Category Archives: Survival Tips

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
Interviewing
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 Starting the Year Off Right

 

On Your Mark…Go!

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for Starting the Year Off Right

 

The holidays were last month. A few actual weeks of M-F, 9-5 and reality is sinking in: the fun is over and they actually expect you to work for your paycheck. No more parties, less schmoozing, no juicy bonus fantasies to keep you smiling. It’s back to the grind. Work, work, work. Accountability. Yikes.

 

And if that weren’t enough, those pesky, familiar, resolutions that sounded so promising a few weeks ago are like one more should sitting heavy in your gut. So how can you use January to turn them into reality? How can you make 2006 a happy and successful time? Start here:

 

Commandment # 1. Clean your desk.

It may sound simple but it will force you to get a handle on where you’ve been. Fruitcake stupor or too much shopping, December takes its toll. Rather than feeling like you’ve been dumped onto concrete, take some control of your re-entry. Buried under the seasons greetings and the cookie crumbs are important things you need to remember, things you once thought you wanted to do, things that other people, the people who pay your paycheck, expect you to do. Get yourself off to a rolling start. Clean through email, assemble files, make stacks, make lists, remember what’s due this month. Get out your calendar and set priorities for the next few weeks. Once you’re back in the saddle, you’ll start to feel better.

 

Commandment # 2. Catch up on your work.

Let’s face it, no matter how diligent you planned to be, it’s impossible not slack off at least a little during the holidays. You’re in luck, as most other folks have done the same. But the smart ones are going to act as though they’ve been pulling team weight all along, and deserve everyone’s thanks for doing so. Figure out what’s due and when, what you need to have from yourself and others to make it so. Then roll up your sleeves and get busy. Accomplish even some small steps for the deadlines you need to meet; they’ll inspire more action soon. Send emails to the right people to show you’re on top of the new year. Do what needs to be done, even if it means some aerobic sprints to catch up.

 

Commandment # 3. Update your resume.

Think about how other people see you: your resume is the two-dimensional window they look through. Even if you’re not looking to change jobs, it’s a good exercise to do every year. It’s a reminder of what you’ve done in your current job, what you’re good at that you, your employer, and any prospective new employer should value, and what you’d have to sell on the job market if something pink appears with your paycheck. Update your accomplishments, list new skills and current references who’ll sing your praises. Your updated resume will boost your confidence for the here and now as well as for the future possible. It’ll help you be ready to apply for internal promotions as well as identify areas in which you should seek additional experience or training.

 

Commandment # 4. Do a reality check of your career.

Take a survey of your work life. Be honest and realistic when you do so. First, see what’s fulfilling and what’s lacking. Make two lists: on the left side of the page write everything you like about your current situation; on the right side identify what you want different by December. Step two: see where your commitment and motivation intersect. On the right list, highlight the words that are most important to accomplish. (At a minimum identify the most important sectors where you want to make changes.) On the left list, circle what you’d be willing to sacrifice some of in order to make those changes happen. You don’t need to start on all of them tomorrow. But getting your brain wrapped around the trade-offs will help make them real. Open your mind first; your body will follow.

 

Commandment # 5. Set some specific goals.

Your goals may be around those pesky 20 pounds, a promotion, raise, new office, or even a new job. Whatever the specifics, name them and plant them in the center of your psychic bulls-eye. Believing you’re worth the upgrade is the first step to achieving it. Visualize yourself in the new situation. Imagine yourself vibrant and strong. Then start every day on the way to work with a mantra. Repeat several times to yourself: I deserve to [your personal goal here]. [Note: it helps do to this quietly so people don’t think you’re a muttering loon, but it really does help to say them out loud. It’s been documented that speaking the words has an actual impact on the value you give them and the motivation they give you.] Action follows intention. Decide where you want to go and you’ll start taking steps to get there.

 

Commandment #6. Do for others.

Not much in life beats feeling like you’ve helped. Acts of kindness and usefulness enhance any day. They’ll make you feel good as well as productive. If you have a chance to help a co-worker (especially one that you like or want to have like you), take it. That can mean anything from making copies or getting coffee to using your brain. Don’t worry about getting credit for what you do, or the time it takes from your own projects. You’ll be more efficient with those commitments later. The same goes for assisting people on whose team you’d like to earn a place. Volunteer to be the extra pair of hands on a rush job. Participate in brainstorming sessions for new projects. Become someone people want to have around in a crunch. It’ll help your reputation and how you’re valued.

 

Commandment #7. Let others do for you.

You don’t always have to be the hero. When you’re offered helping hands, take them, assuming they’re competent and caring about your welfare. As good as helping makes you feel, it feels as good to others. There are times when you simply cannot get everything done that you need to if you try to do it on your own. If it’s a choice of being late or doing a bad job on a deadline, don’t waste more than a few minutes wondering if it’s okay to ask for help. There’s no shame in cashing in some reciprocal buddy chits and in building a team of reliable folks for mutual crisis support. Ask for help when you need it, and take it when it’s offered. Say thank you graciously, and maybe even with chocolate.

 

Commandment # 8. Balance work and life.

Work effectively when you’re at your job. But also think about what makes you happy, what you want from life, what you like about how you’ve done it so far and what you want to change. This doesn’t have to be a heavy exercise in deep psychology. But it’s healthy to balance out stress and the daily grind with some intentionally non-productive time. Give your energy sincerely and with focus wherever you are. If you’re at work, then work. If you’re off-duty, then allow yourself the freedom of mind to be with the ones you’re with. Without people who care about you, money and success can feel emptier than you expect. Nourish your heart as well as your wallet.

 

Commandment # 9. Make time for taking care of you.

You give at work, give to family, give to friends. Give yourself the best gift of all, the gift of time. For at least 30 minutes a day, let yourself do whatever you most want in that moment, without guilt. Pick up your book or pet the cat. Let your blood pressure drop and remember how to relax. Make time to walk, to breath fresh air, to look at the moon, to watch grass grow. Use your body as more than transport from Point A to Point B. Taking good care of your physical self will boost your resilience, your immune system, and give you a greater sense of happiness. The glow will show and people will be more drawn to you. People, btw, includes bosses and interviewers, as well as friends and family.

 

Commandment # 10. Choose happiness.

Remember that the more often you choose to be happy, the more likely you will be. Make yourself a priority this year by lightening up. Play more often. Sing in the shower or the car. Let yourself indulge in people and experiences. Play can mean time with yourself or any significant other, one on one, or with groups from your sports team to your choir. It can mean learning something new or practicing something old. It can even mean shopping. Whatever makes you feel like you’re having fun, give yourself a little more of it each week. You’ve earned it.

 

A brilliant holiday card said simply: Hope. Magic. Inspiration. Use those thoughts to start your year off right. If you practice these commandments, and inspire yourself with hope, you’ll be into a happier new rhythm by spring.

 

 

10 Commandments for Acing Your Interview

Show Time!

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments

for Acing Your Interview

 

Congratulations. You made the cut! You’re on the list of people to be interviewed for a job. Maybe it’s your dream job or maybe it’s just a job you need to pay the rent. Either way, it’s a chance to practice your interviewing skills and make a good impression on a person or group of people who might play a big role in your future. So how do you get from the auditions to the starring cast, from the silent cameo to the Oscars? Start with the commandments below:

 

Commandment Number1: Do your homework

If the company has a website, go through it from home to contact pages. Learn everything you can about the company, the key players, what they do, how they make their money, their mission, their products, their financial history. Read the bios (especially if you know who’s going to interview you). Study the org chart. Google them for articles about the company on the internet. Collect clues about what makes them money, what their reputation and prospects are. See how the job you are applying for might fit into that future.

