September 3, 2008

It’s Not a Meritocracy

Posted in Careers, On the Job tagged , , at 8:56 pm by Katelyn

Hannah Seligson’s book “New Girl on the Job: Advice From the Trenches” has long been on my to-read list, but after reading her article in the New York Times on Sunday, it has moved to the top of the queue.   She very realistically presented her query into why females perform circles around their male counterparts in an academic environment, but can’t seem to do the same in the workplace.

Aside from the typical outside forces – men who can’t see past appearances, women who undermine other women instead of helping them, or women who continually take “assistant-like” positions – it is often women who are the ones getting in the way of our own successes.  Seligson realized that in order to match men in the workplace, she needed to “develop a thick skin, feel comfortable promoting [her]self, learn how to negotiate, stop being a perfectionist and create a professional network – abilities that men are just more likely to have already.”

I can relate to wanting improvement on 4 out of the 5 above.  Creating a professional network is something that I have been aware of and something that I try to think creatively about improving on.  Feeling comfortable promoting myself and learning how to negotiate are two traits that I have seen more now that I am in the business world and I would have to agree that males typically have these 2 down.  They love to talk about how well they are doing and they are not afraid to argue or stand up for a point of view and they are often recognized for it.  I definitely need to work on those in order to keep up and surpass.  But ‘stop being a perfectionist’ is not something that readily comes to mind when I think of skills needed to advance or do well at work.  I am somewhat of a perfectionist at work because my job requires me to be detail-oriented and juggle tons of balls at once.  When I actually think about it though, I am always saying that I feel like I am ready to move into a position where I can look at the bigger picture, make bigger decisions, and delegate work.  A person at that level does not have the time or energy to be a perfectionist…I think she has something here and it’s something that I want for my career.

Ultimately, the quote that really drove Seligson’s point home was:

“By and large women believe that the workplace is a meritocracy, and it isn’t,” said Myra Hart.

Meritocracy (noun):

1.) a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.  2.) leadership selected on the basis of intellectual criteria.

If that isn’t reality, I don’t know what is.  For me, this article was motivating and a heavy dose of reality.  I am ready to bring that good old academic environment, where females succeeded above and beyond, to the workplace.

July 27, 2008

It Never Hurts to Ask

Posted in On the Job tagged at 10:30 am by Katelyn

I have been interested in the graphic design profession for awhile now, but I have never had the opportunity to study it until recently and I have my mother to thank.  She always used phrases like, “it never hurts to ask” and “what’s the worst that could happen?”.  Because I have continued to think of those phrases, I am learning about the life of a graphic designer and my company is reimbursing me. Here’s how it happened:

First I found a community education class at a local art college that fit the description of what I wanted to learn.  Because I thought my supervisor would probably turn me down, I created a budget and was ready to pay for the course myself if that should be the case.

Next I sat down and came up with my support for why these skills and knowledge would benefit me as an employee.  We recently acquired a design studio and while there is no intention (in the short term) of turning project managers into graphic designers, it would be beneficial for me to understand a graphic designer’s work processes and be able to speak their lingo. So I typed these thoughts into a 1 page summary and included the course description, cost, and duration of the class.

I had low-expectations after turning it in, but within a week my supervisor gave me the green light and told me I would just have to present my learnings to the team at the end of the class. I am over halfway through my class and loving it!  I am so glad I wasn’t afraid to ask.

So if you’re considering continuing education courses, try to look at the class from a different angle.  How could the skills you learn benefit the company?  Would it help you work better with a colleague or customer?  If the course you want to take doesn’t have anything to do with work, I say bite the bullet and take it.  You’ll always wonder what it would have been like.  Then continue to look for other courses that you find interesting and that tie in with work.  Put together a proposal and present it with enthusiasm.

Remember: What’s the worst that could happen?

July 7, 2008

Why Burn Bridges?

