Tuesday, May 31, 2011

3 Things to Do While You Wait on a Job Offer

Last week I wrote a post about what parents can do to help their college graduates who have to move back home until they find a job. Now, I'm going to write a post for college graduates who are jobless -- and it has nothing to do with writing a resume or brushing up on interview skills.

Instead of watching CollegeHumor videos or "Scrubs" reruns, here are some things you can do now that will pay off once you get a job.

Just think of this as the class they never gave in summer school...

1. Improve your handwriting. I know, I know. Who uses pen and paper anymore? You've always got your laptop or your smartphone, so the thought of handwriting a note seems ridiculous. But what's ridiculous is the college graduate who can't write in cursive and whose notes resemble something that should be submitted to Sesame Street. Download some free handwriting guides, and practice at least 30 minutes every day until you can do it with ease. Employers roll their eyes at young workers who can't write in cursive or print like first-graders. Don't give them an excuse to think your handwriting is a reflection of your abilities.

2. Stay up on current events. I know that many people said they learned of Osama bin Laden's death via Facebook, but you also need to get news from other sources as well. Like newspapers, magazines or RELIABLE blogs. You need to understand local and world events and how they may affect others. You'll garner respect from colleagues and bosses if you're able to not only keep up with current event discussions, but add some insight based on a deeper understanding.

3. Take a dance class. Learning to move gracefully projects maturity and confidence. A dance class (traditional dance like the foxtrot, not hip hop) will improve your posture. It will teach you how to move in front of others without tripping over your own two feet. It will teach you how to wear dress shoes or high heels without looking like an idiot. And, believe it or not, you may someday have to dance with the boss' spouse, and won't you look awesome when you know how to move with confidence as opposed to the others who stand around waiting to Dougie?

What others tips do you have while college grads await a job offer?


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why You Need to Put Your Desk on Cinder Blocks

I've been reading that it's better for your health and productivity to stand at your desk rather than to sit hunched over it like a gargoyle (who knew?), but I'd never really heard anyone personally vouch for it until my friend Eve at CareerDiva. Then, I got a tweet from Jeff Gothelf at The Ladders, extolling the virtues of standing at work. I called him and then filed this story for Gannett/USAToday:

When Jeff Gothelf heard that standing while working at your computer had health benefits, he says he went to the nearest Home Depot to buy 14 cinder blocks. He used the blocks to boost his desk at home, and Gothelf says his family has been raving about the changes in his work habits. Cost: about $20.

"I'm spending significantly less time at the computer, and my family is thrilled," he says.you're standing, you are not relaxing or hanging out watching videos or doing other stuff. You're very goal oriented. There are no distractions. You're in and out."

  • Gothelf, director of user experience for The Ladders inNew York, became so sold on the idea of a standing work station that he requested his work desk be elevated. To his surprise, he was told his desk already was equipped with expandable legs and soon the 6-foot Gothelf was head and shoulders above his 90 other co-workers.

In less than a month, two colleagues also hoisted their desks and began standing while working.

"They just sort of sprouted up like mushrooms," he says.

Gothelf has found that the benefits he experienced with his home experiment have translated to work.

"I'm a lot more focused," he says. "I also do a lot more walking around, because it's easier when you're already standing to just walk over and talk to someone."

Still, being so noticeable at work — sort of a Lady Gaga among the cubicles — is not without its drawbacks, he says.

"I think because I'm standing and shifting around a bit, people seem to think I'm less engaged in what I'm doing. So, they think they can come by and just hang out. It's distracting," Gothelf says. "That's the biggest drawback I've found."

Recent studies have found that the body's metabolism slows when sitting all day, and workers who are more sedentary have been found to be less productive. With employers looking for ways to be more efficient — and cut health care costs that rise with unhealthy workers — spending more time standing at work could be an attractive option for companies and employees.

Still, workplace health experts say you can't just leap from your chair and expect everything to be fine. Gothelf's co-workers found that out the hard way.