 

Commandment Number 2: Look the part.

If you’re applying to be a file clerk, don’t show up in a three-piece suit. But if you’re going to a classy law firm, leave your running shoes at the gym. Above all, go for an outfit that you feel comfortable in. Nothing with stains or odor. And nothing so new and shiny that you look like you’re in a rented costume. How you wear your clothes and your body will make people feel at ease with you. The more comfortable you look and feel, the easier it is for interviewers to imagine you around them day-to-day. And be sure to avoid any cologne or after-shave that might bother a sensitive interviewer.

 

Commandment Number 3: Have your answers ready.

You should have an anecdote prepared for each job on your resume. Know what you liked best about it, what was your greatest achievement, and know why you left. Don’t be so practiced that you sounds like a politician giving a stump speech, but know your answers. Practice your delivery till you sound thoughtful, casual, and professional, all at once. Deliver the truth about tough situations without slamming your former supervisors. Your listeners might hear you subbing in their names in some future interview. Have a neutral cover story for bad endings. If you got fired, have a good story ready to explain why. ( Review: “My boss was a jerk” is an example of a very bad answer. “I’d run out of challenges.” sounds much better.)

 

Commandment Number 4: Don’t undersell.

There are places in life for false modesty but a job interview is not one of them. The reason you are there is to convince the people on the other side of the table that you are better  than the other applicants for the job. Don’t say you can do things that you can’t (see Commandment #5). But don’t shuffle your feet, stare at the floor, and mumble “Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve never tried anything like that before. Is it hard?” If they ask you about some xyz that you haven’t specifically done, say “Not exactly, but I have done abc.” And then launch into some success story, assuming xyz and abc are related. Always stress that you are a quick learner, good with new software, and that you balance independence with communication.

 

Commandment Number 5: Don’t oversell.

Interviewers can smell a con job a mile away. Try lying to your bathroom mirror and see the plethora of visual cues you’ll give them if you’re faking too much. If you try to fool them and fail, you’ll never make the next cut. If interviewers use keywords or jargon that’s not familiar, it could be intentional, to see how you’ll cope with unknowns. Ask for a definition, or an example of how it is used in their organization. See if you can relate it to something in your experience. But if you haven’t gotten past Physics 101, don’t claim to be a rocket scientist. Honesty is more valuable to an employer than an inflated ego that might cause costly mistakes.

 

Commandment Number 6: Ask intelligent questions.

Focus on the company, the job, and your part on the team. Ask about the short- and long-run projects and priorities and how this position fits into the overall picture. Ask what traits and experience they most need. Don’t ask about salary or benefits until they offer you the job. Your priority (as they see it) should be to learn about what you’d be doing, how it is useful to the mission of the company, and what they most value in that position. The point of your questions is to highlight your strengths, both experiential and personal. Show them you can think and talk at the same time. And then listen carefully to their answers.

 

Commandment Number 7: Display a range of personality.

Make them laugh and make them take you seriously. Show enthusiasm and specific intelligence about the tasks you’d be performing. But also be the kind of colleague they can imagine having a bad day in the trenches with. Make them want to have you around when the going is tough, as well as trusting you to prevent that from happening. Be seen as the perfect utility infielder. And for goodness sake be prepared to answer questions about the biggest challenges you’ve overcome, your biggest failure, and your biggest weakness. A classic answer is, I work too hard, but it is becoming a cliché. Above all, show flexibility and resilience, plus a sense of humor.

 

Commandment Number 8: Make your contact personal.

No matter how many folks are across the table from you, develop a sense of rapport with each of them.  Make sure to create a personal connection. Have a handshake that is firm and not clammy. Make eye contact around the table. You don’t have to use their names in answers (which some people find annoying), but you should convey the sense that you are comfortable around them, that you’d fit in. They have the final vote on whether or not you make it to the next stage of review. So make sure they can distinguish you from the pool of other applicants. Leave them with a sense of why you are unique and the right choice. Make them want to go to bat for you.

 

Commandment Number 9: Supply good references.

This includes not just a one-sheet with accurate name, phone number, email, and how they know you, but access to people who will say something specifically good about your performance, especially as it relates to the job you are applying for. Nothing is as impressive as a great letter. But some companies have been sued over bad references, and now have policies about giving only name, job title, and dates of employment. Silence is not golden, it will hurt you by the implication that they won’t break the rules to be positive about you. Be persistent. Find a supervisor, or at a minimum a coworker, who is willing to say something positive and specific about your experience and achievements. Good words include reliable, accurate, responsible, trustworthy, innovative, cost-conscious, and dependable.

 

Commandment Number 10: Send a thank you note.

And do it right away. In the olden days, a handwritten note would be great. But now, an email ensures that you’ll get onto their screen the next day, while they are still winnowing the interviewees into the ultimate short list. Collect business cards and email addresses. Address the note to the lead person and cc others. Be sure to say your version of: Thanks for the interview. I liked you. I’m excited about the possibilities. I think I’m the right fit for the job. I hope you think so too. I really look forward to working with you all.

 

After that, whether or not you get the job is an unfathomable combination of luck, karma, and who else is in the pool the same time as you. Keep visualizing yourself working there, happily cashing your paycheck. And pray for the phone to ring.

 

 

10 Commandments for Surviving Public Speaking

 

Lights, Camera, Eeek Eeek Eeek!

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for Surviving Public Speaking

 

Everyone hates to give a presentation or speech. Well, maybe not everyone. There are showoffs, actors, and people who are secretly from another galaxy who appear to like it. They can talk to groups and seem poised, articulate, intelligent, and worth people’s time and attention. But you? Me? Yikes? Where’s the exit? The nearest bathroom? A dying relative (real or fictional) to rescue us from the podium?

 

Most people respond this way even if “all” they have to do is a small presentation, let alone a speaking gig where the focus of everyone’s attention is, well, YOU! Studies show people rank fear of public speaking above that of dying. So if you can’t get out of it, or feel brave enough to try, use these commandments to help yourself cope:

 

Commandment Number1: Make them like you.

Here’s a secret: Everyone wants you to succeed. They want to be amused and enlightened, but they also don’t want to feel your pain. You can make the audience like you by coming across as sincere, confident, and competent. Avoid starting with some bad canned joke. Instead, thank them for being there. Above all don’t share your fears of failure. If you’re engaging, warm, and personable, as well as informative and professional, you’ll all leave feeling the session was a good investment of time. Your self-esteem and their opinion of you will all benefit.

 

Commandment Number 2: Balance information and entertainment.

There are many ways to lose an audience. Unless you’re a celebrity or handing out money, few people will walk in excited about your talk. Even if you’re passionate about your subject, don’t forget other people might be bored. And if you dull an interesting subject with poor delivery, you’re sure to disappoint. Ditto for preaching. People like stories. Salt your presentation with short and relevant anecdotes about yourself or other people. These can serve as object lessons in success and failure. Use an array of examples to keep them awake while you feed them information.

 

Commandment Number 3: Repeat your key points often.

Tell them up front, “I have 5 things I want to make sure you leave this room knowing.” Have a handout with the key points simply stated. Be sure your contact info is on it (proofread, proofread, proofread!), especially if you want to market to them later. Organize your presentation in the same order as the handout. Start and end each segment with the one-liner about that point. Repeat keywords. Consider asking them to repeat key phrases in unison with you. At the end of your talk, after the Q&A, repeat the 5 points. End with the key phrase you like best when you say good-bye.

