Mentoring and the Employee Connection

Podcast Sponsored by: Together

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, experts believe that high levels of loneliness and disengagement at work caused by the pandemic could be addressed by mentoring. Additionally, surveys have shown that more than 90% of professionals who work with first-generation college students through mentoring and career development programs believe their experience as a mentor has helped them become better leaders or managers at work.

Our Guest: Matt Reeves

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Matt Reeves, CEO of Together, a software platform focused on enabling companies to run best-in-class internal mentorship programs. Together Software helps organizations run internal mentorship programs that intelligently match every employee with the best person for them to learn from. We asked Matt to tell us what a mentorship program is. He explains:

A mentorship program within an organization is where you’re pairing two colleagues together, usually a more junior employee who’s the mentee with a more senior employee who’s the mentor, for career development and career guidance. Typically, these employees meet on a particular cadence like once a month over a year or even more.

Mentorship programs are becoming more and more in demand by employees who crave a better employee experience and career guidance. In addition, mentorship programs can help companies with employee retention, which helps drive bottom-line results. But, programs are evolving as the workforce changes. Matt:

We’ve seen companies breaking the mold and experimenting with different types of mentorship programs with the common thread being helping their employees learn from their colleagues through conversations.

The Flavors of Mentorship

There are different types of mentorship approaches. Some are more traditional, and some are more out of the box. The best match for a company depends on the needs of the employees.

The traditional approach is a one-on-one program. You have a more senior mentor mentoring a more junior mentee for a specific period. Certainly, peer programs are very common, as well as reverse programs where you have a less senior employee who’s perhaps more experienced in a particular topic mentoring a more senior employee. And then where we see many organizations have a lot of success in breaking the mold is on the duration piece of the program and adding flexibility for the participants.

Benefits for the Mentor and Mentee

Both mentor and mentee have different reasons for wanting to participate in a mentorship program. Matt explains:

I think most people understand why a mentee would want to participate – to learn, develop and progress in their career. I think they want to participate on the mentor side because they are more senior. When you’re more senior in an organization, you are expected to be a people developer and culture carrier.

This is also something participants can bring to performance reviews and use in conversations around promotion and compensation as part of a company’s overall performance assessment of their employees.

Technology and the Mentorship Experience 

Our final question to Matt – we asked him his thoughts on using technology to keep mentors and mentees connected. He answered:

From an administrative standpoint, it significantly reduces the workload. From the employee standpoint, there is a much-improved employee experience. For example, a manual program can take time to match mentor and mentee. Not a great experience if you’re paired with someone who has left the organization. Something easily avoidable if you’re using technology.

I hope you found this recent episode of #WorkTrends informative and inspiring. For tips and ideas on what a mentorship program could look like for your organization, go to

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

Tips for Jumpstarting Your Talent Acquisition Strategy

Terms like recruitment and talent acquisition are used synonymously, but they aren’t the same. Recruitment is a short-term fix for most “big-picture” employers, whereas talent acquisition is a long-term solution. 

While you may need to fill a vacancy quickly, organizations should focus on long-term planning if they want to improve their culture and work towards a unified vision.

Talent Acquisition vs Recruitment

Recruitment is about filling vacancies. Talent acquisition is an ongoing strategy that focuses on finding leaders, specialists, and future executives. For HR to run a successful talent acquisition strategy, they need to plan and find candidates well.

There are other subtle differences, Talent acquisition:

  1. Requires a lot of planning
  2. Uses metrics and data to improve the recruitment process
  3. Focuses more on skills and experiences. Recruitment concentrates on the position.

Although employers hope their employees will give 2-weeks notice before quitting, there are plenty of times where that isn’t possible. Of course, an employee suddenly leaving is why employers prefer the recruitment strategy, but planning can make talent acquisition possible.

Should I Be Recruiting or Acquiring?

Not every industry needs a recruitment strategy, but how do you know if your position requires the acquiring method? Generally, the more specialized and high-demand roles should take an acquiring approach, regardless of urgency.

Some would argue that all positions require talent acquisition, and employer review websites like JobSage prove this. For example, a fast-food cashier is still challenging to fill long-term because front-of-house workers handle angry customers. You’ll want to hire talent that fits your corporate culture to reduce turnover rates, even for easy-to-fill positions.

How to Create a Talent Acquisition Strategy

A poor talent acquisition strategy can impact your organization as a whole. To ensure the right talent fills your vacant positions, follow these steps to create your acquisition strategy.

Start With the Right Communication Strategy

High-quality talent wants to work for companies that offer great benefits, an incredible corporate culture, and growth opportunities. Therefore, it’s essential to communicate your total benefits package and differentiators when promoting career opportunities.

Don’t Forget About Competitive Pay

Inflation has hit hard. The recent 7.5% increase has made even the most well-paying jobs insufficient for people with families. That means salary and salary growth potential are more important than job seekers.

If you’re consistently losing out on talent at the last possible second, look at the salary your competitors offer. Be competitive.

Consider Contractors and Employee Referrals 

Employee referrals are one of the best ways to find new talent. Consider implementing an employee rewards program to make it attractive.

Alternatively, you could seek out independent contractors to fill positions. Not only are they less expensive to hire, but they can work remotely and jump into a job at a moment’s notice. 

Remove Bias From the Hiring Process

Diversity in the workplace leads to increased productivity, creativity, cultural awareness, and marketing opportunities. However, unconscious biases can cause us to choose candidates based on their sexual orientation, race, religion, age, religious affiliation, or gender. 

To make your recruitment process more diverse, use Applicant Tracking Systems, non-bias workplace tests, and a more structured interviewing process that focuses on skills.

Keep Past Applicants Engaged

Keeping a passive talent pool will allow you to pick from it when necessary, but you can’t just promise a job at a later date. Instead, you need to stay in contact with your applicants by telling them you’ll contact them should another position become available.

Create a separate email sequence that speaks to your potential hires to let them know what’s happening in your business. 

Offer a Remote or Hybrid Work Environment

A PwC survey found that 72% of workers prefer to work from home at least two days a week, while 32% want to work from home full-time. Since remote employees are more productive than their in-office counterparts, it makes more sense to offer remote employment options.

By removing geographic barriers, you open up your talent pool beyond your physical location. As more businesses switch to the hybrid office, you’ll need to do the same to be competitive.

Regularly Speak to Students

Your strategy’s unconventional talent acquisition step should include university and college students, especially in fast-moving industries. While students won’t have the experience you’re looking for, they will have new skills and a go-getter attitude.

You can start by sending recruiters to job fairs who can speak to students. Then, consider partnering with specific schools for internships or on-the-job career training to scope out top talent.

Ask for Candidate Feedback

Organizations rarely ask their candidates why they wanted to apply for a position or why they declined an offer. However, you must gather this data to know what kind of candidates you’re attracting and how you can be more competitive.

Make sure the survey is anonymous as not to discourage participation.  You’ll also make your candidates feel like their opinion matters, improving your brand by asking for feedback.

Promote From Within

The best thing about hiring from within is you already know your candidates. Additionally, they already fit in with your company culture and have the skills to move into their new positions. Finally, hiring from within is great for long-term talent retention.

The 2-Minute Career Story Every Executive Jobseeker Needs

How to Hone Your Professional Career Narrative (And Why It Matters)

Have you met these executive jobseekers? What do they all have in common when it comes to having or not having a professional narrative?

Most of us recognize these stereotypes. Furthermore, many of us inadvertently fall into the same traps when asked to introduce our skills, experience, and career goals.

  • The Historian. Shares every bullet point on her three-page, 25+ year resume. This overwhelms you with details.
  • The Opportunist. Emphasizes so much willingness to do “anything and everything.” You have no idea where he’d be the right fit.
  • The Generalist. Downplays her true skills with generic accomplishments like “building great teams.” Leaves no lasting impression.
  • The Reactionary. Treats you as his therapist. Allows emotion about his last employer drives the conversation until you’re screaming for the exit.

For executive jobseekers, the stakes are high. Recruiters, hiring managers, and networking contacts need a clear picture of your unique strengths and ideal role. All in just a few short sentences.

Enter the professional narrative.

Overcome Talent Scarcity by Widening the Talent Pool

A professional narrative captures your career story at its most memorable level. Ideally, that’s about two minutes in conversation, and less than 200 words when written. It’s a power-packed paragraph. When done right, clearly differentiates you in the job market. It identifies your target role and keeps you top of mind.

The professional narrative forms the foundation of a successful executive job search. It addresses the most important questions for career transition. Specifically:

  1. Who are you as a senior leader?
  2. What do you do best?
  3. Where do you add value to an organization?
  4. What is your ideal next step?

Those questions can seem straightforward. However, taking time for self-reflection, and getting outside perspectives from colleagues or your outplacement firm, results in a stronger, more succinct story.

Avoid Clichés and Forgettable Phrases

Here’s an example of the transformation:

  • Original summary: “I started my career in brand management about 20 years ago in California, after getting my MBA from Stanford. I also have a B.A. in business from UCLA. I bounced around for a bit and had really good opportunities to travel and build some wonderful teams. Then about six years ago I moved back to the Midwest. I joined a startup, a really scrappy organization, and this time I had far more responsibility for product development. I’m good at making things work better, putting strategies together, and leading teams. I’m ready to take my leadership to the next level—maybe a chief marketing officer role—where I can have a significant impact on the business.”
  • Revised professional narrative: “As an energetic, consumer-led brand marketer and general manager, I develop strategies that unlock marketplace success. Leveraging my experience in strategic and new product development, P&L ownership, and cross-functional team management, I quickly assess business conditions and apply proven best practices. I am recognized for developing insightful strategies that are rooted in deep consumer knowledge, flawlessly executed, and able to garner winning results. In my next role, I will leverage my passion and skills as a senior member of a marketing team driving superior performance. I will apply my leadership at both strategic and operational levels to create new opportunities for growth.”

Focus on Career Specifics

Where the original version lacked a hook to grab attention, the winning narrative shows personality from the start. It emphasizes specific accomplishments and demonstrates the candidate’s strengths instead of centering on overused clichés, rambling career history, and forgettable descriptions.

A great professional narrative also takes a forward-looking approach. It focuses on a precise next role. The audience can picture immediately while emphasizing the impact a candidate can make rather than what the job seeker expects from their next employer.

This clarity makes it easy for others to spot opportunities.  It makes it easier to facilitate networking introductions. It also uses a recruiter or hiring manager’s limited time wisely.

Professional Narrative Versus Personal Brand

Personal branding gets a lot of buzz with job seekers. It’s common to mistake a personal brand as “enough” to support your job search. While there’s a definite intersection between what you stand for as an individual and your career aspirations, these are two distinct elements. A personal brand applies in many situations and stays constant across your life. A professional narrative speaks to a clear goal and focuses more on your work identity.

