Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Working Life: Changing Jobs Within Your Organization

The Working Life: Changing Jobs Within Your Organization Do you feel like it’s time to move up or across the corporate ladder? Have you ever thought of advancing or changing careers within your company? What if you are a manager and you want to hire an employee from a different department? There is a right way and a wrong way to change jobs and hire employees internally. The right way can lead to fulfilling and empowering career and company growth, while the wrong way can lead to career disaster. But, armed with a little knowledge, intra-company transitions can be effective and profitable. Everybody can win as long as everyone understands the pros, cons and how-to’s of moving up and around within an organization. Let’s start with the employee.

For The Employee Getting ready to make the move
Even before you make the move to apply for that new job, you should lay some groundwork that establishes yourself as a valuable employee, someone your company would want to keep. If you are interested in moving across or up the corporate ladder be willing to take on new challenges.

Go ahead and volunteer for extra responsibility. Volunteering for and taking on special assignments and extra responsibility is a fantastic way to move ahead. It not only demonstrates you are a go-getter, but it also allows you to develop working relationships with new colleagues which, in turn, helps expand your network and showcase your talents.

Having a mentor is another valuable tool. Mentors can really help you learn how to be successful in your organization. They can serve as a sounding board, an advisor, a coach, and a champion for your career. Last, make an effort to build a strong internal network at your organization. Building solid relationships throughout the company will help you stay on the forefront of opportunities. Having a great reputation with everybody is the best marketing tool you can create for yourself.

Take a look around

Next, determine the protocol within your organization. You’ve got to understand how this sort of thing is done at your company, and most large organizations have policies and procedures in place for upward and lateral moves. Large organizations often post open positions in-house and through the Internet. Your HR department can also be a good source of information. Small organizations rely much more on personal relationships and networks, so it may be fine to ask around (and this is where good workplace relationships come into play). You should also be having regular conversations with your boss regarding your career trajectory so that when opportunities arise, both of you will both be ready.

If you become aware of an opportunity in your organization that interests you, then you have to be proactive about it. As with any job, you need to do a little prep work before applying. Talk to people about the job and the team. Determine if it is a good fit for you and if you are qualified. Even if you aren’t qualified, sometimes just applying for a different position sends a strong message that you are ready for a new challenge.

If you decide to proceed, consider discussing this with your boss. Chances are he/she will find out about it so you want to make sure your action is “spun” right. You want to make sure your manager will support your pursuit of another position. If you aren’t sure your immediate boss will support your move, then you may have to rely on the support of someone else within that organization. This is where it really pays to have a solid mentoring relationship with your boss AND a strong network of professional colleagues within the company. This is also a great reason to always have an internal mentor at your workplace who is not your boss.

Not all bosses are alike. If you are a good employee your boss may not be enthused by your desire to move on. Some bosses really take pride in their ability to develop and grow people. Some don’t. It doesn’t make them bad people; it just means they are more invested in creating strong results for their department. So if you really think your boss wouldn’t be supportive, it is important to find another mentor, advisor or champion within the organization. Here are some tips for finding one:
  • Look around. Who do you respect? With whom do you have good rapport? Who has successfully moved around within the organization?
  • Find a few people and meet informally with them.
  • Just be careful you don’t appear to be “going behind your boss’ back. In other words, don’t have coffee with your boss’ best friend.
  • If your boss does find out be honest. Let him/her know that you are just exploring.
How soon can I move around? This depends on several factors: where you are in your career and what type of company you work for. Some organizations move people around quite liberally. But I would say try to not to move jobs sooner than a year. And I say this for several reasons:
  • One, you don’t want to seem like a flaky employee. It takes time to get employees up and running so if you change too often employers are going to see you as a risky candidate.
  • Two, organizations are social networks. If you transition too often, it will confuse your colleagues and people won’t really understand what your expertise is or where your loyalties lie.
  • And three, it is important to really take the time to figure out what is a good fit for you. If you are constantly moving, then I’m guessing you haven’t really been able to accurately assess yourself and the situation in order to make appropriate decisions.
Now the caveat to this is when you are being recruited and promoted on a steady and consistent basis. In other words, if you are the rising star who is constantly being asked to step up then there will be less stigma. There is a danger to being a rising star, however, and that is that people may start to resent you, especially if you don’t stay in any one position long enough to really show results. In this case people may start to make up stories about you and your sudden rise to success.

II. For The Employer: The etiquette of poaching
Let’s turn the tables a little and talk about recruiting employees from within the organization to leave their current position and work for you. Let’s say you are a supervisor with a vacancy in your department and you have your eye on a possible candidate who has not applied for the position. Is it appropriate to approach this person? Is it OK to poach?

This is really a question of tact and finesse. The answer again depends largely on the culture of the organization and your relationship with the coveted employee and his/her supervisor. There is a fine line between actively recruiting people and letting people know about interesting opportunities. You want to make sure you are someone who can spot and attract good talent, but you don’t want to be known as a shameless poacher. Generally speaking, here is how to do it:
  • Seek out the employee. Tell him/her about the position and why you think they would be a good fit. Find out if this might be a position that would fit into their career plans. Let them know that you are a fan of their work and would love to talk to them about their career plans.
  • Invite them to apply. You can simply say something like, “I think you would be great addition to my team and I’d love for you to apply.”
The pros and cons of promoting from within As an employer, there are advantages and disadvantages of promoting an existing employee. The advantages are that existing employees know and understand the organizational culture and the business models utilized by the organization. They understand who all the players are and how to get things accomplished within the business. Existing employees have proven track records and a proven commitment to the organization. Another big advantage is that it helps organizational morale. People like to know that there are opportunities for advancement, so it sends a strong positive message throughout the company.

The disadvantages, however, must be considered. Sometimes, a position really needs a new set of perspectives and ideas. Existing employees often will reinforce the status quo. A person’s internal reputation can also be a disadvantage if their reputation is at all tarnished or questionable.

However, the biggest disadvantage is when people are promoted into managerial jobs based on technical skills. In other words, being a great sales or technical person does not necessarily mean that person will be a great manager. Those positions require very different skill sets. This is one of the biggest problems in organizations today -- organizations don’t spend enough time developing the skills necessary to move from being a great technical or sales person to a great manager. They are very different jobs with very different skills.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

The Working Life: First Job Blues

The Working Life: Combating Those First Job Blues

Your first job. How exciting! How nerve wracking. How disappointing. Your first job out of college or grad school can be all of those. Many people head into new jobs only to find that they aren’t too thrilled with the reality of their career. They often run into what I call the first job blues, and it’s very common. Luckily, the blues can be cured with a little insight, a little attitude adjustment and some very concrete tips.

What are first job blues?
First job blues usually pop up two to three months after first-time job holders start working. First job blues can have many symptoms, including feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration; feeling tired, having low energy or feeling a low level depression. Work may feel unfulfilling or pointless and you may start to question your choices and your future. Many start to wonder, “Is this what I went to college for?

First job blues are similar to new job blues, where people may feel similarly dissatisfied after starting a new job. New job blues are when a new job initially doesn’t seem to be a good fit. You’ve been in the working world a while, but those feelings of dissatisfaction creep in after you’ve switched jobs. New job blues are often temporary, as you just need time to adjust to your new workplace culture and position.

Workplace blues aren’t new. People have always felt dissatisfied with their working life. What is different now is that we have far greater expectations that work should be meaningful and fulfilling. This is a relatively new career standard. A generation ago, people worked to provide food, shelter, security, etc. Being fulfilled by work wasn’t part of the equation. That, however, has changed, as people (especially young people just entering the workforce) expect their jobs to be meaningful and fulfilling. Young people today are surrounded by cultural images of exciting and rewarding careers. Expectations are very high.

Additionally, young people today have extraordinary pressures on them to compete, get great test scores, have all the right accomplishments, get into good schools, graduate with good grades, and get a “good job.” Then they get the job and BAM! They are unprepared for real work, the often banal “humdrummery” of day-to-day office life.

