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

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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

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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.