 

Commandment Number 4: Engage and involve.

Think of activities the audience can participate in. This keeps them awake and tuned it. Ask them to guess at statistics before you quote them. Ask them rhetorical questions to consider. Ask them to raise their hands if they’ve experienced something similar to whatever you’re exhorting or lamenting. Pick a volunteer. (Note: this perks people up like a cattleprod, because people like seeing colleagues suffer in public). Ask the audience to toss out ideas that you write on a board. Bribe them with candy or quarters if they come up with something great, especially if it’s something you can incorporate into your next presentation.

 

Commandment Number 5: Don’t rely on props.

You’re instinct will be to hide behind slides, PowerPoint, videos, anything that distracts people’s attention. Avoid equipment you don’t know how to run, especially things that are prone to malfunction like computers, movies, and presentation software. If you must have technology: test it twice; be sure you can operate it from the podium with one hand; or have someone else responsible for managing it. Keep people’s attention focused on you, not on a screen. If you want your key points written legibly on a whiteboard behind you,  great. But don’t make act like a professor mumbling a lecture. Make them want and need to look at you. If you’re a guest, have business cards to hand out.

 

Commandment Number 6: Master your image and body language.

Avoid both the undertaker look and rock star glam. Find a style that’s comfortable for you and that’s appropriate for the setting. Image includes how you dress, how you talk, and your facial and body language. Avoid new or tight fitting clothes.  Choose an outfit that’s professional. You should look poised, like you feel happy about being in the public eye, not trussed and stuffed, ready for the gallows. Have some bright aspect to pull the eye, be it a tie, scarf, or jewelry. Get a haircut a week, not the night, before. Be animated but not a one-person band or Vegas show. Smile, don’t puke. Stay hydrated, but not so much that you’re ready to run down the hall.

 

Commandment Number 7: Interact with the whole room.

Make sure you move your head when you talk. Think of yourself like an orchestra conductor, playing different sections of the room. Look directly (yes, real eye contact) with random individuals in the room. If you hit a scowler, move on to someone who’s nodding supportively. if there’s Q&A, plant one question to get it going and an easy last question, so they leave on an upbeat note, confident in what you’ve said. If you get asked a toughie, say “good question” and take a swig from your water glass while you think up an answer. Don’t be afraid to say, I need to check that out and email you.

 

Commandment Number 8: Use legible cue cards.

Make a set of easy-to-handle 4×6 cards to look at during the presentation. Once you’re on a roll, you probably won’t need them, but keep them moving in pace with your talk, so you can glance down if you need a prompt. Write keywords for your main points and to cue anecdotes (e.g.: Contracts – ownership; McClain project; Scheduling – Eileen & Steve; bad Mondays). Use large fonts, something you can see if you peek down very very quickly. Experiment to see how big they have to be to read them under stress. Have two sets in case you spill your drink on one.

 

Commandment Number 9: Practice, practice, practice.

It’s scary to do, because it makes the whole thing real. But after you stop planning your escape to Rio, you’ll start to be motivated. Time yourself. If you have three hours of material and only 30 minutes to talk, you’re going to disappoint everyone. Write it out and SPEAK IT ALOUD. Decide what you most need to say. Then trim or embellish as time permits. When showtime comes, you’re going to speak faster in the beginning (because you’ll be nervous). But if you know that you know what’s coming, you’ll slow down and relax into your talk. Like any other athlete, knowing your routine gets you a better score.

 

Commandment Number 10: Forgive yourself.

Your worst critic will be you. Here’s the good news: few people are taken off a podium and executed or publicly chastised. The worst that can happen is that you’ll never be asked to make another presentation. That may even sound like a reward now, but afterwards you’ll be surprised, because you’ll want another shot. Even if you’re one of those people from another galaxy who craves attention, it takes time and practice to get good at working a room. Be yourself. Be authentic. Stay present.

 

These commandments may not take away all your fears. But if you follow even half of them, you’ll improve your performance enough that everyone will think well of your efforts. Bottom line: make people care about being there with you. If you can do that, there’s lots of kudos in your future.

 

 

10 Commandments for Surviving and Thriving the Holiday Season

 

Naughty or Nice?

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s
10 Commandments for Surviving and Thriving the Holiday Season

 

It’s the time of year when everybody’s making lists and checking them twice. Lists of who gets a cash bonus, who gets a turkey, and who gets a lump of coal. It’s the season of shopping, parties, and visiting relatives and, oh yes, all that darned work piling up on your desk that you’re sure can wait ’til January. Bleep! Bleep! Bleep! If you want to be among the honored and appreciated this holiday season, be sure to follow your JFG’s commandments for thriving your way to New Year’s Eve:

 

Commandment Number 1: Dress up, within reason.

Think about how people see you every day. Now think about how you looked for your job interview. How do you want to be remembered for your attire during the holiday season? Not as the woman with a daily parade of elves or reindeer across her chest, or the one who appeared at the office party wearing only a hankie’s worth of fabric. Use the occasion to your professional benefit. Think style. Show how well you clean up. Expand the range of images that people have of you. The next time they’re deciding who is new management material, that’s how they’ll see you. Dress classy and aim to upgrade your image a couple of pay grades.

 

Commandment Number 2: Party smart.

Perception also counts at the buffet table. Avoid being the guy/gal with a drink in each hand, or the one planted next to the shrimp platter or the dessert table. Eating a few hours before the party will keep your appetite in check. Your personal liquor limit should be well this side of legal. There may be designated drivers, but don’t become the person for whom they’re invoked. Getting tagged as a lush can cost you promotion opportunities; you’ll be seen as an unpredictable risk, not a reliable company rep. Instead of chowing down too hard, look for chances to schmooze with people you’d not normally have access to. Ask intelligent questions and look interested in the answers. Tell them you’re interested in working on their team the next time there’s a chance. Try to get tagged as the one people want to talk to, not the lonely wallflower.

 

Commandment Number 3: Neither grope nor be groped.

No planting yourself under the mistletoe or over-enthusiastically kissing the boss’s spouse. Office dating between eligible singles, let alone adulterous affairs (perceived or real), has risks, no matter how often you swear to “keep it quiet.” Equally bad is getting a reputation as the one to tackle or the one to avoid in a dark hallway. Being a groper or a gropee can do damage to your upward mobility. In the short run it may improve your social life, but not with people who’re likely to be trusted to help you in the long run. Instead, stay in the light. Compliment folks on how nice they look; ask after their families; show respect for their personal lives. Glad-handing means shaking hands, not making out.

 

Commandment Number 4. Gift wisely.

Gifting can be a Thank-You to people you supervise or a brown-nose Hello to someone whose favor you want to curry. You don’t want to be perceived as either too cheap or too much of a butt-kisser. But it’s a great chance to show that you care. Avoid gag gifts, anything evangelical, or inappropriately personal. Strive for good taste that everyone can enjoy, or can discretely re-gift to someone outside the office. Chocolate is easy but lost among the calories of the season. Gift certificates are impersonal, and place a dollar value on the relationship that’s too easy to compare or criticize. Everyone’s swimming in calendars. Best is to find something unique or handcrafted and distribute it to everyone in a variety of colors or flavors. Shop with style and people will remember your good taste.

