Wednesday, December 31, 2008

10 Changes You Might See Coming to Your Workplace

While I thought about writing an uplifting, inspirational post today -- the last day of 2008 -- the truth is that I'm very much a realist at heart. Sure, I believe in hoping for the best -- but I'm one of those people who always prepares for the worst.

I do have great hopes for 2009. I hope that the economy will improve, that those who have been laid off will find jobs and the St. Louis Cardinals will take the World Series this year. Still, I think it might be a good idea to have a few caveats along with all those warm and fuzzy thoughts.

So, as my last post of this this year, here are...

10 Changes You Might See Coming to Your Workplace

1. The boss tells you management is trying to find ways to cut unnecessary costs, and it may mean everyone has to "pitch in" more. When you arrive at work the next morning, a snow shovel, a weed whacker and a garden rake are sitting beside your desk.

2. In order to cut real estate costs, your employer is subletting office space. The Chinese restaurant being run out of your meeting room is playing havoc with your diet. Still, it's better than the hair salon being operated in the break room. Those perms smell terrible.

3. On the day the copier is taken away because it's deemed "frivolous" equipment, the CEO arrives in a new Bentley and declares he's leaving for some time away in the south of France, because the office mood is "such a downer."

4. Outside business consultants can be expensive, so the powers that be brought in Miss Miller's 5th grade class to give book reports on "How to Win Friends and Influence People." You were especially impressed by the kid who dressed up as Dale Carnegie while reading his report.

5. The jerk boss who treated you and everyone else like dirt was just featured in the local newspaper because he invested every dime he had with Bernard Madoff. You grin like an idiot for two days, prompting human resources to talk to you about the dangers of recreational drug use.

6. The company used to provide Blackberries and cell phones, but say they're no longer in the budget. Instead, each employee is given a blanket, matches, firewood and a book, "Smoke Signals for Dummies."

7. Management sends out a letter saying that employee copies of "Who Moved My Cheese" are not appropriate fuel for the new smoke signal method.

8. Your new intern is Rod Blagojevich. You understand he came very, very cheap, but still spends too much time in the break room getting his hair blown dry.

9. The co-workers in your office who travel a lot have taken to wearing coveralls on the road. They say jumping into railroad boxcars while they're moving is hell on their nice suits.

10. You won't have to travel far for the company retreat this year. A Hibachi grill, wading pool and a generator for Guitar Hero are waiting in the back parking lot.

What are some other things we can expect in the workplace for 2009?

Lijit Search

Monday, December 29, 2008

Don't Forget That Even in This Job Market, You Can Still Negotiate a Job Offer

If you've ever been out of work, you know the feeling when the job offer finally comes. You want to scream, cry, kiss the feet of the hiring manager and dance in the streets. You're a wild mix of emotions and yet it's never been more important that you think clearly and put your brain in charge.

It's time to negotiate.

Now, some people may think that there's no room for negotiation in this job market. But that's what employers want you to think. The truth is, many of them are going to low ball you because they think they can. But if they have gone to the trouble to wade through the resumes they're being bombarded with, if you've risen to the top with all that tough competition out there, then they want you. Really want you.

That gives you some leverage. But the trick in this job market is knowing how to use that to your advantage so that you don't look like an arrogant jerk and start off your new job on the wrong foot. The other point to consider is that you may get a fair offer right off the bat. If you've done your research, you know what you're worth. In that case, you may be very comfortable accepting their initial offer, and everyone shakes on it.

But if you get an offer you believe could use some improvement, it's time to move onto negotiation. If that's the case, here are some things to consider:

* Do your homework. Have your facts and figures in place about what you want. Make a list (in order of importance) of the things that really matter to you -- debating anything else is a waste of time and energy. When the employer tosses out the initial offer, don't be afraid to say: "Is there a chance that you could offer a higher number?" if you know from your research that the salary is not competitive.

* Practice. Just as you would with any presentation, it's important that you make eye contact, have a well-modulated, calm voice and display confident body language. Even if you're negotiating over the phone, your confidence and calm will be evident.

* Be realistic. Things you may have deemed important a year ago may be off your list now. Be realistic about this job market, about the things you really require in order to be happy in the job. If you accept an offer that makes you feel like a martyr then you're going to be miserable in a matter of months -- and be looking for another job. Sure, the employers have more of the power in this market -- but when haven't they? It's a rare case when an employer is willing to give into all of a job candidate's demands.

* Stay strong. If there comes a point in the negotiation that you feel strongly about and the employer appears to have dug in as well, don't rush to concede. Be content to stay silent and see if the employer is willing to speak first -- that usually bodes well for you. Silence can be a very effective tool for getting what you want.

* Take a breath. After concluding your negotiation and agreeing on final points, ask if you can have a day to look it over so that you make sure you review the offer carefully.

What are some other things to consider when negotiating a job offer?

Lijit Search

Friday, December 26, 2008

When You've Fallen and Can't Get Up

I've been impressed by the number of blog posts I've read lately that urge people not to give in to despair in these despairing times, to remember that most of us have all that we really need: our friends, our family, our health.

At the same time, I know that despite these pep talks there are people who, no matter how much they try, aren't feeling better. Despite the extra time spent recently with people who love them and care about them, they have fallen and can't get up.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44, affecting about 15 million American adults annually, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older. While depression can develop at any age, the median age at onset is about 32, and is more more prevalent in women than in men.

Those are the facts. But what lies behind those facts is much tougher. Anyone who has suffered from depression or had someone they care about struggle with the disease knows that the toll it takes cannot be summed up in simple statistics. It can tear apart relationships, and it can harm careers.

Despite more people willing to talk about how the disease has affected them at work, there are people who try and hide how they're feeling, how they are having difficulty coping not only with daily life, but with the rising tide of bad news in the workplace.

I'm not a mental health expert, but I do know that in order to survive in today's difficult business climate, you need to be on top of your game. Both physically and emotionally. Sure, you need to go the extra mile at work in order to try and hang on to your job, but that's not going to happen if you're not able to cope with life on a daily basis.

When I first started writing my column for Gannett News Service about 15 years ago, I wrote on depression in the workplace. I was flooded with mail from people who were so grateful that I had written about a subject they felt had been hidden too long. While it is being talked about more today because it does affect productivity, I still think a lot of people want to believe that depression doesn't happen to them, and they can handle whatever is happening on their own.

As I said, if all the pep talks in the world aren't making you feel better, consider talking to your doctor, or check out this online quiz that might help you understand if you are suffering from depression.

I hope this holiday time has been restorative for your body and mind. I hope that you feel a renewed sense of hope, an ability to cope with whatever life hands you every day. But if not, my hope is that you'll understand you're not alone, and that help is available. Give yourself the greatest gift of all and make your health a priority for 2009.

How do you think the workplace could better help those with depression?

Lijit Search

Monday, December 22, 2008

Two-for-One Sale: Get Your Interview Tips Now!

I sent out a HARO request the other day asking for input on resume do's and dont's. I was flooded with so many good suggestions I couldn't use them all for my Gannett News Service and column, so I'm offering you a great deal today: Super resume advice at no cost to you! (I think I'm spending too much time reading the retailer ads that bombard my e-mail every day.)

