Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Workplace Mentors From Hell

I've never had a discussion about mentoring without someone offering a story about the mentor from hell. Stories of micromanagement, hostility, uninvolvment or just plain weirdness are some of the tales of woe from the mentees.

The most difficult situation is when the mentee can't find a way to put an end to the relationship. Finding a way to be diplomatic and not totally sabatoging a career while ditching a mentor at the first opportunity can be tough. Most mentees don't want to be disrespectful or unprofessional, but sometimes horrible mentors can push them to extreme measures.

I've written before about finding a mentor and making sure you both get something out of the deal, but is there a way to spot potential "bad" mentors before you enter into the relationship? Is there a way to check out the credentials of a potential mentor before you make the commitment? And, if you do find yourself disliking your mentor, should you just give it more time or get out as soon as possible?


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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Polishing Your Presentation Skills

The last time you gave a presentation did you claim that the reason the audience dozed off was because of a stuffy room, too much lunch, or perhaps some weird sleep disorder? If you did, perhaps it’s time to go to the true source of the audience snores -- you.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when putting together a presentation is that they sit down at their computer and begin writing a speech with long sentences and big words. Experts say that means you're writing for the "eye" and not the "ear." In other words, you need to use short, simple easy-to-understand sentences and words that the audience will grasp immediately.

Another common goof: reading from the paper directly in front of you, instead of working on giving eye contact and keeping what is called an "open face" -- lots of raised eyebrows and teeth showing.

Research shows that there are three things business audiences like about their favorite speakers: enthusiasm; interesting subject matter full of humor and stories; and knowledge of the subject.

With that in mind, here are some tips to get you on the road to a dynamite business presentation that will leave your audience dazzled -- not dozing.

1. Subject. When choosing the issue you want to address, look at what you want your audience to think, do, or say when you are done.

2. Tone. Don't talk about how nervous you are. The audience wants to know it is in good hands, so speak clearly and loud enough to be heard by the back row (make sure a microphone is working properly beforehand). Your presentation should offer solutions to any problems you present.

3. Audience. Who are they? What do you want them to know? This is key when setting up your presentation.

4. Keep moving. This applies to body language and subject matter. Hand gestures and facial expressions keep things interesting, and you should always practice a presentation many times so that it moves smoothly and prevents the audience from being bored.

5. Tell them a story. Storytelling has proven to be the most effective form of communication since man learned to speak. Use as many anecdotes and stories and examples as you can as long as they apply to the subject. Humor is always welcome, but make sure it is not offensive in any way to your audience.

6. Opening. You’ve got to grab them from the beginning. You want to get a reaction immediately, whether it’s positive or negative.

7. Closing. Too many people race toward the end, relieved it’s nearly over. Big mistake. This is when you need to leave them with a closing image of you, your topic or project, your department or organization.

Remember, presentations are important to careers, because it gives you a chance to showcase your knowledge and abilities and impress bosses and peers. Don't blow it by not being completely prepared.


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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cubicle Pranks and Other Work Misadventures

I'm still waiting on the Kennedy family to endorse this blog, but until then, let's see what I can round up for this Tidbit Tuesday:

* That will teach you to go on vacation: If you want to see the ultimate cubicle prank, check out this posting from the folks at TechRepublic. Personally, it's my idea of a great place to work -- I think everyone is going to want the same thing.

* Where's my sweater? If you've ever had a battle over it being too hot or too cold in your workplace, you're not alone. In a new survey, extreme temperatures are, by far, the single biggest office worker complaint, followed by messy restrooms, tacky décor, rodents/insects, leaky ceilings and obnoxious smells. More than a third find their offices "bland." The vast majority of survey respondents (69 percent) said the overall condition of their office buildings affects their individual productivity and motivation. The study was commissioned by Blumberg Office Properties.

* The bully at work: A new white paper from The Hugh Downs School of Communication at Arizona State University Nearly reports that one-fourth of American employees will experience office bullying at some point in their work history. "Unfortunately, a story of abuse that is not deemed credible is unlikely to motivate those in power to step in and stop the bullying. This not only damages the target of abuse, it also is costly for witnessing coworkers and the organization as a whole," a statement says. In response, eight tactics are offered to help bullying targets "best tell their stories so that other people listen, find them credible, and bring about change."

* Laziness pays off: The next time your boss tells you that you're a slacker, just point out that you're following advice from some of the smartest people in the country. Number crunchers from Harvard University and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) drew up a formula to calculate whether waiting for a bus or walking to the next stop was the best option for those facing a sporadic bus service. The conclusion: It's better to sit and wait because there's a greater chance the bus will zoom past you as you hike to the next stop.


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Monday, January 28, 2008

My 25-Cent Career Investment

Today, I put five nickels in my pocket.

Now, you may be thinking that five nickels (25 cents) won't do me much good. After all, there is hardly anything that can be purchased for that amount, not even a stamp. But I believe my five nickels are going to buy me a lot.

I believe that 25 cents, which I found rattling around at the bottom of my purse, will by the end of the day have a) made me feel good; b) be a great investment in my career; and c) perhaps help someone else do great things.

That's a pretty powerful 25 cents, right? Maybe you think this is some sort of magical group of nickels, but that's not the case. Let me tell you how it works.

Many years ago I remember talking to a manager of a large company who put 10 dimes in his left pocket every morning. Each time he complimented someone, he moved one of the dimes to his right pocket. His goal: to have all the dimes in his right pocket by the end of the day. The next day, he did the same thing, again putting the 10 dimes in his left pocket.

