Monday, July 30, 2007

Losing My Perspective

I was recently interviewed on a radio show and the subject of work/life balance came up. I said at the time I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all work/life plan. As far as I can tell, everyone thinks they’re doing OK, but someone else should be doing it differently.

I’ve interviewed people about this subject for nearly 20 years, and the only thing I know is that I don’t want anyone telling me how to live my life and I figure the same holds true for everyone else. I’ve made the decisions I have about work and my family based on what I believed was best at the time.

But lately I’ve had this feeling that I really wasn’t making the “best” decisions. I was too focused on my work. I wasn’t able to turn it off any more, waking up at night with thoughts of what I should be doing, becoming distracted during personal moments with members of my family because I was thinking about my job.

I was ashamed of myself. Me, the workplace writer for 20 years, had fallen into the trap that I counseled so many to avoid. I had become so focused on my work that I was losing my perspective. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. But like a turtle on its back, I was incapable of helping myself.

Then, as it always does, life happened. My youngest son was hit in the mouth with a baseball bat. It sounds bad, and it was. (I never thought I would say it, but thank God for root canals and all the other dental wizardry these days that will keep him from looking like a jack o’lantern for the rest of his life.)

As I sat for hours watching my son go through medical treatment, I did think about work. What, I thought, could I learn from this experience to get myself out of this mess that I had gotten myself into? The more time I spent with him and away from work, the clearer the answers became.

As the days went by and my son began to heal, I found myself healing as well.

The greatest thing I can say it that my perspective is back, and I’m doing everything I can to keep it that way. I want to share some of what I learned, and maybe it will help others. I know I’ve written about this over the years, but this time it truly comes from the heart:

• It’s just work. At the hospital with my son, I watched an old man shuffle by slowly, carrying his wife’s pocketbook in one hand while he gently led her to the elevators. You know what? He could care less that I’ve written a book or never missed a deadline. But I was greatly impacted just watching the love and caring they showed for one another.
• It’s a choice. I chose to care too much about work, and I can choose to not care so much. It’s that simple. I know I didn’t lose my perspective overnight, and it did take me a while to get it back. I plan to be more vigilant from now on, and have entrusted loved ones to let me know if they see me start to backslide.
• I put blinders on. I no longer patrol the Internet and blogs constantly. I got caught up in the frenzy of technology, and it became the master. Technology can be a wonderful thing, but it can also get you in its frenzied grip, making you feel like everything has to be done right now, and you must react right now and you must always be at the top of your game right now.
• I turned away from e-mail. I check e-mail only several times a day. The world will not stop revolving if I don’t answer someone immediately, and I may just be more useful to them if I give my response more thought.
• I went to a museum. I walked the quiet halls with my son and pointed to beautiful landscapes and creative sculptures. I had no cell phone or Blackberry or any other agenda other than to simply move my feet from time to time. At first I was a little edgy – I didn’t know how to simply let my mind wander at will. But soon I found myself just enjoying the moment and felt myself take a deep breath and let go. And if felt great.


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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What To Do When You Lose a Job

Many of us prepare for natural disasters by keeping things on hand such as candles, flashlights, some bottled water and maybe a couple of cans of tuna fish. Anyone who has been without these items during a blackout quickly learns the error of not making at least some effort at preparation.

Then why don’t more of us prepare for one of the most disastrous times that can hit a person? I’m talking specifically about the loss of a job.

When we’re laid off or fired, we often react only with our emotions, calling our moms to cry or complaining bitterly to our best friend while downing several martinis. And that’s about it. Maybe in a few days we get our resume together and search a couple of the big online job boards to check out the available positions. If we’re feeling particularly ambitious, maybe we send out some resumes to local companies.

And then we turn on Judge Judy and settle in on the couch to wait. And wait some more.

But as the weeks and months go by with nary a job in sight, we begin to feel more panicked. We look back with some regret that we didn’t do more to prepare for this moment. But what, exactly, should we have done?

