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December 19, 2011

career blogging: adventure is out there!


Before planning my posts for 2012 I am taking a few moments to look back at my first 3 months of career blogging, and I have so much to be thankful for!

I successfully posted 3 times per week without ever falling behind, phew! I have received wonderful compliments and comments on my blog, so thank you to each one of you who took the time! Writing requires a lot of reading which means I have learned a lot by just working through other career blogs I love, there are so many interesting writers I admire. I have had regular readers from 30 countries in under 3 months' time - how AMAZING is that!? I have written and featured my first guest posts - what a cool way to connect and share with others in the industry! And even though Twitter wasn't my main focus when starting to write, I have gathered 150 twitter followers in just under 2 months and I really appreciate each follow, re-tweet and reply!

All these little milestones really excite me about what lies ahead. So many career related topics and questions to be explored! Many more guest posts to feature and write. And most of all - more job satisfaction and career growth in each new year of writing about it!

Am I sounding like Buzz Lightyear? "To Infinity and Beyond!"

So anyway, this is my last post for 2011 and I will be back "in the office" on 2 Jan 2012. You can find me on twitter during this break for some sweet and short updates!

I really look forward to the journey that lies ahead and I hope that you are gathering all your witt and ideas to seriously boost your career in the new year!

Au Revoir!

December 16, 2011

'tis the season to update your online profile


Many of us in the southern hemisphere are on our way to enjoy a well deserved summer break after a jam-packed year at work. I can't wait to go to the beach and have an ice-cream (while leaving my watch and smart phone at home every now and then)! For folks in other countries it might not be summer time, but things still tend to slow down during the holiday season.

Some readers might still be looking for a job and feel anxious about going on holiday while there may be jobs to apply for. Many people slow down their search thinking that hiring will also be slowing down, but actually this is a time when companies still advertise, and you might have less competition if you keep tabs on what's being advertised!

Here are a few tips for you to go on holiday without losing out on potential employment:
  • Update your online profile - If your LinkedIn profile is current and detailed, your name will be found when recruiters search for candidates. You never know who might be searching for a candidate of your caliber.
  • Let the job-boards do the work -  Update your resume on any job boards you are registered with to ensure you don't fall off the radar. Be sure to indicate how recruiters can get in touch with you even while you're away.
  • Stay current and stay motivated - If you have been discouraged during your job search this year, have a look at this cool free webinar on accessing the so-called "hidden job market".

So, even though you may still be on the lookout for a job, remember to take it easy, do things you love doing and enjoy a well-deserved break!


December 14, 2011

do you have a b.f.f. at work?


Most of us connect and build friendships at work. We spend the biggest part of our day with colleagues, and so it is natural to get to know each other on a social level. But how many of you have a BEST friend (not just a friend in general) at work? If you do, do you find yourself being enthusiastic to go to work each morning? And do you perceive yourself as being more committed to your employer's goals and values than others around you?

According to Gallup's Q12 Employee Engagement Survey employees who have a best friend at work are more likely to report that:
  • they receive praise or recognition for their work.
  • a colleague encourages their development.
  • colleagues are committed to quality.
  • in the last six months, a colleague has talked to them about their progress.
  • the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important.
  • their opinions seem to count at work.
  • they have the opportunity to do what they do best at work every day.

Can you believe that having a best friend at work affects so many aspects of your job? This suggests that your overall performance at work will be higher, leading to better appraisals and possibly more significant growth in your career path. Who wouldn't want that?

So do you have a best friend at work? Would you agree with the outcomes listed above? How has it affected your attitude and performance at work? I found some more posts on having a best friend at work by Forte Consulting Group and USA Today - enjoy!

December 12, 2011

stretching your comfort zone at work


I am very excited to share this week's performance pointers with you!

Stretching (or breaking out of) your comfort zone is something we know we should try from time to time. It's human nature to stick to things we are familiar with, but if you want to achieve success in any area of your life, odds are you will need to leap into some uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory. Regardless how scary it may seem, if you want to see new results you've gotta try new things!


I found some great links for you on this topic:

What is the one area in your job/career where you can start stretching your comfort zone today? Are there new responsibilities you would like to try taking on? Hosting a presentation for the first time? Attending a networking event or reaching out to a new employee to make him feel welcome?

