Monday, March 31, 2008

The Dreaded Performance Evaluation

Everyone hates performance appraisals. Bosses hate them because they have to come up with phrases like "does not model significant think-ratio standards throughout processing" and say them with a straight face. Employees hate them because they know that somehow, someway, the evaluation is going to be used to try and screw them out of a raise.

But here's the truth: Performance appraisals aren't going away. Try as they might, the critics aren't going to get rid of a tool that the analysts and bean counters love because, well...who knows why they love stuff like that.

Remember that performance appraisals are sort of like your living epitaph. See them as written in stone, following you throughout career eternity. Past performance appraisals are studied closely when you apply for a new position at your company, when you ask for a raise or when promotions are handed out.

That's why you should put as much effort into your performance appraisal as you did your NCAA basketball bracket. You want to be prepared for anything. Your input — both written and oral — should focus on the great things you have done in the last year, positioning you as an invaluable member of the workforce team.

Here are some things to get you started to performance review greatness:
· Keep a record. If you haven’t been doing so, begin immediately writing down your accomplishments, no matter how small. Maybe you only lent a hand for a day or two in another department, but this shows your willingness to pitch in, learn new skills and be an enthusiastic worker. By jotting down your day-to-day activities, you’ll not only start to track your strengths and skills, but provide solid evidence of your capabilities.
· Get compliments in writing. If a supervisor, or co-worker or customer appreciates your efforts in writing, hang on to those letters or e-mails . If kudos are given orally, write them down, noting the date and circumstances and person involved.
· Study the field. Who is going to be involved in your performance review? What kind of forms will be used? This helps you develop a “game plan” that looks at what subjects will be reviewed, how your performance will be judged, and who will be providing input. If you’ve had a difficult time with a supervisor, prepare to offer evidence on your improvements or commitment to the job. Don’t be defensive or on the attack: let the facts speak for themselves.
· Stay cool. No one likes criticism, but a performance review session often points to your accomplishments as well as your mistakes. If you worry you may get angry, practice with a trusted friend or family member to work on staying calm and focused. Also ,work on your body language — don’t assume a defensive or hostile stance. Maintain eye contact, and try to keep your body relaxed, but attentive.
· Use it as a road map. The performance appraisal process should be a clear indicator of where you need to go in the next year. If a supervisor fails to make this clear, ask for it in writing, or if this doesn’t work, write your own review of the information, and ask a supervisor to read it. This way, you can refer to this map all year long, noting the progress you have made, and will be a key part of your next appraisal.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Surviving the Loaded Interview Questions

Have you ever had a job interview and felt like it was going well until the hiring manager asked you a question and you thought: "Holy Sh**!"

It might be something like:

1. "What are you going to say to your boss if we offer you this job and he or she gets upset when you say you're going to quit?"

2. "The economy is tough right now...are you one of those people who is has been caught up in this credit mess?"

3. "What skills do you feel you need to improve?"

The reason a hiring manager asks you questions like these is simple: He or she wants to make you sweat. Even if it's just a little. Because if they're going to put their necks on the line and recommend you be hired, they want to make sure you've got what it takes to be calm and level-headed under pressure. If you hem and haw and get flustered or say "that's none of your damn business!" then the hiring manager will probably toss your resume in the shredder as soon as you leave.

The other reason they ask you these kinds of questions is because they are trying to get a better handle on who you are and what "baggage" you might bring to their workplace. If, for example, you're interviewing for a job dealing with money and they discover you're losing your house in the mortgage debacle, they might wonder if you'd be tempted to let some extra cash fall into your briefcase each night. Or, they may wonder how you'll deal with a boss who yells at you.

In his book, "Acing the Interview," Tony Beshara offers some answers to questions like these that will have you appearing so cool, calm and collected, the hiring manager will wonder if you ever even require deodorant. Here are some answers to the questions listed above:

1. On the boss's reaction: "I'm sure my boss will be somewhat disappointed, but he or she has always been the kind who wants what's best for everyone in the organization. If finding a new job is best for my family and me, well, my boss might be unhappy about the situation for his or our company, but he will be pleased for me."
2. Personal finances suck: The hiring manager is going to try and find out how personally responsible you are, and don't be surprised if a company runs a credit report on you. Don't lie. Admit that you've run into a rough patch, and then briefly explain the circumstances. If you financial history is pretty rough, it's best to be proactive and address it before an employer does a check on it.
3. Show you've got game: Always demonstrate that you're working on improvement, both professionally and personally. Talk about seminars or professional events you've attended, any classes you've taken, or self-improvement books you've read.
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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is Massive Student Debt Really Worth It?

