Wednesday, July 2, 2008

If You Were a Salad, What Kind of Dressing Would You Be?

Anyone searching for a job knows the excitement of finally landing an interview. But just imagine how you would feel, after prepping for hours to make sure you're ready to answer questions about why you'd be great for the job, to have a hiring manager lean earnestly forward and ask:

"If you could compare yourself with any animal, which would it be and why?"


Welcome to the whacky new world of interviewing.

Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston, recently filled me in on some of the, er, creative interview questions being asked of job applicants:

* If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
* If you were a car, what type would you be?
* If you had only six months to left to live, what would you do with the time?
* If you could be a super hero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
* How do I rate as an interviewer?

OK, I think I see the point. The point is the try and rattle the job candidates a bit, because if they've followed the advice that I and others have given them over the years, they've done their homework and prepared good, solid answers to many of the standard (sane) interview questions.

But ever since the high-tech companies started asking questions designed to evaluate how a person thinks (why is a manhole cover round?), interviewers are starting to push the envelope in coming up with off-the-wall questions.

Sarikas says the key is not to panic. There really isn't a right or wrong answer to these questions, but the point is to see how you react when asked to think on your feet. The first thing you do is take a deep breath, so you don't blurt out something like, "Are you kidding me? What kind of crap is this?"

The second thing is to give an answer, even if you feel like an idiot. So, when the interviewer asks, "If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you be?" answer it to the best of your ability.

"Why, ranch of course," you say. "I go with just about anything, and am favored by most."

Still, if you're feeling it's time to turn the tables a bit and see what this employer is thinking, maybe you could ask some creative questions of your own:

* If your CEO were an animal, what would it be? (If they mention hyena, turkey buzzard, boa constrictor -- you might want to head for the exit.)
* If you could have one person in this company on a deserted island with you, who would you pick? (If the interviewer can't name one person, you may want to reconsider the lack of friendliness within the ranks.)
* If you were asked to compare the supervisor for this job with a food, what would it be? (If a lemon, prune or lima bean is mentioned, be careful in accepting this job. Very careful.)
* If a book were written about this company, what would the title be? (If "Loserville," "Eaten Alive" or "Insanity" is mentioned, again, head for the exit.)

Do you think these kinds of questions being asked of job candidates are fair? Do they serve a purpose?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Young Workers "Amped Up" and Ready to Go

Shawn Graham is an associate director with the MBA Career Management Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hills' Kenan-Flagler Business School. He is also author of "Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job". I recently asked him some questions regarding young workers:

You are on the front lines of helping college graduates and young professionals find a job. What strengths do you think they bring to the workplace today?
Young professionals bring a fresh perspective to the workplace that can lead to exciting new initiatives and creative solutions to existing challenges. And because they’re amped up and ready to go, they bring a great deal of energy to the table that can reinvigorate other members of the team. But that same “can do” attitude can also lead to one of the biggest challenges faced by new professionals…how to bring new ideas and energy without appearing as a “know it all” to the people already at the company who bring years of experience to the table?

On the other hand, what areas should an employer expect to provide some support or training -- areas that are "weaker" for these young employees?
Young professionals can definitely benefit from additional training on how a particular business operates. All the education in the world is great, but for them to be ultimately successful they need a structured training program to teach them the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) nuances of the business. If they have limited experience in a particular functional area or they need work on their presentation skills, an employer will often provide skill building opportunities and resources to help them get up to speed quickly.

Even though they may lack experience, how can younger workers make themselves a valuable part of a company?
They should look for, and take advantage of, any and all opportunities that present themselves. Early in their career, it’s important that they be willing to roll their sleeves up to pitch in on projects and do whatever needs to be done. This can be a tough pill to swallow for some, as they might think graduating from college means a fast track to being the CEO of the company within their first 12 months on the job. Volunteering for projects also gives them exposure to people across the organization which can help build their professional network.

There's been discussion about "generational" disagreements in the workplace between young employees and those with more experience. Do you think this is an exaggeration? Why or why not?
Great question. I think there’s some validity to the discussion. However, I think disagreements typically have less to do with generational differences, and more to do with communication and management styles. As someone who would be categorized as a “Gen X’r,” I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever gotten into a disagreement with someone in the workplace because of generational differences. Instead, it seems like a lot of disagreements are based on the way employees approach a particular topic or issue. Instead of focusing on the differences between the two groups, as in any case when you’re trying to establish a dialogue, it’s important to find a common ground.

