Thursday, May 31, 2018

This is How New Employees Can Help Your Career

It's pretty annoying when a new colleague -- who has been on the job for only a week or so -- challenges the way things are being done.

"This doesn't seem efficient," she says. "Why don't we do it another way?"

Or, she might say something like, "Wow, this seems like a total waste of time. Why do we even do this?"

Your first inclination might be to say, "Because!" or "Because we've always done it this way!" Both answers won't be very satisfying to the new colleague, and rightly so.

Before you snap back at the new co-worker, give the idea some consideration. Do you really, really, really know why you do something a certain way? Or, is the answer you provide the one that was given to you by someone else -- and you just blindly accepted it?

The great thing about new colleagues is that they see processes and products and systems in a new way. They aren't being influenced by other team members or even higher-ups. They simply are responding to something that doesn't make sense to them.

Listen to them. Put your annoyance aside. Ask the co-worker why it doesn't make sense to her and how she would do it differently. She may not know or may get flustered to be asked, like she's being tested. Tell her you're really interested in looking at things in a new way, which will encourage her to start brainstorming.

Of course, her idea may not work, and she may come to realize that the "way it's always been done" makes the most sense. But, you may jar your own thinking in the process and think about new ways other tasks can be done or products developed.

That, my friends, is very beneficial to your career. Companies are having to change and adapt faster than ever before, and those that figure out ways to do things better or smarter or come up with innovative ideas will be the ones that rise in the ranks (and get promotions and bigger pay boosts).

So, the next time someone questions "Why?" accept it as a gift and think "Why, indeed?"

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

How to Say "No" to a New Position? Very Carefully

Is it ever OK to turn down your boss when he or she offers you a new position?

I was in this situation once. I had been hired to run a medical magazine, but within the week my new boss took me out to lunch.

"I have a proposition for you. We've decided to start a new magazine on the workplace, and we want you to run it," he said, smiling.

"Uh," I faltered.

"It will be great," he said. "You have a business writing background. It would be perfect for you."

The business writing background he referred to had to do with covering tax reform on Capitol Hill. I hated that job. I thought I would die of boredom. It was the reason why I jumped at the chance to run a medical magazine. I liked health issues, and figured covering them could never be as dull as listening to Congress debate tax shelters.

"Uh," I said again. "I really want this medical magazine job. I mean, it really interests me. I'd like to give it a chance."

He frowned. "Well, think about it," he said. "We (meaning the top brass) really think it would be a good fit."

A few days later, he approached me again. "I think I should give you a bit more information about this job," he said, presenting me with research on the issue and the vision for the new magazine.

I felt pressured, and by the end of the week, I had accepted the job.

Was it the right move?

Yes. I've loved covering workplace issues, and learn something new every day.

But I also know that I felt I had to accept the job or risk getting on the bad side of this new boss. (I got on his bad side plenty of times after that, but that's another story.)

So, should someone always take the new position the boss offers,  no matter what?

I do think it's a tricky situation. Turning down the boss can lead to you being subtly "punished" when you're not considered for future promotions or other attractive assignments. The boss may see you as not being a team player, or not having enough ambition to be successful in the company.

On the other hand, the new position may hold no attraction for you. You may be very happy in the job you currently hold, and feel it's a great fit for you and your life. The offer may also come with responsibilities and tasks that you don't like.

If you are going to turn down the role, then do it with great care. Make sure you ask lots of questions so the boss feels like you've given it fair consideration. Make a list of all the things you like about your current job such as having lots of creative freedom (and not the fact that it lets you work from home more) and that it is setting you on the career development path that is right for you. Talk to the boss about how you see your current job developing, and future plans you have to contribute in your position.

By showing the boss that you're a key asset in your current job, you will lessen the sting of turning down the new position. You want to prove that you're not just coasting in your job, but are intent on playing a dynamic role in the company's success. That will help him see you as a team player and not someone who should be ignored when other opportunities come along.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

How to Stop Your Job from Ruining Your Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

This is the Problem With Workplace Friendships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

How to Take a Job Out for Test Drive

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

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

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

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

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

"Okey dokey," says the supervisor.

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Research: What Drives Superstars to Quit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

This is How You Ace a Phone Interview

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Did Your Forget to Say This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

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

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

Here are some highlights:

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