Category Archives: Career & Education


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I supervise a young woman whose life has been turned upside down in
the past six months. Her supposedly loving husband cheated on her,
and walked away from their two children. Her life has been hell but
she has also changed from a smart, reliable, assistant into a flaky, late
for every deadline, staff member whom I’m afraid to rely on. The
company is a very fast-paced environment, and employees are
measured by their billable productivity as well as their ability to do
marketing. She’s loused up several bids and also declined
opportunities to work for other supervisors when they’ve needed help
in a jam. They’ve come to me saying it’s my responsibility to get her
on track, and that if I cannot, her job may be in jeopardy. Now I have
to change from a listening ear and comforting shoulder into a hard-
nosed boss. Is there a graceful way to do it?


Dear Squeezed:

It’s always hard to shift gears when you’ve been a source of comfort
and support. The hard part is knowing when your role has changed
from friend to enabler. She’s lucky to have someone she trusts in
apposition of authority. You can only hope that gives your word added
measure rather than weakening them.

First thing, get past the immediate deadlines. If you cannot rely on
her, pull some all nighters, or call in other staff. Then sit her down, in
your office, door closed, and tell her, This is not a friend, peer, comfort
talk. This is your boss telling you things you won’t want to hear, but
better from me than from my bosses. The bottom line is that your
work has become unreliable. We’re all sympathetic with your life
struggles. None of us would want to go through them. But the firm
cannot depend on a weak employee. So here’s my recommendation:


Take a temporary leave of absence to get your life back together. And
enroll in an EAP (employee assistance program) that’s mandatory as a
precursor to developing an action plan for employees whose work
needs remediation. Everyone here wants you to succeed. But we need
to turn this around fast or you’re on the road to looking for a different
job. I know that’s hard to hear. It’s hard to say. But I value you and
want to see you make it. I’ll do what I can to keep you off deadlines.
But that’s hard and can’t last forever. Please help me help you. Then
you’ll see if she’s strong enough to pull it together. If not, she may
have to use her time between jobs to reorganize her life. Sad but
maybe necessary.

The Assistant (No More?)

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For years I worked for an executive who was very high-powered and
driven. Over time he began to lose his ability to do his job well and
eventually sold the company to younger folks. Five years later they
have paid him off and bought him out and essentially retired him. But
because he doesn’t know how to do nothing he has come up with a
plan that he started out calling “middle class services,” a name I have
convinced him to abandon. His theory is that double-working
households need cheap labor to do all the errands and chores that
they don’t have time for during the week, so they can have some
quality time together. Great theory. But he wants to set up a college
dropout into business to provide the kind of services the kid provides
him to others. That means going head to head with established
concierge and care companies, of which I found several with excellent
reputations and lower prices than he is proposing, all in a two-minute
google search.

He wants me involved as the lemon-sucker and offering to pay for
my time. I think the kid is just nodding yes to the guy who pays him
now, and is too lazy to build a business upon. I don’t mind consulting,
but I do mind batting my head against a wall knowing it is going to
get bloody and bruised.

The Assistant (No More?)

Dear Assistant:

You can earn your keep as you did in the past: by being a truth-telling,
lemon-sucking consultant. Before anyone starts a business they need
several important thing. In rough order: an idea for a product or
service that people want; an idea that’s not already being sold by so
many people or so cheaply that there’s not room for more
competitors; enough capital to get the process going and to outlast the
start-up period; intelligent committed staff who are willing to work
extra hard without a guarantee of success; and sufficient
communication, bonding, and common vision among owners and
employees that the folks on the ground can tell the folks upstairs what
needs to change, and the folks with the money can decide how much
they want to commit.

In this case, either you or the proposed employee can research the
market and suss out who is already providing those services. The
would-be entrepreneur may falter at your news. If not, he should take
a couple pages out of the multi-level- marketing playbook. That means
identifying all possible people he could approach or the erstwhile
employee could approach in his name to say, Hi, so-and- so has been
employing me to so x, y, and z and thought you might want a personal
assistant too. If he can connect with enough folks who will pay for his
time to fill up the FTE he is willing to work, you’ll quickly be able to see
if he is cut out for marketing and working. But if he’s just looking for a
middle management paycheck, it’s a great time to learn that you don’t
get to the middle till you start at the bottom.

Starting Over

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

A month ago I applied for my dream job but I have heard zero. I am
adult who went back to college in my 30s and just finished my degree.
Even though I am not the typical hire, I think all my earlier work in
construction proves I am a great employee, not afraid of messes or
hard work. Now I have business degree to go along with hands-on
skill. How can I sell myself as worth at least as much as a 21-year old?

Starting Over

Dear Starting Over:

Check to posting agency to see what the status of the job is. If it is not
yet noted as “filled” you can call Human Resources and ask what the
status and timeline is for filling it. If you get a friendly sounding
person, say you applied and want to know if you are still among those
being considered. Stay casual and optimistic, even if you are told you
are not among those still in the running.

If/when you get a rejection, call and ask for an informational interview
with the HR manager. Explain you want to introduce yourself, and to
find out how to best present your skills. Use your mess/hard work line
when you are in the meeting. Dress professionally and be very clear
that you are an asset exactly because you have rebuilt yourself
professionally, and that you will bring particular skills of teamwork and
perspective to any job they’d hire you for. This doesn’t ensure you an
interview the next time. But it does guarantee they’ll remember you,
and perhaps pass you onto the specific department to meet.

Stretched Thin

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Help me out of a pickle. When I worked, which is until I retired a year
ago, I was the contracts manager for a small company. I worked
primarily with two people: the president (who is now a consultant to
the same company) and with a man who was like my twin brother. We
saved each other’s lives emotionally more often than I can count when
working with the president got rough. I just walked into two vmails:
one from former coworker who’s managing a contract with my ex-
boss, and one from the ex-boss. They disagree about how much
money he should get on a project and what he should do. Each is
calling on me for help but nobody’s paying me yet for my insight and
advice. My sympathies are with my co-worker, but there’s a lot of
complicated history, and my ex-boss hinted he would pay me to be his
negotiator. What should I do?

