Friday, March 30, 2012

How to Make a Good Impression in Video Conferences

I remember the first time I saw myself on Skype.

Holy cow! Where did those bags under my eyes come from? And why did my hair look so hideous?

Thankfully, I was just chatting to my 2-day-old niece, so she didn't seem to mind. But I sure did. I knew that I needed to step up my game and not look like something out of Twilight if I needed to use video conferencing for business.

That's why I think we can all learn something valuable on this latest column I did for Gannett/USAToday....

We've all been guilty of it: While watching a newscaster on television, we dissect what the person is wearing, the hairstyle — even the way the person stands.

But what if you were in the same position? Would your clothes say "professional?" Would your hairstyle look ridiculous? Would your hand gestures make you look competent or crazy?

You may never have considered how you look on video because you're not Kim Kardashian. But if you haven't been on camera yet, chances are you will be in the future.

And what you do or don't do could affect your career, executive coach Debra Benton says.

"Video is prolific," she says. "It's going to happen more and more. You need to get used to it."

Whether you're on Skype interviewing for a job or running a meeting via video conference, it's important to understand that people are, well, staring at you. They don't have to look away as they sometimes would in a polite face-to-face conversation, and that means they'll note anything odd.

"The weirder that you do something, the more it will be noticed, and the faster it will end up on YouTube," Benton says.

Benton says one chief executive she knows joined a team video call and soon forgot it was live.

He picked up a newspaper and started reading, occasionally picking his nose. His administrative assistant quickly moved in to stop the behavior when another conference participant notified her.

In another case, Benton, who will have a book out April 27 called The Virtual Executive(McGraw-Hill), says she knows of an employee fired when the top leader noticed him slouching during a video conference "and touching himself in a weird way."

"All the boss has to say is that he doesn't want someone like that working for him, and that's it," she says. "It's not enough to have a great PowerPoint. People are going to be watching your every move when you're on video."

That may be enough to cause insomnia the night before a video call, but Benton says you can prepare for such an interaction and help your career.

Her tips:

• Do some quick grooming. If you know you're going to be on a video call, take the time to brush your hair and straighten your clothing.

Always keep a few grooming products in your desk drawer for unexpected video calls and avoid wearing colors that wash you out or are too outrageous. Benton recalls one video participant who wore a bright orange blouse, which "made her look like she was in a prison uniform."

Such a distraction can detract from the contributions you want to make because people are focused on something else.

• Sit up straight. As a video conference drags on, you may unconsciously start slouching.

But remember that you are on view all the time, so sit up straight and don't fiddle with a pen or check your cell phone for messages.

You may not be able to see other participants, but they'll notice you looking bored and could judge you as arrogant or indifferent to what they're saying.

• Check out the background. Benton says she has been on video calls where someone had drug paraphernalia in the background and one woman even had a bra hanging over a nearby chair.

Do a test run with a friend so you can make adjustments to the background and clear the space of clutter. You may need to move a plant so it doesn't appear to be growing out of your head.

• Don't be lifeless. When you're introduced, give a short wave or salute to let others know you're actively listening and participating.

Use hand gestures when you make a point, and even consider some props to make your comments more interesting.

Practice looking into the eye of camera. Benton says one participant placed fake eyelashes on her computer's camera so she would focus on the right spot.

If you watch yourself on the video at the bottom, your eyes will look droopy, she says.

• Practice, practice, practice. It's natural to be a bit nervous when you're on video, but you can keep disaster from striking if you constantly practice sitting up straight, wearing professional clothing and keeping your hair neat.

If you practice speaking clearly and concisely and modeling polite behavior, "when you're in the hot seat" proper behavior "is your default," Benton says.

"It doesn't matter if you're talking to your grandkids in Alaska on Skype or being interviewed on CNN, it's equally important that you take the time to make a good impression," Benton says. "It's easy to do if you work at it all the time."

Any videoconferencing tips to share?


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are You As Unbalanced as Everyone Else?

