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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Monday, March 17, 2008

Turning a Rejection Into an Opportunity

The pubs will be full today with revelers celebrating St. Patrick's Day, but the truth is many people will be swilling that green beer not to celebrate, but to drown their sorrows.

Times are tough, as any job seeker will testify. The latest news of Bear Stearns Cos. being sold at garage sale prices has sent another shudder through the job seeking masses, because they know that more people are nervous and will begin dusting off their resumes to join the ranks looking for new work.

Looking for a job is tough, and rejections are never easy to handle.

But there's something that many job candidates miss: "No" doesn't always mean "no."

Sometimes a hiring manager tells you that you didn't get a position after you've interviewed, and you consider that the end of the road. Time to head for the green beer, right?

Wrong. Now is the time to use that contact -- however brief -- with the hiring manager to establish a firmer relationship. Begin by saying that you really like the company, and would like to be considered for another position. Is there anyone else the hiring manager could refer you to? Being able to use the hiring manager's name with another department head is very valuable.

Also, tell the hiring manager that you would like to learn from the process. Was there something you did or did not do that eliminated you from the position? Was there a particular skill that the winning candidate had? Most managers will remember positively the job candidate who didn't take his or her rejection personally, but instead focused on personal improvement.

Another idea takes some chutzpah: Inquire whether the hiring manager knows anyone else who is hiring. Managers belong to professional associations and have networks of friends and colleagues that may be looking for qualified job candidates. Even if they don't know someone right away, your name will come more easily to mind in the future because you inquired specifically about it. Be sure and follow up in a couple of months with the manager to still express your interest in working for the company -- persistence often pays off.

Finally, make sure that you send a hand written note to the manager, thanking him or her for the consideration and giving your best wishes for the company's success.


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