Stretched Thin

Dear Stretched Thin:

You have a variety of choices about how to respond to each. The
simplest is to politely return both phone calls and say, You know I’m
really enjoying being retired. You two are going to have to learn how
to talk to one another without me. Say what needs to be said, and
keep talking until you agree. Option two is to decide whom you
genuinely like better, and if you can afford to let go of the relationship
with the other. That changes what you say on the calls. If you have
any interest in working for your ex-boss again tell him you’re happy to
serve as his contracting agent but here’s your fee. Make it high
enough to compensate for hazard pay. If you prefer to help your friend
and say the hell with the money, then tell your ex-boss No thanks, and
tell your friend your opinion on how to manage the work and the ex-


Even if you help solve this contest, everyone needs to recognize this is
a one-time pass, and that in the future you will politely decline to be in
the middle of any such dramas. Your simplest answer both of them is
really this: You know working together was great but retirement is
even better. I’m sure you can work this out. Your voicemails reminded
me how much I prefer my watercolor class. Good luck!!

Off Duty Please

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Can you help me design a “staycation?” My husband has had a raft of
medical problems. Sadly they include orthopedic problems, which
means that our normal hobbies of hiking and mushroom picking are
completely off the table. I’m a teacher and have a few weekends left
and then a long summer. I’m not expecting a two-week period at
home where I have no responsibilities, but I would like to design a
plan where I can get several days in a row to indulge my desire to
write. I have an idea for a children’s book, actually a series of them,
and a good friend who is an artist who can collaborate. My husband is
retired, not to mention grumpy from months of medical aggravation.
So he is lonely and looking for company. I don’t want to be unfriendly,
but I’m stressed by his condition also, and need my summer to

Off Duty Please

Dear Off Duty:

You need to balance out the mix of responsibility with creativity.
Anyone who works at home will confirm that simply walking into the
kitchen to get a cup of coffee can trigger many hours of
procrastination and distraction, especially if one’s creative work isn’t
flowing. So you will need to set clear boundaries about when you do
what, and get an agreement from your husband to help you reinforce
them, and to keep out of your way in your creative time zones.


You don’t want him to think that your time together is all about work.
Getting him engaged in household maintenance before you get your
creative staycations is a deal he will have to agree to. Put a carrot in
the stick and make plans for a big date at the end of each one. For
example, Monday and Tuesday are together days doing home care.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday until 3:00 is your creativity zone.
Then weekend is playtime together. Part of your prep is to have your
“creativity bag” ready to go: a tote with a dedicated set of materials
including laptop, clipboard, drawing paper, dictation device, whatever
you need all packed and ready to grab. Then on Wednesday morning,
head out to a coffee shop and set up for creativity. In the house, have
a special flag or sign that says, “The Writer is Out” which hubby should
agree to respect, house fires or broken legs notwithstanding.

Shell Shocked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I worked with an abusive boss for 26 years. I am finally free of
working directly with him, but we’re both employed by the same
company. People who do still work with him come to me to vent, and it
causes all the same responses it did when I suffered more directly.
Just thinking about him causes an anxiety spike. It’s a physical
reaction in my body: twisting in my gut, racing pulse, shallow
breathing. All the classic fight or flight responses. I’m not even
discussing my mood, which plummets. My wife encouraged me to
unplug from him, but I cannot afford to quit, and at 58 am unlikely to
find a job as good as this one. What’re some things I can do, other
than avoiding him and conversations that include his name? It’s a form
of PTSD I am eager to finish healing.

Shell Shocked

Dear Shell Shocked:

What you are describing is indeed a form of PTSD. Also classic
Pavlovian conditioning. You need to switch off your responses to the
stimulus. Avoiding direct contact with his person and conversations
about him and his abusiveness is a great start. But better is to
cultivate relaxation responses, because you’re still in an orbit that
includes many old cues.


Start by identifying a code word for yourself that is your new
command to set the process in motion. Make it something silly and
unrelated to work: tofu, bozo, or papaya. The minute you start to feel
yourself respond in old ways, say the word and start imaging yourself
getting up from a chair at a table where he is sitting, walking out of
the room, and closing the door behind you. If you still hear his voice in
your head, image turning down the volume dial on a radio until it
fades to silence. See yourself walking into the sunlight and going to
meet your wife at your favorite restaurant at a vacation resort. See
yourself sitting at a table with her, looking at an incredible view, with a
plate of tasty tidbits and flight of beer or wine. If thoughts of him
reappear, start over: say your cue; close the door; turn down the
sound; and have another slosh of anesthetic. Do this often enough and
he will fade into your past.


PS if you start to develop a drinking problem, change the imagery and get
a therapist.

PC Too

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I work in a school in a poor rural district. Most of the teachers are
kind, caring, and dedicated professionals. The few that are not are
given a very wide berth by the rest of us, so it is very uncommon to
hear racial slurs or other forms of insensitivity. A colleague just placed
a problem in my lap involving two friends. One, A, my friend who
works in a different classroom reported that the other, B (one of my
best friends), said something close to the N-word and that she was
horrified and wanted to report her. A said that B said it in a joking,
almost friendly context, referring to her weekend as “I’m going to go
out in my yard and work like a field hand.” A is from South Africa of
mixed race and very sensitive. B has never, ever, ever exhibited any
racist tendencies. If anything she’s among most politically correct
people I know. But A was legitimately shocked and wants to make an
object lesson of B as a warning for the real racists. If she succeeds in
getting something put in B’s permanent file, B might never work again.
I think it was a very unfortunate slip of the tongue, and I don’t want to
see her chastised too harshly. What, if anything, can I do as an

PC Too

Dear PC Too:

You can sit down with the two of them and hope that the conversation
works. The message you want to deliver is: You may have thought you
were joking to a friend, but you are not black and you cannot know the
impact of hearing a word that’s been used not just as a racial slur but
is also close to a word that’s been used as a form of violence and
intimidation for centuries. Please apologize now. Please promise you’ll
never do this again. Please ask A’s forgiveness. Then be quiet and let
B speak for herself. A is going to have to hear the sincerity in her
apology and a deep desire to participate in some form of remediation,
not just to A personally but as part of a social context.


