your mistake.

Still, it’s important that you have a plan of action for when you goof up. Without one, you may panic and make the error worse, or do nothing, which can always come back to haunt you.

Some plans of action for recovering from making a mistake include:

  • Owning it. Before the office tattletale can run to the boss to share the news of your mistake, go to the boss and tell her what happened. Be factual about the incident and accept full responsibility.
  • Taking the chip off your shoulder. If you have a defensive, whining “but-it-wasn’t really-my-fault” attitude, the boss will focus only on that, not your explanation. You will not seem sincere, and that’s critical. Maintain eye contact and keep your voice level, but strong.
  • Focusing on the fixing the problem. As soon as you explain what happened as briefly as possible, immediately move into some ideas you have for making sure it doesn’t happen again. It irks a boss when a mistake is made, but it double irks him when he has to figure out how to fix it. By saving him this step, you’ve taken the pressure off him, and that can always help minimize the damage.
  • Getting in the zone. If you’re badly rattled by a mistake, take some time to go for a short walk, splash water on your face or do anything else that will help you focus and have a professional demeanor. Even if the boss screams or yells, don’t lose your composure. You made a mistake, you didn't commit murder. Keep it in perspective and keep reminding yourself that everyone makes mistakes.
  • Asking for help. If you believe you goofed because you needed more direction from the boss, say so. “I know this report is late. I’ve put some steps into place, but I’d like your input in the early stages to make sure I’m on track. That way, you can kick me into gear earlier if I need it,” you say. This shows that you’re focused on the goals of the team, and not afraid to do whatever it takes to make sure targets are met.