Thursday, July 29, 2010

Treating Job Candidates Badly: Why It May Come Back to Haunt Employers

Everyone has a bad interview story. Mine is that on a hot summer day I took a subway, an (un-airconditioned) bus and walked five blocks in high heels and a suit to a job interview only to have the hiring manager tell me there wasn't a job available.

"I just wanted to know what a girl from Oklahoma thought she was doing applying for a job here," he told me.

He's lucky the girl from Oklahoma didn't leap across his desk and show him how we rope steers -- and then castrate them. (Although I've never done this personally, I felt I could find someone who could show him at a moment's notice.)

Eight days later I had a job with a prestigious employer. So, in my case, getting a job with a competitor was the best revenge.

But in this economy, some employers are taking bad treatment of job candidates to an art form. I decided to look into the issue for my Gannett/ column. (And perhaps loan my roping buddies to a few people.) Here's the story...

It isn’t a new story that hiring managers sometimes treat job candidates badly, but now there a twist in the dynamic – job candidates are getting a bit of revenge when they broadcast their poor treatment to millions of others via the Internet.

The result is that companies are seeing their carefully crafted public image come unhinged as insulted interviewees recount everything from unprofessionalism to discrimination – and the news is spreading far and wide to other job seekers and even company customers.

“Some companies really have tunnel vision, and they’re not considering that the job candidate isn’t just a job candidate, but also a customer and an influencer,” says Libby Sartain, a human resources adviser who has also worked for Southwest Airlines and Yahoo! Inc. “They’re not thinking about how a bad candidate experience sticks with you. You talk about it for a long time.”

Three years ago, Holly Meadows Baird, an interior designer, interviewed for a job where the hiring manager introduced her to the “girls” in the company. “I went to an all-girls school,” she says. “That comment was like nails on a chalkboard for me. Not to mention all these ‘girls’ were over 25-years-old.”

The situation deteriorated when the manager took a personal call about a home renovation project during Baird’s interview, using the back of her resume to take notes. “My only regret is that I didn’t walk out of the conference room right then,” she says.

Still, that bad interview experience wasn’t to be her last. A recent interview at what she considered a well-respected architecture firm in Nashville went off the tracks when she was kept cooling her heels an hour after a scheduled interview time. When she finally met with the hiring manager, he was “not present mentally” and “obviously was very distracted,” she says.

“It was a Friday afternoon, so I guess he was just very anxious to get out of there,” she says.

The interview ended when the hiring manager shook hands with her, and literally sprinted for the exit doors at a run.

“I was pretty disappointed at the way things turned out,” she says. “It made me much more cynical about the employer.”

Kevin Kahn, applying for a corporate sports sales executive position – work mostly done via the phone – says the company asked him to come in for a personal meeting after a phone interview. But when the hiring manager walked out to greet Kahn – attired in pressed jeans, shirt and sports-jacket – he was told that he didn’t need to stick around because his attire was “unprofessional.”

“At first I kind of laughed and said something like, ‘Are you serious?’ The receptionist who overheard it just had this dumbfounded expression on her face,” he recalls.

Kahn has since contacted a lawyer about what happened to investigate his legal options.

Sartain says unpleasant candidate experiences such as those mentioned here are partly the result of over-worked human resource departments who have “been cut to the bone” and are faced with sometimes thousands of applicants for every job. “These employers just have their hands full, and they’re not focusing on the candidate experience,” she says.

But candidates are. Fed up with poor treatment, they spread the word to others about the employer –whether it’s telling friends and family as Kahn and Baird did, or tweeting about their experience. Websites devoted to criticism of employers – including their hiring practices -- are thriving.

That’s why employer brand specialists like Sartain are warning companies they’ve got to improve their efforts or suffer the consequences . A damaged public image can impact everything from being able to recruit top talent to attracting customers, she says, especially since job candidates also may be customers – and they can easily spread their opinions online these days.

Baird says she believes employers will reap what they sow.