 

Commandment Number 5. Remember why you’re there.

It’s easy to let shopping, travel, family, and camaraderie take center stage. It’s tempting to swap stories about vacations, presents, and visiting relatives. That’s true whether you stand around the water cooler or use email. But whatever you say and do can be held against you, especially by the folks who’re still under the gun for deliverables. Beware being seen as a holiday slacker, ready to stop work at the sound of a loud laugh or a cluster of happy breakers. Avoid having your hilarious description of someone’s ugly party dress or bad dancing become what you’re remembered for. Be nice to the boss’s family; say thank you promptly for your bonus (whether it’s cash or coal); and avoid letting your productivity drop below par. Don’t let the seasonal festivities hurt your career.

 

Commandment Number 6. Be careful with your confidences.

It’s the time of year when everyone seems friendlier. With a drink or gift in hand and a holiday smile on their faces, people seem more accessible and easier to talk to. You may seem to be in a truce with your usual nemesis, and feel more open, trusting, and conversational. But come January, those same people will remember with glee the embarrassing story told in confidence, and you’re likely to hear it in places you cannot control. Stay on good company behavior. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut in a big, quiet grin. Collect more information than you give away. Be charming and cheerful, but remember to color within all the appropriate corporate lines.

 

Commandment Number 7: Meet your deadlines.

The vendors have dropped off a 12-gallon drum of caramel corn. The gal in accounting is telling the story of her ski trip. Your best friend is trolling the internet shopping for bargains and last-minute gifts. Tempting as it may be to blow off work in favor of all those lovely distractions, don’t do it. Repeat this daily: Doing a good job allows me to afford all those things January through November. If you get sloppy about details, or forget to complete a project that someone is waiting for, you’ll feel the heat and it won’t be the eggnog. Be efficient, stay on task, and be (or act like you are) in a good mood doing it. Get your work done and even ask others how you can help. Then you can play with a clear conscience and a good reputation..

 

Commandment Number 8: Plan ahead.

Who would you rather be seen as: the one who’s willing to do for others or the one looking out only for yourself? If you need extra travel days, ask early. Before you book any non-refundable plans, check dates with your co-workers and your supervisor. Explain you need to cross several time zones to visit your ailing Aunt Sally or see the new niece or grandson. Once you’ve gotten written approval, make reservations and mark your time away on the company calendar. If you’re new on the crew, don’t argue if your request is trumped by folks with more seniority. If you’re staying in town, be accommodating to those who need more travel time. Then later, when you really need it, use the “Remember when I” leverage. Chits are always useful. Here’s an easy chance to collect them.

 

Commandment Number 9. Respect diversity.

No matter how you slice it, America is a Christian country. There may be a thousand other religions, major and minor, but the seasonal calendar is organized around two things: shopping and Christianity. That’s no reason to turn your desk into a religious shrine or an altar to capitalism. Among your co-workers are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, and atheists, among others. You’re unlikely to be able to tell them apart (religious jewelry notwithstanding) and shouldn’t offend any of them. You don’t need to get whiplash trying to be politically correct to everyone. Just keep your cards and language aimed at Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year instead of religious slogans. You’ll be better appreciated by every clan and be seen as someone that anyone can talk to..

 

Commandment Number 10: Make achievable resolutions.

Resolutions tend to be personal: about our bodies, our love lives, as well as our wallets and careers. When you get out your paper and pen, ask yourself to think about not only what you want, but what you’re willing to do about it. Don’t set up reasons to lay guilt on yourself a month or two from now. Make only resolutions that you’re willing to commit at least three hours a week to manifest. If that means only one resolution, but one that you actually follow through on, focus on that issue. If you truly aim your personal power at a specific goal, by this time next year you’ll be happier, more successful, thinner, rich, or in love.

 

Happy New Year from Your Jewish Fairy Godmother, with best wishes for a year in which all your goals come true!

 

 

 

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!!

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 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 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 the Care and Feeding of Executives

Knock Knock: Who’s There?

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for the Care and Feeding of Executives

Executive Assistant, Personal Assistant, Executive Secretary, and Gatekeeper
are all names for the person who is closest to the boss, whether s/he’s the
manager of a department, a division, or the whole company. It’s among the most
interesting, edgy, and complex jobs in any organization.

 
Among the perks are access to confidential information, advance notice of what’s
blowing in the corporate wind, and witnessing firsthand the personality quirks of
organizational leaders. You’re the fly on the wall when big decisions are
discussed. Line staff and even managers are nice to you, because they want to
know what you know or because they think you can help them get something
they want. All of this can blow up in your face, of course, if you abuse insider info
or try to influence the powerbrokers when they’re not ready to listen.
Follow these commandments if you want to become, and stay, invaluable:

 
Commandment Number 1: Be loyal.

All roads will lead back to this commandment. If you’re motivated by self-interest,
remember that Mr/Ms/Mrs. Big is the person who’ll one day determine the size of
your bonus or the timing of your promotion, write your letter of reference, and
generally control your personnel file. What’s true of any supervisor is written in
capital letters for this relationship: what goes around, comes around. Take good
care of your MB. And if you’re not prepared to look at the world from your MB’s
point of view, this isn’t the job for you.

 
Commandment Number 2: Keep the gate closed.

Your MB is the person everyone wants a piece of. That goes for other
organizational muckety-mucks wanting to test the political waters to cold-call
marketeers who want a piece of MB’s wallet. This list includes people who have a
legitimate call on MB’s time: people who are supposed to deliver projects and
reports, people with financial information, and employees with gripes or personal
problems. Be sympathetic, and listen carefully to all of their entreaties. Then ask
your boss which ones should get through the gate.

 
Commandment Number 3: Save your Mr/Ms/Mrs. Big time.

Don’t screw up the schedules. Don’t forget to make and re-check travel logistics
like flight times and rental cars, meeting times and locations, attendees, or
anything that can cost your boss time or money. Create efficient systems for
setting and confirming appointments, everything from business meetings to
haircuts, and for making sure s/he remembers them. If your MB is standing at
baggage claim when s/he’s supposed to be at a meeting or on a conference call,
the head that’s going to roll is yours.

 
Commandment Number 4: Develop functional systems.

You’re probably the only person in your MB’s life, other than a spouse, who gets
the big picture, who knows all the stresses and deadlines that s/he is under.
Create and implement systems that help you bring urgent matters to the
foreground, before they explode. Prevent littler matters from festering in cracks
that will later undermine your collective future. Whether it’s a “Read Me Tonight!!”
pile, red folders on the executive chair, or a five-minute daily morning check-in,
come up with systems to suit your MB’s work habits that’ll keep you both on
track.

 
Commandment Number 5: Represent your MB appropriately.

If you have a potty mouth with friends, that reflects on you. But one badly timed
#&*@!! to a client, employee, or other manager can damage your MB’s
reputation. So can an overly familiar attitude or smug arrogance that implies you
know something that you’re not supposed to. Even your presence and
participation in meetings counts. Get guidance about the tone and style your MB
wants you to cultivate, and stick to it. If something you do angers or reflects badly
on your MB, you won’t be a gatekeeper much longer.

 
Commandment Number 6: Listen more than you speak.

Everyone will want to pick your brain about your MB’s opinions and plans, or to
litmus test their ideas on you to see how you think your MB will respond. Here’s
the truth: you don’t know, so don’t pretend you do. Button up your lips. If you
mislead someone with false hopes or betray insider information, the person
you’re setting up for a fall is not the listener but yourself. Collect opinions,
feedback, and even gossip from and about everyone. Be like a little packrat, so
you always have something bright and shiny to offer up to your MB if you need
to. But don’t betray the boss who feeds you.