Posted in On the Job tagged , , at 10:00 pm by Katelyn

I have read several articles and overheard one conversation recently about companies that do not wish their employees well when they move on to bigger and better jobs/positions.  I am floored by this attitude!  The management at companies like these take a resignation very personally rather than understanding that it’s just business.  In many situations, I think employees have no choice but to move out in order to move up.

Perhaps I am naive, but I always thought that if you performed your job well, took a new job because it was a better fit or an advancement for your career, gave your employer ample notice, and resigned by thanking them for all they taught you, then an employer should be happy for you and happy to provide a great reference.  I guess the companies mentioned above must be the best places ever to work if they think that no one should ever want to leave.

Doesn’t this situation go against the very core of what business is?  I am always thinking to the future and therefore try to hold all contacts close and not burn bridges because you never know when that contact may have something you need.

Have you ever worked for a company like the ones mentioned – who are offended rather than supportive when an employee is ready to move on?  Or have you had a great experience with moving on to a new position?  I am curious to compare my own GREAT experiences with yours and see which is more common.

June 16, 2008

Verbal Fluency

Posted in Life, On the Job tagged , at 8:33 pm by Katelyn

Read With The Lobsters! – Every weekend, Katelyn and Lindsay discuss the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi in an effort to sharpen networking skills.

Chapter 17, The Art of Small Talk, is great because it’s one of those chapters that allows you to walk away feeling confident that you have the tools to improve one small skill within the massive toolbox for networking. The reason it should be easy to master? It is simply about being honest and listening. Ferrazzi states, and I agree, that having the skill of easy conversation is not something you are born with, it is something you learn. And there should be motivation to learn, because the most common characteristic of successful people is verbal fluency. So let’s aim to master it.

It is easy to spot those who are uncomfortable, or who have yet to master the skills of small talk – they are the ones who can’t stop commenting on the rain we are supposed to get this afternoon or how hot it is outside. Sure those conversation starters are fine for a quick brush with a colleague when you really don’t want to have a conversation that lasts longer than 15 seconds, but when you want to connect with someone you have to be more memorable than the weather.

One of my favorite passages from this chapter reads, “I’ve always told people I believe that every conversation you have is an invitation to risk revealing the real you. What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t respond in kind. So what. They probably weren’t worth knowing in the first place. But if the risk pays off, well, now you’ve just turned a potentially dull exchange into something interesting or even perhaps personally insightful — and more times than not, a real relationship is formed” (p. 147).

I completely relate to that. I would have said that up until maybe even a few months ago, I would have tailored my conversation topics to match my co-workers or whoever I was with, because the real me didn’t “appear” to fit in with them. But if I would have applied Ferrazzi’s words, I could have risked revealing the real me, and even if a great relationship didn’t come of it, maybe we would have had some interesting conversation between two “different” people. I also agree with being up front about your vulnerabilities. I have formed some of the best working relationships in my current job by being up front and saying that I’m not sure of what I’m doing. The majority of the time, the other person didn’t know either and then we could commiserate together and it resulted in us having a stronger bond.

The other half of learning the art of small talk, is learning the art of listening. People feel important when you make them the center of your attention and play off of what they are saying. Ask questions based on their last statement or tag team their thought to lead into yours. Always pay attention to names and say it again at the end of the conversation – “let’s get coffee sometime Lindsay. I’d love to hear more about that show you’re working on.”

So be observant at work or school or when you’re out in public. Listen to other people’s conversational styles and pick out what you like and use it as your own. Be all honesty and all ears and you will be on your way to mastering verbal fluency!

February 28, 2008

What Does Your Screen Name Say About You?

Posted in On the Job tagged , , at 10:42 pm by Lindsay

I just started work on a new show produced by a different production company from the last show I was on.  As a result, I’m interacting with a whole new group of people.  A new staff list is being generated and I’m being asked for my contact information quite frequently.  I’m scared one of these times someone’s going to ask for my instant messenger screen name.  We use IM within our department quite a bit, but if anyone outside my department asks for my screen name, I’ll probably turn several shades of red. 