Anyway, I'll let these people tell you in their own words what you can do to help you in your job search:

"One of my pet peeves is extremely vague objective (resume)statements. These are statements like "Objective: A position with a strong, stable company where I can use my skills and expertise to contribute to growth and advance my career." No kidding. This applies to every employee, everywhere. No one sends me a resume that says, "I'm looking to work for a financially shaky firm, in a dead-end role, at a lower salary, doing tasks that I have no knowledge of or experience with."
-- Anne Howard, Lynn Hazan & Associates

"When you write the cover letter and tailor the resume, be sure to reference the job posting and be specific in your response to what they’re seeking. If you don’t have actual job experience, explain how you obtained the skills needed. If you have actually done a particular task, make sure they can easily determine when and where." -- Minde Frederick,OBERON, LLC

"I once got a resume with a picture of a banana on it and a sidebar that read, "I'm ripening...". It definitely caught my attention but for all the wrong reasons. Bold moves are not required. Give me clean, clear and concise any day." -- Caroline Ceniza-Levine, SixFigureStart Career Coaching

"With the influx of applicants returning from military duty, most hiring managers in private sector organizations don't understand military job titles or levels and have no idea what duties or responsibilities are associated with those positions. Therefore, I recommend that individuals with military experience rewrite their resume to show what they did such as the number of individuals supervised or led, financial experience relative to budgets, project goals and how they were met, etc." -- Q VanBenschoten, North America for Intertek

"I particularly do not appreciate people who use 'non-words' such as 'like' or 'umm' or 'uh' throughout their sentences. This has become a significant communications problem particularly among those just entering the workplace. Whether a person works on the factory floor, in an office environment or on the road, the manner in which the information is conveyed is important to understanding the message." -- Douglas Duncan, Your HR Solutions

"We'd like to see more people include links to additional content available on them - a link to their blog, or white papers and articles they may have written. Anything that helps reinforce and demonstrate what they've stated in their resume." -- Mark Rouse, IQ PARTNERS Inc.

"Turnoffs: weird or inappropriate email addresses (, for example), strange 'personal interests,' and anything that is disparaging to a former employer." -- Gretchen Neels,Neels & Company, Inc.

"Spelling errors will get you thrown out. In addition, I only look at the work history, the cover letter, and most of the body are generally junk. With 100's of resumes to read you have to focus on what is important." -- Michael D. Hayes, Momentum Specialized Staffing

Any other advice that job seekers should follow?

Lijit Search

Friday, December 19, 2008

Do You Impress Strangers?

I want you to think back to the last person you met for the first time and name as many details about the person as you can. Now, look at your list and consider the first three items.

Do they look something like this?

1. Limp handshake.
2. Rarely made eye contact.
3. Awkward conversationalist.

Or, more like this:
1. Great smile.
2. Confident manner.
3. Asked great questions.

The difference between these two assessments can make or break a career. In today's fast-paced business environment, we often only get one chance to make a good impression on someone. At the same time, it's often very difficult to establish a positive connection in a short amount of time, especially if we're not "good" at small talk.

In a perfect world, of course, we wouldn't be judged on initial contact, but the truth is most people have summed you up in less than a few minutes. So, let's look at some ways to not only make that good first impression, but to engage the other person enough to help your career.

1. Look in the mirror. Really. Look in the mirror several times a day and make sure your hair is combed, there are no stains on your clothes (keep a stain remover at work or in a briefcase), and use mouthwash or breath mints, especially after eating or drinking coffee. It's often the small details that trip you up -- you can be wearing a $2,000 suit and if your breath reeks of garlic and your hair is standing on end, you've just wasted $2,000.

2. Shake hands firmly. I've had people shake my hand so hard they cracked my knuckles. I don't appreciate that any more than I do the half-hand, limp, lackadaisical shake. If you're not sure how to shake hands properly, find a car salesperson. Those people have perfected the art of the handshake and can teach you in no time flat.

3. Ask a question. Nothing is more awkward that someone asking: "How are you?" and you respond: "Fine." And then nothing. Ask a question that focuses on the needs and interests of the other person. Depending on the situation, you can ask about industry challenges in this economy, how they do their job, what professional organizations they find the most helpful or even if they use any social networking to help them get more business.

4. Edit the self promotion. People are worried about their jobs right now, and that's leading to some elevator pitches that are delivered with a sledgehammer. While you should promote yourself when you get the chance, an initial meeting can become very uncomfortable if you launch into your talents and abilities right away. A better way is to talk about other people who have helped you do your job, or to be successful with a project.

5. Don't blow your exit. Once you've established rapport with the other person, don't forget that your last impression is even more important. End your conversation by saying how much you've enjoyed the meeting, perhaps even making a final note of what you've learned: "I really appreciate the chance to hear your thoughts on how much going back to school helped you. It's something I'll be thinking about," you say, again offering your car salesperson handshake. By ensuring the person that you not only heard what was said, but really listened, you've made a strong first impression.

What are some other ways to make a good first impression and establish rapport?

Lijit Search

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Does Your Career Tell The Right Story?

Let's say someone held a taser to your chest right this minute and said: "Tell me the story of your career." Could you do it? I'm not sure I could -- being zapped by a taser is bound to make me a bit nervous and the most I might be able to do is give my name and e-mail address.

But more and more, people want you to tell them career stories. They want to know of a time when you handled a problem at work, when you dealt with a difficult customer or when you led an important project. Oh, yeah, and this story has got to be quick, concise, compelling, riveting and memorable.

I found it interesting that one of the commenters on this blog noted that when I wrote about the "Seven Random (and Sorta Weird) Facts About Me," he said he "can never think of the simple things who make us who we are."

That got me to thinking about how difficult it sometimes is to come up with stories that illustrate our career. I think part of the problem is that we're so busy with our jobs and everything that goes along with it (answering e-mails, phone calls, Twittering, checking Facebook) that we just don't get the time we need to think about what makes us "who we are" on the job.

So, as this year winds down, I think it's a good time to stop and reflect on what we know about ourselves and our career. What really makes us unique? What is something we have brought to a job that makes us valuable? What stories can we tell to others that will make us memorable?

At a time when everyone fears for their job, when we may be facing an important job interview or performance evaluation, let's look at some ways to shape our career stories.

1. Keep if professional. Try to avoid a lot of references to your family and friends. Those are certainly great stories, but you want the listener to see you in the primary role, to have a vision of how you impacted a particular situation.

2. Showcase your ingenuity. I've interviewed many management experts over the last several months, and the one thing they all agree on is that the companies that will survive are the ones who will come up with new and innovative ideas. Think of times you showed you could roll with the punches and still come up with a creative or innovative solution. This not only shows you can handle adversity, but are adaptable as well.

3. Be truthful. I love Aesop's Fables as much as the next person, but anytime you tell a career story, make sure it is true. And believable -- try not to embellish too much.

4. Don't be offensive. Your story loses its power when you use profanities, racial or gender stereotypes or otherwise show you need diversity training. Never tell a story that would embarrass someone else.

5. Keep is short. A story should never be more than a couple of minutes long. If it's a great story, look for ways to shorten it and just highlight the key points.

6. Be interesting. While you should know your stories well enough that you could tell them even if you're nervous (envision that taser), you don't want to sound like you're reciting the Gettysburg Address for a fifth-grade teacher. Tape record yourself, or ask someone else to listen to you tell your story. Does your voice have good inflection? Do you pause for effect? Do you sound and look confident?

