Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Lateral Moves Can be a Smart Career Strategy

Does you career resemble one of those crazy paths in the children's game "Chutes and Ladders?" If so, you're not alone. No longer does a career have a straight upward trajectory, and that can be OK. Read this latest story I did for Gannett /USA Today to understand why....
With the challenging job market of the past five years, many who have expensive business degrees report they can't get more than entry-level jobs.
Once they do land a more challenging position, they find it's not a guarantee a master's in business administration will pay off in terms of bigger promotions or better pay.
"I have seen, more than once, MBA candidates become frustrated when their employer has chosen not to promote them or even give them more challenging assignments," says Hannah Morgan, job search strategist for Career Sherpa.
One solution to such a dilemma — for those with an MBA and for those without — may be a lateral career move.
A lateral career move, which doesn't come with a more prestigious title or pay raise, still is considered worthwhile because you have a chance to learn new skills, gain fresh ideas and build relationships with key players. Often those are the critical ingredients to propel an employee up the ladder eventually in a way that an MBA will not.
Paulett Eberhart is chief executive of CDI, a billion-dollar engineering tech company. She says she does not have an MBA but still managed to rise to her to position by making some career moves that were lateral — and even a step down.
The key: Each move gained her more skills and experience and built relationships that she needed to succeed, she says.
While working in accounting as a CPA, Eberhart says she asked to be assigned to sales and operations because she saw it as critical "to get out there on the front lines and deal with customers and clients."
Eventually, she asked to move entirely to the operations side. During these transitions, which sometimes moved her sideways or even down the company structure, she continued to add to her knowledge by taking leadership classes and "raising my hand to volunteer for outside assignments."
"Education doesn't always have to come through formal channels," she says. "I'm proof you can get to the top through nontraditional routes."
While Eberhart says she would not advise against an MBA and believes they can be valuable, she believes it is just as important to self-educate and steer your career in a way that will lead you to your goals — even if that means taking a lateral position.

"I've always looked at it as, 'What areas am I strong in and what do I need to learn?' " she says.
Morgan says anyone considering a lateral career move should do the homework.
If you're going to leave your current employer, she advises doing research online through sites like to ensure you're jumping to a company with a solid reputation. Look through online news or LinkedIn profiles to see if the company regularly offers advancement or if careers appear to stagnate and cause employees to leave, she says.
"In general, opportunities for growth tend to be greater in a small company," Morgan says. "You often have the opportunity to wear more than one hat, take on a variety of projects or fill gaps when the company is in growth mode."
While the salary may be less with a small employer, the experience "may be worth it in the long run," she says.
As Eberhart learned when she took a position that took her further away from the top leadership for a while, moving down the career ladder also can have its advantages if it helps you gain new skills and experience necessary to thrive and move back up.
Morgan says taking a step down can be necessary if it's what is needed to get yourself established with a desired employer or if you're changing industries and don't have the experience.
In addition, sometimes a downward move can make sense for you personally, such as trimming work hours or travel, Morgan says.
"For these individuals, taking a step down is a good reason," she says. "And taking the lower position allows them to remain in the workforce vs. burning out and having to quit or get fired."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Are You Seen as Too Young for a Challenge?

One of the biggest mistakes I made in the early part of my career was when my boss mentioned the year he graduated from high school.
“That’s the year I was born!” I responded.
The expression on his face should have been a clue to me that I had just made the man feel older than dirt. Never a good feeling to engender in your boss.
When you start your career, you cannot help it that you’re young. But some will use your age against you to hold you back, claiming you’re too inexperienced to work on an important project orget a promotion. That’s when you need to remember that you may be sending the wrong message to others about your capabilities.
Since people often judge you within seconds of seeing you, here are some ways to “mature” your image and help you be taken more seriously on the job.
If you don’t want to be seen as a kid at work, then consider these steps:

1. Ensure all clothes are unwrinkled.

Looking like you just emerged from the bottom of the laundry basket screams “My mom hasn’t bought me an iron yet” or “I picked this up off the floor to wear because I was told I couldn’t wear my pajamas to work.”

