Wednesday, May 23, 2018

How to Stop Your Job from Ruining Your Vacation

It's that time of year when many people are gearing up to take some time off. If you're like most people, you will still check your email (this is why smartphones were invented, right?) and may even call into the office.

You tell yourself you're doing this because it's easier to keep up with some work while you're away and then not face an avalanche of emails when you return. You may also tell yourself that it's less stressful to be connected, because that way you can head off any disasters that may happen while you're on vacation.

I get it. I've done the same thing. But I do think you have to have a stern talk with yourself before you go on vacation. You have to be clear about when you will connect with work, and for how long. You also need to be clear with family or friends about your connections, to cut down on the amount of fights/whining/disappointment that can happen when you ruin everyone's vacation with your constant working.

Also, keep in mind that research shows your down time will make you better at your job because it will recharge your creative juices and improve productivity. If you're always connected, then you're actually hurting your career -- and your health. It's also really sad. I once watched a man miss his son learning to swim because he was glued to his smartphone doing work ("Just a minute. Daddy needs to finish this email to his work!" he called to the young boy. The boy, in the meantime, took off swimming for the first time while his brother and mother yelled encouragement.)

I'm going to give you a few things to think about before you go on vacation, so that you truly spend some time relaxing. You need to:

1.  Provide some early warning. Let your colleagues and clients know that you're taking time off. Send a "for your calendar" email, letting them know that you're going on vacation. Even if you feel like you've told them 10 times, still send a written notice.

2. Prepare your backup. It's not enough to just expect a colleague to pick up your work or assume he or she will be able to locate any important files if necessary. Talk to the colleague weeks before, and start making a "while I'm gone" list. You can't possibly think of everything that needs to be covered on the day before you leave on vacation. The colleague may act like covering for you is no big deal, but he or she will consider it a very big deal when important information can't be located. That's when you start getting panicked calls on vacation, and that's no fun for anyone.

3. Set a schedule. I've received plenty of email messages that not only tell me the contact information for who is covering for the person, but also when the person will check email. (Saying "I will have limited access to email" is a joke -- we all know you have your smartphone by the pool and are checking email all the time.) But if you say, "I will check email every day at 4 p.m.," then that sounds a little more definitive and I really won't expect a response before then.

Also, let me say that your out-of-office messages can make a real difference. Some vague message like "I'll be gone until June 15" isn't really helpful and unless you tell me who is covering for you, the phone number and email of the person. Then, don't be afraid to let your email be a bit more. Here are some examples:

"Hate to break it to you, but I’m actually on vacation until mm/dd and will not be checking emails. I’m sure you probably don’t want to hear this since you’re working yourself, so here’s a cat video to cheer you up. I’ll be back from my trip on [DAY]. Enjoy your week!" (Leaving a cat video is an individual choice -- consider your organization's culture).

"Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office and will not return until January 15. If this is an urgent matter, please contact Jane Jones at [email and phone number]. Otherwise I will respond to your email as soon as possible after my return."

Or, if you want to intercept people on social media and keep them from ruining your time away, try this one that was used on Twitter: "I'm not in the office right now but if it's important, tweet me using #YOUAREINTERRUPTINGMYVACATION" 

The point of all this preparation is so that you truly get the benefits of what a vacation can provide you: a recharge that will reconnect you with family and friends and new experiences. Only you can prevent your job from ruining this important time. Now, pack those sandals and go have fun.

Monday, May 21, 2018

This is the Problem With Workplace Friendships

I'm sure you've experienced this in your career: There are people you become friends with on the job, and feel so grateful to have found such relationships. Then, there are the people you work with who you wish would get a job on Mars.

Having friends at work can be a blast. The days go faster, are more fun and it seems so reassuring to know that someone always has your back. Many organizations even encourage people to become friends at work and ask employees to recruit their friends to join the team.

But new research finds that too much friendship at work can lead to "destruction," explains Nancy Rothbard, a Wharton management professor.

"It can lead to needing to engage with other people in a way that can be emotionally taxing to you, if it’s too deep. Sometimes you get caught up in some of the dynamics and it can be really distracting," she says.

Often, we have to make tough decisions at work, such as who is going to included in a project, how resources are allocated or even who gets a new desk chair and who does not. When you're emotionally close to someone -- as you are in a friendship -- it may influence your decisions simply because you don't want to tick off your friend.

So, while it may be fun to work with "friends," there can be an organizational downside when those relationships affect the way business decisions are made.

Further, workplace relationships can be affected by social media. The researchers explain that Facebook or Instagram can give you more insight into a person's personal life, such as when they post vacation photos. When you're back at the office working hard and your friend/colleague is drinking a mai tai on a beach somewhere, you may be a bit resentful -- especially when you really needed that colleague and she wasn't available. Or, you feel left out when a group of colleagues post photos of a fun after-work activity -- and you weren't included. It can be high-school cliques all over again.

Still, social media can help provide insight into a colleague -- and improve your relationship because you have a greater understanding of him or her, researchers say.

The biggest thing that surprised the researchers is how little data is being collected on workplace friendships, and the affect they have on employees. Since we spend so much time at work, and our organizations encourage close working relationships with colleagues, it's important to take a step back and think about how to better manage such friendships to ensure they're positive for employees and the business.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

How to Take a Job Out for Test Drive

One time the transmission fell out of my car (this is bad, very bad), so I was forced to rent a car to get to and from work. I decided to rent a car that I had been considering for some time, with the idea that getting to test drive it for a while would help me make a decision.

It certainly did just that. After one day of driving that car, I didn't like it much. After a week of driving that rental car, I hated it. The leg room was nil. The controls belonged on a space shuttle. A tractor had better steering.

I was a bit disappointed that the car I had been dreaming about turned out to be a nightmare. At the same time, I was very glad that I had a chance to test drive it and see that it really wasn't a good fit.