The three of you might also go to the administrative powers that be
and ask that the whole school (teachers, staff, students) receive some
racial sensitivity training. You don’t have to go into the details of the
incident. Rather declare it a matter of common concern that you would
like to see addressed by the whole community. Ask for a special
assembly with invited speakers, and workshops where teachers and
students from mixed age groups can participate. Also ask that a
procedure be put in place where violators of the no-insults policy by
given a graduated series of warnings and censure. I doubt that B will
repeat the offense, but think a permanent mark on her record is too
great a price to pay for misspoken attempt at bad humor.

Craving Space

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m a teacher who is returning to work this week. My husband is recently retired,
and suffering from the lack of social contact that he got from his colleagues. In
summer, when he had me around all day, we did a great many things together.
But when I would go off and visit my girlfriends or do volunteer work, I could tell
he was restless and overly needy when I got home. When I walk in the door after
teaching I need some time to decompress before I am ready to be social or to
take care of him. I simply cannot absorb or fulfill all his emotional needs. Ideas?

Craving Space

Dear Craving Space:

Your hubby needs something to occupy not just his time but his
mental energy so that he has something to share with you when you
are together, so he’s not so needy that he pounces on you the second
you walk in the door. Consider: projects like things to do around the
house, a new hobby, volunteer work of his own, or to enroll in classes.
I always suggest having a signal (beyond Hi honey I’m home.) as a
cue that you are ready to interact. Even 10 minutes to put down your
purse, check the mail, make a cup of tea, and exhale can be enough to
reset your mood.

I suggest a family planning council where you sit down and talk about
a typical week. Map it out on the calendar, where you block out all
your commitments and obligations, as well as the things you would
like to do in your leisure time, both with and without him. Then ask
him to do the same. Hopefully the yawning void will inspire him. If not,
talk about things he “has always wanted to do,” whether it is learning
a foreign language (perhaps in preparation for a future trip) or a new
skill. Perhaps his former profession is useful to some non-profit in a
volunteer capacity. Help him get excited about possibilities, and
remember there’s always going to the gym. That alone should make
him look for alternatives, lol.

Moving On

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in my late 40’s and about to reenter the workforce. I am
accomplished and intelligent. I think my skills are transferrable to a
wide variety of jobs, but on paper I look like someone who’s been in K-
12 education for most of the last twenty-five years. Do you have any
advice that will help me get in the door? I will consider anything from
an office job to retail, so long as I do not have to work 60-80 hours a
week without being treated with respect for trying hard to help kids.

Moving On

Dear Moving On:

Update your resume first, and not just the way you did it the last time.
Go online and find current protocol for resume formats. Don’t be
dissuaded from going onto a page 2; if you really have 30 years
experience it’s worth showing it off. Organize your professional history
by skill sets and job titles, as opposed to dates and employers. Re-
rank them based on the priorities of the jobs apply for. That’s step

More importantly get used to adapting what you have done to what
people might pay you for now. Go online to every possible public entity
you might apply for a job. Research every posting that’s open,
whether you would apply for it or not, and make a list of all the
“supplemental questions.” The draft your answers to questions about
your experience with supervision, financial responsibility, diversity,
research and report writing, to name just a common few. These drafts
will give you a basis for your own answers when you actually apply for
jobs o land interviews. It really helps to have a few funny stories and
success stories for relevant topics. Practice saying them aloud,
succinctly and with confidence. Let your experience carry you.

Survival Tips

Survival Tips for the World of Work

Click on the topics below for Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s advice on
situations we all face in our careers:

Resume Writing
Job Hunting
Long-distance Job Hunting
Your First Day At Work
Being A Good Gatekeeper
A Tough ^%^@ Boss
Email Etiquette
Public Speaking
Team Building
Demystifying Statistics
Goal Setting
Changing Jobs
Career Building
An Annual Mental Health Check
25 Summary Tips

10 Commandments for Email Etiquette and Sanity

Ready, Set, Send:

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for Email Etiquette and Sanity


We all depend on and enjoy email. But there are better and worse ways to use it. The
good ones make you look smart, help share ideas (also good jokes and weblinks), and
generally promote marketing and enhance your institutional standing. Bad email
etiquette can damage relationships and your reputation, and even cost you clients or
your job. Emailing looks simple but is a bad place to screw up.


Commandment Number 1: Know the rules.

Assume your company has a stated or implicit policy similar to this one: “Because of maintenance and other processes, non-work related email cannot be accorded
confidentiality. Non-work material of an obviously offensive nature should never be
stored or transmitted using company hardware or software.” Think about the last
hundred emails you sent or received. If the first word in your mind is unprintable
(“obviously offensive”) you need to read these commandments carefully and start
changing your work habits.


Commandment Number 2: Email knows no boundaries.

Anything you email can end up in the mailbox of anyone on the planet with internet
access at any time. (If you missed the infinite possibilities, read that again.) Even with
an explicit disclaimer on your emails (a good idea), they can be forwarded without your
knowledge. On a day you’re angry about a departmental decision, ready to verbally
throttle a co-worker or client, or tempted to call your supervisor a jerk, imagine the
expression on that person’s face when your nemesis forwards your email as part of
some “helpful” suggestion about changing office policy. You might never know. And
worse, if choice words get changed in your message along the way, your career could
take a left turn without a word being spoken. You can’t protect yourself from everything,
but before you send emails, try to remember you have absolutely no control of where
the message might go after it leaves your computer.


Commandment Number 3: Monitor email early and often.

Check your email first and last whenever you’re logged on. If you can monitor your work account from home, consider checking out what’s happening when you’re not in the office. You might not want work to intrude on your “real life,” but even an occasional answer or forward to your boss when you’re officially off the clock can create the illusion that you’re more diligent, 24/7, than you really are, though there is the danger of raising expectations. You don’t have to approach e-junkie status (one definition: if you can go as long between checking email as you can between meals, you’re on the safe side of the line.). Set your email to notify you when you get incoming mail. Staying in touch counts, and will be noticed.


Commandment Number 4: Know your place in the pecking order.

