Wednesday, March 27, 2019

5 Things You Must Do When Providing References

Once an employer gets around to checking your references, you may be feeling quite confident that a job offer is coming your way.

Hold on.

According to an Accountemps survey, one in three candidates are removed from job consideration after checking with their references.

The problem is often that references don't know that they're your references because you neglected to ask them. Or, you asked so long ago that they have forgotten. Whatever the reason, not preparing your references for that important phone call from a potential employer can upend all your hard work. Instead of a job offer, you are rejected in favor of an applicant whose references provided sterling recommendations.

Here are some way to ensure your references help you:

1. Customize your references. Just as you target your resume and cover letter for a certain job, you should do the same for your references. You want someone who can speak to some of the skills sought in the position, such as creativity or leadership.

2. Look for variety. It's not helpful to an employer if all your references can only speak to one aspect of your character or job skills. Try to look for those who have worked with you in different areas.

3. Ask. It's unfortunate how many people don't feel like they have to ask for someone to be a reference -- they just assume they're so unforgettable and amazing that anyone would be thrilled to be a reference. It's always best to check in with a reference and a) make sure they remember you and your skills and b) will be available to speak to a potential employer.

4. Prep. It's helpful to a reference to talk a bit about the job and how you're a good fit: "They're looking for someone who can collaborate with other departments -- remember how I used to set up meetings with sales and tech so that we could all form a strategy together?" That helps create an image that the reference can recall when contacted by an employer.

5. Follow-up. Everyone is busy these days, so make sure that you thank your reference for their time and offer to stand as a reference for them in the future.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Dumbest Habit That's Going to Hurt Your Career

Whenever I get interviewed as a "career expert" I'm often asked: "What do you think it the biggest problem in the workplace today?"

My answer? "Communication."

Whether it's communication between colleagues, between a boss and an employee or even in the c-suite, I see the most problems crop up because people simply don't communicate clearly or effectively.

Think about it: When you had that dust-up with a team member, can it be traced back to the fact that the team member didn't tell you exactly what he had planned? Or, do you have a problem with the boss because she doesn't clearly explain what she wants?

At the same time, perhaps you've become a poor listener. Maybe you don't give your full attention when someone is speaking in a meeting or in-person. Admit it: You're sneaking looks at your texts in a meeting and you're thinking of all the stuff you need to do when a co-worker stops by your desk to discuss something.

I think communication has only gotten worse with the increasing use of texts in the workplace and a new survey backs this up. A Podium survey finds that 77 percent of respondents have texted someone in the same room, and 70 percent have done so with someone within a 100 feet of them.

Seriously? Do you honestly believe you're communicating effectively through text? Or, is it a way for you to avoid speaking to someone in person, which you may consider too time consuming? The survey also finds that 12 percent of respondents texted while in a conversation with a boss as work. SERIOUSLY??

This is a slippery slope and a lot of you are going to find yourself at the bottom very quickly. Texting is something that we all do, but that doesn't mean it should be a substitute for forming a better connection with colleagues, bosses and customers. Your career success is going to be built on forming good connections and relationships with others, and that's not going to happen if you can't talk to someone who is within 100 feet of you.

Try going on a texting hiatus. Stop texting in meetings. NEVER text when speaking with the boss, unless she tells you to do it. Don't text a co-worker within 100 feet and don't text when someone is speaking to you.

There will be times when you need to text because that's what a boss or customer prefers. But in other situations, try to cut down on texting and work on your interpersonal communication skills. Nothing will benefit your career more.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How to Get a Job When You're Not Qualified

In the Great Recession many years ago, employers were ridiculous with the job qualifications they requested -- a master's degree to be a receptionist or NASA astronaut experience to drive a bakery truck.

That was when jobs were in short supply. Now, those tables have turned and employers are lowering their requirements. You won your elementary school's spelling bee? You can now be CEO!

OK, that may be stretching it a bit, but a new survey by Robert Half finds that 84 percent of companies are willing to hire and train a candidates who lack required skills for a job. Some 62 percent of employees say they've been offered a job when they were underqualified.

"Workers can be trained on duties for a role, but individuals with the right soft skills and fit with the corporate culture are often harder to come by," explains Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half.

