Thursday, February 26, 2009

Getting the Attention of the Five-Minute Boss

While many people think that never seeing the boss might be a good thing, those who have a manager that rivals the Stealth Bomber know differently.

Those who don't get regular face time with the boss are often the most vulnerable, especially in these tough times. The last thing you want to happen is for you -- and your past accomplishments and daily contributions -- to be forgotten by your boss. If you're not on a manager's radar screen, you risk being closed out of top projects, being passed over for promotions or great opportunities -- or even being laid off.

But how to get the attention of managers who may have the attention span of a 5-year-old as they race off to another meeting or seem like a phone is permanently attached to their ear?

The key is you've got to be aware of what your boss wants -- and when and how she wants it.

I once had a boss tell me that it drove her crazy when employees felt like they had to constantly update her on every development, and keep her apprised of details about an upcoming wedding, baby shower, 5K training effort, etc. She was frustrated she was interrupted so many times during her day, so had become one of those Stealth managers I mentioned -- she went out of her way to try and avoid some workers, because she knew any encounter would often be lengthy and delay her from more critical tasks.

So, how to make sure you get face time with a busy and stressed boss? There are some key things to consider:

1. Busiest times. Most people are swamped on Monday mornings, and are trying to clear their desks Friday afternoons. If you know that your boss always has a report to his boss due on Wednesday morning, then avoid the time right before that. Ask for a specific time: "I need 20 minutes of your time to update you on the XYZ project. We've had some promising developments and I want to also give you the timeline for the coming weeks." This tells the boss that you've got a specific agenda, and won't be rambling about your son's soccer game and bitching about a co-worker. Once you get to meet with the boss, stick with the time allotted. If the meeting starts to run long, say something like: "I see we've gone over the time. Would you like to schedule another meeting, or have me put the rest in an e-mail?" If you go over the determined time, you're going to be held responsible, even if the boss starts gabbing about his new golf club. Try to keep him on the subject so that you make the most of your time and he sees any interaction with you as positive and focused.

2. Learn to use a stopwatch. You'd be surprised how long it takes to just give the background on a subject. Rehearse your presentation to the boss ahead of time, and learn to whittle down your subject to talking points. You want to make sure you're not wasting time on unimportant stuff -- make the most use of the boss's time. The last thing you want to do is just begin reaching the critical points and the boss says, "Sorry. I can't give you any more time."

3. Envision the burning house. I use this example a lot, but it always works. When you see a burning house, you don't call the fire department and start talking about how beautiful the neighborhood is, what you're wearing and what you're having for lunch. You immediately tell them the location of the fire. Same thing when you're talking to the boss: Get to the most important details first. It helps if you can send her an agenda before your meeting so she has time to look it over, but if not, start your session with: "I've got five issues I need to talk to you about, but I'd like to start with two that I believe to be the most important."

4. Make the meeting interactive. Most bosses have a million and one things on their minds, so it's always a good idea to make sure you've got their full attention. One way you can do this is through questions: "What is your biggest concern?" "Can you think of anything I've left out?" "Is there anyone else you feel I should speak with about this project?" This helps the boss feel informed, and a part of the process, without making you seem like a pest.

What are some other ways to make the most use of the limited time with a boss?

Lijit Search

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Help Your Career By Stepping Onto a Sinking Ship

Who, in their right mind, would jump onto the Titanic instead of off?

In this tough job market, maybe it should be you.

This may not make any sense at first blush, but when you consider the payoff, you may just decide it's a risk worth taking.

Let's say that you're looking for work, or you believe that your job may be in trouble. Why would you take a job with a company that looks to be on shaky ground?

The most obvious reason is that it will give you an opportunity you might not otherwise have. For example, you're re-entering the job market after taking years off to raise your kids. Or, perhaps your age is preventing you from getting a job in many companies -- you're either too young or too old or too inexperienced or perhaps even too desperate. But a company that is equally desperate -- all their top-notch talent has already left the building -- may be just the place willing to take a chance on you.

So, even if the job doesn't last very long, it gives you exactly what you need: Experience.

Let's consider another reason to jump onto a sinking ship: The address would look good on the resume. Maybe you've had second- or third-tier jobs up until now. No impressive titles or big names to rock the world of a recruiter looking through thousands of resumes. But now an opportunity comes along to either grab that fancy title or the prestige of the company name. With those under your belt, a whole new world of opportunities may be opened to you.