Check to whom the email has been sent. Distinguish between yourself as addressee
(the person who’s supposed to act and respond) and as cc (someone who’s supposed
to know what’s going on or to chime in, but not take over the conversation). CC, by the
way, comes from carbon copy, an ancient 19th century method of duplicating messages
on a typewriter. BCC means the sender doesn’t want other people to know you are in
the loop. If you have been bcc’d (“blind” cc) be especially careful about displaying too
much knowledge about what’s going on, either around the office or by inserting yourself
into the e-dialogue. Be especially careful to distinguish between replies meant only for
internal consumption and those you wouldn’t mind if a customer read. Be very careful
not to “reply to all” if there are clients on the list, unless you’re explicitly the person
designated to respond.


Commandment Number 5: Spam 101 – Nothing’s free in cyberspace.

Your email address can be harvested from various places, including virtually every URL
you visit. Every time you sign up for something “free,” you are inviting future truckloads of unsolicited spam. Your email address might be sold and resold, legally, or illegally even if you decline the free “future updates.” Assume everyone who buys your address will want to do one or more of the following: sell you something, improve your sex life, show you theirs, decrease your mortgage rate, offer you a chance to earn thousands of dollars weekly, or invite you to participate in international money laundering, all for a modest investment of your cash or credit card up front. Ask your computer tech to create some filters and rules to send the incoming spam immediately to your trash bin.
(Note: If you secretly want to read these messages, you can sneak off to the deleted
files and browse.) If you don’t have a way to deflect these messages, they’ll drown out
your real work.


Commandment Number 6: Be careful what you open.

There’s an old rule of teen dating: If it’s not yours, don’t touch it. That may be too extreme for adult email, but with chronic and imminent threats from viruses of all varieties, you should be almost that careful when you handle enclosures. Messages that come with attachments ending in .exe can wreak havoc by “exe”cuting programming that might literally take over your computer’s operating system. Those with .scr, .gif, and .zip are almost as dangerous. Update your virus protection regularly. Be very very careful about opening any attachments, even when you know the sender, because s/he may have already been virused and be looking for new hosts. . Set your own machine for partial downloads (this protects against incoming spam too) and advise others to do so. It may sound paranoid, but ask around. When you hear the horror stories of folks who’ve lost half the files on their hard-drive or weeks of valuable work to a virus, you’ll quickly become a believer.


Commandment Number 7: Spam 102 – Don’t spam others.

Email is a quick high. Everyone likes a good joke, wants to know the latest news, and
enjoys a pick-me- up on a dull day. But because you know what’s going on when you
send the email, it’s easy to assume that life on the other end is in real time, to believe
the recipient will be in the mood and have time for what you want to send. How do you
feel when you’re on deadline or running late, and open an email to find an out-of- date
urban legend, a giant .jpg of someone else’s vacation, child, or pet, or a bad-luck-
unless-you- forward-this- right-now chain letter? Don’t get a reputation as the office
spammer, the person whose emails get trashed because people see you more as a
source of junkmail than content. Have “personal” group of people you trust and whose
values are similar to your own. Especially with emails related to sex, politics, or intimate
aspects of your private life, be careful what you send where. (Remember Commandment Number 2: email knows no boundaries.)


Commandment Number 8: Start filing now.

If you don’t start soon you will be sorry. Email is like yeast. It expands while you’re not
looking. Create whatever filing system works for you. Assign folder names by project,
administrative, marketing, and technical matters, or by person, organization, topic, or
hobby. There are no rules. Practice good work habits. File your emails right after you
read them. If you’re not careful, or fall very far behind, you can easily end up with
thousands of emails clogging your system. It’ll feel like a gut full of too much pizza and
beer. Keep your system moving, even if it means an occasional cyber-flush to file and
delete, whether its daily, weekly, or monthly. Reward yourself when you’re done, but
pay attention lest you dump the wrong messages out of sheer tedium.


Commandment Number 9: Be worth including in the conversation.

Start dialogues that have value. When you see a problem that needs some attention,
use email to get the word out. Be sure what you have to say is worthwhile, but get on
record as being the one to say it. You don’t have to have all the answers, but asking
good questions will also get you noticed by readers who count. Include both co-workers
and supervisors in the e-conversation. Note: If you will be gone for more than a day,
arrange to have someone you trust monitor your email or use an auto-responder.
Knowing when you’ll read and reply matters to most people, especially if your input is
valued or impacts the next step they’ll take on a project.


Commandment Number 10: Send “later.”

Virtually all of us have had that horrific sinking feeling of having sent an email to the
wrong person. Of having said exactly the wrong thing to the wrong person. Avoid fear,
humiliation, and bad client relations. Know where the “stop sending”: button is, though
you have to be really fast to beat the computer. In extreme cases, you can simply yank
the plug from the wall (it”s cheaper to crash your computer than to look for a new job).
But get in the habit of saving to a draft folder, re-reading, and hitting the send button
only when you’ve double-checked what you’re saying to whom.


Does it sound like a lot to remember? It is. No one follows all the rules all the time.
Strive to create work habits that’ll serve as safety nets. They’ll insulate you from the
worst of your blunders or impulses. Follow these commandments and you’ll stand a
better chance of staying aloft in cyberspace.

10 Commandments for Team Building through Meetings


Go, Team, Go!

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for Team Building through Meetings


Most people hate meetings. Everyone with too much real work to do that is. So how can you use the time when your crew is gathered to solve problems, create and enhance a sense of group identity, and make your meeting time more productive? Regardless of the specific focus, every agenda should have the same flow and subtext: Goals, Deliverables, Ideas, Resources, Constraints, Solutions. Focus the attendees’ time and energy using these 10 commandments:


Commandment Number 1: Understand your authority.

Are you in charge because someone appointed you, because you’re the supervisor, because of seniority, relevant experience, academic degree, job title, the boss’s favor, because you asked for it or got stuck with it? Why should these people follow your lead? What’s in it for them? Your twin challenges are to earn their respect and solve a problem for the organization. If there’s a sense of rivalry (a spoken or subliminal version of, if s/he fails I can show how much better I could do) you’ll need to transmute that energy into something less volatile and more productive.


Commandment Number 2: Create a team identity.

