Thursday, December 31, 2015

How to Leave a Great "Out of Office" Response

In the past week, I've received a lot of "out of office" messages, which got me to thinking about what makes a really great "out of office" message.

I did a little research and found these examples of what NOT to do:

  • "I will be out of office starting 09/08/2007 and will not return until 23/08/2007."  America uses the month first, followed by the day and then the year, although Europe often switches it up. Many people will be confused by such a message as to exactly when you plan on returning.
  • "I am currently out of the office and probably out-of-my-mind drunk. Enjoy your workweek." You may be in desperate need of a vacation, but that doesn't mean you leave such an idiotic message. Don't be snarky or you may not have a job when you return.
  • "I'm out of my office until Jan. 12. At that time I plan to delete all the emails I received while I was away, so if you really want to talk to me you're going to have to try again." In other words, the world should bow to your schedule and your needs, and work twice as hard to reach you.
  • "I'm out of office so contact George at" That' not bad, until you discover that George also has an "out of office" reply that tells people he's away for a week. Make sure that if you're directing people to someone else in your office, that person will actually be there to cover for you

So, what should you leave on an auto responder message? As someone who receives many of them (and I know you do, too), be brief. Say when you will return and who is an emergency contact. If you will be checking messages, you might want to be honest about it such as this guy:

I am currently out of the office on vacation.
I know I’m supposed to say that I’ll have limited access to email and won’t be able to respond until I return — but that’s not true. My blackberry will be with me and I can respond if I need to. And I recognize that I’ll probably need to interrupt my vacation from time to time to deal with something urgent.
That said, I promised my wife that I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our vacation as much as possible. So, I’m going to experiment with something new. I’m going to leave the decision in your hands:
  • If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I’m on vacation, please resend it to and I’ll try to respond to it promptly.
  • If you think someone else at First Round Capital might be able to help you, feel free to email my assistant, Fiona ( and she’ll try to point you in the right direction.
· Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return…
More people are truly trying to disconnect while on vacation, and I think that's great news.  Turn on your auto responder and hit the road or the beach or the ski slopes. We'll be here when you get back.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Use Subtraction to Add Happiness to Your Life

As the new year approaches, it's the time when many of us think about making our lives better.

We vow to run a marathon in 2016 (even though our new Nikes have been in the box for six months).

We promise to stop relying so much on social media to make connections, and instead will have more one-on-one conversations (even though we can't put down our phones long enough to do it).

We state emphatically that we will begin online classes (as soon as find the time to sign up).

The problem for many of us is that we're adding to our "to do" list without considering how much this will add to our stress. We know this doesn't make sense, which is why the Nikes look brand new and Facebook is the closest thing we have to a social life.

In Marshall Goldsmith's bestseller, "MOJO: How to Get It, How to Keep It and How to Get It Back if You Lose It," he talks about the importance of "subtracting" from life.

This may be a difficult pill for some people to swallow, especially since we have all these really cool apps that allow us to do a lot of cool stuff at one time. 

But Goldsmith points out that "the untapped power of subtraction is within your grasp."

"It's as easy as saying to yourself, My life might actually be better if I took away _______," he writes.

The answer is up to you, but don't be a wimp about it. Don't say, "I'm going to cut out carbs," or something like that. Try to think of what would really make a difference in your life. That annoying friend who only takes and never gives; the book club that you never enjoy; the fitness trainer who is a bully.

While we might all like to cut out a bad boss or obnoxious co-workers, that's not always something in our control. But there are many things we can determine about our lives in 2016, and one of them may be learning the power of subtraction.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What Coders Need to Know for Career Success in 2016

Coding is the hot job of the near future, and the word is out. It's becoming more competitive and employers are raising the bar for jobs.
While there are thousands of job listings for programmers and coders on various job sites, the increasing number of people capable of filling those jobs means that those in the industry will have to up their game if they want to thrive in their careers in 2016.
First up: technical skills alone won't cut it any more.
Language skills — and we're not talking PYTHON — are crucial. For example, one employer looking for a coder has told headhunter David Klein to screen out resumes that are not written well, or ones that contain grammatical errors.
Klein, director of recruitment for KDS Staffing in New York, says that the employer is looking for coders and programmers who can “communicate well.”
Michael Choi, founder of Coding Dojo, says that employers “are doing more filtering,” (read more here)

photo: hccoders

Monday, December 21, 2015

4 Ways to Ask for Help From Your Network

Is it difficult for you to ask for help?

For many people it can be tough. While you may have no problem making a request on behalf of a colleague or a boss, when it comes to asking for assistance for yourself, you shut down.

It might be because you believe you will come off as weak if you ask for help. Or, maybe you're afraid you will be turned down.

But the problem is that you can really hurt you career by thinking you can go it alone. Ask successful people how they rose in the ranks and they will tell you they had someone -- or several people -- who helped them. Maybe someone vouched for their skills, or simply provided information. The bottom line is that going it alone will make career success much more difficult, if not impossible.