Miriam Salpeter at Keppie Careers responded to my last post about working too much with the observation that those leaving school these days with huge student loans to repay ($80,000-$200,000) may be part of the reason people work so hard. I have to admit that with that kind of debt dogging me, I'd probably work too many hours, too.

While some top tier schools are reducing the cost for low- and middle-income students, the fact remains that many families feel pressured to get their children into expensive universities in order to give that child a headstart on a career. But with tough economic times comes the reality that there are fewer loans for those willing to go into such debt.

Still, there are a number of successful people who don't go to Ivy League schools, or even attend a university. Look at Harvard dropout Bill Gates.

So, I guess I have a few questions: Do young people today really need to put themselves in a financial sinkhole to attend a top university? Can they be successful attending a less prestigious school? Or, is a college education even really necessary for success anymore? Will the day come when companies don't care about a university degree?


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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Feeling Like What You Do Is Never Enough

Why are you working so much?

C'mon, I know it's true. You're on your Blackberry at the dinner table, you get up at 4 a.m. just to answer a few e-mails and you've never been in a car without the cell phone to your ear. This is above and beyond the long hours you put in at your desk.

So, again I ask you: Why are you working so much?

Some of you are going to claim it's because you have no choice. You will say it's to please the boss, keep up with the workload, further your career or simply because you have no idea what to do if you're not working. You're worried what someone else will think of you if you're not working. Bottom line: You're scared not to work.

But here's what happens when you work too much: You get anxious. You get mad and depressed. And then you look for someone to blame.

That means you start fighting with your spouse, you yell at your kids, you begin to hate the guy in the cubicle next to yours and you begin to ignore the boss, who you hate more than anyone.

But I've spoken with some very successful people over the years, and whether they're entreprenuers or work for Fortune 100 companies, they've provided some good insight into making sure you control the work, not vise versa.

Some tips:
· Avoiding the “never enough” trap. When surveys ask people how much more money they need to be financially comfortable, without fail they answer 20 percent to 40 percent more than they are making – whether they have an annual salary of $20,000 or $100,000. We always seem to want more, and when we don’t set limits, we can get caught in compulsive behaviors, such as working more hours. But if you don’t set the limits, no one will. Determine what you need to do to be satisfied, and stick to it.
· Evaluate your work. Look at your job from an objective point of view – what would another person you respect say about what you accomplished in one day? Would this person judge it as adequate? If the answer is yes, then you have done enough for one day.
· Make choices. Pick the one or two events outside of work that are most important, and bow out of the rest. While the choices you make may not please everyone, remember that there is nothing in life that pleases everyone.
· Working for completion. If you stick to the thought that you can’t go home until all your work is done, you’re going to be at the office until your body is found covered in cobwebs by co-workers. Keep in mind that the long hours may mean you have some inefficient work habits, such as forgetting to prioritize the most important tasks each day. At the end of your work day, only unimportant tasks should be left – and those can wait until the next day.
· Something came up. It always does. Last minute emergencies do happen, but if they're a regular thing, you need to evaluate what -- or who --is causing it and try to find a way to head it off in the future or remedy the problem so it's not a continual one.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Make Sure the Boss Gets the Joke

My mailbox is starting to fill with story pitches regarding "safe" April Fool jokes to play on your co-workers. I have mixed feelings about this: Everyone can use a little levity in the workplace these days, but what one person thinks is funny, another may not.

I still remember the time a friend's co-worker pretended to be a "nurse" from his son's school. They called my friend and told him his child had head lice, so my friend was supposed to do all the crap that goes along with that: special shampoo for the kid, washing all the linens at home in scalding hot water, etc. The guy shampooed his child's head, and was up until 2 a.m. washing everything according to the "school's" instructions. The next day he showed up for work, and everyone had a big laugh at his expense. "April Fool's!" they cried.

When he told me this story, it astonished me that he could laugh about it. I couldn't believe this single father was up most the night trying to do the right thing, and it was all a big joke. He couldn't understand why it made me mad.

So, just be careful should you decide to pull an April 1 day prank. And, make sure the boss would also find it amusing should he or she find out about the joke.

Now, for a Tidbit Tuesday roundup:

* Are you talking to me? I've been embarassed at times to be caught talking to myself, especially out in public. But now I don't feel so weird after reading this story in the Wall Street Journal.
"Researchers say as many as 96 percent of people talk to themselves aloud, and deaf people have been observed signing to themselves while answering test questions," the story says.
Of course, the problem comes when your cubicle mates get a bit tired of hearing you blather to yourself all day.

* Making the most of criticism: The next time you're tempted to criticize something or someone, make sure you follow these rules listed at There are also suggestions listed on how to receive criticism. For example: "Resist the urge to dismiss the critic. Considering what the person has to say will only strengthen your own understanding of the issue you care about."