A shared sense of mission binds people to a common cause. Sometimes it’s pride in being thought of as the best (think Marine Corps ads). Sometimes it’s based on a prize (goal: we get a bonus for accomplishing X). In the best of worlds it’s based on a mutual sense of being able to produce or accomplish something (be it an ad campaign, fixing the broken scheduling system, or any other institutional challenge) because folks really like doing their jobs. Your task is to get people to see the goal as worth more than their individual egos. They should become proud to work together.


Commandment Number 3: Identify the short- and long-run goals.

Everyone should know why they’re in the room. Clarify up-front the timelines, the problems you need to solve, the products you need to create, and the process you’ll use to do it. Set a context for why you’re taking everyone’s time away from what they’d rather be doing, whether that’s actual work, or surfing the internet and making personal calls on company time. Keep a list of deliverables and deadlines posted prominently. Make sure you have time at each meeting for identifying problems, suggesting possible solutions, and building consensus around what to do next.


Commandment Number 4: Get everyone involved.

Trust the way leadership works. Think democracy, not dictatorship. By the time you leave the room, you want everyone invested in the outcome. To get there, they’ve got to be part of the process. Give them all a chance to talk. If you’re staring at sullen silence and folded arms, something’s very wrong. When hands are waving and folks are so excited they interrupt one another to talk, a meeting’s really cooking. Harvest every scrap of an idea on a whiteboard or big sheets of paper. Keep them legibly and visibly in everyone’s field of vision. Help every person in the room feel like a smart contributor. Give appreciation for their input, even if you think it’s stupid or off the mark.


Commandment Number 5: Balance control and independence.

You want abundant creativity, without wasting too much energy on schemes that are fiscally or politically out of orbit. But don’t squelch any ideas too soon. Something that first sounds impossible could convert into a creative solution later. Practice asking: “What’s good about that insight, and what’s not? How do we fix the not and keep the good?” As you identify problems, go back to the team for solutions. For any “it” that’s particularly tough, keep asking: “How can we fix that?” Early in the discussion, keep all the ideas flowing. With luck the team will identify solutions during the meeting. If not, there’s homework ahead.


Commandment Number 6: Mind the clock.

Announce the duration of each meeting and a limit for each speaker’s input. You can operate via recognition by a moderator, an open-mike free-for-all, or passing a baton, coffee mug, or silly hat. But you should appoint a clock monitor to cut off self-appointed geniuses and long-winded drones. First get all whining out of the way: what’s wrong, why we’re stuck, what’ll never change, blah blah blah. Then invite suggestions of alternative solutions. This is the part of a meeting that gives brain-storming its name. Try to identify the universe of possibilities, anything they’d like to see as part of the final answer. Save enough time to evaluate options and agree on what happens next.


Commandment Number 7: Use carrots and sticks as needed

You’re bound to have a mix of recalcitrant donkeys and over-eager beavers, each uniquely problematic. Promises of rewards or future success are good inducements to participate. Praise and recognition go a long way too, as do one-on-one meetings with each participant in which you say (even if you need to wash your mouth out later) “We’re sure lucky you’re on our team.” But you’ll have to make them personal, in case folks compare notes about your pep talks. Be sure to diffuse troublemakers early. They may hate meetings, or simply not like you. But quickly let them quickly know the downsides of impeding the group’s progress.


Commandment Number 8: A little nosh never hurts.

Food has an intrinsic appeal and helps draw folks into the room. The endorphins that a little sugar and fat produce, the insights that caffeine will stimulate, and the general sense of goodwill that an eating break engenders can all be your allies. You don’t want your meetings to degenerate to a coffee klatch. But it’s better to have folks feeling sated and comfortable than waiting like nervous recruits for the drill sergeant to bark at them before breakfast. Create an atmosphere of collegiality and see how your team responds.


Commandment Number 9: Assign homework as you need to.

Create task teams to pursue different alternatives. Acknowledge the costs and benefits of proposed solutions. Assign the biggest whiners to help resolve pet peeves (though only one per working group or you risk mutiny). Be clear about the specific mission of each subgroup, and how much time they should spend. Have each team email the whole committee 48 hours before the next group meeting, and detail their progress. Their homework should explain the problem they were assigned to examine, summarize the steps they took to resolve it, identify their preferred solution, and the advantages and constraints of their recommendations. This all feeds the next agenda. Note: It helps if people read these emails before they walk into the room.


Commandment Number 10: Create consensus.

Your goal is to get everyone to buy into a final solution. They should leave every meeting with a how-can-we-do-it attitude (emphasis on the we), and with enough momentum to get them to do whatever it is you’ve agreed upon. Some philosophers say, whatever the boss says goes. Others believe that if even one person disagrees, the group should not proceed. Opt for a more moderate mandate, a blend of common sense and necessity that’s likely to generate respect and energy, and that passes the red face test (you’re able to announce your recommendations without blushing). Get every attendee to agree, before they leave the room, that they’ll work towards the proposed solution, even if it’s not perfect, because it offers a better future than their current reality.


Be sure you to take a minute to summarize how the time was spent, giving credit to folks for their enthusiasm, contributions, willingness to do more, or other aspects of participation. Like an series of inoculations, it may take several rounds to be successful. But if you can get your crew in harness, used to the meeting process, and genuinely aimed in the right direction, you’ll find that both your authority and your team’s productivity will bring many new future rewards. Plus you get coffee and a bagel.










10 Commandments for Long Distance Communication


Help Wanted: Must Give Good Phone

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for
Long Distance Communication


Most of us don’t have a lot of face-to-face contact with the people we do business with. There’s the usual cast of characters you meet at the water cooler or bump into “down the hall.” People you communicate with through email and via text messaging. These are related but different art forms. But a primary form of communication that’s unlikely to vanish for at least a few decades is the hone, and its kissing cousin voicemail. With some skills and confidence you can make these among the most effective tools in your professional quiver.


There’s lots of reasons you dial people: to sell them something; to get information so you can customize a bid or proposal; to get them to read whatever you want to send them. Not every commandment is relevant in every situation. But understanding how they work will get you a reputation that’ll serve you well with colleagues and clients at home and away. The rules below focus on outgoing calls, but also work for incoming. Think relationship building as you read. Remember: Any or all of these folks might do your career some good or ill. And you might never know how or when.


Commandment Number 1: Aim for human contact.

