Monday, December 28, 2009

10 gifts to give your career

As the gift-giving season draws to a close, it’s time to remember that you still have one more gift left to bestow: The gift of a better career.

No one can really predict what the several years will bring in the job market, but it’s clear that everyone has to make more of an investment in their future. That means being better prepared for downturns in the economy or your industry, and keeping an active network so that when bad times do hit, you’re ready to get the help you need.

Here are 10 gifts to give your career in the coming year:

1. Stay current. Invest time in reading the latest industry news. Know how national or international events may impact your business, and what you’re doing to prepare. Are you targeting projects so they anticipate market conditions? Those who help the company become more innovative or strategic will make themselves key players – and those are the people a company is more likely to retain and promote.

2. Get more training. Ask your boss for opportunities to train in other departments, or to attend seminars or classes at a local university. If the company won’t fund your efforts, look for free webinars or podcasts online that provide experts to expand your knowledge. Your resume should always be able to reflect that you’ve kept up on the latest training and skills.

3. Be the dumbest person in the room. Attend an event or sign up for an online class that really challenges you. Step outside your comfort zone and into a subject that you know nothing about. Becoming too comfortable in your career and with your skills can set you up for problems if you suddenly find yourself out of work. Always look for ways to expand your horizons and be able to show an employer how you faced a challenge and learned.

4. Embrace social media. You may think Twitter is only for posting what you had for lunch or Facebook is only for showing funny photos for your friends. But social media should be another tool you use to enhance your personal brand and make others see you as a tuned-in, interesting professional in your field. It doesn’t have to be a huge time suck – spend a few minutes a couple of times a day interacting with others in your field, posting interesting links or asking questions of other professionals.

5. Attend one professional event a year. Meeting with others in your field face-to-face is important, and these events often provide access to the latest trends or key movers in your field. Instead of a latte every day, start putting the money into a professional event fund.

6. Find a mentor. Ask someone you respect and feel you really connect with for feedback on what you’re doing with your career or in your job. This can be as simple as having a cup of coffee and saying, “I’d really like to have your opinion on this.” Or, you can ask a professional organization about helping you find a mentor who can help guide you through some career issues. Having someone in your life to add fresh ideas or provide a different prospective can be invaluable for your career.

7. Be consistent. You can’t post drunken photos of yourself on Facebook or have a screen saver at work that is offensive and then expect employers or colleagues to see you professionally. Don’t expect to show up late for work several times a week and then expect the boss to hand over a big project. Decide the message you want to send others and then stick to it.

8. Bring sanity to your schedule. Employees are being asked to do more work with fewer resources during these tough times. That has taken a physical and emotional toll on many people. They may feel they have even less time for a personal life, which compounds the stress. For a week, keep close track of your tasks and the amount of time they take. Then, look for ways to bring a better balance to your life. Enlist the help of family or friends to devise a schedule that makes sense for your well-being in the coming year.

9. Pick up the phone. E-mail and social media provide a great way to communicate with others, but to establish a more personal connection, use the telephone. If you’ve gone more than a week in speaking personally with key colleagues or customers, give them a call. Better yet, meet with them in person. Maintaining these personal connections is critical to creating a strong professional network.

10. Take the high road. Make a commitment to send e-mails that are polite and friendly. Don’t gossip at work. Give a sincere compliment to a co-worker every day. Use your personal cell phone out of earshot of others. Stress has shortened the fuse of many at work, and taking these steps will help make the day better for a lot of colleagues. Fostering goodwill is a gift to yourself and to others.

What are some other ways to help your career this year?


Monday, December 21, 2009

Is your employer clueless about your needs?

As you can see from the previous post on Generation Y, anything to do with stereotypes in the workplace generates a lot of discussion. I decided to explore the issue further, really looking at what impacts us on the job -- is it our age? Our "generation"? Or is it something more than that? Here's a column I did for Gannett -- it certainly got me thinking more about this issue.

How old are you?

To what generation do you belong?

Based on the answers you give to those two questions, you probably are being treated a certain way in the workplace. Because of when you were born, your manager or co-workers may talk to you differently, react to you in specific ways or have preconceived notions about what you like and dislike.

For some, that may be OK. But for the majority? Kathy Lynch says they “hate it.”