Can you provide a few tips on how older workers can better work with, and understand, the younger worker?
The first thing they can do is remember how they felt when they were coming into a new job as a freshly minted young professional. There’s a pretty good chance they didn’t always get along or see eye to eye with those within the organization who had years of experience. They can also look for ways to leverage the strengths the younger workers bring to the table. That will not only the more experienced workers better appreciate their contributions, but it will also give the younger employees a chance to feel like they’re making a difference. Adaptability is also a must. If someone has a new idea or a different way of doing things, have the flexibility to give it a try.


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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lack of Delegation Can be Short-Sighted

Have you ever noticed that the people who complain the most about their workload often guard their turf at work like junkyard dogs? In other words, while they moan and groan about how much they have to do, they'd sooner sever a little toe than let anyone touch so much as a file folder or Post-It note on their desk?

Of course, they may tell themselves and others that the reason they don't delegate anything is because a)no one can do a particular task as well as they can; and b)it’s just easier to do it themselves rather than having to explain it to someone else and then having to watch over them every second.

So these people are swamped with work, constantly stressed and always under deadline pressure -- and usually taking that pressure out on co-workers. They don't stop to realize that their attitude affects more than themselves as they often become a bottleneck, more intent on hoarding their work instead of working towards the most efficient process possible.

And when they do delegate -- watch out. It's more than likely they'll be delegating confusion and resentment as they dump tasks they hate on someone else, or put little thought into whether they're giving the work to the right people with the right skills.

In reality, delegating is really on-the-job training, providing those in an organization a chance to stretch and grow. And if someone can’t delegate, then they’re actually hurting the business because it undermines trust and motivation among employees.

So, the next time you don't want to delegate, think about your true motivation. Is it really because you don't think someone else can do the work, or is it because you're afraid they'll do a better job than you? If you're personally insecure about sharing your little fiefdom, then consider this: Those who fear delegating the most are the most dispensable because they are not growing and taking chances.


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Monday, December 17, 2007

What Does Success Look Like?

In this blog, I try to provide information that I believe will be helpful to you. But today's blog post is different, because I want to learn something from you. It's simple, actually. I'd like for you to answer a question:

What does success look like to you?

Make your answer as long or as short as you want, and be brutally honest. Name 20 things or one thing. Give it some thought or write down the first thing that enters your head. There is no right or wrong answer. I'm just curious...

What does success look like to you?


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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Choosing a Career

When I was a kid, I don’t remember anyone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

A career was just not something I contemplated at an early age. When I played Barbies with my best friend in first grade, my Barbie was always named “Beth” and she either worked as a florist or in a Woolworth’s. This was the extent of my career knowledge – my grandfather owned a nursery and my mother and grandmother took me to Woolworth’s every Saturday.

As I got older, I used to talk about being a teacher. I have no earthly idea why – I didn’t even like to baby sit, so being around children all day obviously held no appeal. I guess since the women in my family were either secretaries or teachers, I decided on teaching since I hated typing.

But I remember the day I took my first journalism class in high school. It was like the planets aligned, the future seemed clear and nothing ever felt more right. After more than two decades in journalism, I’ve never once regretted my decision and have loved (almost) every day in my chosen profession.

After being a workplace columnist, however, I know this isn’t typical for most people. Many times, people go to technical school or college or even get advanced degrees in what they plan on doing for a living. Then, either before they finish their schooling or sometime later in their careers, they discover they don’t really want to be a stock broker or a teacher or a doctor for a living. They would really rather do what they always dreamed of as a kid: run a bait and tackle store in Key West. Or, maybe they dreamed of designing kites for a living, but their parents vetoed that idea and so they became a computer technician.

My point is that we often try and find careers based on our skills – not our passions. In elementary school today, they are testing children to see what their natural career paths will be based on the child’s test scores and interests. Maybe this works for some people. All I know is that while “Beth” was happy working in Woolworth’s or arranging flowers all day, I would hate to think I missed journalism because I tried to make a decision without finding my passion first.

