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: