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.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Research Reveals the One Thing That Can Derail Your Motivation

It's not unusual to hear people say that when they've been job searching for a while, they sort of lose their motivation. This loss of initiative can also be found when people are working on projects for work or trying to come up with an innovative idea.

I've been through this myself, many times. When I feel my motivation lag, the one thing I don't do is pay close attention to others who seem to be excelling. I don't want to read their tweets or Instagram posts about how much progress they're making with a career goal.

But a new study shows why my strategy may only make things worse when it comes to re-charging my initiative.

Szu-chi Huang, an associate profession of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, finds in her research  that when you (and I) avoid information about others striving to reach the same goal when you're in the middle of a process or effort, it's because you (and I) don't want to look bad by comparison.

So, instead of becoming re-invigorated by seeing others still striving, you sort of check out and your initial excitement begins to fade like a cheap dye job. Because you can't see the finish line yet because you're in the middle of your efforts, you may just abandon your efforts completely.

Why does this happen? Huang says it's because you need a motivating "anchor," and you don't have one when you cut yourself off from others who are in a similar position.

So, the next time you feel yourself start to fade in the middle of a project or process, try checking out social media and absorbing how others in a similar situation are still striving. That should be enough to get your motivation flowing when you need it most.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

You're Always Being Watched

Years ago I was volunteering at a community fun fair, which is another way of saying that kids were running around juiced on too much soda and candy, and parents were paying $10 for a hot dog. All of it was in good fun since it was aimed to raise money for a local community project.

I worked alongside a 13-year-old boy, who never said "no" to anything I requested. He bused gross picnic tables. He took the trash to a giant dumpster. He fixed the soda dispenser when it got stuck. He served hot dogs when I started talking to a friend and fell behind.

In that hot dog line that day was the owner of a local restaurant. He watched this 13-year-old boy, and when the line moved forward and he was standing in front of the boy, he asked "How old are you?"

"13," the boy responded.

"When you are 16, you come and see me and I will give you a job," the man said.

Three years later, the boy -- now 16 -- showed up at the restaurant.

"Do you remember me? You said you'd give me a job when I turned 16?" the boy said to the restaurant owner.

"Yes, I remember you. I watched how hard you worked, and I knew that I wanted you to work for me. Too many people come in here and want a job but aren't willing to work," he said. "When can you start?"

Years later, that young boy is now an executive in sales. He said he built his career based on that first job. His resume showed that he took on some dirty jobs, but kept building his skills and responsibilities for various employers as he worked his way through school.

I use this as an example of how important it is to always be aware that someone is watching how you work. The office manager who one day builds a successful software company is going to remember that you were a hard worker and hire you away from your current job at three times your salary.

The boss who watches you at the office barbecue will notice that you didn't know the word "quit" when it came to a game of softball. Maybe you couldn't hit the broadside of a barn, but he took notice that you hung in there and didn't give up.

You may feel like you're on your best behavior when you're at your workplace, but don't think you're not being watched -- through your social media posts, at offsite events -- to see if you've got what it takes to make key people want to invest in you.

Monday, February 26, 2018

3 Steps to Take When You No Longer Like Your Job

Sometimes you accept a job and are really excited about it. But as you spend more time in that job, you start to lose some of that enthusiasm. Before long, you feel stuck. 

It can be difficult to finally admit to yourself that you're not happy with a job you thought was a good fit. You feel a bit guilty because you know about the time and effort the employer has put into hiring and training you. You are also a bit annoyed with yourself, because you feel you missed some of the signs that this job wasn't going to work.

Now what?

First, realize that you're not the first person to go through this, and you won't be the last. Second, it isn't good for the employer or yourself to stay with a job that isn't a good fit. As your unhappiness increases, your productivity and creativity will drop. That's not fair to the employer, is it?

Once you've gotten past those emotional hurdles, it's time to figure out what you should be doing in your career.

Here are some steps to take:

1. List what you love and what you hate. Don't be wishy-washy here. Be honest with yourself. Maybe you took a certification class and spent thousands of dollars to become a project manager. But you hate it. Hate. It. Maybe you have discovered that what you really love to do is design the graphics for your reports. You look forward to the days when you get to design a dazzling pie chart.

2. Think about how you invest private time. You're in the doctor's office waiting for your flu shot, and you come across some really cool graphics in a magazine. You quickly snap a photo of it, and start envisioning how to use those graphics in your next report. This doesn't even feel like work, does it? When you're devoting off hours to thinking about it, trying to hone your skills or learn new ones to enhance it, then you know you're onto something that will excite you in your career.