* Get in the loop: Whether you're interviewing for a job, or just want to know what's going on in business, Fortune has a list of the five best business blogs. This is the kind of stuff you should be reading so that next time you go to a networking event, an interview, or have five minutes to show the boss you're keeping up with critical business issues, you sound smart and current.


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Monday, March 24, 2008

Pros Reveal How to Become a Great Manager

For some people, achieving supervisor status is a career dream come true. They have put in long hours, committed their creativity and energy to helping the company succeed and now will reap the benefits.

Unfortunately, many companies throw new supervisors into the management waters without a boat or even a life preserver. It’s little wonder that many new managers sink in such conditions.

There are ways, however, to minimize the chances of being swept under, including taking the time to understand the new position, what will be expected of you, and how you can lead a group of people with integrity and professionalism.

Among the suggestions from experienced managers:
Listen to employees. This is the time to find out what their expectations are, what they believe to be critical issues. Perhaps they need support with projects, or are having difficulties with interactions with another department. They key is to ask lots of questions and listen carefully without injecting your own opinion.
• Understand the company agenda. Never assume because you’ve got experience with an employer that you understand what you are supposed to do as a supervisor. Talk to your boss and find out the goals he or she has, what they expect you to accomplish. Find out how the boss likes to communicate (meetings, telephone, e-mail), and how often these communications should be made. Try to avoid jumping to conclusions – give yourself time to just listen and observe and don’t waste energies trying to fit everything into black and white scenarios.
• Ask for help. Just because you’ve now got that management title doesn’t mean you’ve become some kind of superhero. Ask for help from your boss, your customers, your peers, your employees. They will appreciate that you are receptive to new ideas and innovations, and don’t expect to ramrod through your own opinions simply because you are in charge.
• Set the tone. From the beginning it’s critical that you establish good conduct so that employees can see firsthand your expectations. Be professional, and protect the privacy of others. Now that you’re in a supervisory role, gossiping for any reason is a no-no. If you say you’re going to do something, be dependable and follow-through. Do not make promises you can’t keep.
One of the key ways to establish a professional, fair image is to avoid criticizing other departments or individuals in front of other employees, or make guesses about a situation where you don’t have all the facts. Apologize if you’ve made a mistake, and don’t blame others to cover an error.
• Lead by example. By being courteous, fair and cool in the face of criticism, you are showing workers exactly how you want customers treated. Or, if you expect employees to be organized, don’t show up late for meetings, shuffling papers and unprepared to give your report.
• Be a nice person. This may sound silly, especially if you believe you are already a nice person. But it’s amazing how many young supervisors start to lose their polite behavior when they’re stressed from trying to meet new goals and expectations. By remaining respectful and courteous to employees, you are building the most important block of your career – employee commitment. And, most of the “nice” supervisors will say that employees who are treated well are more than willing to jump in a help a new boss whenever it’s needed. Tyrant bosses rarely get any help volunteered, and workers may even try to sabotage them.
• Know the rules. Take time to read your new job description, and the job descriptions and past performance evaluations of those you will supervise. Understand company policies and procedures, and where to refer employees if you cannot answer a question. Know your training responsibilities, employee benefits, and any collective bargaining agreement with workers.


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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Study: Job Hopping Can Affect Wages

There's been some debate about the idea of job hopping. Many younger workers have no problem with it, while older workers fear the perception that job hopping will make them look less reliable to prospective employers. It appears there's some value in both arguments, which I'll discuss further in this post.

But on this first day of Spring, let's start with:

* The Five O'Clock Club provides eight signs that it's time to change jobs. I've added my own insight, and come up with this list on how you know it's time to head for the exit:
1. You don't fit in. In other words, your values don't match the company's. Why is the boss having lunch with Tony Soprano?
2. Your boss doesn't like you -- and the feeling is mutual.
3. Your peers don't like you. You've discovered that high school cliques have nothing on workplace snottiness.
4. You don't get assignments that demonstrate the full range of your abilities. In other words, the boss doesn't seem to trust you enough to park his car.
5. You always get called upon to do the grunt work. Can you say "clean out the fridge?"
6. You are excluded from meetings your peers are invited to. ("Hey...why is this door locked?")
7. Everyone on your level has an office. Your computer sits on the radiator.
8. You dread going to work and feel like you're developing an ulcer. When you start putting vodka in with the Maalox, you know you're in trouble.

* In another salvo aimed at attracting younger workers, Ernst and Young has set up what they call "EY Insight," a fully interactive website that allows someone to see exactly what's in store for them should they choose to work there.