I began thinking about this manager's story after I interviwed Bob Burg, author of the new bestseller, "The Go-Giver." The book, written in the parable style that is popular today, tells the story of how one man learned that if he wanted to have true success and happiness, he had to look at life in terms of not what he could take from others, but from what he could give.

So, that's why I've decided to load my left pocket with five nickels. (I decided to start with only a quarter's worth of goodwill since I wanted to keep my efforts honest and not assault some stranger on the street with "love the hat!" and then switch a coin from one pocket to the other. I'm hoping to work up to the 10 dimes.)

I also came up with my own rules. Instead of it just being compliments, my criteria for moving a nickel from the left pocket to the right pocket includes that I:
1. Make a sincere effort to connect. When I speak with someone on the phone today, or exchange e-mails, I will try and find out a little bit more about this person -- how they do their job and the challenges they face.
2. Add value. When I make a connection, I will look for ways to help this person do his or her job. That means I may offer a name, phone number or e-mail address, refer someone to a helpful Web site or just offer a new idea.
3. Offer positive feedback. OK, I think everyone (especially on a Monday) deserves a pat on the back. According to my personal rules, this has to be as work-related as possible, because it's too easy to tell someone " look great today!" and then do a nickel switch. I will be looking for ways that each person's abilities and talents add to an experience.

That's it. Pretty simple, huh? I wanted to keep it that way so it could become an effortless part of my day, something I wouldn't stress out about every time I heard the change rattle in my pocket. I don't plan on "keeping score" of who or what caused me to make a nickel switch -- I'm just hoping that by the end of the day, my left pocket is empty and my right pocket contains five nickels.

I think it may be the most valuable 25 cents I've ever had.


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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Six Things You Don't Know About Me

I had not planned on posting again today, but when I got tagged by The Career Encourager, I couldn't resist.

Seems there's a fun little game going on among the bloggers, where you are "tagged," by a fellow blogger and asked to tag three more. Since this may be the most exercise I get all day, and I have a little bit of a competitive streak, I thought I'd join right in.

So I'm going to tag:
*Slacker Manager because I think these guys really try to get everyone to really think about what they're doing, instead of just going through the motions of trying to get ahead. The postings are well researched, interesting and informative.
* An involved and responsive community at Personal Branding blog makes this a really cool blog to read. This is a subject that everyone -- no matter what they do for living -- should be aware of if they want to have the career they desire.
*When the "W" list of top women business bloggers was begun (before it morphed into a cast of hundreds for all kinds of subjects), Little Red Suit's Tiffany Monhollan was nice enough to post me to the list. Now, Tiffany has morphed her great blog into something new:Personal PR, and it's still great. It takes a leap of faith and lots of hard work to start a new blog, and my hat is off to Tiffany for the effort.

Now, as to the rules of this game: You must:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4. Tag at least three people at the end of your post and link to their blogs.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

The six non-important things about me....

1. I have terrible aim. I once attended a police SWAT training camp, and I had some of the toughest, most badass police officers diving for cover. Armed with a big mutha of a gun that was something out of Dirty Harry, I literally could not hit a HILL 20 feet in front of me.
2. I am unbelievably clumsy. Like hit-in-the-head-with-a-ceiling-fan clumsy, fall-in-the-driveway-while-taking-out-the-trash clumsy. When I was young, my mother made me take dance lessons, hoping it would improve my dufus ways. Nope. I still tripped -- I just learned to do it in a pink tutu.
3. I live on Diet Dr. Pepper. I might as well attach an IV drip full of the stuff directly into my vein every morning and save myself the constant trips to the fridge to get another one.
4. I hate to buy anything full price. I get mad if I have to pay retail.
5. I won't watch scary movies. No matter how dumb they may be, they still scare me and give me nightmares for weeks.
6. I love naps. It should be a federal law that everyone takes a nap every day. The world would be a better place.

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Job Happiness Means Seizing Opportunities

If you were good with numbers when you were in high school, a career guidance counselor or teacher probably steered you toward becoming an accounting major in college. Or, if you showed a flair for working with children, perhaps a counselor recommended a career in teaching.

But you may be discovering as you advance in your career that you have been steered down the wrong path. Sometimes others are so intent on finding what we're "good" at when we're young, that we're pushed towards careers that earn us a paycheck -- but don't really make us happy.

Instead, a lifetime of job happiness may be better gained through staying curious, seizing opportunities -- and some old fashioned luck.

Luck? Well, you'd be surprised at the number of people I've spoken who say that their success is really just a fluke. They say that they sort of lucked into their situation because they were just going with the flow, and were able to take action on unexpected events and create an opportunity.

Here are some skills that many successful people identify as helping them be successful:

1. Curiosity. Children are very curious. They are always asking how and why. But once you reach junior high and high school, the questions start being about "what are you going to do? What are you going to study in college?" If more people stayed focus on the childlike “why” and “how,” they might find greater career success. Perhaps the question young people should be asked is: "What would you like to try next?"

2. Optimism. People that create opportunities for themselves and expect good things to happen usually fair much better.

3. Persistence. There's no need to bang your head against a wall, but give something enough of a shot to see if it will work.

4. Flexibility. Be willing to change.

5. Take risks. Don't try and be overcontolling, focusing like a laser beam on a specific target. This can limit your options. Explore your opportunities, make mistakes, and open yourself up to different opportunities.