Of course, one of the best reasons to jump into a leaky boat is because you're probably going to work like a dog. Everything and anything is going to be thrown your way, the rulebook will probably be burned and you may notice the captain heading for the exit. Good. Now is the time when you're going to learn the most, when it's going to take all your smarts and daring and ingenuity just to keep your head above water. You're going to work like a dog, and your time will be measured the same way -- one year at that job will be like seven years somewhere else. But every one of those things you learn will be valuable in one way or another. You'll be able to tell other employers what you learned and how that can be put to work for them. That's the stuff that makes any resume sing and a hiring manager sit up and take notice.

Finally, bosses that are still on a sinking ship are much more likely to let you spread your wings. They're going to let you cut in line, they're going to listen to more of your ideas and make you a key part of any process. Why? Because they know that you're fighting to save your ass -- and you could save theirs in the process.

What are some other considerations for anyone contemplating taking a job with a company that may be on shaky ground?

Lijit Search

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are You Shovel Ready?

There's been an image that I can't get out of my head for the last week.

You might think it's something horrific, and in a way, it is.

I was channel surfing one day, trying to find something to watch on television besides "Real Housewives of Orange County" and "Two Weeks Notice." I came across a program talking about the job losses in this country, and it immediately caught my attention.

The reporter stuck her microphone in a man's face to ask him about his unemployment. He was gray-haired, with a matching mustache. He looked a bit shy to be on camera, but he quietly stated: "If I had a little bit of training, I know I could do anything."

And there it was: The image that wouldn't leave my head. For me, this man became the poster child for what every worker is going through who has lost a job. In a way, my heart broke for him, because I could see the pride on his face, but also the desperation and the worry. I heard in his simple words that he didn't want a handout, that even with a head full of gray hair, he was willing to do whatever work was available.

But, I could also sense in him the confusion about what he should be doing next. Obviously, he knew that things were changing and he needed to be ready for that change. But how?

Here's what I would have told him: Get shovel-ready.

State and local governments have put in their requests to get a piece of the bailout money, and one of the ways they're trying to make their request stand out is by saying they're "shovel ready." In other words, give them the cash and they've literally got people standing around with shovels and bulldozers and a host of other equipment ready to start shoring up a shaky infrastructure immediately.

And that's exactly the strategy all workers -- whether they're currently employed or not -- need to adopt.

Afew questions you should be asking yourself now to make sure you're ready to go:

1. Am I in an industry expected to grow in the future or benefit from the stimulus package?
2.What skills do I have that can be put into play right now by an employer who will see their business pick up because of the government money?
3. Who do I know who will be seeing this money flow to them or their company? Are they aware of my skills or my company and how that can help them meet their goals?

If you think you're not in a growth industry, with needed skills, then it's time to do something to get yourself more shovel ready. Recently, I interviewed some educational experts about training programs, and learned that vocational-technical programs offer lots of educational training beyond the traditional electrician or welder programs.

Many programs offer training and classes for paralegals, physician's assistants and computer programmer. All these jobs pay in the $40,000 and up range, and are expected to be in demand in the coming years. (Check out the Department of Labor website, which lists growth industries and jobs.) At the same time, many companies offer "apprenticeship" programs, where you work for a small salary while you are trained for a specific job. Either the vo-tech or apprenticeship programs are also much more affordable than many four-year college programs.

I know that looking for a job is a full-time job. But it's time to be realistic about whether your training is outdated and your industry sinking fast. If that's the case, it's time to get some training in another area, so that when the time comes, you too are "shovel ready."

What are some other steps to take to be better prepared to compete in this job market?

Lijit Search

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Are You Afraid to Just Say "No" at Work?

"Taylor, can you help me out with this report? I need some research done by tomorrow, or I'm really going to be in trouble."


"Taylor, we need someone to head up this new committee, and I think you'd be perfect. Can you put a team together by next Tuesday?"


"Taylor, we're really having trouble with this client and it would be so helpful if you could go there and sort of calm them down. It would be great if you could leave right away."


"Taylor, someone left a mess in the break room. On yourlunch hour, do you think you could use your great organizational skills and bring order to the chaos?"


Many of us hate to say "no." We say "sure" or "yes" to requests for many reasons, but few of them have to do with what is best for us and our careers. We don't say"no" because we don't want someone to be mad at us. We say "yes" because we feel guilty or we're afraid of what could happen if we don't agree to a request.