“Right now, there are so many well-qualified candidates that it’s an interviewers’ market and they can pick from the cream of the crop. They may not feel like they have to be as respectful of people,” Baird says. “But that kind of thing gets around. And, it’s all about relationships – they don’t think people will talk, but they will. They are.”

Have you ever been treated badly in an interview? What should companies be doing differently?


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

4 Issues to Consider Before Returning to a Former Employer

When we leave a job, we may harbor secret dreams about leaving with a dramatic flourish. We tell off the irritating co-worker (“You did nothing but gamble online all day, you slacker!”) to the boss (“You’ll never get anything done without me around!”) to the parking lot attendant (“It wouldn’t kill you to be nice sometimes!”)

If we’re smart, however, we don’t burn bridges behind us. We leave with a congenial smile and handshake for everyone, including the parking lot attendant. Because let’s face it, the working world can often be a very small one and you may end up back at the very company you left.

Why? Sometimes absence makes the heart grown fonder. After working elsewhere, you begin to forget the issues that drove you out in the first place. Or, a former boss or colleague makes an offer you can’t refuse – to return to your former employer as a sort of conquering hero. Not only will you be making more money, but you will be offered a much better position with promises of great things to come.

But wait a minute. Do you really want to go back?

Some employees answer with a resounding “you bet!” and return with great success, happy to be back at a company they know and understand. They realize that had they not left, they might not have gotten such wonderful new opportunities. For companies, returning employees are often of great benefit, since there’s little training time involved and the employee can sort of hit the ground running.

At the same time, however, there are employees who try to return to the fold with unfortunate circumstances. After the worker begins anew at the company, the employee soon remembers with blinding clarity why he or she left in the first place. The employee not only regrets returning, but now runs the real danger of angering co-workers and bosses when they choose to leave again.

So what’s the solution? The key is that anyone returning to the mother ship had better have a clear understanding of not only why he left, but why it’s such a good idea to return. Begin by:

· Taking roll. Look at who is still at the company and who isn’t. Are the same people still around? If so, what was your relationship with them? What about the boss? Will you have to work for him or with him? Was that relationship on solid footing before you left? Take a hard look how you felt about these people when you worked there the first time – they’re not likely to change much, so you’re going to have to do some soul searching about whether you can really work with them again. Also, be realistic about who might be resentful – and try to set you up to fail – if you return.

· Understanding the company culture. Maybe the reason you left the first time was because the employer didn’t promote from within or didn’t recognize your contributions. Unless the top ranks have changed, this culture is likely to remain the same. How does this fit in with your career plans?

· Looking at the employer’s financial health. An increase in salary won’t mean much if you face a layoff in six months. Make sure the employer is on sound financial footing before returning – have there been any layoffs or cutbacks in development? Or is your hiring just another “quick fix” they’re using during tough times?

· Getting the inside scoop. Meet with anyone else in the company who has returned to the fold and see how their transition has gone. If you’re still on good terms with other employees, meet them for lunch and see if you can get a feel for company morale and the business’s future.

What are some other things to think about before returning to a former employer?


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is Using Social Media at Work a Good Idea?

Facebook announced this week is has 500 million users. And not one of them ever, ever, ever uses it at work.

At least, that's what some employers would like to believe. But the truth is, employees do use Facebook at work. They Twitter. They comment on blogs. That's just reality.

That's why I thought it would be interesting to look at how companies are handling the issue of employees using social media -- and how some of them are just ignoring it. Here's the column I did for Gannett/

While many employers wring their hands over the use of social media by employees at work – fearing legal problems or lost productivity – the evidence is mounting that letting employees tweet or check Facebook during their workday is not only inevitable, but it may make good business sense.

Social media – often seen as a place to chat with friends or tell strangers about what you had for dinner – has evolved into a marketing tool that employers are harnessing to do everything from increasing their brand awareness to recruiting top talent.

Further, studies show that employees allowed to use social media on the jobs help drive profitability, improve customer service – and contrary to employer fears – may help workers do their jobs better.