Let’s face it, getting through to the person you want to talk to isn’t as easy as it was in the old days. Then most people picked up every call, themselves! Now, caller ID announces to everyone who you are and what company you’re with. In addition, instead of connecting directly with your target, you may encounter a gatekeeper, someone whose job is to prevent you from speaking to the person you want to find. Better than voicemail, but also trickier. The commandments below will work for both quarry and guard. But you may need to be persistent in your dialing, masking your name or revealing it in alternating tries, in order to actually reach a live person or get them to return your call.


Commandment Number 2: Be polite.

No matter what voice appears on the other end of the line, you want to be perceived as professional. Starting with “Hey” is the fast track to a click and a dial tone. Introduce yourself quickly with “Hello I’m [name] with [org]l and I’d like to speak with X about Y” or some other short declarative, informative sentence. Then ask their name, even if you were told it by the company operator. Your goal is to get the person on the other end both listening and speaking, not figuring out how to get rid of you. Once they’ve said hello they’re less likely give you an immediate rejection. Having established contact, ask for one minute of their time. No matter how busy a person is, they have one minute to share, if they want to share it. And make sure to ask some questions, so the other person gets actively engaged.


Commandment Number 3: Be professional.

When you give your pitch, be short, sweet, and invitational. Sound like someone they want to talk to, someone offering something they’ll value, not wanting to take something from them, especially a lot of time. If you need information, sound plausible, not shady. Speak clearly and steadily, with few pauses. Pauses allow people to say no thanks or good bye or some other conversation-ending word. Give enough information for them to see your usefulness. Do it in a way that’s not a hard sell (even if you’re selling) but that suggests there’s more and better soon if they’ll give you a little more time. Key words like resource, value-added, and other language that implies they’ll benefit from the relationship are good vocabulary to master. So is a sincere tone.


Commandment Number 4: Be personal, within reason.

Everyone wants to be recognized. They want to feel welcome and liked. If you can engage them briefly on something not related to work, even for an instant (the weather or their local team’s latest achievement, for example) you’ll have broken through the hardest barrier: becoming real to them. If you speak to them often keep track of their vacations, children, even pets. A contact file is a useful tool; you can use software or 3×5 cards, whatever helps you tell Joe from John from Joan. Important: Know your boundaries. Don’t ask about sex, religion, or politics, even with someone whom you think you know well. People are rarely fully honest on these issues and you’re more likely to hurt than help yourself.


Commandment Number 5: Control content and contact flow.

Give what you want; get what you need. That’s true for voice-to-voice or voice-to-machine. It includes all the befriending tips above, revealing enough but not all of why you want to connect until you get to where you want to go. At a minimum, get the name and number of another person to talk to, and start the wooing again. Always say goodbye in a way that implies you’ll make the next move, even if the listener does nothing between now and then. It’s very important to keep that right for yourself, whether that’s calling again (If you didn’t get to your true target or accomplish your mission), sending an email (you can include more content), or speaking to another person in the organization.


Commandment Number 6: Leave good messages.

You may make it through a gatekeeper but then get shunted to voicemail. Rather than fumbling for words, have your message ready, sounding competent but automated. State your phone number early, slowly, and carefully, and repeat it again, slowly, last. You should sound crisp and professional, efficient and businesslike. Ideally they will listen to your message themselves rather than have an assistant monitoring the line. But in either case you want to leave your contact info, refer them to your website, or give other content that makes them interested enough to either take some/any step in your direction or think well enough of you that they’ll respond to your follow-up.


Commandment Number 7: Wear a headset.

This commandment is especially true if your primary job is cold-calling others. But it’s useful for all conversations, even in-house ones. Headsets are more than ergonomic. They’re a way to get comfy enough to communicate freely. If you’re comfortable you’ll sound more relaxed. When you’re more relaxed you’ll sound more personal. Listen for the difference between a speakerphone call and a headset one. You’ll easily discern that the person who sounds comfortable also sounds more confident. Also, headsets will keep your volume and content from being overheard by curious eavesdroppers. Never, ever, communicate confidential information via speakerphone.


Commandment Number 8: Know your buttons.

Everyone hates being on hold. What they hate more is being disconnected. And if you’ve finally gotten though to your target, the last thing you want to do is accidentally lose them. Master all the details of your phone system: how to put folks on hold, three-way the call to add a colleague, transfer to other folks, or record the conversation. A modern phone is as sophisticated as a computer. Take the time, tedious as it may seem, to know what tools are available to you and how to use them. And keep the list of relevant extensions right by your phone.


Commandment Number 9: Be careful how you multitask.

No one likes hearing someone chew lunch in their ear. If the listener hears the sounds of your keyboard tapping in the background of a call, they may not know if you’re taking notes on the conversation or working on an email to your boyfriend. Ditto for opening or wrapping packages, blowing your nose, slurping coffee, sorting through mail or recycling, and horror of horrors, flushing. If you get a call-interrupt, make the split-second judgment about who is most important. If you must, and I mean emergency must, put someone on hold, ask for their permission and wait to hear “sure, “ knowing you might still lose them. Give the subject of your call the most focused attention that you can.


Commandment Number 10: Say thanks.

Everyone works too hard. They want to feel that you’ve appreciated the time they’ve spent with you. Even if you got shut down hard at the door, say a thank you that sounds sincere. You may need to call back in the future and you want the call answered. If you got what you needed, be especially sure to ask if there’s any way you can be of more help. Keep reminding yourself: you may never meet this person one-on-one in person. How you phone is how they will remember you.


You want people to like you enough to tell the truth, give you information, and be willing to talk to you again if you need to call back. The most important thing is to make them feel that the time with you  was not wasted. Work to keep the doors of access open, for yourself and any colleague who might need to dial the same number.




10 Commandments for Your First Day at Work

Hi, My Name is … and I’m the New …..

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments

for Your First Day at Work


You’ve probably had the dream in which you go to work naked and realize it only once you’re there. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll approach your first day at a new job with the same sense of vulnerability. There are ways to make the process less scary, to begin to create the safety zones and survival systems you’ll need to succeed, prosper, and generally to feel like you fit in. Here they are:


Commandment Number 1: Dress the part.

