Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to Become Better at Delivering Feedback

If you Google “performance review phrases” you will turn up more than 4 million sources offering advice such as how to deliver “good” feedback (the employee “is ready for any challenge”) to the “bad” review (the employee is “hostile to feedback or criticism.”)

The reason that millions of these sites exist is because delivering criticism to any worker often feels like handling a rattlesnake – a manager is never sure that it’s not going to turn around and bite him or her at some point. Criticism received badly can damage a relationship with a worker or even make the performance worse by demoralizing the employee.
Deb Bright, a performance consultant who has clients ranging from Morgan Stanley to Marriott, says that the biggest problem with criticism is that managers are often “unskilled givers” of criticism. In addition, workers haven’t been trained on how to be receptive to receiving criticism.
“I don’t think there’s a worker out there who says, ‘I can’t wait to get up for work and go have my boss tell me what I’m doing wrong’ – especially when I think I’m doing OK,” says Bright, author of “The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt.”
Bright says the biggest mistakes managers make when offering criticism to workers is “they don’t understand the importance of thinking before they speak.”
“Once they open their mouth – even though they’re the boss – the power goes to the receiver (the worker),” she explains. “The receiver can challenge or reject or accept what is being said – and decide whether to do anything about it.”
The key, she stresses, is that a manager should first consider the question, “What is my purpose right now?”
“Think about what you’re going to say so that what you will say will be perceived as helpful. If not, zip your lip,” she advises.
It’s also important to lay a good foundation with a team so that they understand how feedback can help them be more successful, she says.
“My employees want feedback because they know that I’ve got business goals and their own career goals in mind,” she says. “They understand that criticism is a given in the workplace and they can’t make the assumption they’re perfect. You cannot escape criticism, and they know I want to manage them to their potential.”
Bright also advises that criticism should be delivered so that the employee is part of the solution. For example, instead of saying, “John, that presentation was poorly organized and wasn’t received well,” a manager can say something like, “John, what do you think you could have done differently?”
“When the manager is doing all the telling, then the employee feels like the manager is saying, ‘You’re stupid, so I have to tell you what to do,’” she says. “But when the manager (see more here)

Monday, February 23, 2015

How to Avoid Canned Responses to Interview Questions

Job seekers often worry that if they practice responses to interview questions too much, they will come off as insincere, their answers having that "canned" quality.

I think that's partly true, but you also don't want to use it as an excuse not to prepare for an interview.

So how do you strike a happy medium so that you're prepared for anything, but don't sound like a robot?

Here are some ideas:

  • Think about the general questions most interviewers will ask. What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Then, instead of coming up with a general response, think about how you've used those skills at work or overcome deficiencies.
  • Talk about results. When you're contemplating how you used your abilities at work, relate how this led to greater efficiency, improved relations with a customer -- or even how you learned a valuable lesson about how NOT to handle a situation.
  • Don't ramble. When you think about the skills you want to highlight, telling a story is always an effective way to make yourself memorable and showcase your abilities. But, you don't want to blather for 15 minutes. Make the story as concise as you can while relating the key points. It shouldn't last for more than a couple of minutes.
  • Make sure it's relevant. It's always a good idea to clarify the question with the interviewer if you're not exactly sure what's being asked. Don't start talking about your skills when the hiring manager asks "So, what do you like about our culture?"

Remember that it's natural for you to be nervous in an interview, which is why you must prepare before the meeting. If you've thought about your skills and how best to relate them, chances are greater you'll be able to push through your nervousness to make a great impression.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How High Achievers Keep Things Running Smoothly

Every day millions of us search for our car keys, our smartphones and our sunglasses. We can’t remember passwords for our online banking account and lose critical emails or other bits of data important for our work.
While dealing with such stress and frustration, we’re being constantly bombarded with information from thousands of different sources. For example, in 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986, or the equivalent of 175 newspapers. Is it any wonder that we become paralyzed by the sheer volume of incoming data, causing us to have more and more brain blips?
Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, psychologist and author of “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” says that while we’re all faced with “an unprecedented amount of information to remember,” most of us are still trying to “keep track of things using the systems that were put in place in a pre-computerized era.”
For example, one of the problems is that the computer has evolved into “that big disorganized drawer everyone has in their kitchen.”
“We have files we don’t know about, others that appeared mysteriously by accident when we read an email, and multiple versions of the same document,” making it difficult to determine what is the most recent, he explains.
But he says that he’s found examples of how high achievers manage to keep things running smoothly without getting bogged down by information overload. Their systems make a “profound difference” and enable them to have time for fun and relaxation, he says.
Here are some ways Levitin – using scientific research – says that we can become better at being more focused, productive and less stressed.
  1. Just say “no.” Become your own enforcer of no email or Internet for certain periods so you can sustain your concentration. Don’t check your email every time something arrives in your in-box, but instead check your email only during certain periods. Prioritize your critical tasks for the day and then stick to the plan, learning to ignore that nagging voice that’s trying to get you to do something else (like checking out funny goat videos on YouTube.)
  2. Reach for the reset. When the brain goes into “brain wandering mode,” it is serving as a neural reset button that gives you a refreshed perspective. A 15-minute nap can provide such a reset, as can reading, walking outside, looking at art or meditating.
  3. Do an information dump. If it’s supposed to snow tomorrow while you’re at work, forget reminding yourself to bring your snow boots. Just get the boots and set them by the door. That way, he explains, the environment is going to remind you about taking the boots instead of forcing your brain to keep track of it and clutter your thoughts. If you find ways to rid your brain of so much responsibility, you can better focus your attention on what is in front of you.
  4. Buy some index cards. Putting a to-do list on a computer or smartphone may not be the best method for focusing on priorities. The problem is that you have to scroll through the whole list every time you consult it. But with index cards, you prioritize your tasks with the most important on top. (It’s a technique used by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg).
  5. Control incoming messages. In a method used by executive assistants at the White House, correspondence is sometimes put into more than one category. Reports or letters might be filed by committees and by projects, and is marked as it comes in with appropriate tags. If you have a phone conversation that you need to remember, (read more here)