For example, a Forrester Research study found that 70 percent of 303 information-technology workers who use social media said it makes them more productive. Further, a recent Right Management survey found that 51 percent of those working for employers with more than 10,000 employees said that social networking “seldom” interferes with productivity, while 41 percent of those at smaller companies report it “seldom” interferes.

“Social media is still viewed as a threat to productivity, but 10 years ago, they probably said the same thing about the Internet,” says Helene Cavalli, manager of marketing communications for Right Management in Philadelphia. “I think employers believe employees will waste time (on social media), but the truth is, they’re just as likely to walk to the kitchen and talk to other people.”

Cavalli points out that social media interaction isn’t always about discussing a new movie or dishing the latest gossip. It also can be about exchanging professional information and learning about industry trends.

That’s a view shared by Trish McFarlane, human resources business partner for St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

McFarlane says she has first-hand experience with how online interactions can pay off at work. Her boss recently asked her to find out how other companies engaged their employees, and how the hospital might be able to do similar projects. Instead of launching into time-consuming research of the issue, McFarlane turned to her social media network through her blog, HR Ringleader.

“Within a couple of days, I had 23 comments from people who went into great detail about the projects they were doing and offering me information,” she says. “And, if I had any questions, I could ask them, because they all included their e-mail addresses.”

McFarlane says her boss understands “I’m not flitting around all day on Facebook,” and recognizes the value of social networking.

The Forrester survey found that 72 percent of respondents reported social media helped them get answers to their questions, and 68 percent said it helped them gather information they needed to be successful.

Still, some companies have shied away from social media after warnings from legal experts that employers could be opening themselves up to a bevy of problems. For example, lawyers warn about workers divulging proprietary information or making discriminatory comments that could result in a lawsuit against an employer. On the other hand, some employers simply ignore social media: A report by Manpower says that 75 percent of employers don’t have a formal policy in place regarding social media use at work.

“I definitely think the benefits outweigh the risks,” McFarlane says. “And, employees are going to do it anyway. They can talk about work on Facebook using their (smart) phones, or they can tweet at midnight from home about work. That ship has already sailed.”

McFarlane says that the key is companies educating employees about proper communication on social media sites such as Facebook. “You have to allow for a little bit of normal conversation – you may put some personal information out there – but the key is that employees understand what the company wants them to share. “

For example, a glitch in a customer service process may have employees proactively using Twitter or Facebook to explain the problem, and how they’re working to solve it. (An Edison Research study found that of the 17 million Americans actively using Twitter, half of them followed a company, brand or product). Customer complaints are dealt with in real time, and workers feel like they’re contributing to the company’s success by helping deal with a problem.

Cavalli says that employees should be coached on how to play an active role in promoting their employer brand online, and informed of the no-no’s: Sharing confidential information or being negative, for example. She says leaders can “model” proper behavior online.

“I think you definitely need rules in place (for social media use at work), and you certainly can’t anticipate everything that will happen,” Cavalli says. “But it is a fantastic medium to help you learn from your peers and other experts, and gives you an access to that information you wouldn’t have had before.”

Do you think it's OK to use social media at work?


Monday, July 19, 2010

3 Ways to Attach Yourself to a Powerful Boss

No one in the workplace operates in a vacuum. Everyone is dependent on someone else, no matter the job or location. It’s that dependence, however, that can make or break you.

If you work, for example, under a manager who is seen as weak and ineffective, that could seriously impact your chances for promotions or working on top projects. Why? Because his lackluster performance is unlikely to garner few rewards for him – or anyone who works for him – from top brass.

On the other hand, if you work for a strong manager, it’s likely that your star can rise right along with his.

One of the problems, of course, is that employees can misjudge their boss’s status within a company and end up tying themselves to a weak manager instead of a strong one.

