Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Emergency Checklist for When a New Boss Shows Up

It can take months or even years to establish a good relationship with a boss. There are bumps along the way, but in the end, you feel confident that your boss values your hard work and believes your contribution to the company is important.

Of course, that gives you some measure of confidence. After all, if your boss believes you to be valuable you might might be able to hang onto your job during these tough times. At the very least, you feel your relationship is good enough that you will be treated fairly if there are cutbacks.

Then one day you come into work and your boss isn't there. The news is soon delivered: Your boss has been laid off.

Oh, S**t! you think. Now what?

First, don't panic. There is a way to still protect yourself in this uncertain job market, but it means you're going to have to act fast to set up a relationship with the new boss that at least positions you not to be the most vulnerable to any "restructuring" or "downsizing" -- or whatever they want to call being kicked to the curb.

I understand you will be in shock, so I'm going to give you an emergency checklist you should follow in the event you get a new boss:

1. Do your homework. Go online and read a LinkedIn profile and search out industry news on the new boss. Make phone calls to contacts who know her well -- don't bother with those who haven't worked directly for her or with her. You want to know specifics about her management style reputation as a boss. Try to get an idea of her pet peeves and her personality so that you can understand how to get off on the right foot immediately. Ask: "What is she like to work for?"

2. Scout the team. Sometimes bosses like to work with the same people. When they move, they may take certain team members with them. By looking at her work history, can you see a pattern where the same people follow her? Will any of those team members be able to possibly replace you? Making a good impression on her "favored few" will be important.

3. Be ready to race. In this economy, no boss has months or even weeks to get a feel for a new team. She is going to be making decisions quickly about who stays and who goes, so it's critical that you be ready to hit the ground running. If you've done your homework, you already know her likes and dislikes. When you have your initial meeting with her, you should be able to formulate your answers into something that makes her comfortable with you -- a key if you're going to make it on her team.

4. It's a job interview, stupid. Don't feel like doing a background check on the new boss is somehow underhanded. She will have plenty of material at her disposal regarding your work performance, and may even have Googled you. This means that she knows exactly what mistakes you have made, what are your weak points and what you've done to help the bottom line. Be prepared with answers -- just like you would in a job interview -- about what you've learned from your mistakes, how your skills are exactly what the company needs and the specifics of how your efforts have made a positive impact.

5. Offer to help. Bosses these days are under enormous pressure to produce results, and also are anxious about making sure they have top performers on their team. Still, if they're new, they're going to have a learning curve. Jump in and offer to help by acquainting her with other department's key players, office political structures and other potential land mines. A new boss always appreciates a worker who is willing to share knowledge and help her get off to a good start.

What are some other ways to put yourself in a good position with a new boss?

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Monday, November 24, 2008

When Was the Last Time You Made a Career Deposit?

When I was a child, my mother often talked about living through the Depression. As the oldest child, she was sent to live with relatives when her family could no longer afford to feed all three children. Even though her time away from the family only lasted about a year, it greatly affected her life.

She hated antiques. She thought of them as old, and old stuff meant poverty. She wasn't a tightwad, but neither did she spend money she didn't have. She carefully monitored the family finances every month, and was meticulous in balancing the checkbook and making sure that something went into savings every month.

She never forgot the lessons of such a difficult period in her life, even though she was only about 6-years-old.

I've been thinking of her stories about what she learned from the Depression as I've watched -- along with everyone else -- the devastation many people are experiencing because of this economic mess. And what I see makes me realize that when we have gotten past this difficult time, we will not only have learned economic lessons that will govern the rest of lives, but career ones as well.

How many of us have kicked ourselves for not being better networkers so that when the layoffs came, we didn't have many places to turn for help? How many of us have regretted that we didn't promote our skills and abilities better so that when bonuses were scarce, we didn't garner one for ourselves? How many of us regretted not attending those seminars or training sessions or take advantage of tuition reimbursement from our employers that might have helped our chances of landing a better position during these tough times?

Of course, hindsite is 20/20. But I do think that when we pull out of these difficult times, we need to learn important financial lessons just like those who survived the Depression did. We need to learn those financial lessons -- and those career ones as well.

Specifically, it's time we all stopped living just for the next promotion or title and started putting something in our career "savings account." For example, career investments should include:

* Going back to the early days of your career and re-establishing contacts. You might be surprised that the guy who washed dishes at your first job now owns his own company, or that the girl who was an intern with you now is a top executive. Check out online sources to track people down and start investing in these contacts.

* Fix your burned bridges. Sometimes in the heat of the moment we say or do things that we regret. Now is the time to start making overtures to those who may think you'd run them over with your car given half a chance. Your reputation is the most important commodity you have -- you don't want anyone thinking less of you because you never know who they're influencing.

* Get a second opinion. Have someone you respect in your industry review your current resume. Even if you're not currently looking for a job, get some ideas on where they think "holes" exist, and what you can begin to do to patch them.

* Help someone. Every day, try and do something on the job that helps another person, whether it's pitching in with a project, making a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn or writing an article for an industry newletter. It's a way of saving a little bit all the time in your career "bank."

What are some other lessons we can learn during these difficult times?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is There Such a Thing as an Overnight Success?

Recently I was having a discussion with some friends about the term "overnight success."

We all agreed it was a load of crap.

I mean, who really has overnight success except people in novels or movies? Most of us labor -- unknown -- in the trenches for years and years before we receive recognition for our wonderfulness from anyone except the family dog.

In the meantime, we fight off jealousy as we see others achieve what we think is instant success, and get depressed when that project we worked so hard on fails. Big time. Down-the-toilet kind of failure.

