Wednesday, January 30, 2019

How to Benefit When You Get Blindsided by Criticism

One day when I was on deadline frantically trying to complete a story, my instant messaging app popped up with something like: "Anita didn't check the database and now I'm having to recreate this work. *sigh*"

The IM was from my direct editor to another editor. I really didn't give it much thought, other than to instantly reply: "What? Is this message to me?"

The editor didn't reply and I quickly went on with my work since I had only minutes to my deadline.

Later in the day, a phone message arrived from my editor," Um, I'm sorry about that message. It wasn't to you. And I just realize that I never even told you about the database."

Okaaaay. So, this was one of those cases where the message had been sent to the wrong person: me. It was a message that was obviously critical of me, but then the editor realized it was an unfair criticism since she had failed to inform me that a database existed.

I sent her a message telling her not to worry, but I was ready to be trained on the database when she had time.

Really, I didn't care. I know from years in journalism that a lot gets said (and messaged) in the minutes before deadline. But I also saw it as an opportunity to form a stronger relationship with this editor.

First, I realized that she might not be giving me enough constructive feedback if she was complaining to another editor about an issue instead of talking to me about it. Second, I realized that it could be a turning point in our relationship as my ability to handle it professionally could help her see me as a level-headed team member who didn't jump to conclusions or hold grudges.

I know a lot of people who have gotten erroneous messages similar to this and they get mad, or feel hurt or vow to start looking for another job. Whether it's from a boss or a colleague, you can feel blindsided by the criticism and it can truly damage relationships.

The thing to remember is that you can turn a bad message into something positive that helps you improve your reputation and your career. Here's what to do when it happens.

  • Breathe. Don't punch back with an email or message or storm over to the person's desk and say something like, "You *&^%!"
  • Address the elephant in the room. The person who accidentally sent you the snarky message is likely to avoid you or pretend it never happened. If that happens, find a private moment to talk to the person: "I know that sending me the message was a mistake, but it's clear you have a problem with my work (or taking a long lunch, etc.). I think we should talk about this." Tell the person you truly just want to have a good working relationship, so you want to clear the air and move on.
  • Leverage it. I found that with my editor, my level-headed response earned me some goodwill in the weeks to come. She started giving me better assignments and she became more open about the challenges she faced. That made it easier for me to ensure my goals were aligned with hers -- and that helped me get ahead. If you don't snark back at the boss or a colleague over the message, you are seen as someone who can be trusted, which can lead to them wanting to help you in the future.
  • Address your blind spots. If a coworker or a boss is complaining about something, then it could be that others also see it as a problem. I wasn't even aware of a database, but it made me realize that I needed to be more proactive and constantly ask questions to determine if I completely understood the resources that were available. While criticism isn't fun, that message delivered in error can be beneficial if it gives you an early warning that there's a problem or others may be complaining about something you need to improve.
Finally, if you receive an apology for the wrong message, accept it graciously (even if it's not graciously given). Put the unkind words behind you and look at it as a chance to improve your professional relationships and reputation.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Critical Element You May Be Missing in Your Job Search

This seems to be the time of year when a lot of people are jumping ship for a new gig. People are seeking new challenges -- or feel unsettled by the current instability of their industry.

As you search for new employment opportunities, it's important that you look not only at the qualifications you need for a certain position, but also the culture of the company that interests you.

This is important because  you're not likely to be happy in a culture that is dramatically different than what you like, but also because you're more likely to be hired when you seem to "get" the culture of an organization. In other words, the employer sees you as someone who fits in and won't be a major pain in the ass because you're constantly butting heads with everyone.

For example, if a company's website talks about how it's a free-wheeling culture, where everyone "works until they drop with elated exhaustion" and then "goes for more," this might clue you into the fact that you would be working some long hours and even weekends. This might not fit in with your life if you have a young family to tend to or simply don't want to work so much.

But, if you're the kind of person that lives to work, wants to have the freedom to do what you want when you want and collaborate with other hard-core go-getters, then this might be a better fit for you.

