Friday, April 22, 2011

How 1 Year Can Make a Huge Difference in a Career

I don't know about you, but I got nearly every job I have because someone helped me. Whether it was a family member, a teacher or a former boss, I had the backing of people who not only believed in me, but helped teach and guide me in finding jobs.

But what happens when you one? Are doors slammed in your face? Do you have a chance of getting a job that will help support your family?

In this country, hard work and desire still count for a lot. As shown in this story I did for Gannett/USAToday, people helping people also matters a great deal...

Some of the most disconcerting statements employers are making as the economy begins to recover are that they're ready to hire — but they can't find the right job candidates despite the glut of unemployed people still looking for work.

Sometimes it's a matter of skills. Job candidates don't posses necessary abilities to take over more technical positions, for example. Another reason may be that an employer is unable to find an employee who fits the company's culture and growth plans.

But companies like JP Morgan Chase & Co. are finding that getting involved in the talent pipeline earlier pays off in finding the right employees when they need them.

JP Morgan is one of several employers participating in the Year Up program. The nonprofit program, started by Gerald Chertavian more than a decade ago, trains and educates young people in eight U.S. cities — often minorities with low incomes and histories of difficulties such as homelessness or abuse.

After six months of learning business basics such as how to shake hands properly and how to talk to a supervisor, the students are matched with employers in an internship program. They may do technical jobs such as desktop support or work in quality assurance, Chertavian says.

John Galante, a managing director with JP Morgan in New York, says his firm has been working with Year Up for six years and has 20 interns from the program this year.

"It breaks my heart when I hear that people don't have the skills they need to get the jobs that are available," Galante says. "I think these kinds of programs are the start of a solution. These programs take hard-working kids who might not otherwise have this opportunity and they are able to come here and make an effective contribution."

Participants in Year Up must be high school graduates, and the organization is seeking only one real quality: ambition. Once accepted into the program, participants are given a $150 a week stipend but quickly learn that business rules apply to their classroom.

"They can get docked $25 if they're even one second late to class, or $15 for every day they're late with an assignment," Chertavian says. "And we have zero tolerance for a lack of respect."

The last six months of the program are spent interning with participating employers that include Google, Bank of America and American Express. Two Year Up interns are now in the White House. During their internship, participants receive $250 a week, and the classes they take during their time with the program are given credit at colleges that are Year Up partners.

Chertavian stresses that the Year Up program is market driven, led by the needs of participating employers.

"We talk to our partners every day," he says. "We ask them what they need today and tomorrow in terms of skills."

Galante says that Year Up was "immediately responsive" when a few interns weren't meeting expectations but says he finds the majority of Year Up interns "are ready to jumpstart their careers."
"You just see it in those kids' eyes," Galante says. "They're ready to blast through that door of opportunity."

On average, 85% of the Year Up graduates earn more than $30,000 in their first jobs, Chertavian says. Many were making only $5,000 annually before the program. The program gives minorities a chance at being employed in jobs with a career ladder they might not otherwise have found.

Statistics show that the unemployment rate for young workers, ages 16 to 24, has been around 20%, with Latinos hitting 24% and African Americans reporting more than 32%.
Some estimates now show 4.4 million young adults either aren't in school or holding jobs.

"If this group isn't engaged and members of our economy, it's hard to imagine where our companies are going to find the skilled labor they need to stay competitive," Chertavian says.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

4 Signs You May Need a New Job

I'm in the process of teaching my youngest son how to drive, and one of the things I'm trying to teach him is to always be scanning the road ahead.

For example, I try to explain how he can't just focus on the green light ahead -- he has to be on the lookout for the idiot who is going to pull in front of him or the driver who suddenly decides to come to a dead stop to let a rabbit hop across the road.

I'm trying to also teach him to be aware of road signs. Going the wrong speed, or failing to spot a "dead end" sign can cause him considerable trouble, I tell him. (This is where I get a lot of eye rolling -- a key component of any parent teaching a child to drive.)

But being able to spot trouble ahead is also a key ingredient for any career. I know that in the last few years most workers have been unable to do anything but just survive -- taking on the work of others who have been laid off, or accepting jobs that required twice the work for half the pay.

Still, things are getting better and employers are hiring. It's time to take a look around and consider whether you career is about to run off in a ditch, or stagnating. Is it time for you to start plotting your next job? Here are some key points to consider:

1. The nasty office politics make you want to scream. Backbiting and snide remarks are running rampant, and morale is in the toilet. Everyone blames everyone else, and little work gets done because there's too much bickering over who left the break room a mess or who didn't get a promotion. Without teamwork and collaboration, your career can come to a grinding halt.

2. You've become the invisible department. You hear about company news third hand, your boss has taken to hiding behind closed doors and no new projects are scheduled. If your department isn't making money, it's safe to say your entire team is in jeopardy. Dust off that resume.

3. You have tread marks on your back. If you've been passed over for more than a couple of promotions or continually denied interesting or top-priority projects, you might be in trouble. If people you helped train are already moving ahead of you, then it's clear the company has little interest in your development. Start networking with others in your industry to find out what are the most desired skills and then take some classes if you lack them. This will help you when it comes time to find that next rung on the career ladder.

