Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I’ve Stared Into the Abyss…and Seen a Lot of My Friends

If you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention.

Bad times are here, folks. Those people who make the numbers 4 and 5 are busy printing them up as fast as they can for gas stations. As in: $4.00 a gallon. $5 a gallon.

The front page of AJR (American Journalism Review) reads:"Maybe It Is Time to Panic."

And here's a press release from JobFox: "While the value of the dollar is shrinking, many job seekers - including in-demand technology specialists - must accept new positions at lower salaries than they did just a month ago."

OK, you don't have to beat me over the head with it. I get it. It's bad and it's time to take action and not just sit around and wring my hands.

So, in the last two weeks, I have:

*Networked with dozens of new people and established contact with them online and via phone.
* Done detailed research about where new opportunities are being predicted and how I can move into those areas.
* Checked in with all my bosses and clients to make sure they still find my product of value.
* Began adding "extras" to my work -- and letting my bosses and clients know about it.
* Checked into new technology and researched where it can help me do my job better. I'm ready to make an investment in voice recognition because my bad elbow is seriously hampering my productivity.

So, what are you doing about your current career situation? Are you hunkered down and praying the next business or economic downturn will pass you by?

I want to know: What are you doing to UP YOUR GAME?


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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Survival of the Fittest in the Workplace

My oldest son is preparing to take final exams, and so I decided it was time to share with him my secret tip for writing a great essay on any test: Darwin.

Yep, that's it. Darwin, the "survival of the fittest" guy.

"It doesn't matter what subject," I told him. "Always mention Darwin and his theory and you'll score well."

He was a bit skeptical, and my other son wanted to know exactly how Darwin fit into subjects like math. "When you're older, I'll tell you," I said, sagely.

The whole discussion about survival of the fittest got me to thinking about ways that people can survive on the job these days. Things are tough, and it's those people who use all their bag of tricks that may be the the last ones standing. Sure, you should take on tough projects, make sure you're giving great customer service, be organized and efficient, blah, blah, blah.

But let's look at some not-quite-standard ways to impress the boss:

1. Have her over for dinner. Let the boss see you as a human being, not just Joe in accounting. Invite the boss's spouse or significant other. Don't serve anything fancy or she'll think she's paying you too much. Sit at the kitchen table and serve her good, standard food. Be interesting, be polite and don't talk about work too much. This is a chance to make a more personal connection with her.

2. Volunteer at the boss's favorite charity. This gives you a chance to rub elbows with her in a positive setting, and again establish a friendlier relationship -- or at least one where she likes you a bit better. So what if you don't like picking up trash along the highway on a Saturday morning? She cares about the environment, so get on that bright orange vest and start tramping the road right beside her.

3. Become interested in her hobby. If she likes NASCAR, then talk about Carl Edwards' last race. Or, drop off a golf magazine in her mailbox with a note, "Check out the story on page xx...unbelievable!" Maybe she's a big animal lover, so talk about how much you love your dog or how you ride horses.

4. Stand in her shoes. Most bosses are under a great deal of pressure these days and anyone who provides an understanding ear will be appreciated. Don't forget that bosses need a pat on the back, so offer sincere, supportive comments. "It must have been difficult dealing with that customer. You handled it well," you can say. Try to remain upbeat and optimistic, and the boss will gravitate toward your energy.

Maybe you're already taking on tough projects or making sure you're going the extra mile in customer service in order to impress the boss. But the point is that in these tough times, when gas prices are headed through the roof and a bag of potato chips costs $4, you're going to have to pull out all the stops in order to survive. Now, go make Darwin proud.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stop Saying "When I Was Your Age"

This is a frightening time for everyone in the workplace, when fears abound about what latest economic downturn will result in layoffs. One of the most vulnerable groups of employees are the experienced workers with their higher salaries and richer benefits.

Older workers need to understand that this is the time to ratchet up their game. They need to be seen as vital by going after new clients, taking on new projects and just being seen as a dynamic voice in the future of a company.

And, most important, make sure you look the part of a vital employee. For example, are you still wearing the tie you got from your kids in 1990? Does your hairstyle involve a comb-over, anything with AquaNet or is hard enough to crack an egg on? Do you complain openly of your aches and pains and have no idea who Kanye West is?

If so, it’s time for some updating. Consider:

Visiting a personal stylist. Of course, you’d look ridiculous with a tongue piercing, blue spiked hair and biker boots. But you also need to have someone qualified analyzing your appearance from year to year. Visit a department store cosmetics counter (preferably with younger employees), a hair salon that caters to younger professionals and look into getting some new duds, even if it's just one or two more updated pieces. Also, nothing makes you look worse than clothes that are too tight, too loose or too worn, so get them altered or get rid of them if needed.

• Keeping up on current events. Not just what's happening on Wall Street and in politics. Pick up a copy of Rolling Stone magazine. Check into some of the television shows and movies being talked about by younger staff members. Look at some of the popular videos on YouTube and even visit Facebook so you understand the concept of how it works.

• Saying “When I was your age…” Never, never, begin a sentence this way. You might as well ask for a box of Depends and some denture cleaner. Try not to recall your glory days, but rather offer opinions based on experiences in your career that are timeless and universal.

• Offering contacts. There’s nothing quite as valuable to co-workers and company brass than the relationships you have formed over the years with vendors, customers, competitors, etc. There is be a certain level of trust among those with long relationships that can be highly valued in a competitive environment.

• Keeping the edge. Don’t rest on former glories. Always appear enthusiastic in offering new ideas or accepting new challenges. Don’t have a “been there, done that” attitude that says you’re bored, but you’ll do it because you get paid to. Use new technologies to implement your strategies. If you don't understand how to use some of the latest hi tech stuff, learn. Take a class or enlist the help of a younger worker in exchange for some mentoring from you in other areas.

• Making sure your game is sharp. Keep track of your daily accomplishments, goals met and problems handled. This will be a valuable record when it comes time for performance evaluation — or a discussion of your future with a company. Keep documentation of all projects you worked on, kudos from co-workers or bosses, and even favorable notes from customers.


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