No matter how small the leap may seem, you will most definitely feel liberated and encouraged if you try!

December 9, 2011

2012 goals: out with the old, in with the new


With every year-end comes the inevitable topic of goals and new year's resolutions. When I was in my early 20's I used to set super ambitious (and often unrealistic) goals, only to realise two months into the year that I might want to rethink them a little. So the approach that works best for me is to keep the following in mind:
  1. Keeping it real - I know what I am capable of and what is within my reach. I know what I am passionate about and what I've always wanted to do (whether it be in my personal life or career). Choosing goals based on my own instincts and dreams is the simplest and most realistic way!
  2. Building on a previous goal - Looking back on this year and seeing the progress I've made with certain goals, I can try set the bar a little higher every year in order to see long-term growth in the career path I've chosen.
  3. Trying something completely new - I always try to challenge myself with one brand new goal to pull me out of my comfort zone a little. Writing this career blog was my new professional goal for 2011, and I am so glad I tried it! I am extremely excited to grow in this new project and I can't wait to see where it will take me!

Have you thought about setting goals for the new year? I would like to encourage each reader to ask yourself what you can add to your current skill set this coming year. Whether you enroll for a course or plan to learn from a mentor or friend, how will you go about adding to your repertoire and resume?

My primary professional goal for 2012 will be to further my studies in the area of management/career coaching and to start applying those principles in my job and in my writing.

I found these posts on setting career goals and setting smart goals - enjoy!

(I'm very excited to tell you that this post was mentioned on Brazen Careerist - have a look!)


December 7, 2011

networking: how to make a great first impression


Today's post is written by Anna, wannabe|employee reader and publisher of one of my favorite career blogs: Classy Career Girl. Anna has great tips on networking and will be sharing a few with us today:

Did you know that you only have five seconds to make a first impression when you are introduced to someone?  Here are my five tips to promote yourself and network so that the people you meet will never forget about you.

  1. Have a one-sentence introduction prepared and ready to go.  Usually, when you first meet someone, you may not have time for a long pitch about what you do.  But, you do have time for one sentence that says your name, what you do or what you would like to do.  This will help the other person remember you and give them an idea of what you can help them with or what you are interested in. 
  2. Networking is about how you can help others, not what others can do for you.  If you think for a second that you should go to dinner with a certain person because they can introduce you to their contacts, you are doomed from the start.  Think instead about what you can offer other people and what knowledge you can provide to them.  When others see how valuable you are to know, they will immediately trust you enough to introduce you to their contacts.
  3. Look the part before you get it.  Spend some extra time to make sure that you look professional and comfortable.  Do you want to stand out by being the only person with jeans on in the room or the person that looks the best dressed? 
  4. Don't leave home without your business card.  Don't be the person who forgot to bring their business card with them.  The people you meet will never remember you if you don't give them something to remember you by.  Even if you don't have a job, you can make your own business cards.  You can easily search online to find a great business card template and make your own.  The card should say your name, phone number and email address and your current job or the job that you are looking for.
  5. Know what networking is and what networking is not.  Networking is not about business cards, bothering people, emailing people and waiting for them to reply.  Networking is about building a wide array of connections that can put a face with your name and resume.  These connections are resources for providing guidance, support and employment opportunities for your future success.

Classy Career Girl provides advice to young professionals on how to be classy as they climb the corporate ladder.  Her blog covers topics such as business chic fashion, career motivation, personal development, networking and office etiquette. Connect with her at http://www.classycareergirl.com/

December 5, 2011

conflict management at the office


Welcome back at the office! I hope your new week is filled with new opportunities to excel at work!

Something we are confronted with on a regular basis is conflict with co-workers. We are all so different that we are bound to have conflicting opinions and beliefs on a regular basis. The trick is to try sticking to the facts and not allow a misunderstanding or difference of opinion to cause damage to your relationships at work.

Here are some handy posts to help you in this area:


Is there one thing you can take out of these pointers and implement in the way you respond to conflict? The biggest (very simple) lessons I am learning at the moment are:
  1. To keep my tone calm even though someone else might be raising his/her voice.
  2. To avoid taking it personally when someone throws a tantrum in my face. The only reactions I have control over are my own, so that is what want to focus on.

Have a wonderful new week at work!


December 2, 2011

when your coworker never stops talking


Have you ever shared an office with someone who loves talking... about his/her personal life... ALL THE TIME!? I'm sure there are a few experts on the topic nodding their heads right now.

So what do you do when you have a chatty colleague (let's call her Cindy!) who struggles to A) keep her personal life personal, and B) stop talking long enough to actually do her work? I haven't had to deal with this personally, so I've looked around and found some radical ideas on how to handle this phenomenon:
  • Wear headphones all day - not ideal if you do need to talk with colleagues now and then and want to build relationships with your team.
  • Have your desk phone on speed dial on your cell phone - if whoever stops by to talk is taking too much of my time, discretely call your desk phone and go through the answer routine to your imaginary caller.
  • Explain that you're the type who can work and listen at the same time, so that they shouldn't be offended if you work while they talk.
All jokes aside, the best steps to follow when your chatty friend starts again, are something along the following lines:
  1. “Gee Cindy, I have so much to do right now. I’d love to chat but I’ve got to focus in order to get this done today…Why don’t we chat over lunch?”
  2. "Cindy, it's not that I'm not interested, but I’m really busy right now. I’ve got to get this done.”
  3. "Cindy, I can’t really afford to spend time at work talking about personal stuff. If I do, I fall behind and slip up on my performance. If you don’t mind, I’m going to have to stick to work. I don’t mean to be insensitive but I’ve got a lot to do.”
  4. Ignore her questions or comments by not responding (not ideal so try avoiding this step all together if possible).
  5. If this is affecting your ability to do your work, you need to avoid staying in the ignoring phase too long and talk to your supervisor.

I found these posts on avoiding the chatterazzi and how to discourage chatty co-workers - enjoy! Feel free to leave a comment if you have found some tried and tested ways of handling a chatty colleague!

* If your name is Cindy - thanks for reading my blog and please know that I was not referring to an actual person when writing this post ☺


November 30, 2011

help! I'm being micromanaged!


If you have been micromanaged in the past, you will know very well what this looks (and feels) like. But for those of us who would like to diagnose our current situation at work, here are some signs that you are indeed dealing with a micromanager:
  • They resist delegating tasks
  • They become intensely involved in every aspect of a project
  • They enjoy correcting small details of your work more than evaluating the overall outcome
  • They sometimes take back an assignment from you if they find a mistake in your work
  • They find it hard to let others make decisions without them

If you have experienced being managed like this, I'm sure you know how frustrating and demoralising it can be. It might make you feel paralysed, or constantly craving for your manager to trust you more. Being micromanaged may also limit your performance if you are never given some free reign when approaching a project. I can only imagine how hard this must be for the creative souls among us!

So what can you do from your side to work on changing this pattern in your relationship with your manager? Here are a few thoughts:
  • When a new idea or issue arises, make sure you gather as much info as possible on the topic, and instead of waiting for your assignment, pitch a suggestion for how you would approach it if it were your project. Mention that you would love to give it a try (a micromanager usually thinks he is the only one capable of coming up with a detailed plan).
  • Create/design a project you feel really confident to tackle on your own. Ask if you can coordinate it in an effort to show your project management skills. If all goes well, this will not only boost your confidence, but also your manager's openness to delegating.
  • Instead of waiting for your manager to ask for updates, schedule a regular time slot in your week to update him on your progress. Remember to add lots of details to show that you have thought of everything. This way he'll see that you are proactive and capable of managing the timeline of the project.
  • Be patient and try one experiment at a time. See this as a challenge in your career instead of an excuse to stagnate. It will require some initiative and planning from your side, but it will be worth the effort. 

Remember that your manager is also human, and probably has a reason of some kind for doing things this way. Trying to change the patterns in your relationship is a more realistic (and respectful) goal than trying to change the person. Check out these posts I found on why people micromanage and how to stop being micromanaged.


November 28, 2011

communication at the office

Happy Monday everyone!!

This week we're starting with a new series called performance pointers. Each week I'll gather a selection of useful links on a specific topic to help you "up" your game at work, one theme at a time.

To kick things off, this week's pointers will focus on communication at work. We're always talking and sending emails, but are we really communicating effectively? Have a look and see if you can identify just one thing you can do to improve your communication at work this week:



November 25, 2011

freshen up your desk space!


I am no neat freak, but I do know that I work faster and more focused when my desk is organised. Also, if you take a moment to consider how dirty your desk space actually gets after a while, you might want to think about cleaning it more often (even if just for the sake of your personal hygiene and health).

Here are some tips to keep your office neat:
  • To print or not to print - One of the biggest contributors to office clutter is the unnecessary paperwork lying around. With every electronic file you come across, take a second to decide if you need a hard copy. Not only will we save trees by saving paper, but you might be saving yourself from death by paper cuts!
  • Expiring the filing - Is every file on your shelf or in your cabinet still relevant? Are you required by law to keep them a certain number of yours? If your answer is no, it might be time for a (very therapeutic) shredding session.
  • Walk the walk - If your printer is set up right next to you on your desk, you might be quick to hit the print button. But if you try using the communal printer or setting yours up in a different spot, walking the distance each time might help you to think twice before going on a printing spree!
  • Purging power - Pick a date every month and set aside an hour or so to get rid of anything and everything that is contributing to your clutter. Old documents, things that belong at home or on someone else's desk.
  • Taming the teddies - Sure, you get sweet little gifts or tokens from colleagues on your birthday. Maybe you love displaying your child's latest clay sculpture on your desk? Depending on the size of your desk or cubicle, you might want to evaluate the amount of space these personal items are taking up. Also, the way you "decorate" your workspace contributes to your personal brand at work, which is something you always want to keep in the back of your mind.
  • Effortless eating - Preventing a mess is easier than cleaning it up. Obviously it's ideal to eat your lunch away from your desk, but if for some reason you have no choice, try sliding over to a different corner of your desk. You can also flip over your keyboard and put down a paper towel to catch any crumbs. Be sure to wipe/disinfect surfaces now and then if you don't have a cleaning service at the office doing it for you.

We spend so much time at our desks, why not use it as another opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism by putting some effort into its appearance and appeal. I found this cool article on organization for the office - enjoy!

November 23, 2011

meeting-101


Many of us attend (or lead) meetings on a regular basis. Sometimes they run smoothly and other times things spin out of control into a clumsy mess. Here are some short tips to help you stay focused, professional and effective in meetings.

November 21, 2011

sure you want to talk office politics on facebook?

A reader asks:

Dear Wannabe|Employee,
Some of my colleagues at work are also my Facebook friends. I don't think this is an issue, but when they start talking office politics or complaining about their bosses in their posts I do feel that they are being inappropriate. Is it OK to talk shop on personal sites when you know colleagues can view your comments? Should I not be adding colleagues as friends at all?

Excellent question! There are various outlooks on this topic, so in stead of giving you a list of do's and dont's, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do I really want to mix business with pleasure?: In order to avoid this ambiguity, I have decided to spare myself the confusion and separate the two. I add personal contacts on Facebook and professional contacts on LinkedIn. There is no rule against mixing the two, but separating my contact groups is the easiest way for me to avoid this dilemma in the first place.
  • What is the message I'm sending?: Like I mentioned in a previous post, everything you do and say affects your personal brand either positively or negatively. If you are polite in the office, but everyone can see your accusing and rude comments online, do you think people view you as someone with integrity? You might be giving everyone the impression that you are just another average employee who enjoys complaining about their job, so why not use Facebook as yet another way of building your reputation and posting things that show your positive attitude and strong character?
  • What if my friend becomes my manager?: The reality is that things can change at any time in your organisation, and your friend may end up being your boss. Do you think he will trust you with sensitive information if he knows you love online office gossip? Do you think he will recommend you for promotions? Any negative thing you say about your employer online becomes reason for him to doubt your loyalty to the company.
  • Looking like a coward?: Let's face it, complaining about your boss or organisation online (behind their backs) instead of being part of the solution will send the message that you are someone who is quick to throw stones and not interested in taking positive action. It won't get you fired but it does show that you are not interested in making a difference or handling issues head-on.
  • Should I just delete all my colleagues as Facebook friends?: I'm sure it will come across as being insensitive if you just delete them all, but letting them know that you're making an effort to move all your professional contacts from Facebook to LinkedIn may be received positively by some. If you have good friends at work you would like to keep as Facebook friends, have you considered adding them to a "colleagues" group that you can hide selected posts from? This means screening each comment or photo album before sharing, but if you're willing to spend the extra seconds each time you post, this might be your best alternative.

This is something we could talk about for hours. In the end something as casual as Facebook is a way of communicating your values. Regardless of who you share with, your comments will always influence the way people perceive you and the level to which they respect you, even in a personal capacity.

What are your thoughts on this? Check out some other related posts:

November 18, 2011

help! my boss is a bully!

A reader asks:
Dear Wannabe|Employee,
My boss is very unpredictable and emotional, we never know which version we're going to get when a new day starts at the office. He changes his mind about what we need to do every day (or sometimes every few hours), leaving us a little clueless and stressed because we're afraid to approach him with questions. Sometimes he is even unhappy when we give him exactly what he asked for. He throws big tantrums and always makes us feel like it's our fault. I don't expect him to be perfect, but because this happens so often it's becoming a problem for our whole team.  How do we deal with this?
Wow, I'm sure many of us have had a bad experience with a boss or manager similar to this. There is no easy answer, but here are some things to consider:

  • The 'why' of it all: Sometimes it's possible to figure out the reason behind someone's emotional behaviour. Personal problems or issues never justify treating someone badly, but understanding the reason he acts the way he does may help you shield some of the blame that's been flying your way. He may be going through a tough time personally, or someone higher up in the company is bullying him in the same way. Maybe he's just very insecure or unable to take responsibility for his own actions.
  • Who's involved?: If your boss is doing this with everyone, at least you can know that it isn't personal and you're probably doing a good job even though it's not being acknowledged. If it's obvious that your boss is picking on you alone, I would try asking something like "I notice that the way I do things tend to upset you, and I would like to know if there is anything in my approach that is causing this. If  I am offending you in some personal way I would like to ensure it doesn't happen again, because I really want to deliver on what's required of me and work well in our team". Show that both the job and the relationship are important to you. If he still yells at you after that, at least you tried.
  • Anything you can do?: Even though your boss may be very unpredictable (or just plain scary), have you thought about things you can try from your side to strengthen the relationship? Instead of becoming his sworn enemy at the office, have you tried getting to know him and understand his management style? Whether this works or not, you will be able to say with complete confidence that you tried reaching out and strengthening the relationship. Even if he is 20 years your senior, showing that you care about him as a person might just build enough trust between you to change the way he has been treating you.
  • Talk to HR: Yes you really can (and should) talk to Human Resources if this problem is serious and affecting people's ability to do their jobs in peace. This way you won't need to face it alone and they may be able to help with finding a solution that benefits all the parties involved.
  • It could be worse: I know this doesn't solve your problem, but realising that you are not the only person in the world with a horrible boss may help take the edge off a little. You may not be stuck in this particular team or company for too long, so if you need to bite down for a while longer it helps to know that it could have been worse. Check out these posts I found: 10 Signs that You Have a Bad Boss, How to Deal with a Horrible BossMy Bad Boss Contest (get ready to laugh a little for this last one!).

In the end you do need to decide if it's worth staying in your team or company when there is nothing more to do and no one that can help. If your stress levels are over the roof and you are fearing for your life every day, it may be time for a fresh start. After all, you cannot be responsible for anyone else's behaviour but your own.

November 16, 2011

improving your personal brand at work


How do your co-workers see you? What is the first thing that comes to mind when they talk about you? What are you known for around the office? Every company has to decide what they would like their corporate brand to look/feel/sound like, why not try it on a personal level? While companies brand themselves using logos, business cards and advertisements, you can brand yourself by fine tuning your behavior and appearance.

Guys and girls, to read the rest of this post, you can view it on Classy Career Girl's career site (one of my personal favorites!) where I contributed as a guest writer today! Continue reading...

November 14, 2011

lovely lunchbox ideas


Happy Monday everyone! It's a new week with new challenges and opportunities, so let's have a look at another small thing you can do to change your efficiency and satisfaction at work for the better.

We all know that eating a balanced diet and snacking on healthy things during the day can improve our concentration and productivity at work, while also lifting our moods. I also find that having your lunch away from my desk is often necessary in order to avoid staring at your screen for eight hours straight - very hard for me to do, but I always feel refreshed afterwards.

But I'm so tired of the same old boring lunch every day, so I've found some sites to give us a little lunchbox inspiration:

Happy snacking!

November 11, 2011

doing what you do best at work everyday?


One of the items measuring employee engagement in the Gallup Q12 survey reads: At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day. I'm sure deep down we all know that this will affect how we feel about our jobs, but have you actually thought about answering this question for the current position or line of work you are in? Would you agree? Strongly agree? Maybe even strongly disagree? More importantly, do you know what it is you do best??

After doing several personality/interest/aptitude tests (and lending my ears to way too many opinions), I have come back to believing two simple truths:
  1. Things that I have loved doing since my childhood are probably indicators of my natural strengths. I have always been a social butterfly. I have loved giving advice and helping friends solve their problems since I can remember. I have also loved writing and being creative since primary school, and I excelled in my language subjects. So after all this time wondering how I should be advancing in my professional development, I have returned to focusing on these natural strengths. Now I'm writing my own career blog (loving every creative minute of it) and I'm working in HR (relishing in all things human and social at the office). Most importantly I'm creating my own career path instead of copying someone else's.
  2. Trying to succeed at things I'm not strong in is definitely possible, but bound to be exhausting and/or frustrating. I recently decided to further my studies in 2012, and had to choose a major. My initial choice was to do an MBA, based on the fact that I wanted to up my business savvy. But I have no natural interest or feel for economics, and so I was trying to fix what I believed to be wrong with me. I'm sure I could have fought my way through the economics and management accounting, but it would have cost me a truck-load of blood, sweat and tears as I would be going against my natural grain. So when thinking back to the things that come naturally to me, I realised that I would excel in a position where I can work with people, give advice and think strategically. That's when I decided to enroll for a Professional/Management Coaching programme in stead, it felt like a big old weight falling off my shoulders .
I do realise that we all do not have the luxury or opportunity to be picky about career choices and qualifications, and some of the things we might be good at do not translate into the salaries we need. Companies also don't have the luxury to customize each individual's role to fit him/her like a glove. But even if it might be a novel idea, I do believe it to be a very important factor to consider when you do decide which field to specialize in.

Do you know what your natural strengths are? Why not check out the StrengthsFinder2.0 assessment if you are looking for a way to identify them.

November 9, 2011

summer wardrobe at the office


For those of us in the southern hemisphere it's time to put away the jerseys, coats and scarfs because summer is on it's way. I have had my share of layering for this season so I am really looking forward to making the switch!

But rising temperatures mean less clothes, so it's a good idea to check out a few guidelines for summer dress code in order to avoid controversy at your office ☺. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Location of your office: It gets really hot where I live and work. I am thankful each morning to arrive at work because we have air conditioning at the office, and this makes it a little easier to dress appropriately. But many companies don't have that luxury. If you work in unbearable heat, I'm not sure if it's possible to cover up as much, but I would still try to aim for a look that doesn't show too much skin around your neckline, and doesn't expose your waist or thighs.
  • Client facing or not?: This is probably the most important factor to consider because it has a direct impact on your credibility and your employer's image. Looking sloppy or under-dressed when dealing with customers might prompt them to consider another supplier, as they might not trust your professional opinion as much. You should always aim to send the message that you take yourself and your job seriously.
  • Employer's dress code: Rules are rules, and if your employer has taken the time to write them down, they count for everyone. Some workplaces allow a casual dress code every day, while others allow jeans on Fridays only. Have you had a look at your employer's dress code? Do you want to be known as the one who always sees how far she can stretch the rules?
  • Your personal brand: Dressing inappropriately or sloppy will do damage to people's opinion of you at work - guaranteed! Also, if you are allowed to dress casually on a Friday, have you thought of using this opportunity to distinguish yourself by adding a bit of professionalism to your casual outfit? A button-down shirt or professional top with your jeans, chinos instead of worn-out jeans, shiny pumps instead of athletic shoes? Even if not required, it shows that you would like to look well groomed and ready for business even on casual Friday. Have you tried this? Noticed how people treat you differently?

Like I mentioned in a previous post, there are several sites and blogs that may help you determine what would be appropriate in an office setting, and if you feel totally clueless about what suits you it might even be worth booking a session with an image consultant.

I found this wardrobe basics checklist for those of you who would like to use a basic guide when building your repertoire.

November 7, 2011

do you have the tools you need to do your job?


I remember one of my first jobs in an office environment, where I was required to fax documents to our head office on a regular basis. Pretty basic right? Think again. The equipment in my office didn't include a fax machine or scanner, only a printer from an undetermined prehistoric era. So I spent time every day driving to the nearest Xerox shop, standing in line, paying with my own money, waiting for the fax to deliver after several failed attempts, driving back, and claiming my minuscule expense - all while trying to look professional. Sounds like fun, right?

This was frustrating for me on two levels:
  • Personally: I'm pretty savvy with a computer and I love technology, so I found it gruelling to be relying on faxes in the hi-tech world we live and work in. I like getting things done, and quickly too. It also cost me money out of my own pocket to drive around and pay for this, and only being reimbursed at the end of the month.
  • Professionally: How many hours of my week were spent waiting in that Xerox shop? Minutes ticking away every day with no real work being done and no profit being made. I may have been a first-timer, but I was feeling terribly inefficient and I knew that this was not the way to do business.

As this was something I didn't have much control over, I did try pleading with my boss to supply a print/scan/fax machine in order for me to do my job properly. Funny thing is that I had to wait a month for his answer: "When you start making some real money, we can think about getting more gadgets for your office". Hmpf, please stop asking me to send faxes then...

I don't need to tell you that this had a very negative effect on my commitment towards my job and my boss. I was young and inexperienced and I needed a job, so I tried going with it for a while. Even though this wasn't my responsibility I did try to be flexible and work with what I had, but you can only spend so much of your time trying to fix something that isn't yours to fix. Regardless of the other resources available I was not able to do my job properly.

According to Gallup's Q12 Employee Engagement Survey, this is another foundational requirement for employees to feel engaged and positive about their jobs, and I am a believer after experiencing the opposite for myself. This experience has taught me to consider available resources before accepting just any new position in the future, and also to be grateful if I do work for an employer who supplies everything I need to do my job.

If you have all the tools you need at work, you can spend your energy doing what you're paid to do AND MORE. I don't think I'll ever take resources and tools for granted again after that first experience. Any others who had to learn this the hard way?

November 4, 2011

I won, I won!!

I won a competition! Yeh! The prize: a book! Yeh?

It's no trip to Spain (maybe next time), but it's very relevant to my blog and I am always happy to add a free book to my reading list!

How did I win it? One of the magazines I keep my eyes on is HR Future. I recently answered a question posted in the magazine, indicating why I would recommend the magazine to others. I remember my manager recommending it to me some time ago, and my answer was that the content is continuously changing my old school academic view of HR into a more practical and innovative one. I had completely forgotten that I entered, and received the notification out of the blue the other day ☺.

The book I won is called Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success (click to see the website and video). It will be the first book I read on this topic, and I'm hoping it's a hit so I can share it with all my eager readers. It's a New York Times best seller, and what interests me is the fact that it focuses on more than just career success.

I'll give you an update as soon as I've read it. So many books, so little time and only one set of eyes...

Have any of you read this book?

November 2, 2011

do you know what is expected of you at work?


When I started my first job, I had no idea what a job description should look like. In fact, I was naive enough to accept a position without seeing a proper description .Yes, it's true, I was swept away by what my very charismatic new manager told me in the hope that it would appear on paper soon after. I only received a written description a month after my start date.

Needless to say, I didn't enjoy my first job and it didn't last very long.

Not having a clear description of what is expected from your employer has been proven to be one of the fundamental elements that affect your engagement negatively (Gallup's Q12 Employee Engagement Survey). And besides influencing your attitude when going to work each day, if you don't know what is required for you to move up in your current role, you might be wasting your efforts on the wrong things.

