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?