Picking Out Business Cards

Recently I have decided to print up some business cards for personal use and was confronted with what should be the simple task of putting your name on the card. For me this is infinitely more complicated. I can’t decide what name I should use because I have several. Let me explain:

Doomed From Birth

People have always had problems with my name. When I was a born, my Asian grandmother had trouble pronouncing the name my father had picked, Jacquelyn, because of her accent, so she called me Jackie (or more accurately, Jeckie). The name stuck and is what I go by. The only people who call me Jacquelyn are telemarketers.

As I was learning to write, my mom decided to go with the less conventional spelling of Jacqui thinking that it would be an easier transition for me from learning to spell Jacquelyn and then replacing the “-elyn” with an “i.” Sure, it’s been easy for me but incredibly, devastatingly, horrendously difficult for everyone else.

I’ve gotten cards (some from my own family) addressed to Jacquie, Jacque, Jaqui and Jackie. It’s also proven to be a pronunciation stumbling block for a lot of people and consequently I’ve been called Jacques, Jackoi and constantly asked if my name is said “Jackie” or “Jackwee.” If anyone out there is actually named Jackwee, please email me because I’d really like to meet you.

Neither Heads Nor Tails

To make things even more complicated, I’ve been saddled with the last name of Tom. While I can assure you that is a legitimate, Chinese surname, people still find the idea of having two “first names” (even though Tom is traditionally a man’s first name) very confusing.

I’ve shown up for classes and the instructors were expecting a male (apparently they didn’t notice the comma between the names). I’ve also had people ask me right to my face whether Tom was my first name or last name. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’m pretty clearly a female. Take a look at my bio picture and judge for yourself. And if there’s anyone out there who actually has Jacquelyn or Jackie as a last name, please email me because I’d really like to meet you too.

Nicknames At The Office

How has this nickname/last name/legal name quagmire affected me professionally? Well, whenever I start at a new company I miss a lot of emails until people learn to spell my name correctly. But more importantly I always have to re-introduce myself to people as “Jacqui” not Jacquelyn and make sure that Jacquelyn is spelled correctly on all my legal documents. I recently had to deal with a spelling error on my pay stubs that has been printed on my recent tax forms. Fingers crossed that the IRS realizes that Jacqueline Tom is the same person as Jacquelyn Tom.

So now back to the business cards. Should I use Jacqui Tom, which sounds hipper but is harder to spell? Should I go with Jacquelyn because that’s the name checks should be made out to? I was also going to set up an email with name@gmail.com but can’t decide if I want to be tied to Jacqui Tom forever. What happens when I get married? I had planned on taking my husband’s last name no matter how horrible it is simply because I don’t want to constantly be questioned about my gender for the rest of my life. New business cards are easy enough to print up, but email accounts can last forever.

Any Advice?

How do other people handle this? Do you go by a nickname at work? Does it affect you professionally? What do you put on your business cards?

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Wanted: Smart Students With No Experience

In light of a record number of layoffs at U.S. companies in just the past few months, you’d think that businesses who still had money to hire new recruits would be overjoyed with an abundance over-qualified, experienced candidates, desperate enough to work entry-level jobs for entry-level wages.

Not so at one popular online real-estate firm.

They’ve decided to take an alternate approach, foregoing the usual “experience=quality” theory in favor of a “quality” educational background. Here are some of their required qualifications (taken directly from their website):

Strong academic record: we are looking for people who excelled at a top-25 university.

Liberal arts degree: we want someone who not only writes clearly and precisely, but has some intellectual interests, and panache too.

Entrepreneurial energy, creativity: in your interview, we’ll ask you for three or four ideas on how our website could be better. Come prepared!”

Top-25 Student

As a graduate of a top-ranked state university (Go Huskies!), I take offense to the implication that a strong academic record can only be achieved from a so-called “top 25 university.” What exactly is a top-25 university anyway? A google search turned up nothing conclusive. Does this mean ivy-league? Does this mean US News & World Report ranked? Does this mean nationally-ranked? Regionally-ranked?

Does an ivy-league education always equate to quality academic achievement? Not in my experience. Sometimes smart people can’t afford to go to the best schools and have to (gasp!) attend a local university. But they do well in their classes, learn a lot and go on to be successful. And sometimes people go to ivy-league universities and whittle the time away drinking and majoring in a subject whose department only scheduled classes after 10am.

I suppose that academic achievement is one of the few measurements an employer can use to gauge an employee’s potential when interviewing, but in this economy, why would you take a chance on an unproven work history (note that internships are not even mentioned, just the quality of educational institution) when you have so many other experienced candidates out there?

Liberal Snobs

I’ve written before about how liberal arts degrees can be valuable in the workplace. But as a liberal arts degree holder myself, I don’t think liberal arts majors hold the monopoly on “intellectual interests.” Is this company implying that a business major is incapable of writing well and being intellectually stimulating? My boyfriend majored in business and he’s one of the most tuned-in, well-read, intellectually curious people I know.

And if liberal arts majors as a whole are more “interesting,” is there a hierarchy within academia that elevates certain subjects as more intellectual? Does the intelligence quotient go up the more obscure your area of study? Medieval history majors above political science majors above run-of-the-mill English majors?

Also, I find it funny that the job ad equates writing “clearly and precisely” with liberal arts majors. Don’t they realize that your grade on an essay is mostly based on length and depth and not necessarily on clarity or brevity?

Entrepreneurial Desk Job

What strikes me as so funny about this particular requirement is that Generation-Y is often labeled the “entrepreneur generation,” with many successful people under 25 starting their own multi-million dollar business. If I were a successful liberal arts graduate from a top-25 university and was entrepreneurially-minded, why would I come work for your company? Why wouldn’t I just start my own?

No truly intellectually-minded student would want to work in an industry that is rapidly shrinking, is suffering from negative PR because it just played a huge part in the worst economic crisis in close to a century, and for a company that just laid off 20% of its workforce.

I also find it ironic that this online real-estate company asks the candidate to come prepared with ideas on how to improve the site experience. What recent graduate just out of school has the money or wherewithal to buy real-estate? They might be able to suggest the latest and greatest social media technology. The truly tech-savvy ones might be able to give suggestions on how to improve the design for better usability. But I highly doubt that any fresh-faced 22-year old would have the occasion to use the site as a consumer, and isn’t the key to a successful service business providing the most useful service to customers?
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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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The Office Newb Is Out Of Office

I will be taking a much need vacation this week, heading out of the chilly Pacific Northwest to Mexico’s sunny Southwest shores.

While I am away I will be running a series of posts with tips and hints on How To Get And Keep A Job In This Economy, covering the following topics:

  • Resumes
  • Interviewing
  • Bad Habits On The Job
  • Email & Productivity

 Feel free to leave your own advice in the comments section.

Hasta La Vista!

-The Office Newb