 
Commandment Number 7: Tell your MB the truth.

No matter what’s going on, you have to tell all. If you get caught in a lie, even a
white one, you’re doomed. There has to be absolute trust between you and your
MB. You have to be the source of information that’s accurate, and you have to be
willing to give your opinions. That’s how you become a safety zone, and an
invaluable ally. This trust takes time to develop, and must be nurtured with
appropriate helpings of deference and wit, spontaneity and elbow grease, and
some creative private metaphors that are your codewords for communicating.
Once you’re in the inner circle, you can stay there by being a trustworthy and
reliable source of input.

 
Commandment Number 8: Work for someone you like.

Being an executive assistant will mean doing things for your MB that you don’t
even like doing for yourself (think filling out insurance forms or acres of tedious
filing). You might be asked to pick out a spouse’s gift or cope with a child’s or
pet’s crisis. You have to be able, ready, and willing.. If you don’t like the person
who’s asking you do these things, especially things that seem to have nothing to
do with business, it’s going to show. If working with your MB turns into a mere job
(instead of a fun and unpredictable game), you might as well find another way to
pay the rent.

 
Commandment Number 9: Befriend the family.

If your MB is like most other execs, family life is going to take a back seat to
work. That means being late for children’s plays and games, forgetting
anniversaries, too many meetings and too much travel, lots of reasons for
families to resent work. Become their confidante as well as your MB’s, someone
who dispenses good advice, solves problems so they don’t have to interrupt, and
a willing, always available, ear. There’s always some risk of jealousy, but if you
walk this tightrope well, it could be a good insurance policy; become someone
your MB would look like a big louse to fire.

 
Commandment Number 10: Master this: “Please make it so.”

You’re the person your MB will turn to with impossible needs and ridiculous
timelines. You’re the place the buck stops. You’re expected to work scheduling
miracles on a daily basis (like rearranging meetings for twelve other busy MB’s
with only two hours notice). You’re the safety net; you’re what keeps anything
and everything from hitting the floor with a nasty noise. Whatever you’re asked to
do, it’s in the job description, the last line of which reads: Please make it so. If
you master this commandment, you’ll become your MB’s secret hero. It’ll pay off
in the long run.

 
Punchline: To be a good gatekeeper you need a special personality: a unique
blend of helpfulness and assertiveness, patience and energy, dogged
persistence and infinite creativity. If you can find the right fit, it’s as satisfying as a
great romantic relationship. And it pays off with income, security, and
professional self-esteem.

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.

Demystifying Statistics

Demystifying Statistics

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments
for Coping with Esoteric Math and Strange Greek Symbols

 

We’ve all had that moment when we look like deer in the headlights: someone’s
making a presentation and using all sorts of mystical jargon and strange
symbols. They survey the room and seem to look straight at you, arched
eyebrow implying, You get it, don’t you? You can either fake it and nod, or admit
you have no idea what the person is talking about. You won’t actually be the only
clueless one in the room, but everyone else will be staring intently at you, eyes
carefully averted from the speaker.

 
The commandments below won’t substitute for a full-bore statistics class. But
they should be enough to get you out of the room with your ego and job intact.
Grab a pencil and paper, take them step by step, remember to breathe, and
you’ll see it’s not as tough as its reputation.

 
Commandment Number 1: Know your odds.

Everything in life is measured in odds. A sure thing has a 100% chance of
happening. It’s guaranteed, or, in statistical terms, an event with a 100%
probability. Events are how statisticians talk about things that happen. Probability
is a fancy way of saying odds. If you go to sleep tonight in your own bed, there’s
a 99.99% chance that’s where you’ll wake up in the morning. The world could
end in-between, or you could roll out, but we tend to assume life is more
predictable. Something that’s highly unlikely to occur, say that you’ll wake up an
amnesiac or in China, has a probability .00001, or that approaches 0%. Anything
you can describe or measure has a probability that ranges between 0 and 100%.
(See, this is e.a.s.y…). Just to be safe, statisticians rarely use the 0 or the 100.
They say, approaches 0, or approaches 100 (percent implied).

 
Commandment Number 2: Identify your population.

No matter what you want to measure, you have to define it. You might care about
the height of NBA players or the age of employees. The life expectancy of people
or lightbulbs. You need to set parameters, which is statisto-speak for criteria that
identify who or what you’re going to study and measure. If you need to know the
height of NBA players, the height of college players isn’t relevant. If someone
talks about “the height of basketball players” you have the right to ask if they
mean K-12, college, pros, or the kids playing in the neighborhood park. Your
studyvariable is however you define it. But once you say what it is, that’s the
definition you stick with.

 
Commandment Number 3: Know n from N.

Big N means every event you could possibly measure. Every NBA player. Every
light bulb manufactured. Every employee who works for your company. However
you define your population, that’s N. Little n is a sample of N. It represents the
data events that you’re going to do statistics on. If you tested every light bulb,
you’d have none left and would sit in the dark. So you use a sample, a
representative subset of N. There’re many possible n’s in N. Trust me on this, but
any group of 30 or more is considered a good size no matter how big N is.
Amazing but true. The goal is to find an n that is truly representative of N.
Generally randomness is considered a good way to eliminate bias. For example,
if you do a survey but ask only the opinions of your friends, that’s a biased
sample. Better to assign everyone in N a random number, put the numbers in a
hat, and have some stranger on the street draw out 30 of them. Then you have a
legitimate random sample size n = 30.

 
Commandment Number 4: Show off what you found out.

Even without measuring anything else, you’re already doing descriptive statistics!
The next step is to make them visual. In elementary school you learned about
Pie Charts: a circle broken into different size slices, each slice representing a
percent of the whole. Also, Bar Charts: the height of each bar shows how many
people are in a given category. There’s lots of other, fancier techniques. But for
almost all of them you’re limited to the two-dimensions of a piece of paper. In
computer programs you can make graphs look three-dimensional, but you need
to think about what you’re really trying to show. Generally speaking, in addition to
whatever you measured (in units of however you measured it), you have to
convey how many events got what score, the time period things change over,
perhaps contrasts between different groups (e.g. men and women, or salary vs
hourly, or technical vs sales). You can use different colors, footnotes, and other
tools. Your goal is to be able to show your chart to someone else and have them
understand it.

 
Commandment Number 5: Look at the shape of the distribution.

You’ve got your sample and measured whatever variable you‘re studying. Now
you want to understand what the results are telling you. The simplest way is to
rank the scores from biggest to smallest. Inferential statistics (ways to describe
the population N based on what you observed in your sample n), are usually
graphed in a curvy line on a grid with a horizontal and vertical axis. (Soon you’ll
understand the bell curve.) Imagine a horizontal line from left to right (the x axis),
and vertical one (the y axis) where the crossing point is zero. Mark the x axis with
key intervals (for example 5’-5’6”, 5’7”-5’,11”, etc). On the y axis you measure
count how many events/people/etc fall into a given category, Then connect the
tops of each category. If everyone scored the same, you’d have only a tall mark
in that category. If everyone was spread equally across categories, you’d see a
straight line across them. For most things you measure, there will be groupings,
tall categories with more observations and flatter ones with fewer. Look at the
picture and see what it tells you.

 
Commandment Number 6: Know one average from another.

