Monday, November 24, 2008

When Was the Last Time You Made a Career Deposit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

10 of the Toughest Interview Questions Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Uh huh."

"Really close."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

10 Good Things About Working Longer Hours

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

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

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

10 Good Things About Working Longer Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Five Ways to Network With the Boss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

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

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

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

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

Go green, ladies and gentlemen, go green.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 7, 2008

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

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

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

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

* Why doesn't Whoopi Goldberg have any eyebrows?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How to Get the Boss To Listen to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Say what needs to be done in 60 words.

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Seven Stupid Mistakes People Make on a Telephone Interview


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

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


(A toilet flushes.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Excuse me? Mr. Jones?"

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

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

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

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

Phone disconnects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some other tips for phone interviewing?