"A couple of guys decided to start standing all day," Gothelf says. "They weren't used to it."

The result were aching feet and backs, which prompted at least one worker to build up his standing stamina, sitting for part of the day, Gothelf says.

Carla Sottovia, who is fitness director for Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas and has a doctorate in the subject, says the right footwear is critical when standing for long periods. Taking short breaks and avoiding immobility also are important, whether standing or sitting.

But for those who have developed sore backs hunched over a computer all day, standing may be a good option. Sottovia says the pressure from sitting with a rounded back in a chair increases lower-back pressure 275% while standing increases lower back pressure 100%.

Gothelf has found that following good ergonomic rules when standing while working is important, he says:

• Adjust the desk height to make sure your elbows are at a 90-degree angle to the floor when working on a computer.

• Ensure that your monitor's angle doesn't force you to tilt your head up or down.

So far, Gothelf says he hasn't lost any weight by standing at his desk and moving around more but believes the other benefits make it worthwhile.

"Everyone heads to Starbucks at 3 p.m. because they've hit the wall," he says. "I don't do that anymore. I find that I don't have that crash anymore because I'm moving and not settled in. I'm just focused."

Do you have other tricks to keep yourself healthy and more productive at work?


Monday, May 23, 2011

3 Bad Habits That Hurt Job Chances

If you have a child graduating from college this year, chances are good that you may see him or her move back home for a while because he or she hasn't landed a job. Twentysomething Inc. reports that 85 percent of graduates will go back to their parents' home, up from 67 percent in 2006.

You may be frustrated, considering the big bucks you shelled out for your child to get a higher education. You may begin calling contacts to check on job openings, or help your kid write a resume or cover letter.

But much of the job hunt is a waiting game, and you and your child will have to be patient. Still, there are things you can do that will help your son or daughter in the future when that call for an interview does arrive, and it's nothing more difficult than sitting down to a meal or having a conversation.

Here are some ways you can help your son or daughter prepare for that foray into the professional world:

1. Invite old Aunt Edna to dinner. Ask her to rate your child's table manners. Many etiquette lessons seem to fall by the wayside when a child goes to college. You want a stickler for rules to spot the bad manners that could trip up your child in an interview lunch or dinner. I've noticed a lot of girls have developed the bad habit of sitting with their feet tucked under them in a chair, while boys eat hunched over their food like they're at lunch with cell block 14.

2. Tape a conversation. Many college students have developed the habit (as have many adults) of saying "like" too much. "I, like, can't believe, like, the job market is so, like, bad." A study found adult interviewers were more likely to perceive a job candidate as less professional if the person said "like" too much, as compared to "uh." This is a habit that needs to be broken. Like, NOW.

3. Practice in nice clothes. Many college students haven't lived in anything other than jeans, Uggs and sweatshirts since they left home. Now is the time to have them practice wearing nicer clothes. Take your college graduate to a nice restaurant, the opera or anywhere else where people dress up. Guys should know how to handle a tie when they eat (no, you don't flip it over your shoulder), and girls should know how to sit properly and not flash half the town when they get out of a car. No one wants an interviewer distracted because your graduate can't walk in big-people shoes and is chomping gum like a cow chewing its cud.

The key is that your graduate is going to be nervous in an interview, so it's important that many good habits are developed beforehand so they're second nature. If your kid goes to an interview and is trying to remember to sit up straight, not say "like" too much and give pithy answers to tough questions -- well, it's a recipe for disaster.

What are some other good habits college graduates can work on developing?


Friday, May 20, 2011

How to Impress a Powerful Person

In my early days at USA Today, I was looking up some obscure information in the newspaper's library (this was before online) on election night when I had quite the shock.

Let me back up for a second and explain that election nights are notoriously one of the craziest times to work at a newspaper. Information is coming in fast and furious and editors are screaming at people to meet deadlines and the bad pizza they ordered is starting to ferment in your gut.