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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Overcoming Fear of Success

One of the great things about being a journalist is that you get to ask a lot of questions and people (generally) don't get annoyed with you.

Since I've been covering the workplace for more than 15 years, I've spent a lot of time asking some very smart and wise people about a wide variety of issues, ranging from how to get a promotion to how to handle a bully boss to how to get along with co-workers. I've quizzed them about career success, how to get a dream job or what it takes to turn a passion into a paying job.

As a result, I now get a lot of people asking me questions about career success and how to achieve it. I try and pass on the advice and information I have learned from those smart and wise people.

But one thing is starting to become very evident to me. Some of the people who ask for my advice, I know, are going to nod their heads and then never do a darn thing I suggest. At times that has made me feel, well...dumb and not-so-wise. Here I have all this good information to pass along, I think, but they must consider it to be the worst advice ever.

Still, plenty of people have followed the suggestions I've made, and they tell me it has really helped their careers. So what's going on with the people who don't even attempt to change their work behavior?

After some thought, I'm now starting to suspect that the problem goes much deeper than just ignoring any advice I have to offer.

I think that for some people, achieving real career success is a frightening thought. Why? Because if they attain that goal, then they will have to address other issues in their lives -- the bad personal relationships, unhealthy lifestyles or other damaging choices like drugs or alcohol. In other words, as long as they can blame their jobs as the reason they are unhappy or unfulfilled, then they can ignore what really may be going wrong in their lives.

I'm not trained to help people with these issues. The only thing I can offer is what I know to be true in my own life: Jobs will come and go, but you've just got one life to live. Being happy with who you are and the people in your life isn't something you can put off. Once you become satisfied with who you are as a person, then career success will follow - and you won't be afraid one bit.



Boomers, Buzzwords and Elephants...Oh, My!

Well, as many of you may have noticed, I wasn't nominated for an Oscar this year, but I'm not going to be upset about it. After all, I really didn't have a thing to wear, and now I have more time to devote to this week's Tidbit Tuesday. So, without further ado, here are my nominations for interesting news items:

* Thinking about Dumbo: A survey found the the "Most Outrageous, Offensive and Illegal Interview Questions” ever asked during a job interview include: "Would you be available from time to time to watch my children?”; "Is that your natural hair color?”; and one I personally think about all the time -- "What would you do if I gave you an elephant?”
Of course, to be fair, job candidates have their own set of weird behaviors, including these answers: "Please excuse some of my replies as I am still a little hung-over from the weekend.” (It was a Wednesday.); "I had a dream and a fairy told me I should work for your company”; and "I’ve already accepted another position, but I thought I may as well turn up to this interview just in case this was a better paying job.”
The survey was compiled by Development Dimensions International (DDI) and

* Calling all Boomers: Nearly 14,000 mission-critical jobs need to be filled at the U.S. Department of Treasury in the next two years, including 7,950 IRS agents and tax examiners. Procurement, IT and accounting positions are also on the "most wanted" job list, and that's just one example of why private and government groups are banding together to try and recruit baby boomers for these jobs.
The war for talent is hitting the federal government hard, as more than one-third of the full-time permanent federal workforce gets ready to retire or leave in the next five years, according to the Partnership for Public Service.
The FedExperience Transitions to Government - an initiative to help match government's critical hiring needs with the talents of baby boomers looking for encore careers where they can find interesting and challenging work - is touted as a win-win for everyone. Specifically, baby boomers get to "transition" to retirement, and the federal government doesn't shut down because there are not enough experienced people to run it.

* Does delayering make you look thinner? If you've ever wondered what your boss means when he or she says there will be "unsiloing," you're not alone. My friends at The Des Moines Register have put together a funny - yet sadly true - look at the buzzwords bosses like to use and what they may really mean. One example: "Departmental synergy: There's a chance you'll be emptying trash cans one day a week by March."


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Monday, January 21, 2008

Contributing to Dr. King's Dream

As we celebrate and remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I want to share with you some insight I received from an author and diversity expert I once interviewed.

R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr. explained to me me that many people believe that a workplace has become diverse when people of color or women are present at different organizational levels. This, he said, was not really diversity, but "representation."

He explained that true diversity in the workplace meant there was a real melding and understanding and appreciation of individual differences. Those differences, he pointed out, were viewed as a way to strengthen the organization and expand the horizons of the company and the individual, not just as a way to satisfy the requirements of a diversity program.

In that conversation, we also talked about the diversity barriers that still exist in the workplace, and he noted how critical it was that each person recognize that his or her commitment to diversity was just as important -- if not more important -- than any formal effort set up by an employer.

Until that happened, he said, diversity would continue to be "someone else’s problem.”

He said each person should ask:

· Do I see discussions about alternate ways of doing things as a waste of time?
· Do I respond negatively when someone says, “I think I have a better idea?”
· Do I wince when others dress or groom themselves differently than I find attractive?
· Does change make me uncomfortable?

Answering "yes" to any of these questions, he said, indicated that you may be cutting off opportunities for personal growth by excluding diversity before you have an opportunity to evaluate it objectively.

On today, of all days, maybe it's time we each took a hard look at how we behave in the workplace and make sure we are keeping King's dream alive.