I’m not ashamed of my screenname, it just isn’t very, well, professional.  Its only previous use has been personal conversations with my friends and family.  I think I made it up in 10th grade.  To give you a clue, part of it comes from my favorite Disney princess.  Nothing to make you seem younger in the workplace like a fairy tale monkier. 

I began brainstorming a list of possible new screennames, but haven’t been able to settle on one yet.  I came up with one I liked, but it included a French city and I want one that’s easy to spell, so when I verbally tell people they don’t have to ask how to spell it multiple times.  Then I had trouble walking the fine line between “mature” and “bland”.  I want one that says something about my personality, but not one that’s too silly or seemingly immature.  I came up with some based on some of my favorite films, but “HighSociety” might give co-workers the wrong impression about my humility, “ItHappenedOneNight” sounds a little sketchy if you don’t know it’s 1934’s Best Picture.  I thought “HisGirlFriday” would be cute and snappy, but it was already taken. 

As I struggled to come up with a viable choice, I realized just how many things should be considered when coming up with a screenname, or an email address for that matter, especially when it’s going to be used in the workplace.  At first it seems silly to read so much into something as simple as a screenname, but when I realized that several people in the production company will get a copy of the staff list with my screen name before they ever meet me, it became much more important to give the right first impression and make sure what my screenname says about me is truly how I want to present myself in the workplace.

January 16, 2008

We Are Replaceable

Posted in Careers, Life, On the Job tagged , , , at 10:53 am by Katelyn

“Remember, you are replaceable.” That’s what my mother told me last week. And no, she wasn’t talking about me as a daughter, she was talking about me as an employee. Talk about a reality check; but how true that statement is!

I am going through what feels like a huge life change. I was offered a new position that would be great for my career (I hope!), but when discussing it with my family I kept feeling guilty at the thought of leaving my current employer after only 7 months. I felt I would be letting them down after they took a chance on me, not to mention that we get along very well in most instances. I also know that they are very pleased with the work I produce. That is when my mother interrupted and said, “every employee is replaceable.”

We sometimes get these ideas in our head that an organization or department is going to fall apart when we leave. But the truth is, someone did our job before us and someone else will do it after we leave. Sure, we produce great work and do it with a smile, and we will be missed once we’re gone, but there is a lot of other talent out there waiting for an opportunity like the one I’ve received. I’d like to think that by leaving I may be giving someone else their chance to learn and to shine.

This doesn’t make the leaving and the change any easier for me, but a little dose of reality every now and then (even from your mother) does help to put things into perspective. Life, and work, will go on without you and it always pays to put yourself first in your career.

December 6, 2007

Impressions of a GPA

Posted in Careers, On the Job tagged , , at 5:06 pm by Katelyn

In an effort to “shake things up” in the somewhat mundane routine of my current job, I applied for a new job and had a phone screening today. At the allotted time, I trekked through the snow to my car, drove to an adjacent parking lot -where there was less of a chance of seeing a colleague- and sat shivering, waiting for the phone to ring. (All of this because my desk does not have enough privacy to conduct a phone interview for another job while at my current job). Surprisingly, I had butterflies in my stomach and found myself trying to calm my voice and consciously lower it at least an octave below its current “little-girl-nervous” voice. It was silly, really, because my next rent payment did not depend on whether or not I got an interview beyond this one – I have a job, and a well-paying one at that. But it did matter. It mattered for my sanity, for my creativity, and for my motivation to move on to bigger and better things.

Back to the phone screening. The entire thing was relatively painless. Of course, there were a few comments I wish I could rephrase, but nothing that would send up a red flag to any future employer. And he didn’t once ask me about my motive for leaving my current job after only 6 months. That was the question I was most worried about (that and why in the world I would want to move back to the Midwest).