For example, you may believe that because your boss is a tiger around you and your co-workers, yelling and blustering and acting like a tyrant, that he must be just as tough around top bosses as well. But he may totally wimp out in front of executives and so has a reputation as a weak link. And vice versa – the most easy-going manager with a nice word for everyone may be very shrewd and tough with the big bosses when it comes to getting what he wants.

What this boils down to is that anyone who works for, or with, a successful boss has a chance of being in on not only the top projects, but reaping additional benefits such as plentiful resources and training.

Still, aligning yourself with the right manager isn’t always easy. It may not be clear exactly who has a powerful reputation with key players, and who just pretends to have one. No boss is going to advertise the fact that he’s seen as weak by the top people, and real power players often do their best work quietly and behind the scenes, with little fanfare. But with some detective work, you can make pretty good guesses as to who has a bright future and might be able to boost your career as well.

For example, when considering a manager’s strength, observe the reaction of others to him. Do other managers, employees and customers really listen to him? In meetings, this means that people don’t interrupt him or check messages on their Blackberries. They make eye contact and wait until he is finished speaking before asking questions. Also, when it comes time for decisions to be made, do others turn to him for his input?

Further, is the boss in the loop regarding company decisions, and is he consulted about those decisions? If he doesn’t seem to know about future plans or is unsure of the next move by top decision-makers, this may mean he is seen as weak by top brass and is not kept informed of vital moves. Those who work for weak bosses often are the last to know of company plans, are under-funded and consistently miss out on key opportunities.

Another key indicator for a power boss is one who makes rapid progress. This means that he not only has risen in the ranks at a good clip, but that he is able to show fast, consistent growth (new customers, new projects, great efficiency and productivity) and is generating the revenue needed to operate his department and help the company. He is assertive in meeting his goals, and his decisions have a direct impact on the business.

So, once you’ve determined the strong boss, how can you align yourself with him so that your career will benefit? Try:

· Offering information. Power players are adept at spotting trends, honing in on key bits of information they can use to propel themselves forward. By passing on industry news or personnel changes or actions by competitors, you make yourself more valuable and visible to the manager. Don’t pass along frivolous information – jamming up his e-mail or mailbox will have the opposite impact and make you just seem annoying.

· Getting to know the inner circle. An executive assistant is often an invaluable ally in getting to know a key player. Ask about the challenges the boss is currently facing, and what he values most.

· Seeking input. While you don’t want to take up the manager’s time with anything and everything (“Do you think I should reorganize my files?”) asking for thoughts on dealing with a difficult customer or brainstorming some ideas for a presentation to a new client can help establish a stronger working relationship.

What are some other ways to position yourself?

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

What To Do When You Don't Want the Promotion

Most people these days feel very fortunate to have jobs. But if you get them in a comfortable moment (OK, ply them with a few beers and some Cheetos), they'll tell you they are sick of working so hard. They're tired, they can't ever seem to catch up and they see no end in sight. So, it makes sense that when the boss starts hinting that a promotion is coming, they are less than enthused.

I'd go so far to say they'd rather step on a rusty nail than take on more more work. Because let's face it: A promotion usually means more work. And with companies being especially stingy with resources, getting a promotion is unlikely to mean you're going to be given extra help to do the job.

So can you turn down a promotion? Is it career suicide? If it is, do you even care at this point? It's a question I explored in my latest Gannett/ column:

Most of us look forward to the day we receive a promotion at work. After all, it’s usually the culmination of a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice that has finally netted us more money and a new title.

But what happens when you’re offered a promotion and you don’t want it? Is there a way to say “no” without committing career suicide?

Jason Seiden, a management and communications consultant in Chicago, says it’s a risky move that could end up miffing the boss.

“Think about how you would feel if you asked someone to marry you – and the person said ‘no’ or ‘let me think about it,’” Seiden says. “It’s not exactly what you want to hear.”

When the boss offers you a bigger – and supposedly better – job, he or she wants to see excitement Seiden says. An employee who either declines the promotion outright – or seems unenthusiastic and asks for time to consider it – may have permanently landed on the “not promotable” list, Seiden says.