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Friday, January 18, 2008

Protecting Your Job in Tough Times

I've spent the last week talking to a lot of people about the economy, and their predictions about where the job market is headed in the next few months. The general agreement seems to be this: we're not officially in a recession, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be looking for ways to protect your job.

While I'll get to some of the suggestions in a minute, one of the things that bothers me the most about these conversations is the emphasis on the fact that the worst time to be looking for a job is when you're out of a job. In other words, desperation makes employers and recruiters avoid you like the plague.

How is that fair? If you've been downsized or laid off, how is it OK to compound the pain by saying you're somehow too needy to be considered for a job? How does wanting to pay your mortgage or feed yourself somehow make you less desirable? Wouldn't your eagerness to have a job mean that you would be a more enthusiastic and committed worker for anyone who hired you?

I guess that's just one of the mysteries of the universe I may never quite grasp, sort of like why we call the male presidential candidates by their last names or formal titles (Senator McCain) while referring to Senator Clinton as "Hillary," as if she's the girl who takes coffee orders for the office.

Now, onto some ideas for recession-proofing your job:

* Keep your butt in the chair. Now is not the time to ask for more flex time or take a three-week vacation. Hunker down and put in lots of face time with the boss to show that you're committed 110 percent to your job. If you do telecommute, try to put in more appearances at the office. Stay strongly connected to co-workers so you know the latest news.

* Reach out. Find out what's going on in other departments so you have a good picture of whether there may be trouble ahead for your company. If you think your employer's in trouble, start getting those resumes out there. There are warning signs, which I wrote about here.

* Network like crazy. Attend industry and professional events, start sending "hello, how are you?" e-mails to your contacts and look for ways to provide value to as many people as possible. Don't be just a "taker", but instead look for ways to make the connection worthwhile.

* Be on the cutting edge. No matter your industry, be aware of the latest developments and how you can position yourself to be of the most value. The people I talked with this week said there may be some shakeout in various industries (finance, retail), but those who know the latest technology, trends, markets, etc., and are ready to move -- and lead -- into those arenas will be of the most value.


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Thursday, January 17, 2008

What Does Retirement Look Like to You?

Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about how to reach our career goals. From the time we enter the workforce, we are told by those more experienced to always keep our goals in minds, and work on the strategies we need to meet them.

But as the more experienced, job savvy workers begin to retire, it appears they may not be following the advice they've been so keen on giving younger workers. Specifically, many of those facing retirement don't have the foggiest idea what they're going to do when they're not working. They have not set any goals for retirement, or made any strategic moves.

Of course, some will say their goals include remodeling the basement, taking a trip to Italy or spending more time with the grandkids. OK, there's the first six months or year of retirement. Then what?

In reality, many have done little planning for retirement other than making sure they've got the finances to support themselves. Of course, that's important. But many older workers have failed to consider the most critical details of their retirement years, such as what they need to do to be happy.

That's why this weekend is as good as time as any to sit down with a loved one, perhaps a nice bottle of wine (helps the creative processes), and begin to write things down, such as:

1. Listing the 100 things you want to do before you die.

2. Thinking about that if you could put one dream into action after you retire, what would it be? Start a new business? Travel?

3. Writing a brief biography of your life now. Then, write one that reflects your life as you wish it could be.

4. Setting a specific date for retirement. That means the day, the month, the year. Do you realisticially want to retire then, or would you prefer to work part-time or on a contract basis? Do you have the resources and strategies in place to begin your "dream" retirement that day?

Let me add one final note: It's never too early to begin planning your retirement. Even those in their 20s should have a plan of action to make sure they not only have the kind of life they want when they're young -- but also when they are not so young.


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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Young Workers "Amped Up" and Ready to Go

Shawn Graham is an associate director with the MBA Career Management Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hills' Kenan-Flagler Business School. He is also author of "Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job". I recently asked him some questions regarding young workers:

You are on the front lines of helping college graduates and young professionals find a job. What strengths do you think they bring to the workplace today?
Young professionals bring a fresh perspective to the workplace that can lead to exciting new initiatives and creative solutions to existing challenges. And because they’re amped up and ready to go, they bring a great deal of energy to the table that can reinvigorate other members of the team. But that same “can do” attitude can also lead to one of the biggest challenges faced by new professionals…how to bring new ideas and energy without appearing as a “know it all” to the people already at the company who bring years of experience to the table?

On the other hand, what areas should an employer expect to provide some support or training -- areas that are "weaker" for these young employees?
Young professionals can definitely benefit from additional training on how a particular business operates. All the education in the world is great, but for them to be ultimately successful they need a structured training program to teach them the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) nuances of the business. If they have limited experience in a particular functional area or they need work on their presentation skills, an employer will often provide skill building opportunities and resources to help them get up to speed quickly.

Even though they may lack experience, how can younger workers make themselves a valuable part of a company?
They should look for, and take advantage of, any and all opportunities that present themselves. Early in their career, it’s important that they be willing to roll their sleeves up to pitch in on projects and do whatever needs to be done. This can be a tough pill to swallow for some, as they might think graduating from college means a fast track to being the CEO of the company within their first 12 months on the job. Volunteering for projects also gives them exposure to people across the organization which can help build their professional network.

