Monday, December 28, 2009

10 gifts to give your career

As the gift-giving season draws to a close, it’s time to remember that you still have one more gift left to bestow: The gift of a better career.

No one can really predict what the several years will bring in the job market, but it’s clear that everyone has to make more of an investment in their future. That means being better prepared for downturns in the economy or your industry, and keeping an active network so that when bad times do hit, you’re ready to get the help you need.

Here are 10 gifts to give your career in the coming year:

1. Stay current. Invest time in reading the latest industry news. Know how national or international events may impact your business, and what you’re doing to prepare. Are you targeting projects so they anticipate market conditions? Those who help the company become more innovative or strategic will make themselves key players – and those are the people a company is more likely to retain and promote.

2. Get more training. Ask your boss for opportunities to train in other departments, or to attend seminars or classes at a local university. If the company won’t fund your efforts, look for free webinars or podcasts online that provide experts to expand your knowledge. Your resume should always be able to reflect that you’ve kept up on the latest training and skills.

3. Be the dumbest person in the room. Attend an event or sign up for an online class that really challenges you. Step outside your comfort zone and into a subject that you know nothing about. Becoming too comfortable in your career and with your skills can set you up for problems if you suddenly find yourself out of work. Always look for ways to expand your horizons and be able to show an employer how you faced a challenge and learned.

4. Embrace social media. You may think Twitter is only for posting what you had for lunch or Facebook is only for showing funny photos for your friends. But social media should be another tool you use to enhance your personal brand and make others see you as a tuned-in, interesting professional in your field. It doesn’t have to be a huge time suck – spend a few minutes a couple of times a day interacting with others in your field, posting interesting links or asking questions of other professionals.

5. Attend one professional event a year. Meeting with others in your field face-to-face is important, and these events often provide access to the latest trends or key movers in your field. Instead of a latte every day, start putting the money into a professional event fund.

6. Find a mentor. Ask someone you respect and feel you really connect with for feedback on what you’re doing with your career or in your job. This can be as simple as having a cup of coffee and saying, “I’d really like to have your opinion on this.” Or, you can ask a professional organization about helping you find a mentor who can help guide you through some career issues. Having someone in your life to add fresh ideas or provide a different prospective can be invaluable for your career.

7. Be consistent. You can’t post drunken photos of yourself on Facebook or have a screen saver at work that is offensive and then expect employers or colleagues to see you professionally. Don’t expect to show up late for work several times a week and then expect the boss to hand over a big project. Decide the message you want to send others and then stick to it.

8. Bring sanity to your schedule. Employees are being asked to do more work with fewer resources during these tough times. That has taken a physical and emotional toll on many people. They may feel they have even less time for a personal life, which compounds the stress. For a week, keep close track of your tasks and the amount of time they take. Then, look for ways to bring a better balance to your life. Enlist the help of family or friends to devise a schedule that makes sense for your well-being in the coming year.

9. Pick up the phone. E-mail and social media provide a great way to communicate with others, but to establish a more personal connection, use the telephone. If you’ve gone more than a week in speaking personally with key colleagues or customers, give them a call. Better yet, meet with them in person. Maintaining these personal connections is critical to creating a strong professional network.

10. Take the high road. Make a commitment to send e-mails that are polite and friendly. Don’t gossip at work. Give a sincere compliment to a co-worker every day. Use your personal cell phone out of earshot of others. Stress has shortened the fuse of many at work, and taking these steps will help make the day better for a lot of colleagues. Fostering goodwill is a gift to yourself and to others.

What are some other ways to help your career this year?


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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Will This Tough Job Market Change Generation Y?

When I graduated from college, my priorities were: getting a job doing something I loved, having opportunities for advancement and making enough money to pay the rent.

Not so different from what Generation Y wants now, is it? And, I have even more in common with them: I needed a job when the economy was basically in the toilet. I know what it feels like to look for work when employers are cutting back.

At the same time, I know those tough times taught be a lot of valuable lessons. I decided to look into what the impact -- if any -- this difficult job market will have on young workers. Here's the column I did for Gannett:

They have been called unflattering names such as the “Entitlement Generation” or “Generation Me,” but young people seeking jobs these days may have a new name: realistic.

Often known has Generation Y, these young people for years have turned companies and recruiters inside out as they demanded jobs for more pay and more opportunities. With their technology skills and great social networking abilities, GenY ( born roughly between 1980-2003) previously have found employers willing to meet their expectations.

But then the recession hit and unemployment soared to more than 10 percent. Like the rest of job hunters, Generation Y has found jobs can be tough to come by, even with their skills. That has caused what some might term an attitude adjustment.

“This is now a more grown up generation,” says Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite.

Finnigan says recruiters, who often called young job seekers “challenging,” now report Generation Y job candidates are more willing to compromise on salaries or job duties.

In a recent survey, Jobvite found that before the recession, more than 60 percent of GenY candidates wanted a higher compensation than offered. Today, more than 50 percent of candidates say they will take the salary offered. Further, now almost one-third of applicants are trying to get jobs below their skills level, a jump of 25 percent from the pre-recession level.

“Employers just don’t have the time or patience for a generation that is so picky,” Finnigan says. “This generation is not pushing back as much as they did before.”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers, an organization of career counselors, says that employers will hire 22 percent fewer college graduates than last year. The question is whether the tough times being experienced now by this younger generation will forever change their attitudes – or be just a momentary blip in their career plans.