Seiden adds that when turning down a promotion, you run the risk of “killing” your career at that company.

Brandon Partridge, 24, of San Diego, is someone who said “no” to a promotion – not to kill his career, he contends, but to save it.

Working for a company that designs movie posters, Partridge was offered a promotion by the company’s vice president on the recommendation of a consultant who had been studying the organization for months. Only one problem: The employee who already held the job was closely tied to the company’s founder and CEO. “This person was really in cahoots with the CEO – they were very close,” he says.

Partridge says he felt that taking the job would make him a target of those who “gave me dirty looks” when they heard of his promotion offer – not to mention the CEO whose loyalty rested with the person currently in the position.

“So, I just tried to tell them that while I appreciated the offer, I was already doing a lot of that kind of work but I didn’t need the title,” he says. “I was just trying to ride out a tough economy and keep my job.”

So, the vice president accepted Partridge’s decision and he stayed in his current job. But one month later Partridge was laid off – along with 300 other employees. He now is trying to get his business, Webfont Foundry, up and running.

“I think I was laid off because other people saw me as a threat. Still, in hindsight, I would have done everything the same way again,” he says.

Seiden, author of “Super Staying Power: What You Need to Become Valuable and Resilient at Work,” says that sometimes a worker may want to turn down a promotion because he or she is already overworked – and sees the new job as adding to that load. Or, in some cases, taking the promotion can actually be a bad move for the person’s career aspirations. No matter the reason, Seiden says it’s critical that a promotion be declined carefully.

He suggests:

  • Looking for signs a promotion may be coming. “If you think you’re about to be offered a job you don’t want, then you don’t say to the boss, ‘I see it coming and I don’t want it,’” he says. Instead, meet with the boss and explain how much you like your current job and what you’re doing. “Talk about how comfortable you are, and how you’re not looking for additional responsibilities and that you’re in a really good place,” he says.
  • Sharing your vision. “Let the boss know about how you see your career path, and how it might be a bit different than what he sees. This gives you an opportunity to shape an opportunity with the boss,” he says.
  • Being helpful. “If the boss brings up the promotion, you can say that you don’t see it as really being a good fit. But immediately say how you’ll be happy to help find someone who would be a good fit,” he says.
  • Putting on a happy face. “When you’re offered a promotion, the first thing you say is ‘Wow! Awesome!’ Then, you may be able to say something like, ‘Gee, let me have a day to digest this,’” Seiden says. Asking for time to think about an offer is always a risky move, Seiden says, so be careful to keep your expression joyous – not sickly.
  • Knowing when to accept fate. “If you get blindsided with an offer, you may be stuck and have to accept it,” he says.
What are some other suggestions for turning down a promotion? Would you ever do it?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Can Your Workplace Survive if You Take a Vacation?

Did you know that the world will fall apart if you take a vacation this year? That’s right – stop spinning on its axis. The oceans will run dry and the birds will fall by the thousands out of the trees.

OK, that sounds ridiculous. But we sometimes get so caught up in our own work we truly believe that we can’t take time away. So, we put our shoulders to the wheel, getting more stressed and less productive every day.

And, even those who do manage to pack the bags and head for some time away often lug with them their computer, Blackberry, phone and files.

Specifically, vacation time not only allows your body to physically relax and recharge, which is critical to your long-term health, but it also allows you to become more valuable to your employer.

A new CareerBuilder survey finds that 56 percent of 4,800 workers surveyed report they need some time off now more than they have in the last several years. As the economy has slowly improved and there's less worry about being laid off, 36 percent say they feel more at ease taking vacation time than they did last year.

Now that it’s clear that taking vacation is critical for you not only personally and professionally, let’s look at ways to make you not only feel better about taking the time away, but to make sure the world doesn’t crumble in your absence:

· Communicate. Several weeks before you leave, make sure everyone knows that you’ll be gone. Remind your boss of your vacation, and let clients and co-workers know how long you will be gone. Meet with colleagues who will be covering your job and leave them important phone numbers, e-mails and any deadlines. Ask co-workers and your boss what they need from you before you leave, which will hopefully cut down on the need to contact you during vacation.

