Friday, March 25, 2011

Do Workplace Etiquette Rules Need to Change?

What's the rudest behavior you've seen at work by someone with a smartphone in their hand? It may take you a minute to think of the No. 1 worst behavior (many people seem to carry a list in their pocket), but before you spout off, I want you to consider something else. What's your rudest workplace behavior? Are you snarking about someone else's behavior when your manners are less than stellar? Think about it as you read this story I did for Gannett/USA Today...

More than 40 years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said that while it was difficult to define pornography, "I know it when I see it."

The etiquette police who are trying to keep up with the rapidly evolving world of mobile devices and their effect on the workplace probably would say the same. They may not be able to define what is considered bad manners, but they know the terrible behavior when they see an employee's email, text, tweet, blog entry,Facebook posting or YouTube video — or see someone trying to create one on the fly.

It appears others do, too. A recent Intel survey found that 9 of 10 Americans report they've seen others misuse technology; 75% agree that mobile etiquette is worse than it was a year ago.

The results don't surprise Lisa Grotts, a certified etiquette consultant.

"Welcome to the new world," she says. "Someday a sociologist is going to have a heyday studying how our (etiquette) rules have changed because of technology and online communication."

Because technological changes are so constant, she thinks it's inevitable that some social and professional gaffes will be made.

"Bad manners are inescapable," she says.

The Intel study found that we're often aware of our own poor behavior. Almost 1 in 5 respondents report they know they're being rude but do it because everyone else does.

So it's a little difficult to gripe at a cubicle mate for talking too loudly on a cellphone when you've been guilty of doing the same thing — or something equally obnoxious.

Adding to the problem: What may be OK in your social circles could be considered annoying in professional ones.

Still, the Intel study found that it's worth making an effort to adjust your behavior when using your iPhone, BlackBerry, Android or other mobile device if you want to keep the peace in your office and not irk the boss. Of those participating in the survey, 65% say they get angry at those who are disrespectful toward others with their tech use.

So, even though your cubicle mate talks loudly on her cellphone or texts her boyfriend constantly, it doesn't mean you should do the same thing. Instead, taking the time to find a private place to have a private conversation may impress colleagues and your manager with your professionalism.

Here are other ways to stay on the right side of using technology in professional settings:

• Don't look down. How would you feel if you were speaking to a colleague, and the person immediately picked up a newspaper and held it in front of his face to read? It's the same feeling others get when you look at your smartphone to check email, tap out a text message or play with an app when they're speaking.

"I think the best idea is to follow the Golden Rule," Grotts says. "It's all about showing mutual respect."

• Use "text speak" sparingly. Years ago it would have been considered extremely unprofessional to use "tho" for "though" and not include a salutation in an email. But when firing messages back-and-forth to a colleague from a smartphone, it's more acceptable to keep the missive short and to the point. Just be aware of your receiver and whether the person might be offended with such shortcuts.

• Avoid multitasking. Most people complain about rude behavior when people are trying to do too many things at one time, so they are aware of their bad manners. For example, talking on your cellphone while walking to lunch with a co-worker or while using the company restroom isn't usually necessary and should be avoided.

You represent your employer. If you're being rude with your tech use while on the job, it also can reflect poorly on your employer.

While you may not think that texting during a conference session is rude, your boss may not like the unprofessional message it sends to competitors or colleagues.

What's a rude workplace behavior that drives you crazy?


Monday, March 21, 2011

How To Make Your Career a Hollywood Blockbuster

Everything I know about the behind-the-scenes deals in Hollywood comes from watching Entourage. In other words, I don't know much, but I recently had a chance to chat with a very successful Hollywood producer and find out the secret to his success.

The big secret? Telling good stories. Here's the column I did for Gannett/USA Today...

A successful Hollywood producer of movies such as The Color Purple, Batman, and Rain Man, says stories such as these are what employees and job seekers need to evoke when trying to get a raise or a job.

While producer Peter Guber doesn't expect you to drive a Batmobile or enlist Tom Cruise to work in the cubicle next door, he says that learning to tell an entertaining story can help you achieve your goals.

