Category Archives: Career Advice


This post is part of the series “Listen to Mom” written by guest blogger, HR Mom.

While scanning through articles on US, I stumbled on How to Survive When You Hate Your Job by Liz Wolgemuth. Yikes!! Flashback to my last Corporate America job and me starting to apply for new jobs at the end of the very first month! You might find yourself in such a situation, so here’s some thoughts on the subject.

Ms. Wolgemuth suggests a five-point strategy to surviving in a miserable job:

  1. Figure out what’s changed. Understand the reasons you’re miserable in your job so you won’t continue the misery in the new job you eventually find.
  2. Start a research project. Often people hate their jobs because of co-workers. Identify why you find co-workers frustrating to deal with and try new ways to relate with them.
  3. Start with gratitude. Recognize the value of your position even if you’re not satisfied in your current job.
  4. Look around the office. Negativity breeds negativity so break the cycle and make a co-worker’s job less miserable.
  5. Help colleagues with three things that tend to make workers miserable: 1) they feel anonymous; 2) they feel irrelevant, as though their work doesn’t matter; and 3) they don’t know how to measure their success. Help co-workers by providing positive feedback in these areas.

It’s Your Conscious Choice

Very often employees complain of how miserable they are, how bad it is in their section, how no one likes anyone, how the supervisor is ineffective, blah, blah, blah. Well, I firmly believe that it’s an employee’s responsibility to create personal work satisfaction. As Zig Ziglar, trainer and author, wrote in his book Top Performance, “Look for what you want—not for what you don’t want.”  His suggestion to deal with a job you hate is to look for what you love in your job. Watch Mr. Ziglar on YouTube talk about his strategy. It’s much better than any summary could ever be.

My Personal Strategy

It took me almost three years to leave that company for another job. Talk about low morale! Most of the employees wanted to leave but couldn’t because they would have to take a cut in pay at a new job. Most everyone complained about something or somebody, even door prizes and parties. Human Relations is the people complaint department; the go-to place for any people problems. Talk about negativity breeding negativity! I couldn’t wait to leave at the end of the day.

This is how I handled my miserable situation:

  1. I just accepted that I would remain at that job for the rest of my life and I’d better make the best of it.
  2. I stopped hating being there.
  3. I made my job more interesting. I started improving how I did my work. I taught myself new skills like using Lotus (the earlier version of Excel) because there was no training offered by the company. Volunteered for new and different assignments or did more with my assignments. Developed my career skills in HR as much as I could. And fostered positive relationships with co-workers, e.g., a lunch partner.
  4. Continued to apply at other companies. Sometimes prayed.

Almost a year after my attitude changed I got a new job. One that was fun. One that I looked forward to going to every Monday.

Listen to Mom

As it was back then for me, it’s not feasible to just quit and be unemployed as you might not find another job right away, especially in today’s economy. You could easily move back home with mom and dad but that’s not the point of being an independent adult, is it?

I hope that you never are in a miserable job. But if you are, remember you find what you look for in life. It’s really your attitude that makes the difference.


Listen to Mom – Can You Really Start At The Top?

The N.Y. Times Corner Office feature, In Praise of All that Grunt Work, piqued my interest as no one ever writes about entry-level work. Dany Levy, founder of, talks with interviewer Adam Bryant about how valuable her early work experiences were to her current success.

Q. What prepared you to run your own company?

A. Most of what I learned was from my first job out of college, when I was an intern and then the managing editor’s assistant at New York Magazine. And it was being her assistant that really taught me how the whole machine operates. My career has been this just wonderful series of events that somehow makes perfect sense now. It was not a glamorous job. The Xerox machine broke, it was my problem. I was customer service. I would get people calling and complaining about the magazine, and I would try and talk them down, just knowing that every subscriber had a dollar figure attached to them. So it’s that kind of thinking, understanding the business side of it and understanding the relationship between advertising and editorial, and running up and down and getting people paid. I learned about office politics and how an office works.