Wouldn't it be great if we could do that with jobs? After one week, the supervisor says: "So, how do you like it?"

"Not so much," you say. "Think I'll move on."

"Okey dokey," says the supervisor.

Of course, sometimes people do quit after one week, but that's not always such a smart plan and can really look bad on a resume. Zappos does offer employees $2,000 to quit during training if the worker finds he or she isn't happy. The company figures it's better to cut their losses and find someone who wants to stay put.

But most of the time, we tell ourselves "It will get better" when we don't like a job. Or, "I need this job to pay off my student loans. I can survive."

Still, if you don't like your job or career path, there are steps you can take to find out where you might be happier. You can:

  • Do your homework. I have to admit that before I rented that car, I had done no research on it. I just saw it and thought, "Oh, that looks like a cool car. I think I want to get that." But if I had asked other owners and read reviews online, I would have heard some honest opinions about it. Now is the time to stop looking at the shiny exterior of a job or new career and start finding people to ask about it. Ask your connections on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or even industry forums what they like and don't like about their jobs. Then, keep drilling and ask for more information whenever you can.
  • Attend job fairs and industry events. You may sell yourself on a getting a new job or branching out into a new industry, until you attend a job fair and realize that the jobs are being mostly turned over to robots or the pay sucks. Industry conferences are a good way to hear about ongoing problems and challenges, and to listen to other attendees talk about the good and bad things happening in the field.
  • Get behind the wheel. I remember when blogging first came on the scene. Everyone thought they should start a blog, but after a few months, they found they couldn't find something to write about on a regular basis. They thought they liked writing until they realized they had to do it -- then they began to hate it. After a year or so, many of these blogs were abandoned. Try using some vacation or weekend time to try coding for eight hours a day. Or try selling some of your artwork through Etsy on a regular basis before quitting your current job. Whatever it is that appeals to you, try doing it on a regular basis and see how it feels after a while. You might like it, or you might be willing to abandon it by the side of the road.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Research: What Drives Superstars to Quit

There's an old saying: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." 

But new research suggests that for some top performers, when the going gets tough -- they quit.

Wharton professors Maurice Schweitzer and Katherine Milkman find that it's usually a good thing to set high expectations, because you generally rise to meet them. But, they also discovered that if you're tapped to be a favorite to win in a competition -- and you run into some difficulty -- you're more likely to quit.

"I think that there are broad managerial implications of this. We have to be very careful when we have high performers with high expectations. When they encounter setbacks, as managers we have to be very mindful of how threatening that might be to self-image. We found a pretty substantial effect where this would drive people to quit when they might actually benefit should they persist," Schweitzer says.

At the root of this quitting is embarrassment. It's not fun to be thought of as a high performer and then fear that you're going to miss your sales quota or not come up with the next big thing. So, when great employees run into trouble, they may need more support from managers.

"The point is that it’s challenging to have the pressure of the world on your shoulders in ways that we haven’t previously appreciated," Milkman says. "When everyone is looking to you to always be a star, there’s something that comes with that that’s not so great."

To avoid such problems, a company can be more supportive of failure. In other words, it's not the end of the world if a project doesn't work out, and it can be just as valuable for a top performer to make the call that a project needs to be abandoned and not waste any more time or resources. If these top performers feel like they're about to face humiliation, they may simply leave their department or company, citing the need for a fresh start or more time with their families.

The truth, however, is that they don't want to deal with the embarrassment that comes from possibly missing their goal. That's why it's important that leaders stop thinking that top performers don't need the same kind of coaching and support as other workers and instead help superstars become more resilient.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

This is How You Ace a Phone Interview

For many job seekers, the first interaction they have with an employer is over the phone. But for some, it may be the first and the last contact if they’re not prepared to follow proper phone interview etiquette.
There are several phone interview etiquette issues you need to think about when preparing for a call from an employer. Also—there are several you need to be prepared for when you’re notexpecting a call from an employer.
What will you do if the employer calls while you have a mouth full of food in a noisy restaurant? What if you’re at your current job and you have nosy cubicle mates who will eavesdrop? What if you can’t recall anything about the job for which you applied? And what if you’re not in-the-know on answers to some of the most common interview questions that could come your way in an interview?
With a little preparation, you can ensure (read more here)

Monday, May 7, 2018

You Didn't Get an Internship -- Now What?

Many people have now learned the value of getting an internship. An internship can open doors for a permanent job, it can teach you a variety of skills and it can help you make key contacts. It can even help you learn that this chosen field is a big mistake, and you need to explore other options.

Still, getting an internship can be tough. There's a lot of competition for good internships, and some companies dilly-dally around so long they never getting around to making an offer.

So what happens if you don't get an internship offer?

Well, part of you may be a bit happy. You figure that you can spend your time playing Fortnite or traveling around the country, sleeping on the couches of various friends and relatives.

But another part of you is a bit concerned. Lots of other people got internships, but not you. It may have been something you did or didn't do, but at this point, that doesn't matter. What matters is how you're going to handle the lack of an internship and make sure you don't fall behind because of it.

Here's the key: You need to be able to answer "So, you didn't have an internship. What did you do?" from a job interviewer. If you respond "I played Fortnite for 18 hours a day" or "I couch surfed and bummed food off my friends," then that's not going to be very impressive.

