Monday, February 22, 2021

This is Why Meetings are Such a Hot Mess -- and What You Can Do About It

It often seems that many meetings go off the rails right away. Someone shows up late. Another person won't stop texting. Still another participant stares into space and seems to be in another world entirely.

Collaboration expert Dick Axelrod says in a recent interview that the trouble with meetings often occurs even before participants show up, because people "arrive at meetings prepared to be disengaged."

He explains they may still be thinking about their last phone call or interaction, or be distracted by many other things such as an upcoming deadline.

The key is grabbing the attention of folks right away, he contends, before they have a chance to mentally drift away. That can be done by:

1. Doing a warm up. There's a reason that musical acts or other entertainers often have a warm-up act: It gets attention and prepares people to be engaged. One way to do this is the spend a few minutes letting people speak freely and greeting people individually.

2. State the purpose. Have you ever been in a meeting and wondered what it's about and why the heck you're there? If you feel that way, it means that the facilitator hasn't done a good job of clearly stating the purpose and how it's linked to a larger problem that needs to be solved by the group's collective creativity or expertise.

3. Provide a roadmap. This should be a quick explanation about what the group needs to do during the meeting. This can be done by going through the agenda briefly and addressing any questions.

While this may sound like a simple formula, I'll bet we've all been in plenty of meetings that seem disorganized, rambling, too broad or very, very dull. With a few tweaks, it seems that we can all make better use of our meeting time.

Monday, February 15, 2021

3 Tips for Writing an Appreciation Letter

When you're in a job search -- or land a new job -- one of the key ingredients for your career is to make sure you write letters of appreciation.

These letters should be written to those who have given you recommendations -- either in writing or via phone calls to potential employers -- and to anyone else who has helped you along the way. (This may also include a mentor who has offers advice, a former co-worker who provides a contact or even a supportive colleague.)

The reason you want to write these missives is because it is more meaningful to someone rather than a "thx" text from you. The time you spend writing and sending the note will stick with the receiver, boosting your professional and personal connection. In addition, the person is much more likely to want to help you in the future when it's clear you appreciate efforts made on your behalf.

Here's how to write the letter:

1. Be prompt. Don't wait six weeks or six months to write a letter. Try to get it done within days of the person helping you. If it takes you a while to write the letter, don't let that be an excuse to not send it. A late note is better than none at all.

2. Be clear. "I'm writing you because I want to express my appreciation for ...." 

3. Include a few details. You don't need to offer a long explanation, but a couple of details about why the person's help was so valuable will help personalize the message and make it more sincere. "By providing a recommendation letter, you helped open doors for me and make my dream of becoming a sales manager that much closer."

The appreciation letter is often forgotten in other ways -- did you send an appreciation letter to the boss who gave you a raise or promotion? Did you send an appreciation note after a colleague covered for you without complaint?

Sending such notes doesn't take but a few minutes of your time. Instead of scrolling through Instagram for 5 minutes (or more), use the time send a thank-you note. 


Monday, February 8, 2021

Why You Need a Letter of Recommendation Now

Since the pandemic began, many people have been laid off, or taken positions that "underemploy" them. In other words, they haven't been in their "real" job for some time.

As the job market starts to improve this year, many people will want to return to their "real" jobs. The competition will be keen, of course, so that means those who are well-prepared, focused in their search efforts and finding ways to stand out will have a better chance of landing a new job sooner rather than later.

One way to get an edge on the competition is through a recommendation. While some employers don't ask for a recommendation until a job candidate is in the final stages of consideration, you can also offer a letter of recommendation when you apply for a job.

Even if the application is made online, there's no reason you can't send a letter of recommendation to the hiring manager or even the company's human resources department as a way to open the door a little wider. 

Some may feel a little reticent about asking for a letter of recommendation, but that's negative thinking. First, managers tell me they get such requests all the time, even from employees that they may have supervised decades ago. Second, the only thing that can happen is the person ignores you or declines to write the letter. If that happens, you're no worse off than before.

Still, there is a proper way of asking for a recommendation. Do it well, and the person may come through for you. Do it poorly, and you're likely to not get a letter.

Here's how to ask:

1. Choose your targets. A former boss makes sense -- especially from your last job -- as this person can speak directly to your work ethic, talents, soft and hard skills, etc. But also think about those who have watched you work, such as someone at a volunteer organization or colleagues that worked closely with you. Family and friends aren't good choices as employers will see these as biased.

2. Make contact. Send an email or make a phone call to the person to make your request. Tell them that you're applying for jobs and you are trying to be proactive by also supplying employers with a recommendation letter.  

3. Prepare. Don't just expect someone to write a letter of recommendation about you without some context. If you do, you're risking a very generic, uninspiring letter. Instead, you want to supply key information so the letter is targeted and favorable. Send the person your current resume and remind them of your key skills that also match the job you're seeking. For example, you may want to remind the person of how you're detail-oriented, have the right technical skills, are a team player and have a great work ethic. You might want to even mention one or two examples of these skills to jog the person's memory. (You can even attach examples of recommendation letters.)

4. Deadline. Mention the deadline in your initial call and then post it in bold in your email.

5. Send a thank-you note. Always follow up with an appreciative email -- a handwritten note is even better -- once you receive the recommendation.

Start getting prepared now to be proactive once jobs start to become available in your chosen field. Make sure your resume is polished, your interview suit still fits and letter(s) of recommendation are ready to go.

Monday, February 1, 2021

4 Ways to Make Sure Your Career Thrives While Working from Home

Working for home has become the norm for many workers since the pandemic began, but would you like to continue to do so once it's safe to return to the office?

For some employees, the question is moot since their companies will require them to return to the office. But other employers like Twitter say their employees may continue to work from home forever.

If you are given the choice to continue to work from home, however, you need to keep in mind that there could be some downsides to your career.

One of the most obvious is that you're going to miss out on a lot of watercooler conversations or chance meetings that can help you make critical connections or grab new opportunities. These things can still happen when you work from home, of course, but it's going to be more difficult.

Another issue is that when you work from home, your boss or your colleagues may not believe you're working as hard as them. This is strange considering they will all claim they worked really hard when they were at home, but there you have it. It will be hinted by some that since you're still at home, you're not as committed to the job or the company, or that you're taking five naps a day and watching "Gilligan's Island."

So how do you ensure your career continues to thrive if you choose to continue working from home?

1. Attend meetings. Don't just call in to participate -- use Zoom to show that you're really attending. Dress like your colleagues in the office and don't multitask while on the call (no painting your bedroom or doing the dishes).

 2. Make phone calls. While using Slack or emails is fine, when you're working from home you want to make sure that those in the office are hearing from you personally. Instead of sending five emails to settle an issue or discuss an idea, for example, phone your colleague. This gives you a chance to have a more personal connection, and also catch up on some of the watercooler talk you may have missed.

3. Keep track of your work. Even if your boss doesn't require it, record when you're working, what you're getting accomplished, new contacts you may have made, ideas that have been developed, etc. This will be critical when it comes to an informal or formal performance evaluation. You want to offer concrete proof of your contributions, and if you don't record them, you'll forget them -- and so will your boss.

4. Be helpful. One thing you may notice while working from home (if you don't have too many distractions), is that you get a lot done in a shorter amount of time. You can think more deeply about problems or issues and you have more time to develop innovative ideas. Let your boss know this is a bonus -- send her some of your fully developed ideas or notify her of an emerging trend you've spotted.