The cause of the blues
There are four major causes of first job blues: transition, poor job/career fit, poor company fit and misaligned expectations and attitudes. The transition from college to working life is a doozy, and presents the first hurdle. Even when the change is a positive and exciting one, like getting a great job, the transition can be tough. But the transition from college life, where you basically called the shots and were your own boss, to working life, when you are working for someone for pay, presents an enormous challenge.

First of all, the environment is radically different and may appear stagnant, cumbersome and downright annoying. There are also very real physical and psychological adjustments. For example, you are no longer in charge of your own schedule. You have to be at a certain place at a certain time, and many recent grads struggle with not having control over their schedules. Many feel physically exhausted from a 9 to 5 day. Just sitting behind a desk all day is a huge adjustment for many young people.

The second cause of the blues, poor job or career fit, is equally difficult. Your job or career field may have sounded good on paper, but the reality may turn out to be quite different. This happened to me in my first job. I always wanted to be a PR person. I thought PR sounded fun and sexy and my very first job was in that field. Turns out, PR is all about selling and I hated sales. It was not a good fit.

The third cause, poor company fit, crops up when the field or job may be right for you, but the company ethos fits poorly. Organizations, like people, have distinct personalities and cultures. You may love your job or profession but you may not like the organizational environment or personality of your company. It may not be a good fit.

The fourth cause of the blues is one of the most common -- misaligned expectations and attitudes. Entry-level drudgery can be a real downer. It isn’t just that the transition to real work is difficult, it’s that you may have had expectations of writing ad copy or editing manuscripts, when in fact you are making copies and getting coffee. Young people today are used to fast results, instant gratification and lots of attention. They are not so used to the entry-level tasks that everyone must perform before they move ahead.

This is a real problem for many young people, and is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. Many people expect too much too soon and don’t realize the incredible importance of entry-level work. They think their degree is their golden ticket, when in reality the golden ticket is hard work, starting right at the bottom.

How to beat the blues
You can beat the blues easily and I am going to tell you how. But first I will tell you what NOT to do:
  • Do not disconnect from potential mentors or advisors.
  • Do not assume the problem is the job and not you, or vice versa; in fact, do not assume anything
  • Do not quit and run off to grad school
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help from inside or outside your organization
That said, here is what you can do to beat the blues. The first step is to determine the cause.

You have to be very honest with yourself and ask tough questions. Try to isolate factors. Is it the transition? Are you just tired and out of sorts from working set hours? Is it the job? The company? Were your expectations too high? Do you like what you do? Look up the company ladder and around the office. Do you like what you see? Do you like what the company does? Would you like to do what other people in your organization are doing?

Once you have asked and answered the tough questions, find a mentor in your profession or company. Ask them if they went through this. You may be experiencing very normal transitional hiccups. Really understand what the transition process is all about, that you are going to feel shockwaves for some time about a new schedule. It’s no small feat to become accustomed to entry-level humdrummery. Try to establish relationships at the workplace. Get to know the job better and the company better. Rule things out so you can get to the heart of the blues. And take a good look at your expectations and work ethic.

Now, if you determine that you like the industry or profession, but don’t like the entry-level drudgery or dues paying, you have to suck it up. You will not get ahead until you have worked in that field. You’ve got to lose the green and gain experience. Similarly, if you like the profession or industry but do not like the company, you also have to suck it up until you have enough experience and have paid enough dues so that you can add that entry-level job to your resume. The more experience you have, even just a few months to a year, the more marketable you will be. It doesn’t look good on a resume to quit after four weeks.

Conversely, if you determine that you like the company but not the job then start networking within that organization. If they liked you well enough to hire you, there is a good chance they will help you find a more appropriate home in the organization.

Meet people. Explore other opportunities. Get informational interviews with people in other areas. Volunteer to work on other projects in areas you think would make you happier. Network, network, network.

Last, if you hate the job, the profession and the company, then you will have to do some real soul searching to determine what you want to do. Hiring a career coach can be very helpful. A career coach can help you determine and define your interests, skills and talents. They will help you create a game plan for pursuing and accomplishing your goals and they will support you through this process by giving you honest feedback and advice. If you are really at a loss, a career coach can help. You can find a coach through your college career office, on the Internet or by contacting me.

What companies can do to keep the blues at bay
Organizations have to realize that their new recruits are going to go through some tough times, no matter the cause. And there is a lot they can do to soften the blow. First, they should try to provide young recruits with meaningful work. Traditional entry-level tasks like copying have to be balanced out with more meaningful work, or new employees will be demoralized. Companies can provide opportunities for young people to work on projects with older employees. Even if their duties will be small, at least they will feel a sense of connectedness and worth. They’ll be a part of the bigger picture.

Organizations can help their young employees find the right fit by letting them do departmental rotations. This allows young folks to spend several months in different departments until they find the right place.

Last, organizations should check in with their new hires after a month or so. They should make it a point to offer mentors and to introduce young recruits to other workers who are a few years older who can help them see the “light at the end of the tunnel.”

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Workplace Mentoring

The Working Life: The Importance of Mentoring

Most successful adults can identify a person who had a significant and positive impact on them. Whether it was a teacher, a coach, a boss, a scoutmaster or a parent, chances are that someone, somewhere along the line acted as a mentor to you.

Today, more and more businesses are embracing the concept of mentoring as a professional development tool. Through mentoring, organizations are seeing dramatic improvements in efficiency, productivity and, of course, the passing of institutional knowledge and leadership skills from one generation to the next.

Mentoring is one of the oldest forms of influence and knowledge sharing. It started with the Ancient Greeks; Mentor was Odysseus’ trusted counselor and advisor. Mentoring is when one individual actively and willingly passes his/or knowledge and wisdom onto another person. A mentor is an individual—usually older, but always more experienced--who helps and guides another individual’s development. This guidance is done without the expectation of personal or monetary gain on the mentor’s part. Mentors can be friends, relatives, co-workers, teachers, supervisors, etc. There is no official title.

Mentoring vs. Coaching
Because both mentoring and coaching have become popular tools in the field of employee development, the two are often confused. While both utilize many of the same skills, being a mentor implies some specific organizational or industry knowledge that helps guide the protégé’s career. Coaching, on the other hand, is more about bringing an objective process to help someone articulate and achieve his goals.

In general, to be a coach, one does not need particular organizational or industry expertise and, in fact, most coaching is more about personal perspective and personal impact than specialized knowledge. Coaches are process experts. Mentors are task experts. Coaching is about skill development. Mentoring is about skill development AND specialized knowledge transfer. When done correctly, it’s a powerful double whammy.

Why mentoring is important
Mentoring is a tool that organizations can use to nurture and grow their people, and it’s gaining in popularity. As organizations strive to retain hard earned experience and wisdom, they are turning to mentoring programs as a form of interpersonal knowledge management. Protégés observe, question and explore, while mentors demonstrate, explain and model.

I know that coaching is big thing in organizations today. While coaching can definitely help individuals become better leaders and managers, it doesn’t really tap into the collective wisdom of people who have succeeded inside specific organizations or industries. Mentoring, on the other hand, can help employees navigate organizational culture, solve problems and advance their careers. Mentoring is a great way to make sure the talent pipeline is filled with people ready to manage and lead.

Additionally, organizations are using mentoring as a way to retain and recruit talent. As the latest generation, the Millennials, hit the workforce in huge numbers, mentoring has become a key tool for both recruiting and retention.

What makes a good mentor?

A good mentor needs to be more than just a successful individual. A good mentor must also have the disposition and desire to develop other people. Great mentors must be able to both “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.”

