Tuesday, November 29, 2011

6 Gift Ideas for Colleagues

Since I know many of you are shopping online this week (wink, wink, our little secret), I thought I'd help with the process regarding what to get your colleagues or valuable customers. Here are some ideas I thought might make nice gifts:

* Steve Job's autobiography. At $17.87 on Amazon, that's a nice read for any entrepreneur-at-heart in your office.

* Cookies. I mean, who doesn't like cookies? Anyone? Some of my favs are Mrs. Fields, or as she's known around our house, "Debbie." For a dozen cookies, it will cost you about $30.

* Plants. I usually don't kill plants (mostly because I leave them alone and let them do their thing), but if you've got someone in your office who believes coffee is great for a dieffenbachia, you might want to try plants that supposedly can't be killed. For about $40 you can treat a valued workmate to this.

* Who doesn't need a nice journal to carry to a conference or into a meeting? This one is a great size, makes you look like a serious grownup and you can't beat the price of $14 at Staples.

* If you've got someone in your office who is a real road warrior, you might consider giving travel-size items that can be easily toted through security. Burt's Bees offers smaller size lotions that can be stowed in a carry-on or a desk drawer. And with prices starting at less than $2, it's sure to fit anyone's budget.

* Got a wacky office mate? Why not consider one of these fun hats from Target? Who doesn't need a warm hat with a built-in beard or a snoopy dog knit hat for $14.99?

I know times are tight and you may not have the budget to get something for everyone in your office. But you know what? Sometimes a warm "happy holidays and thanks for all you do" is the best gift anyone can receive.

By the way, feel free to add suggestions or tell me about the best gift you ever received from someone in your office.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Does College Make Sense Anymore?

Do you think it's necessary to go to college to be a success and find a good job? College dropouts like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates would say differently, of course, but not everyone is cut out to be a whiz-bang entrepreneur.

If you just want to be employed by a good employer earning a decent paycheck and have some job security, do you have to go to college?

I think this often depends on who you ask. I decided to talk to someone who has been in the academic world about whether a college education makes sense anymore. I think you'll find what she says interesting. Here's the column I did for Gannett/USAToday....

It's often every parent's dream that a child go to college.

But as more young people graduate with degrees from four-year higher education institutions and can't find jobs, it may be a good time to rethink the idea that college is the only way to be happy and succeed, a former college professor says.

Amanda Krauss is a former Vanderbilt University assistant professor who taught cultural history, humor theory and Latin. As college educations often put students or their families in debt to the tune of $80,000 or more, she says it's worth considering other avenues for high school graduates.

  • That's especially true when a student isn't sure what profession he or she wants to pursue, she argues.

"There's nothing wrong with kicking around for a couple of years to decide what you want to do instead of spending all that money with no idea of what you want to do," she says.

Krauss taught her last class in 2010. Since then, she has become a Web developer and says she is happier than when she was a professor, often working 100-hour weeks and juggling many stressful demands. She says she remains supportive of her former colleagues and the work they do.

However, that doesn't mean she doesn't see room for improvement. For example, she says too many business classes rely on teaching theories, which doesn't provide any practical experience to attract an employer to a

any practical experience to attract an employer to a student upon graduation.

She sees no reason more professors can't lend a hand toward developing "real-world learning" that will help more students in the job market, such as asking them to develop portfolios of work that can be shown to employers.

"Personally, I'd be far more interested in hiring someone who shows me the website they made for a class on 19th-century Parisian poets," she says. "If nothing else, any professor can ask a student to do something that helps the person develop good presentation skills."

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that professional and business unemployment remains higher than manufacturing. Some employers are clamoring for skilled labor such as machinists and welders, especially as older workers with such skills retire and no one is available to take their places.

But young people often don't think to pursue trade or vocational schools, and parents may remain stubbornly affixed to the notion that a child must attend college for a professional degree to get a good job.

While more jobs do require college degrees, Krauss says other options exist to gain needed skills and education.

Do you think college is necessary to get a good job?


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Networking Key for Vets to Find a Job

I just have one question for you today: What have you done to help a vet find a job?

Read this story I did for Gannett/USAToday and promise yourself that you'll spend some time this Thanksgiving holiday giving thanks for our military and their families. And then help one of them find a job....

In 2008, when Jessie Canella returned home from Iraq where he had been deployed as a Marine, he wasn't sure how to get a job in the civilian world.

So he turned to what he had heard was a place to find lots of jobs: online job boards.

Canella soon learned what other job seekers have discovered: Competing with thousands of others online is often like throwing a resume into a black hole.