We should have been prepared. Just like stocking the water bottles and the candles, we need to realize that when a job disaster strikes, we need a kit that contains:

• A current resume that has been proofed carefully and can be altered for specific employers.
• A current list of references, who you have been keeping in contact with to let them know your latest skills and abilities. When you lose your job, notify them immediately so that they’ll be prepped to receive calls about you, and to also let them know you’re looking for a work.
• Up-to-date phone numbers and e-mails of anyone you’ve worked with such as customers, vendors, co-workers and bosses. (If you’ve not kept these relationships alive, they’re going to do you about as much good as spoiled food during a power outage.)
• The confidence to let everyone know you’re looking for a job. Tell your kid’s soccer coach, the guy working next to you at the community garden or the woman sitting by you on an airplane that you’re looking for work. One of my friends sought a job for months before he finally mentioned it to the friend of a friend at dinner one night. That person had gotten him an interview with an employer within two days – and my friend got the new job within the week.
• Memberships in professional associations. If you don’t have at least a couple, you can still get them after disaster strikes. These memberships often have job boards, and getting to know others in your field will be invaluable in getting the jump on jobs that are about to open up, or are currently unadvertised.
• Activity in an alumni group. Attending the same school inspires a lot of loyalty, and alumnis often reach out to one another in the professional arena. Alumni groups also often offer job and career resources, and have vast networks that can really help your search.
• A support system. Having mentors in place will not only help you professionally, but personally. Look for people who are good listeners, self starters, have made positive decisions in their lives and are committed to helping others.

Of course, the key to this disaster kit is that you don’t wait until the lights have gone out before you start putting it together. Planning for it now will mean you give it careful thought and ensure it will be the most useful to you in your moment of need. The great thing is that by keeping it fresh and updated, you benefit your career now and in the future.

Friday, July 20, 2007

An Idea for the Inexperienced

When Jason Alba found himself laid off from his job a couple of years ago, he came to an important realization: While he was a manager and had an MBA, he was competing against those with much more experience in the job market.

“People I was competing against had a lot more depth,” he says. “Most of the recruiters were looking at people with a lot more years than me.”

That experience impressed upon him the need to continually manage his own career by networking more effectively and establishing his own personal brand so that he would stand out to potential employers now and in the future, even if he didn’t have decades of experience.

Alba, founder of JibberJobber ( says that it’s the need for breadth and depth in the job market that spurred him into creating the “You Get It” award (, for someone who is doing a great job to develop their professional presence, often through a blog and Web site.

“You can quantify your depth and breadth of experience through a blog over time, to show what you can do,” Alba says. “It’s not a job seeker blog. I don’t like those. It’s more a way to show what your passions are, how good you are at what you do.”

That said, Alba cautions that anyone blogging should do it wisely, avoiding the all-too-common pitfall of “using bad language and being screwy and unfocused,” he says.

“You want to see someone’s personality, and show your depth and breadth as your blog is developed,” he says. “But you don’t want to stand out in the wrong way.”

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Rate Your Boss

I once had a job where the boss was so toxic that I would feel my stomach start to roil as I entered the building where I worked. I couldn’t focus on anything that gave me pleasure – in the middle of a movie I would think about this boss and feel great anger. When I was having dinner with a friend I would think about my boss and feel so depressed I didn’t want to eat.

The job lasted 1 ½ years before I managed to get another one. By the time I left, I felt I had aged 20 years. I never laughed anymore, the joy had gone out of something I had always loved to do – write.

I remember after I turned in my resignation, my boss began interviewing people to replace me. One day, I stopped a job candidate outside the office and said, “Look, I don’t know you, but I feel I have to warn you. You don’t want to work here. The boss is really toxic – she does everything she can to demean people, and will never recognize or reward you for your contributions. We’ve had enormous turnover here, and the reason is because people are treated like dirt.”

The woman look at me and said, “Oh, I appreciate you telling me. But I think I can handle it.”

It was like watching someone jump in a shark tank and say, “Oh, I can survive just fine. It’s just YOU they didn’t like.”

I don’t know whatever happened to this woman, if she got the job or if she survived that boss. I just know that I wish someone had filled me in on the boss.

And that brings us to Asher Adelman, 33, a Californian currently living in Israel and founder of, which allows people to anonymously name their boss and then rate his or her performance based on a set number of questions. The overall rating is then available – for a fee – to users who want to check out a boss.

I recently asked Adelman, a former sales and marketing guy, a few questions about his Web site:

1. Am I to assume that you had an abusive boss sometime in your life?Is that who inspired you to set up this Web site?

The inspiration for eBossWatch was born out of a painful personal experience
several years ago working under what some former colleagues called "a reign
of terror" perpetuated by the company CEO. The frequent and ongoing abuses
consisted of loud and public humiliations of employees, name-calling laced
with vulgarity and the throwing of objects at employees. Before I started
working there, I had no idea about the true state of the work environment,
and I firmly believed that this was a respectable company that treated its
employees well. I was ultimately fired in less than two months after
confronting the CEO and complaining about his abusive behavior.

