Career Advice To My Younger Self

Wisdom comes from living.
Anthony Douglas Williams

I’m a corporate war dog. I’ve seen it all over the course of my long career and my life experiences have shaped me into the kind of professional I am today. While I have to vantage of hindsight, as a novice, you don’t. If I could roll back the clock and mentor my younger self, this is what I would say:

“Take your education seriously.”
While I received a great undergraduate education (I’m a Temple alum), it’s going to take a bit more than that in today’s business landscape. I’m seeing more and more employers requiring a higher level of education these days. And while it may sound elitist, companies (especially the most prestigious ones) care about where you went to school, especially when you’re just starting out. Gaining acceptance into a top MBA program will pave the way for a long and prosperous career. These programs have an amazing network you can tap into and give you an edge when competing for internships and jobs.

“Make that first real job count.”
While it may sound exciting to join a startup right out of business school, getting your feet wet within a Fortune 500 firm will shape you into a more well-rounded professional. I would look at companies with a strong management trainee program that will allow you to experience operations within multiple departments. After you’ve gotten a grasp of the way big business works, feel free to venture out into alternative career paths—especially if you know climbing the corporate ladder isn’t right for you.

“Learn how to play the game.”
Whether it’s at a large corporation or within a small team, you will need to learn how to navigate office politics. Corporate culture varies from place to place—even from department to department—so know what you need to do to build alliances that will keep you doing your best work.

“Be comfortable with getting uncomfortable.”
Early in your career, you will likely be asked to do a lot of “grunt” work. And later in your career, you may need to diversify in order to keep moving forward with your career. You need to get over the anxiety associated with stepping out of your comfort zone if you want to succeed. Understand that fear can be an asset if you handle it correctly.

Hopefully, you’ve learned something from my experiences and incorporate my advice into your own career path. What advice would you give your younger self? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Drowning in Work

Is your to-do list turning into a to-do document? Are your unchecked voicemails and emails amounting to an all-day task? Does it seem like you’re being pulled in a million different directions? Relax. You are not alone. Many of us get overwhelmed from time to time. So, how do you knock that mountain of work down to a manageable size? Here are some tips that always help me cope:

Get organized
Start by prioritizing what tasks need immediate attention. It may seem daunting, but making a task list is key. If you have access to scheduling or project management software—like Podio—you can use that to break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. Once you’ve got all your tasks in a row, you can start tackling them one by one.

Be realistic
You are only human. Be honest with yourself and don’t over promise. Most clients and colleagues can relate to having a lot on their plates, so be upfront with what they can expect from you. If you are already spread thin, minimize your commitments or scale back on the ones you already have. This may mean turning down lunch meetings or opting out of employee committees until you are able to handle the additional responsibility.  

Ask for help
Before you burn out, get some help. If deadlines are quickly approaching and inflexible, ask your colleagues and/or supervisor to help out. This may mean hiring some temporary help or shifting some of your responsibilities to others. Find ways to get the job done without dropping the ball.

Now that you know what to do, get to work and pull yourself out of the trenches. I’ll see you on the other side!

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? I’d love to hear your tips.

 

Guide on the side

Be a Guide on the Side in Corporate America

The way we communicate and the way we conduct business has changed drastically over the course of my career. So it’s no surprise the way young people are learning nowadays has evolved too. To adapt, the role of the educator has largely shifted from lecturer to “guide on the side.” Teachers are no longer the source of information, they are facilitators and curators of information—empowering students to think for themselves. So how can we apply this model to a professional setting? Here are some tips on how to adopt this methodology and reap the results in the corporate world:

Ask, Don’t Tell
A cornerstone of guided instruction is the notion of student-centered learning. With this approach, students are encouraged to contribute ideas and even help plan curriculum. Lessons are initiated with questions, not long, drawn-out lectures.

Similarly, many innovative companies have adopted an employee-centered work environment. Google allows its engineers to construct their own work spaces. Zappos has weaved in team building activities into its company culture. At Apple, your work isn’t only evaluated by your superiors but by your peers as well.

Companies such as these have realized that good ideas don’t necessarily come from the top down. And just like educators have observed in student-centered classrooms, employee-centered workplaces offer better opportunities for internal motivation, goal setting and perseverance.