The press release states: "Through customizable tools, such as 'EY 360◦', 'Picture Yourself' and 'Interview Insider,' firm prospects are allowed to tailor their interests and education background to explore career paths that present the best fit for them within the firm. Prospects can also view video testimonials of a 'Day in the Life' or even a 'Year in the Life' of a current employees."

* And, while I'm on the subject on younger workers, there is new research in the latest issue of the American Sociological Review, stating that workers who frequently change jobs generally end up earning less than their more stable counterparts.

The research found that any benefits of job hopping accrue in the early days of a career, and after that, wages can take a hit when you move from employer to employer.

"One reason for lower wage trajectories among high-mobility workers is their failure to accumulate valuable early tenure associated with staying up to five years with an employer. In the first five years of a job, each year of tenure is associated with approximately 2.4 percent higher wages for men and 2.9 percent higher wages for women. However, after five years with an employer, women’s gains from tenure plateau and men’s begin to erode," the study found.

The study also looked at the impact on wages when workers took time off to raise kids.


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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

When You Hate the New Job

When you accepted the job, you were excited about the new opportunities chance to enhance your skills. But three months later, all you can think of, is “What was I thinking?”

You now believe you’ve made a mistake when you accepted a new job. Something doesn’t feel right. Maybe you don’t like the people you work with, maybe you don’t like the duties you have been given, maybe you cannot stand your boss. Whatever the reason, it’s difficult to admit that things are going seriously wrong after only 90 days on the job.

What are you going to do? Can you quit this early in the game? Can the situation be fixed or is it only going to get worse? Should you tell anyone?

Before panic sets in, the first thing you should do is step back and start to look at the facts. Is the job affecting you outside of work? Are you anxious, grumpy or can't sleep at night? If so, then you know the problems are serious enough to address. Ignoring it will only make it worse.

Some actions you can take include:

* Get feedback. Talk to your friends or family and ask them what they hear you say about the job. This will help you pinpoint the areas that may be causing you the most stress.
* Go to the boss. Tell him or her that something isn’t working and you'd like to talk about it. Just don't expect the boss to "fix" the problem for you. Ask the boss to serve as a sounding board to try and figure out what is happening. Remember, the boss has put time and money into hiring you, and hasn't begun to see her investment returned in the short time you've been there. It's in her best interest -- and that of the company -- to find a way to make the job work better for you.
* Know when to cut your losses. If the problems are serious -- you ethically disagree with company policy or you're asked to do duties you find reprehensible or just have no interest in -- then it's probably time to just move on and learn from the experience. Begin looking around and contact people you had interviewed with before you accepted your current position.
* Take responsibility. When you begin interviewing for a new position, you may want to avoid putting such a short-term job on your resume. But if you do decide to mention it to hiring managers, explain that you thought the job was a good fit, but it became clear after a short time on the job that you had not asked the right questions and take full responsibility for it not working out the way you had planned. "So now," you tell the hiring manager, "I've learned that I have several more questions I'd like to ask."


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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dancing With Purple Polar Bears

Many of you have asked whether I'm back to two-armed blogging. I am. The cast is off and the fingers of both hands are back on the keyboard. Remind me to tell you sometime about the dream I had while on pain medication: Dancing purple polar bears armed with cheese grinders, chasing me. While that sounds like the perfect premise for a Stephen King novel, I'm going to turn my attention to finding good stuff for this Tidbit Tuesday.

* Water Cooler Wisdom makes a terrific point about improving your writing skills.

* Before you send off that resume, use this quick checklist from Keppie Careers to make sure you've covered the bases.

* Looking for a laugh this morning? Slacker Manager has a funny bit about success tips for a manager's first day. Check out my comment...can you say "coffee breath"?

* For as long as I've been covering workplace issues (since the dawn of man?), there has been a debate about paid time off, where you have a "bank" of days off, and it doesn't matter whether you use them for being sick or going on vacation. Evil HR Lady has quite a debate raging on the subject.

* Six small habits from Girl Meets Business that could change your image immediately is aimed at young professionals, but I know plenty of older workers who could benefit from the advice as well.

*If you just can't get enough of March Madness, Newly Corporate has used the final four framework to show how to become more successful. By the way, I'll be contributing to this site in the near future, so keep an eye out.

Finally, I'll have Bill Lampton, a communications guru, on my Blog Talk Radio show this morning at 10 a.m. CST. We're going to talk about difficult communication issues at work (the constantly interrupting co-worker), and how to become a better listener in order to really boost your career success. Tune in and ask questions, or download for consumption later.


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Monday, March 17, 2008

Turning a Rejection Into an Opportunity

The pubs will be full today with revelers celebrating St. Patrick's Day, but the truth is many people will be swilling that green beer not to celebrate, but to drown their sorrows.

