Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is Controversy Good for Your Career?

I've been writing for newspapers since I was in high school. The reason I point this out is that I've had years (eons) to learn that what you put in print really matters. You've got to think long and hard about what you're writing. If you make a mistake, not only is it embarrassing, but it can haunt you for a long time.

But many bloggers haven't yet learned this lesson. They're making all their messy mistakes in print (online), and it's sticking with them like old gum to their shoe.

Here's a story I did for Gannett/USAToday on why what you write now may impact you for a long time.....

Sometimes it can be frustrating as a job seeker when you're trying to get the attention of an employer.

As one of possibly thousands of people applying for one job, it's easy to get overlooked or outright ignored. So you may begin to consider trying something more quirky to get an employer's attention, such as sending a giant chocolate chip cookie along with your resume.

Then, when that doesn't work, you begin to feel a bit more desperate and consider trying something more radical.

You begin to notice how those behaving outrageously seem to get lots of publicity.

In your research online, you've noted that people with "controversial" reputations often are quite popular. They get lots of "hits" on their blog, have thousands of Twitter followers and are very popular on Facebook. Sometimes national media even interview them.

Maybe, you think, being more controversial could work for your career. Should you start thinking and acting less like June Cleaver and more like Lady Gaga? Would that help not only your job search but enable your career to take off in a big way?

Career expert Alexandra Levit warns against that strategy. Trying to generate publicity like you were aJersey Shore cast member is likely to backfire, she says.

"Reality television has made controversial behavior popular for everyone," she says. "It's sort of the attitude of just letting it all hang out there. But you need to think twice before you do the same."

While being controversial certainly will help you stand out, Levit says it's not the kind of attention that will help your job search or career.

In her book, Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can't Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, (Berkley, $15), she says becoming an online "troll" who stirs up controversy with inflammatory opinions will quickly make you known — but also just as quickly make you irrelevant once the controversy dies down.

She says you can be provocative without totally trashing your reputation or your future, but you still must tread carefully if you decide to go that route.

Being outspoken in your opinions can help you be perceived as confident — or arrogant. Sending a forthright email to a colleague may help you be seen as an authentic voice — or a pushy pain in the behind.

If you're determined to write offbeat blog posts, say outrageous things and post far-from-ordinary tweets, always ask yourself if you think your boss would be OK with what you've said or written, Levit says. If not, you may want to rethink whether your ideas or comments are worth being fired or losing a desirable job now or in the future.

Levit tells a story of a letter she received from a man who was haunted by something he wrote years ago in college that showed him to be less than tolerant of other lifestyles.

He told Levit that the online posting still affects his ability to get a job because employers can easily find the controversial post in an online search.

While the man no longer has the same viewpoints he did in college, he told Levit he can't get away from the long-ago controversy.

That's a lesson that underscores the need to stick to old-fashioned hard work in gaining a good reputation, she says, instead of thinking that spouting off on Twitter can gain you attention faster.

What happens if you do choose a controversial road and come to regret it?

"If whatever you've done comes up as one of the first three things about you on a Google search, then you've got to proactively address it," she says. "You have to own up to it and admit what you did was wrong."

The best approach: Continually add to thoughtful discussions about your industry so your personal brand is one that companies would like to bring on board.

Do you think controversy works in helping your career?


Monday, October 24, 2011

Time to Release Some Endorphins

Last week I was very busy and pretty stressed.

The cats were upset because I wouldn't rub their tummies when they made the request loud and clear through constant meowing (I threw my shoe in their general direction and they got miffed and left me alone).

The dog constantly wagged her tail in hope that I was stomping past her to get her leash and go on a walk. But alas, it was just me stomping around to get more caffeine and go back to work.

Then, my son yanked me out of my office chair and pulled up this video. Before I could get mad, I was laughing so hard tears were running down my face. He smiled, very proud of himself for getting mom to relax for a bit.

So, here's my gift to you on this Monday. Take a break, laugh your ass off, and then go back to work.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How to Turn a Part-Time Job Into a Full-Time Gig

I think lot of the career "snobbiness" from the last decade is about gone. It used to be that taking a job at McDonald's was something to be joked about. Now, you see former investment bankers and college graduates vying to get a job at McDonalds or anywhere else that can help them earn a paycheck and put food on the table.

I've always respected the worker bees of this world, no matter what they do. And I have even more respect for those who are adjusting and trying to make a go of whatever job comes their way. I hope this column I did for Gannett/USAToday helps in some way:

It used to be that part-time jobs went to students looking for some income while going to school.