“This generation of workers is still highly desirable because of their skills in technology and their (social media) connections,” Finnigan says. “Employers are always going to need new blood, and that’s not going to change. But do they (GenY) have less of an attitude? Yes. And that’s a good thing.”

That “attitude” is what often has driven a generational wedge between workers. Some older workers see the young employees as wanting advancement and opportunities too quickly without paying their dues. Some younger workers see practices in today’s workplace as outdated and ineffective.

Wayne Hochwarter, a Florida State University professor who studies the workplace, says that despite the bad economy and many college graduates unable to land their desired jobs, the changes within the generation may not be that profound in the short or long term.

“I don’t know that young people’s attitudes have changed a lot, but maybe they’re more prone to say, ‘Well, it isn’t utopia, but I can make it work for me,’” Hochwarter says. “They understand they’re not going to get exactly what they want right now.”

Hochwarter says that many college students on his campus seem unfazed by the bad job numbers and tough economic times. “Of course, you have the one group who is gung-ho, but realistic. They’re paying attention and taking all the opportunities they can to make contacts (for jobs). Then, you have the other group sitting on the sidelines, just out of it.”

He says the group that is “unwilling and unable” to do more to gain entry into the working world is often supported by parents who tell them to “just wait out the recession” by staying in school.

“I don’t think the recession is really going to affect this generation all that much. They’ve been ingrained all their lives with the attitudes they have, and employers are still going to want them because they’re cheaper to hire than older workers and they have in-demand skills.”

“But are they going to be different? I kind of doubt it. You take the skin off a cucumber and it’s still a cucumber,” Hochwarter says.

Do you think this job market will have any impact on Generation Y?


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Monday, November 23, 2009

Is Your Career in Jeopardy Because of Your Weight?

As Congress debates health care reform, it's worth noting that employers are already taking steps to bring down their health care costs, whether it's setting up wellness programs for workers -- or requiring employees who have certain health risks to pay higher insurance deductibles. Before you reach for that second piece of pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, read this story I recently wrote for Gannett:

Perhaps you’re working extra hard these days to hang onto your job, or if you’re looking for work, you’re using every avenue you know to find a job.

In either case, better check out your waistline if you’re serious about having a job in the future.

That’s because if you’re carrying too much weight – enough to be considered overweight or obese – then you’re a concern to employers.

Studies have shown that not only do overweight workers have higher absenteeism and healthcare costs, but they are less productive. Such statistics become even more important as companies are keeping only key performers and are scrutinizing ways to trim healthcare costs.
In addition, several courts have recently ruled that employers also must pay for weight loss surgery for overweight employees who need operations for work-related injuries.

The courts have stated that the weight-loss procedures are needed to guarantee the successful repair of the initial injury.
All these factors serve to heighten concern by employers about the liability of overweight workers, says Marsha Petrie Sue, a professional speaker and author on personal accountability issues.

“I think employers are doing what they feel they need to do. Their profits are down, and they’ve got to look at ways to cut costs,” Petri Sue says. “If you have two people apply for a job, and one is overweight and one is not, who would you hire? You know they have to be thinking about it.”

Petrie Sue says that employers balking at “paying for people’s habits” is a growing debate. “You can legislate not discriminating against someone for sexual orientation or based on their gender,” she says. “But you can’t really legislate responsibility.”

Denise Wheeler, an employment lawyer with Fowler White Boggs in Fort Myers, Fla., says that while obese workers can claim they fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they have not been very successful winning such claims. However, there are new provisions under that law, and while it has not yet been tested, workers who lost their jobs because they were overweight may find an easier road to suing employers, she says.

Still, Wheeler says that she believes companies may step up calls for workers to maintain healthier weights. “Some employers have gotten very aggressive with their smoking policies, even dismissing workers who smoke on their own time. Are we going to see employers checking the BMI (body mass index) of workers and deciding they’ll terminate if it reaches a certain number?”

Petrie Sue says she believes more employers will begin to put employees “on probation” who don’t lose weight, and may even tie their weight directly to performance standards.
“If the employee has health issues, the employer may ask what they can do to help, but they’re also going to ask the employee what they think the consequences should be for not changing,” she says.

Many employers already require employees who smoke, are overweight or have risk factors such as high blood pressure to pay higher healthcare premiums. Recently the American Institute for Cancer Research reported that about 100,500 new cases of cancer are caused by obesity every year. But with about one-third of U.S. adults classified as obese – or about 30 more pounds over a healthy weight – the question is how involved will employers get to help win the battle of the bulge?

Americans spend about $30 billion a year on weight-loss products, but stress – such as working longer hours -- has been shown to contribute to weight gain. Add in the unhealthy servings of some workplace vending machines, and it’s clear that it’s a battle that needs to be waged in several ways, Petrie Sue says.

“I do think employers have some responsibility. If they don’t have a wellness program, they can go to a local gym and negotiate a deal so employees can go for 30 minutes every day and exercise, and still be paid for that time,” she says. “They also need to get rid of the donuts and coffee in the break room and instead have healthy options and a refrigerator so people can bring healthy food.”

For job seekers, the nearly 10 percent unemployment rate means that they may need to be even more proactive in trimming the waistline. A Wayne State University study found last year that overweight workers are viewed negatively, and nowhere is that more evident than in the hiring process, especially if they’re applying for a job with face-to-face interactions.
Petrie Sue says for job seekers, it may pay to be up front about the issue.

“You can just mention in an interview that you’re on a real health kick,” Petrie Sue says. “I think that way you’re sending a clear message.”

What do you think about the debate over weight in the workplace?


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