Averages tell about the middle of your sample. There are three kinds of
averages. Each one tells you something different. If everyone scored exactly the
same, you could stop counting now. If you looked at all the observations in a
ranked list, the median is the number in the middle. For example, if you look at
the salaries of 101 employees, and rank them from lowest to highest, the median
is the salary of the 51 st person. The mode goes back to the shape of the
distribution. It’s the category with the most observations in it. For example, if
you’re looking at how long people stay with your company, and more of your
employees are in 3-6 years than any other group, the mode is 4.5 (the middle of
the biggest group, even if no single person has worked there 4.5 years). The
mean is the number you get if you share equally. It’s as if you added up all the
scores and divided them by how many people you measured. For example, if you
took the heights of all the players in the NBA divided by the number of players,
the mean height might be 6’3”, even though there are some short guys and some
giants. BTW, whenever someone says “average,” try to know which average
they’re using. In a perfect bell-shaped distribution, all three averages are at the
top of the bell.

 
Commandment Number 7: Know how different your group is from itself.

The fancy statistical name for this concept is standard deviation. It has to do with
how unalike the members of your sample n (and implicitly N) are from one
another. Imagine a startup firm, where everyone has worked there a very short
time. If you are measuring length of service among employees, there’d be a very
small standard deviation. If you look instead at a place like the US military, you
might find career soldiers in the same sample as new recruits. The standard
deviation would be much larger. For a different visual, imagine an NBA team
where everyone is between 6’1-6’5 (a small standard deviation), compared to
one with a guy 5’5 and another 7’2. the two teams might have the same
“average” height, but they’d look very different when they lined up for the pledge
of allegiance. Note: There’s math to calculate a standard deviation, but most
calculators will do it for you.

 
Commandment Number 8: Understand for whom the bell tolls.

The infamous bell curve (as in “Do you grade on a curve?) is a distribution
shaped like a bell, drawn from knowing only two numbers, the mean and the
standard deviation. (This is where it gets very cool.) You’ve been doing this
intuitively for years, as in: It takes me 30 minutes to get to work, give or take five.
That means, most of the time, you will get to work in 25-25 minutes. Less often
it’ll take 20-25 minute or 35-40 minutes. Rarely you’ll get there in less than 20 or
more than 40. By knowing only two numbers, the mean and standard deviation,
you can get a very good and surprisingly accurate picture of your population.
Generally speaking, for normally distributed variables, which is a lot of what we
measure, 68% of the population will fall within one standard deviation of the
mean (mean +/- 1 sd), 95% within mean +/-2 sd, and 99% between mean +/- 3
sd. Just from knowing two numbers, you can make a bell curve and get a pretty good picture of what’s going on in the world, all from measuring a random
sample of 30 or more. Amazing but true.

 
Commandment Number 9: Know what’s significant

This is probably the simplest and most sophisticated concept in statistics. Once
you have a mean and a standard deviation, you can do what are called tests.
Test are a fancy way of asking, if the truth is “this,” and in our sample we found
“that,” then what’re the chances that that by sheer dumb luck we’d have stumbled
onto a sample that would be very far away, improbably away, from “this?” It’d be
like concluding the average height of NBA players is 5’9”, just because we
happened to pick a sample that included a lot of the shorter guys. When people
say “our results are statistically significant,” what they’re really saying is, there’s
only a very small chance, say 1%, or 5%, that we’re wrong when we say the
mean is “that” (and it’s really “this’). One important note: the person doing the
stats decides how sure they want or have to be. If you’re testing an experimental
drug that has a side effect of death, you’d probably want to take a smaller chance
of thinking you’re right when you’re wrong than if you’re asking people which cola
they prefer.

 
Commandment Number 10: Get out your crystal ball.

There are many more complicated statistical techniques that try and predict
things. For those you generally need to look at more than one variable at a time.
For example , if you’re trying to figure out what you’d pay for a new pickup, you’d
want to know lots of things like: year, mileage, brand (yes, there are ways to
measure things that are names and not numbers), automatic vs 5-speed,
options, what part of the country you’re buying in, accident history, etc etc etc all
the way down to whether or not it has genuine leopard skin seats. If you have
enough info, you can predict what it should cost. That’s how the Kelly Blue book
works. These techniques are interesting, though complex, and you’ll need a more
advanced guide.

 
Try to think about statistics as looking like algebra but really being geometry.
You’re trying to draw a picture that shows someone what you think is true about
everyone you haven’t measured, based on the people you did measure. If you’re
interested, think about taking a class. If you can master this kind of thinking, it’s a
fast track to advancement.

25 Things You Should Have Learned Yesterday

Deja You:
25 Things You Should Have Learned Yesterday
and Should Practice Tomorrow
(and every day after…)

How many times have you muttered to yourself, Wish I’d known that
before?!!! The fact of the matter is this: if you take the
time now to harvest some important lessons, not just from last year
but from your whole working life, you can make this year and the next
ones much happier and more fulfilling. And yourself more successful in
the process.

 
Let’s get clear. The list could be much longer. But 25 is a great
number. This list is not ranked by importance, so don’t lose track of
either end of the list. If you want to be happy and successful you’ll
have to get better at multi-tasking all these diverse things.

 
1. Think strategically: No matter your age, think about your work
life as a story arc: starting out, getting experience, earning more,
having more authority, mentoring, eventual retirement. As you
progress along this paradigm, ask how each action serves your
higher goals.

 
2. Treat other people well: There’s no profession that doesn’t
involve others, whether you’re a doctor or a bus driver. The nicer
you are, the nicer you’ll feel. The kinder you are, the more others
will help you succeed. The more good-will you generate, the quicker
your working hours will go.

 
3. Do a + and – list annually: If you wake up dreading going to work
you probably already know the minuses outnumber the pluses. But
do a checklist of where your working world ranks on a scale of 1-
10. Think about everything from salary to commute time, chances
for learning and advancement to whether you love or loathe your
colleagues. Do this every year within a month of your birthday or
hire date.

 
4. Review your resume annually: It’s easy to forget how good you
are or that you might need to prove it to someone new later. Ditto
that you might be stuck and not changing in your current job. Keep
your resume up to date with newly acquired skill sets and
accomplishments. If you’re ever unemployed you’d need to update
it for real. This’ll give you perspective and a big leg up.

 
5. Keep your options open. Even if you like your job, keep your
eyes and ears open. Listen to how other people talk about their
days, their duties, and their bosses. Pay attention to what they say
about advancement and openings. Look at WW, the Sunday
classifieds, or job boards to see what’s out there, and to learn what
people will pay for what you do.

 
6. If you’re not happy, look around. Do everything above and
follow up with a resume. Be sure to say your search is confidential
in your cover letter. Whether or not your phone rings or email
chimes will help you litmus test your value and options, as well as
how you represent your experience.

 
7. Have private email. Best would be if to avoid anything except
work while at work. No forwarding cat videos or pictures of your
friends or weekends. Work time is for work. And be extra very
especially absolutely certain not to use your employer’s server to
look for another job. Nothing you do on their email is confidential.
8. Don’t gossip. None of us is immune to the lure of gossip. We all
enjoy the secret thrill of watching others go down in flames or be
exposed as adulterers or failures. But whatever you say about
others will fuel the flames when you commit some gross negligence
you cannot conceal. It happens to everyone. Be kind, and hope
others return the favor.