When I graduated from college, I really understood that I didn’t know anything. In the real world, college doesn’t really prepare you for that. That’s what worries me a little bit about the present. There’s definitely, in this generation, from what I’ve seen, more a sense of entitlement, a bit of, ‘Why should I go work for ‘the man’ and put in the time when I could have my own blog and do it myself?’ And I totally understand that impulse. But there are some key things to learn from the grunt work.

Q. Can you talk more about that?

A. I think learning to work for people is really important. I think to be a good leader it’s key to know what it’s like to be an employee, and to have had a lot of the different level jobs where you’ve been the scrappy little nobody. I’ve had crazy bosses and I’ve had wonderful bosses, and it’s important to figure out that if you’re working for someone who you don’t gel with, there can be a way to manage that.

No One Is Going To Take You Seriously

I came to the same conclusion that Ms. Levy did when I graduated from college – I didn’t know anything. My BBA degree got me a job as a personnel (a.k.a. Human Resources) clerk instead of a hotel maid. I did the personnel grunt work as a clerk. I learned the application of employment laws, how personnel worked with every department and, more importantly, how important working relationships are.

As a manager today, all that grunt work still pays off. When staff tells me it can’t be done, I know better because I understand the basic process. It’s the real life experiences that give you credibility so others will listen and accept your recommendations. You may be talented and smart, but you will always have to prove yourself to be taken seriously.

It’s Working With People That’s Hard

Q. You have two minutes for a commencement speech.

A. We live in a day and age when there are so few opportunities and so many opportunities. And the ability to do something on your own, like starting your own blog, is so alluring. But working for people is actually a better education than four years of college, I think. I just worry, too, that we are getting into a more isolated phase of society, with the design of offices, with everyone doing everything over email versus picking up the phone. Sometimes you need to just pick up the phone, but the culture in which we operate today, we spend so much time just in this very quiet space, staring at a screen and interacting with people that way. And there’s so much room for misinterpretation over email.

The hardest part of any job is working with people. Taking the time to build positive relationships is key. As an employee or a manager, you’ll depend on those relationships to accomplish what you need to get done. It’s those relationships that support your success.

Talking with a person over the phone or in person is always better. You’ll actually learn more because you’re able to react to what you’re being told and see the reaction to what you’re saying. You can ask more questions and have a discussion. You’ll get better insight than from the quick answer to your question in an email. And you’re building relationships.

Working with others will teach you about yourself. How you react to people you wouldn’t normally interact with in your personal life. Gaining insight about your personality and the personality of others will help you with interpersonal relationships at work. There’s a lot of data on this subject available like the Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator analysis. I’m an INFP. Knowing this has helped me understand my approach to work assignments and how to work better with other personality types.

Listen to Mom

Getting the knowledge and experience you need to be successful in your career takes time. I realize that life in the 21st century moves at warp speed. Unfortunately, building personal credibility and relationships haven’t; it still takes time doing it the old-fashioned way.

It’s hard, I know. You want to be a manager by the end of the year and retire by 40. (I said the same when I graduated from college.) Put in the time, it’ll pay off.

How To Keep A Job In This Economy – Productivity

It seems that email is taking over as one of the main forms of business correspondence in the American workplace. Americans spend roughly 2 hours a day checking email, or a quarter of the normal workday. That’s a lot. Not to mention the time spent checking personal email accounts at home.

As the amount of email in our inboxes keeps rising, I’ve begun to notice a backlash toward email and other types of technological accessibility, such as blackberries or cell phones. Thousands of people are taking “email diets” or foregoing email accounts altogether.

I think email is too valuable to the modern business to just give-up on. However, I do think we can be smarter about how, what and to whom we write emails. I think we learn from Europeans and start spending more time “crafting” each email as if it were a true business correspondence rather than an instantaneous record of our immediate thoughts.

Here is my formula for writing effective emails that people will actually read and respond to:

Descriptive Subject Lines
Emails with subject lines like “hey!” or “wazzup?” might be ok for personal emails between friends, but when you’re competing for email time from the CEO of your company or an important customer you want to make sure it’s your subject line that grabs their attention. Be descriptive about your email, making sure to include important points while staying within 1 line of text.