Lynch, director of employer engagement at the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, says that employers must understand that they have to look beyond an employee’s chronological age and the generational stereotypes that go with it or they can’t begin to really engage employees. If they can’t engage employees, productivity and innovation will suffer – and top talent will go elsewhere.

At the same time, Lynch says individuals also must understand that their age and generation may not truly define who they are, and they can become more “empowered” if they look at their lives in a different way.

For example, while baby boomers may be thought of as nearing retirement, the truth is that many in their 50s these days have begun new careers in new industries and may be more than 20 or more years from retiring – if they retire at all, Lynch says.

Lynch says that’s why her organization believes it makes more sense for individuals and companies to look at age and generations in the workplace in terms of:

1. Life stages. “This is where you are in life, such as being married or single, or having children,” she says.

2. Career status. “Are you defined by your relationship with your employer? Do you have a job or do you have your own identity?” she asks.

“We’ve found through our studies and workshops that depending on how people identified their stages, their experience in the workplace is different and what they’re looking for is different,” she says.

For example, Lynch says people who defined themselves as “early career” ranged in age from their late teens to mid-60s. But no matter the age, those in this career stage tended to say they were “less satisfied” with the meaning of their work. On the other hand, those who said they were “late career” ranged in age from their early 20s to their 80s and found “more meaning” in their work when at this stage, she says.

What employers can learn from these answers is that an employee deciding to leave a company may not have anything to do with his age or satisfaction with his work, but rather on where he identifies himself in his career. Lynch explains that a worker in his late 20s saying he is “late career” may be saying that he is ready to move on because he believes the employer has nothing left to offer.

While many experts caution that employers need to be projecting the retirement rates of older workers so that they can plan for future staffing needs, Lynch says it may make more sense to forget about specific ages and generations of workers, and instead focus on the “career plans” of workers. It doesn’t mean that age and generation should be completely dismissed because those things do impact people, Lynch says, but stereotypes can hamper getting the best from employees.

“Just because they’re 60 doesn’t mean they’re thinking about retirement,” she says. “They might be, but they might be thinking of a different job or a flexible work arrangement or staying and doing the exact same thing they are now. There are 50-year-olds looking for growth in their careers, and their employers need to be offering them training and opportunities.”

At the same time, Lynch says it’s not just employers that need to look at these age and engagement issues “through a different lens.”

“Many people in our workshops have these ‘ah hah!’ moments when we help them look at where they are in their career, no matter what their age,” she says. “We ask them to define their age in a more holistic way. It gives them a real sense of empowerment because they learn to ask themselves what’s most important to them right now, at this stage of their lives and career.”

Have you gone through different stages in your work life and what's important to you?


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

4 ways to "manage up"

Many people feel "stuck" these days. They feel powerless as they struggle to do much more work with available resources, and wonder if their career has hit a dead end with this rough economy. I interviewed John Baldoni recently, and he provide a road map of how to get your career un-stuck. Here's the column I did for Gannett:

You may think that management is a one way street: The boss tells you what to do, and you do it. But how would you feel about managing your boss?

While you might believe you’d like to dish out a little payback like some extra work or longer hours, it actually can be an opportunity to help boost your standing within your company and help your career.

Referred to as “managing up,” it’s a strategy that can propel you into the leadership ranks, says John Baldoni.

“This is for people who really want to make good things happen, who want to effect a positive change,” says Baldoni, a leadership consultant and author of “Lead Your Boss” (Amacom, $21.95).

Baldoni says not to worry that with tough economic times you should just hunker down and ride out the recession and not take any chances. He says the career savvy will recognize that companies and bosses are looking for new ideas and creativity – and this is a great opportunity to advance.

Baldoni says that managing up will work for anyone at any level of an organization, as long as you are what he calls “a go-to person.” That means others see you as capable, as someone who has credibility and can get things done. Once you’re seen as credible, then use that to take action, he says.

Baldoni says you should:

1. Come up with an innovative idea that supports the company’s overall mission strategy. If you work for a software company, for example, it doesn’t make much sense to propose buying a chicken farm.

2. “Persuade up” by telling others above you what the outcome will be of your strategy or idea. “Think of the end game. What’s going to happen?” Baldoni says.