 
9. Don’t schtupp at work Don’t have affairs with bosses, colleagues,
or subordinates. Temptations may feel strong but NO reason is
good enough if you want to keep your job. ‘Nuff said.

 
10. Be careful what you post on social networking. Prospective
employers often google applicants. Unless you want them to see
you drunk and topless screaming Aaaarrrggghhhh!!!! in your
Pirate’s Day costume, keep those pics among you and your closest
friends. If you’ve been stupid in the past, scrub your image before
you ask someone new to pay you to be their new face.

 
11. Befriend all gatekeepers. Being able to get into the folks you
want to see can make or break you. In many organizations these
folks also monitor their bosses voice and email. If you want your
messages to get through be nice. Nothing smarmy but know their
names and make sure they like you.

 
12. Find good mentors. No one is successful on their own. Identify
folks higher on the food chain (one or two rungs) who seem
successful and to share your values. Meet with them to ask for
their help moving up. It may cost you some time helping on a pet
project, or a couple of beers, but could also pay off.

 
13. Don’t be a suck-up. Trust me, you’re a lot more transparent
than you think. No one likes a false flatterer, even the person
whose butt you are kissing. It’ll show and cost you more than
whatever benefits you hope to receive.

 
14. Be helpful. This doesn’t contradict the last one. You should be
available to lend a hand to help anyone out of a jam, friendly, and
courteous. Think Boy Scout instead of scam artist. You’ll need
folks to like you in order to succeed, and it’s hard to know what
you’ll need from whom when.

 
15. Don’t $&#% up!! No one is perfect but you can make
sure your work is spell-checked, proofed, cross-balanced, tallies,
and has the right dates, footers, phone numbers, footnotes, etc
whatever your field is. No one succeeds on their own. Having a
buddy to help with deadlines is important. Good people working
together make each other look better and your 8-5 more
tolerable.

 
16. Negotiate early and often. The best time to get a raise is before
you walk in the door. Once you have an offer, ask if there’s any
more they can give as base pay, or if you can be assured of a
raise after your probationary review. Yes it’s scary, but they’ve
just selected you. Cross your fingers, smile, and ask.

 
17. Keep asking questions. The more you know the better you’ll be
able to navigate office politics, stay ahead of possible lay-offs, or
get to the front of the line for upcoming promotions. Don’t act like
a spy, but an interested, gung-ho team player.

 
18. Learn new skills. Doing the same old same old too often will
make you dull. Be inquisitive about who’s doing what, and where
there’s room for you to do something new, learn a new technique,
or otherwise expand your skill set. You’ll look better to your
bosses and to future employers.

 
19. Casual doesn’t mean stained. Take a weekend to inventory
your work wardrobe. If things are spotted or ill-fitting, toss them
and buy something new (or used but clean). Even if you repeat
wearing the same clothes, you’ll look better than looking like you
don’t care about the impression you give others. Remember, no
matter your job description, you’re always selling yourself.

 
20. Make sure people see your extra effort. No one likes a
braggart. But if you go the extra distance and put in the extra
time, make sure the right folks know it. Send an important email
after hours; volunteer for the crunch deadline; become the person
people know they can rely on for that extra time and input. It’ll
pay off later.

 
21. Use charm and chutzpah. People like being around people who
make them feel good. Don’t become known as the class clown,
but be the one who people smile at sincerely when you walk into a
meeting. Be brave enough to tell the truth when it is called for,
and nice enough in how you deliver it.

 
22. Stay healthy. That’s everything from avoiding junk food in
vending machines to walking at lunch time. Take stairs instead of
elevators and short breaks regularly to drink water. Even if that
means walking in the rain or around the lobby of a building, get
your brain the oxygen it needs to keep your grey matter moving.

 

23. Don’t be a 2/47 slave. It’s fine to keep your smart phone
handy. But employers are hard to retrain. If they think you’ll
answer nights and weekends they will come to expect it. Make
sure you get regular detoxifying breaks from work. Everyone
needs time to get refreshed even if it’s a stay-cation of yard work
and movies. All work and no play will make you dull as an old
kitchen knife, and just as useful.

 
24. Choose to be happy. Even a bad job pays the rent. If you aren’t
wealthy and cannot afford to wait for your dream job, take
whatever’s closest to it. Look for the best you can in your current
circumstances, even if you need to give yourself a pep talk every
morning. Set goals about how to optimize your reality.

 
25. Make your own good luck. Just like the essential truth about
losing weight always comes down to eating less and moving more,
the essential truth about work is that you’re the person who has
to look out for yourself. That means knowing when to stay and
when to look for something better, when to ask for a raise and
when to wait, and choosing whom to trust.

 

 

These commandments are designed to help you jumpstart a good look
at your working world. Read them a couple of times and think about
which ones you think you need to act on. Ultimately, the most
important thing you can do is to ask yourself regularly Can I do better?
If the answer’s yes, then start doing.

10 Commandments for Job Hunting

Keeping Yourself Psyched

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for Job Hunting, Career Transitions, and Other Seemingly Endless Periods of Your Life When You’re Waiting for the World to Discover How GREAT You Are

Looking for a new job or changing your career can be exciting, but it can also be
a time of stress and anxiety, especially because you don’t know how long will last. It’s a
period of opportunity, of growth. Your future is filled with new challenges and
adventures, unpredictible experiences, chances to learn and excel, new friendships and
successes you haven’t even dreamed about yet.

But first you’ve got to land the job.

You know how good you are and how much you’re worth hiring. But as days and
weeks go by without someone else noticing, without plucking your resume from the
stack, calling you for an interview, saying “You’re The One we’ve been waiting for!” and
handing you a benefits package and a paycheck, it can be harder and harder to keep
yourself psyched. And if you’re not psyched about yourself, it’s a lot harder to convince
the hiring committee that you’re the greatest possible choice they can make.

When you’re looking for work, your first and most important job is keeping up
your self confidence. If you can do that successfully, your next job is much closer than if
you just coast along hoping someone will notice you. This ranks right up there with
having a good resume and sending in applications.

So what’s the trick? How do you keep yourself so stoked that you look like the
prize everyone wants to win?

Each of the ten commandments below is a different tool in your self-esteem
toolbox. They’ll help you network, help you interview, help you keep yourself mentally
ready and psychologically prepped. You may not use each of them each every day or at
every interview, but if you remember to remember them, you’ll be able to keep your
energy and your confidence higher.

 
Commandment 1. Ask for What You Want:

When you’re leaving an interview, don’t be shy about taking one extra minute. Say in your most sincere voice, “Thanks for taking this time with me. I really want to work with you. You’ll always be glad you selected me.”

 
Commandment 2. Think Strategically:

You could get hired tomorrow, but maybe not. Plan how to make your money (or credit) stretch to some unknown time. Budget for interview clothes, transportation, for rent, phone, and postage.

 

Commandment 3. Treat Other People Well:

It’s easy to feel grumpy if you’re not getting calls or feeling appreciated. But remember to be friendly, whether it’s to your mailman or people whom you call to ask about work. Practice being likable. Your attitude will show in interviews.

 
Commandment 4. Keep Asking Questions:

If there’s a company name on a job listing, call the Human Resources department. Get a name on the other end. See if you can establish a relationship as well as learn more about the specific job. Ask about as-yet-unposted positions too.

 
Commandment 5. Work Every Angle:

You never know who knows about a job. Tell everyone you meet that you’re looking and what you hope to find. Sound enthused, not depressed. Be the catch that they can call up their friend and say “Your worries are over. I found you just the right person.”