In either case, senior leaders often waste space calling out skills and experiences that are baseline expectations, rather than true personal differentiators. For example, at a C-suite or vice president level, we expect robust leadership abilities and proven team-building.

A smart professional narrative drills into attributes that truly set a candidate apart. This can seem counterintuitive, but you will stand out less the more you try to look good at everything.

Enlist Outside Help to Assess Your Strengths Objectively

Creating the ideal career story can be challenging. Especially when working alone. It’s challenging to step back and assess your strengths objectively. Emotion can also derail your overview. Especially if you’re not in transition voluntarily.

These are all good reasons to tap firms like Navigate Forward. Ask to help identify your top strengths. Job seekers often overlook their best assets simply because these traits come so easily.

Once you’ve crafted a winning professional narrative, use it often and consistently across your resume, bio, and LinkedIn profile. It’s also suitable for conversational introductions, cover letters, and “about” statements in emails. This repetition of key themes will reinforce your message and help fast-track your next career opportunity.

How To Find Your Leadership DNA

What is your leadership DNA? It is your authentic self. The concept of authentic leadership is often bantered about. In my experience of working with leaders from the best of the best global companies, the most impactful definition is being the leader you were designed to be. How do you do that? Find your leadership DNA.

There is no one characteristic of a great leader. There are actually millions. The best characteristics for you are already hard-wired in you.  You just need to identify, build and leverage your strengths, passions and experiences to be that kind of leader you were designed to be.

Why is being an authentic leader so powerful?

People gravitate to authentic leaders. However, so many people want to copy an admired leader. This is unlikely to work for you for your brain is not hard-wired for this style. It may, in fact, focus you on your weaknesses. 

It takes great effort to fix a weakness. Instead, take that effort and focus it on further developing your strengths. Leverage the way your brain is hard-wired.

We are uniquely created. Each of us possesses a unique set of gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses, emotions and passions. Whether it is handed down to us though our parent’s genes, taught to us as we are raised from childhood to adults, or bestowed upon us from a higher power; we are who we are. There is a reason why we act, think and feel the way we do. Who we are is hard-wired into our brains.

In “A User’s Guide to the Brain,” Dr. John Ratey writes: 

“The brain is not a neatly organized system. It is often compared to an overgrown jungle of 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons…The neurons form an interconnected tangle with 100 trillion, constantly changing, connections. The connections guide our bodies and behaviors, even as every thought and action we take physically, modifies their patterns. Our neurons are constantly competing to make connections and these connections are what make us who we are.”

If you want to be average, focus on fixing your weaknesses.

When I was a child, I was poor in math. My parents did what most Asian parents would do: they got me a math tutor. Every night with my tutor I went through hell. After three months of working hard, night after night of feeling stupid, I was able to take my math skills from poor up to… slightly above poor. 

Then I got into the business world. The end of the year performance appraisal surfaced that I was weak in my analytical planning. So, week after week, month after month I worked on it. I was able to get my analytical skills up to average.  

What am I becoming? Average.

Now, there is nothing wrong with average. If you want to be average, this is a good approach. However, many of us want to be exceptional at something. If you want to be distinctive, an authentic leader, you need to identify your strengths and leverage them by focusing on developing them even further. If your organization provides a training budget for you, sign up for training courses to enhance your strengths. 

McKinsey’s study on centered leadership shows: 

“Of all the dimensions of centered leadership, meaning has a significant impact on satisfaction with both work and life; indeed, its contribution to general life satisfaction is five times more powerful than that of any other dimension.”

Leverage not only your strengths, but also your passions. These combined with your experiences are a powerful combination. 

How to find your leadership DNA?

1. Identify your strengths and passions.

There are many tools out there that can help you find them. Here are a few to check out:

2. Drill down for specificity.

Whatever tool you use, it’s important to drill down to more specifically determine the who, what, where and when for each. This brings more clarity and breaks things down into bite-size, actionable pieces.

3. Take action, now!

In his book “Smartcuts”, Shane Snow writes about the power of the “Big Mo” (momentum). Momentum is key! 

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile has found that the answer is simply progress. A sense of forward motion. Regardless of how small. Amabile found that minor victories at work were nearly as psychologically powerful as major breakthroughs. And momentum isn’t just a powerful ingredient of success. It’s also a powerful predictor of success.

Small steps add up! Use the power of compounding. One step forward brings you joy, especially if that step allows you to work on the things you are good at or love doing. One step forward gives you a sense of accomplishment and a positive feeling that you are getting closer to your goal of authenticity.

Get on the path of being an authentic leader, more of who you already are by taking action now, and moving down that path.

Digital Upskilling to Close the Generation Gap

The enterprise and the workplace are increasingly influenced by technology and technology-driven processes. With digital upskilling becoming an increasing priority, this often comes with a new level of competency and a shift in demand on the skills required to fulfill the needs of a job.

This is particularly true in the insurance industry, where we are seeing a confluence of events. Such as accelerated digital transformation, rapidly-changing customer demands, and the migration to hybrid work models.

This has a direct effect on talent and the workforce.

As a result, many companies are increasing their investments in digital upskilling and reskilling their employees to prepare staff to capitalize on this golden market opportunity.

Building a Digital-Ready Workforce

With new digital tools, connected technologies, and better access to real time data, there is a balance between tried and true insurance methods. This includes new ways of analyzing information and insuring risk. Using new digital tools eliminates or automates repetitive tasks to free up talent to analyze and interpret client needs.

Reskilling, upskilling, and training employees is crucial for companies to build digital-ready workforces to carry their businesses into the future. This will lead to industry modernization and inspire teams to develop solutions that meet evolving customer needs.

Adopting Unique Learning Methods

According to Mercer’s 2021 Global Talent Trends Insurance Industry Outlook, insurance companies are 1.5 times more likely than other industries to develop skills related to innovation and adapting existing products. Additionally, insurers look to drive digital innovation and enhance the user experience to meet evolving customer needs.

This is great news for both current and budding insurance professionals. It is also a warning signal for carriers that are not investing the right time and resources in their talent.

New technology integral to the insurance industry presents an exciting ground for recent graduates. This is also true for employees from other fields looking to make a career transition. To take advantage of this opportunity, both employers and employees must take on a proactive learning mindset.

But appealing to everyone and their preferred way of receiving tools and technology training is a huge undertaking. When it comes to learning and development, teams have to think how to engage generations in the workforce today. While older generations are used to classroom learning, Gen Z and Millennials prefer YouTube videos or snippets of learning available. Companywide training programs incorporate different learning combinations, such as lecture, demo, and hands-on lab exercises.

Training to Suit All Ages

Incorporating the following steps, insurance industry leaders can train different generations across the tools required for learning and technology.

  • Determine the organization’s digital workforce goals: Identify the benefits leaders can expect from their digital upskilling investments and the steps that will be critical to the team’s success.
  • Connecting with the whole organization: Reskilling is not an individual project. Make sure training is available to staff across all levels and incorporate different learning styles to stay in tune with how everyone learns.
  • Provide recognition: Learning additional skills on top of an existing workload is not something that should be taken lightly. Rewarding staff for upskilling will help with employee morale, retention, and engagement.
  • Measuring success: Employees must embrace continuous learning so that reskilling does not fade. To mitigate this possibility, a digital workforce strategy must extend beyond learning and development to influence culture and ways of working.

Finding out which skills are missing across your organization and within specific teams will help you create a stronger workforce.

Embrace the Diversity of Different Generations

Having a range of ages on your staff adds value to the organization. As the age of retirement rises, companies need to explore adopting more inclusive policies to accommodate an older workforce.

Younger employees are more accustomed to rapidly developing technology and adapting to the changes it drives. Similarly, more mature employees have knowledge from the duration of their experience that can guide decision-making.

Creating an environment where all generations can learn from one another allows for mutually beneficial mentoring opportunities. When you have multiple generations in the workforce, those with more years of experience can advise younger employees on career development. Additionally, cross-generational mentoring will allow more junior employees to educate mature workers due to their familiarity with current trends and technology.

When it comes to reskilling and upskilling, it is not only about the generations already in the workforce, but companies also need to provide tools for those reentering the workforce. Reentering the workforce includes re-training of both technology and basic workplace skills.

Digital Upskilling is Here to Stay

As technologies evolve, the need for digitally skilled talent is not just for the short term. Insurers must foster a culture of innovation to develop skilled professionals internally – a culture that attracts them from the outside and helps retain them for the long haul.

One thing is certain: the insurance industry will continue to digitize to meet productivity goals and provide customers with an engaging experience. If companies can proactively address digital upskilling; customers, employees and the overall organization all benefit.

Photo by SkitterPhoto

[#WorkTrends] Designing Work to Meet Personal and Professional Goals

We’re all doing more with less. And yet, we continue to work toward the achievement of our personal and professional goals. So how do we find the right balance… or shall I say the right “blend”? 

Even as we learn best how to work from — well, wherever — for most of us, our overarching goal remains integrating a productive, engaging professional life with a satisfying, fulfilling personal life. In fact, as I talk to members of the TalentCulture community over the past few months, one thing has become clear: The blending of personal and professional goals into a comfortable mix is finally gaining momentum. 

That makes sense; after all, attempting to create strict boundaries between one’s personal life and work often meets with disappointment. Especially now, when distancing oneself from personal life while at work — and removing work from our active thoughts while on downtime — is becoming increasingly difficult. 

However, with some concerted effort, we can balance satisfying personal and professional goals. 

Our Guest: Author and Productivity Expert, Carson Tate

Joining me on the #WorkTrends podcast this week is Carson Tate, the founder and managing partner of Working Simply, Inc. — a consulting firm that enhances workplace productivity, fosters higher employee engagement levels, and helps build personal and professional legacies. Carson’s newest book, where she talks about making any job your dream job, is Own It. Love It. Make It Work. Of course, I had to ask Carson if someone, especially now, can really design their work in a way that makes them happy in their professional and personal life. Her answer was both encouraging and inspiring:

“That is the big question, and it often comes with an eye roll or a sigh. Yes, because any job can be a place for fulfillment and engagement for you. Because who defines what fulfillment and engagement look like? You do! So you must own the opportunity to shape and craft your work in a way that works for you. You actually own your piece of the action. So you must identify what you need to be happier, more fulfilled, more engaged, and more excited about going to work.”

I followed up by asking how that is possible given many of us can no longer separate who we are at work and who we are at home. Carson replied, “When our commute is two minutes to the kitchen table, our concept of work is very different. Folks are working more hours. There’s more burnout because of the connectivity. And there’s anxiety around making sure I stay visible; that my boss knows what I’m doing and that I’m adding value.”

“So it’s even more important to be thoughtful about what it is you need, the conditions under which you work best, and also your own levels of engagement and fulfillment.”

