Friday, July 30, 2010

Dealing with a Difficult Co-worker

At any company, you may find employees who are difficult. How difficult? This can range from excessive talking, to annoying habits, to someone who deliberately undermines your professional efforts. Any co-worker issue that impacts your ability to do your job is one that needs to be addressed. Following are some tips for achieving a productive and positive working relationship with another employee:

  • Evaluate whether you are contributing to the problem. Ask yourself these pointed questions: Do you have a history of past conflict with co-workers? Are you open-minded and accepting of others’ work styles and ideas? Are you misinterpreting your co-worker’s words, actions, or intentions?
  • Address the issue directly and in private. Engage your co-worker in a private conversation, preferably in a setting away from others. Explain your feelings by using “I” instead of “you,” so your co-worker doesn’t feel accused or attacked. Use concrete examples when possible.
  • Present and welcome suggestions. Be prepared to suggest how you both might work together to create a more positive and mutually respectful professional relationship. Likewise, be open to your co-worker’s suggestions.
  • Maintain open communication. Touch base a week or two after the initial conversation to determine if there have been any improvements in your working relationship. Again, be sure it’s a two-way communication. Encourage ongoing communication.
  • Be patient. Changing behavior and building a cooperative working relationship can take time. Allow both of you ample time to adjust. Look for even the smallest signs that your relationship is moving in the right direction.
  • Engage your manager, if necessary. If you’ve tried positive strategies and given them ample time to work, yet still see no progress, it is time to engage your manager. Focus on how the relationship with your co-worker has become a roadblock to the work you do and provide specific examples. Most managers will be supportive and work with you, helping you to resolve the issue.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Asking for a Title Promotion

With companies downsizing their staffs, more employees are finding themselves taking on added responsibilities. If you‘re in a situation with significantly increased responsibilities typically expected of someone at a higher level, you might feel you deserve a title promotion. As you consider this, remember, a job title can serve several purposes:
  • It’s a snapshot of how you fit into the overall organization.
  • It communicates the type of general skills, experience, and/or background you might have.
  • It is often linked to certain performance and professional conduct expectations.
  • Big picture: An accurate title can play a significant role in the type of future job opportunities you are able to pursue outside your current company.

Although many companies are asking their employees to take on added responsibilities, many aren’t in a financial position to offer a pay increase. This shouldn’t stop you from asking for a title promotion now and pursuing a salary bump later, after you’ve spent nine to twelve months setting a solid track record.

Before you approach your manager, make sure you’ve identified specific reasons why you deserve a title promotion. Try to meet with your boss in person to discuss the title promotion but also prepare and submit a written proposal. In the proposal, be sure to list current responsibilities and highlight increased responsibilities. If possible, mention recent career achievements as well as any additional training or credentials you’ve earned.

If your request for a title promotion is denied, remember, with your current title you are still continuing to gain valuable new experience, adding skills, and proving that you can do far more than when the company originally hired you. You are growing professionally, and these experiences will serve you well whether you opt to stay with your current employer or seek other outside job opportunities.

The reward of a job well done can come in various forms: pride in the work you do; praise and recognition from your manager, co-workers, or customers; and the satisfaction of being challenged and finding success as you step outside your comfort zone.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Things that Irk Hiring Managers

Obviously, as a job candidate, you’re attempting to do everything you can to impress the hiring manager (assuming you want the job). To ensure that you’re impressing and not irritating the hiring manager, it helps to be aware of things job candidates do that can really put off hiring managers. Here is a list of what to avoid if you want to impress a hiring manager:

  • Misrepresenting yourself: There is no excuse for dishonesty. Make sure you represent yourself and your work history and experience honestly.
  • Relentless contacting: Although it is good to display your interest in the job by making contact or following up with the hiring manager, going overboard will be perceived as obnoxious behavior.
  • Name dropping: It is usually helpful to know someone in the company where you are pursuing a job. However, be careful of name dropping in a way that makes the hiring manager feel unduly pressured to move you to the next interview and/or make you a job offer. This is specifically relevant if your contact is in a position of power within the company.
  • Making the assumption you’ve got the job: Remember, until the job offer comes through, don’t make references to the hiring manager that suggest the job is yours.
  • Requiring them to work around your schedule: When a hiring manager or recruiter sets up interviews, there can be some logistical challenges. Although it is understandable if you can’t accommodate the first time slot they suggest, requiring multiple time slot alternatives may be interpreted as a lack of interest in the job.
  • Being late or way too early: It goes without saying that arriving late to an interview is a negative, but so is arriving earlier than 10-15 minutes before the scheduled interview. Being pulled away from other tasks to accommodate your early arrival can be annoying to the person with whom you have the appointment.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Appearance Can Make a Difference

There is an increasing amount of research data supporting the claim that, compared to others, physically attractive people have a better chance of getting hired—and often at a higher salary.