4. You're bored spitless. If you want to grow a career, you've got to feel challenged. Request new assignments or training from your employer. If that doesn't happen, it may be time to move on to a company that appreciates a go-getter.

What are some others signs it may be time to take the next step in your career?


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Do You Get Blamed Unfairly at Work?

When you were a child and a lamp was broken at home, you may have pointed your finger at a sibling.

Placing blame on someone else is hardwired into us and begins at an early age. But as we grow and mature we should stop the finger-pointing and look for solutions instead of blame.

Ben Dattner, an adjunct professor of psychology at New York University, says that much of the stress in today's workplace from a difficult economy has caused us to go back to our childhood roots — and that means blaming others.

At the same time, we may grab for more credit, resulting in a workplace that is less innovative and more demoralized.

"Workers who are demoralized or resentful are those who work in a culture of blame," Dattner says. "Those who are happy, motivated and fulfilled don't complain that they're being unfairly blamed for something."

In his new book, The Blame Game (Free Press, $26), Dattner says some personalities are more prone to wrong-headed credit and blame. For example, a cautious personality is very sensitive to being blamed and may withdraw or brood when criticized. A diligent perfectionist constantly blames himself or herself while judging others harshly yet also quickly pointing fingers.

Understanding how different personalities — including your own — react to credit and blame is important, as well as understanding the natural instincts for hoarding credit and shunning blame, Dattner says.

By understanding our natural tendencies, how our organizations function and leaders' effects on blame and credit, we can better understand and control our own reactions to the blame game, he says.

Sometimes, Dattner says it pays to accept some of the blame some of the time. This can help you gain the trust of team members. Still, he advises caution when using this strategy.

"It has to be genuine," he says. "You don't want people to think you're trying to pull a fast one by being a martyr, so they decide to pile on and add more blame."

"But there is nothing better than admitting uncertainty to build trust. You can say you wish you had done something better."

If you're dealing with a culture that fosters blame at work — or if you're guilty of hoarding credit while hurling blame — Dattner has some strategies to improve. Among them are learning to:

• Step back. If a boss or colleague blames you for something, don't overreact.

Try to look objectively at why the person is casting blame on you, such as the person's upbringing causing him or her to react in such a way.

• Don't go overboard. Just because you begin sharing credit and casting less blame doesn't mean others will reciprocate right away.

Give things time to change without becoming upset. That can make people more rigid and defensive.

• Become more self-aware. Understand your triggers — things that might cause you to revert to blaming others.

Try to figure out your habits when it comes to giving credit or casting blame and look to work with others who bring out the best in you.

• Avoid stereotyping. While it's against the law to discriminate against someone based on factors such as race or gender, more subtle prejudices may come into play.

Maybe you're in human resources and have adopted a habit of blaming those in marketing for certain woes. "You begin to blame the wrong people for the wrong reason at the wrong time," Dattner says.

• Give others the benefit of the doubt. When stressed, you may revert to a habit of blaming.

Instead, recognize your anxiety and try to create a more positive outlook. Even if you're in a difficult situation with your boss, try to think of something about the person you admire or respect and your supervisorknow about your appreciation.

Friday, April 8, 2011

4 Ways to Get a Bigger Paycheck

Do you make too much money for what you do? If you do, please let me know. Because most people -- including myself -- don't think they make too much money. In fact, I should be making more, which is why I was so interested in interviewing an expert in the art of negotiation. Let me know your thoughts on this story I did for my Gannett/ column....

If you're a mid-career woman wanting to make the same amount of money as — or more than — a male counterpart, you may have only one avenue open to you: Quit your job.

"Women will get further by just getting another job if there isn't an event such a promotion coming along," says Bill Grimm, Rollins MBA professor in entrepreneurship and negotiation at the college in Winter Park, Fla.

According to a recent federal government report, women still average only about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns, a gap that President Barack Obama has called a huge discrepancy. This wage difference exists even though women now are more likely than men to graduate from college.

Grimm says part of the problem with the continuing wage gap is that women often don't receive the same starting salaries as their male colleagues at the beginning of their careers because they aren't as likely to negotiate for more money. That's a practice that follows them throughout their careers.

Men have been found to be about four times as likely to negotiate as women while women are more than twice as likely to report they are greatly apprehensive about negotiating, research shows.

"What I've observed in my classes and in the corporate world is that women are much more likely to go for the win-win. They're focusing on the relationship more," Grimm says.

In other words, a woman may worry about angering a hiring manager or boss, so she won't ask for more money.

While some men are equally tentative about negotiating, Grimm says both men and women need to understand that hiring managers report they're not offended by someone making a counteroffer "although it can't be outrageous."

Clearly, making a counteroffer carries some risk these days when one job often has 100 applicants. Grimm says he advises his college graduates to accept the offer made because they have no bargaining power.

"I tell them to get the job then talk about salary again in a year," he says.