3. Look for connections. Obviously, you're good at project management or you wouldn't be in that job. But your creative side longs to do more. Still, your ability to stay organized, handle a crisis and plan for the short-term and long-term can be an asset to any career, including one devoted to design. Can you find some connections to start building upon? Perhaps one of your project management networking connections is with a design firm? Or, your boss is willing to let you cross train in the marketing department? Don't feel like you have to throw everything away to create a job that is a better fit, even if the two seem miles apart.

Finally, I know there is always a lot of advice about "finding your dream job." But the reality is, we all have bills to pay and  you may not be able to just quit the job you have and become a professional rodeo clown. Think of it as finding something that will make better use of your enthusiasm and help pay the bills. You don't have to throw away all your skills or training to find a new job that will make you happier. Start looking for ways to reshape your career so that it includes more of the things you like.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

3 Ways to Give Immediate Feedback That Won't Make Someone Hate You

Image result for feedback

There's a big push these days for in-the-moment feedback. This means that instead of a boss offering a critique of a worker's performance once a year, he or she will offer an immediate assessment after a worker takes action or completes a task.

For example, the boss might commend a worker's report on projected sales revenues, but then advise the employee that he needs to work on not getting defensive when asked questions about those figures by other team members.

That seems simple enough, and the worker can then take immediate steps to offer better responses when questioned by the team.

But sometimes things can go really wrong with this immediate feedback, especially if the manager hasn't really thought about what he is saying to the worker. Without some thought about what to say and how to say it, these in-the-moment feedback talks can become demoralizing and hurt creativity and productivity -- just the opposite of what a manager needs to achieve.

Here are things that managers need to think about:

1. Avoid comparisons. Those of us with siblings will understand that it was no fun when mom or dad said something like, "Your brother Jimmy understands the importance of taking care of his things and never would have left his bike in the rain." The same is true in the workplace: Don't compare one team member with another, such as "Janet is highly organized. When she did the same report last year, she didn't miss one deadline -- and that really helped the whole team."

2. Don't be a broken record. It doesn't help the employee if a manager only offers negative comments -- or only positive ones. Workers don't need a "good job!" every time they complete a full sentence, and they also don't need sighs and eye rolls every time they stumble. Managers need to work on striking the right balance: Always try to be fair and give the worker credit for making progress but don't shy away from pointing out what needs to be improved so the worker can experience greater success in his or her career.

3. Let the employee speak. Feedback isn't just about the manager offering assessments and then walking away. It also needs to be about engaging the worker to critique his own performance and thinking about ways to do things differently or to improve. Tell the worker you're not there to punish or threaten -- you're there to help him or her improve: "How did you feel about your presentation? Did you feel like it went as you planned or was there something you would like to have done differently?"

Finally, always try approach the feedback talk with the goal of solving a problem and not as a way to assess the other person's character or jump to conclusions about why he or she took a specific action.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The One Thing That May Lead to Better Hires

Image result for adapt

I spend a lot of time talking to business experts and leaders and the one thing I know for sure: No one knows for sure what the future will bring.

That’s not to say these very smart people don’t have a clue – but the marketplace is changing so fast sometimes that they’re not 100% confident that what worked in the past will continue to work – or if their company will even survive. (They don’t say that last bit, but enough big companies have died that you know they’re thinking about it.)

That’s why I thought some new research was so fascinating. In a nutshell, it says that companies that want to survive and thrive need to look for one key attribute in new hires: adaptability.

While companies like Zappos and Netflix have placed great emphasis on hiring workers who will be a cultural fit, they perhaps need to look deeper at how those job candidates will be able to adapt to a company.

Specifically, the authors of the study -- Sameer Srivastava of the University of California, Berkeley, and Govin Manian and Christopher Potts of Stanford University -- used linguistic analysis to look at more than 10 million internal emails sent from a technology company from 2009 to 2014. (This linguistic analysis is seen as a good indicator of cultural fit over time.)

The conclusion: The new hire that was able to recognize and internalize company standards was more successful over time. It’s not so much a new worker’s ability to initially adapt to a culture that matters – it’s how that worker absorbs the culture and adapts over time that matters the most, researchers say.

The key takeaway for employers may be that they need to stop screening out candidates who don’t seem to fit the company culture. If these candidates show adaptability – perhaps they’ve lived in another country or taken on diverse work roles – then that may be a better indicator that they’ll be able to adapt to a company culture and thrive over time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

3 Ways to Brag Without Being Obnoxious

Recently I was talking to a young job seeker who went completely slack-jawed when I mentioned she needs to promote her accomplishments to others.

I was not surprised by her reaction, because I'd gotten the same one from another job seeker -- this one a bit older.

I get it. I remember the first time someone told me that my hard work would never pay off if I didn't let other people know about it -- often. I immediately dismissed the notion that I would go around "bragging" about myself.