How do you get a job when you might not possess all the qualifications? Here are some ideas:

1. Focus on what you can do. You've got to make it easier for the hiring manager to see how you'd be a good fit for the role. For example, maybe you don't have a "project management" job title, but for years you've coordinated projects in your job, from beginning to end. You've worked with clients, vendors, colleagues, partners, etc. to bring in projects on time and on budget. Try to link your experience to the job as much as you can by highlighting comparable skills.

2. Highlight your understanding of the company. While I always advise doing your homework on an employer, in this case you're going to have to dig deeper. You need to not only understand the company's culture and what they do, but you need to understand how that really translates into the relationship they have with their customers, how they compete with others in the marketplace and how they position themselves in the industry. This will give you a stronger standing as a job candidate as it shows greater passion, interest and motivation to work at that company. Hiring managers always appreciate those attributes in a candidate.

3. Be a learner. If you want an employer to believe that you're going to seize the day and grow to fit a job, then show them you're already on that track. Listen to TED talks that increase your understanding of the job or industry, start following company leaders on Twitter or LinkedIn and even take online classes if possible. All those things show the employer that you're proactive and really want to learn and develop your skills. 

Finally, show that you've got soft skills that often are more difficult to learn: good communication, problem-solving skills, a solid work ethic, adaptability and teamwork. Employers are often willing to teach hard skills, so finding a candidate with good soft skills is considered a real plus.

Monday, March 18, 2019

You Hate Your New Job -- Now What?

With a low unemployment rate, some employers are pulling out all the stops when it comes to recruiting workers, such as offering perks and higher salaries.

But sometimes the hiring manager goes a bit further -- and doesn't present a realistic picture of what you'll really be doing if you take the job.

So, on the first day when you show up and expect to begin working on exciting projects, you're told that those projects are sort of on hold. Instead, you'll be doing some routine work. OK, you think, I can do that. I can hold on until the real work begins.

Only the real work that you were expecting never seems to materialize. Instead, you're given constant excuses about it's delay and instead take on more and more tasks that you hate.

Then, it dawns on you: You hate your new job.

Now what?

First, don't panic and head for the nearest pub to drown your sorrows for the next week. Second, don't quit. Third, take a deep breath.

Now, it's time to:

1. Take stock. Think about the company culture, the people you work with, the new contacts you've made and the new skills you've learned. Have you been given a chance to travel more, which you love? Have you been offered cross-training in other departments? Are you learning new skills to add to your resume? When you make an honest assessment, you may come to realize that you're learning something valuable, and the job isn't a total bust.

2. Speak up. If you're not getting to do the things you were promised in a job interview, then you need to get to the bottom of what is happening. Meet with your manager and explain how you were told you would be doing X, but you're really doing Y and Z. The boss may or may not be aware of what you were promised, but you need to explain that you want to do well but you are confused as to why you're not doing the job as it was explained to you in the hiring process.

3. Have a plan. If you're really doing something that isn't in your career plan -- and you just don't like it -- then you're going to need to make a game plan about how long you'll stay and give your boss a chance to make it right. If you were lied to about the job -- or somehow the hiring manager was less than transparent -- the company may try to fix the problem and hang onto you. If, however, you believe they don't really care about you or fixing the problem, it may be time to start looking around.

You may be nervous about leaving a job after a short time, but you can explain in future job interviews that the employer was not transparent about your real duties, and the job wasn't what you were told. That puts the next employer on notice that they need to be honest with you -- and will remind you to do your due diligence to truly understand the parameters of another job offer.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What it Takes to Land Your Dream Job

Many people talk about their dream job, but do a majority of people achieve it?

According to a recent survey by TollFree Forwarding, no.

Respondents were asked if they managed to achieve their childhood dream and make it to their ideal job. The results: 76 percent never made it.

Many of these respondents lived to regret it: 39 percent say they wish they had pursued their aspirations further, but the majority felt they didn't have the right skills or knowledge.

There was a bright spot in the survey as 24 percent reached their ideal job at some point in their career and 10 percent are in that job right now. Nearly two-thirds of those who said they managed to get their ideal job said it lived up to the expectations they had in childhood. (The top job for men was a professional sports start, musician and engineer, while women chose teacher, doctor/nurse and veterinarian).