2. What's the purpose of the site? Who is it aimed at, specifically?
The mission of eBossWatch is to improve the lives of people by helping them
avoid hostile workplaces and abusive bosses. I see eBossWatch as being a
useful tool for any job applicant to have during their interview process to
help them evaluate the prospective employers. The applicants shouldn't be
the only ones being evaluated during the recruiting process.

3. What about the criticism that it's not really fair to "rate" a boss
like this...that anyone with a beef can give a boss a bad rating,without giving the boss a chance to respond?Is it really fair?

The idea behind eBossWatch is to use the ratings as a resource to spot any
warning signs about a potential employer so that the job candidate know to
do some additional due diligence into the work environment. If someone
seeking revenge gives a boss a bad (but inaccurate) rating, then the truth
will come out when the job candidate inquires further about the negative
rating or speaks with some current or former employees to find out what kind
of manager this person is.

The "Boss Report" survey results show both the combined evaluation score
averages as well as each individual rating by itself.

4. Do you think anyone will report "good" bosses,or is it much more likely this site will target only the bad bosses we hear so much about?

A significant amount of the evaluations that have been submitted have been
positive, so apparently the people lucky enough to be working for an
excellent boss recognize how fortunate they are and are interested in
showing their appreciation and support for their manager.

5. What's your goal for this Web site?

Our goal for eBossWatch is to make a difference in people's quality of life
by helping to spare them from the nightmare of working for an abusive boss.
Life is short, and it's unfortunate that so many people are stuck in hostile
work environments for months or even years.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Damn Do You Need a Job!

I recently received an e-mail from a guy named Larry Dinsmore who said he had a resource for my readers. Always interested in that topic, I checked out his Web site, and here’s what I found: a photo of Dinsmore in a T-shirt that blared “Damn I need a job.” On the back of the shirt he listed his qualifications as an information technology guy.

I was intrigued.

Upon further investigation, I discovered Dinsmore, 39, was from Lexington, Ky., and had been a database programmer for 15 years before he lost his job.

I e-mailed Dinsmore back and said I wanted to know more. I asked him if he would agree to share our conversation with visitors to my blog, and he readily agreed.

1. So, what is up with that “Damn I need a job” T-shirt?

The tone of “Damn, I Need a Job” doesn't really do justice to how I was feeling back in 2005. It was more like "DAMN!!!! I NEED A FREAKING JOB AHHH!!!!!!!!" I had sent out well over a hundred resumes and had only a few interviews. I felt like I had done all I could think of to find work. I was thinking, “What's left? What have I missed? What else can I do?”

I was downtown just looking around, and I knew that everywhere I looked there was someone who probably knew of some opening at their place of work. How do I let them know I'm available? So the idea was born. I'll admit that I had visions of the idea/Web site becoming my job and that was fine with me. In getting the word out about my idea and Web site I would of course have to put my shirt into practice. I did. People noticed.

2. So, the million dollar question is: Did you get a job from wearing your T-shirt, or just a lot of weird looks?

The local news noticed. Actually I called them and told them what I was doing but they were interested enough to come and talk to me and ran the story. That lead to a chain of events where it eventually got back to the IT manager of the place I am now. So yes, my idea was directly responsible for my employment status today. And yeah, there were some weird looks along the way as well.

3. Your bulletin board has some interesting posts, including one from a 12-year-old girl who says she really wants a job “so I can pay my cell phone bill so my parents won’t ground me every time the bill comes.” But there are more desperate pleas for work, many from people who say they’re homeless, or nearly homeless, some trying to support children. What do you think this says about the state of the unemployed in America today?

I used to moderate that board a little more than I do these days. I would hope that a sampling from my humble bulletin board would not represent the employment state of America. If it does I'm glad to see that the homeless have Internet access and are tech savvy.

Seriously though, I do believe that the people that arrive at my site are desperate. I have received many e-mails from folks telling me how frustrated they are and thanking me for the inspiration. These people have been from a wide variety of educations levels. My Web statistics tracking software tells me that 98 percent of the people who come to my site have arrived there by typing “I Need A Job” into a search engine. That in itself smells of desperation. What I mean by that is if I was looking for a job and decided to use the Internet in my search process I believe I would search for “Job's in Lexington” or “Job Site's” or “Computer work in Kentucky”.

If I was frustrated, at my wits end, plopping down at the computer and just typing “I need a job” is a reflection of my state of mind I think.

