Thursday, June 30, 2011

How Your Childhood May Affect Your Career

My mother had a stroke when I was 13-years-old and was paralyzed on her left side. While she regained some use, she had a constant numbness on her left side from the waist up for the rest of her life. At that time, she did her best to be the strong mother she had always been, but things changed. In many ways, I became the parent because she simply couldn't do the things -- emotionally or physically -- that she had before.

I know that the experience of my mom's illness changed my life. I know that while I was a serious 13-year-old, I became even more so after that time. My family teased me that I was born 40-years-old, but really taking on adult responsibilities after my mom's stroke made that more of a reality than a joke.

I did this column for Gannett/, and came away with a deeper understanding of how my childhood has affected the way I view work, the path of my career, etc. It may do the same for you....

Were you a child who assumed a mature role in your family at an early age because of a circumstance such as a parental illness?

Or were you the kid who could barely get a word in edgewise and had to fight to be heard?

We all have unique circumstances, but those younger years could be what now cause you problems in the workplace, says Maggie Craddock, an executive coach and author of Power Genes: Understanding Your Power Persona and How to Wield It at Work, (Harvard Business Review Press, $26.95).

  • In her book, she outlines what she calls the power persona, its strengths and the potential problems — or blind spots. She notes that some people may have a combination of these personas, but most people will recognize themselves:

• Pleasers. These are highly intuitive people who are also good listeners, great diplomats and hardworking. But they have trouble advocating for themselves, need outside validation of their work, are extremely loyal and take professional criticism personally. Think Elie Wiesel and Mother Teresa.

• Charmers. Known for being master problem-solvers, powerful change agents and having a finely honed sense of how to influence others, these people are so focused on results that they don't pay much attention to the process. They may overextend themselves and view any emotional vulnerability as a weakness. Such people would beAngelina Jolie and Ivan Boesky.

• Commanders. With a strong will to win, respectful of authority and hierarchy, resilient and self-confident, these people value the system more than the individual. They are intolerant, insensitive, impatient and have tunnel vision. Examples of such people would be Jack Welch and Margaret Thatcher.

• Inspirers. People like Jimmy Carter and Richard Branson are charismatic and visionary and lead by example, treating others as equals. However, they can be politically naive and have trouble dealing with red tape. They focus on strategy over tactics and risk burnout.

Many of these characteristics are developed as children, Craddock says. And knowing your blind spots can help you learn to deal with them more effectively.

For example, if you were a people pleaser because a caregiver was elusive in your young life, then you may have learned to emulate adult behavior early to get attention.

But when you get into the professional arena, you find that you must have approval from others — not always easy in a tough business world full of busy bosses and competitive co-workers.

"You have to learn what your triggers are," she says. "When you're a pleaser, for example, you have to learn to keep things in perspective, to talk to someone you trust from the outside when you need that validation. Just learning to take a deep breath is important."

Craddock, a former mutual fund manager, says that while many people just want to fix the problem they're having with their career and not focus on the distant past, they soon find that not taking time to reflect on their younger years is a mistake.

"Not dealing with a blind spot can cause it to go dormant like a virus," she says. "But it's still there."

A manager constantly criticized for flying off the handle and lashing out at his team may find that he has an ongoing problem — no matter what job or company — that prevents him from achieving his career goals. Only by really delving into his power persona, learning to appreciate his strengths and working to recognize and deal effectively with his blind spots can he achieve the success he desires, Craddock says.

"People often avoid dealing with these issues because they feel there's nothing they can do," she says. "But it's not hard. You can make changes as an adult. ... Not dealing with them is a mistake."

Has your childhood affected your career?


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

5 Ways to Develop New Job Leads

"Tell everyone you know you're looking for work" is a common refrain from career experts to job seekers.

So, the job seeker goes on Twitter or Facebook and says, "I'm looking for a job." That task completed, the person then moves onto something a little less stressful, like trying to make the perfect margarita or catching up on fantasy baseball.

For those of you with this job strategy, let me just tell you it's going to be a very long job search for you. While social networking is important, you still need to tell "everyone" you're looking for work. And, the more personal contact you have, the better.

That's why I'm going to take away your excuses that you don't know who else to contact. Here are some people you need to let know that you're available, you're talented and you need a job:

1. Your banker. Who wants you to succeed more than the person who wants to hold onto your money? If you're not employed, your bank account is going to shrink. That's bad news in a banker's book. Let him or her know that you're in the market for a new job.