So, I totally ignored the advice. Then, I saw someone I trained be promoted to my position when I left -- and be given a hefty raise even though she didn't have as much experience as I brought to the position. Then I saw someone with a lot less knowledge -- and loads of bad advice -- become popular with career advice sites.

When I wrote my second book, that's when I finally got it. My agent wasn't about to take me on unless I proved to her that I was worth it. She made me jump through a lot of hoops: who could help me promote my book, what was my standing in my field, why would anyone listen to me, etc. It was tough at first, but then I switched my thinking to this: I am a product.

Yep, that's right. Think of your career like a product, and this is whole idea of promoting yourself to others is going to be much easier. For example, if you were selling toothpaste, how much would you sell if you never mentioned how the product could save you from getting cavities? Would anyone be interested in having the toothpaste if you never talked about it, never explained its wonderful qualities and what a difference it can make?


The same is true for your career. If you don't make the effort to tell others about your skill and your ability to make a difference, then they're going to skip over you and move onto the next toothpaste, er, person.

Now that you understand why it's so important, here are some ways to make yourself known to others without feeling like an idiot:

  • Remember that your boss doesn't know everything. You may assume that because she's your boss, she's aware of all your accomplishments. Wrong. Bosses are busy people. Find a way to periodically check in with your boss (in person is best), just to update her. "Wow, I had such a great meeting with Sharon the other day. I was able to help her solve some production line problems, and I think it really made a difference in our monthly goals," you might say. 
  • Keep your network informed. LinkedIn is a great way to let your network know of promotions (they will automatically send "new job" alerts to others), but you also want to continue to show your increasing knowledge or expertise. Try blogging on Linked or some other professional site -- they often accept guest authors. Tackle a timely subject and provide some smart solutions or insight.
  • Always keep your elevator pitch fresh. When you hop on the elevator at work and run into a senior vice-president from another department, what is your reaction? A brief head nod? A smile? If so, you're wasting a golden opportunity. While you don't want to be obnoxious about it, you can always say something like, "Hey Jim! It's nice to see you! I was just thinking about your department the other day when I was working on my new app that will shorten delivery times. I'm hoping it will be something other departments can use, also." Maybe you don't always have something super-exciting to convey, but never waste the opportunity to show others you're on the ball. "Hi, Jim! That was a great article you wrote in the company newsletter. It really inspired me to think about ways to be more efficient this quarter -- I plan to submit some ideas to my department head by next week."
Remember, no one is going to care about your career like you. That means you've got to nurture it and help it grow -- or it will wither and die.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Secrets of Top Performers

If you're one of those people who end up clocking in 65 hours or more or week --  hoping that it will help your career --  you can forget about it.

In a new book, "Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work better and Achieve More," author Morten T. Hansen finds in a study of 5,000 managers and employees that working a lot of hours can help your performance, but only to a certain point. Specifically, if you work between 30 to 50 hours a week, adding more hours can boost your performance. But after working 65 hours or more, it's time to go home because your performance will decline.

This result if part of Hansen's effort to more fully understand what makes some people top performers. Among his findings:

  • It's the boss's fault. Twenty-four percent of respondents say they can't focus because the boss lacks direction or there is a broader organizational complexity in their company. But Hansen says you can learn to "manage up" and just say "no" when you need to be great in certain areas. In other words, your path to greatness isn't just about always pleasing your boss all the time.
  • Purpose matters. It makes sense that about 40% of the respondents from the health care fields say they believe they are contributing to society. Still, there were those in the dataset who didn't work in those fields and still found meaning in their work. For example, 28% of people working in the construction industry completely agree with the statement "You can find meaning in your job no matter what sector it's in."
  • High achievers don't lose focus. While other people might be piling on tasks because they say "yes" to everything, high performers are more selective. They aren't afraid to say "no" to things that won't let them devote proper attention to their tasks and do excellent work.
  • Challenges are important. While many people just follow a job description, top performers challenge the job description. Instead of focusing on how to do the job description well, they think about how they can create the most value out of the role. This means they may change part of the work to add more value. For example, a factory worker in the study who was responsible for his machine output did that -- but he also went to other people and asked how his output could help them do better. They told him the one thing that he then implemented, taking him beyond his job description.
  • Don't let passion lead you down the wrong road. While you don't want to totally ignore your passion, you need to understand that top performers don't just chase a passion no matter where it leads. They learn to match their passion with a strong sense of purpose, doing work that contributes value. They focus on the benefits they bring others and doing it well, which makes people value their work. That's what leads to a good career.
  • Create a learning loop. Getting in a rut and working on autopilot can kill a career. Look at things you do automatically -- such as the way you lead meetings -- and find ways to improve. Then, get feedback on your changes. Make necessary modifications until you've made it better. If you take this one skill at a time, you will be able to focus until you improve.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Job Fairs May Suck -- But You Can Use Them to Your Advantage

On college campuses around the country, job fairs are popping up like groundhogs looking for a place to wait out the winter.