Professional Goals: How to Make “This” Job Your “Dream Job”

Carson shared with us many tips on how to stay connected and visible while working remotely. Her tips are sure to help all of us balance our desire to live a fulfilling personal life while being fully engaged at work. My favorite moment came when I asked her about the three most important steps when making our current job our dream job. “Own it… love it… make it work,” Carson said. She added: “When we own our work, we align our strengths to the work; we then do better work. When we love our work, we have a clear idea of where we want to go and the skills we must develop to get there. And when we make it work, we’re designing the work for more meaning; we find purpose in what we do each and every day.”

Solid advice we can all use. But we weren’t done yet. I also talked with Carson about avoiding the roadblocks that interrupt our career journeys (especially in these challenging times), how to ensure we’re getting the recognition and appreciation we all need while working from home, and much more. Be sure to listen to the entire episode!

My thanks to Carson Tate for joining me on #WorkTrends. A thought-provoking conversation, indeed!


Find Carson on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Editor’s note: We’ve updated our FAQ page and #WorkTrends Podcast pages. Take a look!


Photo: Free To Use Sounds

My Job Search During COVID-19: Keep Dreaming

Hey, all. 2019 graduates. Recent 2020 graduates. Early-hires. Young professionals. Those who have been laid off. Those in furlough. Those on unemployment. I know it feels like everyone is looking for a full-time job (or any job right now). As a recent graduate from SUNY New Paltz, who majored in journalism and minored in Spanish — and experienced the job market during a pandemic, I’ve learned this: don’t let a virus dash your hopes for a dream job.  I’ll share some of my own takeaways to keep your dreams alive during this time. 

1. Start with introspection. 

Did I solely want to be a reporter/journalist, or was I open to ideas where I could potentially use my journalism skills in other fields? I encourage you to ask yourself what skills you want to keep building on. That will lead you to answering what other roles you’re open to exploring. And it led me to understand that writing, reading and researching have been in all the jobs I’ve ever loved and grew from. Those skills and passions needed to be integrated in the job I chose for the future too. Then I asked myself: Did I solely want a full-time job or was I interested in part-time or freelance work to get my foot in the door? Keeping the answers to these questions in mind helped me widen my search, and apply to jobs more focused on the quality of work than the quantity of jobs. That way I’d still be able to make a stable living even if the full-time jobs weren’t coming. 

2. Use all the job boards.

I looked for jobs in my field via Linkedin, Twitter, Indeed, Glassdoor, PND: Philanthropy News Digest, and Idealist because as aggregators, all the potential jobs were in one place. Generally, Linkedin and Twitter are great social media tools to follow the company for job posting updates and connect with potential employers. Indeed allows you to customize job alerts that land in your inbox and provides resources about all-things career-related. Glassdoor is useful for learning about company culture, salary, and benefits offered. PND and Idealist make reaching out to the employer and applying abundantly clear: who to email, who to address your cover letter to, and how/where to submit. 

3. Go long and go hard.

I applied for dozens of writing jobs in a total of 10 months since graduating. A Google Sheet titled, “Dynahlee Padilla Job Shopping,” was my BFF (thanks to an alumna and friend who tipped me). This sheet included the company name, title of the role, date I applied, compensation if stated, the name of the contact/hiring manager, and link to the original job posting. This structure helped me keep track of who I needed to follow up with, who I should be connecting with on social media, and the types of jobs I was looking for. It served as my timeline of progress.

4. Find a good fit.

Yes, we all need to be working for a company that’s a good fit. Can you see yourself enjoying the role based on the job posting and any interviews you’ve participated in? Can you see yourself doing the responsibilities asked of you well and with passion? Do you agree 110 % with every part of the company’s mission statement and values? Can you see yourself grow with the company now and later? I once went all the way to D.C.  to interview — for a Booking Producer role at a media company with an extremely conservative perspective, and I knew right away it wasn’t right for me. So, don’t compromise your values to fit in. You can choose to be a part of the company, the same way it can choose and consider you to join the company. 

5. Keep your resume, your professional and personal story on paper, crystal clear. 

Maintain a resume that’s up-to-par: education, succinct summary, publications/achievements, language skills, and relevant experiences that relay your skills in chronological order from the most-recent. Include keywords that target the roles you are looking for. When I worked at ABC’s “7 on Your Side” as an intern (post-grad), I learned that data journalists were trending in the media industry, so I tagged the word “data” and “producing” onto experiences that included those skills to stay on potential media companies and employers’ radar. Also, update your resume (and your LinkedIn) as soon as you begin a new role. Always proofread, and have editors in your trusted circle review for you. And for recent grads, add a “Professional Experience” headline — because now you are a professional — still learning but not a student.

6. Cover letter

A cover letter should never be optional. Job postings often say that, but as I’ve learned on TalentCulture, sometimes job postings are poorly written or generic or do not meet the needs of the company. Include a compelling signature with contact info. Use this piece of writing and ready-to-go clips/samples as your power tools to stand out! 

7. You’re not done yet.

Getting a callback or interview doesn’t mean the work is done. Continue to apply for other jobs, because in this particular economy and market, we never know where these opportunities might take us. 

8. You’re really never done.

Remember: job hunt is like dating. Brace yourself for rejection. Many times, we’ll get ghosted. Sometimes we’ll get led on — to nothing. So keep applying, and keep dreaming. And don’t stop. Ever. Check in with your own network and build on it — colleagues, friends, alumni, professors, family members. I reach out to my network often, especially during these times, because cultivating relationships are important to me — and not only when you need or want something. I usually ask: How are you doing? What are you working on? And then include, by the way — “I am working on this, and still looking for this. I’d love to get your thoughts. And keep in touch.” 

9. Have faith and focus. 

Make sure you check LinkedIn and job portals like you check Instagram, or any other platform you are obsessed with. Be obsessed. Your dreams will come true if you put in the time and energy to stay focused and follow through. 

10. Landed a remote job? Here’s how to shine. 

Let’s say you’ve got a job — but you’re not going anywhere but home. You can shine anyway. Be vocal with those you live with about the space, time, and tools you need in your home to work productively — not just busily. Natural lighting, a comfy chair, and privacy works for me.

Talk with your employer about your needs. I moved out-of-state amid the health crisis, which wasn’t easy. I spoke to my immediate supervisor and others I work with and got a few extra days off to get settled. 

It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. There are various crises happening while our lives are still happening. So, take actual breaks. Step away from the screen. Do breathing exercises, stretches, therapy coloring, a walk/run — whatever works for you. Take the time to process what you are feeling and become recharged. And keep dreaming! New goals await. 

#WorkTrends: Advice for the Next Generation at Work

Karyn Schoenbart

When NPD Group CEO Karyn Schoenbart’s daughter Danielle was 6 years old, she and a friend asked if they could have a sleepover. Instead of saying “yes” or “no,” Schoenbart asked them to give a presentation on why they should have a sleepover.

When your mom is a CEO, sometimes things run a little bit differently. So it’s no wonder that when Danielle entered the advertising industry, she often found herself advising co-workers on how to navigate office politics. She christened her education an MBA — Mom.B.A., that is.

Now Karyn Schoenbart has collected that wisdom in her best-selling book “Mom.B.A.: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next.” Our conversation was enormously enlightening, with insights that any professional can use.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

The Importance of Networking

The first bit of advice Schoenbart says she offers young workers is to be sure that they are networking during their early career. However, workers also need to remember that the worth of your Rolodex — to use an older generation’s term — isn’t based on its size; it’s based on the quality of the contacts that you make. “If you can make a few authentic connections, those can serve you well,” she says.

Of course, putting theory into practice is an another matter entirely. A lot of people dislike networking events, believing them to be exercises in small talk and empty promises. But Schoenbart says that’s the wrong way to approach such events. “It doesn’t have to be small talk,” she says. “It could be thoughtful talk.”

To ensure thoughtful chit-chat, prepare for the event like it’s a job interview. Try to research who will attend. Prepare interesting questions you can ask. They don’t have to be complicated — just asking someone what they’re working on breaks a lot more ice than you’d expect.

Finally, make sure your follow-up is even more thoughtful. “One of my pet peeves is when people follow up on LinkedIn with the generic ‘Let’s connect,’ ” Schoenbart says. Take the time to personalize your message — and never be afraid to ask what you can do for someone. “You never know,” she says. “Sometimes it won’t pay back, but many times it will.”

Rethink the Labels for ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Bosses

We’ve all seen “Office Space” and had bosses who are ineffective and frustrating.

But Schoenbart wonders if our definitions aren’t a bit skewed. “We don’t always realize who’s a good boss and who’s a bad boss,” she says. She cites her first boss as a classic “good boss.” “My boss was incredibly nurturing,” she says, but notes that as she grew in the position his approach actually began to feel stifling. “I ended up having to leave the company because I felt I couldn’t grow.”

At Schoenbart’s second job, her boss was much more emotionally distant. He “could barely give me the time of day,” she says. But the experience ultimately provided a valuable learning experience because it forced her to learn to stand up for herself, become self-motivated and evaluate the quality of her work without the presence of feedback. “Looking back,” she asks, “who was the better boss?”

She says her experience under that second boss provided a foundational lesson that she passed on to her daughter and to the readers of her book: Grow and absorb the lessons you learn working underneath your bosses — all of them. The only way you will grow and prepare yourself for leadership positions is to get out of your comfort zone.

You Never Outgrow Impostor Syndrome

You know that feeling where you think you’re underqualified for whatever it is you’re doing? It’s called impostor syndrome. Even someone as successful as Schoenbart feels it!

The sad reality is that even as we get older, impostor syndrome is one thing that doesn’t fade. Thankfully, Schoenbart has a few suggestions to prove to ourselves that we really do belong.

First, resist the urge to compare yourself to others. “You’re unique,” Schoenbart says.

Second, remember that uniqueness when you think about yourself. Most people are very aware of their weaknesses, but it’s also important to focus on your strengths. “What you’re really good at is also going to be most likely what you love,” she says. “If you can be even better at [them], you can be the best at it then, and that can help propel your career.”

Finally, start a fan file. Whenever you do great work on a project or receive a compliment from a boss or client, put it in the file. Not only will it help cheer you up when you’re feeling down, but it can help you work your way up the ladder. “If there’s an opportunity or a promotion … you can pull out your file and use that to help build your case,” Schoenbart says.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Top Five Leadership Challenges: How to Overcome Them

There are many challenges that all managers face. Whilst these challenges can arise at any point in a manager’s career, they can be particularly prevalent for newer or first-time managers. We’ve compiled a handy list of these challenges with tips on how to combat them, become the best manager possible, and support your team on their way to success.

Adjusting to the role

First time managers often find it difficult to adapt to taking ownership of their role. It can be particularly difficult managing those who you’re used to working closely with and perhaps have personal relationships with. It’s important to keep these personal relationships separate from workplace practices. You can do this by positioning yourself as an approachable and supportive manager and ensuring that the tough conversations still take place. Remember that giving constructive feedback shouldn’t be seen negatively, but  instead be seen as a way that you can help your team perform at their full potential.