Times are tough, as any job seeker will testify. The latest news of Bear Stearns Cos. being sold at garage sale prices has sent another shudder through the job seeking masses, because they know that more people are nervous and will begin dusting off their resumes to join the ranks looking for new work.

Looking for a job is tough, and rejections are never easy to handle.

But there's something that many job candidates miss: "No" doesn't always mean "no."

Sometimes a hiring manager tells you that you didn't get a position after you've interviewed, and you consider that the end of the road. Time to head for the green beer, right?

Wrong. Now is the time to use that contact -- however brief -- with the hiring manager to establish a firmer relationship. Begin by saying that you really like the company, and would like to be considered for another position. Is there anyone else the hiring manager could refer you to? Being able to use the hiring manager's name with another department head is very valuable.

Also, tell the hiring manager that you would like to learn from the process. Was there something you did or did not do that eliminated you from the position? Was there a particular skill that the winning candidate had? Most managers will remember positively the job candidate who didn't take his or her rejection personally, but instead focused on personal improvement.

Another idea takes some chutzpah: Inquire whether the hiring manager knows anyone else who is hiring. Managers belong to professional associations and have networks of friends and colleagues that may be looking for qualified job candidates. Even if they don't know someone right away, your name will come more easily to mind in the future because you inquired specifically about it. Be sure and follow up in a couple of months with the manager to still express your interest in working for the company -- persistence often pays off.

Finally, make sure that you send a hand written note to the manager, thanking him or her for the consideration and giving your best wishes for the company's success.


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Friday, March 14, 2008

Managing Your Online Reputation

Blogging has opened a whole new world for those who want their voices to be heard. From the teenager writing about everyday angst to the politico hoping to sway the masses to the business person seeking new business, the blogging world has exploded in recent years.

Still, there are a lot of growing pains that go along with the written word. I should know, since I've been a journalist for more than 20 years. I received a college degree in journalism, and have worked with some of the top journalists in the country. It is part of the everyday fabric of a journalist's life to constantly question and assess sources and information and even our own personal biases when we put our hands on a computer keyboard.

Many bloggers have never had these discussions, and that makes sense. The medium has clearly outpaced the ability to discuss all the ramifications of what is written, but it's time we took a deep breath and did just that.

One of the people who thinks a look at blogging and the responsibilities that go with it is important is Liz Strauss at Successful and Outstanding Blog, considered by many to be one of the leading voices in the blogosphere. As part of her very popular SOBCON08 in Chicago on May 2-4, Liz has asked me to speak. My subject: "Managing Your Online Reputation – Avoiding Situations that Need Damage Control."

I'm going to spend some time in the coming weeks interviewing legal experts to get the latest scoop on the liabilities that go along with blogging, and I'll also explore some of the issues that journalists talk about every day: the personal responsibilities that go along with writing for the masses; how to best manage your influence and connections for the long term; and how to react when things go wrong.

If you'd like to find out more about the conference, you can also check out Jason Falls' video. If you're attending and want me to discuss a particular issue, let me know.


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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Understanding the Boss Will Make Your Life Easier

I'm always surprised by the number of people who complain they absolutely cannot get along with a boss. While there are some toxic bosses out there who should be sent to Asshole Island (Bob Sutton gets to pick the spot), the truth is that many employees could find it easier going at work if they just put some thought and effort into the boss/employee relationship. The boss, like anyone else, has joys and sorrows, and the sooner you figure them out, the better your work life will be.

One of the ways to do this is by putting yourself in the boss’s shoes. What are the duties and situations that set your boss off? These are the trigger points that you try to head off before they reach the boss’s desk. At the same time, what are the issues that the manager likes to get involved in? Those should also be your priorities. Because if the boss is happy, chances are the good times will roll for you, too.