Being a good mentor requires more than just experience. It requires a willingness to reflect and share on one’s own experiences, including one’s failures. Great mentors are often those who are constantly trying to learn themselves. Essential qualities for an effective mentor include:

  • A desire to develop and help others. A good mentor has to be sincerely interested in helping someone else without any “official” reward. Good mentors do it because they genuinely want to see someone else succeed.
  • Commitment, time and energy to devote to the mentoring relationship.
  • Current and relevant knowledge, expertise, and/or skills.
  • A willingness to share failures and personal experiences. Mentors need to share both their "how to do it right" and their "how I did it wrong" stories. Both experiences provide valuable opportunities for learning.
  • A learning attitude. The best teachers have always been and always will be those who remain curious about learning. Because a mentor is more like a teacher than a coach, this becomes an important characteristic in a mentor. Would you rather be advised by someone whose mind is shut (because he knows all) or by someone whose mind is open because he is always looking to deepen his knowledge?
  • A skill in developing others. This includes the very real skills of listening, asking powerful questions and being able to tell stories, which includes personal anecdotes, case examples and honest insight.

What makes a good protégée?
Just as there are specific characteristics of a successful mentor, there are attributes for a good protégé. And this is important, because protégée’s must remember that mentors are doing this from the goodness of their heart, so being a good protégée is the best way to ensure the relationship enjoys a healthy purposeful existence.
Protégée’s need to be:
  • Committed to expanding their capabilities and focused on achieving professional results.
  • Willing to ask for help.
  • Open and receptive to learning and trying new ideas.
  • Able to accept feedback—even constructive criticism—and act upon it.
  • Willing to experiment and apply what they learn back on the job.
  • Able to communicate and work cooperatively with others.
  • Be personally responsible and accountable.
  • Ready, willing and able to meet on a regular basis.

How to make it a success
Mentoring is a joint venture. Successful mentoring requires that both parties share responsibility for learning and sustaining the relationship.
Successful mentoring begins with initiating the relationship, and then, to steal a coaching term, “designing the alliance.” This means all parties need to be clear about what this relationship is going to look like and how it will be managed. Mentor and protégée should discuss things like:
  • Contact and response times
  • Meetings
  • Confidentiality
  • Focus
  • Feedback
  • Goals and accountability
Very often, in a formal mentoring relationship, your mentor may not be your supervisor or even in the same chain of command. But this doesn’t have to pose a conflict, as long as it is clear what the difference is. The manager's role in employee development is always paramount and should not be replaced or modified by an employee's participation in a mentoring program. Mentoring is an additional and supplemental development tool for organizations, while a managers’ essential role is to support the professional learning process while also monitoring an employee’s performance.

Managers fulfill a stewardship role in terms of day-to-day direct authority and capacity building, while mentors provide a broader and longer view that creates a path to the future. Strong managers, however, will take an active interest in the mentoring process through endorsing experimentation in a way that applauds new approaches and permits the possibility of mistakes. Good managers will also support and design learning assignments in partnership with the mentor and protégé.

If enrolled in a formal mentoring relationship, it is always a good idea to respect the differences between a supervisor and a mentor and to openly discuss potential pitfalls.

How to find a mentor
There are lots of ways to find a mentor. Check with your company first; they may have a program or an organization in mind. You can also check out professional trade associations and groups like SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives.

The best place to look for a mentor, however, is right in front of you. Look around your workplace or your industry. Who do you admire and respect? Who has always impressed you with their insight and perceptiveness? And finally, who do you feel drawn to?

Consider your boss. Or your boss’s boss. Consider executives in other divisions. Consider older individuals who may not be top executives but who have tons of experience. Approach that individual and ask if they would consider being your mentor. Let them know why you selected them and what you hope to learn from them. It is really key to align your goals with their expertise and experience. Be prepared to talk about what the relationship might look like and how much time might be involved. There is a big difference between meeting someone for lunch on a quarterly basis versus a weekly phone call. Be clear what you want out of the mentoring process and structure your relationship accordingly.

Don't put it off. What can you lose? Even if they decline to be your mentor, and few will, they will be flattered that you asked.

How companies can start a mentoring program
Finally, if you or your company is interested in instituting a formal mentoring program, it is important to, yes, find a mentor for the process. Research other programs, talk to other executives and find the one that fits your company.

When you have your program in place, remember to be flexible and inclusive when matching the mentor and protégée. The right mentor may not always be the first person you think of. It is also important to ensure that participants really want to do this! It can’t be a “box” they check off; they have to have a genuine interest (and the aforementioned skill set) to participate.

You should also provide some skill building and structure, especially in the introductory phase. And be prepared to support the program with best practices. Finally, don’t forget to evaluate the program and incorporate the feedback. You want the program to be successful and worthwhile, so it needs to be given careful time and attention.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Working Life: The Danger of Workplace Gossip

The Danger of Workplace Gossip

It seems so harmless. The little chitchat at the water cooler about so and so. The debate over someone’s relationship with someone else. The speculation about so and so. Is it chitchat or is it gossip? How can you tell the difference? And who cares?
There is a very big difference, and it is an important one, because gossip run amok can be dangerous and destructive in a workplace. First, while light conversation can be value neutral, gossip is often negative, inflammatory and embarrassing to the person being spoken of. So how does one tell the difference between idle chatter or gossip? Here is a test: Consider the impact of what is being said. Does it cast negative aspersions? Does it create rifts? Does it exult in the misfortune of others? Does it have a negative emotional charge? Does it serve to perpetuate conflict or negativity? Is it hurtful or damaging? Is it something you would say in front of that person?

Technically, any sharing of trivial or unsubstantiated information can be considered gossip. But you have to consider the sentiment. For example, if it were rumored that a co-worker is being promoted, and you discuss it with a co-worker, is that gossip? If the discussion is hurtful or damaging or negative, then yes, it is gossip. But if it’s value neutral then it’s not. If the story is told with negativity and without good will, then it is gossip.

Why gossip hurts
Gossip can have many adverse side effects on an organization. It can increase conflict and decrease morale. It results in strained relationships. Gossip breaks down the trust level within the group, which results in employees second-guessing each other and ultimately running to the supervisor to clarify the directions or instructions, or to settle the differences that will arise. Gossip is the death of teamwork as the group breaks up into cliques and employees start refusing to work with others.
Gossip results in the supervisor spending an enormous amount of time trying to figure out who said what to whom. Or, worse yet, the supervisor struggles to explain to the manager that the on-going conflicts and communication problems within the workgroup are the reason work doesn't get done only to hear the manager comment, "Why can't you manage your team better?" Productivity is lost, as are good employees who do not want to work in that toxic environment.

Breaking the gossip cycle
Let’s say you are not a gossiper. You simply listen to your co-workers so as not be rude. You’ve been taught to be a team player right? But here’s the thing that most people don’t realize—as a listener, you are a co-narrator to the gossip. In other words, the act of active listening actually supports and promotes gossiping. The more you listen, the more you encourage it. If you don’t listen, the gossip has nowhere to do. Think about the last time you told a story to someone who was clearly not interested. The story probably withered on the vine.
Here’s how to get out of the gossip pipeline:
  1. Be busy. Gossipmongers want attention. If you're preoccupied with your work, you can't be available to listen to their latest story.
  2. Don’t participate. Walk away from the story. Don’t give visual clues that you are interested in listening. If someone passes a juicy story on to you, don't pass it any further. Take personal responsibility to act with integrity.
  3. Turn it around by saying something positive. It isn't nearly as much fun to spread negative news if it's spoiled by a complimentary phrase about the person being attacked
  4. Avoid the gossiper. If you notice one person who consistently makes trouble, take the necessary actions to have as little interaction with that person as possible. Avoid him/her.
  5. Keep your private life private. Don't trust personal information with coworkers. Remember, if they are gossiping about others, they will gossip about you, too. Don't give them ammunition.
  6. Choose your friends wisely at work. You spend a good deal of time at work so it's natural for friendships to develop. Share information sparingly until you are sure that you have built up a level of trust. Also, close association with gossipers will give the perception that you are a gossiper.
  7. Be direct. If you confront the gossiper and confidently tell him or her that such behavior is making it uncomfortable for you and other coworkers, it's likely to stop.
  8. Don't be afraid to go to a superior. Gossiping wastes a lot of company time and hurts morale. A company interested in a healthy work environment will value the opportunity to correct this type of situation.