You need to be able to show you did something that helped you to grow or learn. So here are some options:

  • Take classes. If you can't afford college summer school, then try to get into something else. See if your local community center or library offers classes related to your interests, whether it's starting a small business, growing local produce or learning how to code. 
  • Volunteer. Here's the reality: No volunteer organization turns down volunteers. Again, try to link it to your career interests, whether it's in a local hospital, a recycling center or helping to organize a community event. Many professors are looking for people to help out during the summer months, whether it's organizing data or working in a lab. Ask. They will certainly be open to volunteers.
  • Be innovative. Can you design an app? Can you figure out a better system to track local donations at the food bank? Can you set up a volunteer crew to collect sports equipment for underprivileged children? The key is that you use your own brain power to come up with something new or better. 
  • Get a job. There's no profession out there -- whether it's rocket scientist or elementary school teacher -- that doesn't appreciate the person who's put in time dishing up ice cream or running a lawn mower. I know many people who didn't have the stellar grades or dozens of extracurricular activities who still landed great jobs from employers who were glad to have someone who simply knew how to work with other people.
If you don't get an internship, it's not the end of the world. The key is using the time to gain many of the same skills you would get with an internship. So, look for things that show you can be a team player, can think creatively, are willing to take the initiative and aren't afraid to work hard. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Did Your Forget to Say This?

Most job seekers know to send a follow-up thank-you note to the job interviewer. But once they get the job, such appreciation seems to go out the window. Without meaning to do so, some people end up offending or alienating others with their lack of follow-up. Just one appreciative email or simple "thank you" over the phone or in person can enhance any relationship, and lead to a more successful career. After all, careers are built on relationships. If you start to blow them with bad manners, expect your network of people willing to help you shrink.

Here are some times you should remember to say "thanks!":

1. When you get offered the job. Sure, you may say "thank you" when you get offered the job, but follow it up with an email or letter. "I just wanted to again state my appreciation for this opportunity. I look forward to starting!" can really start things off on the right foot. The employer will probably feel all warm and fuzzy. That's a good thing, right?

2.  To acknowledge your references. Once you get the job, don't drop your references like a hot potato. Call or send a note saying that you got the job, and you really appreciate them willing to step up and provide a reference. This assures they will be willing to do it again and not tell others that you're an unappreciative jerk.

3. To the employer you reject. If you're lucky enough to be considering more than one offer, make sure you follow up with any organization that also offered you a job. "Thanks so much for the offer, and the time and resources you invested in me as a job candidate. But I've found a job that's a better fit for me." You may very well run across the people you met in this organization again -- or even want to apply there in the future. Make sure they feel you're professional and appreciative.

4. To those you meet from Day 1. From the parking lot guy who helps you figure out where to park to the receptionist to the human resources director -- thank them all for helping you. Just as when you were a job candidate, you will be under scrutiny by everyone from the minute you step on company property. It's important that you set the tone as someone who wants to build relationships and respect others -- the simplest way to do that is by saying "thanks" to those who help you.

5. To those who believed in you. Finally, don't forget to thank your family and friends who put up with you during your job search. (Yes, as times you were a real a**hole). They supported you during this journey, and they deserve some credit.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Research Reveals the Difference Between Good -- and Great -- Jobs

Gallup has a new report out today of 140 countries, and it's full of interesting information about how and why we work.

Here are some highlights:

  • The world's workers want good jobs, but they are tough to find. The U.S. has the highest percentage (13%) where full-time adult employees report they are engaged because of what Gallup calls "great" jobs. The average globally in "good" jobs is 28%, or about 1.4 billion adults. Gallup explains that great jobs are critical because they lead to better productivity, safety, retention and well-being. 
  •  Small- and medium-sized companies matter a lot. In more economically developed countries, these employers account for most of the good jobs available. Less developed countries have a few of them and also few large employers. This leads to a "subsistence" living for people that "do little to raise per-person productivity," Gallup reports.
  • Creating good jobs isn't enough. Countries cannot stop at creating good jobs and think people will thrive, the report says. These countries also need "to create great jobs that allow individuals to make the most of their time and talents."
  • Working women engagement varies. In North America, women are more likely to have great jobs. But worldwide, women are less likely that men to have good jobs. A high percentage of women work in manufacturing and production jobs that men, which reports lower engagement levels.
Such data should be a wake-up call for employers who are working to develop a global footprint around the world. Not only do they need to create a culture than engages workers at home, but they need to make sure that this same focus on engagement reaches workers who might be in Asia or Africa.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Is Mindfulness the Real Secret to Career Success?

If there's one trend that has continued to grow in popularity in the business world it's mindfulness.

I've written on the subject many times, and interviewed many experts, including Deepak Chopra. CEOs and entrepreneurs swear that mindfulness -- living in the moment -- is doing wonders for their careers. They report they are less stressed, are able to make better decisions and are more open to new ideas because they exist in a non-judgmental state.

These leaders are encouraging rank-and-file employees to adopt the practice, and I've heard from many such workers that they are trying to do just that. (Some say they love it, others think it's a waste of time).

Whatever your personal opinion of mindfulness, it's not going away. Studies are showing the impact mindfulness has on our brains and on our decision-making. Companies such as SAP and Aetna are training thousands of employees in mindfulness practices, and even open meetings with short meditations.

If you've never given meditation a try -- or halfheartedly tried and failed --  the Mindful folks have some words of advice on how to get started: 

  1. Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space.
  2. Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement. Easier said than done, we know.
  3. Let your judgments roll by. When we notice judgments arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
  4. Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
  5. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
The one thing that practitioners of mindfulness say over and over is that it takes practice. They advise that this is something you're going to have to adopt as part of your personal and professional development if you want to experience its benefits.

Do you use mindfulness? Has it helped your career?

Monday, April 23, 2018

5 Ways to Fix Workplace Drama

If you feel like your workplace has more drama than an episode of "Grey's Anatomy," it may be time to think about how such turmoil affects your career and whether you need to make some changes in your own behavior.

Workplace drama can come in many different forms, from the gossiping colleague to the co-worker who yells (or cries) when under stress. Such an environment hurts productivity, teamwork and creativity, and can eventually lead to employees leaving.

While you can't control what others do, there are ways you can eliminate the impact of drama on your performance -- and possibly influence others to improve their behavior.