I think something we can all learn is that we need to do more realistic planning in our careers. Here are some tips to get the job your heart truly desires:

1.  Do your homework. Whether you want to be a museum curator or a rocket scientist, you have to do some research on what it realistically takes to reach that level. Don't just rely on teachers or your friends (or Google) to give you a clue. You're going to have to dig deeper and find people actually in those jobs and ask what it takes to get to that job. Just getting a degree or certification may not be enough for a job -- you've got to figure out the key skills you need to get hired.

2. Get experience. Maybe no one will hire you right now as a marketing professional because you're employed at a local bakery. But there's nothing stopping you from setting up your own consulting business and starting to be a freelance marketer. Build your accounts and marketing campaigns and soon you'll have something to show in the "experience" section of your resume. That will help open doors.

3. Network. If you want to be a graphic designer, then try to be around other graphic designers. Join a graphic desinger's association. Read industry publications. Make connections to other graphic designers via social media. The more people you get to know in the industry, the better. These people will start to see the value of your passion for graphic design, see you striving to get the right skills and help you with advice. They are also the ones the most likely to help point you to available jobs or provide a recommendation.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Can a Clean Desk Create Inner Happiness?

I've known people in my life who are so into cleanliness and order that you could eat off their garage floor, surrounded by gardening tools that stand at attention like little soldiers. I've also known people whose surrounding environment -- whether at home or at work -- that I wouldn't touch without wearing a hazmat suit and knowing avalanche procedures in case a mountain of junk fell on my head.

Gretchen Rubin, who I have interviewed many times about happiness in the workplace, has a new book, "Outer Order, Inner Calm." In it, she writes how an orderly, peaceful environment will lead to inner peace and happiness. Need to write a tough email? Rubin says it will be much easier with a neat desk.

Rubin's research into happiness has shown that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to organization, but rather using some strategies to reach out own personal state of inner calm. (I don't need an immaculate garage to feel calm, thank you very much.)

Here are some of her ideas:

  • Never label anything "miscallaneous." "I once created a file called 'active useful documents' and then never looked in it again," Rubin writes. Also, Rubin says you can't use a term that's a synonym for "miscellaneous."
  • Do you need more than one? You probably don't really need two tape dispensers, two pairs of scissors and three pen cups on your desk.
  • Cut out doodads. I once knew an editor who had a desk full of snow globes. Every time someone went on a vacation, they brought him a snow globe from their destination. I once counted 40 snow globes before I gave up. You really only need a couple of meaningful mementos at work, and keep them small, Rubin says.
  • Allow technology to clear clutter. You probably don't need a dictionary, thesaurus, maps or a fax machine if you can do that work online. Get rid of them.
  • Protect your desk. A desk is what Rubin refers to as "extremely valuable real estate." She advises being very selective about what's on its surface, as well as any shelves, drawers or cabinets that are within easy reach. "Unless you're consulting a book every day, don't leave it on your desk. If you have three boxes of your favorite brand of pen, don't store them in your top drawer."
  • Beware of conference swag and freebies. "The best way to deal with clutter is never to accept these freebies in the first place. Something free can end up costing a lot of time, energy and space," she says.
  • Don't own it. It can be very stressful to look at a messy desk and say "I need to get organized!" Instead, your first instinct should be to get rid of stuff. "If you don't own it, you don't have to organize it," she says.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

3 Things to Remember When Turning Down a Job Offer

When you get called back for a second interview, it can be pretty exciting. You are obviously on the short list for the position.

But, wait. If you do an internal gut check, you realize you're not super excited about the job or the company. Oh, well, you think, just get that second interview because you're close to desperation to get a new job.

When the job offer does come, you might get a momentary spark of joy, but it's nothing on the scale of a Marie Kondo spark of joy. In fact, it's already fizzled and you're left with the reality that you really don't want the job.

Now what? Should you take the job and hate it from Day 1? Or, do you want to turn it down and keep trying?

