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Entries in business (97)

Monday
Jul072014

Corporate America has a Burn-out Problem

Worn, dried husks of employees have existed since the first person agreed to do a job for a wage—or a meal. Over all these years of hiring, I’ve seen plenty of exhausted staffers looking for a safe haven somewhere, anywhere.

Yet I haven’t seen anything before like what I’ve seen in interviews these last few months. Every single person I’ve screened or interviewed has given hint to exhaustion. Midlevel executives rarely ask so many pointed questions about company culture, office hours, and work-life balance.

Delving into the rationale behind these interviewees’ concerns turned up the following surprising examples of companies pushing employees too far:

  • One candidate asked if we allow staff to take lunch, as she found it efficient to run errands at midday. When pressed, she explained that her previous employer forbade lunches outside the office. She’d lost ten pounds, but not in the way she’d wanted.
  • After explaining that she would not have phone or e-mail connectivity on Sunday after 10 a.m., one candidate’s boss asked if he should question “her commitment to the company.” His snipe seemed highly unjust, as she had completed two all-nighters the week before to ready the organization for an event.
  • A senior professional left an executive role at a major public company because the organization kept her on the road six days a week for over a decade working twelve-plus-hour days.
  • A candidate asked whether we’d allow her to volunteer one night a week, for which she would need to leave the office by 7 p.m. When I expressed surprise that anyone would take issue with such a request, she explained that her current employer frowned on leaving the office before 7, even if the team had completed its work for the day.

Sadly, when I related these stories to my staff, they said I had no idea how bad it has gotten out there. (After all, I’ve worked at FrogDog since 1997.) They said corporations have asked people to do ever more with ever less—and that they see no signs of relief ahead.

Scary.

Burned-out staff has lower productivity—and lower morale. Further, people’s creative thinking, problem solving abilities, and interpersonal skills suffer when they haven’t had time to rest, rejuvenate, and refresh. And burned-out staff often leave, which increases costs (recruiting, interviewing, training, orientation, ramp-up), damages company culture, and further lowers productivity.

People like to work hard. People like to achieve. And sometimes working your tail off to nail a big project feels like as monumental a challenge and achievement as climbing Mount Everest. Yet people can’t climb Mount Everest every day—no matter how fit. Their bodies can’t sustain the intense physical effort. The constant intense focus exhausts their minds. They get bored, frustrated, angry, and irritated. Why this? Why again? Remind me why I do this?

By all means, ask your team to go all out when warranted. But how often do circumstances truly warrant an all-out level of effort? You do your team a disservice by expecting all-out work all the time. And in ill-serving your team, you damage your company as well.

How does your company keep people from burnout—or does it?

Monday
Jun232014

How to Prepare for an Interview

Again: To find a job, you’d better network. (Ideally, you’ll have built a strong network before you start to look.) I do everything I can to find new employees through my grapevine before I post positions on job boards.

So let’s say you’ve taken all my recommendations about sourcing a great position, writing a kick-tail cover letter, and wooing the company into giving you an interview. (If so, good work.) How should you prepare for your interview?

(Aside: Someone may use this post to stand out from the pack of interviewees at one of my companies. I sure hope they do.)

  • Web site: Right before your interview, review the company’s Web site to refresh your memory on its static elements and to read up on the latest company news and information.
  • Social media: The company’s latest social media activity will remind you about the softer side of the organization and may give you additional background on what’s happening behind the scenes—activities and elements that wouldn’t make it to the company site’s news section.
  • Questions: The questions an interviewee asks rank highly on my assessment of his interest in and qualifications for the role. Candidates should have insightful, thoughtful questions that hark back to what they’ve learned about the company via our conversations and other channels. A great deal of positive attributes would have to counterbalance an applicant having no questions; only questions about time off, compensation, and “work-life balance;” and generic queries that would suit any hiring manager at any organization.
  • Presentation: For every meeting—including interviews—you should have a list of key points you would like to make that tie back to your objective for the session. (For an interview, you want to get to the next stage of the interview process and, ultimately, to a job offer.) Though you may not need to do an actual presentation during the interviewing process, you should have a list of bullets on your career, accomplishments, interests, and goals and how they align with what the company seeks and its future plans.