If workplace drama is becoming an issue in your organization, then it's time to:

  • Stop jumping to conclusions.  When workplace drama begins to escalate, it's usually because we assume that the other person is doing something to hurt someone else. For example, you believe that Jim is talking to Sheila's customer about a solution not because he wants to help, but because he wants to steal away that customer. First, it's none of your business what Jim is doing and second, how would you feel is someone automatically assumed your intentions were always underhanded? 
  • Walk away from gossip. In any workplace, there are gossips who love to have listeners. Don't be one of them, even if the gossiper is using a fun-loving "Wait until you hear this!" attitude. A simple, "Sorry! I've got to get this report done in the next hour!" or "Just on my way to the bathroom!" will force the gossiper to look for another listener (and hopefully he or she won't find one).
  • Spend time with people you don't like. I know, I know. You hate this advice. Why spend time with obnoxious John or giggly Susan? But when you spend time -- I'm talking 5 minutes asking about the weekend or mentioning that a new coffee shop has opened -- then you're saying that you want to get along with everyone. Then, build on that by asking John and Susan what they think about a new project or their opinion on a new industry trend. Then, listen
  • Agree to disagree. The dramatic brawls on reality TV, the Twitter wars and the venomous tirades in online blogs have bled into the workplace. Do you really have to try and annihilate someone in a meeting simply because he or she disagrees with you? Do you really have to fire off a group email using a snarky tone just to make your point that you don't like the new printer? Really? 
  • Take a deep breath. We spend a lot of time with people from work, and sometimes the relationships can take on the feel of battling siblings or high school mean girls. Just stop. Before you make that childish face, offer a sarcastic reply or post something mean online, take a deep breath and do something else. Walk away if you can. If you can't, ask the person if you can continue the conversation later. Behave in a way that would make your children or your mother proud.
Workplace drama is often a bad habit that we fall into, but it is one that can be broken. Even if you lapse one day, start over. The more you work to break the habit, the more others will begin to follow your behavior and you'll soon have a much more productive, happy and civilized workplace.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

This is Why Your Co-Workers Don't Trust You

We all have those people at work who we don't quite trust. Maybe we can cite specific reasons behind such feelings, or maybe we can't. But what if you heard from others that the person they don't trust is you? Would you be offended? Confused? Hurt?
Most of us don't want to think of ourselves as being untrustworthy. Not only can it hurt personally, but professionally it can cause problems. Colleagues who don't trust you won't stick up for you when you need it, won't include you in big projects and may even do what they can to get you transferred -- or fired.
To avoid falling into the "untrustworthy" category, here are some things to avoid:
1. Big talk. If you make big promises and then don't deliver, your co-workers won't want to take what you say seriously.
2. Being too bossy. Dictating to others and micromanaging shows you don't trust others to do what needs to be done. Your lack of trust in them will be reciprocated.
3. Wimping out.  Don't make excuses or blame others. Step up and apologize when necessary. At the same time, stop trying to cover your behind all the time by "cc-ing" the boss on everything. It shows you don't trust your teammates and care only about protecting yourself.
5. Taking all the credit. Chances are good that even if you did great work, you were helped along the way with advice, encouragement or ideas from others. It won't diminish you to give them some kudos.
Remember that if you break someone's trust, you're going to have to work hard to regain it. Wouldn't it just be easier not to lose it in the first place?

A version of this post ran earlier.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Why Workplace Friendships Go Wrong -- and How to Deal With It

Most of us develop friendships at work, but sometimes these relationships go off the rails.

When that happens, it's often a slippery slope because having a disagreement with a friend at work can cause you professional problems, as well.

Andrea Bonior, a licensed psychologist, offers some potential friendship pitfalls and how to deal with them in her book, "Friendship Fix." Among her tips:

1. Your friend is using something in your personal life against you at work. "Privately convey to your 'friend' that you would appreciate it if she refrained from spreading around your personal business, and if push comes to shove, declare to whoever else is involved that you think the discussion to be inappropriate," Bonior suggests. At the same, be prepared to stand up for yourself and prove the colleague wrong by turning in a top-notch performance every day. "There's a good chance that your coworker might end up looking petty and untrustworthy if their information is irrelevant to your professional image," she adds.

2.  Your friend gets fired or laid off, and is now royally ticked at the company. This is certainly tricky because you still have a job and want to keep it, but you also want to be a supportive friend. "Keep in contact with him through lunches or phone calls outside of work, but try not to let his venom give you survivor's guilt: you can feel sorry for him as a friend, but you still need a paycheck," Bonior counsels. "Be patient listening to his woes without letting him force you to berate your company."

3. Your friend is trying to get you to join her crusade against something at work. The breakroom kitchen needs a new microwave! The boss is unfair and should be reported to HR! Whatever the cause, your friend is leading the charge and she wants you to get involved -- but you don't want to do it. Bonior advises you to gently tell your colleague/friend that you're not comfortable signing on, and "I know my unease with it would do more harm than good."

4. Your friend never met a charity she didn't like. It's a fact of life that you're going to get hit up for a charitable cause at work, but it can get to be a problem when it's your friend who is always coming to you for a contribution. Say "no, thank you," with a smile and a "graceful change of subject" as many times as necessary, Bonior says.

This post ran earlier.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

4 References for Inexperienced Job Seekers

It's the time of year when those looking for internships or their first professional gig are madly churning out resumes, answering online ads and trying to figure out who the heck can be a reference for them.

It can be a bit difficult to think of someone who can vouch for you when you don't have a lot of work experience. Still, employers understand that Bill Gates or Jimmy Fallon probably won't provide a reference and that you're just starting out.