3. Focus on how it will help everyone succeed. “You can’t look only at yourself and do this all on your own, or you’ll just be seen as a self-promoter. Let the idea do the talking,” Baldoni says.

Baldoni says it’s often those in the “middle” of an organization who are the true movers and shakers – the ones who “really get things done.”

“They see the problems and want to fix them,” he says. “They know how to lead their own people, so they also can lead those above them.”
Baldoni says anyone who wants to lead the boss must first think like the boss. To do this:
  • Keep an eye to the ground. Know what’s going on in an organization by meeting with those on the front lines and learning of their challenges. Walk the halls, eat in the cafeteria and join employee social gatherings to “pick up the pulse of the organization,” he says. Others will be more willing to share ideas if they see you more often.
  • Ask questions and listen. Be curious about what others are working on and how they’re doing it. Question what customers are thinking and how they’re reacting to the company’s products and services.
  • Reflect. When you receive information, don’t jump to immediate conclusions. Don’t get emotional when tempers fly or people get upset. Instead, stay calm and exert what Baldoni calls “quiet power.”
  • Act decisively. Don’t appear to “dither and dally,” suffering from what he calls “analysis paralysis.”
“Failure to ‘do’ makes people think you are stalling when what you are really doing is weighing the options,” he says. “Reflective assertive leaders deliberate, but they keep people in the loop as they gather information, consider variables and respect timelines.”

Finally, Baldoni says the managing up strategy will not work if you have a bully boss, “because they’ll see it as a threat.” At the same time, if you’re on a low rung of on the organization’s ladder, you may not get credit for your ideas in the beginning. The boss may take credit, but that’s OK. It’s human nature, and your prestige will come by continuing to have successful ideas,” he says.

Have you had success "managing up"?


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Are You Stuck in Gender Communication Traps at Work?

I grew up with two sisters and 10 girl cousins. No boys. Then I got married and had two boys. The only female in my house for years besides me has been the dog. So when the authors I interviewed below for my Gannett column told me that men and women communicate differently, I knew what they were saying. Boy, did I know.

Anyone who has been married or in a long-term relationship with the opposite sex might readily agree that men and women communicate differently. Unfortunately, say the authors of a new book on managing your career, those differing communications styles at work can become “gender traps” that hurt your chances of assuming a leadership role on the job.

“While we as men and women should embrace and celebrate our differences, the truth is that sometimes there are misinterpretations of what we’re saying at work,” says Roz Usheroff.

Usheroff, in a book with Beth Banks Cohn called “Taking the Leap,” ($14.99), says that a woman, for example, may become caught in the “superwoman trap” when she doesn’t create clear boundaries and tries to do everything herself. Instead, they say, women should “learn to say no and mean it.”

For a man, a communication problem may be the “Goliath trap,” where the man tries to gain support for his cause by portraying himself as the little guy against a big, bad foe. That’s a mistake, they say.

“You may have competitors, you may have colleagues who have different approaches or opinions that yours, but they are just that, not the ‘enemy.’ Labeling someone the ‘enemy’ dehumanizes them and has no place in business,” the authors say.

Usheroff notes that men and women should get input from others about their communication style to make sure they’re seen as leaders by others. “People may believe the way they are communicating is right, and not realize that there are people who resent their behavior,” Usheroff says.

In the book they give several examples of communication errors, and how women and men can improve. For women, they say:

  • Being seen as the “good girl” can take likeability too far. While it’s OK to be approachable, you can’t make business decisions just so someone won’t be mad at you. Don’t be afraid to ask for a well-deserved promotion “for fear of not being seen as appreciative.”
  • Stop hedging. Strong opinions or feelings are hidden behind words such as “it’s only my opinion” instead of more confident statements such as “I think” or “I believe.”
  • Understand that sometimes no matter what you do, you will be unfairly labeled. As long as you assert yourself fairly and honestly, don’t worry about being called names.
  • Striving for perfectionism will cause indecision. It’s a “downward spiral” that can cause women to ruin their careers. “Rather than seeking perfection, seek excellence in the time frame you have available,” they say. “And whatever you do, don’t impose your need to be perfect on your employees.”