2. Forget wild nail color.

It’s fun to paint each of your nails a different color or go for the screaming neon orange, but not for work. Male or female, keep your nails short enough you won’t risk impaling a co-worker and stick to the sedate colors your Aunt Minnie would be comfortable sporting.

3. Take a break from the smartphone.

While it’s cool that younger workers are so proficient technologically and can take on new apps with a snap, it’s not so cool when someone asks you  “how’s the weather outside?” and you immediately consult on your iPhone. Being unable to make small talk is critical to success in the workplace, such as conversing about (read more here)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Why Some Employees Love Their Jobs More Than Others

Thoughts of love are in the air around Valentine’s Day, but Cupid’s arrow may be absent from many workplaces this year as employees feel anything but gaga over their jobs or employers.
Overloaded and overstressed from the economic downturn, many workers are now starting to consider leaving their current positions as the job market improves. Like spurned lovers, these employees are ready to pack their bags and make employers sorry they didn’t treat them right.
So how can employers rekindle the spark with workers and get them to fall in love with their jobs and their companies all over again?
The key, say career experts, is taking steps to show the employee that the company is not a selfish significant other. By offering career development to an employee, the company can prove its commitment to helping the worker grow and thrive in the relationship.
That can generate such fondness, experts say, that workers are likely to embrace their job commitment wholeheartedly and start being more productive, innovative and loyal.
Without it, employees are likely to view an employee as a slimy frog they have to put up with until their prince of a job comes along.

Watch them grow
Beverly Kate, co-author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go,” says there must be constant “mini conversations” with workers about how they’re developing their careers, focusing on lessons learned and how they can be applied to their professional growth.
“You cannot wait for the annual performance review. Managers hate doing career development, and do it badly,” she says. “So employees end up thinking it means nothing and it’s just an exercise.”
She says a better way to handle career development, for example, is for managers to use daily opportunities to have career conversations with a worker. For example, an employee may say she lost sleep over a presentation that actually went very well. Instead of the manager simply offering “Good job!” she should agree that the presentation went well, but then ask (read more here)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Grill Your Way to Network Success

I once lived next door to an engineer and it was nearly three years after I moved in before he said hello.
That's why I think the latest story I did for Gannett/USA Today provides so many great lessons. Engineers and scientists are often found in their labs, but this story shows they're smart enough to know the value of breaking out of their routine and networking. Here it is.... 

Scientists and engineers often are portrayed as socially inept geeks who rarely stray from their equations or whiteboards.
Some believe they're doomed to spend their lives isolated within their own departments because they can't master the networking skills necessary to advance their careers.
But at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., science and engineering students aren't buying into that stereotype. While they haven't started hitting the golf course to make valuable connections, they've found another way to network.
It's called a grill.
Every week about 34 science, math and engineering students armed with marinades, steaks, seafood and even pancake batter gather on campus around a customized grill that an engineering student built and designed. Once the grill is fired up, the smells that waft over the campus on a Thursday night serve as a powerful attractor to faculty and students.
That gives the students a chance to interact with others while comfortably focused on grilling.
"Grilling more or less fits our style. We're into fire," says Justin Arnold, a biochemistry senior and president of the Grilling Club. "We're always trying to see who can start a fire the best."
The club began last year and usually attracts students beyond engineering, giving science and math nerds a chance to hone their conversational skills away from the classroom that dominates so much of their time.
"We've broken away from the social-networking craze," Arnold says. "We're out there talking to people."
The club tries to be creative by having themes for their cookouts, such as grilling seafood during Discovery Channel's Shark Week. It also tries to educate members during meetings, and some recent subjects have included basic marinades, food safety — and a lecture from the fire marshal on fire safety.
Arnold says Kettering always has emphasized networking among students, but the grilling group has offered its members a way to practice their socialization and networking skills while being in the more relaxed environment of a cookout.
"The club isn't something that consumes a huge amount of time, but it's really something to look forward to," he says. "It's one hour during the week to relax and have fun, and you don't feel so stressed."
The club has developed such a good reputation for its culinary skills that other groups now request its services. Arnold says members try to give back by cooking for charity events and even loaned their skills to feed the Greek Honor Society.
"I get so many emails from groups asking us to cook for them. It's really neat," Arnold says.
Meeting students from other schools has given members a chance to learn about other classes and professors and enabled members to connect with people they might not otherwise meet, he says. Such skills will help them in the professional world.
"I think clubs like this really help bridge the gaps. It helps make us more marketable because we're learning how to interact with different people," Arnold says. "For me, it's also given me a lot of management skills because I'm learning how to get different people to mesh well."
Beverly Kaye, a career and networking expert, says the students' grilling idea is a smart one because they have found a way to connect that makes sense for them. Too many times people get turned off at the concept of networking because they see it as manipulating or using others.
"Networking is really about what you can do for other people," she says. "The grilling shows that."
One piece of advice: Share more of who they meet and what they learn with other club members so they can really learn and benefit from the new connections, Kaye says.
"In the world they will be moving into upon graduation, they'll find not everyone is like them and they will have to learn to have a feel for others around them," she says.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How to Launch a New Career After 50