Short Paragraphs
Email paragraphs should be no more than 3 – 5 lines of text. Studies have shown that reading text on screen is a lot harder on the eyes than reading printed text on a page, which is why making paragraphs short is the key to getting people to read everything in your email.

Important Points First
Emails should also be written in a journalistic style: most important, “newsworthy” and current information first, followed by action items and any necessary background information last. People tend to skim or even just skip the body of emails, so make sure you have the important stuff right at the top.

Bulleted Lists
People like to scan things on a computer screen rather than read through heavy blocks of text. This is why bulleted lists are a great way to present information, especially if you are addressing an email to multiple recipients with multiple action items or questions in need of answering. Include a recipient’s name next to the action item and you have an even better chance of getting that person to respond quickly, since people are drawn to their own names.

Ask For A Response
If you need a response by a certain date, be sure to say so in your email. With so many emails flooding inboxes per day, it’s easy for emails to get lost in the shuffle and forgotten. However, by putting a clear response time in the email, people will assume the matter is urgent and be more willing to respond right away.

This post was originally published on April 7, 2008.
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How To Keep A Job In This Economy – Eliminate Bad Habits

Have you been working hard all year only to find yourself passed up for that coveted promotion? Do you feel like your boss doesn’t appreciate your contributions? Are you not getting the recognition at work that you think you deserve? If you are doing any of the following things below, you may be preventing yourself from moving up the corporate ladder.

Taking-Off Early On Fridays
If your Friday afternoon at the office consists of lunch and sending a few emails before you’re out the door, you’re sending the message that work is not a priority. While not I’m not advocating that work be your #1 priority, if you want to achieve your career goals it is important to build up your credibility around the office.

Managers want to promote motivated, happy employees who are willing to go the extra-mile when necessary. Someone who makes a habit of scheduling doctor’s appointments in the middle of the day or taking long personal lunches will never fall into this category. Work does get done on Friday afternoons, and if you’re not there, someone will notice.

Ninety-nine percent of life consists of just showing up, this includes work too.

Spending More Time At Home Than At The Office
If you think that sending out a few emails and periodically checking your inbox is enough to fool people into thinking you’re really working at home, think again. Everybody knows you’re not, because they do the same thing. It’s hard to focus when there are dishes in the sink and Oprah on TV, so if you are working from home more than once a month, you aren’t being as productive as you can be.

When you do work from home, assign yourself a specific project or goal and communicate this to your boss. This will prove to your boss that you are a responsible and thoughtful employee, and will help keep you accountable for the work you do at home.

Passing On The Company Happy Hour
Attending stuffy cocktail hours where you have to make small talk with people you barely know is not really appealing to anyone. However, skipping out on company-sponsored events means you are missing out on valuable networking time that will help you build up a group of contacts which can aid you at your current position and beyond.

Spending time with your co-workers out of the office allows you to get to know people in a new light and can be surprisingly enjoyable. I make it a point to attend all events my company sponsors. At one lunch I got to talking with a co-worker who ended up giving me his old stereo and speaker set—for free! Another time I ended up seated next to the CFO and found out her daughter and I had the same food allergy. She directed me to a great blog about living gluten-free.

Even if you don’t make tons of new friends and expand your network of business contacts, at the very least you’ll get to enjoy some free food and drink and garner personal favor with the people you work with.

Showing Too Much Initiative
As a young person just starting out, I realize that it’s hard to get people to listen to your great ideas. I have an entire folder full of scribbled-on “napkins” with ideas and diagrams on how to improve the business. It’s great that you’re paying attention and thinking big, however if you’re spending more time brainstorming new projects than working on your assigned ones, then you are doing yourself a disservice.

I spend a lot of my time working with and training new employees. I find that new employees love to share with me their grand ideas on how to revolutionize the way we do things. Believe me, if you thought of it, chances are someone else has too.

If you’re spending most of your time brainstorming, it probably means you’re neglecting your official job duties and that is not the way to win at work.

Dressing Like You Did Five Years Ago
How you are perceived by your boss and your co-workers is a lot more important than how you actually are. This may be unfair, but it’s true nonetheless. This is why it’s important to always put your best face forward in the office.