Companies load up their banners and swag (A free pen! A free stress reduction ball!) and stake out a table. Then, the college students -- wearing nice clothes that make them squirm -- start the trek from table to table to table, ready to hand out their resumes.

The only problem is that sometimes recruiters shake them off. "No," they say. "We don't need your resume. Just apply online."

There are various reasons for this (lazy recruiters, company policy, etc.) but the bottom line is that it throws off the student. Now what are they supposed to do?

Confused, they shuffle off to the next table to be told something similar. Recruiters seem more interested in taking selfies of themselves at their booths, then posting it online. "Wow! Meeting great people at the XYZ job fair! Come by and see us and get free M&Ms!" they tweet.

And this, my friends, is why so many people hate job fairs. Millennials see them as a colossal waste of time, and they're right.

Sort of.

I agree that you're probably not going to make any great contacts at a job fair, and probably not going to get a job just by going to a job fair. Job fairs are indeed outdated and need to be revamped.

In the meantime, you've got to use every opportunity to get yourself ready for a job interview or networking event that will really help you get a job. So, why not use these job fairs as your own personal testing ground?

Here's what you do:

  • Dress professionally. Of course you know not to wear your grubby shorts and t-shirt, but until you've really moved around in a suit or heels or stiff leather shoes, you're not going to really experience how clothes play an important part in getting a job. Do you feel so uncomfortable that you can't hold a conversation? Is your suit jacket so big -- or so small -- that you feel ridiculous? Are your shoes killing you? This is the time to test drive your interview clothes. You want something that looks as good at the end of the day as it does in the beginning. You want to feel confident in these clothes, and not worry about how your shirt is beginning to wrinkle and show sweat stains.
  • Practice your handshake. A professional handshake isn't one where you do some weird slap, pump, high five or other gesture developed with your fraternity brothers. You want to shake hands professionally -- and do it a lot. Get a feel for what feels too tight or too aggressive or too wimpy. Be willing to stick your hand out first. Learn how to make eye contact with a solid handshake. By the time you leave the job fair, shaking hands should be natural.
  • Learn to juggle. This may not sound like a big deal, but it can be hard to handle your coat, your backpack, your resume, various company swag and a pen and paper without looking like a kindergartner on your first day of school. Part of being seen as a good fit for a company is presenting yourself as a calm, capable person. So, how are you going to handle all this stuff and still take some notes from recruiters? By the time you leave, determine what you need at a job interview or networking event, then leave the rest at home. You want to be focused on getting a job, not tripping on your coat falling out of your backpack.
  • Hone your elevator pitch. To me, this is probably the most important thing you can get out of a job fair. You're probably never going to see most of these recruiters again, so use them as your personal training staff. Once you stick your hand out and get a good, solid handshake, then it's time to give your elevator pitch so the recruiters can get back to tweeting about M&Ms. "Hi, Lisa. It's nice to meet you. I'm Laura, a junior majoring in journalism. I work on the school newspaper, and recently won a state award for my investigation into city worker fraud. I also have developed an online app to make it easier for students to find news that pertains to their home town." BOOM! Right then, you've separated yourself from the rest of the crazed pack of college students roaming the job fair. 
  • Ask questions. Even if you believe that a job fair is mostly a waste of your time, use it to practice asking questions about a company. By doing a bit of research beforehand, look for ways to ask questions that will make an employer think that you're someone who has a real interest in the company and industry. "How to do think AI (artificial intelligence) will affect the way you develop products in the next 10 years?" you might ask.
The bottom line is that while job fairs are an outdated, inefficient and unproductive way for companies to find employees, that doesn't mean you can't use them to your advantage. Use them to become more comfortable with your "professional" self so that when real opportunities come along, you're ready.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Best Ways to Answer "Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?"

"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

This is a pretty standard interview question, but it's also often asked during performance reviews.

Many people are a bit stumped by this, since they're not sure what they're doing this weekend, let alone five years from now.

But one of the most important things you can do for your career is to always be prepared for such standard inquires. If not, then others -- such as a hiring manager or your boss -- may think you're not serious about a job. That's enough to prevent you from being hired or invested in by your company.

And for heaven't sake, don't say something like: "In five years I plan to be backpacking across Europe. I'm only interested in a job now so that I can save money for my trip."

