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Archive for the ‘Employee Tips’ Category

We Are All Self Employed

In ! Kristy, Branding, Careers, Development, Employee Tips, Leaders, Learn, Listen on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 7:09 am
This quote floated by me recently and stuck with me. I’ve been re-quoting it to people, but I’ve completely forgotten who said it to me originally. (If it was you, please take credit!) While moodling over the concept for this post, I googled the phrase and found that it’s the title of a book by Cliff Hakim, who coined this phrase back in 1994. I’m going to read the book to see how Cliff defines this phrase, but in the meantime here’s how I’ve been thinking about this concept of self-employment and what it means in 2009.
Loyalty is dead
The era of lifetime employment has been over for years, but our thinking about careers and jobs still reflects this outdated mindset. We still worry about being seen as a job-hopper, and we still hang on for as long as we can in a terrible job because we’re waiting to be vested in the retirement plan. Here’s a hard question to ponder: Your organization does not have YOU as its top priority; why would you have the organization as YOUR top priority?  Fitness center and holiday luncheon aside, your organization would lay you off if it made financial sense, and many of us have now experienced the effects of that decision first-hand.
I’m not proposing that we all slack off and surf Monster at work. Integrity demands that we earn our paycheck and give our employer our best efforts. I’m also not saying that we should treat the organization as The Man who is out to get us at every turn. It’s great to work for a thriving company that values its employees and treats them well, and it’s great to feel that you are having a “great run,” as a good colleague of mine puts it.  I will go Zen for a moment and remind you that the bad times don’t last forever… and neither do the good times.
Being self-employed means proactively shaping the environment at your current employer, and not being afraid to move on if you’re not getting what you need.
Branding is Imperative
“And what do YOU do?” The quintessential cocktail party question reveals a great deal about a person’s professional self-concept.  Inevitably, a certain percentage of partygoers will respond to this question with the statement, “I work for Company X” — especially if Company X has a well-known, respected, sexy brand. 
A primary identification with an employer can work against you in two ways. First, when managing your career within the organization, it doesn’t differentiate you. Everyone around you can use the exact same line. You’ve got to be able to clearly articulate how you add value in order to market yourself for current and future opportunities. Second, when managing your career over the course of your working life, it limits your thinking about your career to a list of employers and positions.
Branding, on the other hand, is about what you decided to be when you grew up. It’s about your personal niche, your calling, your strengths, and how what you do brings measurable, differentiated value to your customers. Being self-employed involves growing your brand. It means being engaged in a constant process of evolving your unique skillset and applying it to a variety of customers, one of whom happens to be your current employer.
What this means for you as a professional
If you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, take some time to figure that out. If you don’t want to decide that right now, at least decide what you want to give back to the world in the next 3-5 years. Create a statement of professional value that helps others understand what it is you bring to the table. 
Mine is in process, and it’s way too conceptual, but here it is in draft form: I am passionate about blowing up outdated notions about working and leading, and creating new ways to get good work done by good people. My next step is to take Judy Murdoch’s advice and articulate what this means in very practical, concrete terms. I welcome your feedback and I’ll post revisions as they happen.
What this means for you if you manage people or lead a function or business 
Become OK with being your employees’ current customer. Odds are they won’t retire from your company and they’ll have a long and satisfying career with several employers. So relax a little and do everything you can to help them have a “great run” at your company for as long as it’s mutually beneficial. Don’t throw the Loyalty Card if they decide to move on; instead, add them to your professional network and create a new post-employment relationship where you can support each others’ long-term success.
Branding resources & articles
Brett L. Simmons has created a set of videos that I’m currently working my way through
How about you?  Have you articulated your brand?  How has your professional identity changed over the past 1o years? 

16 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview (As a Candidate)

In ! Jen, Employee Tips, General Work, Listen, Look on Monday, October 12, 2009 at 3:33 am

You’ve prepared, you’ve researched, you even ironed your socks. You look the part. You’ve answered the interviewer’s questions brilliantly, you’ve generated good vibes of camaraderie, and your confidence is high. There’s just fifteen minutes to go until your next interview. You’ve just got to close this one out.

Then the interviewer asks: “okay, that’s all I’ve got. What questions do you have for me?”


In grad school, I had on-site interviews with a company that had one interviewer who asked no questions. She simply said to candidates: “Ok, so what do you want to know from me?” At the time, I was terrified at the prospect of 60 minutes with a total stranger who was just going to answer my questions. But in retrospect, this was an excellent opportunity. One that I didn’t know how to quite take full advantage of, being new to the work world.