Here are some people who might be able to help:

  • A teacher. This teacher might be from high school or college, or even grammar school if Miss Evans from fourth grade has kept up with you. Make sure the teacher remembers you -- it will be a bit embarrassing if you select someone who doesn't know your name. Also, choose someone who will for sure give you a good recommendation. The only way to know this with certainty is to contact the teacher and ask if he or she is comfortable vouching for your character and work ethic.
  • A religious leader. If your rabbi or pastor knows you, then he or she can provide some evidence as to your good character, your contributions to the community, etc. Employers are often looking for those who have shown teamwork, so a religious leader can address how you helped with various missions or ministries.
  • Volunteer coordinators. If you've put in time at a local food bank, helped clean up trash by the side of the road or volunteered with a literacy program, ask the coordinator for a reference. Again, employers want to talk to those who have seen your work ethic and teamwork firsthand.
  • Family member. No, Nana can't talk about what a good boy you've always been. But if you spent one summer helping Uncle Fred clear the back 40 or pitched in with your cousin Bill to design a new app, then that's fair game. When using a family member, make sure he or she can talk specifically about work you have done since any employer is going to take a personal reference with a grain of salt.
Finally, remember that any of the above references should be contacted first by you, to ask them to be a reference and to make them aware of the qualifications they need to discuss. After they've talked to your potential employer, make sure you send a thank-you note or follow up with an appreciative phone call.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Why Networking is So Exhausting -- and What to Do About It

Professional conferences or networking events are great ways to learn new things about your industry and make important contacts for your career.

They also can be exhausting.

Even the most outgoing person can find hours of "small talk" a bit draining. If you say "Hello, how are you?" one more time, you think you might go crazy.

The key to getting through such events is doing some planning beforehand. Believe it or not, chatting with strangers takes some effort, and poor planning can lead to inane conversations and fruitless contacts that go nowhere.

Before you go to your next event, here are some things to think about:

  • Stay away from controversial subjects. Politics, racism and sexism are important subjects, but they shouldn't be used as small talk. Those are pretty weighty subjects that deserve serious consideration, and you run the risk of making an offhand comment that could be taken the wrong way. If someone tries to solicit your opinion, change the subject. "How do I feel about the president? You know, I think that's a subject that will take much longer to discuss. But I would really like to know more about your job."
  • Show interest. "I see that your name tag says you are from Detroit. I've never been there, but would like to visit. Do you have some recommendations about where to visit?" Asking questions makes others feel like you are interested in them. You can ask about where they went to school, where they grew up, their favorite sports teams or what they like to do in their spare time. Once you've broken the ice a bit, then you can move to more inquiries about the person's job, their greatest challenges, what they think about latest industry trends, etc.
  • Be enjoyable. Nobody wants to talk to someone who can only drone on about a job or an industry. Be sure that you're up on the latest pop culture stories or the movie that is breaking box office records. You'll be more memorable if you can join in such fun topics and be seen as more approachable to others.
Finally, remember that talking to a bunch of strangers can be difficult for anyone. Once you realize that everyone is going through the same thing, you'll realize you have something in common before you offer your first handshake and it won't seem so difficult.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

This is How to Have a Happy Career

No matter how much you like your job, there are some days you feel as if you could walk out the door and never return. That's pretty common, especially when you have the kind of day when everything seems to go wrong.

But if you start to realize that your feeling of boredom or frustration or stress is becoming a common theme, then you need to take action. If you don't, those feelings may affect your performance to the point that you get fired or the boss passes you over for a big opportunity. Neither of those outcomes is good for your career, so it's important that you be the one to manage a career turning sour.

First, don't take this situation too lightly or too seriously. While this may sound ridiculous, only you can make an internal assessment of the situation and know a) that you're prone to drama and you could be making this situation much worse than it really is or b) you tend to avoid your feelings, and your career is about to go off a cliff.

Second, take a breather. If possible, try to get away from your career for a while. If you can't get away for a quick vacation, at least try to use your weekend to detach. This means letting everyone at work know that you're going to unplug (you can make up a creative reason here, or give no reason at all) and then really do it. Set up an auto respond to emails, turn off notifications of the latest basketball score and get away from screens. Period.

Third, occupy yourself with something completely unrelated to work. Buy a paint by numbers kit and do it. Go dig in the dirt and plant something. Buy a kite and fly it. Repaint your bedroom. Bake a batch of cookies.

If you want this to be beneficial, then you can't cheat. You can't fly a kite while checking your email. You can't bake cookies while reading an industry news website.

Once you've had this time away (a week is ideal, but a solid two days away may do the trick) then it's time to take your internal temperature again. Do you feel better about your job? Are you starting to remember how much you like what you do? Have new ideas been popping into your head while you were planting a new elm tree?

If so, then you know that your career crisis isn't serious, and just needs some tweaking. Would you like to talk to your boss about training in a new department? Is it time to talk to your team about better ways to communicate? Do you want to attend a few seminars to learn some new skills or come up with new ideas?

On the other hand, if you find after having some time away that you would still like hide under your bed at the thought of returning to work, then things are more serious. You need to really dig deep and find the root cause of your unhappiness and whether it can be fixed. If you have a mentor, now is the time to talk to him or her. If not, try writing down the pros and cons of your job and doing an assessment of what can be changed and what cannot.

Ultimately, no matter how many career coaches or mentors you have, you still are the one who must do the work and figure out whether your job is working for you or not. By knowing how to make an internal assessment, you're more likely to handle career bumps before they become a full-blown crisis.

Monday, April 2, 2018

How to Answer "Tell Me About Yourself"

Chances are pretty good that in your next job interview, you're going to hear: "So! Tell me about yourself."

Interviewers love to ask this question because a) they're hoping you might slip up and tell them something really interesting, such as the fact that you've been fired from your last five jobs b) they don't really remember who you are, and this gives them time to come up with questions to ask and c) they want to see how you present yourself.

Also, don't be surprised if you hear this question several times in the interviewing process, whether it's in your first interview with human resources, or your third interview with a senior vice president. That's why you can't wing it when it comes to describing yourself -- it's really important that you seize this opportunity to sell yourself and your skills.