4. What would be your best advice for someone trying to survive looking for work?

GO TO ANY LENGTHS TO GET NOTICED!! At least that's what I say on my site.
If you take away anything from my site, remember to be creative, think outside the box, have the courage to move beyond your comfort level. Wearing the shirt, being on the news, posting my experiences on the Web and drawing all this attention to myself was not in my comfort zone.

But by pushing through my insecurities I got noticed. I made things happen. Recently I have heard it said that you make your own luck. I certainly buy into that.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Casual Dress Gone Wrong

My colleague, Stephanie Armour at USA Today, recently wrote about business casual dress at work (

After reading the story, I remembered an interview I once had about the same subject with an employer who was clearly frustrated with the situation.

One day, the manager said, an employee showed up for work in his pajamas – flannel pants and a worn T-shirt. On his feet: black dress shoes.

The boss took the employee aside to tell him his attire was not appropriate for the workplace, even if the attire was casual.

“Why not?” he questioned. “You said no flip-flops, right?”

Gives new meaning to the word “clueless,” doesn’t it?

For the record, here are a few standards for casual wear that apply to most workplaces:
• No faded or torn denim. In fact, it’s just as well to avoid denim, and stick with khaki pants or skirt.
• Nothing tight, see-through, glow-in-the-dark or revealing in any way. If you can go clubbing in it, forget it.
• No T-shirts with sayings on them. One employer told me of a pregnant employee who wore a “sleeps well with others” shirt to work. When men wear “saying” shirts they look like they should be at the frat house, and the women wearing them look like they should be visiting that frat house for a Jello shooter contest.
• No VPL (visible panty lines.) Work is also not the place for bared midriffs, mini skirts, shorts or camisole tops.
• Neatness counts. Sweatshirts always look sloppy, so leave them for the weekend. Same with tennis shoes, flip flops, frayed pants or shirts, any kind of flannel and any piece of clothing comfortable enough to sleep in. Make sure even your casual clothes are clean and neatly pressed (yes, you have to iron the front and back).

The thing to remember about casual work wear is that you don’t want what you wear to undo all the hard work you’ve put in to establish yourself as a professional, mature and valued member of the team.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Was Rodney Dangerfield a Manager?

I saw a study that said a great majority (71 percent of 972 workers surveyed) would not like to be the boss, and not only did they not want to be in charge, they didn’t think they could do a better job than the boss.

That seems odd, considering the number of “bad boss” books on the market today. We have books saying that bosses are crazy, raised by wolves, micromanaging ogres and in short, the most horrible two-legged creatures on the face of the planet.

OK, so maybe that’s just used to sell books. The truth is that some bosses are good, and some are not so good. But before we claim they should be dropped into abandoned mines, let’s consider what they do every day.

They put up with employees who smell and look like they slept at the bottom of a laundry basket. They have to referee spats between co-workers arguing over who left the dirty dishes in the sink. They have workers who don’t show up for work because, well, because it’s a nice day and they don’t feel like working. They put in many hours at home after their families go to sleep because they can’t get any work done in the office with all the constant interruptions from their staff.

Their own bosses demand constant reports, insist that budgets be cut without affecting production and order that their lips be sealed regarding potential layoffs.

They are, in other words, constantly between a rock and a hard place. Their loyalty and energy are constantly being divided between the employees they oversee and the senior managers. Little respect or consideration is offered from anyone for what they go through every day.

Yeah, who wouldn’t want that job?

That’s why Wayne Turmel (a.k.a. The Cranky Middle Manager) speaks up for middle managers, offering them sound advice – coupled with humor – to help them keep going. He notes that while companies offer little or no training dollars to those in middle management, it’s not always a bad job.

He’s right. Many managers talk about the sense of satisfaction they get from coaching employees, helping them improve their skills and reach their goals. They like being the kind of leader that inspires; they even enjoy providing pizza on a Friday afternoon to recognize good work.

So, the next time you’re quick to dump on your manager, take a moment and consider what it’s like to stand in his shoes. Maybe it’s a job you don’t want, but that’s no reason to make it a job he doesn’t want, either.

If you are in management, a couple of places you might want to check out for further support and education include:

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Be Cautious About Revealing Personal Details

A Wall Street Journal article today noted that it might be a problem when co-workers or bosses wanted to be your "friend" in an online social networking site like MySpace or Facebook. The problem, it seems, is that many of you are uncomfortable with the boss or co-workers seeing photos of you at a "kegger", or nearly naked on a beach.

I'm so happy to hear that.