A survey by Negotiating Women Inc. of more than 500 women found that 60% take the outcome of their negotiations personally and may believe they are not given what they ask for because they're not valuable enough to their organizations. This survey, along with others, has shown that women believe their hard work will earn them rewards and recognition and may use that as the reason they don't negotiate.

That kind of thinking needs to change, experts say. Women who want to become better negotiators should:

• Keep track of accomplishments. E-mails from satisfied customers, notes of recognition from a team leader and even a hand-scribbled note of appreciation from the boss all should be used to demonstrate your worth in your yearly performance review. Don't be shy about asking a client to put complimentary words into a note for you to put on file, as most people are happy to sing the praises of high-quality work.

• Do your homework. Know what you're worth. Use online research and information from industry publications or professional contacts to determine if you're getting paid a salary in line with your abilities and not one just reflective of your gender.

• Practice. Have a friend or family member help you practice your negotiation tactics. Grimm says several former female students who are now in the workplace have come to him for advice on developing their negotiating muscle.

• Think about your message. Many employers will believe you are threatening to leave if you don't get the salary you request even though that may be the furthest thought from your mind. Ask the boss for specifics about what is necessary for you to receive a bigger paycheck. Then keep him or her updated on your progress. Your commitment will help relieve any doubts he or she might have that you're thinking of jumping ship.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Are You Dumb to Trust Anyone at Work?

I've been on vacation for the last week, and that weird tic in my eye has disappeared. While it's always a hassle to get ready to go on vacation, I keep reminding myself that it's worth it. I want to catch you up with my Gannett/USAToday columns, so here's one I wrote on trust in the workplace....

Do you trust anyone at work? Your co-worker? Your CEO?

The past several years have eroded trust in many phases of our lives, including the workplace. Difficult times that have caused layoffs, downsizings, mergers and led to a more stressful, demanding workplace have hardly led to most of us joining hands and singing Kumbaya.

The problem is that as the economy begins to improve and companies ramp up their competitive efforts, employees can remain stuck in neutral: They can't move on because they can't forget painful experiences or the times their trust was broken. If they can't move on, it not only hurts a company's ability to thrive but the employees' careers, say Dennis and Michelle Reina, co-founders of the Reina Trust Building Institute who have advised clients such as American Express and Walt Disney World.

When an employee's trust has been damaged, Michelle Reina says it can affect all areas of that person's life. The individual may become depressed, angry and bitter not only at work, but at home.

"It eats at their life force. It becomes very depleting," she says.

One of the most stressful things many people have had to deal with is loss of a job. Michelle Reina says that when someone loses a job, it is often the loss of relationships — with a boss or co-workers — that can become the most distressing aspect for the person.

Still, she says you can learn to cope.

"While you can't control losing your job, you can control how you respond to it. If you choose the pathway of healing and renewal, then you acknowledge your loss and the impact it has had on you," she says. "If you fail to do that, then you have the posture of a victim. You get hung up on what was done to you, what role others have played. And you don't look at what you can do to rebuild. You become stuck."

Or, as Dennis Reina says, you begin "copping an attitude," believing that "the world owes" you something.

"Instead of the person thinking about what he or she could attain or learn from what has happened, they start looking at the glass as half empty. They develop an attitude of entitlement," Michelle Reina says.

In their book, Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace, (Berrett-Koehler, $19.95), the Reinas talk about the seven steps for healing, which include finding support during a difficult time, taking responsibility for the part you may have played in a bad experience and determining what you might have done differently.

The final step, called "let go and move on" seems to be especially difficult for many of today's workers, they say.

Even if someone finds another job after being unemployed, that person can't get past the hard feelings of being let go.

Or, an employee may feel betrayed by a boss when a promotion goes to someone else.

"Letting go and moving on does not mean that you have to settle for less," Michelle Reina says. "But you muster up the courage for healing, and you may find something that can be even greater than you imagined."

They suggest to let go you must:

• Accept what has happened. If you were fired, accept what has happened without blaming someone else, being judgmental or feeling shame.

"Letting go is like cleaning out your closet and actually throwing the junk away instead of just moving the stuff to another room in your house," Dennis Reina says. By letting go, you're regaining the power you may have given away when you felt betrayed.

• Ask questions. If you're still having trouble with shame or blame, Michelle Reina says consider what needs to be said or done to put the issue behind you once and for all. For example, you may need to get additional support if you worry the situation could happen again. Or if you're still feeling powerless, determine whether you've really taken responsibility for your part in a situation.

• Be understanding. "You know that you are ready to move on when you are able to reflect on the experience and feel that sense of inner peace," Michelle Reina says. "If you have truly let go, you have feelings of gratitude for the other people involved."

The Reinas emphasize that moving on doesn't mean you forget what happened. They say that difficult experiences — such as losing a promotion — can be a learning experience and even help you become more appreciative of other things in your life.

You may see things in a new way, experience new sensations and be more open-minded — all things that can help you form new, rewarding relationships.

How do you deal with someone when your trust has been broken?