No matter who asks you this question, there is one key thing you must remember: Describe yourself and your skills in such a way that helps the other person see you in the job. Oh -- and do it in about 75 words.

This means that you can't waste your words talking about how you have six cats and four dogs and you love comic books and you recently returned from a vacation and blah, blah, blah.

Your 75 words need to focus on your professional abilities (although you don't want to sound like you're reading your resume after not sleeping for four days). Instead, your voice -- the same one you use to describe your love of pets and comic books -- should show your enthusiasm for what you've done and what you want to do in the future.

Something like this: "I've been in IT for the last five years, and really love the challenge of an industry that is evolving so quickly. I've worked collaboratively with various departments, and find that such experiences have helped me think more strategically. That's why I'm so excited about this opportunity, because I think that my IT and collaboration experience can help this company. In my last job, our innovations led to a 30% increase in customer satisfaction."

It doesn't matter if you're applying for an administrative assistant role or as a mechanical engineer. The keys to focus on include:

  • Relevant experience. If you've been volunteering for years at community marathon events, then you can certainly reveal that if you're applying to a running shoe company. But stick with the facts that will help the company see you've got the right skills. Look at the job ad carefully, and try to use some of the key words revealed in that posting, whether it's "team work," "self-starter" or specific work experience.
  • Examples. Once you've given your little spiel, then you may be asked to elaborate. "So, tell me more about the 30% increase in customer satisfaction," the interviewer may say. Instead of droning on about the system you helped set up, try telling a short story about how there was a customer you had met who talked about a particular frustration with her inventory system during the summer months when more workers were on vacation, leading to poor inventory tracking. That prompted you to go back to your team and start designing a better software program to handle the problem. It so thrilled the customer, she signed a long-term contract and recommended your company to three other businesses.
  • The fit. No one wants to be your second or third choice. They want to believe that you can't see yourself working anywhere else, because the job and the company are such a good fit. That's why you need to always mention it: "I know that your culture really focuses on innovation, and that's just what I feel can help me deliver better IT solutions."
Finally, remember to practice what you plan to say. Write it out and then practice it until it feels natural. You're going to be a bit nervous in your job interview, so having it clear in your mind will ensure that you don't forget your priorities and start talking about how Captain America is better than Ant Man.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Why It's so Hard to be a Nice Boss

When I was about 16, I was elected president of a high school club. I was happy, of course, and thrilled that my peers had selected me.

It all went downhill from there.

Somehow, I let that title change me. I became very serious, looking at every decision as if the future of the free world depended on who we selected as the band for our next dance. For those who stepped out of line -- watch out. I wasn't above calling them out before the entire club, asking them to explain their actions as if they were preschoolers.

My presidency didn't last long, thank goodness. I was voted out during the next election, and rightly so.

But I learned an important lesson: It can be tough to be nice when you're in charge.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a young manager who told me that as a boss, she was going to be one of the "cool, nice ones." She had worked for many different managers, and was popular with her colleagues. She just knew she could be a boss who was able to maintain great friendships with the people who worked for her.

I recently ran into her, and the story has changed a bit. "I couldn't believe I did this, but I was nearly screaming at one of my employees on the phone and said if she was late again for work I was putting a note in her personnel file. I told her I didn't want to hear any excuses and hung up on her."

Yep. That's definitely a story I've heard before. People believe that once they gain a title, they will not change or do anything differently. But as my 15-year-old self can testify, that's not always the case.

There are a few hard truths that new bosses need to understand. Among them:

1. You're going to have a**hole moments, no matter how nice you are. There's a lot of things that are going to change your thinking about being one of the "cool, nice ones." Some worker will lie about why she's absent (she's not really sick, she just doesn't feel like working) and she will lie more than once. Eventually, you're going to talk to her about it -- and then she's going to do it again. She's going to continue to push your buttons like a 2-year-old who won't stop coloring on the walls. She's going to drain your energy and your niceness until you end up screaming at her on the phone. Just accept that you're going to have such a moment, but it doesn't make you a horrible boss. It makes you a human one.

2. Know your breaking point. Once you've had your little a**hole moment, then you can learn from it. Did you let the lies from the worker continue too long without scheduling a sit-down with the employee and clearly communicating the consequences of her behavior? Once you've reached the point that you're yelling at someone, you've gone off the rails. You need to think about how you'll handle such situations better the next time.

3. You're going to work harder than ever. Many people believe that once they get a new title they're not going to have to pull weekend shifts or answer emails at night or have their vacations interrupted with calls from the office. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Being the boss means that you're going to have more responsibilities -- and that may mean covering a shift when you're short-handed and working on the weekend to help the team meet a deadline. If you're going to get resentful about it, maybe you should reconsider if you're really cut out to be a boss.

4. You will be treated differently. Being a manager can be lonely. Team members may ask one another "How are you? How as your weekend?" -- but they may never ask you. You may not be asked to lunch when everyone else goes. They may be huddled together, talking and laughing -- and stop cold when you approach. You may get your feelings hurt, but try not to take it personally. Just think back to how you viewed your boss. Did you want her to go shopping with you on your lunch hour? Did you want to hang out after work? Probably not. It doesn't mean you're not a perfectly nice person -- it's just that now you're the boss, and that changes everything.

Much of being a good boss depends upon maintaining the attitude that you will need to learn and grow every day. You will be faced with new challenges, and that demands time and energy. As long as your team sees you as having their backs, being fair and treating everyone with respect, you will indeed be one of the "cool" ones.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Broadway Actress Shares How to Beat Stage Fright

At sometime in your career, you're going to be asked to stand up in front of others and talk. It may be a group of five teammates, a department of 50 people -- or in front of a conference audience of 500 people.

This can produce anxiety for anyone -- even those who are professional speakers have told me they get that little flutter in their stomach before every public speech. But that's OK -- what you don't want to happen in the kind of panic that is similar to being pitched out of an airplane without a parachute.