By now, you’ve met enough of the people you’re going to work with to have some sense of the company’s style. You certainly have an idea of how your supervisor dresses and might have already met a cross-section of co-workers. Dress to fit in. Avoid looking like the new kid on the block, with price tags hanging from your shiny, new, first-day clothes. Feel and look comfortable so that you’ll more easily blend in. Think chameleon, not flamingo. No matter what else is on your body, you’ll also be wearing invisible New Guy (or Gal) labels pinned fore and aft, but you might as well look as though you’ve been there forever.


Commandment Number 2: Learn your way around.

Even if it takes skipping into the bathroom to sketch a map or write yourself directions, keep track of what’s where, from the bathrooms themselves to the coffee room, copier, supply closet, and especially your own department and work station. Nothing will remind people that you’re new, and irritate them more, than having to interrupt their own productive time to show you the way to the coffee machine. You may make new friends along the way, but better to meet folks over work, and have them think you’re competent, than when you’re lost. Note: the malingerers who spend their time waiting around the water cooler, offering to be helpful, may not be the folks you want to be seen hanging with.


Commandment Number 3: Remember names.

It helps to have an org chart or the internet to look at before you go in, so you can put a face with a name. Your goal is to learn and remember who’s who and who’s not, not merely in the pecking order of power but in their relationship to your job and department. It’s tacky to collect business cards from people in your own company, but you can ask for a list of names, titles, email addresses and phone extensions, or some other internal crib sheet, to carry off to your lair and study. You want to learn  the right folks, the right communications channels, and company’s infrastructure. The sooner you can know who is what to whom, and to you, the better.


Commandment Number 4: Befriend the secretaries.

Or as they may be variously called in these enlightened times: the executive assistants, gatekeepers, or any other official or even self-proclaimed custodians of senior officials and department heads. They are invaluable sources of knowledge about who’s who, what’s where, what happened when, who did what to whom. They are the keepers of keys, forms, passwords, institutional history and skullduggery, personal secrets of the staff, corporate knowledge and culture. Never discount them. Until you’ve earned their trust, you’re likely to be viewed with caution. You are also a potential new source of information and future gossip, so you’ll probably get at least an initial honeymoon of interest. This same advice goes for the computer tech support people, in whose good graces you should always aim to stay.


Commandment Number: 5 Keep a clipboard handy.

Take good notes. You may get the day-long orientation tour of your new company or you may get tossed immediately into a work scenario with performance deadlines. Either way, you’ll have a new environment full of details to keep track of. Become an information sponge. Keep an ongoing list of questions; pay attention to answers as they show up; be ready to plug any hole in your mental database as quickly as you can. Jot down all relevant, mysterious, or repeated  passwords, keywords, acronyms, and phrases. Absorb as much as you can, even if the context or information seems temporarily incomplete. This whole exercise is like a jigsaw puzzle: you are both a puzzle piece and responsible for assembling the whole picture.


Commandment Number 6: Connect with the Personnel Dept.

Make sure you sign all the appropriate forms to show you were hired, started work, and are eligible for benefits (or in a terrible world, unemployment if it doesn’t work out). Come prepared to provide your driver’s license, proof of citizenship or immigration status, SSN, and other relevant legal documents. Get every documented detail about: your job description, company personnel policies, salary and performance review schedules, union info, and benefits and insurance plans (including when your eligibility kicks in). If there is a formal employment agreement, sign and date it. Remember to ask for a copy of everything that goes into your file.


Commandment Number 7: Meet with your mentor.

You may not realize you already have a mentor. You’ll probably acquire more, or different, mentors as time goes on. But for now, the person who said Yes, Him, or Yes, Her, is the one to whom you owe loyalty and allegiance, at least until proven otherwise. Ask your mentor what s/he sees as your most important goals for the first week, month, and six months. Ask if there are particular projects to focus on and pitfalls to avoid. Learn how to best, and quickly, become a productive member of the existing team. Demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment. You don’t need to slobber, but you should express your appreciation for being chosen, and set a time, say, in a month, to exchange feedback.


Commandment Number 8: Learn the local currency.

Every job has targets that win you rewards (think raises, better office, designated parking place, bonus) or booby prizes (think pink slip). Make sure you understand how success is valued. The targets may be sales quotas, timeliness on deliverables, efficiency in minutes per service call, pages typed, or some other measurable variable. Whatever the product or chores, big or small, short-run or long, how you perform them will ultimately determine your future at the company. So learn the rules and the path up the pay scale. Make sure you know who sets specific, targeted goals and what the standards and review periods are for evaluating your performance.


Commandment Number 9: Brown bag, but be flexible.

Plan to lunch at your desk, but be ready to accept an invitation. Your boss gets first dibs, then your immediate coworkers. Everyone will want to get to know you and give you “the scoop,” for their sake as much as yours. You’re the next kid on the block, and they’ll be deciding if you’re a good addition to their clique (think junior high). You’ll need allies, but remember: in the weeks to come, you’ll have plenty of time to decide which folks to eat or drink with. Focus on the job as much as the people, but don’t alienate them by seeming too stuck up for their attention. (Note: much more on the rules and nuances of office politics in an upcoming column).


Commandment Number 10: Buckle up for hard work.

If you’re looking at this company as a place you’ve not only landed but want to succeed, you need to assimilate not merely the social niceties and internal politics, but the work itself. Remember: they are paying you to perform. You need to master your job, whatever they hired you to do. You need to get good, and relatively quickly, to validate their decision that, of all the applicants, they picked the right one. It’s like cramming for finals during the first week of term. The tough part now; the benefits come later. Pay your dues and plan for success.


Belt yourself in. Your first day is a big change from reading the want ads or dialing for informational interviews. How you do your job will determine many of the options that follow, at least in this company. Today is the first step down a road that took lots of energy to step onto. Make it pay off big.



10 Commandments for a Long and Happy Career

Live Long and Prosper!

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments

for a Long and Happy Career


Work is a wonderful dimension for personal growth as well as a necessity to pay your bills. It can provide you with a venue to work out personal issues as well as simply providing a means to pay the rent. But as the comedian’s old stand-by goes something like this: I met a guy the other day who said he hated his job. So I told him, “If it wasn’t work, they wouldn’t pay you would they?!