Over managing

Whilst it’s undeniably important to be there for your team, and coach them to make sure you’re getting the best out of them: there’s a fine line between managing a team well and not letting people take on their own work. Your role is to support, so make sure your team has the space to complete their assignments and have some autonomy, whilst helping them make progress as individuals and take ownership of their development. Whether the people you’re mentoring are older, younger, or no matter how long they’ve been in the field, if you are able to guide them through hardships, lead them in the right direction and help them progress in their role or career, then you are succeeding as a mentor and as a manager.

Not giving enough guidance

Whilst over managing people and not providing the space to work can be an issue, the other end of the spectrum is not giving people enough input or guidance. Much as your team likely know what they are working on, as manager it’s up to you to ensure everyone is fully aware of what’s expected of them and how their work aligns and contributes to the wider company goals. If managers are unable to communicate clear guidelines and expectations for their team members, they will of course be unable to take ownership of their work and ultimately less productive. They will also have less motivation and drive to work towards their goals if they are unaware of the impact their work has on the company.

Keep the conversation open

No matter how things are going, it’s key to keep communication frequent and open. Providing constructive feedback is not always the easiest task, but it’s an essential way to ensure your team can develop and really progress within their role. It’s equally important, however, that you also celebrate people’s successes, however big or small. Giving positive feedback to your team when things have gone well or particular team members have shined is key to letting people know they’re valued. It will increase engagement; people will know that their work is recognized and that they’re appreciated. Introducing or optimizing the use of 360-feedback is also a great practice to really keep communication open and useful for everyone.

Embrace upward feedback

Giving feedback aside, it can be difficult, particularly as a newer manager, to receive constructive feedback: it’s not always the easiest to handle, particularly when still adjusting to managerial responsibilities. But it’s important to see such feedback as positive; something which will help you develop in your career and become the best, most supportive and  efficient manager possible. It’s not only key to receive this upward feedback with an open mind, but also to ensure you act upon it appropriately. Following up feedback either by discussing with your team what the next steps are and how they feel things could improve, or by taking the next steps based on people’s feedback really shows your team that you value their input. This will build trust and respect for you and ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.

What to share?

Transparency is something greatly appreciated by modern workforces. An employee engagement survey from Harvard Business Review actually found that 70% of those asked said they were most engaged when managers shared continuous updates and insights into company strategy. With many organizations adopting a flatter, less hierarchical approach, and employees taking more ownership of their roles, it’s not so much a case of management being the only ones in the know. Many employees now value transparency and candidness over more traditional practices. And, with an increasing amount of companies taking transparency even further, with salaries made public knowledge, and other less traditional information being disclosed to employees, it’s clear people like to be aware of what’s happening in the company. To be a manager that people trust and feel comfortable with, don’t close yourself off- keep your employees in the loop.

A version of this post was first published on the Impraise blog

Photo Credit: cheever.zachary Flickr via Compfight cc

Working With Your Spouse–And Making It Work

Can you work with your spouse and make it work? It’s common nowadays to hear someone dedicated to their career say they are “married to their jobs,” especially in today’s non-stop workforce. However, it’s become more common to find couples working together behind the scenes of entrepreneurial businesses.

My husband, Scott Thomas, and I are a successful example of spouses who have fused their marriage with their work.

I had been working as President and Creative Director for the design and marketing house, The MOD Studio with a client roster that included —Exclusive Resorts, Lexus, Circuit of the Americas, Dell, Four Seasons Residences, to name a few. After more than seven years of collaborating with my husband, Scott Thomas, who served as President of the revenue growth agency, Intelechy Group, we decided to join forces. Building a stronger company ecosystem between a creative firm and technology partner has since allowed The MOD Studio to evolve into a fully integrated print and digital marketing house, plus offer a more complete range of services.

While we both agree that we have experienced our fair share of roadblocks—and lessons—along the way, our businesses and our marriage have valiantly withstood the tests of this merger.

  1. Balance. We have found that to make such a situation harmonious for each person involved, a work and home balance is vital. Though in the past, the rule of thumb has been “keep your work and personal lives separate,” it’s becoming increasingly unrealistic in our tech-centered world to be able to unplug from work once the 5 o’clock whistle sounds—especially when you own your own business.
  1. Rest.To avoid falling into an “all work, no play” mindset, it’s important for you each to give yourselves a little rest here and there. After long, hectic hours at the office, reward yourselves with relaxing getaways—and be sure to turn your “out of office” message on! This is your time to reconnect with one another. We often extend the length of our out-of-town business trips to sightsee, recharge and indulge in some much-needed together time–sans work-related conversations.
  1. Respect.Having and showing respect for your partner is essential for both your marriage and business partnership. It can be easy to let your temper flare, especially when you can’t quite see eye-to-eye, but it’s vital to be understanding and respectful. Maintaining the same level of dignity in the office as you do at home will prevent feelings from getting hurt and keep small disagreements from snowballing.
  1. You are a spouse first. Above all, your marriage should always come first. Being able to run your business as a couple is quite a privilege, but mixing business with pleasure should never be compromising to your marriage. We stress the importance of these practices to maintaining a fulfilling professional and personal relationship with your spouse: Support each other unconditionally, stay attentive to each other’s needs, embrace compromise and keep in mind that even if you are a CEO—you are a spouse, first and foremost.


The Benefits of Allowing Employees to Build Personal Brands

I recently attended a talk on personal branding given by Dorie Clark, bestselling author of “Stand Out,” at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

At the conclusion of the talk, I asked Dorie her opinion of employers that restrict employees attempting to brand themselves using social media. I was in agreement with Dorie’s answer that employees should be allowed to build their personal brand.

Employers are concerned that employees frequently writing and posting could embarrass or negatively impact a company’s reputation. What employers fear are employees who build their reputations outside their business, making them more attractive to recruiters and other employers.

I used to observe employers attempt to retain employees by denying them training or asking them to work long hours to make it harder to network and attend interviews. Today I see employers creating processes for approving employees social media posts that are often arbitrary, slow moving and without transparency.

Some employees have told me that their posts have lost some relevancy as weeks and months pass waiting for employer approval. Employers in the financial industry, hiding behind the excuse of compliance and regulatory approval, have told employees to stay completely off social media.

The courts and the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) have weighed in a with variety of opinions, many of which have tilted in the direction of employees having some right to free speech. I understand employers’ point of view and their concern about protecting their reputations. I also would advise employees to not use social media to rant about their work grievances, how much they dislike their boss or to speak ill of their employer. An emotional outburst on social media disparaging an employer could stay with the writer throughout one’s career.

Employees creating original content, or commenting online, is an opportunity for employees to further intellectually engage, stretch themselves and grow as leaders in their field. This growth is beneficial to the employer as new relationships are formed, employees think of new ways to analyze and solve problems, and the company enhances its reputation having an emerging industry superstar as a member of their team.

Employers that hold back their employees, and don’t let them grow, run the risk of sliding into obsolescence. Employees pushing the boundaries of their expertise will bring new knowledge that has been vetted online (and likely offline as strong online relationships can lead to strong offline relationships). This gift of constantly flowing knowledge into companies will keep employers updated on changes in their industry. Employers can use this as an effective feedback mechanism to allow themselves to pivot quickly when necessary.

Job security is a relic of the past. Anybody can be fired at any time for any reason. Every employee needs to create their own career insurance. Writing and posting on social media allows employees to expand their network of contacts. Employees can show the marketplace their insight, expertise, skills and desirability as a potential hire. As the global economy continues to progress towards a knowledge-based, gig job market the competition for employment will become furiously competitive.

Advanced degrees and specialized education are becoming so commonplace that these credentials will transition from being competitive advantages to being minimal requirements on a job listing. References have lost much of their impact on the hiring process as many employers, worried about the threat of litigation, provide nothing more than basic information about an employee when asked about an employee’s performance. A person’s ability to stand out from a crowd will be crucial to obtaining employment. Having a strong social media presence in one’s field will be a key tool necessary to differentiate oneself from the thousands that will be seeking every work opportunity of the future. TalentCulture’s CEO Meghan M. Biro wrote an excellent article, “Five Reasons Why Social Media Should Be On Your HR Radar,” that details the importance of your social media brand and recruiting..

Employers must let employees write and comment on their social media personal pages about their industry. Employees need to be thoughtful and professional about every post they write, and every comment they make as they are creating a permanent record for all potential employers. All posts should contain an employee disclosure that their posts and comments are personal and do not reflect the views of their employers.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

5 Ugly Myths About Changing Career in 30s

You are in your 30s, they say.

You should already know what you want from this life and your career, they say.

Oh, really?

According to the research by Vodafone, people of 31-35 years old are the most unhappy at work. They feel undervalued, unfulfilled, demotivated, and they experience a mid-career blues, thinking of career change more often than others but still worrying if it’s worth making a swap here and now when you are not so young and promising as those graduates, full of energy and ready to do everything a boss tells.

All those stories about 35-year-old Mary who gives up a lawyer career for becoming a gardener… Or, a story of 33-year-old John who dreams of writing a book and quits his office job of a successful manager to join the team of professional essay writers

You read them, you listen to them, and you believe you can do the same. But all those ugly myths about changing career in your 30s keep you on the alert and prevent you from taking the first step toward your better and happier future.

What are they?

And the more important question:

Shall we believe these myths and take them into consideration while thinking of changing career in our mid-life?

Myth #1: You are too old for changing career

Who said that?

Didn’t you read all those articles about people who became millionaires after 40 or guys who proved it was never too late for a career change?

Let’s take Julia Child, a famous chef who wasn’t cooking meals until age 36. She worked as a CIA spy! Or, Barack Obama who published the book at age 43, having earned millions though he couldn’t keep body and soul together before.

Henry Ford was 45 when he created the Model T car.

Rodney Dangerfield started his career of a comedian when he was 45!

Milkshake device salesman Ray Kroc has built the world’s biggest fast food franchise when he was 52. We all know it as McDonald’s today.

Any more examples needed?

Myth #2: Changing career, you’ll have no way back

It could be true if we lived 20-30 years ago. Someone still believes that once you’ve chosen a career path, it will be your path forever.

However, times change. And the job market changes, too. It’s built for a career change: recent studies suggest it’s okay to change career, as it gives you freedom, allows you to experiment, and lets you try different options to choose what your heart desires.

Though it’s not good for your resume to have multiple and frequently changing job places, no one says you should sit at the same place for the whole life. It will definitely not make you happier and more professional.

Myth #3: You know your perfect job before you get it

Some of us believe they know what is good and what would fit us by 30. We have a picture of our perfect career in head, and we don’t see any point to trying anything else if this “else” doesn’t meet our expectations.