Or such jobs were filled by those nearing retirement who wanted to cut back on their hours but still earn some money to pad a nest egg.

Now, part-time jobs are highly competitive. Full-timers who have lost their jobs are standing in line for hours to apply for part-time positions. Competition for seasonal jobs with companies that will begin hiring soon is expected to be keen as the national jobless rate continues to hover near 9 percent.

But for those used to full-time work, the part-time gig can be frustrating.

While they're pleased to be earning a paycheck, they may have to cobble together two — or even three — part-time jobs just to support their families. At the same time, many part-time jobs offer few or no benefits.

So, how do you get an employer to make a part-time position a full-time opportunity?

Experts say it comes down to proving to the employer that you're worth the extra money it will take to increase your hours and offer benefits.

Eileen Lewis Habelow, senior vice president of organizational development at Randstad, says that the key for part-time workers "is behaving just as full-time workers do."

"That means if they come in early, that's what you do. If they stay late, that's what you do," she says. "Whether you're a temporary or a part-timer, act like the employee status you want to be."

Sharlyn Lauby, author of the HR Bartender blog, says that she believes part-timers can't just do their jobs and expect to get an offer of full-time work.

"Step away from your job and put on the shoes of the company president for a minute," she says. "Think about how there is a certain amount of work out there. To give someone a full-time position, there's got to be some kind of return on the dollars you will spend. This isn't just about a 'break even' return."

The key to such an exercise is understanding that you must make a business case for hiring yourself as a full-time employee.

"Think like a business owner. Don't just consider the salary," Lauby says. "Think about what the total cost will be to give you a total benefits package. Think about what you can bring to the table and make sure it relates to what the company wants."

For example, if your company wants to branch out into social networking, you've been using such networks and you can demonstrate some expertise, it might net you a full-time offer. Or, if you've fully researched a new market and can explain to your boss how to bring in new customers and business, that might be worth a full-time offer.

The point isn't to grab extra work just for the sake of earning more money, Habelow says. The key is to be more strategic in taking on tasks that will help you demonstrate your value or skills.

"Take the initiative. Volunteer for projects where you can show your expertise," she says.

Habelow and Lauby say they always advise job seekers not to turn down a part-time offer because they fear it will be a step down in their careers.

"I think it always looks better to an employer when you're working," Habelow says. "And honestly, I've never asked someone if the job on their resume was part time or full time. Most employers understand what's going on economically and realize that more people are unemployed or underemployed."

Lauby says a part-time job still demonstrates that others believe you are worth the investment and gives you time to pursue more training or additional skills.

Habelow agrees.

"If you're in an interview for a full-time job and you hear about a skill that you don't have and it's keeping you from getting the job, then now is the time to get it since you have time on your hands," she says.

How can someone turn a part-time job into a bigger opportunity?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why Your Behavior Matters Now More Than Ever

When I was in junior high, there were these things called "slam books." These were notebooks that were passed around anonymously with a different person's name on each page. On each page, you could write -- good or bad -- what you thought of that person and remain anonymous. To this day, I can remember one especially hurtful comment written on my page.

Eventually the teachers got wind of these books and confiscated them.

Fast forward to today, and we have Facebook and Twitter and blogs. All there to write what you want, about whomever you want. The problem is, there's no teacher to seize them when things get out of control. Your reputation can be trashed online. Your employer's reputation can be trashed online.

How much influence can these comments possibly have? It's many (many) decades later and I still remember the slam book contents from junior high. Read this latest story I did for Gannett/USAToday on our growing interconnectivity and our individual influence and think about it .....

Many of us like to complain about what we think are unethical companies that steal money from investors or the greedy chief executives who think only of themselves and don't care if they lay off thousands of workers.

But Dov Seidman says we need to start considering how our individual behavior as employees also affects the workplace culture today.

Whether you're sitting in a cubicle or working on a factory floor, what you do every day matters not only to the success of your company but to the well being of others around the world, says Seidman, founder and chief executive of LRN, a company that helps businesses develop ethical corporate cultures.

Seidman is author of How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything first published in 2007. In the book, he argued that we need a fresh approach to how we live our lives, attain goals and conduct business. Now the book has been expanded, calling for individuals and businesses to adapt to what he calls the "era of behavior" for individuals and organizations.

"Behavior matters more than ever today," Seidman says. "An individual has the choice to be the power of good or bad."

While you may think you're neither Luke Skywalker nor Darth Vader, the fact is that individual behavior is more consequential than ever before, Seidman says.