There's been discussion about "generational" disagreements in the workplace between young employees and those with more experience. Do you think this is an exaggeration? Why or why not?
Great question. I think there’s some validity to the discussion. However, I think disagreements typically have less to do with generational differences, and more to do with communication and management styles. As someone who would be categorized as a “Gen X’r,” I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever gotten into a disagreement with someone in the workplace because of generational differences. Instead, it seems like a lot of disagreements are based on the way employees approach a particular topic or issue. Instead of focusing on the differences between the two groups, as in any case when you’re trying to establish a dialogue, it’s important to find a common ground.

Can you provide a few tips on how older workers can better work with, and understand, the younger worker?
The first thing they can do is remember how they felt when they were coming into a new job as a freshly minted young professional. There’s a pretty good chance they didn’t always get along or see eye to eye with those within the organization who had years of experience. They can also look for ways to leverage the strengths the younger workers bring to the table. That will not only the more experienced workers better appreciate their contributions, but it will also give the younger employees a chance to feel like they’re making a difference. Adaptability is also a must. If someone has a new idea or a different way of doing things, have the flexibility to give it a try.


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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Messing With Your Tired Head

Here's some breaking news: This Tidbit Tuesday post has absolutely nothing to do with Britney Spears. There's no footage of her visiting Starbucks, Taco Bell or a gas station. But there is a little Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock today, but I swear it has to do with the workplace.

* Romancing Romo: There's been some discussion about whether celebrity/pop star/hair extension mogul Jessica Simpson had anything to do with the loss of the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday's game against the New York Giants. The contention was that Simpson somehow adversely affected boyfriend/Dallas quarterback Tony Romo's work performance in the past. Supposedly a "fake" Jessica Simpson was planted at the game, all in an effort to jinx the Cowboys.

Career expert Nicole Williams notes: "Jessica Simpson officially has the weight of the Cowboys' lost chance at the Super Bowl on her shoulders, but is she really to blame? The truth is, a new romance can go either way on the career-performance scale. On the one hand, there's nothing like the shot of adrenaline that comes with the first flush of wanting to impress your new
love (along with those other 70,000 fans in the stands). And on the other, those late nights of crush-talk and one too many drinks inevitably mess with your tired head. In this case, with all eyes watching, heading to a fiesta-filled long weekend with Romo wasn't the smartest idea in the world -- unless of course, you're looking to give a your own career a boost after your latest
flicks went straight to DVD."

* Early life forms: If you've ever wondered why the guy in the cubicle next to yours is so shy you've never spoken more than five words to him on any given day, or why your boss is such a perfectionist, you may find the answer in their preschool days. According to new research, personalities are pretty well established by preschool years.

"The wallflowers will stay shy and reticent, though they will learn in time to be a little more sociable and assertive. And the average kids, the more resilient ones, will remain so.

But there is an interesting exception: The study found that as the most noisy and rambunctious kids hit their 20s, they still were more aggressive than the others yet they had become considerably more withdrawn than they were earlier in life. The researchers suspect that negative feedback from peers over the years makes these kids more self-conscious and quiet."

* Still more celebrity news: More experts are urging employees to make themselves into a brand (I've spoken about it on a personal brand summit), and even the celebrities are paying attention. Jennifer Aniston is dubbed one of the savviest celebrity business people, along with Sandra Bullock.


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Monday, January 14, 2008

Discussing Politics at Work

After this last weekend, I knew I couldn't put off writing about this any longer.

I need to write about politics. Well, more specifically, about what's being said in politics these days and what will be said in the months to come.

As the presidential races heat up, the talk is getting a bit harsher from all involved. Race and gender biases by various candidates are being subtly -- and not so subtly -- bandied about. Religion, income, personal relationships and quite possibly the cereal eaten every morning are being scrutinized and analyzed by pundits, other politicians and the media.

And part of this debate is taking place around the workplace water cooler, in the lunch room, at the conference table and probably in the restroom. It's inevitable that the workplace will become part of the national conversation.

Still, politics in the workplace is a tricky thing. For one, some people would rather have a sharp stick stuck in their eye than discuss politics. For another, some bosses get very nervous when employees starting debating race and gender and whether a government conspiracy is keeping Big Foot in hiding at Camp David. They have enough on their plates without refereeing discussions on immigration, the environment and Social Security.

At the same time, it's inevitable that despite what bosses want, politics are likely to be discussed at some point in a cubicle near you this year. So, what's the best way to handle it so that you maintain harmonious relations with your boss and your co-workers? The key is remembering that we're a nation of diverse opinions, and the moment you quit showing respect for someone at work having a view different than yours, then you have crossed the line -- and that could cost you and your career.

Some things to think about:

1. You can keep your mouth shut. No one says you must express an opinion about a candidate -- you are at work after all. Just sort of smile and say, "I'd rather not get into it," and find something else to do (like your job). Stay cool and don't let someone drag you into political discussions by making outlandish statements that will get your hackles up. Responding emotionally in such a situation can backfire and lead to you offering explanations in the boss's office.

2. Discreet is your middle name. Wearing an Obama T-shirt to work, plastering your cubicle with Clinton bumper stickers or having a Huckabee screen saver is not a good idea. That sort of blatant political stand is best saved for your personal time. Feel free to wear your underwear with the donkeys on them -- it will be your little secret.

3. Keep it off company time. Don't make phone calls, use the Internet, the copier, the shredder, the pencil sharpener or the stapler for anything that smacks of political work. Ask members of your political group or organization to contact you at home or through private e-mail.

I believe we will have some exciting dicussions about candidates in the months to come, and I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from participating in these talks. Just remember that if you want to make sure your career or workplace relationships aren't derailed by politics, keep your political message at work confined to "Let's all remember to vote."