The one question he did ask that I was not expecting was in regard to my grade point average in college. It was kind of ironic actually, because I had just yesterday sent a blog posting to my sister (still in college) from Penelope Trunk’s blog about how achieving straight A’s in college is not that important and that no one ever asks about your GPA on a job interview. And now, here I was confessing my GPA (which is actually quite good – 3.9). Then I started to wonder if having such a high GPA could negatively affect their impression of me. I hate to write this next thought but it supports my thinking: when I was in college, the business majors (which would be the type of people I was interviewing with) were not always the most studious. Again these are generalizations, but the business majors liked to enjoy the college experience that took place outside of the classrooms and libraries.

So does a high GPA have a negative connotation, or does it depend on your audience? Does it portray the person as a book-worm who would be no fun in the office, or worse yet, have limited people skills? I know, of course, that I can put those fears to rest in my interviews by being very easy to talk to and articulate, but the initial question threw me for a loop and I’m curious as to what your thoughts are.

~DC

November 19, 2007

“Save It”

Posted in On the Job tagged , at 10:58 am by Katelyn

I wish I could say that phrase: “Save it for someone who cares” or more importantly, “Save it for someplace more appropriate.”

Why is there always that one co-worker who has the amazingly dull life, but insists on sharing every detail of it with anyone who will listen?  Or the colleague who wants to hear all about everything you did this weekend so they can feel like your best friend?  And why do I seem to attract these people??  Perhaps I should have been a shrink!  But in all seriousness, is there not an obvious line drawn between one’s professional and personal life? 

I have read several articles in the past that subscribe to the idea that you command more respect in the workplace if you keep your personal life private.  I understand that there are exceptions to this with certain co-workers who  become friends, but on the whole, I have to agree.  The colleagues I find most interesting and most competent are the ones whose personal life is a mystery to me.  I see them only as professionals and in control of their lives at work.

And what about personal relationships at work hindering work performance?  Do you think that employees work better when they consider their colleagues friends or just work colleagues?   

A lot of this has to do with my personality.  I recently took an Interaction Style Assesment Test (http://www.jtodonnell.com/assessment/signup.htm) where I proved to be a “contemplator.”  Part of this interaction style is characterized by being reserved and preferring professional relationships to personal relationships in the workplace.  That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to find a friend at work to have lunch with and discuss the happenings (or non-happenings in my case) of my weekend, but until that friend magically appears, I prefer to remain professional and mysterious.   

~DC

November 13, 2007

Criticize Please!

Posted in Careers, On the Job tagged , , at 2:38 pm by Katelyn

Ryan Healy’s post today “Enough with the Praise Already, and start working smarter” (www.employeeevolution.com) reminded me of a recent staff meeting where this certain topic was raised:

Constructive Criticism

Apparently, the suggestion was made by a VP of our company that employees should complete a “survey”, if you will, on different departments and their effectiveness in the company and their usefulness to other departments.  Pretty bold if you ask me, especially because this department tends to be unorganized and cause much frustration to the rest of us in need of their help.  The VP of my department then asked if we, as a group, would be interested in hearing what other colleagues thought of our effectiveness in the company.  Only one colleague vocalized her support and interest in constructive criticism.  I will say she was rather persuasive, and I jumped on board with her.  But we were still out-numbered.  Everyone seemed satisfied with the way we do things and saw no need for feedback from a new perspective! 

Then even more recently, the time for my performance evaluation came around and I found myself listening to all praise – while good for my ego, I was actually looking forward to some constructive criticism and honest suggestions of ways to improve my work (as this is my first “real” job).

Why would my supervisor shy away from giving me some constructive criticism, especially when she knows I am in support of it?  (and I know it’s not because I am perfect)  Do you think it would be a different situation if my boss were male instead of female?  Or what if she were closer to my age instead of my parents’?

All I ask is for some guidance and honesty, because in the long run, it will help the most.

~Confused DC

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