Do you think you live a balanced life? Check out this snapshot of our daily lives to see where you fit in:

Snoozing fibs: It appears full-time working American women claim to sleep less than they actually do. When responding to a 2007 National Sleep Foundation poll, women said they clocked about six hours of sleep in an average weeknight. But that snooze time may actually be closer to eight hours on average when figuring in weekend sleep time, says an American Time Use Survey. In a Forbes story, Cali Williams Yost, owner of Work + Life Fit Inc., says the discrepancy can be chalked up to female competiveness. “Like taking all of your vacation, for some reason, wanting and getting sleep symbolizes a less than 100 percent commitment not only to your job but your family,” she says.

Rock on: In the last year, 36 percent of baby boomers have gone to a professional sporting event, while 22 percent have attended live theater, says a Scarborough study. Some 14 percent have visited an art museum while 12 percent have gone to a rock concert.

Their own worst enemies: Some 42 percent of women in a survey commissioned by Real Simple say they do not have enough free time, but admit much of their problem (check out the rest here)

Friday, March 23, 2012

5 Things to Consider Before Hiring a Career Coach

Americans love a quick fix and I'm one of them. I never go anywhere without Super Glue. Break a nail? I zap it with Super Glue. The wheel falls off my office chair? Super Glue does the trick.

But when it comes to fixing your career or finding a new job, the going can be a lot slower. Many people think a career coach will be the Super Glue for them, but it doesn't exactly work that way. Here's a a story I did for Gannett/USAToday on career coaches and what you can expect....

You may decide to hire a career coach if you're stuck in your job search or feel that your career needs to head in a new direction.

But several months after meeting with your coach, you're not one step closer to a job.

Now, you're out hundreds of dollars in coaching fees and are ready to spit nails because you're so frustrated with the coach's advice.

What went wrong?

First, you might not have done your homework or might have chosen a career coach with little experience or past success. Or, perhaps you saw the coach as a personal assistant who would find a job for you and all you would be required to do is show up and sign the employment papers.

Missteps like that can lead to frustration for the career coach and the client.

Jane Trnka, career coach for the master's of business administration programs at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., says many people don't have the right idea about what a career coach can and cannot do.

"Overall, a career coach is somebody who guides you and provides tools and resources to help you with your career, whether you're just starting out or are currently employed," she says. "What they don't do is let you remove all accountability find a job for you."

Career coaches also often are the folks to take a bashing if things don't go well or are the "best thing since sliced bread" when clients are happy, she says.

With a little Dr. Phil thrown in, they encourage, commiserate and counsel clients who are going through a myriad of emotions as they search for a job or navigate career changes, she says.

"You have to be pretty thick skinned to be a career coach," she says. "You can get blamed by someone who says, 'You didn't do anything for me,' and you have to turn that around and say, 'Well, you didn't do anything for yourself.' "

That brings up a key point: You're going to responsible for much of the heavy lifting. That means career coaches will give you homework that includes tapping into your network and developing new contacts, exploring your strengths and weaknesses and working on a resume.

"Researching a job is a job in itself," Trnka says. "The coach's job is keeping you on the right path and making sure you don't take something willy-nilly. They understand the urgency of finding a job, but they want to make sure you're taking something that fits."

A career coach may ask to meet with you for several days in a row in the beginning, and then twice a week as your task list grows. The coach also may continue to counsel you even after you get a job to make sure you keep up your network, update your resume and help out anyone else who needs it, Trnka says.

So, how do you make sure you choose a career coach who is a good match for you? Trnka offers some advice:

1. Ask for recommendations. Choose a career coach after talking to others who have successfully used the coach.

2. Interview the coach. Before meeting for the first time, check out the coach's LinkedIn profile but also be prepared to ask the coach to talk about his or her qualifications and background in person, Trnka says.

3. Request specifics. "Ask the coach what are the tools and resources that will be used in your career strategy plan," Trnka says. "Ask for the coach's perspective on career searches."

4. Know the expectations. Many clients face an unpleasant surprise when they learn they may spend hours working on just one assignment from a career coach. Ask about the work you will do and about how long it will take, so you have a clear idea of the time and energy commitment.

5. Get a reality check. Even though the economy is improving and employers are beginning to hire, Trnka says that companies are being very picky about new employees, looking for someone who closely aligns with their requirements.