The truth is, you never know what is perfect for you until you try it. Experimenting, you will be able to find your perfect job.

Any examples needed?

The Magliozzi brothers, hosts of Car Talk radio show, would hardly call this job a career of their dream when they graduated from MIT and planned to work by profession. However, they both are satisfied and happy now, considering themselves at their own place.

Myth #4: Career change is for those knowing what to do with life

Assuming that a 35-year-old person should know what he or she wants from life and how to achieve that, it becomes impossible to venture upon a new step if you are not that kind of a person.

If you are in a mid-life crisis, if you have no idea what you want to do for life, if you believe you should change something, and if you are not satisfied with your present, there is one thing for you to remember:

You are not alone.


Just go to Quora, and you’ll find a lot of questions from people experiencing the same doubts:

  • “I am 35 years old and still have no idea what I want to do with my career, what to do?”
  • “I am a 35-year-old entrepreneur looking to pivot my career. What are some ideas for a new career?”
  • “I am a 41 year old professional. I want a change of career but am afraid of uncertainties. How should I go about it?”
  • “I am a 35-year-old woman. Am I too old to start a career in the film industry?”

The answers they get speak volumes:

  • “I’m in your predicament…I’m 34 and went from education to environmental compliance, which I hated, back to education and am currently looking for work.”
  • “I’m creative too and went into advertising. Then journalism. Then publishing. Spent 10years in the media, thinking that’s that a creative person should do. I’m 35 now and studying for a new career and never happier.”

After all, you’ll never know what to do with your life until you start doing something with it.

Myth #5: It’s miserable and embarrassing to start a career in 35+

All doubts and problems appear if you can’t forgive yourself the fact you are in your 30s already but still don’t know what you want from your career.

Accept the fact you are constantly changing: those dreams from your 20s seem strange and not so exciting in your 30s; the jobs you found interesting at age 19 seem awful and boring when you are 35; your abilities and interests change, too. That’s normal, and no one will blame you for starting a new career at your mid-life.

After all, it’s your life. And no career myth or other people’s thoughts shouldn’t disturb you from living it to the max.

Are you in your 30s? Have you thought of changing career now? What does prevent you from doing that?

Let’s share thoughts in comments!


252 Powerful Words to Avoid Apocalypse at Job Interview

In the beginning was the Word.

Have you ever wondered why some writers can’t hook us while others simply toy with your emotions? Why do we listen to some speakers carefully while others make us nothing but fall asleep?


They use different words to influence readers and listeners.

When written in resumes or said during job interviews, words become your powerful weapon. The better you use them, the bigger your chances to influence recruiters are.

So, how to do that?

Next time you write a resume, make sure you use strong and powerful words, as they increase your chances of getting hired by 80%! It’s high time to forget about clichés: professional recruiters read hundreds of resumes daily, so they are sick and tired of all those “great team player” or “responsible and dedicated individual” every second candidate writes in resumes and says at job interviews.

Powerful words in your resume will help you avoid apocalypse and motivate recruiters, especially when you search for your first job after graduation.

Said during an interview, they can do wonders.

Carefully-chosen, such words draw interviewers from one emotion to another, making them sympathize you and see you an ideal candidate as compared with others.

What are these powerful words, after all?

Broken down alphabetically, they are easier to find and remember.










































































































































































































































































As far as you see, all power words are verbs of action. When you use them in resumes and interviews, you tell a recruiter that you are a doer, a man of action who is ready to work and do his best.

It’s clear you shouldn’t use all 250+ words at once or learn them ALL to blow HRs out of the water:

  • Check them carefully;
  • Choose those corresponding to your skills and describing you as a leader and responsible individual ready for self-development, learning, and working the best you can;
  • Make sure they sound during your answers to a recruiter’s question.

A word is a powerful weapon that can help you win as well as fail. So, use this weapon for your sake.

Have you ever thought of words as a method to influence interviewers? Do you consider it a good technique to improve your resume and help you get a dream job?

photo credit: Interactive e-Resume Template Vol. 1 via photopin (license)

How These 5 Badass TV Career Women Inspire Our Real Lives

Every year, TV series creators bring us new career women to admire. Instead of tough, cutthroat caricatures, writers create complex women who thrive in a variety of fields. We watch them navigate boardrooms, courtrooms, and tricky office politics. Through it all, they continually inspire.

Take a look at five of our favorite badass TV career women and all the great reasons to emulate them in real life.

  1. Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) – “Sex and the City”

Even though this show is off the air, Samantha remains a kickass icon we admire. She is a smart, bold woman in the PR industry. Through every episode, and both movies, we see her as a woman full of ambitions and no apologies. She believes in her right to live by the same rules as men—both in the workplace and in the bedroom. Women everywhere admired her success, sexy power suits, uncensored language, and general cougar-y awesomeness.

There’s a scene in “Sex and the City” where Sam tells off sexist hotel tycoon Richard Wright (James Remar), then escapes to the elevator just before her tears fall. No matter how tough you are, there are moments when cruel and unjust people will get to you. What Samantha showed us was how to live through them, shake it off, and land the job anyway.

  1. Captain Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) – “Major Crimes”

Captain Raydor works for the LAPD, supervising a large squad of officers—most of whom are men. When she leaves work, she takes on the role of mother to adult children, as well as a teen foster son with a troubled past. She’s the empress of multi-tasking, handling a staggering amount of responsibility with wisdom and poise.

Sharon provides a great example of how to use the patience and empathy learned from motherhood and apply it to her work life. This does not prevent her from coldly manipulating violent suspects or efficiently smacking Lieutenant Provenza (G.W. Bailey) down when he gets out of line. Sharon shows that a woman can blend her nurturing side into work without being reduced to a stereotypical “mommy” figure.

  1. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) – “Elementary”

Dr. Watson is not squeamish about anything. She can handle creepy criminals, drug addicts, gunshot-wound victims, and sitting on Sherlock’s (Jonny Lee Miller) questionable furniture while wearing chic designer clothes. She maintains a cool and placid demeanor in the most horrifying situations, only letting the emotions out when absolutely necessary.

Joan’s most admirable gift is following her instincts, an asset to her job and life. Her unusual path from surgeon to sober companion led to her current job as consultant detective. She ignored outside doubts and criticism and followed her gut to find her true calling.

  1. Iris West (Candice Patton) – “The Flash”

Iris is the perfect example of taking initiative and believing in yourself. She capitalizes on the connection she has to a speedy superhero and turns a self-published blog into a fledgling journalism career. The “Picture News” gig isn’t her dream job, but she’s willing to put in the hard work to move up the ranks.

Iris teaches us that persistence pays off. Despite the fact that everyone in her life feels compelled to repeatedly lie to her, Iris pushes hard enough to get to the truth. She never gives up on a story, on friendship, or on love. She might want to give up her totally inappropriate work wardrobe, though.

  1. Donna Paulsen (Sarah Rafferty) – “Suits”

Donna possesses a pride in her work that is greatly lacking in today’s world. She’s not worried about what her title is or if she’s making a million dollars. If she’s going to be someone’s executive assistant, she’s going to be the best one she can be. The kind of assistant that causes a hot, uber-confident law partner to have panic attacks the moment she leaves his side.

There is a lot of satisfaction in being good at your job. Donna shows us how to be clever, powerful, needed, and respected at work, no matter where you rank in the hierarchy.

These five women not only survive in their work, they thrive. Each one uses her individual strengths to succeed, and they adapt to meet any challenges. Even though these are fictional characters, we can still be motivated and inspired by them and several other leading ladies to make our own careers better.

Photo Credit: Iowa Public Television via Compfight cc

Can You Actually Learn Essential Skills Online

Digital Skills: Is E-Learning Enough?

Digital skills are becoming increasingly essential for future-proofing your career and not least because of the rapid proliferation of digital industries. According to Daniel Patel, the SAP (Systems, Applications, and Products in Data Processing) delivery director at Eursap, the world’s growing talent pool has made digital skills imperative. He has said “with the SAP market becoming saturated and competition increasing, having an SAP resume that stands out is now more important than ever.”

From coding to copywriting, transcribing to taxation, finding online courses for digital skills is easy. The popularity of e-learning platforms suggests that we enjoy this new format of education too. But when careers depend on the skills gained, we must be sure that we’re getting at least the same quality of education as others participating in real world learning environments. So, are we?

The Rise of Online Learning Platforms

From the simple DIY YouTube tutorial to more advanced video learning experiences, such as Google’s Academy for analytics and other Google tools, people are taking to video for many of their lessons.

Lynda was founded in 1995, but its appreciation has skyrocketed over the past few years. This has seen LinkedIn buying the platform earlier this year for a whopping $1.5 billion. The thinking is clear: E-learning will become more accessible, more innovative, and its flexibility will attract users who are unable to attend lessons.

The Human Brain Registers Information Better in a Real-World Environment

Though e-learning offers a flexibility that classroom teaching cannot, it still does not offer the learning experience that real-life environments can. As the drop off in Kindle sales this year illustrates, we do not always find it easy to process information from a screen.

Scientific American has claimed that the brain is able to process information from paper far more effectively than from a screen. They argue the tactility of a physical object is an important factor when learning and often entirely absent when interacting through a screen.

The Key is to Combine the Two

A tutorial on Google Analytics, Microsoft Excel, or video editing can give us the basic how-to points. But if these skills are to be practiced in a business environment they need expertise. This is much harder to achieve when you only have the e-learning experience.

It has been noted in an article from AoC Jobs that technology is encouraging new teaching methods in further education. In their blog, they discuss how it can provide an additional support for ESL students “who might need help when reading and look for pronunciations and meanings as they work through a text on a tablet.”

Business skills training platforms have also taken this into account. Tutor-led training company Activia Training have curated courses that can be personalized to individual needs and include e-books, digital learning, and the benefits of the classroom environment.

E-learning platforms can easily fit into our lives, but making the most of them goes far beyond simply learning at home. Finding practical applications for the skills gained will have immeasurable benefits that can boost employability.

How to Choose a Fulfilling Career with Great Prospects

careerDo you have a scientific turn of mind? Are you obsessed with fine detail? Are you looking for a fulfilling, rewarding career with great prospects, where you’ll have the chance to make a real difference in the lives of the sick and suffering? If so, maybe you should consider a job in regulatory affairs (RA).

Regulatory affairs work isn’t for the faint of heart. You need to have a strong love of detail and the ability to work with documents that can run hundreds of thousands of pages long. As a regulatory affairs specialist, you’ll work to with prescription drug and medical device manufacturers to make sure their products and devices adhere to federal safety regulations through every stage of the development process. RA specialists also work with companies producing cosmetics and nutritional products.

You’ll have a lot of responsibility, but in return, you’ll enjoy plenty of opportunities in a rapidly developing field, and you’ll get the chance to make a tangible difference in the lives of the people who will use the prescription drugs, medical devices, nutritional products, and cosmetics you’ll help bring to market.