So, it was sort of a lull before the next skirmish, and I and another co-worker went down to the library to "look something up" when what we were really doing was escaping the insanity of the newsroom to just sort of chill.

We were standing around gabbing about nothing in the library when I felt someone come up beside me. "How's it going?" I heard someone say.

I looked over my shoulder to come face-to-face with Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, a man I had only met through his picture in the newspaper. I remember mumbling something like, "Just fine. Sir. Fine." And then I bolted for the door, my co-worker hot on my heels.

I was young, and now realize what a missed opportunity that was for me. Read this story I did for Gannett/USAToday and you'll realize what you should do when you have a chance to talk to a mover and shaker....

Many workers don't come into contact with their chief executive very often, but they should be prepared — whether it's a chance meeting in an elevator or a planned presentation.

So if you don't want to be judged harshly — and perhaps hurt your career — be ready to handle the presence of an influential leader whether it's the boss, a customer or a client, says Schlimm, principal of Jenoir Management Consultants.Management expert Dirk Schlimm says workers must not try to wing it or leave anything to chance when meeting powerful people. Those movers and shakers immediately assess then judge anyone who crosses their path.

"You've got to be prepared," Schlimm says. "You've got to be ready to provide a crisp answer about what you do and what you're working on."

Also be ready to cite ways a company can be better since many top bosses will ask rank-and-file workers what they think. Schlimm says it's a good idea to practice this answer because you don't want to say anything that would criticize your boss — and get you in a lot of trouble.

Dealing with a powerful person takes some finesse. The key is making sure you remain true to yourself but use the interaction with decision-makers to help your career. After decades of dealing with powerful leaders, Schlimm offers several insights in his new book, Influencing Powerful People (McGraw Hill, $28). Among his lessons:

• Look the part. If you know you're going to meet key leaders, follow the company's dress code.

"It's amazing how quickly powerful people will size you up when they see you and come to a decision in their mind about you," he says. "It's just practical to make sure you're dressed appropriately."

• Watch out for confined spaces. While you may think you've landed the career lottery when asked to join a powerful person on a private jet, it could be a disaster in the making.

You'll be judged and evaluated on everything, including the book you choose to read, Schlimm says.

"If you read a leisure book, the powerful person may think you have too much free time on your hands and aren't busy enough," he says. "Honestly, it may be best to take the seat the farthest away from this person because they're going to be all business, all the time."

• Relax, but not too much. Powerful people like to interact with others during activities such as golf, tennis or a company party. But this can be a land mine of problems if you don't watch your behavior.

Being too competitive or cheating at a game can make a powerful person see you in a negative light and decide that you're not a good fit for a company.

Also, don't forget that many powerful people rely on the perceptions of spouses, so be on your best behavior around husbands and wives as well.

"It can be very difficult for a CEO to get unbiased feedback, so they'll rely on the spouse to give an intuitive, unvarnished view of someone," Schlimm says.

• Appreciate the power. Top leaders come to trust those they believe "get it," Schlimm says.

That means that you've got to let the powerful person know that you understand and appreciate what they do and are trying to accomplish.

This message should be delivered in a way the person best appreciates. Some will want it in writing; others will want you to tell them directly, he says.

• Don't delay bad news. Powerful people don't become powerful by being the last to know something.

If you've got unhappy developments to explain, do so immediately. Even if you don't have all the details, let the person know right away and say you're working on getting specifics.

"Powerful people love the business. It's almost their whole life. So, don't worry about disturbing them," Schlimm says. "Most of them are insomniacs anyway, so you probably won't bother them even in the middle of the night."

• Take on menial tasks. If you want to build trust with a powerful person, proving yourself adept and thorough at small jobs can help build that bridge.

Schlimm suggests offering to take minutes in a meeting of important people you might not otherwise get to attend.

"You want to show that you do even the small things really well, that you appreciate getting a chance to do it and you took it seriously," he says. "What you're saying is that you knew it was important to the powerful person, so it was important to you."

