Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How to Hang on to a New Job

I know many people hate networking. Hate. It. They feel uncomfortable promoting themselves to others, and many won't even do it when they're desperate for a job. But if these tough times have taught us one thing, it's that if you don't network, someone else will. And, they'll be the ones to get promotions, new jobs and opportunities you'll miss because you're still whining how you don't like to network.

Networking is here to stay. Get used to it. Do it when you're unemployed, do it when you're employed and do it at your kid's soccer game. Just do it.

As you can tell, I feel pretty strongly about the subject. It was the focus on my latest column for Gannett...

You may think that once you land a job you don’t have to sell yourself to others anymore, that your days of trying to establish connections with strangers is over and you can finally just settle down to doing a job and earning a paycheck.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

The truth is that in this job market, no one should give up the skills they developed while searching for work. Instead, you should keep those abilities honed and ready for use in your new position.

“You’ve got to realize that networking inside a company is just as important as when you were networking on the outside trying to get in,” says Thom Singer, a professional speaker and business consultant who often advises others on networking and communication skills.

While your focus when landing a job was on proving you had the necessary experience and could hit the ground running, you need a different game plan in your first days and weeks in a new job. A recent OfficeTeam survey found that 32 percent of workers said that becoming used to a different corporate culture and colleagues would “pose the greatest challenge” when re-entering the workforce after unemployment.

“You want to reach out to people, and ask them for their help. Make them an ally – show that you want to collaborate and you’re not a threat to them,” Singer says. “This is where you make it about other people. You ask them to show you the ropes.”

And never – never – he says, tell others: “This is how we did it at my last company.” You should not, he says, have the attitude that you’re going to jump in and fix all the problems.

Some may consider this confusing advice. After all, doesn’t the new boss need to see that you’re hot stuff and he made the right decision in giving you the job?

Singer says it’s equally important to a manager that a new employee mesh with the existing team.

“Most bosses are very aware of what’s going on. They know who is helping who,” Singer says. “So, you show you’re inclusive by saying that you worked on something with Mary. They’re going to know who did the work and who was willing to share the credit.”

At the same time, taking such steps may help protect your job in the long run. “When companies make cuts, it’s a lot harder to let go of someone who is popular and well-liked as opposed to the loner,” Singer says.

How else can a new worker forge strong in-house ties? Some ideas:

· Recognize the power brokers. Of course you need to impress managers, but don’t forget that many employees without important titles hold key positions. Be friendly to office managers, receptionists, mail room clerks and IT personnel who can help you navigate office politics, provide insight into the company culture and smooth your way in everything from getting office supplies to having a computer glitch fixed.

· Say “yes.” “If you get invited to lunch or out after work, don’t say you have too much work, but find a way to go,” Singer says. “It’s important to your career that you become part of the group, and if you turn them down, they may just stop asking. Then you’re always going to be seen as an outsider.”

· Walk the halls. Don’t confine yourself to becoming friendly with only those in your department. Be friendly and introduce yourself to others in the organization, even if you’re only passing them in the hallway. “It’s very smart to have ties that run throughout a company. That way, if your department has cuts, you could always try and make a lateral move,” Singer says. “That’s going to be much easier if you know other people in those departments.”

Finally, for those who think they can slack off on their networking now that they have a job, Singer has some advice. "Don’t make the mistake of letting your network disappear. In this economy, there are no guarantees,” he says.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Should You Tell How Much Money You Make?

People have very strong opinions about whether it's OK to talk about salaries, so when this survey from crossed my desk, I knew I had to explore it further. Would you tell someone what you make if they asked? Are you more or less likely to do so since last year at this time? It's an interesting topic I explored for my recent Gannett column:

The workplace has been turned upside down in the last year because of the recession, and it appears it has even changed our attitudes regarding an often taboo subject: talking about our salaries.

Whether to reveal to others what we make has prompted more than a few debates, and a new survey reveals that Americans are becoming even more guarded about sharing the details of their compensation. According to a survey, 17 percent of respondents say they are not comfortable talking about what they earn, up from 11 percent in 2008.

Why are workers talking less about their pay?

“There’s a lot of fear and insecurity out there,” says Rusty Rueff, a Glassdoor workplace expert. “People don’t want the boss or human resources to think they’re not grateful to have a job if they question their salary. And, I think there is some survivor guilt, as well. People just don’t want to talk about it if things are going well for them.”