Various online sources cited the Journal of Labor Economics data stating that attractive workers earn nine percent more per hour compared to plain-looking (below-average-looking) workers. This potential workplace bias raises the question of whether job seekers have any protection against discrimination based on physical appearance—similar to laws that protect against race, sex, age, and disability discrimination. There aren’t many laws regarding this type of discrimination with the exception of the few listed here:

  • Michigan bans employment discrimination based on height or weight
  • Washington D.C. outlaws employment discrimination based on personal appearance
  • Santa Cruz, California, bans discrimination based on height, weight, or physical characteristics
  • San Francisco, California, has a law making it illegal to discriminate against someone based on weight and height

The fact is, there really isn’t much recourse for someone who, when looking for a job, feels they have been discriminated against based on physical appearance.

For those job seekers who may not be viewed as above average in physical appearance, there is an upside. The priority of most hiring managers is to fill open positions with competent people who have the skills and experience necessary to perform the job. Additionally, hiring managers consider other attributes like attire, handshake, voice, and body language when establishing an impression of a potential job candidate. The best overall strategy for any job seeker, whether physically attractive or not, is to project confidence; showcase interpersonal skills; and articulate depth of experience, knowledge, and skills.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Close Your Cover Letter on a Strong Note

The goal of a cover letter is to introduce and sell yourself to a prospective employer and to direct them to your attached resume. The right tone and word choice throughout your letter is important, but if it’s done correctly, the closing is likely to be what the recipient remembers about you. A lot of thought needs to go into how to end your cover letter on a strong note. In addition to grabbing and holding the reader’s attention, your close also needs to accomplish the following:

  • Thank the recipient for his/her time
  • Briefly restate your interest
  • Convey confidence that you’re a great fit for the position
  • Ask for an interview
  • State your intention to follow up on your application (be sure to note a timeframe, such as next week)

The complimentary closing to a cover letter typically makes use of “Sincerely” or “Best Regards,” but for a warmer closing you might consider “Kindest Regards” or “With Warm Regards.” Then, leave blank space for your handwritten signature or an electronic signature that you have previously handwritten, scanned, and saved on your computer. On the line below the handwritten signature, include your name in type.

Remember a cover letter is, in most cases, a prospective employer’s first impression of you. Be sure to communicate enthusiasm and an eagerness regarding the specific job opportunity at the company where you’re applying. Then, make an impressive first impression by ending on a strong note.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Working for a Friend

The idea of working for a friend may sound appealing, but consider the following before entering into a working relationship in which your friend becomes your boss.

  • Set expectations: This will be a working relationship, so set realistic expectations that include maintaining a professional relationship separate from your personal relationship. Clearly define the roles, responsibilities, and goals for working together.

  • Keep your work and personal lives separate: Keep your work conversations professional. If you maintain a social relationship with your boss when getting together outside of work, it is best not to discuss business, if possible. Specifically avoid conversations that are laden with office gossip or politics.

  • Maintain open communication: Open communication is best. Your tendency may be to avoid confrontations with your boss out of concern for damaging your friendship. However, to create a mutually respectful and productive working relationship, you both need to address important work issues even if you have opposing viewpoints. And don’t forget to ask occasionally about how the arrangement is working out, but do so while at work.

  • Don’t expect favoritism: Although you started out as friends, when you enter into a working relationship, that part will be based on performance. Expect to be treated like any other co-worker who is reporting to the boss; don’t expect favoritism just because you are also friends.

  • Consider the worst scenarios: Hopefully your working relationship will be successful. But just in case, before you begin working for your friend, consider that you might eventually have to quit or, worse yet, be fired. Can you handle the negative impact these actions could have on your friendship—even to the extent of severing the relationship?

No doubt, a decision to work for someone who is a friend can be complicated, so make a list of all the pros and cons before finalizing your decision.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dealing with a Difficult Boss

If you’re working for a difficult boss, you know firsthand how it impacts your job satisfaction and performance, not to mention the undue stress it causes. Consider using the following ideas to initiate some control over the relationship you have with your boss.
  • See things from the boss’s perspective: Try to understand your boss’s role and responsibilities, including the goals and work pressures he/she may face. In many cases, your boss’s behavior may be a response to his/her own boss’s unrealistic expectations, intense and impractical deadlines, or even just getting caught in office politics cross-fire.

  • Analyze your performance: Analyze your job performance objectively and consider asking your co-workers for input. You may find you’re not carrying your fair share of the workload, not following directions, or focusing too much time on tasks your boss doesn’t deem important.