7. Do you sound sane? I've heard career stories before that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. While the tellers of these tales thought the stories made them sound tough, or forceful or innovative, I just thought it made them sound a bit deranged. You want to make sure that your stories are logical. They should show that you understood a problem or issue, thought of an appropriate response and then acted professionally.

What are some other tips for telling career stories?

Lijit Search

Monday, December 15, 2008

Can Losing a Job Save Your Life?

Would you do your job if you didn't get paid?

If you burst out laughing after reading this question, then this column is for you. If you've broken into tears at the question, this post is for you. If your stomach cramps and your vision starts to blur, this is definitely for you.

This post is for all of you who can't imagine who or what you'd be without your job, but you do know that the word "love" or "passion" has never entered your consciousness when you talk about what you do for a living.

It was much the same story for Kathy Caprino. As a corporate vice president with a high powered job, she thought she had it all: security, money, prestige. She had done what she was supposed to do, and achieved the desired status symbols of a nice office, people at her beck and call and a new home.

Then 9/11 happened and a week later, Caprino was laid off. While she did tell her husband the news, somehow the reality didn't connect with Caprino. For a week after her layoff, she arose each morning, put on her business suit, got in her car -- and drove around each day.

"It's so demoralizing to be laid off," she says. "You're stripped on any kind of self-esteem."

Finally, Caprino was forced to deal with her layoff, and she found herself in therapy "weeping."

"I hated who I had become," she says.

Who Caprino had become was someone who suffered chronic health problems, a stressed, desperately unhappy woman who felt trapped by her job and everything that went along with it. As a middle-aged woman who was the primary breadwinner, Caprino had never thought of doing anything else until she was forced into it with the layoff.

That, Caprino says, is when she discovered that even though she was middle-aged, she could "choose the next chapter."

It's that message that Caprino hopes many people -- especially mid-life professional women -- will hear during these tough times when they may lose their jobs.

"My prayer is that this (job loss) is a wake-up call. When something bad happens, it's time to assess whether you're really aligned with it," she says. "Don't make the mistake of glomming onto the first thing that comes along. Step back. Approach it from an empowered position."

Caprino, who went back to school and has become a therapist and executive coach, says that she has some words of advice (also available in her book, "Breakdown, Breakthrough") for those faced with job loss:

1. Believe you can move forward. Find someone -- a coach, therapist, etc. -- who won't feed your fears, but will help you believe that you can create a new place for yourself. Caprino does say that one coach, whom she paid $800, said that she was in the "perfect" job. "I wanted to stab myself in the eye," Caprino says. "But I recognized that he was as stuck (in his thinking) as I was. It was a friend who said to me: 'I love you dearly, but you're always unhappy.' That's when I knew I had to change."

2. Let go of the beliefs, actions and thoughts that keep you small. Just because you're not 20 anymore doesn't mean you don't have dreams and goals. Look deep inside yourself and think of what else you'd like to do. "Don't assume that a certain job is your role and nothing else. Don't over identify yourself with a job."

3. Say "yes" to honoring yourself. "Don't believe someone else has the power. You have the wherewithal to make your dreams come true."

Are there are other ways someone can find a job they love?

Lijit Search

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Idiotic Things People Say in Interviews

"Welcome, Ms. Jones. Thank you for coming in for an interview today. I'd like to spend some time talking with you about your application and past work history."

"Oh, thank you for calling me. I'd be very happy to answer any questions you might have."

"OK, well let's start with an obvious one: Why do you want to work here?"

"Well, I just think it's a great company. You have such a great reputation, and I think my skills would be of great benefit to you. I'd work really hard."

"How nice. Well, can you be more specific about --"

"Oh, and it would be so nice to work with people who are educated. I mean, some of the people I work with now. Well, let's just say they're not the sharpest tools in the shed...."

"Uh. OK. Well, let's talk about this project you mention on your resume where you headed up the team that brought in a very lucrative project."

"You bet. We got that contract because I kicked ass and wouldn't take any crap from anyone. I didn't want to hear a bunch of whining about sick kids or lung transplants. I mean, we were there to make money, and I made sure we did that."

"I see. So...."

"You know, I just want to be clear here. If you hire me, I'm going to pull my weight and then some. When my parents kicked me out when I was 17, I didn't sit around and complain about poor little me. I did what I had to do, and sometimes it wasn't pretty. But it got the job done. And that's what I'll do for you."

"Ms. Jones, you certainly have given me a lot to think about. We have several other candidates to interview, so I appreciate you coming in."

"Sure thing. I can't wait to get out of this suit, anyway. These pantyhose are cutting off my air, and my feet are killing me in these stupid shoes. I'll wait to get your call."

(Ms. Jones leaves. Hiring manager wads resume into a tight ball and lobs it into the trash can.)

I'll bet there's been a time in your life where you've regretted something you said. Maybe it was a harsh word to a friend or a criticism of a loved one. You may have gone back and apologized, or tried to make it up in some other way.

But the problem with saying the wrong thing in a job interview is that you probably won't get another chance. If you're annoying, unprofessional or just plain weird, chances are you're not going to hear from that potential employer again.

So, here's a list. Memorize it. Recite it as a mantra. Text yourself. Just don't forget to:

1. Stay positive: Interviewees may try and explain why they want to leave their old job, or why getting laid off hasn't been such a bad thing. But instead of saying they're looking for a new opportunity, they talk about how Bill in IT was a dork and the boss was a real a**hole. This is an immediate turnoff for interviewers -- if you talk trash they know you may do the same about a new employer.

2. Clean up your mouth: While swearing may seem like a minor thing to some people, to some people it is a very big deal. And how do you know the interviewer isn't one of the latter?

3. Keep confidences. Don't reveal personal details about others. "Ted is a great guy but more than once I had to take his car keys after some company party. He just doesn't know his limits." Interviewers have to wonder if you'd blab company secrets or personnel confidences if they employed you.

4. Be a grown-up. Whining and complaining about people or events, talking about what a bad temper you have or how you suffer from low self-esteem will not get you hired. Hiring managers will see you as a boatload of anxiety or trouble that they don't need.

5. Keep your personal life personal. While some interviewers may try and lead you to talk about yourself in order to understand you better, it's best to steer clear of comments that put you in a negative light. For example, don't talk about how you used to be a "wild child" or "rebel" or "party girl." It's also best to refrain from saying "I'm a typical Irish guy" or "my religion is very important" or "during baseball season I'm a maniac." You want the interviewer to focus on your professional skills, not your personal life that they may feel will interfere with your ability to do the job.

Finally, remember that it's the interviewer's job to make you feel comfortable so that he or she can really get to know you and your strengths and weaknesses. It's your job not to let your guard down so much that you think you're chatting with your best friend and say things you will come to regret.

How else can a job candidate prepare for an interview?

Lijit Search

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Perils of a Counteroffer

You're trying not to grin like an idiot, but the truth is, you're feeling pretty full of yourself. In this rotten, stinky, abysmal economy -- you've been offered a job when you aren't even unemployed!

OK, so now comes the time to decide: Do you accept the new job or try and get a counteroffer from your current employer? The truth is, your current job feels safe, and you're not 100 percent sure the new employer can offer you the same job security.

But still. It is more money and a better title, and it is really flattering to be wooed by a new company.

Well, maybe there's a compromise, you think. All you have to do is tell the boss that you've been offered a new job at a better salary and title, and see if he'll counter.