· Establish boundaries. Sometimes it’s not possible to be completely away from work, but don’t be too readily available. If you must, tell your office you will check in at a certain time each day (tell them you’ll be out of cell phone or Internet range), and then stick to it. Also, set a time limit on how much you will work, such as 30 minutes a day.

· Invest in your vacation. Some people fall into the trap of not taking a vacation or working on vacation because they think the time away is boring or a waste of time. But only when you clear your mind of your usual clutter do you become open to new ideas and let your creativity flow. Doing something totally different from your everyday life is what recharges your batteries and makes you even more valuable when you return to work. Keep telling yourself that staring at the ocean is a good thing, and another ride on that rollercoaster is an investment in your career.

· If you don’t play, you pay. Americans get the least amount of vacation days a year with 14 days (France gets 37 days, Great Britain gets 26 days), but surveys show that Americans leave an average of three days unused. But studies have also shown that vacations can reduce stress that often leads to health problems. And, by enjoying time away, you return better able to cope with the mental and physical demands of a workplace that operates in a 24/7 global climate.

Finally, don’t sabotage your own vacation. Arrive back home a day or two early to just do laundry, sort through your mail and newspapers and stock the refrigerator. This will help ease your transition back into your daily routine and not make the first day of work seem so overwhelming.

And remember, when you go back to work, take a small memento of your time away and put it where you can see it. That way, you’ll remember that it was all worth it – and take another vacation when it comes time.

Are you taking time off this year? Why or why not?


Thursday, July 8, 2010

6 Tips for Getting More Rest at Work

I once was in a museum and watched a guard cross his feet and arms, lean back against a wall -- and go sound asleep. I couldn't believe it -- surely he was just resting his eyes? But then I heard the unmistakable sounds of soft snores.

Now that, I thought, is a useful skill.

But how many workers can learn to sleep standing up? Surely, this is a specialized skill. What about the other millions of mentally and physically exhausted employees who have been doing twice the work in the last year in an effort to hang onto their jobs? Where can they find the rest they need during the day to keep going? I found the answer when I did my latest column for Gannett/

Would you like to look younger, feel better, lose weight and be happier?

There’s a simple way to do all those things: get some rest at work.

While the idea of resting at work may seem ludicrous – especially since many employees are doing more work than ever before in this tough economy – getting more rest really can make a huge difference in your life, says Dr. Matthew Edlund, a sleep and rest expert.

“People have turned themselves into machines,” Edlund says. “They’re working 24/7. But they’re not machines, and their bodies aren’t getting the needed rest to rebuild and renew.”

In his new book, “The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough,” (HarperOne, $25.99), Edlund says that we need all kinds of rest – from getting enough sleep to giving our bodies a chance to recharge through spiritual, mental and social activities that refresh us. Such activities, even at work, are critical if we want to thrive, he says.

“More people are developing insomnia, so they use sleeping pills to sleep, then using stimulants like caffeine to stay awake,” he says. “They race through the day, instead of going with the natural flow and rhythm. I’m saying they shouldn’t fight the need to rest. The body needs time to rebuild.”

For those who may think they don’t have “time” to rest, Edlund provides theses extra incentives: Studies have shown that those who get enough down time not only do better at work and are in a better frame of mind – but they also have better skin and control weight gain. In other words, getting more rest makes you not only feel better, but look better, he says.

Edlund advocates finding periods throughout the day to rest. Trying to go at a non-stop pace is simply bad for your mental and physical health and leads to poorer performance, less creativity and more mistakes at work, he says. “People are working harder and harder these days, but they’re producing less,” he says. “People use machines so much, they think they are machines.”

But most bosses aren’t willing to let employees sleep at their desks – so how does the average worker find time to recharge?