  • Make sure expectations are clear: Are you clear on your boss’s expectations for you? How is your boss measuring your success?

  • Maintain communication: Understand what information your boss needs from you and diligently seek out the information you need from your boss to do your job well.

  • Control your reactions: Try not to react emotionally or defensively to your boss’s criticism. Look at this as self-development and an opportunity for growth.

  • Confront constructively and professionally: Constructively discuss important work issues and concerns with your boss. Avoid using language that places blame or sounds as if you’re complaining.

Most importantly, do not waiver on your values or allow your boss’s poor behavior to negatively impact your self-esteem. Remember to maintain your professional integrity at all times and don’t forget you do have options. For example, you can confidentially discuss matters with a mentor or the company’s human resource manager. And if problems with your boss can’t be resolved, you can always pursue a new position with another department or another company altogether.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Today Internships Aren’t Just for College Students

Internships have traditionally been filled by college student looking for professional experience prior to graduation with an opportunity to gain college credits in lieu of compensation. With unemployment running high and more workers switching jobs several times throughout the span of their careers, it is more common now to find middle-aged professionals, particularly unemployed job seekers, vying for these internships.

In addition to the new or enhanced skills that you stand to gain through an internship, the experience can also place you in a favorable light with prospective employers. Upon hearing about your internship, a hiring manager is likely to perceive you as someone with initiative who has spent your time off wisely. Another plus of an internship is that you avoid potential work history gaps on your resume.

If you’re a middle-aged worker seeking an internship, be prepared for a company representative to question why you’re willing to take an unpaid position after having worked for pay for several years. In response, you might state that you’re willing to take an unpaid internship position to gain valuable experience and skills for landing a future job.

Before accepting an internship, be sure that expectations are clearly defined. If possible, document the expectations of both parties in a formal internship agreement to be signed by you and a representative of the company with whom you’ll be interning.

College students have known it, but middle-aged workers are just discovering that internships can be a valuable and rewarding experience. Also, internships are a great way to explore and test out a new career. In some cases, an internship may result in a job offer from the company with whom you’re interning. But minimally, it should give you the competitive edge you need to land a job offer in today’s very challenging job market.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Making Work More Enjoyable

A few words that describe work include labor, toil, effort, and exertion, and although work can certainly be all of these, it can also be rewarding and enjoyable. You do have some control over how much you enjoy your work. The following are actions you can try implementing to make your work life more pleasant:

Choose to be positive: Set your mind to being positive about your work, and your attitude and actions will follow. Focus on the parts of your job that you like most.

Look for development opportunities: Be responsible for your own professional development. Look for training classes that could assist you in your job while strengthening a skill.

Get informed:
Don’t rely solely on management to keep you informed about company goals, initiatives, changes, etc. Take an interest in what’s going on by networking with people from various groups in your organization.

Manage your workload: Don’t over commit. Avoid the stress that comes from not being able to deliver on your promises. If you’re having difficulty keeping up with work requests, ask your manager to help you prioritize your workload.

Make friends at work: If you like the people with whom you work, you are bound to enjoy your work more.

Avoid the naysayers: Avoid the handful of co-workers who are pessimistic about their job and/or the company.

Take a break: Even the busiest employees should strive to find at least 20 minutes of free time from their workday.

If you’ve given it ample time and made an honest effort to enjoy your work, yet still find yourself dissatisfied, it may be time to start looking for a new job. If you engage in a job search, make sure it doesn’t interfere with your current work responsibilities and that you maintain the utmost professionalism.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Arrive to Work on Time

If you find that you’re habitually late to work, you are potentially setting yourself up for consequences that can range from being perceived negatively by your boss and co-workers to losing your job. You owe it to you and your employer to do the responsible thing by getting to work on time. Here are a few tips that can help:

  • Get adequate rest: The common recommendation is to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. By doing so, you should be well rested and able to rise easily each morning.

  • Skip the snooze: When your alarm goes off, don’t hit the snooze; instead, get out of bed immediately. A better alternative to the snooze, if you need it, is to strategically place and set a few alarm clocks in your room.

  • Get organized the night before: Organize as much as you can the night before to shave off time from your morning routine. Things like setting out your clothes, ironing, making a lunch, and packing your briefcase can be a big help.

  • Time your morning routine: Use a day off to do a run through of your typical workday morning routine. Time how long each task takes, on average. Then set your alarm clock to accommodate the time you’ll need for getting ready and commuting to work. Pad that time with an extra 15 to 20 minutes to account for unexpected things that can occur—car trouble, a late bus or train, etc.

  • Be grateful to be employed: With unemployment high, remind yourself that you are fortunate to have a job.