Some other strategies to keep you on the sunny side of the boss:
• Managers don’t make mistakes. Or, rather, they make mistakes but don’t want anyone to know about it. Keep such news to yourself, and try and fix any errors quietly and discreetly.
• Never say “I don’t know.” Educate yourself about how your company functions, and who you can go to for answers on various subjects. If you don’t know, you can say to the boss “I know who to ask about that issue.”
• Be a good listener. Take notes if you have to when the boss is giving you an assignment. Most bosses won’t mind if you ask them to repeat something so that you clearly understand it.
• Be on top of key issues. Be aware of what is happening in your industry that will affect your boss’s work. Read industry periodicals, and keep your ears open at industry events such as conferences and trade shows. Keep an eye on what the competition is doing.
• Speak up. If you know of a way to streamline a process or cut expenses, tell your boss. Your good ideas reflect well on him and help him see you as a problem-solver.
• Be a cheerleader. If the boss or your department does good work, ask if you can send the information to an internal newsletter or an industry report. If it’s printed, make sure the boss’s boss gets a copy.
• Be trustworthy. Never repeat anything your boss tells you, and be discreet if you overhear something. If trust is developed with a boss, you may get a chance to hear inside information that will help your career and keep you an important part of your manager’s world.
• Don’t be a whiner. Most supervisor’s automatically shut out the sound of a whining voice. If you have a problem or issue, practice what you want to say so that it sounds logical, not lamebrained. Provide the boss with any date that supports your position. For example, if too many tasks are affecting the quality of your work, map out what happens for a few weeks so that you can present the evidence to the boss. This gives the supervisor hard facts when requesting more resources or personnel from her boss.
• Work on communicating. Much of the friction at work these days is caused by e-mail or voice mail overload, or reports or memos that don’t make sense. Always decide what is the best form of communicating your thoughts, not the easiest or fastest. That way, what you say or write will have impact, not just add to the clutter in your boss’s life.


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Challenge of Handling Multiple Changes

I recently wrote about coping with change, and that prompted an e-mail from Scot Herrick at Cube Rules. The issue, Scot said, was that a lot of people were simply deluged with lots of different issues at one time, and they were struggling with how to handle it all. I urged him to write about it on his blog, so that we could start a conversation.

Scot tells me that his post on the challenges of so many changes at one time in our lives generated a lot of interest, not because he offered a solution, but because he laid out the problem in black and white. He listed several headaches, such as multiple work projects with multiple problems, issues at home and the shrinking amount of time.

I wanted to continue my part in looking at these challenges, so being a journalist, I immediately found an expert to interview in Dr. Noelle Nelson, a psychologist, author and seminar leader.

Her take on the issue of having so many changes to deal with at one time: "The human race is continually expanding. If the people living in the 1800s had to do the number of things we do at one time today without thought -- driving a car, changing the radio, talking on the phone and eating a protein bar -- they'd freak. The human brain is phenomenal, and can assimilate. We may go through a period of not understanding how to deal with something, but the brain slowly starts to create new folders and we begin to find ways of making things work."

Nelson says that it's managers who often have the most balls to juggle, often coping with changes on a daily or hourly basis. She says the key to coping is "prioritizing."

While that may sound simple in theory, but difficult in practice, Nelson says it's really a matter of finding the issues that "have the hottest fires under them," and giving yourself 30 minutes to one hour to deal with one thing, then moving on to the next. "You do what you can do, then you move on," she says.

She also advises:
* Getting past the moaning the groaning. Managers are often the loudest to complain and the worst at delegating work or using technology to help them manage smarter and better.
* Writing it down. Instead of stressing about the tasks, write down everything you must do, from finding care for an aging parent to completing a project on time. Decide what tasks are most urgent, and who can help. "You'd be surprised how you can find help if you'll just ask for it," she says. "You can free a worker up by passing some of her work onto someone else, and get her to help you. You can call a neighbor of your mother and ask them to check on her once a day." She says that writing a task down "keeps us from feeling overwhelmed -- it stops you from thinking about it over and over."
* Knowing yourself. "Understand what keeps you healthy, wealthy and well," she says. "I know that I have to get eight hours of sleep a night. Maybe you know that you've got to spend an hour a day just relaxing with your spouse. Those are invalids. Those are the things that you cannot change in order to maintain yourself."


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Monday, March 10, 2008

Don't Blow It When the Boss Asks for Your Help in Making a New Hire: How to Ask Great Interview Questions

In my previous post, I wrote about how important it was to make a good impression on everyone you meet when you go for a job interview, because the boss may ask various workers for their opinion about you.

But what if you're one of those employees who is introduced to the job candidate and asked to "chat" with a potential hire? What are you supposed to talk about? The score of last night’s game, the latest technology or if they have a family? You may not be aware of it, but what you talk about may have a big impact on your career.

That's because this little chat may not only be a test for the job candidate, but for you, as well. Not only is the boss looking at how the job candidate performs, but he's also looking at how you handle the situation. Your performance during this interaction can be important if the boss is trying to decide whether it's time you moved on to bigger and better things.

Specifically, if you give an insightful, logical assessment of this person’s skills and the ability to fit into a current culture, then you’ve proved you have another useful job skill that directly impacts the boss and your company's bottom line. But if you blow it, and can't offer the boss anything more substantial than the fact that the candidate likes the Red Sox, then you've failed to take the opportunity to show the boss that you can handle whatever is thrown your way.