If you are the target of gossip you have two choices. You can confront the source or make a public statement. Thankfully, gossip has a very short life span. Sometimes, the best thing to do is let it run its (hopefully) short course. Creating a stink sometimes causes more drama than just letting it go.

What the employer can do
Gossip is as old as mankind. It is unrealistic to think we could free the workplace of gossip. It’s also conducted through the free will of employees, and regulating that is very difficult without creating a big brother climate. That being said, there are some things that employers can do to minimize negative gossiping and rumormonger:
  1. Communicate regularly and consistently with employees about what's going on in the workplace. Regular communication minimizes the influence and need for gossip, because everyone is "in-the-know." If employees don't have good information from the supervisor about what is going on, they will make it up in the form of speculation and gossip. Consistent and authentic communication will work wonders in stopping the gossip.
  2. Discourage gossip in official company policy. Include a section that deals with gossip in the company handbook. Convey to your employees that such talk is injurious to morale and productivity and will not be tolerated. Ask them not to participate and not to tolerate it from others.
  3. Nip it in the bud. If an employee comes to you complaining of gossip, or if you know an employee to be a gossip, be proactive. Tell the offender that you are aware of his behavior. Describe how his behavior results in others not trusting them. For some, this single statement will be a realization that will result in immediate change. Furthermore, incorporate the impact the gossiping employee's behavior has had on the workplace in his/her performance evaluations. This should be incentive to stop the behavior.
  4. Incorporate employee driven group discussions and expectations about gossiping. This gives permission to coworkers to hold each other mutually accountable for having a "gossip-free" workplace.
  5. As a supervisor or manager—do not engage in gossip yourself. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Successful Transitions 3: College Graduate to Working Professional

Part 3: Achieving Workplace Success 101

The Radio Show Recap...

In our third segment of Successful Transitions, O’Keyla Smith and I discussed the essential skills young people need to acquire in order to find success in the workplace. The workplace can be a strange new world for many of young adults and learning the ropes early on can really help accelerate career advancement.

O’Keyla’s Question: Let’s talk about success. How is success in school different than success at work?

Achieving success at work is VERY different than achieving success at school! School may give you knowledge—but it doesn’t teach you the process of accomplishing work effectively in the “real world.” The culture, environment, value system, and framework of the working world is almost completely opposite than those of the school world. Many young people don’t fully appreciate the enormity of this paradigm shift. Remember, most college grads have spent 16 of their 22 years learning to succeed in a school system—so it is only natural that some young people have trouble adjusting—and may even resist the new environmental “rules.” Rethinking your approach to success after 16 years can be very difficult!

Just to give you and idea of the radical differences—let me outline a few of the areas that often trip young people up:

Performance Level: At school you get to choose your performance level—do you wan to work to be an A student, or are you happy being a C student? At work, you don’t get to choose—stellar performance is always expected.

Customer or Service Provider: At school, you are the customer. The school is there to serve you. At work, you are the service provider. You are there to serve and create results for the organization.

Personal Control: At school, you have enormous personal control over your time, schedule and choices. At work, you have very little personal control.

Relationship to Authority: In actuality, school has very little true authority over you. In fact, you are often rewarded for “disagreeing” with your professors or administration. This is not the case in most workplaces. Authority at work is much more rigid and established—with very little wiggle room if you don’t like what authority is saying or doing.

Decision Making: At school you make most of your own decisions. Additionally, many members of this new generation were actively involved in family decisions. At work, most new recruits are not involved in the company’s decision making process. And this feels very unfair to many young people.

Growth Timeline: At school you are given an explicit and specific rubric for success. You are told exactly what you need to do, when you need to do it and often how you need to do it in order to succeed. You know that if you accomplish your work within that rubric you will advance and succeed in a laid out timeline. Work couldn’t be more different! There is no such rubric for success at work. Very few organizations can (or will) lay out a bullet-proof schedule for advancement and promotion.

Meritocracy versus Social System: School, by and large, is a meritocracy. This means individuals who do well get rewarded—mainly for individual accomplishments. With the exception of the occasional group project—school rewards on individual accomplishment and merit. The workplace is quite the opposite. The workplace is a social system. This means that although individual effort is important, it is not the only factor—or even the most compelling factor—in succeeding. To succeed at work, you must learn how to work with, through, and sometimes around other people. Underestimating the power of the social conditions—and I’m talking organizational culture and politics—can be a serious success derailer.

O’Keyla’s Question: What do successful people at work do better than unsuccessful people?

Successful people know how to play the game. They understand how to get results through working with others. They know how to access their skills and talents and apply them effectively in a working environment. Essentially, they know who they are, they know how to work with others and they understand the nature of organizational life.

O’Keyla’s Question: What are the essential skills a young person needs to be successful in the workplace?

To put it broadly, young people need to focus on developing three “Success Intelligences” in the following three areas:
  1. Individual Intelligence: Developing and managing self
  2. Interpersonal Intelligence: Developing and managing collaborative relationships
  3. Organizational Intelligence: Developing organizational savvy
It really takes all three to succeed. Developing these success intelligence begins with becoming self and environmentally aware.

O’Keyla’s Question: Lets talk about Individual Intelligence. Can you provide some examples?

Individual Intelligence is about developing and managing self and attitude—this means knowing who you are and how your behaviors and actions impact those around you. I’m not talking here about hard or technical skills, I’m talking about intra-personal awareness—developing attitudes, behaviors and actions that are workplace effective and appropriate. For young people, the three biggest areas in which to concentrate are:
  1. Attitudes: your attitudes and expectations must be aligned to the realities of a business environment.
  2. Image: Young adults much develop and maintain a professional image at all times.
  3. Impact: It is critical for young adults to understand the difference between intent and impact. Understanding and appreciating how your behaviors, actions, and attitudes impact other people is critical to achieving success. People don’t get promoted on intentions—they get promoted on impact.

O’Keyla’s Question: What mistakes do you see young people make most often around individual skills and how can they correct them?

I see three big mistakes in this area:

The first one is attitude. This is employer’s number 1 complaint about young people in the workplace today. Young people often come into today’s workplace with attitudes and expectations that are wildly misaligned to reality. This generation has a bad rap for having an attitude of entitlement. Employers complain that they come into the workplace expecting way too much way too soon.

The second big mistake I see, which goes along with the first one, is that young people today have a hard time appreciating the value of “menial” labor. They don’t understand the importance of learning from the bottom up and they feel that grunt work is beneath them. The phrase “I didn’t go to college to make copies,” needs to be banned from their vocabulary. Menial tasks are a test—no one is going to trust you with a big project until they see how you perform with a small project. Stop resisting—do menial tasks with integrity and enthusiasm and soon you will be entrusted with more responsibility.

Finally, the last mistake I see most often, is that young adults continue acting and speaking like a college student far too long. In order to succeed in a professional setting—you need to behave like a professional. People need to see you as a professional.

O’Keyla’s Question: Lets move onto Interpersonal Intelligence. What are the key elements here? Is this just about getting along with others or is it something more?

Organizations are social networks so it is more than getting along with people—you have to achieve and produce results by working with, through, and sometimes around other people. You have to learn to engage others well! This means you not only have to be good at working with others, but you also have to be someone with whom others want to work! So the key element here is learning how to build and cultivate strong working relationships and networks.

The most important working relationship for new professionals is the one they have with their boss. Your boss is the most important person you have to work with. In the beginning, they hold a tremendous amount of power and influence over your career. Don’t resist this fact—accept it. Learn how to follow!!! Here are the key elements for succeeding with your boss:
  • Do the job you were hired to do
  • Know what really matters to your boss and give it to him/her
  • Learn your boss’ work style and adapt to it
  • Make your boss look good

O’Keyla’s Question: What mistakes do you see young people make most often when dealing with other people?