It’s estimated that more than one in four Americans are tapping into their retirement savings accounts such as 401(k)s to meet non-retirement needs, but such a strategy can mean it may require people to work longer, especially since company-provided pensions are now provided to only one-in-five workers.
That could explain why twice as many people in their late 50s and early 60s are starting a business or becoming freelancers compared to a year ago, finds a PeoplePerHour survey. Some 38% of respondents admit that while running their own show is a challenge, more than two-thirds report it wasn’t likely that they’d ever want to work for someone else again.
Nancy Collamer, author of “Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passion During Semi-Retirement,” recently discussed with Anita Bruzzese how older workers can best position themselves to launch new careers later in life.
AB: First, let’s begin with what you mean by a “second-act career.”
NC: A second-act career involves more than just landing a new job or shifting into a different industry. It refers to a distinct move into a new line of work, and for people in semi-retirement, it typically also implies a more flexible lifestyle.
AB: How do you decide what you want to do in these second-act careers? Does it have to be what you’ve always done in your professional life or can you start something completely new?
NC: By all means you can start something new! After all, if you don’t do it now, what are you waiting for? Just be aware that it can take considerable time, energy and expense to start anew (not to mention that it also can require a bit of an ego adjustment) so be realistic about your expectations.
All things being equal, it is always easiest to transition into a new career that is related in some way, shape or form to what you did before. For example, perhaps you enjoyed facilitating meetings– a skill that could be transferred over to working as a director for a non-profit. Or maybe you loved mentoring younger employees – an experience that could be a springboard into a second-act as an executive coach. Take the time to assess your background and then consider (read the rest here)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How Umpqua Bank Keeps Workers Engaged, Motivated

I once spent a summer working as a bank teller and I hated it. Not because the management was terrible (it wasn't) or my co-workers were mean (they weren't). It was because it was a hard job. I spent long hours on my feet, dealing with customers who gave me money covered in sugar (because it was hidden in the sugar bowl). I had to deal with guys reeking after working 14 hours in the blazing Oklahoma summer sun who came to my window to cash their checks for some Friday night fun. (I learned to hold my breath for a really, really long time and then spray my window with Lysol after they left.)
So I know that working at a bank can be challenging. That's why it was so interesting to interview the people at Umpqua Bank, and how they've created a culture that keeps workers so engaged. Here's the story I did for Gannett/USA Today.....