Monday, February 16, 2015

How to Make Any Job Interview Pay Off

 It can be frustrating when you interview for a job and then aren't offered the position.

"What a waste of time," you think.

But it doesn't have to be.

That's because you can always learn from every interview, and taking the time after meeting with a hiring manager to sort of "debrief" yourself can provide valuable insight so that the next interview could be the one to nab you a job.

After every interview, take the time to think about:

  • What kind of questions were asked? Did the interviewer seem to have prepared questions that came from a form? Did the hiring manager question you about your personal thoughts and attitudes? How well did you do when highlighting your best traits? 
  • Did the interviewer focus on past jobs? How well did you explain the skills you used in each position or how you made a bottom-line difference for that organization?
  • Were you questioned repeatedly about certain weaknesses? Did you quickly redirect the conversation so that it focused on your strengths? 
  • Was the interviewer off-topic? Did the interviewer ask random questions? Were you still able to highlight your strengths or were you taken so off guard you didn't get to talk about key abilities?
  • Were you so comfortable with the interviewer it was like talking with an old friend? Could you have revealed too much personal information in that chat?
  • What might you have said that could work against you? Did you say anything that would be inconsistent with the organization's culture?  
No interview should be a waste of your time if you look at it as a learning experience. Honing your ability to promote yourself and your abilities is important in a job interview, but also throughout your career. So always look at an interview as a chance to grow skills that will pay off in the long term.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why Friction Among Teams is a Good Thing

One of the biggest headaches for a manager is when members of a team don’t really like working together.
This dislike can range from snotty comments muttered during meetings to outright confrontations among team members. A manager is put in the unenviable position of taking on the role of playground supervisor/negotiator/drill sergeant as he or she tries to get results from a team that needs to function as a cohesive unit.
But could it be that friction among team members is a good thing and managers should learn to appreciate it?
Recently a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University of a large U.S. professional services firm found that men and women don’t really like working together on teams. Individual workers reported they were more satisfied with their jobs when they were on teams filled mostly with those of their own gender.
“People are more comfortable around people who are like them,” says Sara Fisher Ellison, a co-author at MIT.
Interestingly, however, business results were shown to be much better when men and women worked together.
Ellison explains that could be because teams filled with similar individuals “socialize more and work less,” and various perspectives and skills may help teams function at a higher level. Researchers say that moving all female teams or all male teams to coed teams would boost revenue by 41%.
Further, she suggests that companies may need to do more to help team members embrace differences instead of seeing them as a point of contention.
Other research has found that instead of managers dreading some team conflict, they should learn to harness its power.
“[T]he mere presence of diversity you can see, such as a person’s race or gender, actually cues a team in that there’s likely to be differences of opinion. That cuing turns out to enhance the team’s ability to handle conflict, because members expect it and are not surprised when it surfaces,” says Margaret A. Neale, a management professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who focuses on negotiation and team performance. “A more homogeneous team, in contrast, (read the rest here)

Monday, February 9, 2015

12 Ways to Make a Great First Impression in a Job Interview

Hiring managers often make judgments about you within a few seconds of meeting you for the first time.

That's why it's so important that you not sabotage yourself by making some mistakes with your appearance that could -- either consciously or unconsciously -- turn the hiring manager against you.