The one person who did contact him about a job was merely a front for a scam, asking Canella to provide cash to get a job. He declined.

Finally, bored and feeling down about his inability to get a job even though he had conducted more than 180 combat missions as a lead gunner and personal body guard to the mission commander in Iraq, Canella took a part-time position as a bartender.

He also decided to get a haircut from a barber he had known for decades. While in the barber's chair, Canella confided that he was depressed about his job prospects. The barber learned that Canella wanted a job in security and mentioned that he cut the hair of another man who owned a security company.

While that contact said he wasn't hiring, he also said he could put Canella in contact with other security companies that might have a position for him.

"I just put my heart on my sleeve and told them I just really wanted a job," Canella says.

He landed a position with a security company that soon had him rising into the supervisory ranks.

Even though Canella finally landed a job, he still felt a need to help his fellow veterans. He found that he couldn't really connect with vets at the local VFW and American Legionhalls because they were from older generations.

When another vet who was a friend committed suicide, he moved into action.

Canella understood that military veterans may have an even more difficult time finding work than he did.

Based on his own job-hunting experience and his desire to find other vets who could understand what he had gone through, he launched HonorVet, to provide resources and support online for veterans and their families.

Canella needed money to make HonorVet a reality, and set up a gala to collect donations and get the ball rolling.

At the event, he met leaders from System One Holdings, a company that provides technical outsourcing solutions. They told him they also wanted to do more to help vets get jobs and soon hired Canella to head their efforts.

Canella, now 25, is general manager at System One and chief executive officer of HonorVet.

He says he has learned a lot about the value of networking through his own experiences in re-entering civilian life, and he and others want to provide such help to vets and their families.

With some 40,000 troops withdrawing from Iraq by the end of the year and veterans' unemployment rate now at 11.7%, he says he knows the need will become greater.

Fundraising events have helped gather more than half the money needed for his HonorVet website, and Canella hopes to have it up by early spring. The site will offer a secure way for vets and their families to communicate about everything from mental-health resources to career mentorship.

Only those who have been thoroughly screened will be allowed to participate, Canella says, so veterans won't have any violation of trust or scams such as the one he experienced.

"When you're in the military and on base, you're surrounded by people you trust," he says. "But it's a real wake-up call when you enter the civilian world. It's like starting all over again. You're trying to figure out who are good people and who are not."

Even though the website isn't yet functioning, Canella says that HonorVet has helped 35 veterans get jobs in the past year.

Once private and public employers are educated about the skills former military personnel can bring to the workplace Canella believes everyone will know what extraordinary employees America's veterans can be.

What should vets be doing to help break into the job market?


Monday, November 14, 2011

Could You Start a Fire With Your Multitasking?

Anyone who multitasks say they do so because they're good at it. That's right before they find their car keys in the refrigerator and realize they've sent a naughty text to the boss instead of a significant other.

Believe me, I understand. If I didn't multitask, how else would I be able to get anything done? Does it really matter that I've almost burned down the house a couple of times while making scrambled eggs...and then deciding to check email while watering a dying plant on my desk?

But research clearly shows how multitasking not only hurts the quality of our work, but the connections with make with other people. We actually don't get more done.

Not to mention, sometimes our multitasking is kind of stupid. Watch this hilarious scene from the television show "Frasier" to see how silly our efforts really are....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why a Missing Button Could Keep you From Getting Ahead

I recently watched a news clip about a local mall where the shop owners stated that not only were they currently hiring for seasonal jobs, but they were hoping some of those candidates would turn out to be permanent hires.

Good news right?

Then the reporter cut to an interview with a woman walking out of a local employment agency. The woman began talking, constantly playing with her hair and smacking gum.

"Yeah, I'd like a good job," she told the reporter after being informed of the mall openings. "Especially, since, like, you know, I got fired from my last job."

Then, I kid you not -- she turned and spit on the sidewalk.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the reasons this story I did for Gannett/USA Today is so important in so many ways....

A new generation of job candidates entering the work force may have spent much of their formative years communicating with a computer.

They're smart, they're technological savvy and they are texting wizards.

  • Yet they may not have a clue about how to conduct idle chit-chat with a real, live human being at work. Nor are they able to read an interviewer's body language or network with an employer at a job fair.

The result is that many young people, whether looking for work or starting a first job, are having difficulty finding success. They may miss important clues in a person's body language that will help them communicate better or give the wrong impression when meeting a hiring manager for the first time.