While employers will understand that you may want to be running your own company (that makes you sound ambitious and energetic), they won't likely hire someone who will cut ties at the first opportunity.

Certainly, don't lie about your intentions. Lying to your boss or to a potential employer puts a work relationship on the wrong foot, and can set up a disastrous outcome when it becomes apparent down the line that you weren't being truthful. (You know the truth will come out, just like your mom always told you.)

So, here are some ways to answer that question of "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

1. Talk about the industry's future. No employer is naive enough to believe that every employee will stick around for 10 years or more. They are well aware that people may move on after several years, especially if they are young and trying to build their careers. But you don't have to focus on the fact you may leave. Instead, zero in on what you find exciting about your industry and how you hope to play a part in it's growth. Try something like,  "I think project management is going to be an integral part of this industry becoming more competitive worldwide, and I hope to continue achieving key certifications and deepen my knowledge so that I can be a part of the industry's evolution." This shows that you're committed to improvement and are thinking about long-term issues, which any employer will love.

2. Focus on being a better employee. When you're in a job interview or performance evaluation, you're keen to focus on what a stellar worker you are, not on your weaknesses or mistakes. But since no one but your Nana thinks you're perfect, now is the time to show you're ready to address your deficiencies and the employer will be the beneficiary. Say something like, "In five years I would like to be taking on more leadership roles, as I plan to continue to develop my interpersonal skills. I think collaboration is important in any position, and that's a skill I know I can always build upon." This response shows you are aware of the importance of teamwork, whether as an employee or a boss.

3. Admit it's a tough question. You're not the first person to be asked this question, and chances are the job interviewer or your boss have had to struggle with the same question. In a world where change is happening so rapidly, they are going to understand that it's even more difficult to answer such a query. You can say, "This is a tough question, and something I've thought about. This industry/job is changing much more rapidly than ever before, so I think in five years I want to be the person who embraces change, who is flexible enough to react quickly to market dynamics so that I can be of the most value to an organization." Any employer will appreciate the idea that you're willing to make necessary adjustments as quickly as possible in a marketplace that demands constant change.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Why You Didn't Get the Second Interview

It can be very exciting when you get a call from an employer inviting you for a job interview. But that feeling can quickly disappear when you don't get a call for the second interview.

If this happens more than once, you may need to make some adjustments because it might not be "them" -- but you.

If you fail to get a second interview, you need to consider:

  • You're making rookie mistakes. By the time you've been invited for an interview, the employer believes you've got most of the necessary hard skills for the job. A first interview is when the employer is looking to see if you've got the necessary interpersonal skills. If you can't hold a professional face-to-face conversation with your interviewer, you're going to be weeded out of the lineup. It's important that you show up on time, dress professionally, speak clearly, make eye contact and avoid nervous fidgeting. Also, never, never, never talk trash about a former employer, boss or colleague. Any interviewer will immediately think you will do the same about her company or personnel, and avoid hiring you.
  • You're unprepared. If you don't know the company's leadership team by name, can't identify key competitors or can't give examples of how your abilities will benefit the company, you're going to be passed over for a second interview. You need to do your homework on the company and the industry so that you're able to have a conversation with the interviewer about key topics.
  • You're rude. This is not something that you set out to do, but it may happen because you're not prepared. For example, if you don't even say "good morning" to the receptionist, look uninterested when the interviewer is talking about the company or fail to ask any questions to show your interest -- that's rude. 
  • You're too friendly. "So I was reading your son's Facebook page and I see you guys went to the Poconos on vacation -- did you have a good time?" This is not something that will make an interviewer feel good about you. In fact, she will probably think it's a bit creepy. You want to remain in the professional arena with comments about awards the company has won, or industry events that are scheduled. Stretching into anything personal can make interviewers nervous and eliminate you from job contention.
Getting a second interview isn't easy and takes hard work.

Look at it this way: If you were a golfer or tennis player or even an online gamer, would you enter a big tournament without practicing beforehand? Of course not. You know that it takes discipline, hard work and focus to be successful in these arenas. The same is true of getting a job. In order to avoid elimination, put some real effort into it and you'll find more success.

Monday, January 29, 2018

What Crying at Work Can Do to Your Career

When I appeared on the Today show many years ago, one of the female newscasters and I were chatting before my interview. At the time, she told me that she had recently had a disagreement with a high-powered female business executive over whether it hurt a woman's career to cry at work.

"I've cried many times (at work) to get what I want," the newscaster told me. "It always works. I just go into my boss's office and start crying."

I didn't say anything.  To be honest, I was shocked and annoyed.