Qualifying for a Job in Regulatory Affairs

Many of the professionals who hold higher-level positions in regulatory affairs have doctoral degrees, often MDs or Ph.D. degrees. These are the professionals who sign off on regulatory submissions. However, you can have a successful career in RA with a master’s or even an undergraduate degree. There are plenty of positions available for less-educated professionals, including positions in information management, general support, project tracking, and other administrative roles.

A degree isn’t all you need to succeed in this field. You also need to be able to handle detail work. The journal “Science” reports that RA specialists often work with documents that are hundreds of thousands of pages long — so long that in the days of paper submissions, a single document could fill an entire moving truck! You’ll need to comb through these massive documents, checking every last detail of the data to make sure everything is correct. So if there’s one thing you definitely need to get ahead in this field, it’s a keen eye for detail and a passion for working with huge amounts of information.

Another thing you’ll need to make your mark in RA is great communication skills. You’ll need to be able to communicate well, both in writing and orally. It’ll be your responsibility to convince busy executives to take your recommendations, so you’ll have to be able to state your case compellingly and concisely.

What to Expect from a Career in RA

crThe right person will find a career in regulatory affairs exciting and dynamic. You’ll get to work with colleagues from all departments of your company, including sales, research and development, marketing, and production. That’s because you’ll be responsible for making sure that your company plays by the rules at all parts of the product development process.

To be truly competitive in this field, you’ll need to be a real team player. You should also try to get some experience in related fields, in order to break into RA. It’s usually most helpful to get a job with a company or organization that has a regulatory department, and then seek opportunities to be mentored by the regulatory affairs specialists there. Prior experience with or exposure to regulatory affairs work can make you very competitive on the job market, as employers in this field typically want candidates who can roll up their sleeves and get started on the nitty-gritty of the job right away.

To make yourself even more desirable as a candidate, you may want to consider Regulatory Affairs Certification (RAC). The RAC is a post-academic, professional credential for RA specialists working in the health care products industry. It’s not something you’d get right away, however; the exam is based on the daily work of regulatory affairs, and it’s designed for professionals who have three to five years of experience in the field.

So while it can be a great credential that can increase your earning power by about 10 percent and make you a more desirable job candidate, it’s something you’d pencil into your career plans for a few years after you earn your Master of Science in Health Sciences in Regulatory Affairs.

If you’re looking for a challenging, fulfilling job with plenty of opportunities, you can’t go wrong with a career in regulatory affairs. You’ll be able to make a tangible difference in the world, by guaranteeing that the medications and medical devices people rely on are effective and safe. Because the health care industry is growing so rapidly, you’ll never have to worry about finding a job, especially if you have the keen eye for detail, strong communication skills, and scientific mind this profession requires.

Are You a Social CEO?

Richard Branson lives large on social media, weaving stories about a life lived on the edge in <140 characters. Jack Dorsey tweets of past presidents, music and business wisdom filtered through poets and writers. Elon Musk narrates rocket launches and provides matter-of-fact commentary on innovation. But the C-suite at HP, Oracle, GE and many other companies has largely been silent on Twitter, LinkedIn and other widely-accessible social media channels. Why, when it would appear social media has changed the rules of communication, would a leader be silent? Hasn’t social media rewritten the rules of leadership? It’s arguably lowered barriers to communication, connected us near-real time, revolutionized hiring and altered the company-to-customer relationship. Internally, it has redefined communication and collaboration. It has made business social.

And it’s increased the risk and rewards of being social. As attention spans wither and society moves away from long-form novels, news, marketing materials, even advertising, businesses are being forced to swim with the tide. There’s no reasonable assurance that investment in social will yield returns a Board will accept, and little reason to expose a CEO to the often-fast paced, sometimes aggrieved world of social “wild west” — but there’s no turning back.

Attention, Intention and Retention

Perhaps the problem is we’re looking for ROI when we should be looking for a pulse and for some form of humanity. It’s early days to tie an executive’s social profile to sales, although the tools are there to begin. Where social makes sense for the C level today is in its ability to affect three things — Attention, Intention and Retention.

Attention = The heartbeat of social media.
People are out there for a reason: they want to be heard, some rather desperately, while maintaining the lowest coefficient of friction. They want to be heard now, and they want it to be easy — easier than shaking a hand while looking someone in the eye. Which is fine, for most people. CEOs are a different matter. They get plenty of attention — from investors, the Board, their direct reports, employees, partners and competitors. Do they really need the attention of the Twitterverse? I’d say it depends what stage company you’re running. If you’re in an early-stage hot tech startup, building mobile apps, video games, big data aggregation tools and the like, then yes, to some degree you should have a social profile. You shouldn’t be on Twitter all the time if it’s not being true to your wants, but six to 10 blog posts and a few retweets of other influencers in your sector, with commentary, will be sufficient. If you’re a private company with a few rounds of funding, building to a liquidity event, in an established market, the pressure to be social may seem less.

Yet this may be the time for CEOs to be more active, targeting influencers, investors and thought leaders in your industry. Visibility is critical. If you can’t do it yourself, get help from an insider. If you can’t deal with Twitter start blogging and have your communications team handle the other social channels. If you’re in an established public company you should have trusted lieutenants listening to social channels and helping to craft social content. Think of social as one place where your leadership style can be communicated to shareholders in a direct and conversational way. It can be a proof point that you’re tuned in not only to the business’s big issues but shareholder issues. It’s all about staying flexible with change.

Intention = Increasingly, social content is affecting purchasing and brand decisions. Companies and CEOs which aren’t attuned to corporate reputation on social channels risk committing brand suicide. Instead, leaders can use social channels to influence and align with consumer intent. Consumers are increasingly empowered to meter their interaction with brands; social is a powerful tool to create demand, bolster reputation and nurture intent to buy.

Retention = Your employees are on social media, at home and at work.Their view of your company will be affected by its online footprint. Use social to connect and build confidence with employees and potential hires; it delivers information, which can be filtered for relevance; it keeps you up-to-the minute on trends in your industry and the culture at large; it creates a global hiring pool, making your organization a talent magnet; it facilitates collaboration; it creates voluntary transparency; and it humanizes your organization and your brand, building a bond that will increase opportunity and allow you to weather challenges. Finally, be ready to respond. The great beauty and power of social media is that it’s interactive, which builds community and buy-in. People will be commenting on what you say. Which is a great thing because, when it works, a comment sparks an idea that sparks an insight that sparks action. One of your jobs as leader is to encourage and nurture this exciting dialogue. So be ready. Also be ready for negative feedback. How you handle it says a lot about your leadership skills. Constructive criticism is a great thing, it makes us better. There will also be snarky comments from people who have a chip on their shoulder. Never ever let people get under your skin. Stay focused on the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish, which is community-building, engagement and results.

Most social media neophytes I work with find the initial commitment the hardest step to take. The right mindset going in is crucial. I always ask them not to think of social media as an arduous chore, but as a friend and ally, a partner in the quest for innovation, progress and profits. Be human as a leader. It’s time.

A version of this post was first published on Huffington Post on 10-28-15

Photo Credit: menshealthcentre via Compfight cc

7 Ways Candidates Blow A Phone Interview

I’m consistently amazed by how unaware the average job seeker is of how to establish a positive first impression on a phone interview. I hear the same frustrated complaints from employers of all industries and sizes – that candidates who voluntarily submitted their resumes in hopes of discussing a position they’re supposedly interested in just can’t seem to get it together. Remember when all you needed was a solid resume to be guaranteed a face-to-face interview? For the sake of saving time, resources, and money, recruiters have become much more selective on who they decide to meet in person. In an effort to weed out time-wasters and soft-skill-deficient candidates, recruiters are conducting phone screens to find out who’s off their game.

1. They’re unprepared to take the call.
If you’re 4 beers deep at a Yankees game or trying to wrestle a dirty diaper off a screaming baby, you probably shouldn’t answer a call you don’t recognize. Yet, most of the candidates my recruiting team speaks with are under the impression that it’s better to answer a call you’re not completely prepared for than to miss the call altogether. It’s not. If you find yourself in a situation that isn’t suitable for a professional conversation, don’t pick up. Instead, call back within 24 hours, after you’ve collected your thoughts, can speak confidently, and have locked down a quiet location.

Not to mention, they start timing you from the second they leave a voicemail, which brings me to my next point. If you’re actively looking, you should have a professional voicemail with specific instructions to avoid an unwanted game of phone tag. For example, “Hi, you’ve reached Mark Smith. If you’re calling in regards to my resume, please leave your name and number as well as the best times for me to reach you.”

2. They expect the recruiter to fill in the blanks.
“Hi, what job did I apply for again? What company are you calling on behalf of?” It pains me to admit this, but these responses are the norm when an employer reaches out to a candidate, even for high-level positions. You’re a job seeker, which means you probably apply to several jobs each week. We understand that it’s tough to keep track, but it’s essential – if only for the sake of a recruiter’s sanity – that you start taking notes. Just by picking up the phone and saying, “Hi Wendy, you must be calling in regards to the Customer Service position I applied for last week.” Mind blown.

3. They conduct an unorganized job search.
This goes hand in hand with my last point. Today, it’s not enough to print out a handful of resumes and call it a day. We always recommend that our candidates keep a spreadsheet of every job application they submitted with corresponding dates, company names, and relevant contacts. Or, if you’re a tech wiz, try these awesome job search apps. That way, when the phone rings, you’ll have a handy guide that’ll save you from playing guessing games. Also, it’s important to keep your background information and portfolios within arms reach to provide some quick material for preliminary questions. It says a great deal about your personal brand if you’re prepared to answer a challenging question, and even have some on-hand stats to back up your argument. And for bonus points, don’t forget to browse company websites and connect with HR personnel on LinkedIn. Taking that extra step makes a huge impression.

4. They don’t understand why recruiters really call.
More often than not, recruiters aren’t calling to simply schedule a personal interview; they’re calling to conduct a prescreen. In other words, to decide whether they want to move you forward. Remember all that research you were supposed to do when you applied for the gig? Use it to show recruiters you know something about how their company culture works and that you’re serious about the job.

5. They have a bad “radio personality.”
Phones are tough – all you have to make an impression is your voice. Candidates, especially introverts, often fail to heighten their energy over the phone. Nobody’s expecting you to sound like Ron Burgundy, but you should at the very least sound excited, confident, and prepared. Excessive “umms,” stammering, or sounding like you’re dead inside are huge turnoffs to recruiters. The only way to overcome this obstacle is through practice. Record yourself on any device you have handy, and ask yourself this difficult question: “Would you hire you?” Getting your career narrative down in a way that engages and connects with an employer is essential to winning that face-to-face meeting.