"Ask the coach about what opportunities are available for you based on the current economy and what obstacles you may encounter," she says.

Finally, don't be afraid to state in any contract that it can be terminated if you find the coach isn't a good fit and expectations aren't being met, Trnka says.

"You should be able to break it off if it isn't a mutual value."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Can Your Still Be Friends When You Become the Boss?

One thing that makes life bearable at work is being able to work with people you really like, people whom you consider friends.

Then comes the day when your boss tells you that you’ve been named the manager over the people who have seen you tipsy on strawberry margaritas. These are the people you count on to tell you there is spinach stuck in your teeth before a meeting and give you a heads up when the office bore is headed your way.

And now you’re supposed to boss them around?

Your first thought may be that you can make this work. After all, the people who are really your friends will stay your friends even if your title changes, right?

Well, in a word…no.

While they may initially tell you they’re thrilled you got the job, the reality is they may be less than joyous the first time you offer performance feedback or – gasp! – criticize something they do. All this can set off feelings of jealousy, betrayal, bitterness and lots of snark around ... (read the rest here)

Friday, March 16, 2012

How Your Gaming Habit Could Earn You a Big Payday

Recently I've noticed there are a lot fewer screaming kids while I'm running my weekend errands, and I think I've figured out why: All the kids are plugged in.

Even kids who can barely walk are holding mommy's cellphone or daddy's iPad. They're playing games, intently drooling over whatever is on the screen.

While some may "tsk, tsk" at plugging kids in so early (and so often), this story I did for Gannett/USAToday at least shows that maybe the reason little Billy is fooling with an iPhone at 4-years-old is because his parents have big plans for his future....

You may not think anything about video games other than your kids play them too much.

But have you ever considered the brains behind games that make millions of dollars for the gaming companies every year? Or that games can be used for more thanCall of Duty marathon sessions in your basement?

More companies are turning to games as a way to educate and engage workers, and the future is bright for those who can use their talents to develop games. Video games are expected to earn $115 billion in 2015, and part of that growth is because of the increasing demand for mobile gaming for smartphones and tablets such as the iPad, Gartner Inc. says.

But before you submit an application to a gaming company because you (or your child) are a veteranGuitar Hero player, you need to understand that these companies are looking for the best of the best.

They need innovative, creative employees who can keep them ahead of rivals in this fast-paced industry.

Alex Churchill, chief executive of VonChurch digital entertainment recruiter, says his company has even come up with a profile for the top candidates: "A 27-year-old man called Jonathan who is so tech savvy he doesn't use email," he says.


Seems so. VonChurch is an industry leader in finding the talent that gaming companies desire most. He searches the nooks and crannies of the online world to discover candidates.

VonChurch community managers "drive down" into LinkedIn to find qualified individuals who may be well versed in technical skills or developing new applications just for the fun of it.

"I placed one candidate in Brazil and I only contacted the person through Twitter," he says. "We find out who is talking about the skills we need and where they're located."

For example, knowing Ruby on Rails is a rare and highly sought skill. Those versed in the Web application framework for the Ruby programming language can be located through Google+ groups, and a VonChurch employee starts to build a bridge to the person through online chats, Churchill says.

LinkedIn has been depleted of good candidates because every recruiter uses it, he says. He finds it more beneficial to seek gaming talent through the latest networking sites.

"We're looking for the new adapters that pick up and drop technology before others even think of it," Churchill says.

Companies are willing to pay for the right prospect. Right now, Churchill says an "average deal" for the ideal gaming candidate is about $97,000, often with stock options.

So what's the best way to get the attention of gaming and tech recruiters? Churchill advises:

• Do an internship. Even if you've graduated from college, the doors for the best jobs are not going to open at a gaming company until you've completed an internship.

Attend gamers conferences and show your portfolio to employers attending to make connections, then follow up with an internship request.

• Use your creativity. "Even if you've developed a little app for a phone in your bedroom, it gives you something to show an employer what you're capable of," he says.

Such talent often can start with a gaming company at $70,000 to $80,000 a year.

• Go social. Attend meet-ups organized with others in the gaming industry through Twitter or Facebook.