Here are some ways he says workers can cope better with their hectic workdays:

· Pop your ears. Close your eyes, place your fingers in your ears for 10 seconds and the pop your ears loudly. Open your eyes and begin mentally naming the colors you see, then the sizes and shapes of various objects. Identify the sounds you hear. This helps you “reset” your system and eases your stress so you can move forward, he says.

· Walk to the bathroom. Use the time to walk to music you love or stop and chat briefly with a friendly co-worker. Such activities can give you the rest break you need.

· Visualize the task. If you’re anxious about a job you need to do, you can try self-hypnosis. Close your eyes. Focus, relax and concentrate on what you need to do, such as imagining the details of the task, imagining yourself doing it quickly and efficiently. If you don’t think you can do self-hypnosis, close your eyes and imagine an identical twin doing the task. That should enable you to approach the task more calmly.

· Use lunchtime for mental and spiritual rest. Edlund suggests going for a walk outside, since sunlight has been proven to improve productivity for early afternoon activities and greenery benefits your alertness and health. If you can’t get away from your desk, focus on something from nature such as a plant on your desk or even an interesting rock found on a vacation. If possible, spend time with a colleague socializing over a meal.

· Take a nap. Afternoons are often a sluggish time for many people. If you have private work space, place a yoga mat on the floor, put on an eyeshade and sleep for no more than 15 minutes. If you can prove to your boss that your productivity goes up after a short nap, you may be able to convince him or her to let you use a quiet area – such as a conference room – if you don’t have a private work space.

· Take a coffee break. Taking a five- to 15-minute mid-afternoon break – especially with another person – gives you a “social” rest that will renew you to go back to work. If you take a break alone, make sure you savor your tea or coffee so that you get the relaxation you need, Edlund says.

What techniques do you use to get through your day?


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

5 Tips for Giving a Great Video Interview

As more companies interview job candidates from around the world and more executives look for time-saving strategies, you may find that the next time you interview for a job you’re facing not a live human being, but a television camera.

Videoconferencing is becoming more and more popular across all industries and job levels as a way not to just conduct meetings between far-flung participants, but as a way to interview potential employees.

Sometimes a television camera films the job candidate in a studio while a television screen projects the interviewer at another location. Often, no one else is present with the job candidate during that time, and the interview schedule is strictly enforced. That means you've got to be even more prepared because you're only going to have a limited time to sell yourself to the interviewer.

Some tips for having a great interview:

  • Send necessary materials early. If you've got an updated resume, send that to interviewers before the session so they have it in hand.
  • Understand the technology. By arriving about 15 minutes early, you can ask the technician how loud you should talk into the microphone (avoid constantly bending over microphone when you speak), and ask how to use the “picture in picture” feature, which allows you to see on the television screen how you are being filmed. Use this feature ahead of time to make sure your appearance is neat and the table is clear of clutter. Don't be afraid to tell the technician you're not familiar with the equipment, and ask for pointers.
  • Minimize distractions. Don't do things like tapping your pen or fiddling with bracelets, because the microphone may pick it up and that's the only thing interviewers will hear. Check out the picture-in-picture feature periodically to make sure you’re not fiddling with your hair, rocking in your chair or doing anything else that distracts the interviewer.
  • Maintain eye contact. Just as you would in a face-to-face interview, keep your eyes on the interviewer. It’s OK to take notes, but look up from time to time so that the interviewer isn’t always seeing the top of your head that is bent over your notepad.
  • Dress appropriately. You may think you can dress more casually, which is not the case. Also, dress appropriately from head-to-toe -- you don't want to be in a nice shirt and tie, and then stand up to be caught in ratty shorts or jeans.
Any other hints for someone doing a long-distance interview?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Is ADHD Being Ignored in the Workplace?

When I was in second grade, I had the Wicked Witch of the West as a teacher. With cat-eye glasses, hair in a viscously tight bun and always sucking a cough drop, this woman terrorized 30 children every day -- including me. (I once ate an entire eraser before school in an effort to make myself sick so I wouldn't have to go to school. It worked.)