And, in this rotten job market, we are afraid to say "no" for fear it could cost us our job.

But I recently interviewed some psychologists for my Gannett News Service and column, and they made it crystal clear that not learning to say "no" may be terrible for your career -- and your life.

“When you’re scared about being the next one to be laid off, all kinds of dysfunctional things start to happen,” says Pat Pearson, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based clinical psychotherapist. “You start getting more paranoid, you do your work less well, and you start feeling as if you can’t say ‘no.’ So, you take on anything they throw at you.”

But the problem, Pearson says, is that such a move just makes a career “more and more dysfunctional.”

“You have to decide: Are you going to have a healthy work environment or not?”

Paula Bloom, an Atlanta-based clinical psychologist, says that every worker must realize they only have so much emotional capital to expend every day, and pushing the limits may cost them the very thing they’re hoping to protect.

“If there is too great an emotional cost, then you will become resentful and unpleasant, and not nice to be around. And people who are a pain in the butt are often the ones who are let go,” Bloom says.

Both Pearson and Bloom stress that the emotional and physical cost of never saying “no” – even in this stressful job market – can take a real toll on workers.

“If you don’t feel good about what you’re taking on, then you become negative and angry, and then you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the company because you’re not going to be as productive,” Pearson says. “If you are doing things you don’t want to do, then you’re going to pay a price with your health. You’re going to get sick more often, and have a high stress level."

But how do you say “no” without being considered a poor team player or labeled with some other negative moniker at work? Both Bloom and Pearson says it’s a matter of understanding your boundaries and then being prepared to make the “no” sound positive. They advise:

Be willing to ask for what you need. "Maybe you’ve been asked to work late, and you can agree to it, except for on Thursdays, when you need to get home on time because your kids have soccer,” Person says. “You have to decide how much you can live with, and what you can’t do without."

Taking a deep breath. “Don’t freak out when someone makes a request. Just say, ‘I would love to be able to help you out, but it won’t work today. If you could give me a few days notice next time, I might be able to do it.’” Adds Pearson: “Act thoughtful and say something like, ‘Let me see what I can do.’ It gives you time to think about it and then make a decision when you’re not under pressure.”

Living with integrity. “If you’re screwing around on the Internet for an hour every day, or faking your time card, then you’ll try to compensate for your guilt and say ‘yes’ to everything. If you live with integrity, you’ll be able to say ‘no’ and not feel guilty,” Bloom says.

Understanding the difference between “can’t” and “don’t want to.” Bloom says that even when the boss makes a request, you can say “no” if you’ve made an honest assessment of your workload. “You can always say, ‘I’d like to do that, but can you help me figure out the priority of these nine other things I have to do?’ Put the issue back on the boss.”

How are some other ways people can be smarter about saying "no"?

Lijit Search

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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?

Lijit Search

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Monday, February 9, 2009

5 Ways to Put the "I" in Team

Teams are pretty commonplace in the workplace these days, but that doesn't mean they're fun. Or pleasant. Or useful. Or efficient. Or productive.

Certainly, there are lots of folks who love teams. These are usually the people who put teams together, or make a living out of touting how teams are fun, pleasant, useful, efficient and productive. But for those who have to work in teams, the experience is often frustrating, unproductive and annoying.

Is there a middle ground? I think so. What makes teams useful is when you understand they can be helpful in getting work done, but they can also be a bottleneck. You need to understand that while you can reap the rewards of being on a team, you also need to watch out for yourself and your own career interests.

In other words, it's time to put the "I" in team.

Now, this is where it gets tricky. Companies who get all warm and fuzzy when talking about teams aren't going to take kindly to you breaking away from the pack to promote your own contributions. And certainly your other team members aren't going to like it. But I think in this economy, with this bad job market, you need to find ways to make sure your skills and abilities don't get overlooked.

How to make that happen? First, you've got to take stock of your team dynamic. How does it function? What is its purpose? Do you understand exactly how your specific skills are being used? If you can't answer these questions, then you're in trouble. Why? Because it clearly points out that you are letting the team happen to you. And if you're not participating totally, then you could be overlooked for your contribution -- not something you want when a layoff could be hovering around the corner.