 
Commandment 6. Use Charm and Chutzpah:

Put something clever on your resume, a quote, an anecdote, something to make it stand out from the pile of applicants. Be the person they want to meet, to learn more about, to have in their office.

 
Commandment 7. Say What Needs to Be Said:

When you get into the interview room, make the interviewers like you. Have some good stories that show up your strengths. Make them laugh. You want them to feel good about meeting you, as well as thinking that you’re qualified.

 
Commandment 8. Enjoy the Ride as Much as the Win:

Changing jobs is a rare opportunity to take some time for yourself. Yes, your job is looking for your next job. But it’s also a time to go to the park and talk to some trees, to take some time to think about what you really want from your next job.

 
Commandment 9. Make Your Own Good Luck:

Take a piece of paper and write down all your fears about unemployment, low pay, bad working conditions. All of them. Now burn it. Toss the ashes in the trash. Do the same for all your hopes and dreams. Keep this list in your wallet and add everything to it that you think of and want. Read it at least once a week.

 
Commandment 10. Believe in Yourself:

Remind yourself regularly how good you are at what you do. Write a list of your accomplishments. Ask friends to send you positive messages and email. Every night before you go to sleep, visualize yourself successful and happy in your new job. Say to yourself “The right job will find me and appreciate me.”

 

You’re the best person for that job. And soon it will be yours.

10 Commandments for Resume Writing

Struttin’ Your Stuff:
Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for Resume Writing

There’s nothing like having a connection at the other end, someone you
know personally, or even a friend of a friend, some receptive audience on whose
desk your resume will land. But regardless of who’s going to read your resume,
what you put on it and how it looks will help determine if you get an interview,
and possibly even land the job or if you get round-filed.

Consider your resume as an extension of your self. It represents your
history and to some degree your personality. Think of it like a two-dimensional
greeting card. (Note: Three-dimensional resumes will be the subject of a future
column.) So try these ten commandments and boost your chances of getting to
the next step in the hiring process:

 
Commandment Number 1: Make a good first impression.

Think of it this way: the person who will hold your resume to decide if you go into
the maybe or never pile will spend perhaps as few as 10 seconds before
deciding. You’ve got to make a good impression, and quickly. The minimum: No
coffee stains, postage due, or anything that looks remotely like it went through a
typewriter. Next level: decent paper, a font that’s easy on the eyes, and good
organization. If someone asked to see your resume because they know you, you
might get a solid minute of attention, but that’s usually the upper limit. So ask
yourself, what do I want this person to remember about me, and what is s/he
looking for, in an employee and a person to fill a particular position. Make your
resume an invitation to learn more about you. Look intelligent, organized, and
efficient.

 

Commandment Number 2: Think like the reader.

The single most important thing you can do in preparing your resume is to read it
like a stranger. You are so used to being you that it is easy to forget that the
person who will hold it doesn’t know you. Make no assumptions about your life,
and anticipate assumptions others may make about you. See yourself the way
you look to a total stranger who has only a couple of pieces of paper to go by.
What horror story is lurking in that several-year gap in employment? Why so
many short-term jobs? You do what as a hobby?

 
Commandment Number 3: Tell the truth.

It’s always tempting to embellish, to add a little gloss and glitter, up the ante on
your job titles and responsibilities. And a good euphemism can transform a
mundane-sounding job into something that seems classier, more responsible,
and more important. But if you get caught in a lie you might as well save the
stamp. Be sure your dates of employment are accurate (months and years are
better than just years), your job title is accurate, and your salary info is correct.
Any detail that can be verified is a landmine. Don’t step on it.

 
Commandment Number 4: Think skills, not chronology.

Scan down the page. If what jumps out at you is a list of bolded dates, you are
selling time, not your assets. Organize your resume by sections that are clearly
identified: Goal, Skills, Professional Experience, Education, Other Information,
References. Be sure what is most apparent are words the employer wants to
see, not just a list of dates. When a reader skims the page, what should be left
and bolded is the list of skills and job titles, words and concepts that help to
promote you. Employer and dates detail should be below the job titles in the
Experience section, italicized, and non bold. The skills and accomplishments
come first, like the worm wriggling on the hook of your life.

 
Commandment Number 5: Highlight your strengths.

Under Skills, have big headings that show off what you’re selling. You’ll shift the
order around for each job you are applying for. Think about headings like
Personnel Management (or Supervision), Budgeting and Finance (or Cash
Management), and Client Relations (or Customer Service). Or even other skills
like Writing and Editing, Organizational Development, Meeting Coordination, or
Fundraising. Be sure at least one category involves money. Computer skills go
last. Detail all the software you can even moderately use. It may seem simplistic
but hearing that an applicant can use word, excel, powerpoint, IBM and Mac is
always reassuring.

 
Commandment Number 6: Look experienced, versatile, and successful.

For each title in the Skills section, include a bulleted list of achievements. Each
heading should contain at least three items (or it should be under another
category). Be sure to highlight anything you did to bring in income or save the
company money. Avoid generics; be specific and illustrative. Instead of saying
“supervised staff,” say “managed a department of eight staff, and was
responsible for hiring, firing, annual assessment of departmental efficiency, job
descriptions, and performance review. Make your achievements potential for
their own future.

 
Commandment Number 7: Sometimes less is more.

In the remaining sections be brief but explanatory. For the jobs under the
Experience section, give a job title, business, employment dates, and a one or
two sentence summary of what you did. For education, put the key elements and
degrees, not every supplementary keyboarding class or you’ll look desperate.
For interests and hobbies, tread carefully. Discrimination may be illegal, but it is
hard to prove that you didn’t get an interview because the personnel officer is
prejudiced against Rasta akateboarders. Give enough to show your value, but
not your whole life saga.

 
Commandment Number 8: Detail your references.

Go far past the “references available upon request” standard. Have a separate
page (with your contact info as a header) with the name, current phone number
and email address for each reference. Be sure to identify them by title and
company, and specify what their relationship to you is. (For example: Supervisor
of my outside sales experience: Beth Jones, Sales Manager, XYZ Corp,
123.456.7890, bjones@xyzcorp.com) And if you have a letter that says you walk
on water, add it to the packet. In the ten seconds of attention, at least five will go
to a letter that ends with “You’re making a mistake by not at least interviewing
him.”

 
Commandment Number 9: Make them want to know you better.

Tailor the cover letter for the specific job you are applying for. You don’t have to
slobber your interest, but be clear about why you want it and why you are the
right person for them to consider. Talk simply, not in jargon. Avoid cliches and
generalities. Sound sincere, articulate, and personal, as well as professional. Use
whatever clues you can get from the ad. Check out the company’s website if
possible. Even if your qualifications are going to a blind POB, address your letter
to Human Resources or Selection Committee, not To Whom It May Concern.
Remember, your letter is the beginning of a ten-second infomercial for you.
Become someone they want to meet.

 
Commandment Number 10: Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.

Do it one more time and get a meticulous friend to do the same. Nothing will get
you tossed into the reject pile faster than a typo. Do not rely solely on an
automated spellchecker, which will give you form when you want from, or some
other correctly spelled word in the wrong place. When you say detail oriental
(when you mean detail oriented), you lose all credibility. And be sure to get the
contact name, the company’s address, and other relevant details 100% accurate,
or all your hard work is in vain.

 
You won’t score an interview for every job you apply for. But you can use the
commandments above to improve your odds of getting considered for one.