I managed to stay below her radar for the most part, but several kids had to take her bullying every day. One kid was named Lance, and he couldn't sit still. Today he'd probably be diagnosed with ADHD, but in those days -- my teacher ruled. And she ruled that he should be tied to his chair with his own belt. It still makes me sick to think about it.

Thank goodness we understand much more about ADHD and have ways to treat it. But I think that in the workplace today, there is still a lot of misunderstanding. While employees may not be tied to their chairs, they may still be held back by those who don't understand their disorder. Here's the story I did for Gannett/ on the issue:

Daryl Wizelman was diagnosed at age 6 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he couldn’t concentrate in class and was judged to be “hyperactive” by teachers. His pediatrician put him on medication, which he considered a “real life-changer.”

Fast forward a couple of decades. Wizelman founds his own company, but employees say he doesn’t seem to listen to them, rushing through meetings and showing little interest in their ideas. Again, his ADHD has come into play, and he struggles to find ways to take a childhood disorder and make it fit into a working world that expects top performers to be focused and organized.

More years pass. Wizelman now says, despite his ADHD symptoms still existing, he has learned to be more aware of the appropriate way to behave – and even sees the “positive” aspects of his disorder.

“It gives me a lot of empathy toward other people, with whatever struggles they may be facing. It teaches you to treat others how you want to be treated,” says Wizelman, a Calabasas, Calif., speaker and author.

Mental health professionals estimate that 9 million adults in the United States have ADHD. Symptoms of ADHD and attention deficit disorder (known as inattentive ADHD) include difficulty paying attention; being easily distracted; trouble finishing paperwork; fidgeting; talking too much; and procrastination. All these issues can cause workers with the disorder a lot of problems at work – and possibly even get them fired.

Michele Novotni, a psychologist and coach who specializes in workers with ADHD, says that the disorder is “tremendously undiagnosed” in adults, because in the past it was viewed as only a childhood disorder. Any adult not following through on work, for example, was simply seen as lazy, she says.

“Some of the criteria for children with the disorder are that they have trouble sitting still – they get up and move around a lot,” she says. “But with adults, they may learn to sit still – but their brains are in a hyperactive mode.”

Novotni says adults in the workplace with ADHD often may not stop to think before they say or do something – they may commit “social faux pas” and “hurt people’s feelings,” a detriment to their workplace success since social interaction often is critical on the job.

While many adult ADHD sufferers use medication to help them control their symptoms, learning to cope in the workplace often also takes coaching, Novotni says. “Pills aren’t skills,” she says.

Novotni and other experts say some coping skills for those workers with ADHD include:
Getting an assistant. “Workplaces have cut out secretaries and assistants, and that’s been deadly for those with ADHD,” Novotni says. “Those people provided them with needed structure. I suggest people get someone to help them – rather it’s a college student or a virtual assistant.”[rather?]
• Understanding priorities. Check with your boss to make sure you understand what tasks should be done first. Novotni suggests two white boards: one that serves as a “parking lot” for thoughts and ideas and a smaller one with only three priority items. Until the three priority items are done, you can’t move on to other ideas or projects, she says.
Being honest. Wizelman suggests that if you’re a boss, let others know about your ADHD. “Being transparent and vulnerable is important. It draws people in, and they get a greater understanding of you and you become a relatable leader,” he says.
Eliminating distractions. Try to sit near the speaker in a meeting or presentation so it’s easier to stay focused, and take notes to keep you on track. Getting an agenda beforehand can make it easier to follow along.
Finding ways to fidget appropriately. Taking a walk on a break or exercising at a gym during lunch can help you relieve restlessness that you must contain during other parts of your workday.

Novotni points out that employers should provide training on ADHD, both for those who suffer from the disorder and those who work with them. “These people are often great employees – they have so many ideas, so many things going on in their heads,” she says.

Feel free to share your thoughts about this issue in the workplace...