Churchill says Facebook has helped VonChurch succeed in finding the right talent. Join the latest networking sites and become familiar with what other tech-savvy folks are discussing and add to the conversations.

• Continue to hone your skills. The gaming industry moves quickly, and employers are interested in people on the cutting edge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why Men Don't Take Women Seriously at Work

Are you one of those women who carries a handbag big enough to hold all your essentials? Like lip balm, a change of shoes, a first responder medical kit, a small sewing machine and a hair straightening iron? If so, you’re obviously prepared for any event that may arise while you’re at work, rather it’s frizzy hair or a small dagger wound. But you’re also sending a very strong signal to others in your office that you’re not someone to be taken seriously.

It’s a common pitfall for women: They want to be prepared to help anyone at anytime. But in the workplace that can also be perceived as “playing mommy.” Or seen as a deep-seated need to be liked, which makes them ripe for someone to take advantage of them.

There have been several books on the subject of perceptions of women in the workplace, with some advising women to channel their inner witch (OK, the word rhymes with witch) to get ahead and stop being a “nice girl.” But if the thought to becoming Cruella De Vil holds no appeal for you, think about ways you can stop sending the wrong signals.

Among them:

  • Talking about personal issues. This can range from how you’re “PMSing” to how your significant other is a total jerk because he got you a Swiffer WetJet for your birthday. Men in your office could care less and wonder why you’re bringing it up. And, yeah, you’ve just given them license to hint that you’re “PMSing” whenever you disagree with them.
  • Showing cleavage. Here’s the deal: If you can see your cleavage, so can everyone else. Despite the idea that maybe you’re attracting the men in the office with a little boobage...(read the rest here)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is It OK to Fudge the Truth on a Resume?

Is it really a big deal to lie on a resume?

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a free-speech case involving a former California official convicted under the Stolen Valor Act after falsely claiming that he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, even though he never served in the military.

Xavier Alvarez's lawyer has argued the law is a violation of his client's First Amendment free speech rights, but the case also underscores what is seen as a growing problem: lying about credentials to be more successful or get a job.

Nearly 35 percent of resumes are estimated to contain blatant lies about education, experience or the skills to perform a specific job. But with some 14 million unemployed vying for jobs, it's not difficult to understand what drives some people to fib their credentials, saysCharles Wardell III, president and chief executive ofWitt/Kieffer executive search firm.

The publicity surrounding Alvarez's lie about his military service has outraged many people, but it's not that uncommon. Even Wardell says he has seen it as he's checking job applicants' credentials.

"We had one guy who kept talking about being in Vietnam and how it had changed his life. He just kept on and on," he says. "It was just too much. When we checked it out, we found out he had never been there."

Of course, as employers have become savvier about lies on resumes, job seekers have become more adept at trying to fudge the truth.

Some people pay hackers to get into university systems and place them in a graduating class, Wardell says. Those kinds of lies can be rooted out by asking an applicant to name instructors or talk about specific classes.

Even those who may have graduated from college but change the name of the university to a more prestigious one can be found out.

How? Often it's simply when an applicant refers to a university by its formal name instead of a more common name real graduates use.

Wardell says the more difficult lies to ferret out are when job seekers are not honest about their duties in a previous position. These lies that many don't think are that heinous can get companies and employees in lots of trouble.

For example, you may have worked in a steel plant but never have been in charge of such a plant. But according to the way your resume phrases your accomplishments and skills, and the way you answer interview questions, you're very qualified to run the steel plant.

Unfortunately, when you're hired, you don't have a clue what you're doing.

Still, maybe you think you can bluff your way through the job by relying on the experience of others at the company.

"The problem is that the bench strength for many companies has been wiped out through layoffs," Wardell says. "There's nobody there to help you, and there's no time to train you."

When it's discovered you lied about your qualifications, whether you're running a steel plant or working at a receptionist's desk, the company is not going to be happy. They've invested time and money in hiring you, and you can't deliver.

In addition, other qualified candidates have moved on after being informed the job was filled, Wardell says.

"In today's world, that means they may sue the search firm who found them the candidate — or they can sue the candidate for damages," Wardell says.