For men, the authors say:

  • Don’t constantly hide your feelings. Most people don’t want leaders who are emotionless because it makes them uncomfortable.
  • Stop trying to “one up” colleagues. While being competitive is good in business, such a win-at-all-costs nature is destructive to teams, and will negatively impact business results.
  • Learn to delegate. By believing only he can do a job right, a man who has this attitude undermines his leadership because “you can’t be a leader without followers,” they say. While women also display such tendencies, “it has been our experience that men fall overwhelmingly into this category.”
  • You don’t always have to be right. In this case, someone always has to be a “loser” so the man can be a “winner.” Whether it’s vying for a job “and doing everything in his power to make the other internal candidate look bad” or lobbying people to support his business direction because it’s the “right” way, such communication is destructive.
What lessons have you learned about communicating better?


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Will This Tough Job Market Change Generation Y?

When I graduated from college, my priorities were: getting a job doing something I loved, having opportunities for advancement and making enough money to pay the rent.

Not so different from what Generation Y wants now, is it? And, I have even more in common with them: I needed a job when the economy was basically in the toilet. I know what it feels like to look for work when employers are cutting back.

At the same time, I know those tough times taught be a lot of valuable lessons. I decided to look into what the impact -- if any -- this difficult job market will have on young workers. Here's the column I did for Gannett:

They have been called unflattering names such as the “Entitlement Generation” or “Generation Me,” but young people seeking jobs these days may have a new name: realistic.

Often known has Generation Y, these young people for years have turned companies and recruiters inside out as they demanded jobs for more pay and more opportunities. With their technology skills and great social networking abilities, GenY ( born roughly between 1980-2003) previously have found employers willing to meet their expectations.

But then the recession hit and unemployment soared to more than 10 percent. Like the rest of job hunters, Generation Y has found jobs can be tough to come by, even with their skills. That has caused what some might term an attitude adjustment.

“This is now a more grown up generation,” says Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite.

Finnigan says recruiters, who often called young job seekers “challenging,” now report Generation Y job candidates are more willing to compromise on salaries or job duties.

In a recent survey, Jobvite found that before the recession, more than 60 percent of GenY candidates wanted a higher compensation than offered. Today, more than 50 percent of candidates say they will take the salary offered. Further, now almost one-third of applicants are trying to get jobs below their skills level, a jump of 25 percent from the pre-recession level.

“Employers just don’t have the time or patience for a generation that is so picky,” Finnigan says. “This generation is not pushing back as much as they did before.”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers, an organization of career counselors, says that employers will hire 22 percent fewer college graduates than last year. The question is whether the tough times being experienced now by this younger generation will forever change their attitudes – or be just a momentary blip in their career plans.

“This generation of workers is still highly desirable because of their skills in technology and their (social media) connections,” Finnigan says. “Employers are always going to need new blood, and that’s not going to change. But do they (GenY) have less of an attitude? Yes. And that’s a good thing.”

That “attitude” is what often has driven a generational wedge between workers. Some older workers see the young employees as wanting advancement and opportunities too quickly without paying their dues. Some younger workers see practices in today’s workplace as outdated and ineffective.

Wayne Hochwarter, a Florida State University professor who studies the workplace, says that despite the bad economy and many college graduates unable to land their desired jobs, the changes within the generation may not be that profound in the short or long term.

“I don’t know that young people’s attitudes have changed a lot, but maybe they’re more prone to say, ‘Well, it isn’t utopia, but I can make it work for me,’” Hochwarter says. “They understand they’re not going to get exactly what they want right now.”

Hochwarter says that many college students on his campus seem unfazed by the bad job numbers and tough economic times. “Of course, you have the one group who is gung-ho, but realistic. They’re paying attention and taking all the opportunities they can to make contacts (for jobs). Then, you have the other group sitting on the sidelines, just out of it.”

He says the group that is “unwilling and unable” to do more to gain entry into the working world is often supported by parents who tell them to “just wait out the recession” by staying in school.

“I don’t think the recession is really going to affect this generation all that much. They’ve been ingrained all their lives with the attitudes they have, and employers are still going to want them because they’re cheaper to hire than older workers and they have in-demand skills.”

“But are they going to be different? I kind of doubt it. You take the skin off a cucumber and it’s still a cucumber,” Hochwarter says.

Do you think this job market will have any impact on Generation Y?