"When you tell a story, you go into the emotional transportation business," Guber says. "You want to warm people up and create an emotional connection. Whether you're talking to a child or asking your boss for a promotion, you want to aim at the heart."

  • Even for the most analytical workplace beings, such as engineers or high-tech information workers, you still must tap into an emotional connection to get what you want, Guber says.

"The truth is, we're all wired the same," he says. "We all read books, laugh, cry and go to movies."

Merely providing a spreadsheet of facts and figures isn't going to move others to act.

"But if the information is bonded with emotion, then that's what makes it powerful and memorable," he says.

For example, if you're in a job interview, don't just list your qualifications for a hiring manager. Instead, "tell a story of one person you sold a product to and how you created a relationship with this person," Guber says. "Talk about how they felt, how you felt. Tell the story of how you were a steward for that company."

He also advises building a more emotional connection with a potential employer or hiring manager before an interview by doing your homework. Maybe you can learn through online research that a hiring manager has a certain hobby or that the company is involved in some community efforts.

"You want to have a dialogue, not a monologue, so look for areas of interest that engage them," he says. "Look for the emotional connection. Approach the interview through that lens."

Even with online communications, Guber says stronger connections can be made using storytelling techniques.

"In 140 characters on Twitter, you can make an emotional connection. Talk about how you're looking forward to meeting someone and include a smiley-face icon. Or, talk about how someone's latest photo on Facebook looks like the person has lost 20 pounds," he says.

In his new book, Tell to Win, (Crown Publishing, $26), Guber gives examples of how he's made very successful deals through the years by telling stories — and how he failed when he focused only on facts and presentations.

Still, Guber warns that storytelling "is not a guarantee" of success.

"It's not snake oil. You've got to be authentic," he says. "Authenticity and energy can't be faked."

To sway others through storytelling, understand your own intentions; recognize your goal; and be unafraid to express vulnerability, which can often capture an audience's attention.

"Be sure to know what your audience is interested in, rather than just trying to be interesting," he says. "Turn the process from 'me' to 'we.' Hits are born in the heart or gut and then migrate to the mind. Aim there. Only then will your listener own your goal as theirs and act on it."


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Does it Help Your Career to Curse at Work?

For Lent this year, I've given up potato chips, french fries and swearing. I decided to go for all three since my effort last year (to give up criticizing others) failed on a regular -- almost hourly -- basis.

Not three hours after I made my vow of abstaining from salty food and salty language, I dropped a box of spaghetti in the pantry that exploded like a thousand pick-up sticks. That's when I let loose with my first curse word. And then, knowing that I had just cursed, I cursed again. A double whammy of guilt.

Since then, giving up the potato chips and fries has not been tough. But the swearing? Seems I have trouble not swearing while a) driving b) working c) talking to my husband d) cooking and e) listening to the neighbor's dog bark for hours.

I know I used to swear like a sailor when I worked in a newsroom. It was just part of the atmosphere, and no one thought twice about dropping the f-bomb several times in a conversation.

But as I've matured, had children, become a little more business savvy, I've cleaned up my mouth. Is that a good thing? I'm not always sure.

If you read some blog posts in this arena, salty language is favored by some of the most popular bloggers. They almost can't say anything foul or gross enough.

But then I read this Personal Branding post about how cursing can affect your personal brand. The author suggests cleaning up your mouth and using alternative words. Then, I found this story about how some swearing can actually help work teams relieve stress and sort of bond them together.

This makes sense to me. It doesn't bother me when people I know swear, but it sort of seems uncomfortable when someone I don't know throws f-bombs likes they're candy at Mardi Gras. After a while, a person's inability to talk without swearing constantly reminds me of a 12-year-old trying to impress friends with an impressive display of cussing. It just gets tiresome.

What do you think? Do you think cursing in the workplace is OK? Do you think the rules are different for men and women?