Here are some ways to check out a cultural fit when before submitting your resume:

1. Use social media. Check out the company's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds, and look for things that might be a good fit or a warning sign. Do you prefer to work in a more traditional office and the Instagram feed shows employees in their pajamas playing beer pong during a conference call?
2. Check out current employees. Look on LinkedIn for those who currently work at the company, and then search for them online through social media or professional industry sites. Do these employees appear to post blogs or tweets that you consider offensive? Or, do they post smart comments about industry trends? Do they appear to be creative or stuck in a rut?
3. Follow the leaders. A company website may tout a culture that really appeals to you, but keep in mind this might not be a true representation of how the company actually functions. Do some research on the leadership, looking for interviews with the leaders or articles or blog posts they may have written. Look for Reddit feeds to see if the leadership is discussed -- you may get some red flags warning that the leadership doesn't really walk the talk.

Finally, remember that stepping outside your boundaries can be good for your career. You don't want to only work with those who are in lockstep with how you think and work, so don't let cultural differences hold you back. Just make sure that you're going into a different culture with your eyes wide open -- so no whining about it later.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

3 Ways to Improve Videoconference Meetings

One of the great things about being a remote worker is that you can often get large chunks of uninterrupted working time -- and you don't get pulled into as many meetings.

But with the increasing use of videoconferencing, those halcyon days may be waning. Now you're invited to many more meetings, and you find that your production is slipping as you sit bored, restless and frustrated through meetings that you don't really need to attend or that drag on too long.

Owl Labs, a video conferencing provider, analyzed more than 100,000 meetings at both large and small companies, and found:

  • Less is more. Remote team workers have 75% more opportunities to contribute when there are four or fewer people in the local room. 
  • Big companies are more efficient. Companies with 201-1,000 employees had meetings that were 8% shorter than those with 5-200 workers.
  • Tuesday is popular. Some 43% of companies schedule hybrid meetings between 2-5 p.m. on Tuesday. 

What can be learned from this research?

1. The fewer people in a meeting, the better. Trim the number of participants to only critical personnel if you want a more efficient, creative and collaborative sessions.
2. If you can send an email instead of having a meeting, do so.
3. To avoid scheduling conflicts, try to have hybrid meetings on any day but Tuesday. If it must be that day, try meeting before noon.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Research: Brainteaser Interview Questions are Harmful

I've never been a fan of "crazy" interview questions, such as asking: "If you were a salad dressing, which kind would you be and why?"

New research shows why I might feel this way. In the journal "Applied Psychology," researchers find that questions like the one I mention above or brainteaser queries such as "Estimate how many windows are in New York" are examples of "aggressive interviewer" behavior that shows no evidence for validity -- and unsettle job candidates.

In their study, researchers gave working adults traditional interview questions such as "Are you a good listener?" and included things like: "Tell me about a time when you failed."

They also asked brainteaser questions.

The result: Narcissism and sadism "explained the likelihood of using brainteasers in an interview," researchers say.

These "dark traits" shown by an interviewer in asking such questions "suggest that a callous indifference and a lack of perspective-taking may underlie abusive behavior in the employment interview," researchers say.

At a time when companies are actively vying for the best talent in a competitive market, it makes sense to scrap brainteaser questions. Companies need to make it clear that the "dark traits" don't belong in any culture.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Could Uber Get You in Trouble at Work?

Employees are routinely cautioned not to leave their work laptops unattended or use unsecured Wi-Fi networks when they travel for business, but a new threat is cropping up where employees may least expect it: ride-sharing applications.
Specifically, a Kaspersky Lab security review finds that of 13 international ride-sharing apps, all revealed several security problems. Researchers say that vulnerabilities include users being re-routed through an attacker’s site, allowing that person access to personal data such as passwords or logins. In addition, a lack of defense (read more here)

Monday, January 14, 2019

How to Look Your Best on Video


We all had a good laugh at the Dad doing a video chat when his children managed to scoot into the room and Mom followed moments later to frantically try and remove them.

While such moments are pretty funny, you don't really want things to go off the rails when you're trying to have a professional conversation via video.

Stanford Graduate School of Business Lecturer Matt Abrahams offers some helpful tips on how to make the most of your video chat:

1. Clean up your environment. Would you let an important client or your boss into the dump you call your bedroom with the unmade bed, dirty underwear on the floor and empty pizza boxes scattered on the desk? Look carefully at your surrounding environment and make sure it's tidy and won't be a distraction, whether you're at work or at home.

2. Use good technology. Check before a video chat to ensure your microphone and camera are in good working order and convey clear sound and pictures.

3. Lighten up. Abrahams says he spent $10 at a hardware store for a light used by car mechanics and fixed it behind his camera. Office lighting is often terrible, so look for extra lighting that will clearly illuminate and flatter your face.

4. Look into the camera. Many people put their notes on their desk, but that forces you to look down -- the equivalent of talking to the other person's shoes. You want to look directly into the camera, which means you are making eye contact. Abrahams suggests posting your notes behind the camera -- he uses a music stand to hold his notes at eye level.

5. Be prepared. Before a video chat, Abrahams says he always thinks about the key questions he wants answered, and the "themes" he wants to highlight. These themes should be supported by examples to support the ideas or reinforce them. Those themes and questions that are prepared beforehand "will help you convey more and walk away with more," he says.

"The value of communication is only increasing and the ability to communicate clearly, confidently and in a compelling way is absolutely critical to business success," he says.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Yes, You Do Need to Start Applying for Internships This Early

You may still be trying to recover from the holidays, but if you want a summer internship this year, you need to get busy -- right now.

Companies often get the bulk of applications between February and April, so there is no time to waste if you want a chance to land an internship.

Here's what you need to do:

1. Do your homework. Research employers and industries that interest you. Look at the LinkedIn profiles of people with jobs you would love to have -- then look at the internships or jobs they've held. This will help you make a list of the skills, industries and companies that you believe will be a good fit. Otherwise, you'll be overwhelmed with the process and end up applying with less and less enthusiasm -- and employers can detect that a mile away.

2. Tap into available resources. There is no sense reinventing the wheel when your school's career center has counselors and information to help you fill out applications and provide advice. Don't pass up the opportunity to also tap into the school's alumni network.

3. Reinvent the wheel. OK, this may be confusing based on what I wrote above. But, those who show initiative and resourcefulness often will succeed. I know several college students who have stopped by a company and personally handed in their resumes or even cold called the internship coordinator. The result was that the coordinators saw potential, and rather than wade through hundreds of applications, they made the easy decision to hire the person who had the chutzpah to make a personal connection.

4. Be persistent. Let me clarify: Be persistent, not obnoxious. Don't call the recruiter every day and ask, "Have you made a decision yet?" But, you can contact the recruiter once a week with a message such as, "I just saw this amazing article on industry trends and thought you might find it interesting." That way, you distinguish yourself as someone who is thinking more about the company and the industry rather than the next kegger. You also can send updates (that are relevant) to the recruiter, such as writing an article for a campus journal on a subject of interest.

5. Prepare. Once you land an internship interview, it's time to do even more homework.  Read the company's website, learning the names of executives and key information. Learn the company's mission statement so you can use similar language with your interviewer. Then, prepare questions for the interviewer -- never sit there mutely or only ask about days off.

6. Follow up. After the interview, send a note thanking the interviewer for his or her time. Mention how you're enthusiastic about the job and look forward to the opportunity.

Remember that applying for an internship and going through the process is never a waste of time, even if you don't get it. All these steps will be important in your job search, and the more practice you have, the better you will do.

Monday, January 7, 2019

It's Time to Shut the Door on the Office Moocher

For as long as I've been working (going on 100+ years now, or at least it feels like it), there have been office moochers.

They never have any money on them ("I forgot my wallet!" "I'm broke until payday!" "I just loaned my last $5 to a friend!").