How did you prepare for your most successful interview?

Tuesday
Jun172014

The Cover Letter Gets You Hired

Sometimes the resume nails your application—and sometimes your cover letter gets you in the door:

  • If sending an application through to a recruiter or into an automated human-resources system with on-line forms—and probably if sending it straight to HR in general, via whatever method—your application is all about the resume.
  • If applying directly to the hiring manager, or if you believe that the decision maker for the hire will get your entire application—a likelihood in smaller companies, where all submissions get vetted in full by the hiring manager, even if the original send-to address or instructions appears generic—your application is all about the cover letter.

Let’s talk about the latter scenario, the one about the cover letter. Yeah, you know: The requested item you shrug off with two sentences or something canned.

Bad move.

When appealing directly to a hiring manager, your resume serves simply to back up what you’ve said in your cover letter. Consider your resume supporting evidence—the footnotes and appendix to your main argument. If you really want the job, you’d better slave over the cover letter.

Format

Learn how to format an honest-to-goodness business letter.

Further, do everything you can to get the hiring manager’s name. Do not write a cover letter to “Sir/Madame.” (People last used those terms for the general population two centuries ago). Do not send the letter “To Whom It May Concern.” (If the company has decided to hire, the hiring manager has passed the state of “maybe” caring.)

Besides, these phrases look lazy.

Make Your Case

Your cover letter is your first impression. Without a good one, you may never get a call or meeting. Don’t miss your chance to plead your case.

Realize that no job is exactly like any other job—even if they have the same title in the same industry. Companies differ. Managers and departments differ. Nuances of job descriptions differ. People don’t create roles with cookie cutters, so your cover letter shouldn’t take template form, either. Nothing turns off a hiring manager more than a canned cover letter. (And yes, we can tell.)

For each position, start fresh. Research the company, the department or division, the job, and the hiring manager. Show what you know of the company, its work, and the open role and illustrate how your experience and immediate and long-term professional goals align with the position. Show that you understand the role’s needs and the company’s expectations. Show your personality and your approach to the work.

Doing anything less appears apathetic and careless.

And no one looks to hire lazy, sloppy people.

Details

I don’t know a single hiring manager who would say she doesn’t want a high level of detail orientation. She expects it, even if she doesn’t specifically request it in the job description.

So get the company’s name and the job title correct—especially the spelling. Ensure the consistency of the letter’s font style and size. Ensure you’ve made all the text black.

For pete’s sake.

And don’t rely on spell check—read, reread, and have someone else read and reread your letter. Consider leaving it for a bit and returning with fresh eyes. A few hours or overnight won’t kill your chances—especially when you have a zinging cover letter.

What impresses you most when reviewing applications?

Tuesday
Jun032014

The Problem with Working Remotely

Technology has made it possible for us to work from anywhere.

And sometimes, working away from the office makes more sense than working in the office—and not only when business requires travel. The ability to work from home when waiting for a repairman, to escape to a library or coffee shop when you need to get away to focus, to move outside to jog the creative brain, and to attend family emergencies while still accomplishing critical business objectives has increased productivity and flexibility.

Yet working remotely too often causes significant problems:

  • Learning: When people work remotely, they can’t exchange hard or soft skills through natural association. As guiding someone who works remotely takes extra time, energy, and thought in an era when everyone works quickly, your coworkers won’t enlist your help on an effort unless you already have direct experience with the work. Further, people working remotely can’t learn through experiencing how others handle issues. Once, an employee told me that watching and hearing me interact with clients gave her some of her most valued early-career lessons.
  • Training: Most formal and informal training on hard skills happens during the workday, in the office. Although your employer may not require you to undergo it, do you really want to lose the opportunity to pick up new and needed expertise?
  • Teambuilding: Can you create teams and feel part of teams when you never see or work alongside your teammates? When never at the office, can you fully experience the buzz and collective energy of a group working toward a common goal? Perhaps sometimes—but only with conscious effort that you could better expend elsewhere.
  • Culture: Often, companies offer a number of perks for employees—lunches, treats, games, surprises—that people working remotely won’t experience. Further, working remotely thwarts your role in creating and experiencing the corporate culture. Corporate culture draws employees. If your company can’t attract great new staff, you’ll hurt your own chances for career expansion by hampering the company’s growth—and you’ll never get effective help with your expanding to-do list.
  • Out of Sight, out of Mind: As I said in my article on Melissa Mayer’s move to stop telecommuting at Yahoo!, if no one regularly sees and speaks with you, no one will think to give you the sweet assignments. Good for your career? Nope.

If your company allows flexibility in your work locale, take advantage of the perk—but don’t limit yourself through working remotely more often than necessary. Pay attention to when and how the benefits of working remotely outweigh the negatives for your career and personal growth.

Finding the right balance for you—which differs between industries, companies, and roles—proves the trick and the challenge.

For your career, what constitutes the right remote work−office work balance?

Monday
May122014

What Not to Do When Fired

One of the emergency exit signs in FrogDog's office. May 2014.

In every life, a firing will fall. Well, many lives. Most people I know have had companies dismiss them, whether due to a layoff or for missed expectations.

Getting fired sucks.

Though the situation may feel like it couldn’t get worse, trust me: You can make it so. Take a few tips from someone who has had to dismiss more than one employee on how to avoid exacerbating the pain:

  • Don’t beg: By the time your boss has called the meeting to dismiss you, she’s made the decision, completed the paperwork, and set plans for the transition. Likely, she’s had multiple performance-related conversations with you prior to the termination (unless you broke a major rule necessitating immediate dismissal). No one fires an employee on a whim. After all, termination costs money and time, can lead to legal and unemployment tussles, and inflicts stress on the entire team. What do you expect begging to achieve? Awkwardness? Check. As with any break-up, by the time one of the two people has worked up to having “the conversation,” the relationship has died. Let it go.
  • Don’t argue: See above, under “don’t beg.” Think you’ll convince the person firing you that you’re right and she’s wrong? Nope. Arguing makes you seem ashamed and defensive.
  • Don’t spew insults: Throwing dirt musses you more than it sullies the target. Insulting the person firing you, your coworkers, and the company looks petty.
  • Don’t shoot the messenger: Can you tie your dismissal to company policy or something illegal or against the rules? Then the firer’s action simply follows protocol. If your termination comes from performance problems or skill misalignment, understand that the firing manager did not make the decision to release you on her own. In these cases, a team made the determination.
  • Don’t forget our infinitesimal world: You never know when life will reconnect you with the people who fired you. Remember that the person dismissing you doesn’t enjoy the conversation—and likely doesn’t think you’re a bad person or a worthless employee. Rather, she feels that you just don’t quite fit the position. I’ve fired people who would work well in other companies or roles. Maintaining face, professionalism, and aplomb in a termination will help secure the organization’s positive impression of you—and will help down the line when you encounter or need the person who dismissed you, your coworkers, or the company.
  • Don’t smear: Never trash your former coworkers, your former management, the company leadership, or the company. Again, going negative only makes you look bad, bitter, and angry.

Instead of the above, evoke the same grace you’d have if you left voluntarily. Assure the person firing you that, if needed, you will answer any questions about your work after you’ve left. Follow her instructions for how to exit, whether quietly packing your belongings and heading out or peacefully leaving straightaway and expecting your personal items to arrive via post. Send your former supervisor an e-mail after a few days to check in and ensure you left no open questions about your work in your wake.

In short, go with class. Maybe, in the tragic moment, you’ll feel vindicated by spewing hate and anger. In the long run, the high road always turns out for the best. Even better: Your aplomb will make a lasting impression with the company leadership and your former coworkers.

Anything I should add to the list?