• Keep your independence. Getting sucked into the world of power — then being corrupted by it — was a key lesson in movies such as Wall Street.

But the same thing can happen in real life, so Schlimm advises having a trusted mentor who can help you see when you're crossing the line, following a powerful person to a place you may not want to go.

What other tips can you offer?


Monday, May 16, 2011

Tips for Dealing With a Micromanager -- and Other Workplace Pains

I've read Jodi Glickman's stuff over at Harvard Business Review online for a long time, so it was great to get to finally connect with her for this column I did for Gannett/USAToday.com:

Some of the stickiest workplace situations include a micromanaging boss, delegating unwanted tasks and stopping constant interruptions.

The result? Workers who are stressed, overworked and resentful.Dealing with those scenarios are so difficult that some workers avoid them completely and just put up with the annoyances.

Yet, some people know just how to handle such difficult situations at work.

How do they do it? Have they been blessed with magical powers capable of halting irksome bosses in their tracks? Do they possess some secret technology that keeps others from bothering them with unnecessary emails or phone calls?

No, Jodi Glickman says. We all have the same powers — the powers to help us say the right thing at the right time so that we not only alleviate annoying situations at work but get ahead in our careers.

"I think the biggest problem in the workplace today is that people don't communicate their expectations below them or above them," she says. "There is a real disconnect because people rely too much on their assumptions."

In other words, the boss who drives you batty with constant emails doesn't realize that he's hurting your productivity. He just assumes he's staying updated. But you assume he's a micromanaging nutcase who can't trust you to get your work done.

Glickman, who has worked for Goldman Sachs and the Environmental Protection Agency, says some techniques to handle such problems can keep everybody from walking away angry or frustrated. In her new book, Great on the Job, (St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99), she talks about some of the most frustrating situations on the job and how to handle them:

Some of her advice includes:

• Dealing with the micromanager. "This is when you've got to play offense, not defense," she says.

Instead of constantly reacting to a boss' emails or phone calls, send a daily update with information on issues such as a project's progress or timetable. Be as specific as possible so that the boss and the team are receiving information before asking for it, she says.

• Outlining the consequences of interruptions. A blizzard of emails, phone calls or texts can hurt your productivity, so point this out to others.

Glickman suggests saying something like, "I'm having a hard time getting my work done because of the constant interruptions. I'd like to propose being offline from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. every day." Or, "I would do better in getting my work done if I could turn my phone off for a couple of hours every day."

The key "is making the issue is not about you personally but about the productivity impact," she says. "You're not whining; you're proposing a solution."

• Carving out personal time. Workers today often feel they're on duty 24/7 because they may receive emails or phone calls at home. Glickman says the key is letting others know you're doing something else at the moment but will respond later.

"People get really stressed out when you don't respond for three days to an email, so you just tell them that you're out of pocket for 24 hours and will look at the information on Monday and get back to them," she says. "Once they receive an acknowledgement, they're OK. It's the unknowing that's so unnerving for some people."

• Dealing with unrealistic deadlines. "Use transparency," Glickman says. "Communicate what you've got on your plate and tell the boss you'd be happy to work on something, but also outline a realistic timeline of when you can get it done."

She also suggests outlining resources that will be needed to get the job done.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

4 Tips for Doing Well in a Surprise Phone Interview

I've written before about phone interviews, and my friend Scot Herrick over at Cube Rules recently addressed the issue in a helpful post.

I think anyone can do well in a phone interview if they're prepared, but what happens when you get an ambush call? I know some recruiters like to do this -- call you during the dinner hour when the kids are screaming and the meatloaf in burning and the dog has just eaten a sofa cushion. You scream, a "dammit!" into the phone as you step in dog barf (the dog didn't like the cushion so much) and suddenly your career is teetering on the abyss.