Change the Game
What works for some, may not work for all. It’s up to the educator or manager to recognize this and change their approach when needed. National educational consultant and author, Rick Wormeli has said, “I might teach the way that’s uncomfortable for me, but that’s fine. My success comes from my students’ success.” Same goes for managers. Their team’s success is a reflection of how well they lead.

Teaching strategies like think-ask-tell and KWL foster collaboration and critical thinking that can be implemented in department meetings and performance reviews. Using the KWL technique as an example, employees would be prompted to state what they know about their current role and what they would like to learn as they progress. Then, when the next performance period rolls around, that supervisor can review that employee’s initial thoughts and ask him or her to reflect on what he or she has learned.

Certainly, applying new managerial strategies are not easy and require effort from all levels of employees. But, fostering a collaborative, engaged team that is passionate about the work they do will only generate positive results.

Do you work for an employee-centered organization? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the effectiveness of this environment.

Spring Cleaning

A Clean Sweep

This week, I decided to “spring forward” my spring cleaning by organizing my work space. I was surprised by how therapeutic the process was. From filing away loose papers to cleaning up my desktop – decluttering gave me a sense of relief and pride, which actually made me more productive. Here’s how I cleaned up my act:

1. As someone with a home office, separating my work and personal life is difficult. So, I started my spring cleaning by removing any personal items – like bills, books and even exercise equipment – from my office.

2. Next, I tackled my storage closet. It was only then that I realized how much I had actually accumulated over the years, and how this stuff was “stuffocating” me. I used the Kondo method to toss the things I really didn’t need or like anymore while neatly arranging my essential items in clearly labeled storage containers.

3. Once my closet was tidy, I dug in to my filing system. Again, using Kondo’s minimalist methodology, I kept physical copies of only the essential items – like tax documents and client information – and tossed the rest.

4. My digital files were next. For me, it was easiest to organize files by year so I created folders for each year, subfolders with the year and topic, and file names that were preceded by year and topic. This uniform, hierarchical taxonomy has made finding and storing files so much easier and quicker. Let me give you an example of how this would work:
<folder>2015
<sub-folder>2015-resumes
<file>2015-resumes-jsmith

5.  Finally, my desktop got wiped clean. Again, essential files were archived in appropriate folders while non-essentials got trashed. This LifeHacker article provides some good tips on how to simplify your desktop.

6.  I even managed to go through the dreaded task of cleaning up my email inbox. There are a variety of tools to help you do this if you don’t want to go at it alone. I was able to scrub about 100 emails per minute using Mailstrom. I admit, deleting emails in bulk felt good and was highly addicting. So much, in fact, that I may start and end each work day doing just that.

After the initial mental hurdle of combatting my clutter, it was really easy and I developed a rhythm. Once it was all said and done, I felt like a weight had been lifted that I didn’t even realize was there – freeing my mind and allowing me to sit down and get to work.

Do you have any tips that keep your workspace tidy? I’d love to hear them.

 

Tis The Season . . . to find a new job

Just because your office may be winding down for the holidays doesn’t mean your job hunt should. In fact, the holidays are a great time to ramp up your job search.

Here’s why:

Party Time: Although your crazy uncle’s holiday party may not always be the highlight of the season, he’s the most connected man in town. Be the first to arrive, wear your best suit and your biggest smile. Most conversations start with “what do you do?” Happy hunting!

Down Time: After you’ve finished wrapping gifts and partying with the best of them, you may actually have some down time. Instead of watching A Christmas Story for the 100th time, beef up your resume, peruse LinkedIn, contact your recruiter and if you feel really inspired, start preparing for your Killer Interview.

New Jobs in the New Year: With budgets approved and a solid hiring strategy in place for the New Year, many companies start their employee search in November and December. Schedules also open up during the holiday season, so getting face time with the executive team may be a reality. Don’t forget to get your power suit pressed for all of your interviews!

While everyone is sipping on egg nog and recovering from the holiday haze, you’ll be sending out thank you cards to your new connections from your crazy uncle’s holiday party and inviting them to connect on LinkedIn. With any luck, your efforts will be rewarded and you’ll start the New Year off with a bang as the newest hire at your dream job!

Share your holiday hire successes with us below!

What Type of Employee Are You?