As a result, the moochers are always borrowing off others at work. These moochers often ask you to "pitch in" a couple of dollars for them when there is an office collection for a colleague's birthday, or ask if you can also pay for their latte when you're making the coffee run.

Of course, these moochers always claim they will pay you back. But they don't.

What's the deal here? Do these moochers have some secret gambling addiction? Or are they just the kind of people who get a free ride by asking everyone else to pay?

You may never really know why moochers take and never give. In the meantime, you have to figure out a way to stop them from borrowing money from you and take responsibility for their own financial well-being.

Here are some ideas to break the habit of moochers using you as a personal ATM:

  •  Let go of your resentment. No one forced you to give these moochers the money or forced you to buy cups of coffee. That was your decision, so stop blaming them. At the same time, stop being mad at yourself. That's water under the bridge.
  • Always ask for separate checks. If you go out with a known moocher for drinks or lunch, always ask the wait staff for separate checks. Do it with a smile and then simply continue your conversation. If the group is too big for separate checks, announce that you'll be dividing up the check to determine what everyone owes. (Most people will be extremely grateful you take on the task -- no one wants to pay more than their fair share.)
  • Refuse with sincerity. When a moocher asks you to float him a loan, tell him you're sorry, but you're on a budget now. Don't elaborate. Once moochers see your piggy bank is closed, they'll turn to someone else or learn to start a budget of their own.

While it can be difficult to stand up for yourself in such situations, remember that a moocher's behavior shows a real disregard for you. You can maintain a professional and cordial relationship with them, just without the open wallet. At the same time, you may find that your resolve garners more respect from colleagues who may have wondered why you put up with such mooching for so long.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

How to Figure Out What You Want to Do Next

For many people, today is the first day back at work after eating too many holiday cookies, watching "Elf" 14 times and hustling the kids back to school (whether they wanted to go or not because your sanity depended on it).

It's also the time when you might begin to reassess your career. You might decide that a) you're on track and content b) unhappy and need to make a change or c) floating somewhere in between because you can't really decide what to decide.

If you're happy, that's great. But if you're not so happy -- or just plain miserable -- you need to deal with it.

But how?

You might say, "I love my job but hate my boss," or "I feel unchallenged" or "I'd really love a job that allows me to travel the world." Those are certainly legitimate feelings, but they don't get you the job that will help you feel better about your career. As a result, you flounder around until another year passes and you're still in the same job.

If you're feeling stuck or unsure about how to make a career move, there's an easy first step that can help you: reverse engineering.

Reverse engineering is when you take an object apart to see how it works so that you can duplicate it. It's often used in technology or manufacturing, but there's no reason it can't work on your career.

Here are some ways to use reverse engineering to help you find a better job or career fit:

1. List your favorite things. Do you want to travel the world? Work with artists? Be clear about what want.

2. Do some research. The Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook can offer you some insight into jobs with duties that interest you. The site will help you determine what qualifications you need, salary expectations, the job growth expected, etc. This can help you put a name to a job, such as "physical therapist" or "mechanic."

3. Find inspiration. If you want to be a marine biologist, for example, look for such people on LinkedIn or through professional associations or websites. What education did this person receive? Did she have internships? Has she written blog posts or posted tweets that might give you an insight into what she does each day in her job? While you might be able to job shadow someone in your dream job, you might also learn a great deal just by reading industry publications, listening to podcasts or reading blogs.

4. Get specific. Once you've done some research and soul searching, it's time to get specific. Reverse engineering isn't about just "sort of" reconstructing something -- it's about getting the details right. Are there local education programs that can help you get the right certifications for your dream job? How much do they cost? Can you afford to quit your job and attend school full time? How long will it take you to get a secondary degree? By the time you get necessary training, will jobs be available?

Finally, many people are open to providing some advice to those who want to enter a certain industry or profession. Don't be greedy with someone's time: Have specific questions that you can ask via social media, a job board or through LinkedIn. Do your basic research so that you don't ask obvious questions that can be answered by Google.