The survey found that a worker’s age and gender may determine whether they’re willing to share income amounts with others. For example, 11 percent of men age 18-34 share salary information with casual acquaintances, compared to only 2 percent of men over 55 and 2 percent of women age 18-34.

Veronica Schaefer is a 26-year-old finance employee in New York, says she believes strongly that salaries should be openly discussed. She says she is surprised that more people are keeping mum about their earnings, and says she and her co-workers are talking about money more than ever before.

“My colleagues and I have been talking about how we’re doing the work of two or three people, and not getting paid for it,” she says. “I think a lot of people are being taken advantage of in this economy, and companies know employees are willing to suck it up and take what they can get. That’s why I think we should reveal what we make – that way you know if you’re getting paid what you’re worth.”

Rueff notes that workers like Schaefer show that while they’re willing to commiserate with co-workers or friends, employees often don’t complain to bosses because they don’t want to call attention to themselves in a way that might bring a negative backlash from management. “They don’t want to be vulnerable in any way,” he says. “It’s like they go into a cocoon.”

One of the concerns facing employers these days, however, is what will happen once the economy improves and workers decide to emerge from their cocoons. Already operating with only key players, these companies could be facing some real threats to their ability to compete if workers discontented with their workload and their salaries decide to leave.

“I believe from the boardroom on down, there has been the attitude by many companies of: “Oh, yeah? Where are they (unhappy workers) going to go?” Rueff says.

That attitude is short-sighted and arrogant, a combination that could prove to be a costly mistake for many employers, Rueff says. He says that companies who have cut staffs and then reduced salaries for existing workers now consider this the “new normal” for conducting business. Employees, on the other hand, expect to see not only more people hired to help them as business picks up, but also expect to get pay raises.

“We’re living in a time of very mismatched expectations,” between companies and workers, he says.

Schaefer says she and her colleagues may be some of those ready to head for better jobs when the economy recovers. “We’ll all definitely be looking for another job if we don’t feel like we’re being paid fairly. If we think the ‘favorites’ are getting paid more, it’s not fair to those who work really hard and don’t get as much. That’s why I think it makes sense to reveal what you make. At the end of the day, what works is all of us making sure we get paid fairly for the job we’re doing.”

Notes Rueff: “The workplace is like a game of musical chairs, and while the music has been stopped for a while, when it starts up again you’re going to see employees be on the move.”


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

5 Ways to Avoid Freaking Out About Networking

Hear that? That growling noise? That's the sound of dozens of career experts venting their frustrations over how many job seekers still refuse to accept they must network if they want to find a job. Career bloggers are ranting about how the unemployed still spend most of their time looking at job boards instead of making contacts, and it's not getting any better. That's what prompted my interest in this story on networking -- the fact that so many job seekers seem to keep ignoring the advice. Here's the story I did for Gannett:

If you’re looking for work, it may be time to step away from the computer.

That’s because like many job seekers, you’re probably spending way too much time poring over job boards and sending resumes to cyber black holes that offer you little chance of finding a job.

Instead, it’s time to get on the phone or go out to lunch. In other words, it’s time to network, still the best way to land a job.

However, chances are good you’re going to balk at the suggestion. Networking for many people has the appeal of doing taxes or having an especially painful medical procedure.

“I think part of the problem is because people don’t feel at the top of their game when they’re looking for work. They’re afraid of looking needy and helpless to other people. And, they feel like it’s begging – especially if they haven’t been networking until now,” says
Liz Lynch, founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of “Smart Networking.”

According to research by
Upwardly Mobile Inc., an online career management service in Palo Alto, Calif., job seekers only talk, or e-mail, an average of eight people outside of their current organization on a monthly basis. Only 38 percent say they have asked for an introduction in the last month, and job seekers on average only have a network of 29 colleagues, which they define as peers they’ve interacted with in the last 18-24 months.

Such statistics, Lynch says, prove it’s time that those hunting for work must move past their doubts and inhibitions about networking if they want to find a job.

“I think the first thing these people need to realize is that others really do want to help them,” she says. “The second thing they need to realize is that they’ve got to be much more targeted and strategic about their networking.”

She suggests job seekers should:

• Attend events attended by others in your industry or field of interest. “If you attend a networking event with random people, it won’t help you. Then, you’ll just say that networking doesn’t work and you won’t do it again,” Lynch says.

• Be prepared. Always dress professionally when networking, refine your pitch on your capabilities and be ready to ask pertinent questions. “I think some people have this idea that they’re’ gong to network with someone and the person will say, ‘Oh, my gosh! I’ve been looking for you all my life!’ People don’t really have a job in their back pocket, but they can give you information that will help you in your search, such as what the hot-button issues are in the industry, or who might be hiring in the future.”