In the past five years, the financial industry has taken a drubbing.
Plunging profits, allegations of improper behavior, customer backlash against rising fees and massive layoffs have challenged the industr

But various sources list one bank as a best place to work, and its practices may provide a blueprint to other companies on how to keep workers engaged even during tough times.
Umpqua Bank (UMPQ), based in Roseburg, Ore., has earned accolades not only for its profitability and business practices but also for its community commitment and employee loyalty.
It has $12 billion in assets and reported $101.2 million in net earnings last year, an increase of almost 37% from 2011.
"We hang our hat on our culture," says Michelle Van Allen, head of training for Umpqua. "We've been very honest and transparent with the public and with our employees when we've faced challenges. We make sure we keep our people looking forward to the future."
One of the biggest incentives for employees isn't the pay, but the volunteer service program that pays full-time workers for 40 hours of community service and part-time workers for 20 hours of service, says Eve Callahan, senior vice president of the bank's Connect Volunteer Network. Last year, 2,175 bank employees volunteered 46,730 hours to 1,757 organizations in four states.
Many of the entries in the bank's database of 3,000 nonprofits come from Umpqua employees who add charities that appeal to their interests, Van Allen says.
"The whole thing has just taken on a life of its own" and employees say the volunteer service is the employee benefit they value the most, she says.
"We have a 93% participation rate in our volunteer program," she says, noting that's about triple the national average for other employer-supported service activities.
Barbara Baker, executive vice president in charge of cultural enhancement, says the bank shows its commitment to the towns where it has branches through its community service, and that helps deepen the commitment of employees to their employer.
Another key for Umpqua that other organizations can learn from is the bank's consistent commitment to recruiting, training and retaining workers who are willing and able to live the company culture, Baker says.
"Some people may think we're corny, but we think it's a fun environment," she says. Fortune gave the company kudos for its morning games and motivation huddles.
Applicants are not only screened for skills and cultural fit but they must get "four thumbs up" from four Umpqua employees in various departments and at different levels, Baker says.
"We have very defined questions to find out if the person is a good fit," Van Allen says. "It's not just a guess on someone's part. We're very specific."
Beyond that, Baker says she also looks at "job satisfiers" as potential employees. When she asks an applicant for a teller position what that person most likes doing in a job, Baker says she's looking for answers such as "helping solve problems" or "helping other people."
"If they give those kinds of answers, then I go 'bingo!' I know that's exactly what we're looking for in that position," she says.
Once hired, employees receive continual career development opportunities, which workplace experts often cite as a key way to engage and retain talent.
"In our annual review process, the biggest discussion is about advancement," Baker says. "We're asking them, 'Where are you going?' "
The commitment to careful screening of applicants and the career development opportunities that help retain workers are "why we say that Umpqua is hard to get into and hard to get out of," Baker says.
The best advice Baker says she has for other employers hoping to retain and motivate workers is to "make sure your people know they are your most important assets."
"The best way to do that is to invest in them," she says. "Make it fun, make them feel valued, recognize them, pay them fairly and their passion will shine through."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Why Others See you as a Nitpicking Nut Job

Do you expect that anyone who works for you should handle an issue exactly as you would – even if their solution is equally effective?  Does the amount of time spent following up on the work of staff members get in the way of tasks that are a better use of your time and attention?
If you answer “yes” to either of the questions above, brace yourself.
You might just be a micromanager.
Being a micromanager is a real problem because such people often see their careers stymied after chronic complaints from employees. Higher-ups believe their lack of delegation means they can’t be entrusted with bigger projects or responsibilities.
That’s why if you find yourself constantly reversing gears to go back and change work done by subordinates, or believe that delegation doesn’t work with your team, then it’s time to make some changes.  If you don’t, you could find yourself losing out on promotions or even being taken off critical projects that you love.
If you know it’s time to change your micromanaging ways, the first thing you have to do is change the way you think about delegation. It can’t be a “sometimes” thing – you either trust your team members to do the work or you don’t. If you don’t buy into the idea that they can do the work and achieve a positive outcome – even if they approach it differently than you do – then you’re just spinning your wheels. The result will be decreased productivity and morale.
That will eventually lead to your own career being hampered because you’ll be seen as difficult to work with, uncollaborative and lacking leadership skills. Employee turnover may even be tied directly to you, and that could threaten your own job.
If you are a micromanager, there are ways to get past such ineffective tendencies. Among them:
  • Asking for input. It’s likely that human resources has heard complaints about you. See if you can get specific ideas about how people feel you’re interfering with their ability to do their jobs. Someone in human resources or a senior mentor may be willing to talk to your direct reports to get a better idea of the problems.
  • Delegation is a two-way street. You can’t just say “I’m delegating this to you” and walk off and forget about it. It’s critical that you outline (read the rest here)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How a Lack of Manners Hurts Your Career