Career counselor Marty Nemko makes the point that finding the “right chemistry” with a career means doing something for a living that involves both your head and your heart. I think one of the best ways to do that is to explore what’s out there and really look honestly at what you like to do – and what you don’t. (Sometimes just eliminating things can put things in perspective.)

Here are some good resources to help you to begin your research:

• The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers career guides and outlook for hundreds of jobs and industries.
• This site helps you navigate through hundreds of federal sites when searching for a job or career.
• If you don’t have a clue what you’d like to do, start here with this guide that helps guide you through the choices.
• This site provides thousands of links to a wide variety of career resources on the Internet. You can also take a free career test to find out what job is right for you.
• With more than 90 streaming video interviews with celebrities, business leaders, athletes, musicians and career professionals in different industries, this site is cool for kids and adults.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blogging notice

I am new to the blogging world, but I have to say it's been a very gratifying experience so far.

I originally started my blog as a way to facilitate discussions among those interested in improving their experiences at work or boosting their careers. I also thought it would be a good chance to build a community of people who support one another and offer advice on various workplace dilemmas or issues.

I've already been interviewed by two bloggers about my book, "45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy...and How to Avoid Them." One of the bloggers was in the U.S. -- the other in Pakistan. To me, it's amazing how quickly communities of people come together under a blog, and how they support one another, argue with each other and discuss various issues. Sort of like when families get together at the holidays!

So, I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to two bloggers who, I think, have blogs worth checking out and learning from. Two blogs that have interviews with me:

At the same time, I'd like to hear from anyone who is using a blog to further a career. What do you think is important to include on your blog, and what should you avoid? What advice could you offer to others about blogging?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Are you addicted to work?

When I was growing up, my dad sometimes worked three jobs in order to make ends meet. I remember my Mom working most of my life, including the times she took in extra ironing. But I never remember my parents doing their jobs at home. Their bosses didn't call them at home, their co-workers didn't stop by the house to drop off work and they never even talked about their jobs much, except to tell funny stories about customers or maybe gripe a bit about the boss.

Boy, have things changed. We all seem to be connected more than ever to our jobs. Because of cell phones, pagers and e-mails, our jobs never seem to be more than a heartbeat away.

Who hasn't witnessed the guy on his Blackberry at his kid's baseball game? Or the woman who can't get off her cell phone while dining with her family or friends? And, what about the e-mail that arrives at 3 a.m.?

When I interviewed Tom Stern about his book, "CEO Dad," he was quite serious for being such a funny guy. He didn't shy away from admitting that he thrived on work, and got a "high" from being a bigshot business guy. But,as we all know can happen, life smacked him upside the head. He faced a series of personal traumas that finally made him take a hard look at his life and his priorities.

It used to be so easy for me to turn on my phone's answering machine and close my office door at a certain time. But now, with this 24/7 world we live in, I find it much harder. It's like I'm afraid if I don't keep up with what's going on, I'll somehow fall behind. And, who knows when that next great opportunity will come along? What if I miss it?

And then, I try to stop what I'm doing and ask myself this question: "What is the most important thing going on right now?" On one hand, I have e-mail to check and phone messages to return. On the other hand, my family wants to play Frisbee in the backyard or watch "Sandlot" for the 10th time. Thankfully, I still have the inner strength to turn on the answering machine and close the office door. The day I can't do that anymore is the day I know I've gone to the dark side.

So, while I have found a way to balance my work and family life, have you? One way to tell may be if you answer "yes" to three or more of these 20 questions from Workaholics Anonymous (

1. Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?
2. Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can't?
3. Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
4. Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?
5. Do you work more than 40 hours a week?
6. Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures?
7. Do you take complete responsbility for the outcome of your work efforts?
8. Have your family or friends give up expecting you on time?
9. Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done?
10. Do you underestimate how long a project will take and then rush to complete it?
11. Do you believe that it is OK to work long hours if you love what you're doing?
12. Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?
13. Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure?
14. Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?
15. Do you do things energetically and competitively including play?
16. Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?
17. Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
18. Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?
19. Do you work or read during meals?
20. Do you believe that more money will solve the other problems in your life?

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