I don’t think young people truly appreciate the social network aspect of work. They don’t take the time to really engage their fellow co-workers. They show up at work, listen to their i-pods, put in their 8 hours and then run back home to hang out with their friends. I would suggest, that young people put a little energy into networking and engaging with their co-workers both during work hours and after work hours. Get to know people throughout your office. Go to happy hours. Eat lunch with different people. Opportunities come through other people—the more people you know, the more opportunities will come your way.

O’Keyla’s Question: I’m curious about Organizational Intelligence. How are these skills different from the skills used at home, school or other “organizations?

This is about understanding the nature of organizational life—what makes organizations tick. Every organization has it’s own personality—or organizational culture, politics, structure, dynamics and hierarchies. Having strong Organizational Intelligence is about understanding how to navigate these dynamics. Young people need to learn and respect culture and politics—even if they don’t make sense. Getting results requires some level of adaptation—just as you wouldn’t waltz into a foreign country and flout their social norms—you need to show organizational culture the same respect. Besides, as a newbie you aren’t in a position to change culture, hierarchy or politics—so you are better off learning them and adapting to them.

O’Keyla’s Question: What mistakes do you see young people make most often when navigating organizational life?

I see lots of young people not appreciating the power structure and hierarchy that is inherent in most companies. Before jumping in to debate decisions with your boss’s boss—take some time to learn how people negotiate decisions and share power. Most companies are not democracies—you can argue with your professor—but arguing with your boss takes skill and savvy. Organizational life will be full of decisions you won’t like and enough organizational annoyances and inefficiencies to drive you crazy. It is the nature of the beast. Learn to manage your frustrations. No organization is perfect. When groups of people work together—all kinds of “stuff” gets in the way. It is what makes the world so interesting! So adapt a long term perspective when dealing with organizational annoyances.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Successful Transitions: College Graduate to Working Professional

Part 2: How to Create A Professional Persona

The Radio Show Recap...

The skills needed to succeed in the workplace are very different from the skills needed for success at school. In order to help young adults survive and thrive in the workplace we created a three-part series of radio shows focused on making a successful transition from student to professional.

In this segment of “The Working Life,” O’Keyla Smith and I discussed the importance of developing an effective professional image. How does one shed the image of a college student and adopt the image of a young successful professional? We explored some of the key elements of presenting oneself with professionalism and confidence.

O’Keyla’s Question: So lets start by defining what we mean by a “professional persona”? What goes into creating a professional persona? Is it more than just clothes?

My Thoughts: Yes, a professional persona, or image, is more than just clothing—although attire is a large part of it. A professional persona is made up of these key elements:
  • Attire & clothing: How you look
  • Body Language: How you hold and present your physical self
  • Attitude & behavior: How you think and act
  • Conversation & language: How you communicate and engage others
Young people entering the workplace need to ensure all of these elements are working together to present a professional image. The more all these elements are in alignment with the image you are trying to create, the more people will see you as a competent and talented professional.

O’Keyla’s Question: Why is a professional persona so important? We’ve all been taught not to judge a book by its cover—so isn’t talent more important?

My Thoughts: A professional persona is important because it helps create opportunity. When you are new to the workforce—nobody knows you! Nobody knows your talents. Nobody knows your skills. So in order to get opportunity--you’ve got to build trust first! In fact, your biggest goal during your first year in a new job is to develop trust so that people will give you opportunities to showcase your talents.

A large part of building trust is looking the part—looking like you are a competent professional. Until people get to know you for your accomplishments, all they have to go on is how you present yourself. Remember business is a financial venture and a social venture. This means that your co-workers success is dependent on some degree to your ability to get the job done—and vice versa. People are more likely to trust someone who looks trustworthy. And the person who looks like they belong in the game has an upper hand.

Don’t forget—opportunities are lurking behind every corner—so it is more than just proving your talents to your immediate supervisor. A strong professional persona will also help you develop a positive reputation throughout the entire company.

O’Keyla’s Question: So this goes into first impressions—how long does someone have to create a positive impression and how do they ensure that they make one?

My Thoughts: People form first impressions in three seconds! That’s right. In 3 seconds, people make up their mind about you and once that impression is formed, it is very difficult to change. A lot happens in those three seconds. They are forming judgments about your competence, your personality, and your values. They are also forming judgments on your “status.” In a business setting, they are deciding if you are potentially on the same business status, a higher status, or a lower status than they. If they deem you to be equal or higher status then it will be easier for them to accept you as a colleague and peer and you are on your way to creating a potentially useful business relationship. If you are deemed as “lower,” then they will keep you at arms length—never quite accepting you as a key player.

You decide how you want others to view you. I know, it seems unfair to “judge a book by its cover,” but the sooner you realize that this is reality—it is how people are naturally wired, the sooner you can use this reality to your advantage.

O’Keyla’s Question: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen people make?

My Thoughts: Where to start? The biggest mistakes I see (and the ones that employers complain about most often) are attitudes. Many young people in the workplace just have misaligned attitudes and expectations.

O’Keyla’s Question: So what kinds of attitudes create positive professional personae?

My Thoughts: Ahhh, great question! Young people need to exhibit attitudes that reflect service and results. In college, young adults are consumers or customers—in the workplace they are service providers, so their attitudes need to reflect that. Positive professional attitudes project a willingness to get results by working effectively with others. Here are 5 essential attitudes that will help young people succeed:
  1. Humility: In the workplace, the world no longer revolves around you. Learn to put other people’s needs ahead of your own.
  2. Respect: You must respect the experience, history, values, and traditions of the organization that you have joined. You must also display respect to your colleagues—so learn about their values and experiences. And remember, respect looks different to different people—so learn how respect is shown in your organization and adapt to those norms.
  3. Confidence (not arrogance): It is good to be confident—which means having faith in your ability to get the job done. It is wrong to be arrogant—which means you think you are better than others or that work is beneath you. Nothing is beneath a confident person. Everything is beneath an arrogant person.
  4. Interest and readiness to learn (from the bottom up): Employers want employees who are eager and ready to learn. Learning in the workplace often takes the form of doing “menial” or “mundane” tasks. Do not cop an attitude when assigned these tasks. They are more than “paying dues,” they are an integral part of work production and they are an opportunity to really learn the business. Take that opportunity!
  5. Gratitude: Learn to say thank you—sincerely and often. The simple act of thanking others will set you apart as a consummate professional. It will also help you quickly build strong professional relationships.

O’Keyla’s Question: How can body language create a professional persona? Does this mean I have to walk around acting uptight?

My Thoughts: Not unless you work for a bank! Okay, I’m kidding (kind of). Creating a professional persona through body language means: Carrying yourself confidently. Making eye contact when speaking with colleagues. Always giving a firm handshake. Making sure you sit and stand up straight. Squaring your body directly toward others when engaging—as opposed to using closed off/turned away body language. Remember, your body language has to inspire trust (business is a financial venture) and approachability (business is conducted through social networks). And don’t forget little things like smiling and saying hello to people go a long way in establishing trust and goodwill with colleagues!

O’Keyla’s Question: Lets talk about how young adults can converse and engage people more professionally. Is there a particular communication style that we should adopt? Or is it just a matter of losing the slang?

My Thoughts: To a large part it is about losing the slang. You have to stop talking and acting like a college student and start talking like a professional. This means lose words like “dude” and “like” when in the workplace. Your goal is to get others to see you as a professional—so the more that you speak like a student, the longer they will think of you as inexperienced. Even if your 40-something boss uses the word “dude,” resist the urge to do it yourself. It will come across as (at best) ironic when your boss uses it (or more likely pathetic) but when you use it, it will come across simply as immature.

Another part of conversing and engaging like a professional is learning proper workplace etiquette around phone skills and conversation skills. Learn what is appropriate conversation and what isn’t for your workplace. Understand that every time you open your mouth—you are either adding or detracting from your professional persona.

O’Keyla’s Question: We’ve all heard about “dress for success,” but I’m curious how that really works in today’s world. How should young people dress in today’s workplace?