This is your opportunity to interview the company. What? I’m trying to get employment here. I need an offer, I don’t need to interview the company! Yes, you do. Better to make an informed decision on fit, even if you know you must accept the job if it’s offered. Here are some questions that will assist you with getting more information about the candidate company, send the message that you are interested and curious, and additionally, enable you to wend the conversation to selling yourself as the selected candidate.

Questions to ask your prospective manager:

  1. Tell me more about why this position is open.
    • How long has it been open?
    • What happened to the previous incumbent?
    • How many people have held this position in the last three years?
    • Has the job’s responsibilities changed in the last year? in what way?
    • Get at: is this a winnable position? One that people stay in? One that people grow in and move over or up? The type that grinds people up and spits them out?
  2. Tell me about the other members of your team.
    • Then bring up how your portfolio of experiences and expertise helps round out the team, is complementary, or adds strength.
  3. What do you envision my goals would look like for the first year?
    • Come prepared! Share your own 30/60/90-day plan.
    • Get at: how well do you know and appreciate this position?
  4. If I were to have extraordinary success in the first six months of my tenure, what would be some examples of what I would have accomplished?
    • Share previous examples from your work history where you have had easily-transferable successes.
    • Get at: have you thought about what criteria on which I will be assessed?
  5. What problems should I expect to encounter on the job in the short-term?
    • Get at: where are the potential land mines: people, projects, politics, departments?
  6. How does upper management view our department / division?
    • What are the department’s goals and how do they align with the company’s mission?
    • Get at: is your work and/or department respected? Seen as valuable players? Catch the blame a lot?
  7. Imagine your ideal candidate. What specific experience or expertise does she have that makes her “ideal?”
    • Now, sell your little heart out! Address how you fit the bill.
  8. What keeps you up at night? -or- What is the most significant project on your desk today? -or- What is the most challenging issue you’re dealing with this week?
    • Ask this if you can think quickly on your feet. Provide insightful feedback on what’s shared. Clarify, brainstorm, show your worth and efficiency.

Questions for key decision makers on the interview panel:

  1. What can you tell me about the prevailing management style here?
    • How do people recognize achievements? Are there avenues outside of those set between manager-and-employee?
    • Walk me through how decisions get made here, using a recent project.
  2. How does the company support and promote professional growth?
    • Some companies have set-aside $’s for each employee to pursue learning. Some have a minimum learning requirement, 40 hours per year, two classes a year, etc. And a lucky few have true learning cultures, where there are ample opportunities to engage in synapse sparks.
  3. What are the best and worst aspects of the company’s culture?
    • What makes this a great place to work?
  4. Do you do employee surveys?
    • What was the last participation rate?
    • What positive feedback came out of the last survey? negative? most surprising?

Questions for peers:

  1. What have you liked most about working here?
    • Least? Most unexpected thing about working here?
  2. What do you wish you had known prior to joining this company?
    • Listen to how carefully the person answers this question. If they are upending words considering how to share information with you–and this is a pattern you’ve seen with others–you should be concerned.
  3. If you were my best friend, what would you tell me about this job that I may not have discussed in general interviews?
    • I like this question. It is so open-ended and has the potential to tell you a lot.
  4. What is [manager]’s reputation for developing people?
    • What you really want to know is his reputation for managing people, but “developing” hints at growth and the managing part will follow if you’re with an astute employee.

I have scads of questions for candidates to ask the HR interviewer or representative. But that’s a post for another day.

16 Things to Prepare for, Do, or Cover in Your 1:1’s (Employee Perspective)

In ! Jen, Employee Tips, General Work on Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:33 am

Obviously, you won’t do all of these in one sit-down discussion. But don’t go in to 1:1 meetings with your boss unprepared. You lead the discussion.

16. Prepare an agenda. Share it with your boss prior to your meeting if you wish, but what’s most important is that you have a shortlist of what you’re preparing to discuss, even if it’s just a bulleted list of topics. This has several advantages including: a) it forces you to think about what you’ll need to cover, so you can budget time appropriately, b) your preparation shows your manager that you care enough to be respectful of her time, c) you’ll have a written record of items discussed, and on which to take notes, and which to keep for future reference.

15. Decide if you even need to meet. If you have nothing substantial on your agenda, perhaps you catch your boss the day before to see if he’s got a lot to cover. Otherwise cancel, or abbreviate your meeting. Don’t feel compelled to take the whole hour if you don’t need it. On the flip side, don’t do this two meetings a row. If there’s not a lot to cover for two meetings in a row, you’ve got other issues going on.