2. Drag out your holiday list and let Aunt Bessie and second-cousin Ronald know that you're searching for work. It doesn't matter if he or she is in another city -- spread the news far and wide.

3. Break open the high-school yearbook. Look for contacts you might be missing on Facebook or Twitter. Call the mothers of these former classmates -- they can help you locate missing classmates who may have gotten married and changed their names.

4. Look for busy companies. Drive around your community and look for businesses or areas that appear to have lots of customers. Make a list and then do your research on those businesses. What can you offer them to help them handle their business and grow it even more?

5. Join new groups. Sign up for exercise or cooking classes where you can get to know new people and develop new leads. Gyms near busy office buildings are often a good bet -- employees from nearby businesses often use these facilities before and after work, or during their lunch hour. Groups of co-workers often sign up for cooking classes, or to volunteer at the local food bank -- that gives you a chance to do good for your community and network.

What are some other ways to develop new job leads?


Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Recruiter Makes Predictions About the Job Market

I think trying to predict the future is a little like trying the future. It's not easy. But that didn't stop me from asking a recruiter recently to give me an idea of where he believes this shaky job market will be in the next six months to a year. Here's what he told me for my Gannett/USAToday column.....

Wouldn't it make life much easier if someone could pull out a crystal ball and predict the day and hour when the economy will completely rebound and jobs will be plentiful?

"Our feeling is that we're going to see some growth in jobs, but it's going to be in fits and starts," he says. "There are going to be some soft patches in the next six months to a year, and we're in one of those soft patches right now."

While such a thing isn't possible, talking to those in the recruitment field often can yield some important clues about the job market in the next year and how you can best land work. One of the recruiters keeping his eye on the job market is Rob Romaine, president of MRINetworkin Philadelphia.

Still, Romaine says that he would rather see slow, measured growth right now because it "builds a better, stronger foundation" in the economy and the job market instead of "a line that goes straight up then comes straight down."

The unsettled feeling many have now about job stability and growth is because of uncertainty about the future, he says. But he does see some evidence that companies will continue to hire in the coming year with some industries such as information technology in bidding wars for top talent.

"There is significant demand right now in IT for a lot of different industries," he says. "Those in health care and pharmacy, finance, computer network and security — and even some engineering and manufacturing, are all looking for IT talent."

That growth has trickled down to a demand for more marketing and sales employees and also finance and accounting, he says.

Passive candidates — those not actively looking for a job — continue to hold a great attraction for companies that want employees up on the latest trends and ready to hit the ground running, Romaine says. Still, those now jobless and looking for work shouldn't feel discouraged.

"The greatest thing you can do now if you're looking for work is to network. Tell everyone you know that you're looking for a job," he says. "You may have an irrelevant conversation with a cousin that will lead to you finding a job."

He also recommends that those looking for jobs stay active on social networks such as LinkedIn because many recruiters find talent through that channel. He also suggests participating in industry organizations and traveling to conferences if necessary "to get yourself in front of people."

"I'm not going to discourage someone from cold calling or applying for jobs online," he says. "But that's a really hard way to get a job."

What about going back to school as a way to make yourself more marketable to employers?

Romaine says that graduates with a four-year degree have proven to have better luck landing jobs, so getting a college degree makes sense if you don't have one. Also, staying current on certifications is key "to show your skills are fresh." Graduate school may not be worth the time or money if your industry doesn't really demand it.

Some other advice and predictions from Romaine:

• Salaries won't recover soon. Some companies cut salaries 10% or more when the recession hit, and with salary increases averaging less than 2%, Romaine says don't count on starting a new job with a big pay jump over your previous position unless you're in high demand like workers in IT. In that case, you might just luck into a bidding war if you're considered a top recruit.

• Help with relocation will improve. When the housing market tanked, companies cut back on helping with moving or relocation costs. But he has seen some resurgence in relocation bonuses, especially as companies try to lure top talent.

• Overseas jobs may not be the answer. Don't jump at a job in another country simply to collect a paycheck. Many economies are struggling — and may even be worse than the United States. Romaine says those seeking overseas work still must have a strong network and skill set.


Monday, June 20, 2011

5 Reasons People Run From You at Networking Events

One of the things people like me always harp on is that you need to network all the time, whether you're employed or not. But I will be the first to admit that when I look back, there are things I wish I had done differently in my own networking efforts.

Like not have a glass of wine on an empty stomach after a seven-hour flight. Because I now know that it makes me talk about stupid stuff for 20 minutes like how one of my cats has terrible hairballs-and-I-don't-know-what-to-do-about-it-blah-blah-blah.

Or then nearly falling asleep during the opening remarks at the conference because the glass of wine on an empty stomach, followed by fistfuls of cheese puffs and chicken wings, has made me sleepier than a handful of Ambien. I'm sure my jaws cracking with each huge yawn was a really personal branding success moment for me.

So, when I offer you networking tips, they come from experience. I've included not only my own goofs, but those of others. May they save you from the same networking regrets.

Things you should never say:

1. Any stories or comments about how you hate/dislike your boss/colleagues. Any bitch sessions about work should be confined to your back patio, while consuming a keg with your closest buds.

2. Tales of how you chewed the ass of a subordinate/colleague/vendor. Save your badass tales for going with your significant other to your 37th "Journey" concert.

3. How you find ways to goof off at work. Sharing stories of how you gamble all day online or have rigged the office vending machine to give you Moutain Dews for free is not something to share with a professional contact. If you'll rip off Mountain Dews, who is to say you won't be the next Bernie Madoff?

4. How you think religious compounds are the wave of the future and you're thinking of telecommuting from one in Nebraska or Rhode Island. If you want to stop a conversation cold at a professional event, talk about religion. This is a subject best shared with members of your faith community.

5. Your kid's bowel habits. Or cat's hair balls. Or your receding hairline or underarm razor rash. All in the TMI category, and subjects that no one wants to discuss with or without a full keg beside them. These conversations should be shared with your mother, who is required under law to listen to them and offer advice.

What are some other topics you don't think should be discussed while networking?


Thursday, June 16, 2011

4 Ways to Ramp Down the Conflict at Work

There's the guy who clips his fingernails at his desk. The woman who talks in a "kitty whitty" voice when she asks for a favor. Or the manager who takes his shoes off in a meeting and props his feet on the table.

All people I have worked alongside. All people I wished would be transferred to a faraway rain forest. But then I remember how much I like animals, especially those cute little monkeys, and know I can't inflict these people on any other living being. So, I have to learn to work with them. Here's a story I did for Gannett/USAToday that might help you learn to do the same...

Many people say they love their jobs; it's the people they work with they can't stand.That can prompt some people to seek a job at another company with different people. But that's a strategy that really doesn't work.

For one thing, a poor job market means that job hopping isn't easy. For another, the problem that makes you want to leave in the first place — an inability to get along with some people — is likely to follow you to your next job,Susan H. Shearouse says.

"The reality is that you can learn to deal with the issues in your current job, or you can learn to deal with them in a new one," says Shearouse, who operates Frameworks for Agreement in Vienna, Va.

Many workplace conflicts arise out of fear, she says. Many people fear saying or doing the wrong thing, fear doing less than expected, and fear layoffs or unemployment.

Those anxieties "lead us to do things that are counter-productive, that are destructive," she says. "We tend to overreact to situations at work."

Another issue: While many people spend a long time finding the right partner with whom to spend their lives, workers often have little say-so about choosing co-workers or bosses.

"The problem is that you end up spending more time with the people at work than you do with those you live," she says.

That is a scenario that often leads to conflict. Different personalities, varied work styles and the stresses of a bad economy can cause eruptions that lead to hurt feelings, sniping and an inability to communicate in a way that enables work to get done.

The result: a situation that can not only take a toll on you physically and emotionally but also on your career.

Shearouse, author of Conflict 101, (Amacom, $17.95), says she has several suggestions on how to deal with conflict in the workplace:

• Don't hide behind email. Shearouse says communication is often the biggest source of problems at work, and email doesn't help.

"The less you want to talk to someone, the more you want to use email," she says. "But that only makes you less productive." To keep trust from eroding further, try to have face-to-face communications, which can help better resolve questions and avoid misinterpretations that arise from email.

• Be patient. Resolving a workplace conflict with someone often takes time. It will take time for someone to forgive you for a transgression, and vice versa.

"Sometimes when people don't get an immediate cure, they feel it won't get better," Shearouse says. "But you probably remember a time in your life that something got better over time. Believe in that possibility."

• Let go. Shearouse says it's important to think about what you can learn from a conflict at work.

Do you need to set more boundaries? What should you do to keep such a conflict from arising again?

Learning to let go of grudges and trying to learn from a workplace disagreement can free you from past hurts and help you look for new learning opportunities.

• Keep it in perspective. Learning to sometimes laugh at your mistakes and smile more can create positive energy around you and make you more approachable, Shearouse says.