Hope you like snake pits, because once you've made that decision, you've just jumped into a big one.

“Most of the time, accepting a counteroffer is short-term fix for both the employer and employee,” says DeLynn Senna. “More than 90 percent of those who accept a counteroffer end up leaving the job less than a year after they accept it – either because the company lets them go or they leave on their own.”

Senna is executive director of permanent placement services for Robert Half International in Pleasanton, Calif., and I recently interviewed her for my Gannett News Service/ column.

Senna says that while your boss may indeed offer you more money or better title to hang onto you, the truth is, he or she may only be doing this to buy time.

“An employer wants to minimize disruptions or lost productivity in this economy, so they make a counteroffer to keep the person,” Senna says. “But the trust has already been broken with the manager and the employee’s colleagues.”

Oh, yeah, your co-workers who may resent you nabbing more for yourself when they're likely to get a frozen turkey as a holiday bonus this year.

“These colleagues are going to know that you’re now making more money, and there is now a lack of rapport,” Senna says.

And as for your manager? Well, that chill in the air may have nothing to do with the office thermostat turned down to save energy.

"It’s always in the back of a manager’s mind that the employee has been disloyal" by even talking to another employer, Senna says.

“When it comes time for a promotion, the manager may give it to someone else, because he or she may be considered a more ‘loyal’ worker,” she says.


So, what to do when times are tough and you don't want to play this touchy situation the wrong way?

Senna says that you should first begin by thinking about why you thought about leaving your employer in the first place. Accepting a counteroffer, she says, may not fix the reason you were considering the exit in the first place.

“Getting a pay raise doesn’t change the fact that maybe you’re not getting a chance to work on certain projects or can’t get along with the boss. Those problems still exist,” she says.

That’s why Senna says it’s critical that anyone considering a counteroffer from an employer should think about:

• Trying to make it work. “Make sure you do everything possible to improve your current situation before you think about leaving. Try and get the raise on your own, address the poor communication with your manager, try and get those good project assignments, etc. If you can change the one thing that makes you want to leave, then try and work it out.” While a new job offer may be exciting, consider that in this economy, it’s difficult to know who is financially solvent and who is not. You may be jumping ship to a company in trouble. Further, you will be leaving “goodwill that has built up” in your current job, Senna says. “It’s much more risky to leave.”

• Standing firm. If you do your research and believe that the job offer is worth taking, then tell your employer and don’t waffle when a counteroffer is made. Senna suggests saying something like: “I appreciate it, but I’ve made a commitment. I’ll do what I can to tie up loose ends here before I leave.” Senna adds that employers may try change your mind while you’re still on the job, but you must be polite but firm about declining a counteroffer.

“Think about it: Why do you have to threaten to leave before being heard? That’s a real red flag right there,” she says.

• Keeping your word. “You’re running a real risk of damaging your professional reputation is you renege on your agreement with a new employer to accept a counteroffer from your current employer,” Senna says. “Remember: Your reputation is the most important asset you have.”

In this economy, is it foolhardy to accept a counteroffer? Are there ways to make it work?

Lijit Search

Friday, December 5, 2008

What I Learned From the Generosity of Others

This post is a bit different for me. Robert Hruzek at Middle Zone Musings put this challenge to me, and I decided to accept. (Anyone can participate.) You'll note, however, that this post actually does have something to do with the workplace, and the difference one person can make on the job.

Everyone has a story about 9/11 – where they were and who they were with when they learned of the terrorist attacks.

I was in a class with about 50 other journalists from around the country as part of a fellowship for The Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University Maryland. As you can imagine, half the class left immediately to head back to their newspapers to help with the coverage, while many were dispatched for nearby Washington, D.C. or even New York.

As the days went by, the rest of us continued to meet for classes. We phoned home as often as we could, talking to our families and trying to figure out when the heck (or even if) we could get home.

Several days later, it was time for me to catch my flight home. Unbelievably, the Baltimore airport had opened just that day and was offering limited flights. Things were touch and go – the airport was offering no guarantees about flight times.

Of course the airport was swarming with National Guard troops, Maryland Highway Patrol and what appeared to be additional private security. People were jumpy – an abandoned backpack immediately sent up an alarm and security came immediately. (The guy who left it while he went to the bathroom was greatly embarrassed when he was questioned and had to reveal the pack contained an extra set of underwear and a novel.)

Hour after hour I sat in the airport, watching it grow dark outside as the disembodied voice over the intercom system continued to note another flight had been cancelled. Eight hours went by when it came time for my flight – which had been rescheduled numerous times – and I stepped up to the ticket counter to be checked in once again.

A woman behind me asked me where I was headed. “I’m headed home, I hope,” I said. “I’m trying to get home to my husband and kids.”

Conversation died after that as we watched a group of intoxicated young men begin to harass a ticket agent who appeared to be Middle Eastern. It was clear they had passed the time in the airport bar.

By that point, I was numb. Both my parents had died recently, passing away within 17 months of each other, followed by my grandfather three months later. All the grief from the attacks and my own personal loss was a lead ball in my stomach. I waited for my turn to get a ticket.

As I finally stepped up to the counter, the employee began tapping into his computer. “This is our only flight tonight. We’ll see what we can do. We’re obviously overbooked,” he said.

I nodded and headed back to my seat, prepared to wait some more. I figured I’d be spending the night in the airport.

Within minutes, he called my name.

“I heard you say you have children,” he said.


“And you want to get home.”


“Have a good trip,” he said, handing me a ticket.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling.

I gazed at him for a moment, and he smiled back. A world of understanding passed between us at that moment. He was the Middle Eastern employee who had taken the abuse from the drunken men. But I saw him only as a man trying to get a mother back home to her children.

As I got onto the plane, I began making my way toward the back, figuring my seat was somewhere just shy of the onboard toilet. A flight attendant looked at my ticket, and soon corrected me.

“You’re in first class,” she said.

Surprised, I found my seat. As I was served a wonderful meal, my weary head resting on a soft pillow, I thought of that employee who decided to make sure I got on that flight not just because it was his job, but because he had chosen to step away from all the ugliness and simply do a generous thing for a stranger.

I found this quote from Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet that sums up my thoughts on what I learned: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Lijit Search

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Four Ways Your Job Can Save You Time and Money

After opening my recent investment report, I decided that the thing should come equipped with a defibrillator and a tank of oxygen. That way I'd at least not hit the ground unprepared when I read how the *&%$ stock market has hit my portfolio.

I know I'm not alone. I know that everyone is looking for ways to tighten a belt, to trim costs. That's why I think we've got to be a bit creative to make our jobs pay off even more. I mean, the paycheck is nice, but for most of us it isn't going to grow a whole lot this year. It's time we all looked at ways that our workplace can add even more value.

First, think about your company's diversity. Everyone in your workplace is unique, with different talents and abilities. They each have something of value to offer, and so do you. The key is finding how you can help one another to not only save money, but time.

Second, be creative. Now is not the time to maintain the status quo, such as not communicating with other departments or making assumptions about other people. We're all in this together and the more ideas, the better.

Think about how to take care of a need in your life without spending more money, and how someone in your workplace can help you. Here are some ideas:

1. Sharing skills. There are a lot of younger workers who would love a good home-cooked meal, while a lot of older workers would love some computer instructions or a babysitter. So, an older worker provides a meal or two for the younger worker, in exchange for some teaching or babysitting time.