The idea for this latest story I did for Gannett/USA Today came from the many complaints I've received over the years about workplace incivility. I've heard gripes about the guy who eats Cheetos all day and leaves a trail of orange fingerprints everywhere. There's the woman who fights with her children all day on her cellphone and the guy who thinks nothing of texting during a business lunch.
Could you be thought of as rude at work? If you are, how can it hurt your career? Read on....

Let's say you're sitting at work, laboring over an important report.
It's been hours since you had lunch, but you don't have time to run out for a snack. Fortunately, you've got a bag of pork rinds in your desk drawer and begin munching away while focusing on your work.
About 20 minutes later, you're confronted by a red-faced colleague who is staring at your pork rinds.

"Would you like one?" you question politely.
The colleague makes no comment, just growls in her throat and stomps away.
While you may wonder why the colleague acted in such a way, it's clear to those sitting around you. Gobbling away on the chips is not only distracting with your bag-rustling and your crunching but is seen as a breach of office etiquette.
Then don't be surprised if colleagues don't invite you to participate in an important client dinner or fire emails around the office detailing your boorish ways.
All because of those pork rinds.
While many people believe that the key to career success is doing good work, the truth is that "it's more important to be popular and well liked." says Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions.
So if you do things to annoy people like eating a bag of snacks when others are trying to work nearby, that can be a detriment to your career. Further, if you're not using proper office etiquette, chances increase that you're likely to pull a bone-headed move outside the office that also can hurt your career.
"Poor manners hurt your career because the little things matter. Very often, reputations are built on the basis of a first impression that takes someone approximately 3 seconds to formulate," says Alexandra Levit, a career expert. "So, sitting at dinner with a new client and ordering the most expensive entree on the menu (when they're paying) is not a good move."
The best way to avoid mannerless gaffes at work is by paying attention. If it's OK to ride a skateboard to meetings, then by all means feel free to do it, Oliver says.
But if you get annoyed looks when you show up in lime-green leggings and a Dodgers baseball jersey, then you may need to rethink your strategy.
"No matter how your colleagues or boss dress, I always think it's a good idea to dress nicely," Oliver says. "You never know when you'll go out to lunch with someone important. Looking like a slob never serves you well."
If you want to clean up your act so you can improve your image at work, here are some other suggestions:
• Stop casual rudeness. Interrupting when someone is speaking and texting during a meeting are all signs that you're not giving someone your full time and attention, and that's off-putting, Oliver says.
"I think it's sort of addictive and a thrill to always be online. But even if others are doing it I don't think it makes a good impression," she says.
• Communicate carefully. "In this climate, the most frequent complaint I hear is that people are too short with one another and that tone is misconstrued in virtual situations," Levit says.
"Most of the time, people don't mean to be rude but simply aren't careful about their communication," she says.
• Don't be loud. Many workers sit next to one another, so take care to respect someone's space.
That means you may say "knock, knock" when entering someone's cubicle space or avoid talking loudly on your phone or listening to your voice message via speakerphone, Oliver says.
• Look for mentors. "If you're unsure about a specific behavior, ask a trusted mentor who's not at your organization for his or her advice," Levit says.
She also suggests taking a basic etiquette course and reading workplace blog posts and articles so "you will become familiar with how to avoid a lot of the major no- nos."