14. Call attention to recent wins since your last meeting. Your boss is busy. She’s not omniscient, so be sure you share successes. But be realistic.

13. Call attention to people who helped you. Shine the spotlight on others who really deserve it. This not only is good karma, but shows that you are a team player, can recognize others’ contributions, and are confident in your own abilities.

12. Be clear with requests. If you are stuck and need help, articulate how you need your boss to help. This means going beyond stating: “I’m having a lot of trouble with getting Marketing to meet our shared deadlines.” Instead, be specific: “Can the X deadline be moved by two weeks? / Can you share with me how you are able to get Marcy and her team in Marketing to better gate deliverables? / From your perspective, what should I be doing differently to ensure this deadline is met? / Can you come with me to talk with Marcy’s team about the X project deadline?” You are more likely to get help from your manager if you know what you’re asking for and ask for it clearly.

11. Ask for feedback–in specific, and in general. Specifically, upon completion of projects or presentations and the like. About your performance in general on a regularly basis, at least once a quarter. What should you be doing differently? What are you doing well? What area(s) does your manager see as needing more development? If he were to assess you today based on your company’s performance appraisal ratings, how would you rate?

10. Be open to feedback. Don’t get defensive, unless something is patently false or based on incorrect information that you must set straight. Don’t get upset, and don’t deny. Take what your manager has to say and mull it over some. Clarify and discuss further at next week’s meeting.

9. Share intel. If you’ve learned something at a recent training session, or a podcast, or read an interesting article, share top three takeaways. Not only are you sharing information that could be useful for current or future needs, you’re also showing that you are continuing your development, staying fresh on business or industry-relevant topics. Additionally, your boss will likely share intel with you, and share your info with others. This is one path companies take to cultivating learning cultures, and this is a very good and desirable thing.

8. Start and stop on time. A basic, for sure, but definitely worth a mention.

7. Revisit annual goals. Pull these out for discussion on a quarterly basis, at least. If they need an alteration, discuss it now, versus a month prior to getting your performance appraisal.

6.  Offer feedback. On your boss? Yes. Your boss is human, too. If there are things that you would like for him to not do, or to continue doing, you should share these with him. Obviously, you’ll choose your timing wisely, but we all benefit from truthful feedback given in good faith. If your boss doesn’t take to this well, counter with: “In the future, how should I share such feedback with you, as I want to ensure we can communicate openly.” If he still doesn’t take to this, your boss doesn’t care, and you either need to come to terms with that, or find another job.

5. Give updates on work-in-progress. Here’s your chance to better understand how your work fits into the bigger picture, to discuss if goals need to be recalibrated, and to ask for help.

4. Discuss your development plan. 1:1’s are a time to discuss what’s urgent and timely, but don’t lose sight of what’s equally important: your ongoing development. If there are things that you should be doing to develop your career–both within your current role and to prepare for future roles, now is the time to discuss it. If your manager is not bringing this topic up herself, take it upon yourself to discuss this on a quarterly basis. Be clear about what you want: “I would love to learn more about Promotions. I know you’ve worked with Catherine in the past–could you help with an intro?

3. Stay on track. Stick to your agenda. “Parking lot” those items that need more attention and time. At the end of the meeting ask if these items should wait until your next 1:1, or if you need to set up time prior to then to discuss further.

2. Remain respectful and professional. Just because this is your time does not give you carte blanche, or even “what gets said in this room stays in this room.” Your manager is still the one who will be assessing your performance. So even though this is a time to share roadblocks and frustrations, do not turn it into a bitch session or get exasperated.

1. Take notes. Follow-up on open items. And keep notes from your 1:1 so that you can refer to them for the next 1:1. At the end of the year, you’ll be surprised how much you’ve accomplished.

16 Things Not to Do at Work

In ! Jen, Employee Tips, General Work, Stop on Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 3:33 am

16. Social media

Unless you work in media or public relations, or are using social media for a legitimate business purpose, don’t Facebook or Twitter at work during regular work hours. Remember that social media defaults to showing date/time stamps on all postings.

Sending tweets has the potential to raise eyebrows about whether you have enough to do and how you choose to spend your time while on your company’s clock. Additionally, those who walk past your monitor and see Facebook on your screen may assume you’re always on, even if it wasfor only sixteen seconds.

15. Date coworkers

Unless you are a Hollywood celebrity.

What if s/he’s your potential soulmate? One or the other of you should quit.

If you work at a behemoth of a company, maybe ok, so long as all four of the following criteria are met: 1) you are in different departments, 2) you have no potential to see one another, and 3) you have no potential to work with one another on a project (or remove yourself from said project), and 4) you don’t plan romantic lovey dovey encounters at work.