2. Sharing needs. Many workers are doing more home maintenance jobs themselves to save money. These tasks (painting, landscaping, putting up a fence) go much faster with more hands. Workers can band together and get these jobs done for one another. In the end, everyone gets work done with no labor costs. During the warmer months, you can offer to help tend a garden in return for some of the produce, or offer to plant a garden on a worker's available property and give them some of the produce.

3. Shopping savings. I often shop at Sam's Club because I have a family, but I know my single friends or empty nesters don't get as much value because truthfully, they can't begin to eat 12 avocados. But I can offer to sell them a portion of what I buy, or give it to them in exchange for something they have to offer -- like changing the oil in my car or housesitting for a weekend.

4. Saving time. Probably one of the greatest gifts to offer one another these days is time. Form a "lunch bunch" and take turns bringing in lunch, or even supper to take home. Form a group to take turns picking up dry cleaning from a nearby service and delivering it to individual cubicles. Offer to bake the cupcakes for a co-worker's upcoming event in exchange for her giving you a ride to work for a week.

There are endless possibilities for workers banding together to fill needs and help one another during these difficult times. Just remember to make it an equitable exchange -- participants should agree to the terms before committing and no one should be compelled to participate.

What are some other ways that workers could help one another?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

7 Random (and Sorta Weird) Facts About Me

Right before the Thanksgiving holiday,Miriam Salpeter tagged me for this meme, but I was rushing out the door for time with family, so I'm just getting around to playing along. Here goes:

1. I know firsthand the pain of layoffs. When I was a college senior, my Dad was laid off from a job he'd had for more than 20 years. The refinery employing more than 900 people closed, devastating my small town. I managed to piece together some scholarship money to finish the last year of school. My Dad, 10 months from retirement, lost his entire pension. For the next several years, he ran a gas station to make ends meet.

2. I hate wooden spoons. And popsicle sticks. Just writing about them makes the hairs stand up on my arms.

3. I had a '72 Cutlass when I was in high school. I now kick myself for getting rid of it whenever I watch those muscle car auctions on television. Who knew that today some fool would pay $7 million for it?

4. I've never had writer's block. Go ahead, hate me.

5. I never get tired of interviewing people. Being paid to be snoopy? Heaven.

6. I once had a woman write me a letter about her miserable career, and say she wanted to kill herself. I immediately called the local authorities. I never did find out what happened, but I think of her often whenever I write workplace stories. I know that people often are truly in a lot of pain.

7. I love turtles. During the summer, when they seem to want to cross the road all the time, I'll pull my car over, get out, pick up a turtle and carry it to the other side of the road so it doesn't get run over. I can tell you I don't do the same for armadillos or possums. They're on their own.

Here are the people I'm tagging for this meme:

Marsha Keeffer

Robyn McMaster

Ian Tang

Virginia Backaitis

Dan McCarthy

Diane Danielson

Lindsay Olson

Here are the rules for my fellow bloggers:

• Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.

• Share seven facts about yourself in the post - some random, some weird.

• Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.

• Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Is Any Job Beneath You?

I think there's probably nothing more demoralizing than looking for work and being unable to find a job.

Because let's be honest: Despite all the pep talks you give yourself, it's miserable to send out resumes and not hear anything back, or land an interview and then never get an offer. You try to stay upbeat, but day after day of not finding work is tough. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying or living on vodka.

Still, there may be one thing that makes you feel worse than not getting a job -- getting an offer that is beneath you. Wait. Let me amend that: There's nothing worse than getting a job you believe is beneath you.

Why? Because the minute you believe a job is not good enough for you, the minute you sell yourself against the idea that a job won't make good use of your time and talents, then you've set yourself up to be miserable. More miserable, in fact, than not getting a job at all.

The people who feel this way need to spend about an hour with Paul Facella, and they'll soon change their minds about how demoralizing it is to accept a "lesser" job.

Facella is a top management guru who used to be an executive at McDonald's after rising through the ranks from his position at age 16 manning the grill. He's got a new book, Everything I Know About Business I Learned at McDonald's" and I spent some time talking to him about how tough it is to find a job these days. He says that in this economy, you gotta do what you gotta do.

That means you put your ego aside, and take whatever job you can get. Oh, yeah -- and check the attitude at the door.

"Look at it as an opportunity with a big ‘o’”, he says.

Facella notes that anytime you take a job that knocks you down the ranks, you should look at it as a chance correct sloppy habits and improve others. In fact, it's sort of like an on-the-job business school as you "can see how management operates and what works – and what doesn’t. It will help you get ready for your next job by observing both the good and the bad.”

At the same time, Facella notes that any job where you have direct contact with the public will hone your skills faster than any formal training and probably give you a great deal of satisfaction at the same time. "Nothing teaches you quicker than getting feedback and recognition from the public," he says. "And, people in lower level jobs are often very social and close-knit. They have a lot of fun together."

Facella also advocates taking a lesser job because chances are very good you'll quickly move up the ranks, and be better for taking that path.

"There's a certain power you have as a manager when you know the job. When you talk to employees, and they know that you understand what they do every day, then the trust and leadership factor for you as a manager goes way up," he says.

Facella also notes that those who work in the trenches together often form lasting bonds that can pay off big dividends in the future. He says many of those he worked with at McDonald's now are top executives at other companies.

"You learn a lot about collaboration and cooperation when you depend on one another. Teamwork becomes very important, and you learn to create opportunities for yourself," he says. "You make a decision to be the best at whatever you're doing."

Do you think there are advantages to accepting a job at a lower level or pay?

Monday, November 24, 2008

When Was the Last Time You Made a Career Deposit?

When I was a child, my mother often talked about living through the Depression. As the oldest child, she was sent to live with relatives when her family could no longer afford to feed all three children. Even though her time away from the family only lasted about a year, it greatly affected her life.

She hated antiques. She thought of them as old, and old stuff meant poverty. She wasn't a tightwad, but neither did she spend money she didn't have. She carefully monitored the family finances every month, and was meticulous in balancing the checkbook and making sure that something went into savings every month.

She never forgot the lessons of such a difficult period in her life, even though she was only about 6-years-old.

I've been thinking of her stories about what she learned from the Depression as I've watched -- along with everyone else -- the devastation many people are experiencing because of this economic mess. And what I see makes me realize that when we have gotten past this difficult time, we will not only have learned economic lessons that will govern the rest of lives, but career ones as well.

How many of us have kicked ourselves for not being better networkers so that when the layoffs came, we didn't have many places to turn for help? How many of us have regretted that we didn't promote our skills and abilities better so that when bonuses were scarce, we didn't garner one for ourselves? How many of us regretted not attending those seminars or training sessions or take advantage of tuition reimbursement from our employers that might have helped our chances of landing a better position during these tough times?

Of course, hindsite is 20/20. But I do think that when we pull out of these difficult times, we need to learn important financial lessons just like those who survived the Depression did. We need to learn those financial lessons -- and those career ones as well.

Specifically, it's time we all stopped living just for the next promotion or title and started putting something in our career "savings account." For example, career investments should include:

* Going back to the early days of your career and re-establishing contacts. You might be surprised that the guy who washed dishes at your first job now owns his own company, or that the girl who was an intern with you now is a top executive. Check out online sources to track people down and start investing in these contacts.

* Fix your burned bridges. Sometimes in the heat of the moment we say or do things that we regret. Now is the time to start making overtures to those who may think you'd run them over with your car given half a chance. Your reputation is the most important commodity you have -- you don't want anyone thinking less of you because you never know who they're influencing.

* Get a second opinion. Have someone you respect in your industry review your current resume. Even if you're not currently looking for a job, get some ideas on where they think "holes" exist, and what you can begin to do to patch them.

* Help someone. Every day, try and do something on the job that helps another person, whether it's pitching in with a project, making a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn or writing an article for an industry newletter. It's a way of saving a little bit all the time in your career "bank."

What are some other lessons we can learn during these difficult times?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

10 of the Toughest Interview Questions Ever

My last post generated a lot of comments regarding the tougher stance employers may be taking regarding truthfulness from job seekers based on President-Elect Obama's criteria, and it got me to thinking about just how far the new administration may be willing to go when it comes to vetting job candidates.

The Obama Administration is reportedly going to check into everything from an applicant's friends, family and associates to past e-mails, texts, online comments, etc., looking for anything that they believe might make a candidate unworthy to work in the "change" White House.

Recently I was able to get access to questions asked of a job seeker by an Obama hiring manager and thought they might give us insight into how tough the questions might be:

1. "I understand you had a dog named 'Cuddles' when you were 12-years-old. Did you remember to feed this Cuddles as you promised, or did a third party -- say, your mother -- have to step in when you forgot?"

2. "We have videotape of a high school basketball game and it appears to show you wearing hard shoes on the gym floor. Can you explain this clear violation of school policy?"

3. "On Twitter, we have found you made a request for Sarah Palin's moose chili. Care to comment?"

4. "Have you ever sent a text message with the words 'you suck' in it?"

5. "An off-duty Secret Service agent is willing to testify under oath that he saw you bringing in outside food to a showing of 'March of the Penguins.' Specifically, a box of Whoppers. Can you explain this clear violation of the movie theater rules?"

6. "Our records indicate you purchased 'Guitar Hero Aerosmith' through your company computer. Are you telling us that you expect a job in this administration when you have shopped online while at work?"

7. "On your best friend's Facebook page, we found a photo of you at a recent industry conference with a toilet seat around your neck, wearing a grass skirt and holding some kind of pink drink in your hand. Oh, yes, and a little blue umbrella appears to be stuck up your nose. Was this part of a specific training exercise?"

8. "Your blog claims that you have the record for taking the most photocopies of your face on the office copier, and you're going for your third straight win in the 'burping the alphabet' contest during this year's holiday party. Was there a reason you neglected to list these skills on your application?"

9. "As you know, we talk to family members. Your brother has admitted to us that you knowingly watched 'Catwoman,' even after the reviews came out. Can you explain why you would ever knowingly watch such a horrendously bad film?"

10. "Is it true that the last time someone touched something on your desk at work they required a tetanus shot?"

OK, I may have taken a few liberties with this fictional account, but do you know of any other tough questions that might be asked these days?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Get Rid of the Big Fat Lies -- and the Little Skinny Ones -- on Your Resume

"Welcome, Ms. Smith. Please have a seat."

"Thank you. I'm very excited to have this opportunity to interview with Blubber, Inc.."

"Great! Well, let's get down to it. It says here that you attended the University of Florida and graduated in 1995 with a degree in business. Is that correct?"

"Yes. I worked very hard and learned so much. I'd really like to put that knowledge to work for Blubber."

"That's very interesting, Ms. Smith. But could you please explain why the University of Florida says you graduated with a degree in fine arts, with an emphasis on basket weaving in Africa?"

"Oh, uh, that must be a mistake. I'm sure we can clear that up."

"OK, then let's move on. You also say that you had the project management job with XYZ Corp. for three years. But their records show you worked as an office assistant, and never headed up a $2 million project."

"Yes, I did. Well, not technically. I worked for the woman who did, but I was heavily involved. I wasn't specifically the project manager, but I was pretty darn close."

"Uh huh."

"Really close."

"Ms. Smith, I have to tell you we're concerned about some of these discrepancies. Didn't you read our ethics rules when you applied for this job? That we have specific rules about truthfulness and full disclosure?"

"Well, sure I did. But I thought they were more like guidelines, rather than actual rules."

"Goodbye, Ms. Smith. And good luck -- you're going to need it."

Right now, I want you to look at your resume. Look at it hard. I want you to find any errors, and I'm not talking about typos or grammatical mistakes. I'm talking about inflated information that doesn't just make you sound worthy -- it turns you into a liar.

Times are tough, and you're desperate to land a good job. Or maybe you started padding the resume so long ago you're not sure anymore what's true and what's not. But here's the deal: Obama is headed for the White House.

You may wonder what that has to do with you, but it's going to have a big impact. The vetters for jobs in the Obama Administration are checking everything from text messages and e-mails of job candidates to whether they've ever gotten a ticket for more than $50. Tough? Yes, but that's to be expected for the president-elect who is promising big change in the way business is done.

While a private employer may not be quite so tough, I think candidates are going to be checked out as never before. Already, employers are being advised on how to spot resume fraud, and with the glut of candidates on the market, employers have the luxury of not only taking time to vet candidates thoroughly, but making certain that they know exactly who they are hiring.

So, it's time to come clean. Here are some facts that are easily checked -- either by an employer or the background checking company they hire -- to make sure you are telling the truth:

1. Schools. Make sure your dates are correct, as well as the major field of study, GPA, etc.
2. Honors. Everything from graduating at the top of your class to an industry award can be verified with a couple of phone calls by an employer.
3. Job titles. While many former employers will only verify your dates of employment, it's easy enough to use online resources to find people who used to work with you and can talk about your past work performance, titles, duties, etc.
4.Credit history. If you are applying for a position where you will have anything to do with money, chances are good your credit history may be reviewed. Be prepared to explain why it's bad, if that's the case, and what you're doing to improve it.
5. Criminal history. Unless you're applying for a government job, it won't be required that you answer if you were charged with a crime. And, most employers are willing to even overlook some convictions if it was a youthful indiscretion or you got caught with one too many glasses of wine in your system. If you were convicted of a crimes that involve sex, drugs or theft, it's going to be tougher. On the application, simply note that you would like to discuss the issue. Remember: It's pretty simple to access court records concerning a conviction, so it's better to come clean in person and try and explain it rather than lying outright.
6. Online. First, try and clean up your reputation with these tips. Second, get your story together on how you'll explain anything that an employer digs up about you online. It's better to show you've learned your lesson rather than trying to lie about something unflattering that is revealed on the Internet.

What other issues should a job hunter consider to pass the vetting process?

Friday, November 14, 2008

10 Good Things About Working Longer Hours

With the economy in the crapper, most people I know wouldn't even think of uttering the words "work/life balance." As more people are laid off, it's up to the survivors to pick up the work load and do it without complaint -- if they want to keep their job.

But it's tough. Real tough. That's why I thought I'd end the week with a sort of optimistic view of what many of us are going through right now -- work/life imbalance.

So, without further ado, here are ....

10 Good Things About Working Longer Hours

1. Your mom feels so bad for you she's started doing your laundry.

2. Your neighbors are dropping off meals at your house, thinking you died. (The tuna casserole was excellent.)

3. The dog has quit shredding the drapes. It's no fun when you're not around to yell about it.

4. The overnight security guard at work has been letting you in on some really good deals. It's amazing the stuff that falls off the back of a truck!