Friday, March 11, 2011

What You Need to Know Before You Start Your Own Business

Ever thought of running your own business? Some entrepreneurs might tell you to be careful what you wish for, while others may say it's the greatest thing they've ever done. Before you decide to jump ship and launch your own enterprise, read this column I did for Gannett/USA Today:

Mark Zuckerberg may be the highly successful entrepreneur who created Facebook, but Carol Roth sighs when she hears his name.

Roth, who has been helping both large and small companies get off the ground for more than 15 years, says too many people think they can successfully run their own business when the reality is that 90% of businesses fail within the first five years."Everyone wants to jump on that bandwagon," she says, referring Zuckerberg's phenomenal start-up success. "They don't realize how difficult it is to start a business, how tough it is day in and day out. They just see someone making an obscene amount of money and want to do the same thing."

Add to that the challenge of finding financing and attracting customers in a fragile economy and Roth has some tough advice for those wanting to jump into the start-up arena: Don't quit your day job.

"If you're really that interested in a certain business, then go volunteer or work there part time," she says. "See what it's really like. See if you're good at it."

According to a study by Hiscox, a Bermuda-based insurer, a third of 500 U.S. business owners with 100 or fewer employees admit they've made several major goofs when it comes to running their own show. Among them: not accurately estimating costs, making bad hires, not having marketing and selling skills and failing to get enough financing.

Roth says this lack of planning and skills is even more serious for those who are unemployed and think the answer is to start a business. Often with already depleted reserves, the jobless need to think twice about launching a start-up.

"If you can't woo a potential employer to hire you, then you probably won't have the skills to woo hundreds of thousands of potential customers to your business," she says.

For those thinking that starting a business, Roth, author of The Entrepreneur Equation, (BenBella, $24.95) advises this:

• Be realistic. "Before the recession, people had the perception that their job was secure.

"But that changed, and it created a sense that they didn't have control. But what they don't understand is that even if they are entrepreneurs, they're still controlled by other people like customers, investors or a franchise parent. They have this perception that they'll have freedom that's not a reality," she says.

• Understand it takes more than an Internet connection. When the recession began, statistics showed that more people than ever before started their own businesses, but Roth says many of those went nowhere.

"The problem is that technology really lowers the barriers in terms of starting a business," she says. "But it doesn't mean it's any easier to (execute) a business. It may cost you $100 to start it, but how much does it cost to operate it?"

• Seek brutally honest feedback. Roth says those not willing to tell you "you've got spinach in your teeth" are not the ones to question about your business idea.

• Avoid being swept away by your passion. "I don't know how this got woven into the American dream that you have to make a living from something you enjoy most in life," Roth says.

"It's called work for a reason. Just because you want to be a professional singer doesn't mean you should try and earn a living at it," she says. "Can't you sing karaoke on the weekends? And remember that following your passion may mean that it ceases to become fun once it becomes work."

• Stay away from the snake oil. "There's a whole breed of hucksters out there praying off people's desire to follow their passion to make money.

"You want to have a passion or zest for what you do, but it's got to come from an opportunity. Starting a business is about the customer, not you," she says.

• Accept that it's stress, stress and more stress. You may think you have stress in your job, but launching your own business not only can mean longer hours and more stress, but much less pay.

"You give up a lot. It really is a totally different lifestyle, and you've got to decide if it's worth the extra time, effort and sanity," she says. She adds that new business owners need to be prepared to miss a lot of perks from their old company life — from a technical support team to paper clips.

"You'd be surprised how the little things really do add up to make your life great," she says.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

62 Words of Career Advice

Here's my gift to you today: I'm not going to blog about Charlie Sheen. I'm not going to give you advice about how you shouldn't follow Sheen's career strategy. Honestly, if you're dim enough to even think about listening to Charlie Sheen, you need a heck of a lot more advice than I can ever give you. And some really good meds.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Are Young Job Seekers About To Take a Hard Fall?

I often say that one of the happiest times of my life was when I was a college senior. Why? Because that's the last time in my life that I truly felt like I had the world by the tail. There wasn't anything I didn't know. Then, of course, I graduated, got a job...and realized I knew nothing.