I've heard many tips over the years about how to conquer the fear of speaking in front of others, and have used those tips myself.

Sandra Joseph, who played Christine in "The Phantom of the Opera" for almost 10 years, is now offering a few tips of her own in her book, "Unmasking What Matters: 10 Life Lessons from 10 Years on Broadway." Among her suggestions for conquering stage fright:

  • Tell a story. Perhaps it's when you're with your spouse or your best friend, but take the opportunity to bring up a subject that you're passionate about. You want to feel confident sharing your thoughts with this person -- don't try this with someone who makes you nervous or insecure.
  • Step outside yourself. As you're sharing your thoughts, try to sort of step outside yourself to observe how you're sharing this story. What tone of voice do you use? What hand gestures feel natural? How are you holding your body?
  • Recall. The next time you need to speak to others in a high-stakes situation, try to bring forth those same qualities and characteristics that propelled your speech with your best friend or spouse. You want to be authentic -- use the gestures and speech patterns that are natural to you.
Just as Broadway actors train for many years to become proficient in their craft, you have to practice public speaking to become good at it. Try with small groups in the beginning, and work your way toward confidence with every attempt. Careers are built on the ability to effectively communicate and share ideas with others -- conquering stage fright is just another skill you need to learn to be successful.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A "Smelly" Career Problem

Today is National Fragrance Day, which may mean diddly squat to you.

Except if you're at work, and someone has decided to microwave last night's leftover shrimp scampi. Or, loaded on the Paco Rabanne cologne. Someone else decides to burn a wintergreen candle on their desk.


It's not that there is anything wrong with any of these scents, but they can become a problem in the workplace where not everyone shares your love of Dragon Noir perfume or the smell of popcorn at 8 a.m. As a result, more employers are paying attention: An OfficeTeam survey finds that 19% of workers say their companies have scent-free policies.

One of the biggest issues is that if someone has a problem with a certain smell, they're likely to suffer in silence. The OfficeTeam research shows that 46% of workers say they keep mum on a smell they don't appreciate, while 17% confronted the person and 15% asked human resources to do something about it.

As most of us know, anytime someone is "suffering in silence," it can find an outlet in other ways. Your heavy use of cologne may be enough for other teammates to avoid including you in a meeting on a key project. Your smelly lunches may so secretly annoy a cubicle mate that she doesn't warn you that you've got a mistake in a report.

Also, keep in mind that sometimes heavy scents can trigger migraines or allergies from co-workers, and do you really want to take on their work when they're forced to go home because they're ill from your perfume or aftershave?

I'm not saying your desk candle is going to sabotage your career, but why risk it? You want to ensure that people enjoy working with you -- not secretly complain you're stinkin' up the place.

Monday, March 19, 2018

This is Why Failure Can Be Good for Your Career

Failure on the job can mean a lot of different things. It can mean that you failed to deliver a project on time, and the boss is ticked. It can mean you lost a huge client and the boss is livid. It can mean you failed to figure out how to create an app that was going to be a big deal for your career. (The boss isn't really mad, since he had no idea you were working on it in the first place.)

The result of failure can vary. You may get fired. Or, you may get a note in your personnel file. Perhaps failure drives you to the local pub for unlimited jello shots.

But what's really important to your career isn't the fact that you failed, or even that you were reprimanded or fired. Not even the massive hangover you experience matters in the long run.

What really matters is this: Did you take advantage of the failure?

That may sound weird, but not to people like Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was fired as the head of Disney and DreamWorks.

In a recent interview, Katzenberg says that he's learned to be a better leader because of failure. "When you're put in the wrong place at the wrong time, you learn amazing things about life, you experience moments of sacrifice and learn how to be a leader," he says.

Before failure can pay off for you, you have to confront it, embrace it and walk through it. That means you don't try to sugarcoat it, blame someone else or try to pretend it didn't happen. You look failure straight in the eye and figure out what happened and why.

This won't be easy, especially if it's something that is near and dear to your heart. You may need to take a break in the early days after a failure -- spend time doing something you love or let your friends, family or faith ease your pain.

Then, you need to:

1. Realize you are not alone. As mentioned, Katzenberg credits failure with helping his career. Other famous failures include Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Thomas Edison. What would this world have been like if these people had just given up? Never doubt that you have something to offer the world, so don't let failure stand in your way.

2. Pick it apart. What really led to the failure? Was it really the poor data or was it the fact that you didn't communicate well enough with the IT team? Was the reason the customer left because the company got a better deal somewhere else -- or the fact that you didn't really understand the customer's needs and concerns? There are always lessons to be learned from failure, even if it's never to drink jello shots again.

3. Find support. It can be difficult to know things are going off the rails with a project or customer when you're so deeply immersed in the work. That's why it can be so beneficial to get feedback from others. Don't look for support from those who will always agree with you (like your Nana or your dog). Look for those who have been known to disagree with you in the past. Let them pick apart your process or idea and spot flaws. That's the kind of support you need -- people who are ready to challenge you to make you better in the long run.

No career runs smoothly. There are always bumps in the road, but don't let that throw you in a ditch where you remain. Get up, start over and get on with it. The sooner you accomplish that, the sooner failure becomes a distant vision in your rear view mirror.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How High Potentials Get Themselves Fired

Perhaps you have highly sought after technical skills, or you're known for having such a creative mind that companies believe you can help propel their brands to new heights.

The world is yours, right? You have so many calls from recruiters that you've lost count.

Unfortunately, even though a company should reap the rewards of hiring people like you, some of them will find out that it was a bad idea.

A new study from VitalSmarts of 1,000 managers and employees finds that 88% of managers have at least one "high-potential" (HIPO) worker who doesn't live up to the moniker. Colleagues are even more fed up poor HIPOs, with 96% reporting they have at least one teammate who can't manage to regularly hit performance standards.