6. They have a weak or unprofessional online presence.
Chances are, if recruiters are interested in what you have to say, they’ll be googling you before then end of your conversation. A half-complete LinkedIn profile or a racy Facebook picture is all it takes to eliminate you from the game. Just last week, one of my recruiters found a candidate with a stellar background and scheduled her for an interview right away. But just minutes before their call, she discovered an R-rated photo online that involved a stripper pole. Needless to say, the recruiter’s mind was made up before the conversation started.

7. They fail to treat a phone interview with the same decorum as they would a personal one.
Just because you didn’t put on a suit or block out time in your day doesn’t mean it counts any less towards your chances of securing the job. Request follow up procedures, send personalized thank you notes, and be sure to highlight any takeaways to reinforce your sincerity. Take it from me, the small things really do matter.

photo credit: Phone Talkin via photopin (license)

A Contrarian Approach to Time Management

Is it time to do a 180 degree shift on the subject of time management?

So much has been written on how to manage one’s time more effectively; I sometimes wonder if the guidance being offered by so many “experts” is resonating with people. In today’s world, cluttered as it is with communications, volumes of advice often go unheard and unread — despite their worth.

So let’s try a contrarian approach. Let’s see if this gets through the clutter. Here are six valuable tips on how NOT to manage your time. These tips will guide you to waste time and ensure you are totally ineffective in your job.

  1. Put a “To Do” list together of at least ten things you intend to accomplish. It’s always impressive to have a long list of tasks and projects you intend to do. And it also guarantees that you will make little progress on any one of them. Multitasking is a great way to waste time and minimize your effectiveness.
  1. Kiss up to your boss every chance you can. Rather than doing what you think is right, focus on what you think THEY want. But don’t ask them directly. Devote your day to trying to figure out what they think you should do and what you can do for them. Quite often your boss has no idea what he or she wants, so you are likely to work on sketching that is not needed. And the day passes quickly.
  1. Write activity reports on what you’ve been up to. Make sure you provide copious amounts of detail; it gives the impression that your work is precise and thorough. And, the more detail you provide, the longer it takes to write those reports, the more time you will consume. Send your reports far and wide in the organization. Your objective is to make people know that you are a “busy bee” and overworked.
  1. Send emails when you have something to say. Don’t send text messages because they are too brief and only take a few moments to compose. Again, be granular in your story. And answer every email sent to you. Set aside time every day to do this. Don’t set your spam filter to ward off unwanted communication. Every message has some redeeming value; you don’t want to miss it.
  1. Organize and chair numerous face-to-face meetings with people on every topic on your to-do list. Meetings are an excellent source for collecting action items and offer an opportunity to add to your activity reports. Don’t think too much about whether or not the action item is relevant, just do it.
  1. Stay late at the office at least four out of every five days. The more time you put in, the more activities you engage in, the more activity reports you can author. Attempt to complete as many tasks as you can each evening; this will prevent you from achieving anything and will waste time. And be sure to include your late night hours in your activity reports; it will impress fellow time wasters.

Time mismanagement is an art form requiring careful planning and perseverance to be recognized as an expert in the field. If you follow these six tips you will be successful in creating a personal brand with “time waster” indelibly etched in it.

Now, what do you think? Have I broken through the clutter and made you smile? What tips would you add to this list?

photo credit: 365:42 – Time via photopin (license)

Lasting Career Tips for Engineers

If you’re an engineer, you’re automatically in a prime negotiating position when it comes to commanding a good salary–it’s a simple matter of supply and demand. But while a big check in the near term might seem like the best idea, it may not be the best move for your overall career. The career tips below will make sure you’re doing what’s best for the long haul.

On Asking For And Negotiating A Pay Raise (Successfully!)

Often, people place too much emphasis on current salary. Money will come to those that enter a company and find the opportunity to significantly improve some aspect of that company.  Negotiating for $5k to $10k is nothing when you compare that to getting to the senior ranks within a company where you can start negotiating multiples of that number. With that said if you’re currently negotiating a pay raise, it’s important to hold your ground.  You cannot be afraid to say “no.”

As for when to bring up a raise, after a big project is a good idea. Be prepared with market data and set the expectation of what it is you’re seeking.  You may not get it then, but they will understand your expectations. Ideally, you should also raise the issue before your company’s review period. In some companies at the review period is too late as you have already been measured.  Keep track of your major accomplishments over the year and present them before the review period so that you’ve set the stage.

On Working As A Contractor

Excluding some very specific circumstances, engineers shouldn’t be doing contract work. The marginal difference between going contract versus full-time employee isn’t worth the stagnation that most contractors incur. Additionally, due to the nature of contract work, it creates “jumpy” resumes and no hiring manager at a good company wants someone that’s jumpy. An exception to the rule is for those who are young and using contract work as a mechanism to travel the world while working remotely. But remember: even as a contractor it’s best to go all in. Get into a company, work with the latest tech, stay current and move the needle.

On How Long To Stay With A Company

Get into the best company where you can make the most impact and stay for a while to grab a hold of a top position. Three years is a good time frame, with two being the minimum and five being the max. Generally speaking, quitting after only a year will burn a bridge unless there is an extraordinary reason.

If you’re leaving in two years it should be for a good reason. Also, make sure you make an impact before you leave. There are innumerable ways to do that, and it all depends on your role in the organization. The key is that is has to be something measurable, such as building a platform to scale, or rebuilding a mobile app from scratch. Staying and making solid contributions will far outweigh any nominal salary differences in the short term. Too many people are jumping around in this hot market, which actually prolongs their path to the senior ranks.

On Choosing Between Multiple Offers

Remember to take your time in choosing the right company and position–there’s no rush. Your demand level won’t suddenly change, and most companies are looking for more than one of an in-demand skill set.  Sure, everyone wants to talk to you right now. Vet companies against each other, and make the right move. The best offer is unique to the person getting the offer—focus on the offer that aligns best to your career aspirations and has an appropriate level of risk for you. The fundamentals remain the same.

To avoid burning bridges with companies, be firm in your resolve, but professional. You’re leaving a company for a reason–stick with it. Be clear about that reason and explain the opportunity, and how the current company does not give those same opportunities. If you can’t concisely and clearly elaborate on the deltas between the roles, then you’re not ready to quit and you risk burning a bridge with either company. Get assistance with how to be clear in your resignation from people you trust. Wavering back and forth will only make you look bad. You want to be “the one that got away,” so that if you ever need that relationship again, it will be there. Hiring managers should be investing in their employees and it takes time to reap the rewards of that investment.

Note that if a company is paying an absurdly high salary beyond the market, there’s probably a reason why. Understand what that reason is, because any place you work for a six month stint is six months of your life you can’t get back, and it’s something that will stay on your resume for years.

On Getting An Outsider’s Perspective

To that end, figure out who the best search firms are, and find a recruiter you can trust so you have an experienced outside perspective.  Admittedly, there’s a natural distrust in the market for recruiters, and as an ex-engineer I get why. However, finding a recruiter that’s knowledgeable about the market and has access to the best companies in the valley can be an ally and can help take your career to new heights.

Photo credit: Bigstock

Want to Be More Successful? Set Goals.

People with goals achieve more and are more successful — a lot more successful — than peers without them, whether they’re scientists, students, or corporate execs. Organizations whose employees are actively engaged in goal achievement have 3x greater operating margins in any given year than companies with lower engagement levels.

If you’re not in the habit of setting and measuring goals for your team, then doing so can seem like added complexity. In fact, just the opposite is true. Goals simplify and clarify what your team should do and provide a common definition of success.

Instead of trying to read your mind, members of your organization know what to focus on and how they’re measured; their decision quality improves and managers spend less time reacting and recovering from ill-informed choices.

The “process” of managing starts with goal setting; when goals are missing or forgotten, disproportionate time is spent on execution triage and the whole team does more work yet experiences less satisfaction.

Want To Achieve Your Goals? Use These 8 Tactics

Goal setting is both art and science; goal achievement results from inspiring and aligning the efforts of others and diligent management. These 8 tactics can improve how you set and how often you achieve your goals:

Difficulty Scale 8 (out of 10): Set goals that require stretch and growth, but are within the realm of possibilities. Science suggests that people make less effort to achieve easy goals, which can undermine achievement. Worse, goals that are perceived as impossible inspire even less effort and demoralize people.

Inspire To Aspire: Use language that inspires people to want to achieve the goals. “Triple revenues” doesn’t inspire nor speak to the heart (except for maybe the CEO and shareholders!). Use aspirational “change the world” language, the equivalent of morning coffee for your organization – energize the team and provide the jolt of progress.

Less Is More: More goals don’t result in more achievement. Limit the number of goals to concentrate action on what really matters, and you’ll achieve your goals more often. Goals should focus efforts and enable people to optimize time and decisions.

Quantify Success: Define the timeline for achievement (a 6-8 week period can be most effective for dynamic organizations) and quantify what success looks like. To help your team map the “change the world” goal to their work and get the right work done, quantify several success metrics for each goal. These might include bug clearance rates, response or consumption targets, revenue or growth targets, quality or customer satisfaction targets.

Plan To Achieve The Plan: The odds of goal achievement increase to 90% when the goals and committed actions are written down. Break the goals down into action and consistently hold people accountable for delivering on those actions – something half of your peers fail to do.

3 Second Rule: Your team should be able to find the goals and see progress against them in 3 seconds. That’s about how long it takes to focus on the last message in their inbox – which is your goal’s competition for their time and focus.

Don’t Drive Blind: Implement a real-time dashboard that shows your goals, metrics, key actions and their status, and make it visible to yourself, your team and your upline manager. You’ll be able to triage priorities to reduce risk and improve achievement velocity. (If you’re the manager, this is essential to your job and success.)

Celebrate Progress: To achieve truly hard goals, science shows it’s often better to focus on how much progress has been made rather than the distance yet to go. Seeing what’s possible and what’s been achieved renews and reinvigorates teams for continuing challenge. Recognizing individual’s contribution pays off even more – 83% of employees rank recognition more valuable than compensation.

Check out this fun goals infographic, get Workboard free to nail the 3 second rule, and go achieve great things!

Photo credit: Bigstock

Invest Your Intelligence Where It Matters

In a particularly creative working session with a young product designer, we arrived at what seemed like a terrific idea with a novel implementation. We’d had one of those brainstorms where ideas built naturally on each other and with them, momentum to a conclusion. We quickly “locked and loaded” on our result and she set off to detail it for development. Luckily, it was a Friday and the weekend created a natural simmering period.

By Monday, it was clear we’d overlooked several important things. It was equally clear that time had ripened and enhanced a fundamentally sound idea; what we handed off to development on Wednesday was indeed a smart, novel feature.

Ironically, it’s hard to spend time on product or strategic thinking, but easy to spend too much time thinking about regrets or fears.

The things we should simmer slowly get shut off too soon and the things we shouldn’t simmer at all, stew until they boil! The comparison presents a perfect opportunity for self awareness — we can choose what to think about, how deeply and for how long.