• Give back. It can be uncomfortable and awkward to just call and ask someone for a job lead, so instead ask a question like: “I’ve been thinking of going in this direction with my job search, and I’d like to get your thoughts.” Lynch says it also can help ease your discomfort by then offering something in return, such as saying, “Is there anything I can do for you?” To maintain the connection, send the person articles or information you think they might find of value.

• Avoid over-using social networking. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great for keeping tabs on your contacts, but nothing beats a face-to-face conversation for making strong connections. “Use your social networks to do advance research when you’re going to meet someone, but remember you can make a much better impression in person,” she says.

• Keep the networking muscle in use. It’s estimated college graduates will change jobs nearly a dozen times in their careers, and networks will remain critical. “Often, your discomfort with networking goes away when you’ve got a job, so that’s a great time to work on your connections,” Lynch says. “Take the time once a week or even once a month to ask someone from your company or another connection to go to lunch. By the end of the year, you will really have expanded your network.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

6 Questions to Increase your Accountability Muscle

Some days I feel like I can hardly keep up with all the public figures behaving badly. Behaving badly and then lying about it. Then, apologizing for behaving so badly. And lying.

That's why I was interested in discussing the issue of personal responsibility. Are we capable, I wondered, of taking personal responsibility? What impact does that lack of accountability have on the workplace? It's a question I explored in my latest column for Gannett:

When ex-baseball player Mark McGwire recently admitted taking performance-enhancing steroids during his career, critics charged that his a truthfulness fell short when he contended he still could have hit his record-breaking number of home runs without the drugs.

Failing to accept complete personal responsibility – without excuses or addendums – is a practice that’s infected every nook and cranny of our society today, including the workplace, says Linda Galindo, an executive coach and accountability expert.

“Mark McGwire is an example of someone who tries to explain away why he did what he did,” Galindo says. “When you do something like that, your authenticity starts to be diminished. It’s just an example of the level of ridiculousness we’ve reached.”

Real accountability, Galindo says, means that you take ownership of your results – good or bad – and don’t point the finger at anyone else. It means that if you make a mistake, “you say what you did and what you learned from it and what you’ll do differently in the future,” she says.

If you’re on the slippery slope of evasiveness, she says, you end up spending more energy dodging honesty that you do taking responsibility and learning and growing from your experiences, she says.

Still, Galindo acknowledges that in this bad job market workers may fear being fired if they do admit a mistake, but she says taking on personal accountability can actually help a career. She says that shifting blame, telling lies and dodging questions doesn’t keep the truth from emerging later.

Further, a boss may be even more irritated by the evasion and the time lost trying to track down the real story – and fire you for not owning up to it in the first place.

If you make a mistake, Galindo recommends telling the boss that you want to take ownership of the situation, but you’d like some time to assess where you went wrong, and some solutions to the problem, she advises. Always make it clear to the boss, she says, “that you want to be there, and you want your job and you want to do better,” she says.

Galindo, author of “The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success,” (Jossey-Bass, $22.95), says that ways to increase your personal responsibility and accountability include asking these questions:

1. Are you responsible whether the results are good or bad? You have to decide to own the results completely, no matter the outcome. No excuses.

2. Do you recognize your own power? You alone have responsibility for managing your career. You can’t give that away unless you want to.

3. What are your expectations? What do you expect of others? Of yourself? Clarify with yourself and others what you expect. Ask questions to make sure you understand situations and avoid misunderstandings.

4. Are you dealing with the present? Let go of past annoyances or angers or regrets. You can’t change the past, so it doesn’t matter what “should” have happened. Worrying about who to blame or longing for what “could have been” is a waste of time and energy. Instead, focus on the present and how you want to react.

5. Do you always tell the truth? No one is perfect, but trying to cover up a mistake only makes it worse. Besides, when you lie you don’t really fool anyone – including yourself.

6. Are you policing yourself? “Personal accountability is a commitment. It’s ‘I’ messages. It’s saying that you want to own the problem and move forward,” Galindo says.

Galindo says that employees feeling more pressure these days to perform can use personal accountability to actually make their lives less stressful and gain clarity about their career.

“You end up paying over and over again for not being accountable. You have to decide that you’re going to step up and answer for your results,” she says. “The question is: Are you ready to step up and take responsibility for your own success?”

Do you see a lack of personal responsibility in your workplace? What impact does it have?