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Friday, January 11, 2008

Juggling Multiple Tasks, Bosses

It’s no secret that many of us are doing twice -- if not three or four times -- the amount of work we were doing a few years ago. Downsizings and layoffs and the reliance on teams have caused organizations to ask each individual to perform a multitude of tasks, many of them simultaneously.

And, of course, with all that works comes a lot of stress. Trying to find enough hours in the day to complete demanding projects while trying to please bosses and customers is a daunting task.

But many time management experts say there are ways we can do the work that needs to be done, while maintaining our sanity and pleasing the top brass.

The key, they say, is being able to negotiate and debate with others so that it is clear to everyone what the priorities must be and what you have going on. Also, it's critical that you become an entrepreneur -- that you “own” your job and determine what work yields the most value.

For example, you should should have a calendar or planner to list the top three tasks for a day with the highests risks and payoffs, weighed against your goals. These tasks should be scheduled during your best times of the day (some people just don’t do mornings well), or when you know you can get the privacy or the technical access you need.

Remember: Be diligent to make sure you don't schedule anything else until these top three priorities have been allotted time.

Then, try to leave the rest of your schedule loose enough to handle unexpected jobs or other tasks that need attention. Don't let any unimportant tasks come between you and the top three achievements.

Of course, if you work for more than one boss you may be forced to bump one of your top tasks, since each manager can have a passion for what he or she does, leading to your plate really being overloaded.

If that happens, then mark it down. Several bumpy weeks may convince you that your job has changed to the point that you may see you need help, or realize that it’s only a temporary crisis. And there’s always the chance you’ll discover things aren’t going to change -- and you may want to explore finding a new job.

One of the best suggestions I've heard for gaining control over multiple tasks and multiple bosses is posting a board that everyone can see -- either near your worksite or online -- that shows “requested” jobs on the left side of the board, and “committed” jobs on the right side. By keeping a clear picture, you can see what deadlines need to be negotiated, and what tasks need to be delegated.

With everyone able to see this list and what you have to do, your boss can see that he or she needs to be flexible. You can then clearly lay out what task is committed to be done, and how many hours it is going to take. A senior executive’s sole job is to direct people and make decisions. So by showing the board, you look at the list of projects and let them make the decisions about what task are your priority.

At the same time, other people can look at your workload and not even bother you if they see you don’t have any free time. (At the same time, the board gives you something to gaze at raptly as an angry or frustrated boss tries to figure out how to juggle the workload.)

Remember, your hesitancy to negotiate the work load is what enslaves you. When you present a clear picture of what you have going on, then you can receive some help from your boss. Once you give up the debate, then you've conceded defeat.


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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Someone in Your Corner

There has been plenty of advice these days about how each of us is responsible for our own careers and our own success, but there is one aspect that has been overlooked when counseling such a strategy: It’s lonely. And scary.

It is not a weakness to admit you’d like to have someone in your corner as you plot your next move. You may feel isolated because everyone else is so intent plotting their own job strategies, or you may just be totally in the dark about what exactly a “next step” means.

Whatever the reason, forming a career path that makes sense for you can be a daunting task.

That’s why mentors can prove to be a gift from the gods for those who need someone not only providing advice based on experience, but a supportive pat on the back when it’s needed.

The advantage of having a mentor is that is gives you a person who will provide honest feedback in a secure environment. It helps you to work on the areas that you need to grow and develop.

While many companies help workers set up mentoring relationships, there are times when an employee may want to seek out help confidentially. In that case, begin by deciding your needs, your goals and your skill gaps. Then decide who would best help you meet those goals and needs.

Keep in mind that some mentoring relationships may last less than a year, and may end when a specific goal is accomplished. This short-term mentoring also may appeal more to the mentor, since it does not require a long-term -- and possibly endless -- drain on his or her time.

Once you’ve thought it carefully through, then you can ask this person to meet you for coffee or lunch, and test the waters. You want to be sure that anything that is said will be kept confidential if a mentoring relationship is established. Trust and confidentiality are critical because you’re going to really make yourself vulnerable by laying it all out there.

Another issue to consider is whether you need skill advice, or career advice. A professional organization or local university may be able to provide you a mentor that can improve a specific set of skills, but choosing a career mentor may require more time and thought since you will be plotting your next 10 or 20 years of worklife based on this advice.

Some other things to think about:

* Find a mutual benefit. When you find someone you think would be a good mentor, look for ways to offer something in return. If you're a technology whiz and the mentor is not, offer to help with this aspect.

* Be respectful. Show up for scheduled meetings, don't hog all the mentors time, listen carefully and take notes and make sure you always express your appreciation and above all, be willing to take the mentor's advice. If you're going to argue or ignore everything the person says, then you might as well forget it and let the mentor have his or her valuable time back.

* Pay it forward. Mentors have a sense of service to to others, or they wouldn't be helping you out. It's important to them to know they've had an impact and that their service will be passed on. Let them know that one day you hope to help someone else, if you haven't done so already.



Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Working With Headhunters

I remember the first time I heard the word "headhunter" in connection with employment. I had visions of some wild-eyed, wild-haired person running around with a spear in one hand and a cooking pot in the other, looking for unsuspecting job candidates to have for lunch.

Of course, after decades of writing about the workplace I use the term "headhunter" without worrying about shrunken heads and boiling water, but there still needs to be some education about what headhunters do, and how they can help those looking for work.