I'll admit there have been a few times early in my career when I cried at work. Usually it was because I was frustrated with my performance or felt I was being unfairly treated. I remember  breaking into tears while talking to a male boss one time, and he offered me some advice. "You are burning the candle at both ends," he told me. "You cannot keep up this pace in your career without burning out. You've got to have more of a personal life and stop spending all your time at work."

Those were very wise words, and I appreciated them. Once I learned to have more balance, I was able to keep my emotions under better control and was able to deal with frustrating situations in a more professional manner.

A new study by Prof. Kimberly Elsbach of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis, finds that there are four stressful situations that can cause women to cry at work: personal issues, response to feedback, daily work stress or heated office meetings.

Elsbach, who did the research with Beth Bechky of the Stern School of Business at New York University, says that some crying is OK.  But it can get tricky when women don't behave as others believe they should, or stick to a "script" of how others see them. If they don't, then they are seen as emotional, weak, unprofessional or even manipulative. And those are the kinds of attributes that tank careers, she says.

As children, boys are socialized not to cry and so don't have to even think about it as adults. But for girls, they are socialized to cry and so find that crying at work later in life isn't something they can control, she says.

On the other hand, men in power often yell when under stress -- something that can even give them stature. However, such behavior is not seen as OK for women. Such differences between accepted behavior for men and women will take "generations and generations" to change, she says.

In the meantime, I'd advise any woman to think about the triggers listed above, and work to overcome them. Enlisting an ally to diffuse tense office meetings, being better at having discussions about performance and finding ways to have a more balanced life can give women more control over their tears. And, hopefully, never use them to manipulate anyone in the workplace.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Why You Keep Getting Overlooked at Work

Take a minute and look at what you're wearing right now. Are they the same clothes you wore in college? Or similar enough that you could have worn them in college?

Now, take a look at your work area. Do you still have the beer mug you won in a chugging contest sitting on your desk -- along with your calendar of "Hottest Fire Fighters Ever?"

The reason I ask is because people often wonder why they're not getting ahead at work. They work hard, but don't seem to get chosen for the key projects. Or, they feel like the boss overlooks them when it comes time for promotions or new opportunities.

Sometimes, I think the reason is because these people are giving off the wrong signals. If you dress, act and look like you're still 21, then that's how others will see you. A kid. A lightweight. A novice. Someone who still has lots to learn and needs to still be reminded not to run with scissors.

You've probably heard the advice to dress for the job you want. But I think you also have to step up your game in other areas. Here are some ways you may be telling others you're still not ready for bigger opportunities:

1. You play beat the clock. You're watching the minutes tick by, texting your friends to confirm where everyone is meeting for happy hour. As soon as it's time, you nearly run to the door, backpack banging against your back in your haste. Your boss watches you go, wondering if you completed your work for the day, or plan to try and tackle it at home -- after happy hour. Perhaps this is why your manager doesn't consider you for projects that will require some self-direction and a more disciplined work approach.
2. You weasel out of meetings. No one likes meetings. No. One. While I don't think anyone needs to be in unnecessary meetings, I do think that some people are so intent on avoiding them that they miss real opportunities. You need to make the commitment to be involved in meetings where key decision-makers are attending. You need to make sure that when the top performers are pitching ideas, you're in those meetings to offer support or additional ideas. You need to be in the meetings where money is being discussed -- how to make it, save it or find new resources. These are the kinds of meetings that show your commitment to your boss, your company and your colleagues -- critical components if you want to get ahead.
3. You don't make hard decisions. We all knew those people in high school who waved off any discussions that might force them to make a decision. "Whatever you guys decide is fine with me," was a common response. "I'm easy." That doesn't work when you're a grown-up with a job. You're forced to make tough decisions every day, and failure to do so it the kind of behavior that hurts your career. The more you educate yourself about your company and your industry, the better prepared you will be to make decisions in your job that will let you be seen as a thoughtful professional.

Monday, January 22, 2018

3 Ways to Set Meaningful Career Goals

A recent survey by Accountemps finds that 93% of workers say that goal setting is important to their on-the-job performance.

Makes sense.

But here's the part that doesn't make sense: While 51% say they talk to their managers about their goals -- 11% never even bring up the subject.

I'm pretty sure that most managers are not mind readers (despite the fact they seem to know when to call a meeting at the exact minute you're trying to leave work early). So, how exactly is a manager supposed to help you meet your goals if you don't talk about it, or even broach the subject?

Maybe you feel your boss isn't interested in your goals, or that it's her job to bring is up. (Uh, no.) There really is no excuse for not having this discussion with your boss, and there is no one to blame but yourself if you constantly get passed over for promotions or don't get to work on great projects. 