My Thoughts: First and foremost: if you are a young person, dress better than you have to. The old adage still rings true: “Dress for the job you want not the job you have!” Exactly what you should wear depends largely on your profession and/or industry. You will want to dress appropriately for the culture of your organization and your profession. Bankers, for example, tend to be much more conservative than advertising professionals. So look around your organization—who is really successful? Who do you admire? How do they dress? What do their clothes say about them? What do you want your clothes to say about you?

A key element that young folk often forget is that you have to make it easy for other people to picture you in a better position! The more professional you dress, the easier it will be for others to imagine you in a better, more respected position—which means the easier it is for them to offer you opportunities.

O’Keyla’s Question: Any other tips for young adults just entering the workforce? What other habits or behaviors do you see that detract from a young person’s professionalism?

My Thoughts: Of course I have more tips! Here are a few more things that I think will help create a positive professional image:
  • Clean up your E-Life. Beware what you put on your blogs, social networking sites, etc. Although, your employer doesn’t “own” your personal time, you don’t want to sabotage your well-crafted professional image by displaying drunk pictures of your “walks of shame.”
  • Have virtual integrity: Your employer does actually “own” your time at work and your computer. Be careful of work time email, Internet surfing, etc. Your employer may be watching your virtual work life. Also be careful what you say about your organization on company email…
  • Learn to write—too much texting has ruined many a young person’s ability to correspond professionally.
  • Pay attention in meetings: Just because your boss checks his Blackberry during meetings doesn’t mean you can text your friends—he will come across as rude—but with some sort of legitimacy—you’ll just come across as spoiled and unprofessional.
  • Understand the Art of Being New: It takes time to build trust and acceptance. Make sure your professional image works to help get you accepted!

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Friday, August 03, 2007

Successful Transitions: College Graduate to Working Professional

Part 1: Interview Tips for College Grads

The Radio Show Recap...

Summer is here which means the Washington Metro area is crawling with recent college graduates who are making the transition from student to professional. The skills needed for success in the workplace are very different from the skills needed for success at school. In order to help young adults survive and thrive in the workplace we dedicated a few shows to learning what it takes to make a successful student to professional transition.

In this segment of “The Working Life,” O'Keyla Smith and I discussed how recent college graduates can ace a job interview and make a great impression on potential employers.

O’Keyla’s Question: Interviewing can be really scary and nerve wracking! What do young people need to understand about the interviewing process? Are employers looking for certain qualities?

My Thoughts: Yes they are! It is really important for young people to understand what employers are looking for. Employers don’t actually expect you to have a whole of technical skills or experience—they expect you to have some—but what they are really looking for are your personal and transferable skills. In other words—what kind of employee you are going to be? Employers are looking for young people with strong communication and teamwork skills. They want employees who have a readiness to learn, and who are reliable and responsible. In survey after survey, employers rate following list of skills and traits as being the most important:
• Communication & interpersonal skills
• Honesty and integrity
• Teamwork skills
• Reliable, responsible, and mature
• Strong work ethic
• Motivated and flexible
• Analytical skills
• Computer skills
• Organizational skills

In short, employers want to know who you are as a person. They want to know if you’ve got what it takes to succeed in their organization. They are prepared to teach you the technical skills—provided you can prove yourself worthy of their investment.

O’Keyla’s Question: What kind of preparation should young people do before an interview? What mistakes do you see young adults make?

My Thoughts: The mistakes I most often see young people make is not taking the time to properly research the organization before the interview. Prepping before an interview is absolutely essential to differentiating yourself. Thanks to Google and the Internet, researching the company is easy and quick. There are 4 areas you should research before an interview—and you really do need to cover all of them:

  1. The company/organization. You need to know the company’s products, services, markets, etc. Be familiar with their history, their structure, management, recent trends, growth areas, stock price, etc. What are their key business challenges? What is their culture like? What kind of people do they hire?
  2. The Job. As much as possible find out about the job itself: What are the general responsibilities? Deliverables? Reporting structure? Find out as much as you can beforehand so your questions during the interview will be smarter and more targeted.
  3. Learn about the interviewer. Find out who will be conducting your interview ahead of time. If possible, learn about his/her background and career progressions. A key element of succeeding in a job interview is building rapport with the interviewer. So it helps to find out about him/her if you can.
  4. Be up to date on the industry. At the job interview you should be able to discuss industry trends and challenges, etc. What is happening in the industry? Being able to intelligently discuss trends and challenges will truly set you apart and make you stand out.

Remember—you are more than a candidate for a job—you are a potential problem solver and contributor! So the smarter and more knowledgeable you are about the business and the company, the more you’ll impress.

O’Keyla’s Question: For people who have never been on an interview, what should they expect to happen?

My Thoughts: Expect to be judged and evaluated! Interviewing is about marketing yourself effectively to a potential employer. Here is what the interviewer wants to know:
  • Do you have what it takes to succeed in the job?
  • Will you fit in the organization?
  • Do you understand the company and its purpose/goals/challenges?
  • How do you compare to your competition?
  • Do you want the job?
So to succeed in an interview, you need to understand how your responses will be evaluated based on the above questions. Everything you say must assure the interviewer that you’ve got what it takes.

O’Keyla’s Question: Lets talk about the interview itself. Are there common questions that interviewers ask? Can you give some examples of how to answer these questions?

My Thoughts: A quick Internet search will quickly provide you with a plethora of resources that outline typical interview questions. The key here is to PRACTICE standard interview questions before going into an interview. Practice your answers out loud—you might even consider taping them to get a better sense of how you sound. Employ the “2-Minute Rule.” Meaning that it should never take you more than 2 minutes to answer any question. You’ll need to be able to answers questions about: previous jobs and experiences, skills, talents, and ambitions. Learn how to answer behavioral interview questions. Be succinct and to the point. Don’t ramble. Answer the question asked as thoughtfully and succinctly as possible.

And don’t forget to have a great answer prepared for when the interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself.” This is often the first question asked and if you answer it well, you’ll get your interview off to a great start.

O’Keyla’s Question: Let’s talk about image and dress. How do you know what to wear? How does one create a professional persona?

My Thoughts: This is a critical aspect of the interviewing process. First of all, you have to look like you belong in the game—you have to dress the part. The business world is a financial venture conducted through a social system. This means that your image has to both inspires trust and confidence and one that matches the culture or the industry or organization. Dressing for the interview is not about standing out as a unique individual—it is about appearing to belong in a particular culture—a business culture. Dress for the career you want—not for the career you are leaving. Match your dress and image to the profession or business in which you want to succeed in. Dress better than you have to. When you make an effort to look the part—you broadcast to the world that you take yourself seriously and the job seriously.

O’Keyla’s Question: What about body language? They say the 70% of communication is non-verbal. What are some of the do’s and don’ts?

My Thoughts: People form a first impression in 3 seconds. Since most of us can’t even say hello in 3 seconds, a first impression is formed largely on body language and attire. Your body language has to communicate confidence, trustworthiness, and maturity. Some simple do’s and don’ts:
• Good straight posture (both standing and sitting)
• Open body language
• Smiling
• Eye contact
• Firm handshake

• Slouch or slump
• Fidget
• Tap foot, twirl hair, touch face or other nervous tics
• Avoid eye contact/look away
• Stuff hands in pockets
• Close body language (fold arms, clench fists, etc.)

O’Keyla’s Question: What about follow-up after the interview? Is e-mail okay or does it have to be handwritten?

My Thoughts: It is very important to have a clear follow-up process. This will depend on the timing of the recruitment process. If you are one of the first to interview—then you may be looking at a longer turnaround time. During the interview, ask the interviewer (or recruiter) where they are in their interviewing/hiring process. Ask about the decision-making process and timeline. Most interviewers should be able to give you some idea about when you might expect to hear something. Let them guide you into an appropriate follow-up process. Don’t be afraid to ask! It is a completely legitimate and mature question. They will actually appreciate your taking responsibility by asking.