Headhunters -- also known as job recruiters -- spend their days looking for people to fill empty job positions. They stake their reputations (and their income) on finding the perfect employee for an employer. If they don't deliver, then they don't collect any money, and down the road, they may be looking for new employment themselves.

But the really good headhunters are able to match the the great employee with the right job, and everyone is happy. The employer has a good fit, the job candidate has a new job and the headhunter makes money.

But there are times when the headhunting process can go wrong. Sometimes it's the job seeker's fault, believing the headhunter works for them (nope...the headhunter works for the employer, much like realtors work for the home seller), or it can be the headhunter's fault, because he or she isn't familiar with the specific industry and doesn't communicate well with the job candidate.

I've interviewed several headhunters over the years, and here are some tips they've provided:
* Be honest. Don't try and exaggerate your accomplishments or fudge on your background. Headhunters are pretty savvy -- they'll ferret out your lies and move on to someone else.
* Trust your gut. If the headhunter seems a little vague on your industry or doesn't have a proven track record, then you may want to move on yourself. Don't tie your reputation or future to a job recruiter that doesn't seem like the real deal.
* Communicate. E-mail the recruiter at least once a week for an update. A recruiter is more likely to keep you in mind for different positions if you are a little bit of a (nice) squeaky wheel.

While there are concerns about the job market getting tougher, most headhunters agree that employers are still looking for key workers. As long as you can make yourself appealing by understanding what your industry is looking for and how your skills and abilities can help an employer's bottom line, then you will probably be appealing to a headhunter (unless they have salt in one hand and a fork in the other...then you should run.)


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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Babies a Morale Booster on the Job

I spent part of my afternoon yesterday sitting in my basement as the tornado sirens sounded, so I had plenty of time to contemplate what I wanted to put in this Tidbit Tuesday as I asked myself why I have four broken kitchen chairs, a screen door from a house we had 15 years ago and a lawnmower that hasn't run since Jimmy Carter was president.

Baby on board: In the never-ending debate about balancing work and family demands, Time magazine has a story on some offices that allow parents to bring their babies to work, especially as more women move into upper-tier positons. One opponent of such pratices says it's "totally inappropriate," while another notes "I don't think a baby is more distracting that talk about Dancing With the Stars or your weekend." Still , one study suggests that having babies around doesn't affect productivity and can boost morale among colleagues.

Unmasking bloggers: Should bloggers be required to give their real names when they post anything to the Internet? That's the debate raging, as some contend that whistleblowers would never expose any wrongdoings if they had to use their real names, and no employees would feel free to blog for fear of losing their jobs. Many newspapers require that any letters to the editor be verified for real names and addresses, but some contend that some letter writers have legitimate fears about being exposed. Still, the amount of snarky and hateful comments by anonymous posters have led many to believe that if you're going to post such comments, you should have to put your real name behind them.

You crack me up: According to a Ritz Cracker Fun-analysis (who knew?) survey of 1,000 people nationwide, fun is vital to all aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to the workplace. Their findings:

• 84 percent of employed people say they have a lot of fun at work
• 77 percent of employed people say the ability to have fun is an important part of choosing a job
• 42 percent say having fun at work is more important than making good money.
A whopping 69 percent of full and part-time employees agree that their boss is fun.

Now, pass the crab dip and get back to work.


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Monday, January 7, 2008

Everyone's a Winner!

I recently was sent an article by Mother Jones magazine, which touted the headline: "WE'RE ALL #1!"

The article included a list of the ways we have become a nation of navel-gazers, continually telling ourselves and our children that we're all terrific. Really terrific. For example:

* An analysis of 16,000 students' results on the Narcissistic Personality Profile concluded that undergads are 30 percent more self-absorbed that they were in 1982.

* Last march, a West Virginia high school sophomore sued the teacher who failed her for a late paper. She sought damages for "loss of enjoyment of life."

* You can send yourself a "standing ovation" from the Playfair website, a team-building consultant. It advises, "Don't worry about whether you've earned it."

Recently I spent some time with friends talking about the jobs held by our parents and grandparents: house painter, railroad worker, steel mill employee, delivery truck driver, cook, teacher, factory worker. At the same time, we discussed how most of our grandparents and some of our parents often worked two or three jobs, rarely taking vacations and often being home only long enough to grab some sleep or a quick meal. So, yes, there had to be workplace stress and there had to be bosses they hated and co-workers they couldn't stand.

But did our grandparents demand happiness from their jobs? Did they believe they warranted parties for a good job or feel snubbed if the boss didn't send a thank-you note?

It makes me wonder. I know my parents and grandparents worked long, hard hours, sometimes in difficult situations. But they also survived wars and the Depression and children dying young. When did work become more than work? When did we begin to expect -- demand -- that our jobs make us happy? And, is it really a good thing that we've handed so much control over our own sense of happiness to a job?


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Friday, January 4, 2008

Making Your Vision a Reality

I was able to spend some time over the holidays visiting blogs that were new to me, as well as checking in with those I read on a regular basis. I found some really good stuff out there, some so-so stuff -- and some stuff that just downright scared me.

Here's some postings I found worthwhile and thought I would share with you:

There have been some really interesting responses to the Chief Happiness Officer's question: "What do you do for a living?" Some of the responses are fun and inspiring, while some reflect a real lack of enthusiasm for the job.