It's time to get past whatever is preventing you from talking about what you want out of your career. Here are some ways suggested by Accountemps, with some additions from me:

1. Write them down. Don't attempt to talk to your boss about your goals if you're not clear about them. You can start more generally: "I'd like to get more interesting assignments," but try to drill down and come up with more concrete ideas: "I'd like to get more interesting assignments, and that means I'm going to need more training on the new software or would like transition from doing X to doing Y."

2. Set a deadline. Many career goals have been undermined by the daily grind of a "to do" list or the demands of a current project. You'll easily come up with excuses and not talk to the boss if you don't give yourself a deadline. In addition, it may take a couple of weeks for the boss to clear her calendar to have a meaningful, one-on-one conversation with you, so set deadlines and stick to them.

3. Dream big. If you're going to take the time to think about your career goals, don't limit yourself to the next six months or a year. Think about your dream job, and then work backwards. What would it take to get you there? You may not have all the answers, so look at those in your dream jobs (check our LinkedIn), and see how they moved into that position. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Don't Reveal Too Many Personal Details in Interview

I'm battling a virus today and am going to take my own advice and go back to bed instead of trying to work. With that in mind, here's a column I wrote earlier and feel like it's worth repeating....

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.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why Your Boss is Afraid of New Technology -- and What to Do About It

You know you may have an issue persuading senior leadership to embrace new technology when half of them still use a flip phone and the other half still have their assistants print out emails.
It’s not unusual to have some leaders be wary of new technology, but their level of resistance may undermine your efforts to be more innovative – or your company’s ability to compete.
How do you convince senior leaders that new technology isn’t reserved for the latest Star Trek movie and that using it can deliver better results?
First, you need to understand that the resistance by these leaders may be grounded in insecurity. Vineet Nayar, the former CEO of HCL Technologies and chairman and CEO of Sampark Foundation, explains that it’s important to understand the source of his or her insecurity.
“Make sure you aren’t feeding your boss’s insecurity by acting too aggressively,” he says. “If you approach him or her collaboratively, you might just get better results.”
Your direct supervisor may be able to help you get a meeting with a senior leader, giving you a chance to provide an easy explanation of what the technology can do. While the senior boss may not (read more here)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Here's How to Kill Negativity at Work

While looking at the social media comments as 2017 came to a close, I was struck by how many people were glad to see the end of the year. They lamented the negativity, the divisiveness and the general unhappiness that seemed to infect the country.
That negativity also has shown up in the workplace. Many people feel like they need to slap on headphones and stay huddled around their computer all day to avoid unpleasant discussions over world issues.
But I think when that happens you just become sadder and even more isolated. That's why I think it's important to be more proactive and have a strategy in place to deal with negativity at work. 
  • Look for positive people. Just as some people seem to wallow in their misery, there are others who seem to always have a positive, upbeat attitude. When you ask them how they are, they respond with "Great!" Make sure you interact in some way with these people as often as you can, especially if you've had a negative experience with the office Debbie Downer.
  • Listen to yourself. If you find yourself constantly complaining about politics or even the traffic, break free of that cycle by finding more positive things to talk about. Think about the positive interaction you had with a customer, or the funny joke your bus driver shared.
  • Handle social networking carefully. While chatting with friends online can be fun and make you feel better, the same cannot be said when you get into snarky interactions with strangers, Don't spend your time getting angry at people you don't even know, or feeling sad when people make hateful comments. Move on.
  • Help others. So many companies these days contribute to their communities by helping at food banks or organizing blood drives. Get involved or ask to organize an event to support a cause to help others. Putting positive energy into worthwhile activities can help reduce the impact of workplace negativity.

Monday, January 8, 2018

How to Get a New Boss to Like You

The new year is often a time when many people make changes, and that may include your boss. One day she's your boss -- you understand all her quirky habits and she understands yours -- and the next day she announces she's leaving for a new job.
That means a new boss is about to upend your world and you don't know what to expect. How will the new boss know that you've always worked hard to be a team player? Will she accept your snow globe collection or make you get rid of it? Is it possible that she'll ignore your abilities and favor your vile cubicle mate?
You can't predict what will happen with a new boss, but you do need to understand it's time to hit the reset button. She doesn't care what you did before. What matters to the new boss is what relationship you have with her and how you're going to contribute to her success and that of the team. 
Here are some do's and dont's when it comes to a new boss:
1. Don't show up in her office the first day listing your accomplishments for the last five years. It's much better to spend your initial conversations with her to talking about all the things you've learned in the last year. That way, what you've done still seems valuable and makes you look like someone who continues to grow in the position.
2. Do be pleasant. You don't have to gush all over the new boss, but also don't seem snippy or resentful of her presence. Be friendly and approachable. Make her feel like a valued new member of the team.
3. Do determine her work style. Ask her whether she'd rather receive texts, emails, phone calls or personal updates. Many new relationships get off on the wrong foot simply because of poor communication.
4. Do listen to what she says -- but also be observant. A new boss may say she wants to be informed weekly of your progress, but you can tell she gets stressed when she doesn't have an update more often. Be flexible and ready to deliver what seems to make the boss happiest.
5. Do get to know her, but don't be creepy. While it's important to spend time talking to your boss to get to know her, it's also a good idea to check out her LinkedIn profile or other professional information. Stay away from trying to get personal information about her online -- there's always the chance she will find out and that may not sit well with her.
6. Offer help. New bosses are trying to learn the ropes, just like any new employee. So, if you can show her a shortcut on a software program, do so. Or, you can offer some background on an important client. Remember: a boss's success is your success. If anyone is going to fail in this new relationship, it's likely that you will fail first.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Research Shows Why Your Smartphone is Hurting Your Career