"Sometimes we could jump up and down and scream, but it really wouldn't help anything," she says. While you want to lighten the mood, don't be flippant, sarcastic or tell off-color jokes, which can offend others and make a bad situation worse.

"The reality is that when you apply for a job, you don't get to interview the people you'll work with," Shearouse says. "So you've got to learn to work with different people. It's going to be that way in any workplace."

What ways have you found to be able to cope with different people at work?


Monday, June 13, 2011

The Things You Should Never Say in an Interview

The big day comes and you finally get a job interview. You've done your research on the company, you've got questions prepared and have even used whitening strips so your teeth practically glow in the dark. (Of course, your teeth ache so bad in an air conditioned room it brings tears to your eyes, but hey...whatever it takes to get a job.)

But then the interviewer asks you into her office. There's a bit of an awkward silence as she sorts through some materials on her desk and then looks at you expectantly. The silence goes on for a beat or two longer and before you know it....BAM! You fall for it. You fall for the oldest tactic in the book and then you're blabbing total nonsense and your job chances go out the window.

Because in those first few minutes, the job interviewer has gotten you to say something stupid. Like how the traffic was a total bitch and you had to park 10 blocks away for some ridiculous $15 an hour and then walk in shoes that pinch your feet and...

Oh, hell.

This is not how you build rapport with a hiring manager. It's how you make them see you as a whiner and someone who will spend the first 10 minutes of any job complaining to co-workers about your job and then calling your mother and doing the same thing.

Let's go over, then, the things you DON'T use as small talk:
  • How tired you are because you haven't been sleeping well. This tells the employer you are an insomniac or party animal who will be asleep at the switch before 11 a.m.
  • Talk about the bad weather. Again, the bitching tendency never goes over well, even about small stuff. If you can't handle hot/cold/rainy/snowy weather, what can you handle?
  • How cool/cute/handsome the interviewer's jacket/jewelry/office is. They have been schmoozed by much better than you, and you just come off as one of those suck-ups that co-workers end up hating and complaining about to HR.
  • Unless you're choking, don't request water/soda/coffee that hasn't been offered. Don't come off as a needy person whose personal needs trump everything else.

What are some other small-talk gaffes people make during interviews?


Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to Get the Boss to Listen to You

I'd like to say that because I've been in the communications business for a long time, I'm an expert communicator. But then, that wouldn't explain the responses I've gotten to some of my e-mails that state, "What are you talking about?" or the short-and-to-the-point: "HUH?"

I know that you can't take communicating for granted. It's something that you have to work hard at every day, and to forget that lesson can not only lead to misunderstandings, but also hurt your career. Here's the column I did for Gannett/USAToday on how we can all become better at it:

Bosses often admonish journalists not to bury the lead — meaning that the most important element of a story should be the first bit of information revealed to readers or viewers.

That's a lesson that a communications expert says everyone should take to heart when talking to their bosses or colleagues.

"You really need to focus on the point of why you're in a meeting, sending an email or talking to the boss," says
Ben Decker, president of Decker Communications. "You've got to be clear and succinct. People can get very selfish in their communications, but you have to keep it listener focused."

Bosses often admonish journalists not to bury the lead — meaning that the most important element of a story should be the first bit of information revealed to readers or viewers.

Too many people these days are either concerned more with showing off what they know or protecting their own interests, resulting in communication that is inefficient and offers little real value, Decker says.

That's a lesson that a communications expert says everyone should take to heart when talking to their bosses or colleagues.

And that can hurt your career when others become fed up, he says.

"You really want to move to a mindset from just informing the boss to influencing the boss," he says.

"Consider what is your point of view. Is it to get buy-in on a project or idea or get approval for a budget?"
When approaching your boss, Decker says begin with a strong statement that immediately has him nodding in agreement.

For example, saying "We need to be more efficient as a team" will grab the boss' attention, focusing on you and your opinions.

"You need a statement that he can't dismiss or disagree with. If you want a bigger budget or a new computer, tie it into how it will benefit the company," Decker says. "But don't start talking a lot of data. The boss is short on time. You want to get to the point immediately."

Decker says you can increase your communications savvy to have more influence in the workplace. He suggests:

• Critiquing your performance. Set up a camera in the corner the next time you give a presentation or hold a meeting.

"Most people have no idea how they really come across," he says. Decker says one executive he coached was shocked by how he led meetings when he saw his videotape; he made changes.

Decker also suggests taping phone conferences or even listening to your own voice mail to judge for things like energy, friendliness or clarity of speech. Don't worry about a regional or international accent as long as you can be clearly understood.