5. You won $5 from the cleaning lady who said no way would a sleeping bag fit under the desk. Way!

6. No standing in line for coffee at Starbucks. You're first in line when the doors open.

7. Living in the same suit for five days straight has really cut down on your dry cleaning bill.

8. For Halloween, you didn't have to buy a costume. You went as one of the "undead" and won first prize in the scariest costume category.

9. Your stalker finally gave up and went away, saying your schedule was just too exhausting.

10. You don't have far to go for your weekly groceries -- the vending machine is just down the hall!

Are you working longer hours? How do you remain upbeat?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Five Ways to Network With the Boss

Want to know a key player many people forget to network with these days? The boss.

Yep, the head honcho. The big kahuna. The top dog.

You may wonder why you need to network with the boss when a) you see him every day; and b) you see him every day, dammit.

But networking involves much more than just trying to get new business or find a new job. It's about understanding what the other person needs, what will help make him or her successful and how you can develop a quality relationship with the person that is mutually beneficial.

In these stressful economic times, it makes more sense than ever that you establish a stronger connection with your boss. Not only could it help you save your job now, but most bosses have gotten into that position because of their connections -- and you are in a terrific position to tap into that network and help your career in the future.

So, let's look at some ways to network with the boss:

1. Listen. This may sound stupid, as you feel like all you do is listen to the boss. But I'm talking about listening to the subtle or offhand things he may say that can help you make a stronger connection. Maybe his kid is having trouble in math, so you recommend a terrific tutor your own child used. Or perhaps he has developed a love for arena football, so you clip a great article and leave it in his mailbox with a brief note. What you want to do is pay attention to the whole person -- not just the one who happens to sign your paychecks.

2. Volunteer. OK, I know you're working so much right now you're lucky to find time to brush your teeth every day. But if you put your efforts into activities that help the boss with his boss, then it's going to pay off. For example, you can volunteer to spearhead a community fund-raising project, or put together a panel for an industry conference where your boss will be a speaker. The boss gets involved in these activities because he knows it makes his boss happy and raises his profile -- and it can have the same benefit for you.

3. Mentor. Whether you have a lot of experience or maybe very little, you have a skill that can be used to help someone else.The point is to show the boss that you are not only a team player ready to help out another person, but you're taking an active hand in developing leadership qualities.

4. Promote. Some employees believe that it's the job of head brass to go out and promote a company, to get new business in the door and to project a positive image. Excuse me, but that's just baloney. Worldwide competition is so tough right now that employees who promote their company will garner notice from the boss. That means that you talk about the positive aspects of your company and what it can do for customers whether you're at your kid's soccer game or working out at the gym. Show the boss that you understand the business demands and are stepping forward to contribute to the company's success.

5. Respect. Bosses are just like anyone else -- they want to feel appreciated and acknowledged for what they do. So, if the boss does something really great for you (pays for you to attend a great seminar), helps you out (pitches in to help you make a customer happy) or tries his best to be fair and upbeat, then it doesn't hurt to say "thanks." Send an e-mail, or even drop him a personal note if it's something really special. Don't gossip about him with other workers, don't undermine his authority by making snide comments or criticizing his efforts and always understand that until you've walked in his shoes, you should not make judgments about what he does or does not do.

What other ways can an employee effectively network with the boss?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Is the New Color of Success.... Green?

When this nation was in it's formative stages, many people were struggling with low wages, few jobs and limited opportunities. "Go West, young man," advised many.

So, thousands of people headed West, seeking their fortune and new lives.

Now, I'm about to offer the same advice. Want better wages, a new and growing career and unlimited oportunities?

Go green, ladies and gentlemen, go green.

If a job in any way, shape or form has to do with energy and the environment, grab it. Whether you're in construction, engineering, manufacturing or even advertising and marketing, green is where it is at.

President-elect Barak Obama has called for the government to help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the 10 years “to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future. That means thousands of jobs will be created as out-of-work construction and manufacturing workers are put to work retrofitting energy inefficient infrastructures, and thousands more jobs will be needed to support them -- everything from environmental engineers to truckers.

According to a U.S. Conference of Mayors report, there are currently about 750,000 green jobs in the U.S., but that is estimated to grow to 42 million in the next 30 years.

Last week I interviewed Van Jones, author of the new book, "The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems."

Jones is sort of a rock star in the environmental world, and has gained a lot of support for putting people to work and saving the planet at the same time. What he says makes a lot of sense, but rather the $350 billion he believes should be injected to jump start the economy and begin saving the planet will become a reality is anyone's guess.

Still, Jones has received a lot of support from some key players, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Google's Larry Brilliant, Sen. Tom Daschle, Arianna Huffington and (drum roll, please) Al Gore.

Jones already has convinced local governments of the viability of green collar jobs, getting public funds in California for training low-income youth in industries such as renewable energy, organic food and green construction. His non-profit organization, Green For All, hopes to raise at least $1 billion in federal funding within four years for green-collar programs and put thousands of Americans to work, much as the New Deal did after the Depression of the 1930s.

“Earlier this year, we stimulated the economy in China -- not at home -- when everyone went out and bought flat-screen televisions with their economic stimulus checks," Jones said. "Then, we bailed out the banks, not the people, with the financial rescue plan. We swung twice and missed. Now it’s time the government invested in this economy and jobs and the infrastructure. It’s the green New Deal.”

If you're thinking your industry is headed for tougher times, if you believe that your career needs to be revamped or if you're just trying to come up with some new job plans, here are some things to consider:

1. Green is good. More consumers are becoming supportive of efforts to save the planet and use more energy efficient practices. Helping your employer move in this direction -- either by making "green" proposals, researching green initiatives or volunteering to take on more green projects at work can help you not only get experience in this area, but make you more valuable to your employer.

2. Join green teams. Look for professional organizations that are involved in developing green initiatives and find ways to partner with them and learn. Green work is coming in a big way, and those who are ahead of the learning curve will be the most valuable. Jones told me that he believes any college student should at least get a minor in environmental sciences. Try and cross-train in departments that are taking on green projects, or even attend green-focused seminars -- on your own time if needed.

3. Network. Get to know those in your community who will be decision-makers in retrofitting or rehabbing local structures to make them more energy efficient, and connect with environmental educators, engineers, sustainable farmers, etc., to understand how you can fit into this new movement.

Jones told me that the Sunbelt states and desert areas can be the Saudi Arabia of solar energy, while the wide-open Plains states can be the Saudi Arabia of wind power. Now is the time to make sure you're in on the next new frontier of the American economy.

What are some other ideas to position yourself for the changes coming to the American workplace?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Now That The Election is Over, What Will You Talk About at Work?

The leaves have fallen off the trees, the pumpkins are rotting on the front porch and we've got a new president-elect.

It is, indeed, a changing of the times for us, and that is evident even in the workplace. For so long, politics and what Sarah Palin spent on her clothes and which foot Joe Biden shoved in his mouth were topics of conversation around the cubicles of America.

But, that has all pretty much passed as the long-battled presidential election has ended. So, what in the world will we choose to talk about at work? I'm sure it will be all manner of important, riveting, critical stuff, like:

* Why doesn't Whoopi Goldberg have any eyebrows?