Here's a checklist that can help you make that critical good first impression:

  • Clothes should be neatly ironed (front and back). Check buttons to make sure they're not hanging by a thread and hems are neatly done. Don't wear pants that are so long they're dragging on the ground (it gives a sloppy impression and hems can quickly get dirty). Skirts or dresses should be no shorter than mid knee. Shoes should be clean and shined, and women should avoid wearing heels that make them totter around like newborn colts.
  •  Don't carry a backpack or oversized tote. It's more professional to carry a nice laptop case, briefcase or handbag. Make sure whatever case you use is clean and in good repair.
  • Your hair should be clean and neatly styled. If you can manage it, get a haircut two weeks before an interview, which gives you the best chance of looking well-groomed.
  • No smoking. Try to avoid smoking before an interview, since it's likely an interviewer will smell it on you. Many companies these days will not even hire a smoker, and you never know the personal prejudices an interviewer may harbor against smokers.
  • Keep jewelry to a minimum, and cover tattoos unless you're interviewing at a tattoo parlor. While the hiring manager may have a tattoo under his or her shirt, you don't want to take the chance that a tattoo will not be well received.
  •  Give yourself enough time before an interview that you can duck into a restroom and do a final check. Men should check their tie and their fly, while women should ensure there is no lipstick on their teeth or smudged mascara.
  • Leave off the perfume or after shave. Again, a hiring manager may secretly dislike scents, so don't give him or her a reason to write you off.
  • Brush your teeth. Most people won't forget this step, but some brush their teeth and then follow it up with coffee on the way to the interview. Try to only sip water before the interview, which will help keep your breath fresh.
  • Don't chew gum.
  • Turn off your phone as soon as you enter the building for your interview. You don't want to be caught playing Candy Crush before the interview or texting your BFF. It will also ensure no interruptions during the interview.
  • While waiting for your interview, read an industry journal -- it makes a good impression and shows you as someone who is professional. Remember: You're under scrutiny the minute you show up. 
  • Have a clean handkerchief or tissue ready. Constantly sniffling or wiping your nose on your sleeve won't impress an interviewer.
Finally, when you're brought into an office for the interview, don't sit until the hiring manager directs you to a chair. Place your briefcase or purse beside the chair and sit up straight. Refer to the hiring manager as "Mr." or "Ms." unless you're instructed to do otherwise.

What other etiquette tips should job candidates follow?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

How to Stop Hating Meetings

Think you attend a lot of meetings?
Let’s do the math and see if that’s true:
  • There are an estimated 25 million meetings in America on a daily basis.
  • If you live to the average U.S. life expectancy of 78.6 years, then you will have spent two years of your life sitting in work meetings. (The average person also swears two million times in a lifetime, although it’s not clear how much of that is related to sitting in meetings.)
So, data has proven what we’ve all known for a long time: We spend too much time in meetings. They are time-sucks that often accomplish little and force us to spend our personal time catching up on the work we should have been doing while sitting in a meeting.
Is there a way to salvage the work meeting?
Paul Axtell, author of “Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations,” says meetings are important, but we’ve lost sight of how to ensure they are productive.
For example, 92% of information workers fess up to multitasking during meetings, even though it has been shown that there is a 40% drop in productivity when you multitask and a 50% spike in errors.
That’s why he advises to “leave your technology at the door,” and “keep only what you need for the meeting in front of you.”
You may argue, of course, that the reason you use your smartphone to check your email (and Facebook and Pinterest) during meetings is because of other people. Other people make the meetings run too long. Other people don’t stay on topic. Other people aren’t focused.
Buy Axtell advises that one of the keys to more productive meetings is that everyone needs to take more personal responsibility for meetings going wrong. In other words, it may not always be other people. It may be…
Here are some ways you can take personal responsibility for making meetings more effective, Axtell says:
  • Be patient. Don’t jump in the minute someone pauses in a conversation. By remaining attentive, you’re more likely to hear important information and won’t alienate the speaker.
  • Be nonjudgmental. “Remind yourself that the other person’s (read the rest here)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Are You Offering TMI in a Job Interview?

I've heard many horror stories over the years about job interviews gone wrong.

Many times the mistakes are made by interviewees because they didn't prepare. It wasn't a matter of what they didn't say -- but rather what they did say. It was often a case of TMI.

Interviews can be emotional -- you're often excited and nervous -- and that can lead to things slipping out of your mouth that you later will regret.

For example, I've heard about interviewees who said things like:

  •  "My boss says I'm about a subtle as a freight train."
  •  "I like just wandering around at work and shooting the breeze -- I find it's a great way to get to know people."
  • "My No. 1 interest is fantasy football. I'm addicted."
  • "I don't get along with my family. In fact, the less I have to do with them, the better."
  • "I'm somebody who needs a lot of stroking -- criticism really depresses me."
While you may think such people are clueless, it's not unusual for even really bright people to reveal too many personal details in an interview -- or phrase something so badly they look like idiots. This can often happen at the end of an interview because you feel such a sense of relief that the "formal" interview is over that you relax and don't watch your words as carefully.

That's why it's so important to understand that you need to set boundaries for yourself before an interview. The hiring manager's job is to make you so comfortable that you let your guard down and reveal things about yourself that you might not otherwise.

Before an interview, remind yourself that you should not talk about intimate details of your personal life, disagreements with colleagues or bosses or any insecurities. Think about how you can best answer questions regarding your work style so that it comes across as professional -- not needy, immature or silly.

It's great when you have a nice rapport with an interviewer, but just remember that it can have a downside if you start revealing unflattering information to your new BFF. Draw your boundaries beforehand and stick to them.