"Accents add character," he says.

• Using more face-to-face interactions. Email and phone calls are a vital part of any business, but human interactions make a real difference, Decker says.

If you can't meet in person, use online tools such as webcams, he says.

"Get your face in front of people any way you can," he says. "You have to connect emotionally with people, and you can't do that through email or conference calls."

• Adding variety. Any conversation should have what Decker refers to as an "ebb and flow."

Even the most serious conversation should have some lighthearted moments to release tension in your listeners.

"People have to like you. You want them to appreciate you and like being in the room with you," he says. Telling relevant stories is a great way to engage listeners.

• Eliminating bad habits. Don't fall into the habit of saying "uh" or "like" or "actually" too much or you'll start to lose your audience, he says.

"Don't be afraid of pausing," he says. "It shows confidence." Decker also advises eliminating cliches such as "at the end of the day."

What are some other ways to improve communication?


Monday, June 6, 2011

Should You Work With a Spouse?

I've never watched "Sister Wives" before, but caught an episode last night where all the wives quit their jobs and moved from Utah to Las Vegas, Nev. with their husband. As I understand it, they want to launch a family business together, although they have no idea what that will be. And, based on what I saw last night with all the wives moving into different houses -- and liking it -- launching a business together will be an interesting development.

I recently interviewed a couple who not only run a company together, but advise other couples on how to do the same. I think the "Sister Wives" gang might learn a lesson or two from this story I did for my Gannett/USAToday column:

Most couples learn at some point that if they want to stay together, some joint efforts are best left to others — like trying to hang wallpaper or put together a computer desk.

Working on those projects together can strain even the strongest union. Yet how do thousands of couples work together every day running a business?

The secret is making sure you understand that wedded bliss doesn't necessarily translate into career bliss, sayBethany and Scott Palmer, financial advisers known asThe Money Couple. Love doesn't guarantee that you won't want to attack one another with staplers if you try to launch an enterprise together.

"You have to go into it with your eyes wide open,"Bethany Palmer says. "You may think it sounds really glamorous to run your own business, but you've got to talk about the challenges and the boundaries."

That means, ahem, that pillow talk isn't good for business or a marriage.

Scheduling time to talk about business — and knowing when to knock it off — is equally important.

"We always turn it off for dinner. We might have some time after the boys go to bed to catch up on something, but for the most part we keep it part of our day — even if that means we get up at 4:15 a.m. to talk," Scott Palmer says.

Each say they grew up working for their fathers, and running a family business is in their DNA. They often take their boys, ages 7 and 9, on the road with them for seminars or speaking engagements where the kids help pass out books or assist in directing attendees.

"We've been very clear in our expectations when we take them along," Scott Palmer says. "We tell them first you pay, then you play."

At the same time, the Palmers say they pay attention for signs they may be too focused on their work.

"If they think we're talking too much about business, they tell us," Scott Palmer says of his sons. "And we stop."

The Palmers often advise other couples about finances and starting their own businesses, and Bethany Palmer says it's key that couples not lose sight of their personal relationship when launching a company.

She says she and her husband are religious about a date night every week, have a clear understanding of when they talk about work during their day, and remain flexible about how and when the work needs to get done.

The Palmers, authors of First Comes Love, Then Comes Money (HarperOne, $14.99) say they have several suggestions for couples who think they want to go into business together. Among them:

• Have equal footing. Just as a successful marriage is based on equality, so must be a business between partners.

"Capitalize on each person's strengths," Scott Palmer says. "Know what each person is good at and the expertise that person has."

Adds Bethany Palmer: "It's not going to work if one of you makes all the decisions and the other person is nothing but an assistant."

• Don't play the blame game. Just as McDonald's and Coca-Cola have had things go wrong, so will a family business.

The key is that those companies continued to move forward, and so must a small business. Spending time blaming one another is a recipe for disaster, they say.

• Be analytical. Make a list of the pros and cons of starting a business, and understand how you handle and approach money.

The Palmers suggest spending at least a year determining your abilities, your skills, how you will handle conflicts, etc. Look at items such as setting salaries, hiring and firing employees, managing workers and tasks, getting insurance, marketing your skills and even planning the work space.

They liken it to building another family. Unless you're both fully committed, it's not going to work.

• Meet regularly. Chatting while making dinner or picking the kids up from soccer practice isn't good enough.

Schedule regular work meetings to stay on top of key issues and make sure you're on track with business plans, they say.

Do you think you could work with a significant other? What advice would you offer?