14. Bully

Some may think they want the reputation of being “the one-who-always-gets-her-way-by-whatever-means-necessary.” But this is a euphemism for asshole and assholes always get their comeuppance, one way or another. People have long memories for mean-spirited and bully tactics.Don’t engage in them.

13. Gossip

This is probably the #1 career limiter on the list and one that’s hardest for people to manage–for themselves or for people who report to them.

Sharing rumors and gossip are the frequent lubrication of social interaction. If you’re going to gossip about people, share stories you’d want people to be sharing of you.

12. Cry

Feel tears welling up? Excuse yourself and leave. Those who say that crying at work makes you more human and sensitive and in touch with your emotions are only trying to make you feel better. It is a sad fact, but People In Charge will associate your inability to control tears at work with an inability to manage emotions at work. Keep it together.

11. Swear

Unless you are in safe company (e.g. with work pals), don’t swear. True, the descriptor hairball lacks the severity of situation that clusterfuckendows. But many take genuine offense to vulgarities in the workplace and will immediately discount the message because of the profanities within, even if the message is solid.

10. Discuss emotionally-charged topics

Unless you are in safe company (again), don’t venture into emotionally- or politically-charged discussion territory. Gay marriage, abortion rights, religion, guns: these are topics that could raise the temperature of a room and are fun to discuss….outside of work. Stick to bona fide work-related topics, traffic or the weather.

9. Assume you know the whole story

I would hazard that more than half of employee relations problems would barely surface if only people would actively seek to understand or hear more of the story. Ask: “Help me understand this better. Here’s how I see it: [share your POV]. What am I missing?”

Don’t be the manager who loudly confronted his employee in the hall:

Manager: “This is the FIFTH time this week you’ve waltzed in here late! What am I supposed to think?”

Employee: “We just moved my friend into my house. She has late-stage cancer and every morning it gets harder to leave her.”

Doh! Shame on the employee for not calling in late. And double shame on the manager for: 1) not approaching the employee sooner, like the first tardy. It would’ve been easy to say that first time: “Hey, next time give a call so I know to expect you in later.” 2) not discussing this with the employee in a less public setting. Unfortunately, this manager then was sometimes referred to as “that guy on 4 who yelled at his employee because she once arrived late and she was caring for a dying friend.”

8. Kvetch

Don’t complain about the same thing more than twice to your manager. Instead, arrive with solutions and commitment to act on them. And if you’re in a position of power, don’t complain about the same thing more than once.

7. Ask for a promotion without good, really exceptionally good, reason

Don’t ask unless something has significantly changed in your performance and in your job. If you’ve taken on additional responsibilities—significantly, substantially more, like >40%, then approach your manager and say: “At our next 1:1, could I talk with you about how my job responsibilities have grown over the last year and how I could be recognized for it?” You want a thoughtful answer, so give notice that you’re wanting this discussion; don’t catch him off guard. Do your homework and review your current job description, and if available, the job higher than your own. Describe visible and verifiable behaviors and projects that go above and beyond–don’t go in thinking you should get promoted “because you deserve it” or because you work just as hard as Joe with the higher title. And be patient; some organizations try to only forward planned promotions once or twice a year to gate payroll costs.

6. Bluff about quitting

Don’t do it unless you are willing to be called out on your bluff. True story which happened in happier economic times: Employee says “I’m so frustrated I am going to quit!” Manager: “I think we have things in a state where we’d be able to transition alright. Would you prefer to work out the two weeks or if you’d like, we could pay you out two weeks and you could leave today?”

5. Steal

This includes fudging timecards, taking office supplies and taking credit for others’ work. Enough said.

4. Not give credit where credit’s due

Share the limelight with those who deserve it with you. Not only is it good for the soul–yours and theirs–but the next time around you’ll find it easier to persuade others to help you. Recognition, appreciation and good strokes go a long way. Public recognition, appreciation and good strokes–given in a sincere, heartfelt manner–will be remembered long after any $50 spot bonus is spent.

3. Be disrespectful to admins

Being disrespectful, period, is bad. But I have found that administrative assistants frequently get the worst disrespect and completely unwarranted, at that. Treat them with as much as respect as you would the person they support. Need more convincing? Consider that admins control calendars, information, and access. And they are typically exceptional at networking with other admins.

2. Throw someone under the proverbial bus

It may save you in the immediate short-term, but karma is a bitch.

1. Lie

Your credibility is the most important currency you’ve got to work with on the job. Don’t jeopardize it.

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