So, let's look at how you need to put yourself into a team equation that most benefits your career future:

1. Find your niche. Every team has certain people, such as the leader, the troubleshooter, the cheerleader, the risk taker etc. All these roles are essential, so find one and grab it. You want a role that is visible enough you come into contact with key people within your department and company. You want to make sure that other team members will consistently need you, or look to you for support or leadership. In other words, you want to be memorable.

2. Focus on bottom-line impact. These days, you can't afford to do anything else. When you participate in a team, constantly ask yourself -- and others -- what the impact of your efforts will be on bringing in revenue. If you can't come up with an answer, it's time to re-think your efforts.

3. Enter the fray. You may think that all you want to do right now is keep your head down, and hopefully you won't do anything to lose your job. Wrong strategy. Right now companies are operating so lean that it's critical every worker be thinking like an entrepreneur. That means you don't stand on the sidelines, but wade into the middle of a problem and start helping. Phones ringing like crazy? Help answer them. Files piling up and everything becoming a disorganized mess? Grab some paperwork and start filing. Difficult customer than no one likes? Jump in with a smile.

4. Use a lifeline. Sometimes working in a team can be like working in a vacuum. You start a group-think mentality where everything you come up with seems like a good idea. Even if you might have a niggling doubt somewhere, you squash it. But that can be a deadly mistake, because if the team bombs, you're going to be one of the casualties. To avoid such a scenario, always have someone -- a mentor or senior manager -- within the company that is aware of what you're doing. You can update this person through e-mails or phone calls about your contributions. That way, if things go terribly wrong, you may be able to save your own skin because someone understands you have value.

5. Focus on PR. When working on a team, always make sure you're looking at the public relations angle. Say positive things to others about team members while you're promoting your own accomplishments. By doing this, you're much more likely to get them to say equally positive things about you. This is critical in case a key role comes up either on your team or within the company. Lobbying for that job will be much easier if you've already started your PR campaign.

What are some other suggestions to promote yourself in a team environment?

Lijit Search

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

When "What Do You Do?" Makes You Want to Punch Something

"So, what do you do?"

While this seems like a fairly harmless question, if you're unemployed, it can have the impact of a freight train.

"Well, right now," you respond, "I'm laid off."


(Sound of crickets chirping.)

It's tough to lose a job. Your work has probably been a big part of who you are and may even color how you see the world. When you don't have that any more, you may begin to question where you fit in. You're confused, angry and depressed. You may begin to withdraw into yourself at the very time you need to be out there at every opportunity.

You don't want people giving you those pitying looks, those guilty glances that you're unemployed and they're not. You're sick to death of people asking you "what you do" and have begun to reply with some rather, er, forthright answers.

"Well, I sit home all day sending out resumes to evil trolls who won't even return a phone call, and then I watch Ellen and Oprah, to make sure I'm up on all the celebrity news before settling in to surf the Internet for endless hours while eating an entire bag of out-of-date Cheetos I bought at the dollar store. And you?"

OK. It's time to get a handle on how to interact with people now that your circumstances have changed. No one expects you to wear a big "J" (for jobless) on your forehead, so stop expecting it of yourself . Remember: Even without a job, you're still you. You're still valuable. You're still worth getting to know.

It's time to:

1. Gird your loins. People can't help but ask "What do you do?" when meeting for the first time. It's human nature, so get used to it. But you don't have to be snarky, or pitiful or embarrassed. They're also going to ask you how your job search is going once they know you're looking for work. Be honest, be positive and be confident. Remember: Most jobs are still achieved through personal contacts. The guy at the cocktail party or the woman you meet at your son's pre-school may be just the key person you need to know to get an interview or promising lead on a job.

2. Seize the day. When you tell someone you just got laid off, an awkward silence can follow. Once you make the statement, someone will feel compelled to say, "Oh, sorry," and then the pity party starts. Jump in before that happens and say something instead like: "I'm a financial adviser but unfortunately just got laid off because of deteriorating market conditions. I'm taking the time to think about what I want to do next. What is it you do?" The key here is that you show you've got talents and you're carefully deciding what to do with them -- and the person is immediately reassured you're not going to start bawling into your martini.

3. Keep your antenna up. When you're depressed and angry, you're not really thinking straight. You're more focused on your emotions rather than on information that might be helpful. So, once you've got your story down pat about your circumstances, then turn the focus back on the other person. Find out not only what they do, but how they do it. There might just be a nugget of information that you can use to help you find a job or land a useful contact. Being seen as professional and able to handle adversity with aplomb will make a lasting impression on those you meet -- and that can also be very helpful to your job search.

4. Get people talking. It's ridiculous in these tough times to try and hide the fact you're unemployed and looking for work. Tell everyone. Network like crazy: "I'm looking for work and I'd like to send you my resume and give you my contact information, and please feel free to forward it to anyone you think might be interested." Give a brief rundown of your top skills, some "highlights" they can use to promote you to others.

5. Send yourself to "me" school. Instead of visiting gossip sites and playing games online all day, figure out what skills you'd like to improve. Teach yourself more about building a website, or start a blog that shows off your skills. Volunteer at a charity that can teach you about community outreach and help you network with others. Check out books at the library that teach you how to be better organized, how to give a better presentation or how to improve your writing skills. These are all positive steps that will not only help you feel better about yourself, but help you when that job does come along.

What are some other coping strategies when you're unemployed?

Lijit Search

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Is Your Knuckle-Cracking Killing Your Job Chances?

I've spent a lot of time lately interviewing people who no longer have jobs. One thing I hear over and over is that they really need to feel they're doing something positive every day. Whether it's writing a blog, teaching themselves a new skill, or making phone calls to network with former colleagues, they manage to keep their sanity by keeping busy and not giving in to panic or despair.

I'm impressed by how many of them want to turn this time in their lives into a self-improvement exercise, focusing on ways they can make themselves more appealing to employers.

As part of that effort, I want to focus on an issue that will not only help the unemployed present themselves to potential employers in a better light, but also aid them once they get a job.

The first thing needed is a video camera. The second is Jay Leno. (If Jay Leno isn't available, a friend or family member will do.)

If you're game for this exercise, the first thing you do is put on clothes that you would wear to an important interview. This gives you a chance to make sure your clothes are not only appropriate and look professional, but comfortable enough you're able to think of more than how you're about to choke in a too-tight collar.

Ask your friend to come up with a list of standard interview questions, but make sure you tell them to add some "zingers" to catch you unprepared. ("Is this your photo on Facebook where you appear to be using a beer bong?")

Now, begin your "interview" with the camera pointed directly at you. The interview should be at least 15 minutes long, with your entire body visible to the camera.

When you're done, get a paper and pen and review your video. Mark down any mannerism you do more than one time, such as fiddling with your hair, clicking a pen, licking your lips, slouching, picking at your face, biting your nails, chewing your lips, playing with your clothing, cracking your knuckles, jiggling your legs, crossing your arms or avoiding eye contact.

Next, listen to your voice. Try and determine if you're talking too loudly or softly, and whether you're easily understood. Do you interrupt the interviewer, use profanity or use "slang" words? Do you say "like" or "you know" too much? (This is a big pet peeve of many interviewers, as in "I, like, was head of my department. I, like, you know, did most of the work.")

If you're not sure what may constitute a bad or annoying habit, consider the things other people may have pointed out to you in the past. For example, if you've ever been told you talk too softly, then you need to work at projecting your voice. Or, if you've ever been told you have poor grammar, dress like a slob, have an annoying habit of jingling change in your pocket, then you've got a place to start looking for improvement.

Further, you can always ask someone who doesn't know you well to review your video, perhaps a neighbor or someone you respect from your industry. Do they notice any habits that are distracting? (Don't put them on the spot by asking for "bad" habits -- they may not want to hurt your feelings.)

You may think that you speak just fine, that you don't have any mannerisms that need correcting. But in this tough job market, you want to stand out because of your qualifications, not because you're the woman who kept flipping her hair over her shoulder or the guy who couldn't stop fiddling with his tie.

It's important to build rapport quickly with an interviewer because you're given only a limited amount of time. While our family members may think it's endearing that we say "for intensive purposes" instead of "for all intents and purposes," an interviewer or business contact is just going to think you're not too bright. Or, while a friend is willing to overlook your habit of constantly petting your beard as if it's a beloved pet, it is just distracting and annoying to people who don't know you well.

No one is perfect. Everyone has bad habits, personal tics and mannerisms that are unique to them. I'm not suggesting you become a robot with no personality. What I am saying is that anything that gets in the way of establishing a better rapport with an interviewer is something that you can improve -- and that's a habit that will serve you well in your career.

What are some ways we can break bad habits that may adversely impact rapport with others?

Lijit Search

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