So, the next time the boss provides an opportunity for you to interact with a job candidate, be prepared to show that you can rise to the challenge. Here are some points to becoming an effective interviewer:
· Think about what it takes to succeed in the job. If it’s important that the interviewee have strong people skills, then ask about team experience, or how customer complaints are handled. You might even relate a real experience (omit names) that caused problems, and see how the interviewee would handle the situation.
· Ask about past jobs. Find out what the person liked most or liked least about former positions. What was the atmosphere like?
· Inquire about organizational skills. The last thing you need is more work dumped on you because a new hire is disorganized and inefficient. Ask how they make sure they meet targets on time, how they schedule their work, how they decide what they should do every day when they show up for work.
· Find out whether past training or education would be beneficial. Maybe the candidate spent three summers in France and is so fluent in the language that he or she could handle the clients you’ve been having difficulty with in Paris. That might be a key point supervisors would miss, but your inquiries would net this new information.
· Try to avoid “yes” or “no” responses. Don’t ask, “Did you like your last job?” but “Tell me about your last job.”
· Be professional. Greet the candidate with a smile and a handshake, and avoid interruptions. When it’s your turn to talk to an interviewee, it’s best to do it in a quiet place, with no ringing phones or people walking by. Find out how much time you’ve been allotted, then stick to the schedule. This will prevent you from chatting too much in an endless sessions.
· Avoid legal minefields. Ask only job related questions. It’s against the law to ask about sexual preferences, religious affiliations, disabilities, age, race, marital status, child care arrangements, citizenship and memberships. At the same time, do not ask if the person has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime, or make any mention of gender.
· Motivating factors. Find out what the candidate sees as their personal motivation: money, creativity, chances for advancement, etc. If the answers don’t fit in with what the company offers, it means that this person would probably become quickly dissatisfied – and you’ll be repeating the interviewing process sooner than you -- or your boss --would like.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Impress the Hiring Manager -- and the Receptionist

You stroll into the job interview, feeling pretty confident. You’re got the qualifications the employer is looking for, and believe you really connected with the hiring manager. When you leave, you expect to be getting a call soon. You feel you’ve got this job in the bag.

But after you leave, something happens. The executive asks the administrative assistant, or secretary, to step into the office.

“So,” says the executive who interviewed you. “What do you think of the interviewee who just left?”

“Well,” says the secretary, “I don’t know what that person’s qualifications are, but I can tell you he was rude to me and looked everyone up and down who came in the door like he was already running the show here. And to top it off, I saw him swipe one of our magazines off the coffee table and stick it in his briefcase.”

At this point, your star just fell from the sky. Because for many hiring managers, your evaluation started the minute you walked in the building. That office tour you were given? It was more than a chance for you to admire the copy machine and the break room -- it was also an opportunity for others to look you over.

Remember: Hiring decisions are so critical these days that many companies rely on input from a variety of people -- including employees of all ranks -- when making a decision. So, when you go on a job interview, here are some ways to make sure you get off on the right foot with everyone:

· Make eye contact with everyone you see upon entering the building. One manager told me the first thing she does when a job candidate leaves is consult the receptionist on how the person treated her. Was the candidate "demanding" to see the boss, or behaving in some other way that wasn’t pleasant? Managers are going to be looking to see if you have a sudden personality shift when you go from meeting administrative staff to executive staff.

· Smile. Don’t beam a 500-watt fake grin constantly, but greet others with a friendly smile, and try to relax so it doesn’t look forced.

· Dress appropriately. While casual dress is common in many workplaces, always follow the old rules of dress when applying for a job. Men should wear a suit and tie with shined shoes, and neatly combed hair. Women should wear nice dresses or suits, with shined shoes and neat hair. Don’t wear anything that will distract others from what you are saying. First impressions are critical when meeting potential new co-workers.

· Be prepared. Do your homework about the company, but also be ready to converse with everyone from the administrative staff to other managers. If you’re at a loss, you can always ask the person to explain his or her job and what they do day-to-day. Be prepared to discuss industry trends. If they want to know if you have questions, be prepared to ask some. That shows your interest.

Finally, remember that you should not ask employees you meet about benefits, days off, and if the company offers memberships to health clubs. You don't want to come off as focused only on your own wants and needs -- use the time to ask questions about their jobs.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Feeling Angry and Frustrated When Change Happens is Natural

By our very nature, we human beings don’t like change. Children as young as 2-years-old will pitch a screaming hissy fit when the furniture at home is moved. Teens struggle to cope with the new world of high school or college. Even adults have a hard time saying goodbye to the familiar – especially when it has to do with work.

Work for adults consumes a lot of time. Many of us spend 12 to14 hours a day at work, so when things get turned topsy-turvey, we’re not always pleased with the results. In fact, our behavior may closely resemble a toddler’s hissy fit.