If you’re still wearing the same sweatshirt and jeans that you did in college, maybe it’s time to consider upgrading your wardrobe. Even if your workplace is laid-back, it’s still essential to project a professional image.

If you’re trying a promotion, you should learn the rules of your office and play by them. Identify one or two successful people in your office who have had a string of promotions and observe how they act in the office. Are they always prepared? Do they always go the extra-mile to please the boss? If so, you should too. Just a few simple things can mean the difference between an entry-level position and a mid-level one.

This post was originally published on January 1, 2008

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How To Get A Job In This Economy – Interviewing

Interviewing is often compared to dating—and for good reason. Just like a first date, an interview is a forum for you to look your best, highlight your attributes, and convince the other person that they should pursue a long-term relationship with you. While these are all important aspects of successful interviewing, don’t forget that it’s important to interview the company as well to make they’re as a good a fit for you as you are for them.

This process is very similar to visiting a date’s apartment for the very first time. The way a person lives is very telling. Your date may look and seem well put together in public but their apartment could be filled with dirty magazines, old food and a futon mattress. If you always use coasters and like having everything in its place then no matter how wonderful this person is you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.

Here are a few pointers to help you evaluate whether a potential employer is right for you:

Before The Interview
When you arrive at the interview, which will hopefully be the same location at which you will be working, observe the exterior and interior of the building. Ask yourself the following:

  1. Can you imagine yourself walking through the halls of the interior?
  2. What is the mood of the workers? Friendly? Busy? Deflated?
  3. What is the dress code? Will you be comfortable conforming to it?
  4. Is this a location I would be comfortable commuting to everyday?
  5. Is the exterior of the building in good condition?

Don’t underestimate the impact a long commute or uncomfortable working conditions can play in your job satisfaction. A 45-minute drive to an interview may seem like no big deal, but having to make that trip twice a day, five days a week in traffic can really be a big drain not only on your time but also on your stress level. Also, working in an office that’s poorly maintained or poorly laid out can also have negative effects. Leaky ceilings, broken air conditioning, smelly bathrooms—these are not things most people want to deal with eight hours a day.

During The Interview
Most interviews allow at least some time for answering questions—make sure you use it! Not only will you look thoughtful and prepared to an interviewer, you will be gaining valuable information that will help you asses whether or not the position is a good fit for you. A few questions to ask each interviewer:

  1. What would a typical day in my position be like?
  2. Are there opportunities for personal and career development such as tuition reimbursement, mentoring programs or training seminars?
  3. What do you like best and worst about your job?
  4. Why do you like working at this company?
  5. How would you describe the corporate culture?

Having spent more time as an interviewer than an interviewee, the most impressive candidate I have had the pleasure of interviewing came to the interview with an entire notebook page full of questions. Not just a tiny, pocket-size notebook but a large, 8 x 10 sheet with notes on every line and in the margins. I went straight from the interview to the hiring manager to beg them to hire this person.

The answers to any of the above questions can be extremely telling. If your interviewer gushes on and on about how wonderful everyone is, how well the company treats people and seems genuine, then you know that the company must be a great place to work. If the interviewer seems guarded or unsure of how to answer questions about their personal job satisfaction then maybe there are some internal personnel issues and you might want to keep looking for something better.

Remember that the employer-employee relationship is a lot like a marriage. Each one takes care of the other so that each can be happy and successful. Make your ‘marriage’ a solid one by first choosing the right mate.

This post was originally published on December 6, 2007.

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How To Get A Job In This Economy – Resumes

Here are some tips I learned from a hiring manager about what you can do to vastly improve the quality of your résumé and improve your chances of getting a job:

1. Ditch the Objective
Obviously your objective is to get a job at my company (and if it’s not, it should be!), so why waste valuable white space telling me something I already know? Your résumé is there to tell me what I don’t know: your unique skills, past experience, education, etc. So focus on selling yourself and forget about outlining your objectives.