Be aware that no matter your level on the career ladder, a hiring manager or recruiter is not above pulling a stunt like this. To be prepared, here are some tips:

1. Set some groundrules. Children with less than stellar telephone-answering skills should be asked to refrain from answering the phone, unless they can tell from caller i.d. that's it's grandma. If you've given your cellphone as the contact number, keep it out of anyone else's reach, and don't answer it when you're in rush hour traffic or eating lunch. Call back when you can find a quiet place to talk.

2. Be prepared. Have copies of your resume and talking points near the phone. Also near the phone should be a file organized with the correspondence needed to communicate with specific employers. Note the names of contacts so you won't fumble around searching for names in your memory banks.

3. Remember to breathe. Don't pick up the phone until you've taken and released a deep breath and you're away from a chaotic atmosphere.

4. Stay professional. While the recruiter may have called you at home, this is anything but a casual chat. Just because you're in your bunny slippers doesn't mean you should let down your guard and get too chummy or casual. Be wary if the call is on speaker phone -- you never know who else might be in the room.

What other tips do you have for unexpected phone interviews?


Friday, May 6, 2011

Could Changing Your Appearance Get You a Job or Promotion?

I've had some strange experiences meeting people for the first time. I once attended a conference, and when I went to pick up my name tag, the person looked startled. "Wow!" she said to me. "You sounded blonde on the phone!"

I'm not sure what that meant, and I know my response was along the line of, "No. I'm a brunette. Always have been."

My point is that people often make assumptions about you -- even before they see you. So, it's critical that you make sure you're on the right track when going for an interview or while at work. While you may think those pink cowboy boots are wicked cool or that the tie with Elmer Fudd on it is hilarious, others may think differently. Here's more to contemplate in a column I did for Gannett/USAToday.com:

There's nothing like finding that first gray hair, is there?

Whether you find it at 20 or 50, it's a sign that you're aging. And that's not always a comfortable thought.But what happens when that gray hair may affect your ability to get — or keep — a job? What happens when the jokes Nora Ephron makes about sagging neck skin become a harsh reality?

For many older job seekers and employees worried about looking young enough to be seen as a vital asset to a company, it has meant having plastic surgery. TheAmerican Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that 13.1 million plastic surgery procedures, such as facelifts, breast augmentations and Botox, were done in 2010 — a 5% increase from the year before.

Still, not all job seekers or older workers want to take such radical steps and may instead opt for hair color, salon tans and other "tweaks" designed to make them look a little more youthful. However, that doesn't mean their efforts are always successful.

"I see these men who are trying to be a little too GQ," says Maggie Jessup, referring to the men's magazine often featuring fashionable clothes. "They've got this slicked-back hair, fake tans and look like they just stepped off the runway."

Jessup, director of Platform Strategy, says both men and women must realize that what they see in magazines or fashion runways shouldn't be completely copied and then strutted around at work or in a job interview.

"When you go to work, you need to look professional," she says. "The office isn't Gossip Girl or All My Children. Leave the sequins at home and cover up the cleavage."

When you're being interviewed for a job, the last thing you want is for the interviewer to be wondering about your bad hair dye job, says Laurie Ruettimann, a former human resources professional with Fortune 500 companies who now writes and speaks about workplace issues.

"We're staring at your dark hair, but seeing gray eyebrows. There's a dissonance although we may not be able to put our finger on it right away," she says. "So, we're thinking about that instead of listening to the great things you can do."

Research shows that when meeting a stranger, we record an impression of that person's face in about a tenth of a second. And our treatment of that person is based on our impression. Ruettimann says that's true of many job interviewers.

"The human resources person is going to make a quick assessment of you. They're going to look at your hair, your clothes and your accessories," she says.

What exactly are they looking for?

"We're looking to see if you're going to cause trouble down the road if you're hired. If you're smelly and unkempt, co-workers may complain about you. We're looking to see if you're clean and neat so we don't have to worry about that and can move onto other matters," she says.

Ruettimann and Jessup have suggestions for making a good impression, whether you're applying for a job or just wanting to spiff up your image at your current position. Among them:

• Avoid hair extremes. "We're a very hair obsessed society," Jessup says. "Most women over 40 don't look good with flat, straight-ironed hair."