* Can that CNN hologram thing be used the next time we have a meeting? If so, I want to be beamed up first!

* If we start now, we can totally create a lifesize model of Santa Claus made of paper clips by the holidays.

* Whatever happened to our intern? And, by the way, have you noticed that bad smell coming from the supply closet where the door jams shut?

* What are the lyrics to "Louie, Louie" anyway?

* Did you hear that our CFO is headed to the Cayman Islands for a little vacation? His secretary says that he hasn't booked a return trip -- I wonder what's up with that.

* If you play "Thriller" backwards, it says "I wish I were Prince, I wish I were Prince."

* The boss says we need to cut expenses. I say we get rid of the phones. They're nothing but a distraction, what with those customers calling all the time.

* I hate the sound of the shredder, so I've just starting putting everything in the Dumpster out back. I mean, can you imagine what a loser you would be to dive in that thing to get some stupid Social Security number?

* Is that Dick Cheney filling out an application for the mail room job?

What else will be people be talking about at work now that the election is over?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How to Get the Boss To Listen to You

Do you sometimes think you've become the invisible employee? Do you think the only way your boss might pay attention to you is if you were holding a phone and saying: "I've got Oprah on the line for you!"

You're not alone. Many people have felt ignored by their managers, but they are really beginning to fret more about it these days because they fear that "out of mind" may mean "out of a job" if layoffs hit their workplace.

Unfortunately, some employees go about getting attention in the wrong way. They begin to slack, believing that if the boss doesn't pay any attention to them, what does it matter what they do? Or, they may believe the boss's inattention gives them license to sort of "creatively" handle their job, which can mean anything from illegal acts to taking advantage of other workers.

I once interviewed James E. Lukaszewski, one of those super management gurus, and he had some great advice for finding a way to get yourself heard by the boss. In what called the "three-minute drill" he said that you had to really hone your message, to practice and to do your homework so that when you spoke to the boss, she listened just like you really did have Oprah on the line.

He suggested that you write out your three-minute pitch (or about 450 words) to the boss. It should go something like this:

* In 60 words, describe the nature of the issue, problem or situation that requires decision, action or study by the boss. What you're saying is: "Hey, boss, this situation requires your attention and we've got to talk about it right now."

* Lay out for the boss what it all means. Is it a threat from a competitor? Is it an opportunity to grow the business? Let the boss know WHY is all matters. Again, keep it to about 60 words.

* Say what needs to be done in 60 words.

* Give three options: do nothing, do something or do something more. Giving multiple options is what helps you keep the boss's attention, instead of her just tossing you out when she doesn't like your recommendation. This should be about 150 words.

* Once you give the options, then you need to be prepared to give your recommendation on which one to choose. Being prepared to give an immediate answer keeps her focused on you and your solutions. Hint: Give the one that has the least negative consequences. Total: 60 words.

* Forecast what you think will happen, both the positive and the negative, if any. The boss needs to understand -- in 60 words -- the consequences.

What are other strategies you can use to become more "visible" to the boss?

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Seven Stupid Mistakes People Make on a Telephone Interview


"Mr. Jones? This is Mr. Smith from Acme, calling for our telephone interview?"

"Oh, yeah, sure. Can you hang on a sec?"


(A toilet flushes.)

"Whew! OK, much better. Wassup? Mr. there?"

"Uh, yes, I'm here. Now, Mr. Jones, I'd like to ask you about your work experience."

"Sure....prob....lots of..."

"Mr. Jones? Are you there? I seem to be losing you."

"Oh, damn. Sorry about that. My cell phone reception is lousy in this part of the city."

"OK, well, let's move on to what you believe your strengths to be for this job."

"I'll take a dozen chocolate with a large coffee to go."

"Excuse me? Mr. Jones?"

"What? Oh, I'm not talking to you." (Chuckling) "Just ordering some breakfast. Did you say something?"

"Mr. Jones, perhaps this isn't the best time for an interview. You seem to be busy."

"Mmhhmph?" (Slurping sounds) "No, no, now is fine. I really am interested in this job. Go head."

"Thank you Mr. Jones. I believe I will -- go."

Phone disconnects.

Welcome to the world of telephone interviewing. It's how many employees make their initial contact with an employer -- and how many of them lose that contact forever.

I've interviewed hundreds of people over the phone as a journalist, and I've been on the other end as I was interviewed over the phone for magazines, newspapers, radio and television. And one thing I know for sure: Giving a good telephone interview takes work.

Why? Because for most people, talking on the phone is as natural as breathing. They don't think much about it. But a telephone interview is so different in so many ways, I think it's a good idea to review proper telephone interview techniques:

1. Avoid cell phones. I don't care if it's the only phone you have, find a land line to do an interview. Low batteries, bad reception, weird feedback, etc. from a cell phone all disrupt the natural flow of a conversation, making the interview an endurance test for the hiring manager. Trust me, it's exhausting trying to interview someone and take notes with these problems, and I've never done a cellphone interview without such problems. At the same time, try not to use a headset (often has the same problems as a cellphone, including an echo chamber effect), and don't use the speaker phone.

2. Get rid of background noise. Lock yourself away in a quiet space to do a phone interview. That means no crying or noisy children should be in the background, or a barking dog, loud music, sounds of a toilet flushing, you scarfing down food, chewing gum, etc. You want the interviewer focused only on you, not the sound of you washing dishes or tapping computer keys as you Twitter while you interview -- or blaring your horn as you drive. Turn off your email so it doesn't distract you or give a "ping!" that the interviewer will hear. Also, don't forget to disable the "call waiting" feature on your phone. (Check with your local carrier for the code.)

3. Stand up. Your voice will emerge much more energized and confident. It's OK to sit down when listening to the interviewer, and will also make it easier for you to take notes.

4. Be prepared. As with a face-to-face interview, you need to research the employer and the industry so that you can contribute meaningful comments. But with a phone interview, you also can research where the hiring manager is located. Are they having snow in that area? Did a local college just win a major championship? Does the interviewer belong to an organization where you participate? These are all "pleasantries" you can mention since you won't really be able to win over the interviewer with positive body language or a firm handshake.

5. Listen to how stupid you sound. Before you do a phone interview, tape record a "practice" interview with a friend or family member. You'll be embarrassed, trust me. Your voice will either sound squeaky or weird, and you'll say "like" and "you know" too much. You'll cough into the phone instead of covering the mouthpiece, and your laugh will sound like you're snorting drugs. These are all things you can work on and find a way to present a more professional voice and demeanor over the phone. If you're saying "uh" too much, you need to practice your answers more so that you can say them smoothly (just don't read them from your notes). If you talk too fast, move your hand when you talk -- this helps even out your breathing and slows your speech.

6. Don't worry about filling in silences. The interviewer may be taking notes, so avoid blabbing nonstop. It's often difficult to know what's going on when you can't see the other person, but it's important you give your answer and then shut up. Motormouths have a bad habit of digging themselves a hole during phone interviews. And never interrupt the interviewer, no matter how excited you are.

7. Follow up. After a phone interview, you can send a thank-you e-mail, but also send a personal note via regular mail. Make sure before the interview ends that you have verified all the contact information, such as the correct spelling of the interviewer's name, the company address, phone number, e-mail, etc., and what the next step will be.

What are some other tips for phone interviewing?