With the new year right around the corner, now is a good time to make more of an effort to reach out to others and make your needs known. Don't worry -- no one is going to think you're whiny or weak if you do this correctly. Instead, they'll see you as someone who truly wants to form a bond that can benefit all those involved.

Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Be honest. Don't try to manipulate or push someone into providing help. Be upfront with what you need, and if the person can't provide it, then thank him or her and move on.
2. Be clear. Write out what you need before contact the person. Be as specific as possible. Don't offer a vague, "I need someone who, like, you know, hires people like me."
3. Make a request, not a demand. "I'm looking for a new position in the industry, and thought you might know someone who could use my computer security skills." That's much better than, "I need you to give me the phone number of the hiring manager at XYZ Corp."
4. Offer something in return. "I have some people who I think would be interested in your leadership seminars. Can you give me some contact numbers and seminar information to send them?"

Remember, before you contact anyone, make sure you're clear about what you want. Making vague or confusing requests can shut down an opportunity. Even if the person can't help you at that moment, you always want to make a good impression so that your bond can develop.

What are some ways you ask for help from your network?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Is Your Success Killing Your Creativity?

Innovative companies often grow rapidly, dazzling customers with creative ideas. The bottom line begins to reflect that success, and the organization’s teams receive a jolt of confidence.
Then, it happens.
The creativity starts to wane. The profits are less robust.
What’s going wrong?
Surprisingly, a new study reveals the problem may be self-confidence and growth.
Specifically, when teams become successful, they have a tendency to hang onto ideas that have worked in the past, repeating the actions that they have seen bring about success. They don’t explore new ideas or methods or tap into creativity that might lead to more innovations or breakthroughs.
“When you’re highly self-confident, you don’t pay much attention to evidence to the contrary,” says Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Emeritus James G. March, who did the study with Andrew W. Marshall and Mie Augier of the Naval Postgraduate School.
The subject of the study, RAND Corp., is cited as an innovative company that grew from 225 employees with a $3.5 million annual budget in 1948 to 1,100 employees with a more than $20 million annual budget in 1962. Over time, employees started hanging around only with people they knew. By not mingling freely, they weren’t exposed to new ideas, researchers say.
At the same time, the research finds that RAND – like many other big organizations — felll into the habit of hiring those who conform to their conventional methods and don’t (read more here)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How to Manage an Unlikable Employee

A previous post focused on how to make yourself more likable at work, but what about when you manage such a person-- and he or she has no inclination to become more likable?

This is a common headache for managers, who often deal with it by ignoring it. This avoidance of the issue leads the "unlikable" employee to become even more obnoxious or more withdrawn. The workplace atmosphere becomes more unpleasant, and pretty soon people are dusting off their resumes and looking for a new job.

Clearly, ignoring the problem isn't an effective strategy, so what's a manager to do?

First, start by observing the person's behavior so that you can grasp what he or she is specifically doing that others find off-putting. Maybe the employee is so shy she can't make eye contact in a meeting, or won't contribute any ideas in a brain-storming session. Or, perhaps the worker is always interrupting others, or belittles those who stress about deadlines.

Once you've got some specifics, then:

1. Meet with the employee privately. It's important that you clear some time to speak face-to-face with a worker, and avoid any distractions. This will lead to a better coaching session where the employee can see your commitment to his development.
2. Be concise. Don't ramble on about how the employee's behavior isn't appreciated by others and is causing problems. Instead, offer something like, "When Mary asked your opinion in the meeting, you mumbled something and kept your eyes on the table."
3. Spell it out. "I need you to be more collaborative," is pretty vague and may make the worker even more withdrawn or selfish. Offer some ideas: "The next time you don't have anything to say, look at Mary and say you'd like to think about it and get back to her," or "I want you to let someone finish a sentence without interrupting and then summarize what the person said before answering."

Often, employees aren't aware of how poor behavior can affect their career. Point out that promotions and big projects aren't given to those who don't communicate well or are not collaborative.

If an employee sees your coaching as a career development opportunity, then he or she will be more open to working on the issues.

Finally, make sure that you continue to monitor the behavior and follow-up with what the employee needs to improve -- and when you see things headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Every Employee Must Understand Digital Transformation