Not to mention an applicant's reputation can be trashed easily once the lies are unearthed. That's why Wardell recommends that even if you've stretched your qualifications, you should own up to an employer or company where you've interviewed.

"Yeah, you may get fired. But you're going to get fired anyway when they find out. And they will find out," he says. "If you're not comfortable with what you've told a prospective employer, just shoot them a simple email saying you want to clear up what you believe it a misconception. Just tell the truth."


Thursday, March 1, 2012

8 Ways to Make Meetings Better

I've been told that when I am in meetings, my body language screams "I hate being here."

Nice to know my body is listening to my mind.

Seriously, there are some meetings I enjoy and find myself fascinated by the interesting comments and dynamic personalities. When the meetings are over, I feel recharged and ready to take on the world.

But sometimes, I hate being there.

For those of you that feel the same, check out the latest post I did for Gannett/USAToday.....

If it takes all your fingers and toes to count the number of times you've been in meetings that you deemed stupid, unproductive, boring or frustrating, you're not alone.

Workers judge nearly 50 percent of their meetings to be a waste of time. And nearly everyone has horror stories of meetings that run on for hours and the blowhards who monopolize them.

That's why Jon Petz contends the meetings aren't the problem; it's the people who run them.

If blowhards are shut down, if agendas and time limits are strictly enforced and if people are free to skip gatherings on topice that don't involve them, then meetings wouldn't get such a bad rap, says Petz, a motivational speaker and author of Boring Meetings Suck (Wiley, $22.95).

"Often it's the meeting facilitator who is responsible for things going wrong, such as inviting too many people," Petz say. "The facilitator may not want to hurt someone's feelings by not inviting him or her, but then that person sits in the meeting and thinks, 'What am I doing here?' "

Another big problem: a lack of agenda.

Years ago Petz says he started declining invitations to meetings with no agenda. The practice became known around the office as the "Jon Petz rule."

"Everyone has a responsibility to make a meeting productive," Petz says. "Meetings can be awesome. You have a right to speak up and do something about bad meetings."

With that in mind, Petz offers some tips for making death by meeting a thing of the past. Among his suggestions:

• Stand up. Many companies have found success by removing chairs from a conference room and supplying only a white board.

This eliminates a tendency to ramble about unnecessary issues. Aching feet prompt attendees to get down to business quickly, Petz says.

• Pass the pad. The last one to enter the room has to take notes for the meeting.

This prevents many people from being late because they don't want to get stuck with the job.

• Get moving. Sitting in a stuffy room trying to come up with innovative ideas can be draining, so move the meetings to a stairwell or walk outside.

If you use the stairs, each participant has one flight to make a pitch or give a status report.

• Try a speed meeting. Each participant is given 2 minutes to share information, such as sales figures or project updates.

Follow-up questions are given 1 minute.

• Build in social time. Make it part of the agenda.

"I'm a big fan of socialization, but that needs to be put in the meeting format," Petz says. "Put in the agenda that the meeting starts at 10 a.m., and there will be 10 minutes for bagels and coffee. Write down the time the first agenda item will be addressed. People love that."

Once meeting times are strictly followed, the message will become clear and he says attendees won't be late.

• Vary the time limit. If you deem a meeting will last an hour, it will last an hour if you have four items or 12 items to discuss, Petz says.

Be willing to designate a certain amount of time per item then move on. Consider a 10-minute meeting a victory.

• Create a parking lot. Ever been in a meeting that goes off the rails and you end up discussing something off topic for an hour?

Develop a system where these items are quickly identified and put in a "parking lot" to discuss later. Even better: Ask the person who gets off topic to research the idea and write a report that attendees read later.

• Remember two things. "Always ask why you're having the meeting and what you're going to walk out the door with," Petz says. "That keeps you on track and (makes) meetings meaninguful."

None of these steps are meant to eliminate meetings because some meetings are necessary.

"It's just incredible to me that we can have a man on the moon and invent computers, and yet most people have never learned to run meetings," Petz says. "We've just got to do a better job of respecting people's time."

Have you found any techniques that help improve meetings?