Why? Because lately, I've had it up to here with people feeling like they should share every intimate detail of their lives, whether we want to know it or not. They call it "transparency." But the dictionary on my desk says that transparency is being "candid, open, easily understood." Still, I see people abuse this term daily. They use the word “transparency” to be naricissitic, rude, demeaning and immature. “I’m being transparent,” they say.


Don’t get me wrong. I like transparency. As a journalist, I want both private and public organizations to be candid with me, to be easily understood so that I can do my job. But I think we’re doing ourselves a real disservice to claim that our bad judgment is not just that, but is instead our being “transparent.”

Those responding to the WSJ article ( said that it was a matter of maturity -- anyone over the age of 24 shouldn't be doing Facebook or MySpace, anyway. Very good point. And, anyone who has a job must seriously consider how “transparent” they want to be. Another good point.

As I wrote in the blog discussion about transparency ( ) there’s no problem if you’re independently wealthy and need never be employed again. But if there’s a chance you’re going to be looking for work one day, or are currently employed, you need to tread very carefully when leaving your footprint online. It can, and will, be seen by professional colleagues somewhere, sometime.

Your willingness to be “transparent” online could very well be one of the biggest mistakes you make in your career. With so many things often out of our control – bad bosses, a tough job market, deranged co-workers – why would you hurt your future success simply because you couldn't keep from blabbing about matters best left private?

If you feel the need to be “transparent,” do so with close friends and family at a face-to-face gathering – or with your therapist. Tell your stylist about your personal problems, share with your best friend the story of how your boyfriend dumped you. Show your brother the photos of you doing kamikazes at a local bar with your partner. But, please, I beg you -- just don’t do it in an arena where professional contacts can see it.

Let’s add “common sense” to our definition of transparency.

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Isaiah Washington's Big Mistakes

I recently watched Isaiah Washington on “Larry King Live” as he discussed his feelings about being fired for making reportedly homophobic comments about his fellow cast mate, T.R. Knight, who is gay.

I sat in awe as I watched this guy dig a hole so deep for himself he may never get out of it. In fact, he broke just about every rule you can regarding your work performance and a former employer.

Here’s what needs to be learned by everyone regarding this nasty little fight between Washington and his colleagues and his bosses:
  • It’s a small world. If you work in a specific industry, such as Washington’s acting arena, you’re going to run into many of the same people throughout the course of your career. That means that you don’t muddy the waters with nasty comments about people you might come to work with again in the future. Keep in mind that someone you badmouth today may be someone who can hire you in the future – or be your boss.
  • You are often remembered more for how you leave a job than anything else. No matter how angry you might be at other people when you walk out that door, keep your mouth shut. Offer a handshake and a smile and just leave. Anything you say otherwise will be gossiped about for weeks or years to come. Washington’s name will forever be linked with not only what he said to start the gossip, but what he did to perpetuate it. Trust me, the man’s obit in 50 years will mention the spat.
  • Let it go for your own peace of mind. Dwelling on the past, as Washington appears to be doing, does not help you get another job. You need to be upbeat, enthusiastic and focused on the future – not past problems. Whether he has a legitimate gripe or not, he’s not helping himself or his family by trying to rewrite history.
  • Grace under pressure is underrated. I once had a boss who treated me and everyone else like garbage. But when I resigned, my letter simply stated the fact that I was leaving in two weeks. I didn’t offer anything else, and that prompted her to look me in the eye and claim, “You know, I’m not easy to work for, but you’ve been grace under pressure.” I kept my gag reflex under control, and felt like I hadn’t let her “win.” I had kept my cool, my perspective…and gotten the heck out of there with my sanity intact. Think of how the message boards would look if Washington had stopped whining and instead nabbed another great job without badmouthing everyone in the process.

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      Monday, July 2, 2007

      Legal Advice for Workers

      At least once a week I get asked a question that has a "legal" implication. Someone writes me wanting to know if they can get fired for something, or what rights they have regarding their job.

      I'm not a lawyer, and even though I tell these people they need to get legal advice, I know that's not possible for everyone. For one reason, lawyers cost money -- money that everyone may not have. For another reason, people don't have any idea where to find a lawyer that specializes in their area of concern.

      That's why I'd like to pass on some information I just received.

      Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is offering what is calls "Ask a Lawyer," a free online service to "help workers understand their rights and determine whether the boss can do that -- or not."

      Even if you decide not to join the 1.6 million member organization, check out their site and find out the answers to some common employment questions. It's at

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