When you’ve been involved in business operations for more than four decades, you’ve learned a thing or two about strategies and how to put them in place.  A veteran shares his wisdom and best practices for digital transformation that makes sense – even for those outside IT.
Eric Clemons, a professor of operations, information and decisions for The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, often begins any advice he offers on digital transformation by couching it in terms of history.
So, if he’s asked about his opinions on digital transformation, he will talk about how he’s been in computing since the 1960s, and all the developments in technology he’s seen since then. Or, he may reach even further back and question how a caveman would react 12,000 years ago if someone told the early human about agriculture.
Um, surprised? Confused?
“Exactly!” he says.
That’s how those outside IT may think when they hear about digital transformation, he says. They may not understand it and perhaps are even a little afraid of what it means. Further, just like a caveman hearing about agriculture for the first time, they may not really understand the huge impact it will have on their lives, he adds.
Clemons emphasizes that the digital transformation taking place today isn’t just happening in a couple of departments of a business, but is completely overhauling the structure and strategy of an entire business.  While that may be an overwhelming thought for some organizations, Clemons says it doesn’t have to be as long as it’s broken down to a series of “manageable” steps and leaders realize that it isn’t so much about technology as it is information.
“Digital transformation is really a different way of thinking,” he says. “It’s just enabled by technology.”
A recent Strategy&’s analysis finds that 16 bellwether sectors, such as aviation and utilities, must not just embrace new and unexpected forms for digitization and technological innovation, but must also use them to reform their current business models. Change is coming quickly, but many business leaders and their organizations are unprepared for them, the analysis finds.
One of the ways that companies can begin to adopt transformation — and help their employees embrace it — is by having each one understand what it means to have the “right” customer, Clemons says.
For example, in the late 1980s, Citibank wanted to become (read more here)

Monday, December 7, 2015

6 Ways to Become More Likable at Work

No matter what anyone says, it's difficult to go into work every day if you feel like no one likes you.

It could be that you're quiet, and so it's difficult for you to strike up conversations or participate in discussions at lunch. Or, it may be that you have the problem of sticking your foot in your mouth, always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

There are a variety of reasons why you may have trouble getting along with colleagues, but as I said before, it's difficult and often emotionally painful to be the one who everyone seems to avoid.

There is an additional problem, as well. Not getting along with co-workers can really impede your chances of getting ahead at work. If you're not liked -- or at least respected -- it can hamper your ability to work on great projects, get a promotion or form important networks.

So, think about some ways you can form a better bond with colleagues, such as:

1. Making a peace offering. If you know you've offended someone by saying the wrong thing, then simply say "I'm sorry." If you're too shy to do that, or afraid you'll mess it up, try sending an email. Even better, drop a small gift at the person's desk, such as an coffee mug labeled with the person's favorite sports team.

2. Doing the smell test. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this uncomfortable topic. Often, you're unaware you have bad breath or body odor that is offensive. Maybe you don't wash your hair often enough, or your clothes smell musty and unpleasant. All things that can drive away colleagues very quickly. Sometimes even your friends or family members won't be honest, so consider going to a nice hair salon where you can get an unbiased opinion. Talk to your doctor or dentist, who may discover you have a health issue that is causing an unpleasant odor.

3. Smiling. There's really nothing more effective or easier to do if you're trying to win over colleagues than to just smile. Look them in the eye when you pass in the hallway and think of something that makes you happy. That way the smile will be genuine and not some fake facsimile that will creep people out. Smile when you see them first thing in the morning, and let it be the last thing you do before leaving work every day.

4. Sharing. If you make great brownies, bring some to work to share and post with a note: "Hey everyone...enjoy!" (Make sure you sign your name.) Or, if a client sends you a box of fruit for the holidays, share with your colleagues. Share an interesting article on the industry or share information on where you recently found really cheap gas.

5. Asking questions. Colleagues often steer away from those who can't shut up, who have an opinion about EVERYTHING or who are NEVER wrong. Tell yourself that every day you are going to ask at least three questions. It can be something like, "What did you do this weekend?" to "What's the most challenging thing you find about working with that new software?" to "What was the best presentation on this subject you've ever heard?"

6. Offering compliments. Put five dimes in your left pocket. Every time you offer a compliment to a colleague, switch a coin to the right pocket. After a few days, try 10 dimes. By the end of two weeks, you should be easily switching those coins to your right pocket every day.

What other tips can someone use to get along better with colleagues?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Some Girls Scouts Can Teach You About Careers

Yesterday, I received an email that I want to share:

My Girl Scouts and I just wanted to take the time write you a little thank you note about your wonderful page, because it's been such a major help. My Girl Scout Troop is having a program to help empower young women and build confidence within themselves. Your page taught them a lot!

As another small token of our appreciation, we thought it would be nice send along a helpful resource that we came across. It's and it has some great information on the importance of women in sports.

If you decided to add it to your resources, I'd love to show my troopers that their suggestion was up and running to help other aspiring women achieve their goals. It would also serve as an amazing motivator for the girls to keep reaching out to help others. We do our absolute best to follow the ever popular slogan of 'Do a good turn daily.' :)

I will certainly add this to my resources page, but more important, I want to say how inspired I am by these young girls and their resourcefulness.

Often, I am asked for career advice. Many times it is the most basic stuff, such as "How do I write a resume?" 

Really? With the thousands and thousands of resources out there -- online, in libraries, free local job services -- I have to wonder if those asking for such basic advice are ready to even hold a job. 

Today, employers want people who can think on their feet. They want those who can come up with creative suggestions, solve problems and collaborate with others. Those who are still stuck in the "Can-someone-tell-me-what-to-do-because-I'm-too-lazy-to-do-it-for-myself" mode aren't going to get very far.

Take a lesson from these Girl Scouts. Do your homework. Be resourceful. Network.

And, oh a good turn daily.

That's the best recipe I know for career success.