As for thank you notes, I’m old school. I think the handwritten note (on excellent card stock) makes you stand out. And besides, it is just classier.

O’Keyla’s Question: Any other tips?

My Thoughts: Don’t be late for the interview. If you are going to be late—you better call with a really great excuse. Being late is a pretty big hurdle to overcome—so do everything you can to ensure you arrive on time.

Be nice to everyone you meet on site—and I mean everyone. Some organizations incorporate the impressions of other employees (like the receptionist and security guard) when evaluating a candidate. Smile and say hello to all you encounter!

Also, watch your cell phone calls! Don’t talk about your interview or the company anywhere nears the interview site! You never know who is walking behind you up the steps…

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Working Life: Acing the Interview
How to make every interview experience a winner
The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Mary Abbajay gives the lowdown on how to ace interviews each and every time. By spending some time preparing properly--everyone can ace their interviews. The following article summarizes the key elements you need to know.

We all know that not every job interview, even a great one, results in getting a job offer. But sometimes a good interview can lead to an offer in another department, or a referral to another company or organization, so whether you get that job or not, the interview is the most crucial and memorable factor.

Prepare thyself
Preparing for the interview is key and there are four categories to cover.

  1. Know the company. This is the best place to start. You’ve got to know the company, their products, services, markets, etc. You should research their history, structure, management, recent trends, growth areas, stock price, etc. Read papers and magazines, search on-line. What are their key challenges? What is their culture like? What kind of people do they hire? Do you know anyone who works there? If so, talk to them. Brush up on who the company is and what they do. Interviewers are impressed with breadth of knowledge about their company, especially if it is relevant and timely. Read the trades and try to talk intelligently about a new product or service. Show that you follow the industry and the company.
  2. Know the job. What is it, what are the general responsibilities? Who will you report to? What are the expectations and daily responsibilities? Many of these will be answered in the interview itself, but it important to know what it is you are interviewing for, that way you can bring to bear your relevant experience. Find out as much as you can beforehand so your questions will be smarter and more targeted.
  3. Learn about the interviewer. A key element to a successful job interview is building a good rapport with the interviewer. So it helps to find out about him or her if you can. This is easy through Internet searches, trade publications, etc. Learn about the background and career progressions of the interviewer, so that you can understand who they are and where they are coming from. You might also discover some common ground, like a shared alma mater or a shared love of rock climbing. You can also flatter the interviewer by pointing out a career milestone or particularly impressive initiative. Just don’t come across as smarmy. Sincerity will always win out. Remember, the interviewer is the gatekeeper here, so play your hand well.
  4. Be up to date on the industry and the profession. At the job interview you should be able to discuss industry and professional trends. You should know where that company and others like it are headed. You should know the challenges and trends for that career and in that industry. Being able to intelligently discuss trends and challenges will set you apart. Remember, you are more than a candidate for a job; you are a potential problem solver and contributor to that organization.

Staying calm
You’re prepped and ready. You are brushed and polished and armed with facts and figures and impressive statistics. You’re also sitting in the waiting room sweating bullets. Relax. Easier said than done, right? Actually, there are lots of techniques you can use to stay calm.

The first is to make sure you are thoroughly prepared. By now, you should have practiced your answers, out loud. This helps you develop “muscle memory.” Literally talk yourself through the interview. Verbalize what you are going to say ahead of time. You’ll be amazed at much this will help relax you.

Second, visualize yourself doing well in the interview before the interview. See yourself talking confidently and easily. See yourself answering the questions thoughtfully and intelligently. See the interview going smoothly. Almost everyone at the top of their game, from professional athletes to actors, uses visualization techniques to achieve very real success. It works.

Next, remember to breathe. Taking long slow breaths is really the best and most proven way to relax your body and your mind. Inhale slowly counting to six. Start low in your belly and inhale up through your chest. Hold it briefly and exhale slowly, counting to six. Feel the oxygen course through your stressed out body. This will help lower your heart rate and calm you.
And keep a hankie ready if you get sweaty palms. No one likes a wet handshake.

Body language
A picture speaks a thousand words, and so does your outfit. Dressing appropriately is imperative. A first impression is made in the first three seconds—make sure yours is one of a confident and competent professional. For men, this means a dark suit and tie. For ladies, a conservative suit and blouse or shirt. Your outfit should convey confidence and good taste, but it is you who should stand out, not your loud tie or low cleavage

When you meet the interviewer offer a firm handshake. Make eye contact and thank them right off the bat for meeting with you. Wait for the interviewer to invite you to sit down. Then, be aware of your body language. You want to project open, relaxed and confident body language. Sit up straight. Make eye contact. Don’t fidget. Look the interviewer in the eye. Smile. Don’t cross your arms, don’t touch your face or hair nervously, don’t jiggle your legs or feet and don’t stuff your hands in your pocket or sit on them. You want to project confidence.

When responding to a question, speak directly to the person who asked it. Don’t look around the room. Listen carefully to the questions—your interviewer is giving you important clues—make sure you answer the questions asked.

Don’t talk too much. This is a fatal error many people make. Rambling on during your interview is a sure sign of weakness. Practicing beforehand, out loud, will help you give a complete answer without the extra baggage

Don’t be too familiar with the interviewer. Be friendly, but professional. Be energetic but not overly familiar. Do not overreach your position as candidate.

Don’t be arrogant. Learn the difference between confidence and arrogance and practice it.
Familiarize yourself with behavioral interviewing techniques where you use your past experiences and behaviors as an indicator of your future success. In other words, if you can demonstrate through examples that you accomplished something before, the interviewer may have the tendency to believe you may do it again. Be prepared to succinctly talk about past successes with concrete examples. Again, practice.

What do they want?
Obviously, they want something. They want a position filled, sure, but they really want a problem solved. Here is what the interviewer wants to know:
  • Do you have the skills for the job?
  • Are you motivated and enthusiastic?
  • Are you willing to learn?
  • Can you take initiative and problem solve?
  • Will you fit in the organization?
  • Do you understand the company and its purpose, goals and challenges?
  • How do you compare to your competition?
  • Do you want the job?

You should also have some questions for the interviewer. Many will probably be answered in the course of discussing the job, but this is also where listening well during the interview comes into play. The best questions come from listening to what is asked during the interview and asking for additional information. Other areas for questions should be around what is important to you as a potential employee—remember, you are interviewing them as well.

Some questions you may want to ask the interviewer:
  • What do you see as the biggest challenges goals in the next 24 months? (For the job and the organization)
  • What kind of person succeeds in this organization?
  • Where are you in the interview process and how should I follow-up after the interview?
  • How and when will you be notified about the position?

The follow-up
The first thing to do when the interview is over is go home and write a hand written thank-you note. The note should be written to the person with whom you interviewed (and make sure you have their name and address correct). The note should be on good paper and should be just a few lines long. It should thank them for their time and the opportunity to interview for the position, convey that you are excited about the prospect of working for that company and that you look forward to hearing from them soon. In this day and age, it is perfectly acceptable to send an immediate thank you via e-mail, but it should always be followed up by a hand written note.

In truth, the most agonizing part of an interview is the wait. Employers are notoriously bad about letting you know if you didn’t get the job. And by the way, if you are an employer, I need to remind you that it is totally unacceptable to invite someone to interview at your organization and then leave them hanging for long periods of time. You have a responsibility to the reputation of your organization to treat candidates with respect and courtesy. That said, as the interviewee there are a few things you can do to speed this along.

First of all, you should ask the interviewer or recruiter where they are in the interviewing/hiring process. It could be that they have structured a three-month window to interview for the position and you may have come in at the very beginning. If this is the case, you may be in for a long wait based on their time line. It is important to find this out when you interview so that you don’t spend months agonizing.