Being clear and intentional about where you will invest intellect and time improves strategies, products and relationships. It aligns your actions with your aspirations. This isn’t an argument for moving slowly, but rather for managers and leaders to think and act more intentionally. To quote Diane Hamilton, “an impulse is not an imperative”. But recognizing your impulse is an imperative to managing it.

Simmer Well: Product ideas, market messaging and business strategy

Don’t rush to closure too soon on these activities. They benefit from exploration, debate, and iterative consideration. According to McKinsey, it’s important that executives and teams take time to frame issues and to question early conclusions because of natural bias from prior conclusions and perceptions; time helps leaders and managers better “identify the real choices and constraints facing their organizations” and results in far better strategy. Teams rush the process because they believe the answer is self evident or doesn’t require deeper consideration. Managers and executives short cut because they feel they don’t have time to devote yet it’s among the most important uses of their time. (McKinsey and Blue Ocean Leadership, a terrific assessment of where managers should spend their time.)

Product direction, market messages and business strategy are expensive to put in play and far more expensive to reverse – a loss of both capital and time in market that cedes ground to more effective competitors. Before committing to execution, allocate enough time to explore and expand thinking commensurate with the importance of the decision. If your team is making strategic business decisions, fulsome exploration and healthy debate are essential; McKinsey reports strategies debated with vigor and even outright tension produce better business results. Without adequate time to think and reflect deeply, the variables that determine success and the range of potential outcomes aren’t well enough understood — key ingredients to good strategic decisions (See Deciding How to Decide for more on good, timely decision making).

If you’re making important product or market decisions alone without benefit of debate to challenge entrenched conclusions, give yourself breathing room to see the unseen. Try an hour or more of your favorite endurance sport at your highest intensity level to create space for a different quality of thinking – the combination of air, effort, and time for uninterrupted consideration do wonders. (Cycling works for me — I’ve pulled off the road to capture more than one breakthrough idea!)

Never Simmer: Regrets, defeats and fear

These things and other ruminations on the past or perceived wrongs don’t improve with simmering. When you find yourself building a case against someone (or yourself) in your head, stop. Simmering negative thoughts reinforces them and makes things worse — it’s bad for your health and it diminishes the energy and quality thinking you could give to more value-creating activities, reports Travis Bradberry.

To turn off the burner on negative thoughts, look directly at the essence of the grievance or fear, acknowledge that it’s there and make a conscious decision to move past it. This is a decision to invest your intellect in things that are better for you. Knowing your priorities and actions needed to execute strategic plans creates a ready replacement for the negative thought cascade, and enables a faster shift of that intellectual energy to aspiration and achievement. This is a skill that requires real and sustained practice!

Some leaders use meditation, yoga or other mindfulness techniques to improve this skill; I started about five years ago. It increased my capacity to extract the wisdom that comes with fear, for example, and drop the anxiety it produces more quickly. CEO Tony Hsieh, Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of the Huffington Post, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, CEO Marc Benioff, and former CEOs and chairmen of Hartford and Medtronic. These techniques bring attention to the present rather than past events or forecasts of future problems. Tech giant Google even offers its staff classes and has a company mindfulness leader.

Four Tactics to Take Away

Try a more thoughtful approach to thinking with these four tactics:

  1. Move thoughtfully from strategy conclusions or product ideas to action.
  2. Move quickly to cut off negative thoughts from becoming conclusions or undermining your actions.
  3. Maintain clarity on strategies, priorities and actions that require your intellect
  4. Design time into your process for deep thinking commensurate with the significance of the decision or conclusion

Deepen good thinking and avoid wasting energy on negative thinking. You’ll be more successful and happy — but self-awareness is essential.

What do you think? (No pun intended :)


4 Steps to Less Work Stress

Work stresses people out — fear of failing, pressure to achieve, having to reply on others for our own success, overload, self-doubt and more… In fact, one million Americans call in sick over stress every day and 25% say work is the most stressful thing in their lives.

These 4 tips can help you achieve more success and keep your balance, even when things get stressful!

1. Organize

Increase your odds of achieving your goals by 64% and eliminate stress by writing down what you need to do to achieve your goals. If you manage a team, ask for transparency on what each team member is doing, where their attention is focused and what their progress is. If you don’t have a tool to see progress on actions and goals yourself, do daily meetings with the team to make sure everyone is aligned on the best use of their time. With more clarity and transparency, you’ll stop worrying about what isn’t getting done, and have more time to work on what matters!

2. Prioritize

Not everything on your list or the team’s can get done. Sometimes, it shouldn’t! Ruthlessly prioritize where your time and your team’s should go every morning. Spend your energy on work that ties clearly and directly to your team’s goals and metrics… in other words, those things that actually move the needle for you and your boss. Using the matrix below can help distinguish what matters and make it easier to stop expending energy stressing about the rest.

3. Revitalize

When you’re most busy and stressed out, it’s tempting to sacrifice exercise and other healthy habits — don’t. Did you know 20 minutes of exercise several days a week improves your happiness and productivity every day of the week! So set aside time even if it’s indoor yoga, stretching or working your own stairwell — it’ll be time well spent!

4. Tranquilize

When you find your anxiety or anger rising, it’s better to take a break. A short walk or standing, stretching and take a few deep breaths can help you get back on track. Try a few “compassion breaths” to relax and lighten your perceived load:

  • Focus your attention on the sensation of anger, anxiety or stress – is it anxiety about lack of time, fear of failing or forgetting something critical, worry about achieving key milestones?
  • Rather than shifting away from the sensation, hold it in your attention.
  • Now think about all the millions of people in the world you don’t know that have that same anxiety or worry.
  • Take a long inhale, imaging that you are breathing in the collective anxiety, anger or stress of those millions of people.
  • Exhale, imaging that you are breathing out calm, peace, success or the antidote to those worries to all who experience it, including yourself.
  • Repeat three times, deepening your breath and holding it in longer each time and being more genuine in the compassion you convey with each out breath.

At the end, your sense of being alone with pressure will be replaced with more compassion for yourself and others — and your load will be lighter.

It’s always a great time to develop new habits:

  • Set and share clear goals aligned with organization objectives
  • Allocate your efforts to achieving your goals above all else
  • Ensure you have the capacity to achieve goals operationally, emotionally, and physically


Where Your Time Goes, So Goes Your Impact

Stephanie Leffler, the dynamic, mission-driven CEO of CrowdSource, carefully controls where her time goes. For years, she’s kept a thorough action item list against her goals and priorities and keeps her old lists — in fact, she looks back at them to see where she spent her time and assess whether time spent produced value for the organization.

Turns out, controlling where her time goes and critically assessing whether that time creates real value are exactly what she should do as chief executive officer. According to a recent study on Blue Ocean Leadership in Harvard Business Review, many leaders aren’t aware of where their time goes and it often isn’t to the acts and activities most likely to create value for their organizations! The study identified that leaders at all levels of management spend too much time and effort getting facts, reviewing and preparing reports, coordinating activities of their direct reports, and meeting on operational issues. Time invested in these activities comes at the expense of leadership activities that create substantial value for the organization such as communicating goals, shaping strategies, coaching, and recognizing strong performance.

These higher-value leadership activities are essential for both company performance and engaging employees in the mission of the organization. Gallup’s 2013 Global Workforce Report showed a shockingly low 13% of employees are actively engaged it the mission of their organization. Not surprisingly, Gallup attributes much of the problem to managers and the effectiveness with which they communicate goals to their teams, clarify what is expected of people, provide feedback, recognize contributions, coach and create growth opportunities and align teams around common purpose and progress.

“Managing my own time and communicating goals and priorities so others can better allocate theirs are among the most important things I can do as a leader,” Stephanie Leffler says. “I use Workboard to increase efficiency in tracking my time and actions as well as communicating objectives and actions across my team — which gives me more leadership capacity and time to engage with customers.”

Leffler believes engaging teams in the mission of the organization will be increasingly important as a larger portion of the workforce works remotely. CrowdSource, which brings talent and technology together to help retailers, agencies, marketers and publishers tackle large-scale data and content initiatives, manages a workforce of over 500,000 workers. She notes that the number of remote workers is expected to swell to 1.3 billion by 2015, making the need to harness their talents and align efforts all the more important and the imperative for leaders to carefully guide and focus their time even greater.

To improve their effectiveness, managers need an efficiency breakthrough because longer days aren’t the answer. “Business has gotten far more complex and global, but the efficiency of communicating and linking goals, actions, status and feedback hasn’t improved in 20 years,” says Deidre Paknad, CEO and Co-Founder of Workboard. “By making these essential activities easier and more effective, Workboard gives managers more leadership capacity and boosts their teams’ engagement and velocity.”

Dump Corporate Jargon For More Impact

Long before texting brought us LOL, BTW, CU, and TTYL, organizations used acronyms as communication short cuts. Unlike the text substitutes for benign greetings, laughs and sign offs, corporate acronyms tend to substitute for the fundamentals: Names of products, initiatives and departments. The very essence of “who, what and why” in business!

Although organizations use acronyms to speed up communication, here are three ways they undermine it and how to break the habit:

1.  They Hide And Distance People From Meaning

When product or process names are reduced to acronyms, the name conveys no purpose. This contributes to the perception (and cause!) of process for process sake. For example, the “PBC process” devolves to filling in HR forms and hoping for a raise while the “Personal Business Commitments process” conveys more meaning — what are the commitments, were they delivered and what impact did they have on the business. Camouflage strategic initiatives as corporate jargon and it’s not surprising 80% of employees say they don’t know what the goals of the organization are!

2.  They Exclude People That Don’t Have The Decoder Ring

Good chance your organization doesn’t have an acronym dictionary (or you have to know its acronym to find it). Using code speak to coordinate execution and communicate internally means you’re relying on each individual to raise their hand when they don’t know the code. That’s as effective as speaking Portuguese at meetings in Chicago – some people will get it but the rest will tune out. In challenging environments or where M&A is common, acronyms simply exclude people who can and should contribute value to business outcomes.

3.  They Are Meaningless To Customers

Customers shouldn’t have to decode your conversation. More importantly, using product names with customers can accelerate their understanding. A Global Retention Schedule Management System says what the product is while GRSMS says nothing and is remarkably hard to say! If your organization sells more than one product, avoid acronyms so customers better understand the breadth of purposes and problems to which your product set applies. And remember your group and division acronyms don’t help your customer understand where services, products or staff come from – they give the client another task to do to get value from your organization.

Short cuts are great when they help you get to the intended destination faster; check your acronym habits to see whether they’re short cuts or just bad habits that slow business down. To break a bad acronym habit, try saying “LMNOP” every time someone uses an acronym. It’s a humorous way to point out how nonsensical acronyms sound to those not in the know and how empty they can be even if you do know the code.


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