In other words, your connections to other people, your reputation, and your ability to sway others with your thoughts and opinions are a force to be reckoned with.

Many companies have recognized individuals' power to have great influence. They have employees tweet or post Facebook comments to sway others about a product or business, but Seidman says the influence of employee behavior goes beyond connecting via social networks.

Employers also want to harness the power of individual innovation to help a business succeed and use their creative energies to help them compete globally, he said. An employee isn't expected to just show up and put in eight hours. He or she is expected to use a distinctive behavior for the good of the company.

That's why the time has come for workers to "realize it's a very competitive world and just working hard" won't be enough to survive, Seidman says.

"Outsourcing is not being done just for cost advantages," Seidman says. "In a connected world, it's easy to go find the talent and creativity and ideas anywhere around the world. If you want to be competitive, it's more than just showing up and doing a day's work. It's about delivering a unique human, or you're going to be left behind."

That means doctors must learn to deliver compassionate bedside care, teachers need to create a sense of possibility in the classroom, and salespeople can't just meet their quotas but must also create trusting relationships, he says.

"These are the additional things that workers need to show up with," he says.

It's clear that employers now expect more from workers from the get-go.

Before an interview, job candidates are often Googled to check out their online reputations. Facebook is searched for more information, and tweets often are scrutinized to get a handle on a candidate's potential abilities.

"It used to be that we controlled the information about ourselves because we controlled what we put on our resume. That was our ability to tell our own story in an interview," he says. "Now, your reputation arrives before you do."

Job seekers need to understand that if they can't control their story, then they need to control how they live their lives and conduct business.

"Are your connections healthy or unhealthy? Are they deep or shallow?" Seidman says. "Look at how you can turn those connections into lasting ones. That's where your values come in."

In a new forward to How, President Bill Clinton writes: "In this new century people will either rise or fall together. Our mission must be to create a global community of shared responsibilities, shared benefits, and shared values."

Seidman says you can't avoid the interconnectivity in the world unless you want to be left behind.

Those plotting their career must "lean in," figure out how the world is connected and determine how they can be part of that. He says they should understand that workers have the power through their connections to change a company culture, much as individuals prompted revolutions in the Middle East this year.

"It's like when people do the wave at a stadium. All it takes is one individual to start," he says. "Workers coming together can make a huge wave. Instead of power being created over people, it's going to be created through people."


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

5 Things Your Colleagues Really Don't Want to Know

People at work often socialize. Socializing at work is good for our health, studies reveal, and may even help us live longer.

It's fun to talk Fantasy Football or the latest music or even why anyone cares what the Kardashians do. But there are times when, I believe, socializing at work takes a twisted turn. When comments become enough to not only hurt our health, but perhaps cause us to die of some terrible affliction. Like boredom. Or narcissism overload.

So today I'm going to give some guidelines about socializing at work. Here are some things to avoid if you don't want to be the cause of health problems for co-workers:

1. Your hobbies. It's great that you like to spin the hair from your Golden Retriever into yarn that you then turn into sweaters for sale on eBay. Great. Have fun with that. But I don't want to hear ad nauseum about your technique or how ticks on the dog have been a challenge this year. Mentioning it once a week for a few minutes is fine. But let's not have the tick update at lunch, please.

2. Your trivia knowledge. While it's cool that you know every song ever recorded by The Grateful Dead, all the band's biographies and the concert dates played in 1989, it's not something I revel in knowing on a daily basis. Save your knowledge for Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. Alex Trebek will be impressed.

3. Your kids. Kids are great. Have a couple of my own. But it gets a little old to get hourly updates on Johnny's potty training progress or how Lisa is a starter this year (again) for the school's basketball team. Those without kids will find these kinds of conversations boring in the extreme, while everyone else just gets tired of you sending up a flare whenever Johnny wakes up with a dry diaper.

4. Technology. Who doesn't want to dish about the latest gizmo from Apple? That can be loads of fun, but it can also get to be a real turnoff when you dominate a conversation with enough acronyms that people feel drenched in alphabet soup. Most of your colleagues don't consider your detailed analysis of how the iPad could be improved to be fascinating.

5. Complaints. There's a place for whining at work. It's the glue that holds us all together with an "us against them" mentality. But don't take it so far that you visibly see people sag in your presence. Some good-natured bitching is the ticket -- cut it off after a few minutes and move on to something more interesting. Like how you found a new bakery that has chocolate chip cookies the size of your head. Now that's something worth discussing.

What other topics should we be careful about discussing at work?