A lot depends on your financial situation and where you feel you need to go next in your career. This is a good time to make a list of the pros and cons and speak with trusted mentors or family. If you do decide that you just can't take the job because of various reasons, how you decline the position may be one of the most critical tightropes you will walk in your career.

That's because hiring managers often know other hiring managers and well, they talk. They talk about job candidates and if you blow off the job offer with a rude "no" then they will be talking about you. That could seriously impact your ability to get interviews or offers from other companies.

If you get a job offer that you don't want, then you need to:

  • Be honest. You don't have to be brutally honest, such as saying "I realized I'd be dying a slow death if I took the job because it just sounds so boring." But you can say something like: "The more I thought about the job, the more I realized that it just wasn't the direction I wanted to take my career. I really want to do more field work, rather than analysis in the office." 
  • Be appreciative. You can probably never begin to appreciate the time and energy is takes to post a job, go through resumes, interview candidates, check references and get approval to make a job offer. Not to mention the money it costs. The hiring manager deserves appreciation for spending all that time and energy on you, and you need to also show an awareness of all the other people who may have spent time talking to you or answering questions.
  • Keep communication open. If you genuinely liked the hiring manager, then feel free to say something like, "I enjoyed getting to know you and if I can ever be of help to you in the future, please let me know." Then, you can send a LinkedIn request that will let the hiring manager know you're not just empty words.
Finally, let the experience be a lesson to you that you need to do some careful consideration when you're called for a second interview. If you're truly not interested in the company or the position, then don't waste everyone's time and politely tell the hiring manager you've decided to go in another direction.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Science Shows How to Have Better Meetings

It seems like every few years someone comes out with a new idea for how to have more productive meetings. But then they get shot down by those who think those ideas are dumb:

  • Standing meetings. The complaint: "I'm not standing! I have a bad back! Someone get me a chair!"
  • Walking meetings. The complaint. "I'm wearing 5-inch heels! I'm not walking a mile in 5-inch heels over broken sidewalk! Someone get me a chair!"
  • Impromptu meetings. The complaint: "I'm not ready for a meeting! I need time to prepare my notes! Someone get me a chair!"
Before you know it, the entire team has grouped around a table and a chairs like wildebeests who have just found the last good watering hole for 100 miles. Just like that you're in a traditional meeting with all the traditional problems. ("This chair is so uncomfortable!" "Why aren't there snacks?" "Why am I in this meeting -- I don't even know you people!")

Now it's time that science steps in and figures out what human beings cannot: How to have productive meetings.

Steven Rogelberg, professor of organizational science, management and philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has some suggestions in his new book, "The Surprising Science of Meetings."

His findings:

1. Forget an agenda. It really doesn't do anything in terms of meeting effectiveness despite all the advice that You. Must. Have. An. Agenda.

2. Stop holding people hostage. Do you have a weekly meeting that is pretty much the same every week? Instead of the wash, rinse, repeat cycle, try sending out information to everyone to consider then giving five minutes to answering any questions about it. 

3. Remote meetings suck. Those in remote locations can be forgotten like Kevin in "Home Alone." Nobody really notices that the remote worker is fading into the background, so it's up to the meeting leader to make sure no one leaves him or her out of the discussion.

4. Don't let a calendar dictate. Just because Google or Outlook blocks out 30 minutes or 60 minutes for a meeting doesn't mean you have to follow it. Try to estimate how long the meeting will really take -- 56 minutes or 18 minutes. Then, try to cut that meeting time by 5 minutes. Science shows that when people are under pressure, they tend to focus more and be more productive.

5. Brainstorm in silence. When people are allowed to write their ideas on paper, you're likely to get many more ideas -- and the time won't be hogged by one person elaborating on one idea or everyone just following the boss's idea.

6. Get lean. Try to trim the number of participants in a meeting to as few as possible. The more people, the more time likely to be wasted -- for everyone.

7. Be a good host. If you're in charge of a meeting, be aware that people hate you. Well, maybe hate is a strong word. But you've called the meeting, so you're the reason they've been pulled away from getting other stuff done and that makes them cranky. So, if you want a productive meeting, you're going to have to be a good host and make it enjoyable. Be welcoming and express appreciation to those attending.