2. Forget Fancy Formatting
Unless you’re applying for a graphic design or other artistic position, don’t worry about using sophisticated templates for your résumé. Most HR reps about 2 minutes scanning each résumé and don’t really pay much attention to how pretty it looks. Not to mention the fact that people have different versions of word processing software and sometimes fancy formatting doesn’t always appear the way it was intended. Hiring managers are a lot more interested in whether you have the right skill set and experience for the position than if you can use all the template features in Microsoft word.

3. Bullet Points Are Your Friend
I’ve seen many different résumé formats and have decided that my favorite is the bulleted list. Follow each job title by a list of 3 – 5 bullet points about specific duties or accomplishments you had at that position. I keep a “master résumé” with 10 – 12 bullet points under each job title, 5 of which I then cut and paste into a new document customized to match the criteria of each specific position I’m applying for.

4. Always Include Dates
Recruiters pay attention to gaps in work history. Not including dates of employment makes it seem like you have something to hide and most likely it will come up in an interview anyway. It’s better to just be up front about gaps in employment. Put accurate dates on your résumé and address any issues in your cover letter.

5. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
I recently had to listen to a friend complain for a full 30 minutes about typos in a potential candidate’s résumé so I thought I’d reiterate the importance of proofing your résumé as well as cover letter. Typos and misspellings can show a lack of attention to detail, casts doubt on your intelligence level and can cause some hiring managers to infer a lack of respect and interest in their company (the thought being that if you really wanted the job, you’d take the time to proof your work instead of rushing through a stack of 50 résumés that need to be sent to 50 different companies).

The purpose of a résumé is to sell yourself to a potential company. If you just stick to the facts and forego the fancy stuff you’ll save yourself as well as the people who are reading it both time and effort. Something I think both parties can appreciate.

This was originally posted on March 19, 2008.

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Don’t End Up As A “Corporate Idol” Reject

As the recession keeps grinding along and unemployment continues to rise, many out-of-work individuals are pounding the pavement competing for jobs in an saturated market, learning the lessons of how to “market” oneself.

But are some people taking self-marketing too far?

According to the Wall Street Journal,

“When it comes to self-promotion in the workplace, hiring managers say some people go too far and block their path to the next level. You might call them the corporate world’s “American Idol” wannabes. Like many contestants on the reality TV show who extol the greatness of their singing abilities and then end up sent home, corporate idols sing praises about their abilities without delivering tangible evidence to back up the claims.

And recruiters and employers say they’re seeing the behavior more frequently in the current bad economy, as some candidates try harder to impress interviewers and workers go out of their way to hang on to their jobs.”

I don’t find this particularly surprising since I’ve written before about studies that show 65% of workers overestimate their abilities. Now that many of these employees, who were previously coasting along at jobs where they were underperforming, are seeking new careers, many hiring managers are seeing a glut of folks who talk a good game but have problems delivering.

So how do you effectively market yourself without turning an interview off? Examples, Examples, Examples!

Meghan McCormick offers some sound advice on how to really impress an interviewer:

“My biggest strategy was to be over prepared. Before I went in, I made sure that I knew the company’s mission, understood the job description, and more importantly, I was prepared to show off my skills and how they would help the company achieve its goals.

In my interview, I brought my portfolio, showed the team my blog, and described how my work on previous projects had prepared me to take on the position I was interviewing for. I brought crisp resumes and an “about me” page that included a brief description about myself and links to my blog, twitter, and LinkedIn profile.”

I recall one particular interview where the candidate went on and on about how well she knew the Microsoft Excel program. But when my boss asked her about specific functions and features of the program it became clear that the candidate really didn’t know Excel as well as she claimed. My boss was not impressed.

Later that same afternoon the recruiter who referred this candidate called my boss to complain that this was a qualified candidate and to exclaim “how can you reject someone for not knowing an Excel function?!” My boss’ answer was something along the lines of:

“If she’s making false claims about her expertise in Excel, what else is she making false claims about?”

A good company will always be impressed by results, not by how attractively they are packaged. Accurately describing or demonstrating to interviewers exactly what results you achieved and how you achieved them will put your miles ahead of the competition.

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