No matter what, get a date by which you expect to hear something. Then, follow up once or twice, no more, if you haven’t heard by the promised day. Of course, these dates may change if there is a second or third interview process. Just remember, there is a fine line between an appropriate follow-up and being a pest. The stronger a candidate you are, the more likely your call, note or e-mail will be received courteously. But unless invited to do so, don’t follow-up more than once a week.

What if you don’t get it?
If you didn’t get the job, it is perfectly okay to request feedback. Don’t push too hard, just ask politely who they hired and why. You want to find out what qualities or qualifications you lacked, what you could work toward. You don’t want to put them on the spot or make them feel bad. And you certainly don’t want to be confrontational or argumentative, so be sure to be courteous and respectful. Say, “Thank you for the opportunity. May I ask what things I might work on to be better prepared for a position like this?” Or “What experience or qualities did the person you hired possess that were lacking in my application?” Try to keep it positive and friendly. You can ask for feedback but very often people will not give it. But if you have built a strong rapport with the interviewer or recruiter and are courteous you stand a better chance of having your questions answered.

Remember, even if you didn’t get that job, if you have built a good rapport with the interviewer or recruiter they will remember you for another position or refer you to another department or organization. You can leverage that interview process into another job or networking resource if your behavior was professional and courteous. They will remember how you acted, how you dressed, whether you were prepared, the language you used, whether you followed up with a thank you note, whether you were gracious after not getting that job. If you handled it correctly, that relationship, even if it didn’t yield a job that time, can lead to one in the future.

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The Working Life: College Grads
Your Prescription for Success
The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Mary Abbajay outlines the basic building blocks for a successful post-college career launch. The following article summarizes the key elements for initiating an effective job search.

Congratulations and Good Luck!
Whether you’ve graduated from college or about to, congratulations. You’ve completed one major phase of your life and are about to begin another. Now, the hard work of getting into the working world begins. College life has changed dramatically in the past 10-20 years, and the pressure starts earlier than ever for graduating seniors to find a job and start their careers. Though there are many different areas to focus on, there is a simple prescription for a successful and smooth entry into the workforce.

The all-important resume
Resumes should tell a story about who you are and what your skills and talents are. Now, obviously, a 21-year old is not going to have the same resume as a seasoned veteran of the workforce. Employers know this, so don’t worry about impressive credentials. Just do the best you can with your experience so far and find things that highlight your strengths and applicable skills.

Most college seniors have had a few jobs and hopefully an internship or two. Any kind of job, internship, volunteer work or affiliation needs to go on your resume. If you were a lifeguard, put it on (that’s a position of great responsibility). If you worked in an ice-cream shop, put it on. If you babysat, put it on. Were you a member of a club, fraternity, sorority or sports team? Did you help with fundraisers or special events? Did you do volunteer work? Remember volunteering is work; it just isn’t paid. Volunteering also shows a level of social and community consciousness and commitment that many employers find valuable. It’s also good work experience.

The most important thing about “starter” jobs is to show that you were given responsibility. Did your manager give you tasks that reflected a level of responsibility, like locking up at night, opening in the morning, making deposits, running the register? Try to find those jobs or activities in which you were part of a team and helped lead it or had responsibility of some sort, however minor it may seem to you. Studies show that perceived leadership skills are as important in the hiring decision as your major, your alma mater, or your grade point average. Whatever you did or were involved in that reflects leadership and responsibility should go on your resume.

And don’t get fancy with your resume. Resumes should be simple, easily readable and written in a standard format. Don’t go over one page and don’t use fancy fonts or colored paper. Pink paper and unreadable type are annoying to an employer. You want to stand out because of who you are, not because your resume is kitschy. And always, always, spell check. Nothing sinks a candidate quicker than misspelling liaison.

What if you have nothing to put on your resume?
If you have absolutely no work experience (and remember volunteering is work), then you are going to have to talk about your academic achievements. Ironically, this is not optimal. Stellar academics are desirable, but employers are looking for leaders and marketable skills. But it is not the end of the world, depending on what kind of profession you are trying to enter. Try to convey your academic achievements in such a way as to be marketable to the employer. A high g.p.a. in and of itself doesn’t translate to being a good employee, unless you can draw the correlation between that success and employment success. In other words, did you work with a team, run a special project, assisst the professor, do independent research or study? Find something marketable about your academics and highlight that.

Internships and volunteer work are great for experience and are essential components of a resume. If you are a student or a graduate with no work experience, then you should really consider getting an internship, even an unpaid one. If you have to, you can always work nights while interning during the day. The same goes for volunteer work. Both look great on a resume and both can provide you with work skills. You’ve got to get some work experience--paid, unpaid, interning or volunteering. Just do it.

Using your college
You’ve paid a bundle for that education. The college knows this and wants you to be a successful alum. Almost every college has a career center and or an alumni network that you can use to your advantage. Though these services can be a mixed bag – some are much better and more serious than others – they are always worth checking out. Many offer job counseling, job fairs and internship programs. Some will set up real or practice interviews for you, help you with resume and hone your interview skills. Many offer personality and skills tests that can help you focus on your career choices.

You should definitely leverage the alumni relations department, especially at schools with a lot of school spirit. Most alumni who have taken the time to register with the career center are more than willing to help and will bend over backwards to help new graduates. Usually, these alumni are broken out by profession and can be counted on to provide information about a certain field, advice on getting into it and will review your resume. They may also off internships, informational interviews and invaluable contacts in your field. Don’t be shy here – this is called networking and it is one of the best ways to get a job.

Use your friends and professors, too. Does someone have a parent, sibling or associate in your field? Again, don’t be shy. This is what networking is all about.

Taking the summer off
Some people might argue that if you’re a graduating senior, this is the last summer of freedom, so why not just hang out, go to the beach, and have a few months of relaxation before hitting the job interview circuit in September? This is, of course, a personal choice. And while it may very well be true that this is your last summer of “freedom” you need to remember that there are millions of other graduates who may not be looking at it that way. Will all the good jobs be gone?

In order to decide, you have to look at the hiring cycle of your desired profession or industry. If you want to enter one that actively seeks college graduates, then taking the summer off may be a problem. In other professions, entry-level jobs may open up all the time, so taking one last summer off may not be a big deal.

One also has to weigh the fact that this is a huge generation, almost as big as the baby boomers, so while the economy is good and organizations are competing for top talent, one still has to recognize that this generation will face a lot of competition for the “good jobs,” no matter how much time you spend at the beach.

Helicopter parents
Let’s talk about mom and dad for a minute. A generation ago, parents were not involved in their children’s careers, academically or professionally. We all just got kicked out of the house after we graduated and found jobs. Now, however, parents are playing a huge role in their children’s lives, with many parents guiding and coaching their kids all the way through college and through their entry into the work force.
While some college graduates might actually enjoy their parents’ involvement, there is a point where a parent’s well-meaning but over eagerness to swoop in and manage their kids lives does more harm than good. This is called “helicopter parenting” and it can be very damaging.

The transition from student to professional is a huge one. It’s probably one of the biggest most people make. This transition is really about becoming a full-fledged adult. You stop being coddled and start being responsible for yourself. You start to really make your own choices, and if your parents are still heavily involved, you’re not really an adult, are you? If the goal here is to create responsible, independent, creative and resourceful adults, then parents have a fine line to walk here, in my opinion. They need to see that their children must make their own choices. You can help them be as ready and informed as possible, but they need to decide for themselves, even if it means making mistakes. After all, that’s part of being an adult.

Are you ready?
We hear the phrase “workforce readiness” quite a bit in the media, and the notion that what kids learn in high school and college doesn’t really prepare them for the workplace. Sadly, this is largely true and a rash of articles about how this generation is having trouble getting along in the workplace bolsters that view. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that many managers are having to praise their new recruits more because they have grown up in a culture where everyone is a winner.

On the other hand, this is the most well educated and technically savvy generation ever. The balance that has to be struck is between technical and academic readiness, which they may have, and professional polish, which they may lack. It is not an insurmountable chasm. College graduates just need to know getting the job and succeeding in the job are two very different things.

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