That's why communications expert Dianna Booher says young people need to go back to the basics of professional behavior, to hone their interpersonal skills as much as their technical skills. By doing so, she says they better prepare themselves to interact with others so they can then climb the career ladder successfully.

"There have been some people who have been sitting behind a computer so long that they just don't have the interpretive skills they need," she says. "Sometimes, they have no idea how to even ask a question or contribute something meaningful to a discussion."

One thing that Booher, author of Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader, (Berrett-Koehler, $15.95), wants to emphasize is the importance of personal appearance, which she says is No. 1 in making an immediate impression on others.

Research backs up Booher's experience: A recent study found that people judged women wearing makeup to be more competent than those without cosmetics. Those seen as attractive are viewed as more intelligent and often are offered jobs over those who aren't seen as handsome or pretty.

So how do you level the playing field if you're not Brad Pitt or Halle Berry?

The key: Learn to dress correctly, use gestures appropriately and communicate well so others see your potential instead of your flaws, Booher says. By improving that first impression, you position yourself to get ahead.

Booher offers these tips:

• Package yourself well. Research shows that taller people can earn $789 more a year per inch.

Even if you're well past your growing years, you still can find ways to make more of an impression. Ask a personal shopper at a high-end department store or a good tailor to give you tips on clothing designs that flatter your figure or make your legs appear longer.

• Pay attention to detail. In Booher's 20 years of coaching executives and asking them about their employees, some of the most frequent complaints have to do with appearance.

Bosses often complain about employees' sloppy dressing, wrong kind of shoes and messy hair. Even a missing button could derail your aspirations if a boss believes your lack of focus on your dress translates to a lack of focus on your job, she says.

• Improve your body language. Using small gestures, standing with your arms crossed or rolling your eyes are turnoffs when communicating.

They may prompt others to see you as defensive, unsure or hostile.

• Speak with confidence. Don't use a longer word when a shorter one will do, and make sure you're using and pronouncing terms or words correctly.

For example, many people pronounce "library" as "li-berry" instead of "li-bra-ry." Such slips can hurt your image, even if you're dressed to the nines.

• Prepare talking points. Whether you're going to a job interview, networking event or a meeting with colleagues, consider the issues you want to discuss.

If you don't plan, you may babble too long or not make key points. Impress others with well thought-out ideas conveyed in a concise, clear way.

• Drop arrogant language. If you say "Let me be perfectly clear," you may be seen as patronizing.

It's better to use "I want to emphasize …" Or, instead of blurting out, "You're wrong," say "I disagree" or "I have a different opinion."

What other advice do you have about making a good first impression?


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Should Women Give Up the C-Suite for More Flexibility?

This week for USA Today I wrote about a new survey by More magazine showing that three-out-of-four women say they would not apply for their boss' job, partly because of the pressures that go along with it. The survey also found that 43% of the women surveyed say they are less ambitious now than they were a decade ago. And only a quarter of the 500 women ages 35 to 60 say they're working toward their next promotion. (See the complete story here.)

For the story I interviewed More's editor-in-chief Lesley Jane Seymour, who said she was "hoping and praying" that the survey results were more a reflection of the difficult times in this country today, and not part of a permanent trend.

I've been a reader of More for many years, so I know that Seymour has been an advocate of mentoring younger women. She says that women who have been through other recessions need to be counseling younger women that these bad times will pass, "and tell them that we know it's a crappy time, but people need to just show their mettle and hang in there."

Still, Seymour notes that it's also a difficult time for more experienced women to find the time to mentor younger colleagues. "I think everyone is pressed to the max," she says.

She says she believes that one of the reasons that only 25% of the women report they're working toward their next promotion is because of their disillusionment with what is happening in many companies today.

"You've got one-third less staff, one-third less funding and people getting thrown out of their jobs," she says. "And, somehow, these companies are still expecting us to win. So why bother?"

Seymour says she believes many women may be telling themselves to "just sit here in middle management, collect a paycheck and look for flexibility."

For my story, I interviewed Tiffany Willis (whom I found via Twitter, by the way), and she outlines her reasons for leaving her high-pressure corporate job for one of self-employment. NBC Nightly News followed my story last night with one of their own on the survey, interviewing women who gave similar viewpoints to Willis.

The bottom line: Women contend they're making the right decisions for them and their families, and have no regrets.

But women like Seymour, who have risen through the ranks to great success, worry about the future. I asked her what she planned to do as a result of the survey.

"I think we'll start to bang this drum and talk about the dangers of sitting back in middle management," she says. "We all need to talk about why that's not a good idea to just let the guys run the show."

What's you take on this survey? Should women give up the corporate corner office?