What’s the moral here? That you can never be happy in your job? That you’re doomed to decades of misery on the gerbil wheel, slaving away to pay off the mortgage and your child’s braces? No! Let me repeat, No!, NO!, NO! But it takes paying attention to both how you live your day-to-day, and your year-to-year.


Here’s some tips on how to do it. Read them now and once a year on the anniversary of your hiring date. If the advice starts to feel too different from your life, see what’s gone off track.


Commandment No. 1: Choose your career and jobs wisely.

We all work for the money, whether it’s a big paycheck or a small one. But there’s lots of other non-monetary benefits to working, from being productive to social connections to keeping sharp and useful. Goal one: enjoy what you do for a living. Strive to spend your days doing something you genuinely love. But if that’s not possible, aim for jobs that optimize your strengths and also keep challenging you. Any day you wake up dreading the idea of going into the office is the right time to update your resume and start looking for new opportunities. Ask yourself regularly, Is this what I want to do with my time? If you say No too often it is time to take action.


Commandment No. 2: Keep challenging yourself.

That means everything from pushing for new tasks and responsibilities in the job you have to going to school to prepare for the next and better one. Invest in brain training and learning. Read; study; get on the computer. Pursue knowledge in every form, even once your newest employee agreement is gathering dust in your file. Keep your mind facile and active so it’ll be there when you need it to get a promotion, a raise, or your next job. Learning also allows you to demonstrate what you know in ways that can enhance your professional reputation.


Commandment No. 3: Network, network, network.

The first thing anyone in a new sales job is asked to do is to make a list of everyone they know. The criterion is often this: if you cannot identify 200 names, you probably don’t have the network or social temperament to sell. Allies are important in every career. Not just as a person to open their wallet and buy your product, but also as a network to help you move up in your company or to forward your resume when you’re looking for a better job.  They’ll be there for you in the long run, as you will be there for them. Look for folks to network with at all points in the corporate food chain, both mentors t you and folks you can mentor. You never know who’ll be in a position to help you down the line.


Commandment No. 4: Help others.

Help when you’re asked, even if it takes you out of your way or takes time you’re not sure you have. Some of what you’ll remember best over the course of your career aren’t the easy or happy times. They may be the crises when you had to make tough decisions, when you had an opportunity to step up, help out, and give much more than you may think you are able. Share what you know easily and eagerly. Not as a buttinski show-off to show folks up, but as a competent expert on whatever you’re good at, ready to make your whole team look good and be successful.


Commandment No. 5: Avoid getting entangled in office politics.

Don’t gossip. That means don’t gossip about either yourself or others. Protect your reputation and your privacy. You’ll want a non-work life that’s really separate. That goes for access to your online profiles too. Consider layers of privacy screens. Remember that people love to remind folks later about exactly what you’d most prefer be forgotten. In office dealings, especially if there’s nasty relationships where you feel you have to choose as side: don’t! Be the person everyone likes and trusts. Tell folks what you feel, even if it’s awkward. But take care before you speak ill of others. Don’t let disagreements linger too long lest they erode your working relationships and turn someone from a bad colleague into your personal nemesis.


Commandment No. 6: Negotiate wisely and firmly.

Become the person that bosses will be willing to pay to have on their staff. That means not just high self-esteem based in your ego but confidence grounded in performance. Be able to point to your achievements, your talents, your skills, and your revenue-generating history and potential. Avoid being low-balled at the front door of hiring; every extra dollar you can get starting Day 1 will multiply over time. Keep tabs on the market for your job so you know what other places will pay for someone of your caliber. When someone compliments your job, ask him or her to send a note to your boss or to HR. Be sure to have documented annual performance reviews and good letters of reference current and on file. They’ll pay off over time.


Commandment No. 7: Stay flexible.

Control freaks are often frustrated by the world. You can’t control everything, and you shouldn’t want to. Take your lumps when they come and learn how to bounce. Life’s full of knuckleheads and knuckleballs. No one’s immune or exempt. When you think people are out to thwart you, take the time to look at it from their point of view. (This might take a beer, a buddy, or both.) Think about each problem like a big glittery disco ball with a thousand facets: you can press on any one of them to change how things will happen. Think carefully and strategically before you commit yourself completely to any one approach. There’s lots of ways to get where you want to go. Make your own good luck; then be willing to share it.


Commandment No. 8: Take good care of your health.

We weren’t meant to live at desks, at computers, or with electronic devices in our hands. Being more physically fit helps your attention span as much as your muscles. Smart eating and regular exercise will enable you to enjoy life longer and more happily than if you end up a bloated coach potato. Plus you never know who’s on the next treadmill. Gyms, golf courses, and yoga classes are great places to network. Knowing a great hideaway restaurant with trendy food, or the best place to get your favorite drink is a wonderful excuse to invite someone with whom you want a special convo. Like it or not, people pay attention to how you look and what you put in your face. Make your choices worthy of respect.


Commandment No. 9: Do an annual career check-in and tune up.

Once a year, make a list of where you want to be 365 days later. Then measure where you are against those goals. You should consider everything from cash income to job title, responsibilities, upside promotion potential, and positioning to learn new skills. If you feel like there’s no way to move forward, ask for more training, responsibilities, or opportunities in some form that will allow higher-ups to notice you. Don’t let yourself get stuck or stale. Time moves fast and the older your get the easier it is to get pigeonholed. Keep your long-run vision sharp and don’t be afraid of making changes if that’s what it takes to create new possibilities.


Commandment No. 10: Choose to be happy.

Life’s too short to be miserable or to make things more complicated than you need to. We live in a world of marvelous surprises. It’s good to have goals, and to plan to manifest them. But don’t go through life with blinders or mono-vision. If you do, you’ll miss a lot of what the universe has to offer. Leave room and time for good things to happen that you might not have the imagination to predict or ask for.


You may never have a career that brings you a Nobel Prize or an Oscar for lifetime achievement. You may never even have your dream job. But you can make your Monday-Fridays 9-5, or your night or swing shifts, a time of fulfillment as well as remunerative productivity. Go for it!!