Except quieter.

We sit at work, fuming that our company is being downsized and peers are losing their jobs. We’re angry that we will have to move to another facility in another state in order to keep a job. We’re totally ticked that we will have to learn a new system.

But that’s change.

At first you may deny what is happening, and you put up some resistance, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Why? Because it shows that you're ready to do something, instead of just sitting around in a numb complacency.

Now begins the grieving process. But for many companies, acknowledging that employees are unhappy with change is the last thing desired. And that is why many workers have trouble moving on. Because if companies don’t recognize it -- the need for employees to talk about how much they hate what is happening -- then they cannot learn to deal with it. It is often the emotional piece that everyone misses.

Bosses need to understand that it is a natural reaction for people to be furious and frustrated when work patterns change. Humans are creatures of habit, and a lot of people have not yet learned how to become more flexible. People can learn to be very resilient, but they also need a chance to grieve.

If you are facing change on the job, here are some things to consider:
· The loss. If you feel that you are fighting the change, take a step back and consider what it is that you believe you are losing. Remember: If you cannot handle loss in your life, you cannot have growth in your life.

Perhaps it is the fact that you are afraid you will lose your visibility on the job because technology is taking over, or that you will lose yourself somehow when a job is lost.
Human ingenuity on the job is still critical, no matter how much technology is put into place. For those who suffer when they are laid off, remember: Your job is not your identity.

· The signs. Angry? Crabby? Blowing up at stuff that doesn’t matter? These are all indications, along with feeling blue, that change is causing problems in your life. Find a way to acknowlege these feelings and perhaps talk to a family member or friend about how you feel. If you have a case of the blues that simply won’t get better or go away, seek professional help.

· Saying goodbye. Many companies do not realize that desks can be moved, but not hearts. That means that even if an office is just moving across town, then employees need a chance to confront their feelings – maybe they will have a longer commute, they will miss their favorite coffee shop or their desk by the window that had a view of the park. At the same time, employees should be allowed to say what they may miss about the old way of doing things, then talk about their concerns for the future. Once that's out in the open, managers can help workers accept the changes to come.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Becoming Who You Were Meant to Be

If you’re a woman with children, you are probably used to being called “Bobby’s mom” or "Chloe's mom." Or if you’re working for someone else, you might be known as “Susan’s assistant” or "the HR gal." There are monikers that could be worse, of course, but maybe you’re getting a little tired of being known by such titles.

Branding, for many women, is something that begins in college. You declare a major and that’s the first time you say who you are. Or, you get your first job, and the boss pigeonholes you.

But over the years I’ve spoken with many happy and successful women, and they all say that more women need to take steps to develop their own reality, not function according to someone else’s perception. More females in the workplace, in other words, need to take off their masks of who they think they should be and became the real person they are – and find much greater professional satisfaction and personal happiness as a result.

Where to start? You may need to:
· Dig deep. There’s only one you — you are special and unique. That means you need words to express your personal beliefs, values, how you want to live and what you consider most important to your well being. The challenge is creating interest and enthusiasm for what you have to offer, and using it to enhance your image in the business world.
· Define dreams and put them into action. Create a mission statement for yourself and write it down. You are very likely to get what you ask for, because when you finally get serious about what you really desire deep in your soul, others start paying attention. Someone once suggested to me you should be able to rattle off your personal mission statement in 12 words or less if someone held a gun to your head (yikes!), while someone else said your statement should feel like a drum roll should proceed it.
· Go after the target audience with a vengeance. No matter what your mission or goal, identifying and earning the devotion of your target audience is critical to your success. Just don’t be fake, because people will sense it and immediately tune you out.
· Crush inner fears. It’s important to overcome insecurities that can stop you in your tracks. In many cases the thing you are afraid to do is the one thing you must do to solidify your brand.
· Recruit supporters. Get friends, family members and colleagues to help you create an atmosphere of success. Listen to their advice, since it comes from a place of genuine caring about you.
· Look good. You must not only make your exterior appealing to your target audience, but also make it a genuine reflection of who you are.
· Get comfortable in your own skin. Guess what? You’re not perfect. No one is. But you can develop your personal style and make it part of your brand. How do you show others that you’re creative, or dependable or funny? We’re all born with charisma --whether or not we all use it is another question.
· Devise a plan and get on with it. If you’re not going to do it, who will? Keep your eye on the prize and work towards it.

Finally, one last note: tune in Tuesday at 10 a.m. CST for a lively and provocative discussion with Christopher Flett on my podcast, “Smashing the Ladder With Anita and Diane,” where we’ll talk about all the things women do right – and wrong – in their careers. And, there will be plenty of good information for the guys, as well.

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