If you want to be a better leader this year, put your phone down.

A new study from Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business finds that bosses who can't tear themselves away from their phone long enough to pay attention to their employees (called "phubbing"), erode trust.

Specifically, the study of 413 supervisors and employees finds:

  • 76% of those surveyed showed a lack of trust in a supervisor who phubbed them.
  • 75% showed decreases in psychological meaningfulness, psychological availability and psychological safety.
  • The lack of trust and decreases in those key areas led to a 5% decrease in employee engagement.
"Phubbing is a harmful behavior. It undermines any corporate culture based on respect for others. Thus, it is crucial that corporations create a culture embodied by care for one another," says James Roberts, a Baylor professor of marketing and author of a book on phone addiction.

Researchers say that in order to cut down on phubbing and improve a company culture, companies need to:

1. Make it OK not to respond immediately to texts or emails. When meeting with team members, bosses should give them undivided attention.

2. Let employees rate bosses. Team members need to be able to give their opinions on whether the boss is attentive when needed -- and have those ratings tied to the boss's performance evaluation.

3. Provide training. Giving up phubbing won't be easy, and bosses may need some training in better face-to-face communications and how to give up a smartphone addiction.

4. Put it in writing. Smartphone use rules need to be set clearly, as well as the consequences for violating them.

Monday, January 1, 2018

5 Resolutions That Could Change Your Career

A lot of people don't like resolutions for the new year because they think it will make them feel like a failure if they don't achieve every item on their list for 2018.

I've always liked resolutions. I like them so much, in fact, that I often make them in July. Or October.

I look at resolutions as my marching orders. I think about what I want to stop doing (driving so aggressively my family is afraid to get in the car with me) or what I want to start doing (being kinder, listening more, keeping houseplants alive).

Resolutions are important because they are promises to yourself. Only you have to know about them -- don't worry about sharing them on Facebook or revealing them at book club. Instead, think of them as a way to focus on what's important to you. If you don't achieve all (or any) of them, so what? You can try again later or decide that cleaning out every closet by the end of the month isn't a good use of your time.

Since I focus on careers and the workplace in this blog, I'm going to offer some ideas for career resolutions in 2018. If you don't want to start them until March, that's OK. If you only want to do a few of them, that's OK. Or, if you'd rather write your own list, that's fine. Just think about these career promises that are aimed at making you more successful -- and hopefully, much happier.

Some resolutions to consider:

1. You will stop being toxic. You will quit whining about everything you don't like about your boss, your job and your team members. If you're miserable, get your resume together or ask to train in another department. Stop shoveling your toxic thoughts onto other people -- if you're unhappy in your career, then it's your job to fix it.

2. Pick your head up. I was talking to a physical therapist the other day, and he says he has seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients with chronic neck and shoulder pain that results from hunching over cell phones and computers. Try putting down your phone and getting out from behind your computer to speak face-to-face to another human being. When you've got your head up, you're much more likely to see the possibilities in front of you.

3. Invest in yourself. Many employees these days say they want more career development opportunities from their employers. While some employers do offer such chances, not all of them do -- or follow through when they say they will. Don't wait on someone else to make you smarter, more valuable, more engaged or more creative. Look into local opportunities to attend business classes -- or even take an art class. Check out online learning or attend a coding bootcamp.

4. Make diverse connections. If you're in marketing, you probably have a ton of marketing LinkedIn connections. But do you have a connection from marine biology? Or public policy? The point is to try and expand your horizons, because only then will you have a wider view that will broaden your opportunities and chances for success.

5. Give thanks more often. Sometimes we get so focused on what we want to achieve or what we don't have that we forget to simply be still and give thanks for what we do have. When you approach your resolutions with an attitude of gratefulness, you will find that your list is a gift to yourself, not a burden.