I saw a great post on Linkedin recently about the four types of employees you find in (almost) every workplace. It’s a great exercise for supervisors to assess their current teams. But I think it’s an exercise that employees could benefit from as well. Here’s how you can determine if you are a star, student, land mine or not yet gone:

Start by asking yourself what you do for your company that contributes to its success. Are your sales numbers off the charts? Are you a master at building client relationships? If you don’t have a clear idea of what your strengths are, ask a close colleague what they think.

Then, evaluate how you fit in. Do you and your colleagues share similar interests? Do you believe in the same core values as your company? Think big picture. You don’t have to be the most popular guy or gal around the water cooler to align with the culture of the company.

Take some time to reflect.

The Good
Star: If your contribution and cultural responses are an emphatic “yes,” you’re likely a shining star. You lead by example, take pride in your work and are an asset to your team.

Student: If your contributions seem minimal but are growing steadily, you’re likely an apt student. A star has probably taken you under their wing and is cultivating your potential. This is a good position to be in. You can only go up from here.

The Bad
Land Mine: You’re a model employee – on paper. You meet your quota but that’s as far as it goes. Your passion – if you ever had it – is gone. You know it; something is missing. If this is the case, you’re in land mine territory. If it’s a temporary rough patch (i.e. a challenging project, personal hardships) you have the potential to jump into bonafide star status. If it’s more than that (i.e. change in company policy, leadership or direction you wholeheartedly don’t agree with) then it may be time to move on to another organization that shares your priorities.

Not Yet Gone: You’re delivering subpar results and time isn’t making it any better. The sad truth is, your employer probably wants to give you the boot but is hoping you resign before a replacement is found. Look inside yourself and find out why you’ve strayed. Maybe you’ve just lost interest in your career. Or, you may feel like an outsider within your organization. There was a reason you were hired in the first place. So let those qualities shine once again with a new employer.

New Hires
If you’re a hiring manager, just because a candidate isn’t a star, doesn’t mean they are unhirable. Think about your company’s needs and don’t rule out a rising star who would make a great addition to the team.

What do you think? Are you a star, student, land mine or not yet gone? Share your comments with us below.

Pundits, Quit your Gerrymandering: 3 Ways to Win at Office Politics

With midterm elections right around the corner, yard signs, bumper stickers and other paraphernalia are a common sight. You’ll have friends (you know who they are) who will undoubtedly try to convince you to join their party, vote for their candidates and flood your Facebook timeline with posts about making the “right decision”. Nonetheless, after Election Day, we’ll move onto Thanksgiving and then our next holiday of choice – seemingly forgetting all about the political hullabaloo just a few weeks back.

Office politics are a little different. You can’t show your support on a sticker or t-shirt, but you definitely have leaders and allies. A lot of people see office politics as something to avoid, but I believe if you are ethical in your politicking, you can yield great results. Here’s the thing, your office probably has a couple of folks looking to promote their personal agenda, similar to many politicians. But you’ll also find like-minded individuals who are looking to better serve the company and advance their careers, but not at the expense of others. Here are three quick tips that will keep your office politics clean and the mudslinging at bay.

  1. Listen Carefully – Early in my career I received some great advice from my mentor. He urged me to talk less and listen more. Whether you are selling a service to a potential client or working on getting a new policy adopted at your company, listen to the people around you and their needs. If it’s a customer, you can shape your pitch to their requirements. With your colleagues, you can win them over by addressing their issues and concerns in your policy while advocating for your shared cause. Another great thing about good listening is that it’s a talent you can take home.
  2. Don’t Take Sides – This may be one of the hardest things to do in the workplace. Unlike high school where you publicly displayed your allegiance – jocks, nerds, glee club – and wore it like a badge of honor, the office requires you to be a bit more discreet. Work with your colleagues to solve problems in a diplomatic fashion, focusing on the solution and not on the person fighting for it. Take the person out of the equation and you’ll be sure to get great results.
  3. Forget About Winning – Unlike the political race, you may never have a clear winner. You may shape your solution differently after hearing your colleague’s opinion or research. Ultimately, you could be wrong but if you are pliable and willing, everyone will benefit from taking the competition out of office politics so you can craft the best solution.

We’d love to hear about how you handle office politics. Share your tips with us below. One last thing, don’t forget to vote on November 4th! I’ll step off my soapbox now.