And it's equally hard to be patient when the Internet makes it seem like everything should happen at light speed. We are constantly exposed on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn to other's achievements: "I landed that big account!" to "I got the promotion!" to "I've been named the new Queen of England!" can be hard to swallow with grace each and every time.

We wouldn't be human if we didn't admit that some days are hard. We want to give up. We want to throw in the towel and admit that we're just losers and the success we desire isn't coming our way.

But wait.

I think success is a state of mind. It isn't the big account and the tiara. It's knowing that each day you get up -- and despite the odds -- you continue to slug away. You continue to dream. And at the end of the day, maybe you aren't known to Diane Sawyer or Warren Buffet. Maybe your boss's boss doesn't even know your name.

But you haven't given up. And that, in my book, is success. Because others will give up, they will concede that they're not going to achieve what they desire. And that's where your perseverence will pay off.

Here are some things to get you through the tough times until you become that "overnight success":

* Create a better now. Get more sleep, exercise, eat healthier, spend more time with people who make you laugh and who believe in you.

* Keep your perspective. Did you ever stop to consider that what you have right now is a dream for someone else? I often think about this when my husband and I drive through really ritzy neighborhoods and dream about living in those homes. Then, I see someone drive through OUR neighborhood and realize they think we have the dream home. Think about what you've achieved already in this life, and don't take it for granted.

* Be patient. Think back to when you were in high school, and everything that has happened in your life since that time. Are you the same person as you were then? Of course not. You have changed and grown and only through time and different experiences have you evolved. You will continue to grow and change and learn, and that takes time.

I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent with wild success. -- Steve Martin, "Born Standing Up"

What do you think about overnight success?


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Monday, October 1, 2007

LinkedIn Sparks Ongoing Debate

Thom Singer has a rant going about the problems with some people wanting to make a connection to him through LinkedIn when he really doesn’t know them very well. It seems someone got a bit snippy at Singer’s connection rules, and fired off a less-than-professional e-mail to him.

That’s got a lot of people discussing how social networking fits into the networking rules of the workplace. Singer has asked other bloggers to weigh in, and after giving it some consideration, here are some of my thoughts:

1. Would I recommend you for a job? I don’t link to you unless I’ve worked with you in some way or know you personally and feel good about the experience. I don’t want anyone calling me about your work and saying, “What are this person’s strengths?” and I say, “Gee…I dunno.” That makes me look bad, and that’s not what networking is about. It’s supposed to be a win-win for everyone. So, if I don’t connect with you, it’s nothing personal – it’s just that we need more time to get to know one another.

2. Do I think you’re headed in the right direction? If I see someone connecting to a lot of people really fast, throwing invitations out like confetti on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, I hang back. It makes me a bit nervous to see someone collecting connections like they’re Pokeman cards. Those links seem a bit too rushed, and the lack of solid foundation concerns me. It’s sort of like social spamming.

3. Are you doing your homework? If you have no real understanding of what I do and how I do it, then I ignore you. Again, nothing personal, but I’m not into connecting with you if you’re not willing to take the time to get to know me, and help me get to know you. Lazy linkers will always move on to the next person, and that's fine with me.

Finally, I really consider myself a sort of gatekeeper for the other people in my network. They see me as someone they trust, and I don't want to betray that by trust by letting someone in that I really don't know. But, hey, once I get to know you and we connect in an honest way,then welcome to the party, pal.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

How the Heck to Use LinkedIn

Several months ago when I got caught up in the frenzy of thinking I needed to get involved in anything that came into my line of sight (see previous post), I was told about LinkedIn.

Immediately I visited the Web site and realized that a) it wasn’t a porn site and b) it was in English – so I signed up. If you had asked me at the time what LinkedInwas exactly, I could not have told you.

Several weeks after that, someone sent me an e-mail and said they had seen my name on LinkedIn. “How,” the person asked, “are you using this?”

Huh, I thought, I kinda wonder that myself. “Not sure,” I quickly responded. “How about you?”

The reply: “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Welcome to the evolving world of LinkedIn, where everyone seems to sign up but is still learning how – or if – it has value for them. It’s been called everything from the “digital equivalent of chain mail” to “a dorky service” for the "never weres" while others say it has netted them millions of dollars worth of business in a matter of months.

I spent some time talking with Kay Luo, LinkedIn’s director of corporate communications, whose job it is to answer pesky questions from journalists who want to know the answer to this burning question: So, how the heck do you use LinkedIn?

Luo says that LinkedIn is trying to make it clearer how to use the networking site for professionals, providing guidelines online. Luo’s criteria seems pretty straightforward: “I connect with who I would give my cell phone number to,” she says.

In other words, connect with those people you trust, believe in, or know to have qualities you admire. No serial killers, no bullies and no spammers need apply.

There are some great ideas from others who have learned to use LinkedIn effectively, and I’ll post some of those thoughts, as well as my own. If you have anything to add, please let me know in the comments section. We can all learn together.

Using LinkedIn:

1. Add connections. This means more people will see your profileand want to work with you because you know some of the same folks they do.
2. Customize your public profile. Luo told me to select “full view” instead of using the default URL and customize my public profile’s URL to be my name.
3. Check your messages. Try to do this at least once a week. I’ve sent messages to some people and they haven’t responded for weeks simply because they didn’t know to look for e-mail on their site.
4. Be clear about your intentions. Be direct about why you’re approaching someone, and they’re generally happy to help out. Don’t lie or puff up your credentials. The truth will come out and you’ll look like an idiot – and get lumped in with those serial killers, spammers and bullies.

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