What gives? It seems that the sub-par HIPOs have certain traits in common: an inability to stay focused on the right priorities; failure to communicate or avoid surprises in their work day or responsibilities; and not meeting deadlines.

Those surveyed report they believe HIPOs get overwhelmed, trying to do so much that they soon fall behind. Or, they get mired in busywork instead of focusing on more meaningful tasks. In addition, they can be rich in technical skills but absolute crap at organizing their work and setting priority.

While HIPOs may believe that a company would never in a million years let them go (after all, they are high performers) that may be a fantasy. Specifically, 48% of manager report that such performance gaps cost organizations more than $25,000 per low-performing HIPO.

The bottom line is that no HIPO should believe he or she is invincible. More companies are getting adept at using data to track employee performance, and if you're an unorganized HIPO who can't seem to get key tasks done, then you could be vulnerable.

Here are some things to do if you believe you may be a HIPO in trouble:

1. Meet with your manager. Get clear on what goals he or she deems are the most important in the short term and the long term. These are critical. Also determine if you're communicating effectively, and what you can change or improve.

2. Set up a system. Just because you're an IT whiz doesn't mean that downloading the latest app will keep you organized and focused. I have known some truly brilliant people who still use a day planner. Figure out what works for you and don't worry what anyone else thinks. You want to spend  more time focusing on critical tasks, not wasting time with six different organizational systems.

3. Set aside thinking time. You can do this while commuting every day or or taking your dog for a walk. Turn away from any kind of screen and simply let your mind be at rest and wander where it wants. I've come up with some of my best ideas while doing the dishes or drying my hair. HIPOs are expected to not only meet short-term goals, but to develop innovative ideas.

Finally, never get too comfortable in any job. Remember that you're always being assessed, no matter your skill set or how you performed in your last job. If you take the attitude of always seeking improvement, then that's good for your employer -- and your career.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Should You Ignore Weekend Emails from the Boss?

I once had dinner with a friend who worked for a telecommunications company. In the middle of our conversation, she stopped talking and looked unhappily at her phone.

"I'm sorry," she said, looking at her vibrating phone on the table. "But I've got to deal with this if it's my boss."

She checked her phone.

"Give me a second," she said to me, frantically tapping at her phone.

When she replaced her phone on the table, I asked her if such messages on the weekend were common.

"Oh, you'd think we were curing cancer, the way he demands we answer his messages immediately," the woman told me. "It's awful."

I asked her if she ever thought of ignoring the messages even for an hour, and she burst out laughing.

"I need this job too much," she replied.

I then asked her if she ever thought about talking to her boss about the issue.

"No. I can't. I wouldn't know what to say," she said.

For my friend, and all the other people out there who may be putting up with a boss that bugs them endlessly when they are away from work, I have a few suggestions:

1. Make sure you're right. Are you sure that your boss really wants an answer right away? Or, did you just reach this assumption based on information from others or because there was one or two instances that demanded such a reaction time?

2. Communicate clearly. I hear from bosses all the time that they get frustrated when employees believe they are mind readers. If you want to know the protocol for weekend emails, then you need to ask your boss directly. "I know that you send emails on the weekend, and I wanted to ask if I need to respond right away if it's a non-emergency issue. I like to take the time away to really recharge so that I'm energized on Monday. Sometimes that means that I don't have the ability to respond right away."

3. Monitor your own behavior. You may be part of the problem, and not even realize it. For example, do you send an email to a colleague on the weekend? Perhaps that colleague then feels obligated to send an email to another co-worker -- and cc's the boss. Bam! Now the boss has to send out an email, and that means you have now triggered receiving emails from the boss on the weekend. If you do feel like you've got to send the email before it slips your mind, use a tool like Boomerang to send it Monday morning.

Finally, if your boss does expect you to respond on weekends to non-emergency emails, then it's not likely you can ignore them. That's when you have to make the decision on whether the company's culture is a good fit -- or you need to find an employer that respects your time off.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

3 Dumb Moves That Kill the Careers of Smart People

"Success is a lousy teacher," Bill Gates says. "It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."

The working world is littered with the careers of people who didn't listen to Gates (or probably their mothers who offered the same advice). Some of these include entrepreneurs who started their business and achieved immediate success -- only to be serving lattes a year later because they crashed and burned. Or, there is the rising young star at a company who seems to be on a path straight to the c-suite -- until he irks an important client.

There are lots of ways to ruin a career, but I'd like to talk about some of the dumbest ways smart people manage to screw up their path to success:

1. They think they're too good for friends. I'm not talking about the kind of friends who you hang around with after hours. I'm talking about friends in the office. People you are nice to, and they are nice in return. You buy them a cup of coffee for no reason. You offer to stay late to help a co-worker finish a report. You cover for an unprepared colleague in a meeting. Those are the kinds of friends you make at work who will have your back, warn you when you're not making good decisions and help you be successful because they want you to do well. You do not earn and sustain success in a vacuum.

2. They try to multitask. Whatever you may feel about the financial guru Suze Orman, no one can doubt her success. She's worth millions and has retired to a private island in the Bahamas. She once said that she does one thing at a time, and she does it very well. Multiple studies have shown that we don't do things very well when we're in a meeting, sending emails, checking Instagram and thinking about where to go for lunch. Stop multitasking. It doesn't work, and increases the chances you'll make a stupid mistake and feel more stressed.

3. They don't do their homework. Let's say you've had success in shooting out random ideas in a meeting. Everyone is impressed. So creative! So out of the box! So smart! That leads you to believe this can work in other situations. But sooner or later, it doesn't. You make dumb statements to an important client showing that you don't know much about the customer's overall strategy. You blunder is asking basic questions during a presentation by your boss, showing you didn't read earlier reports. Skimping on your homework may have worked in high school, but you're in the big leagues now. Do your homework or find yourself being kicked down the career ladder.