Adds Ruettimann: "Baby boomers shouldn't dye their hair from a box, especially not one or two days before an interview because then you can't fix it if it goes wrong." She suggests highlights from a professional stylist.

• Stand tall. "Just maintaining a good posture can take years off your age," Jessup says. "Pick your head up and lift your chin."

• Be realistic. "If you go get a boob job or Botox, understand that people are going to be talking about that whenever they see you, and not your abilities," Ruettimann says. "For women, especially, it can be the topic of conversation for a long time."

• Don't fight the inevitable. No one expects a 55-year-old person to have tight skin or nary a gray hair.

"If Botox makes you feel better about yourself, go for it. But just understand that a brow lift isn't going to get you a promotion," Ruettimann says.

Do you think someone should change their appearance to get a job or promotion?


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

6 Ways to Handle Criticism at Work

After a week lounging around on the beach, I'm back on the job and trying to catch up with my blog. So, here's the latest column I did for Gannett/USAToday:

Unfortunately, criticism is a part of the working world.

• A co-worker criticizes your contribution to a report.

• The boss criticizes the way you handled a client.• A co-worker criticizes your contribution to a report.

• Even the lunch delivery person criticizes you for not having correct change.

You may respond to these criticisms with angry thoughts, defending yourself in your head against what you believe are unfair and mean-spirited remarks. In many cases, you're right to try to defend yourself — criticisms at work often are off-target and nasty.

"Criticism is not a motivational technique. It does not teach or show you how to correct or change anything," says Deanna Rosenberg, a business consultant.

But the problem is that because so many workers have been burned by unfair criticism they avoid any feedback at all, a habit that can hurt careers, Rosenberg says.

If employees don't know what the boss likes and dislikes about their performance, they can make themselves vulnerable to being ousted from their jobs.

She says it's key that workers learn how to better handle criticism, and use techniques to direct it in a way that benefits their careers. By understanding how to ask for more specific information when critical comments are made, Rosenberg says workers can glean where they need to direct their energies instead of just becoming emotional and unproductive.

"It's perfectly normal to get angry when someone criticizes you," Rosenberg says. "But you've got to keep your feelings inside. Just keep telling yourself that the person criticizing you is not in your shoes, and the person is just offering his or her opinion. Tell yourself that you're trying your best."

Once you acknowledge your feelings then you can move on, try to track down exactly what's bugging the boss about your performance, figure out how you can correct it, and learn from it, she says.

That's why learning to listen to criticism — not avoiding it — is so important, she says.

"If something is bothering the boss, you've got to find out what it is," she says. "That's why it's so important that you ask questions, trying to narrow down exactly what is the problem. Don't let the boss talk about past issues because there's nothing you can do about that. Keep him focused on what must be done in the future."

Rosenberg, author of From Rage to Resolution, (iUniverse, $23.95), offers more tips when dealing with criticism at work:

• Control your body language. Don't clench your teeth or fists or cross your arms while listening. Try to sit next to the boss if he's offering feedback such as in a performance review. This sets a more friendly, equitable tone.

• Don't become defensive. Justifying yourself is a waste of time, as is trying to blame someone else.

• Focus on the problem. When the speaker is done, ask questions and then rephrase the issue: "As I understand it, you are concerned about (this problem) and you would like me to (state solution). Is that correct?"

• Hear the complete message. Don't stop asking questions or talking until the other person agrees that you fully understand the concerns.

• Keep the conversation productive. If it's clear the other person is correct about a situation, acknowledge it and offer an apology if appropriate. Express your appreciation for the other person taking the time to offer you feedback. After your conversation if you still believe that the criticism may be wrong, you can state your opinion but agree you will think about the issue.

• Agree to follow up. To show that you valued the input, offer to meet with the other person later to discuss progress or improvement.

What are some ways you've handled criticism at work?