Rock Your Career points out that while it may be a bit morbid, writing your own obit can tell you a lot about who you are. "So, for 2008, what contribution to want to make to the world? What’s your vision? Your brand? What steps can you take this year to make your vision for the world happen?"

Alexandra Levit at Water Cooler Wisdom offers this gem: "In nearly every speech that I give to college-age audiences, I emphasize that your career is a journey, not a destination. There is simply no way to know where you want to be ten or twenty years down the line when you are eighteen or even twenty-two years old. The best thing you can do for yourself is get as well-rounded an education as possible, learning about as many subjects as you can and keeping your options open. If you have the chance to experience a new field, even for a day, grab it, and if something catches your eye, investigate it."

At the M.A.P. (Meaning, Abundance & Passion)Maker, this question was posted: "I'm fortunate that..." It's a sort of way to shift your perspective about life's (big) and little irritations. Instead of being ticked off that the Internet is down, you look at it from the viewpoint about how lucky you are to have the Internet in the first place. Maybe the same strategy can work for a job...

Do you know someone who fights everything at work and can't seem to adapt? Read this entry at Recruiting Animal regarding a friend and businessman: "But he, himself, claims that he is not well-liked by the corporate office and will not be included in any expanded opportunities for selected franchisees.

When I wonder out loud if he might be better off playing the company game, he declares that he is not that kind of guy. Okay. But, ironically, he's not really that tough. In fact, he's also a terrible whiner and complains bitterly about his mistreatment by the firm.

This suggests that his boldness is simply one aspect of someone who has a very low tolerance for stress. 'Life is tough' is one of his favourite phrases. It's true that life can be tough and his solution is to complain rather than adapt."

That's it for now. Happy Friday.


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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Keep Job Desperation Under Control

When interviewing for a job, most people get a little nervous. And if you’ve recently been laid off or fired from your last position, that fear may escalate since recruiters and companies tend to avoid anyone who seems even the least bit desperate.

But there is a way to help set aside those prejudices and put a positive spin on the fact that even though you're currently without work, you're still a viable candidate for a position.

If you have been fired: Present the logic of how your "de-hiring" (being fired) happened in four or five sentences. You should at all costs avoid saying that you were "fired" since interviewers tend to not hear anything else once that word has been said. Instead, say that you left by "mutual agreement", and never sound defensive or cast blame.

If you've been laid off: Be honest. There will be a certain degree of understanding from the interviewer since it has become more common across all industries. Again, avoid sounding bitter or resentful toward the company or management. You can tell an interviewer that you received a terrific severance or buyout package that you decided to accept -- if that is what happened.

The key to putting a positive spin on either being fired or laid off is to tell an interviewer that you used the time to pursue additional education, or that you used it as family time to reassess your life and carefully plan your future. By expressing these actions as real acts of courage -- that it's often difficult to look ahead but you did it -- then you give the interviewer an impression of strength.

Further, make sure you tell the interviewer how taking these actions brought improvements, such as furthering your education or having meaningful time with your family that helped crystalize your future plans.

Finally, make sure that you are well-prepared to answer questions from an interviewer by practicing with a family member or friend, or even videotaping yourself to look for areas of improvement. Always have specific examples that demonstrate how you've used your skills to handle situations on the job or at home, and make sure you end the interview with a positive statement.


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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Workplace Trends for 2008

Since I began doing my syndicated workplace column more than 15 years ago, I've often interviewed Gerald Celente, founder of The Trends Research Institute, about workplace trends in the coming year.

When I spoke with him recently, he told me that a large newspaper that normally also interviews him wouldn't be doing so this year. The reason: the reporter who usually did the story had taken a buyout package and the newspaper was now too short-staffed to have someone talk with him and do the story.

What a depressing way to start the year, I thought. Another journalist who has basically been forced out of an industry that is struggling to survive.

Still, Celente and I spent some time talking about career trends, and there are some bright spots on the horizon. So, if you're thinking of finding a job this year, founding a new business or making making a career change, here are some trends that you should be aware of, according to Celente:

* A heavily-armed criminal class means more people are afraid of what is out there. Surveillance equipment, gates, bars, anti-theft devices, attack dogs, security guards, indentity theft products and anyone or anything that promotes "protection" will be in demand.

* There's room for the little guy. The failure of large institutions (government, corporate, medical, education and religious) means that there's room for entreprenuers to move in. Celente says the key is understanding the delivery of goods and services "with price points that appeal to the 'affordable sophistication' sector of the marketplace. "

* Demand for "smart" goods grow. The old adage of "waste not, want not" will be seen as a "sensible solution for enhancing the quality of life and building a more prosperous future." Conservation experts will be in high demand, and schools teaching these skills will attract more students. There will be an entreprenuerial explosion in goods and services that offer a way to reduce fuel and utility bills.

* Return to the neighborhoods. Communities that offer opportunities for workers to live and work in a small-town atmosphere will be greatly appealing, as more people are burned out and fed up with long commutes and the daily rat race.

* Appeal of natural remedies. Anything that is deemed "naturally healing" to the body, improves the mind is danger free and can be self-adminstered will continue to thrive. Physicians who "teach" their patients to become healthier will attract patients.

* Being tuned-out will exact a price. Spending more time on social networking sites instead of keeping abreast of the world's events and news through books and the news will hurt workers' abilities to understand how current events will affect business trends, decreasing their value to an employer.


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