So, when I did this story for Ganett/USA Today, it brought back a lot of memories of my last days in college, and the naive belief that the world was waiting for me with open arms....

Even though the economy is slowly improving, finding a job still can be extremely difficult.

Yet, this reality isn't quite sinking in with many graduating from college this spring. Students' current reality is course work, final projects and papers. While some have visited their school's career center or filled out applications, few seem to have grasped how much harder they need to work to land a job, one long-time recruiter says.

"I think a lot of career-service offices on campuses don't give a real-world view of what's going on and what these young people are facing," says Yolanda Owens, a company recruiter at colleges for the past 15 years.Yet, this reality isn't quite sinking in with many graduating from college this spring. Students' current reality is course work, final projects and papers. While some have visited their school's career center or filled out applications, few seem to have grasped how much harder they need to work to land a job, one long-time recruiter says.

She says she's visited campuses where students aren't even interested in talking to recruiters who show up without gifts or other goodies.

"They want tchotchkes. They want bells and whistles," Owens says. "They want to be courted like they're top athletes.

"Many in this generation still feel entitled to this kind of treatment" despite the poor job market, she says.

Some colleges put so many restrictions on recruiters — they can visit campuses only during certain periods or face being blackballed, for example — that the schools are further harming students who need to have as much contact with recruiters and employers as possible before they graduate.

"In some cases, the colleges say that any student offered a job has to be given up to three months to consider the job offer," Owens says.

And these days, more experienced workers often are vying for the same jobs as college graduates.

"I doubt those (more experienced) people would take very long to decide on a job offer," she says.

Meg Eckman, who is graduating this spring with an English degree from Duke University, says she heard enough horror stories about the job market that she began looking online in the fall.

So far, Eckman says she has filled out about a dozen applications and has interviewed with a company she's really interested in. She says she hasn't had a chance to take the advice of her college's career center to do more networking because she's so busy trying to keep up with classes and complete a senior thesis.

Even though her professors say they can help her find a teaching position, she's says she's more interested in pursuing a marketing job.

"I'm really not locked into a certain industry and am interested in any job that looks interesting," she says.

Owens, author of "How to Score a Date with Your Potential Employer" says Eckman's lack of networking is often a big mistake among college students.

"I cringe when I hear they're not networking," she says. "That's going to be the way to get in with an employer, and these students need to be letting everyone know in their circle — their relatives, their neighbors, alumni — that they are looking. Six months after graduation when they need to start making student loan payments and they don't have a job, they're going to wish they networked more."

Owens also suggests that professors from a variety of classes — not just a major field of study — can provide job help.

"You've got to work those connections," she says. "Learn to stroke the egos of the professors and ask for their help."

Owens says any college student graduating soon who doesn't have a job should:

• Set new priorities. While coursework and projects may have dominated a student's life for the past several years, the new focus should be on finding a job.

"Don't worry about your grades so much," she says. "Employers aren't really going to be looking at your last semester's grades unless you really bomb. They won't mean a hill of beans to most employers."

• Understand that referrals are critical. If you can find a contact willing to mention your name to a hiring manager, submit your resume or introduce you to key people, "it moves you to the top of the food chain," she says.

• Stop blind contacts. Don't send out mass e-mails or make dozens of LinkedIninvitations to people "who don't know you from a can of paint," she says. Instead, look for connections you might have in common before asking for an informational interview or submitting a resume.

• Do the homework. Before attending a career fair, for example, find out which employers will be attending and then Google them to find information. Being prepared with more questions for the recruiter will make a good impression.

"When I see someone approach me with a list of written questions, I know they've taken time to think about it," she says.

• Be ready for a bumpy ride. "Many of these students who are graduating have very high expectations. They really need a reality check. The truth is you're not going to find your dream job right away, but you can take a job that will serve as a stepping stone. They need to understand they're going to have to take a few bumps along the way," Owens says.

What other advice would you give those preparing to graduate?