The moment I moved into a new position where I knew exactly what was expected of me, I was free to start setting goals and performing well. So when choosing a new job or evaluating the position you're currently in, what are the things to look for? See if you can identify these categories in your position:

  • Duties & Responsibilities: These are the duties listed on your job description, describing what your tasks will look like on a daily basis: typing meeting minutes, running a certain project etc. When was the last time you reviewed yours? If it's outdated or vague, it might be a good idea discussing it with your manager in order to better allign it with your actual daily routine.
  • Key Performance Areas: KPA's are the measures by which your performance will be rated by your employer. Do you have an indication of what yours are? These can be things like meeting certain deadlines, achieving specified goals. Knowing which KPA's you'll be scored on (and how frequently) helps you focus your daily efforts correctly, and not spend all your energy on things that don't carry any weight in the eyes of your employer.
  • Corporate Values: These are typically found in your office policy or employee handbook, and apply to everyone regardless their position. Does your company have one of these? Every company's policy will look different, and some won't even take the time to put one in writing. It indicates which kind of behaviour will (or will not) be tolerated at the work place, focusing on topics like: confidentiality, non-smoking, relationships between colleagues etc. Although these aren't related to your job description, they draw clear boundaries within which you will need to operate on a daily basis.
  • Assignments from your Manager: These are not always communicated in writing and may cause a lot of frustration if you are getting vague requirements or contradicting assignments from the same source. Some managers will ask for a certain outcome and allow you to chose your own process, while others enjoy dictating your every step. Some struggle to express what it is they want altogether. A lot of this frustration may be relieved if you and your manager are able to understand the differences and/or similarities in the way you communicate. I tend to be distracted easily, so taking notes helps me think through the how's and the when's of an assignment while receiving it, guiding our discussion and eliminating confusion. Reading up on management styles even though you are the one being managed is also not a bad idea, as it may help you diagnose the situation correctly.

Any of you feeling confused about what is expected of you from your employer? Any plans for rescuing the situation?

October 31, 2011

yes you need a bottle of water on your desk


Yes we've all heard it and YES, we need to hear it again... We need to drink a whole lot of water each day and most of us just don't get around to it. Why? Because we are staring at our computer screens and keeping our hands busy on the keyboard (well I am!) ☺.

Like I mentioned in a previous post, something as simple as regular stretching or deep breathing can really improve your mood and productivity at work. Drinking enough water throughout the day will do exactly the same (and also benefit many other metabolic processes in your body).

So I have put a 1 liter glass bottle on my desk that I vow to fill up every morning when I sit down at my desk. My goal is to empty it by the time I go home, and this way I will have consumed half of what is required by the time I leave the office. I drink a glass first thing in the morning and some more when I'm exercising after work. Not always easy, but having a simple goal is better than having no goal - so far so good!

I found this really fun site with interactive images telling you how much water you should be drinking (based on your gender, age weight and activity level) and also showing the effects a lack of water will have on your body, mood and productivity at work. Also check out this post on the top 11 benefits of drinking water - enjoy!!

October 28, 2011

investing in someone else's success


If you're all about being positive (like I am), you will most likely share my belief that it is very rewarding to give to others. And while there are many ways to give, you can also do it in your professional capacity by sharing whatever knowledge you already have.

We tend to think that we need to be rich first in order to give something to the poor. Similarly, I used to think that I will need to be an expert in my field before I can start mentoring or coaching. But the truth is that whatever I have in my hands, right now, can add great value to someone else's growth.

I have decided to start investing in the success of others, here's how:

  • Mentoring: Even though I am still young, there will always be someone younger an less experienced than me, and I happen to know someone in my community who is currently studying towards an honours degree in Human Resources. I remember all the work-related questions I used to have when I was still studying, and how clueless I felt in my first real job. So (similar to my bi-weekly meetings with my own manager) I offered to check in with this eager newbie once a month for a career chat. Without it being my intention, it has evolved into a mentoring relationship and is proving to be very valuable for both of us. Knowing that I can help someone make informed career decisions is a very rewarding experience, and all I need to do is be available and invest a little bit of time every now and then.
  • Blogging: By writing about the lessons I learn, I can keep track of how I'm progressing and growing, both as a professional and as a person. Some work related lessons can be valuable life lessons (and vice versa), and small changes I make in my career can change my job satisfaction and success in big ways. So by sharing what I learn, hopefully I can also inspire others. I like to compare my learning to a dam, with one stream coming in and another flowing out. If I were to keep everything I learn to myself it would be like closing off the outgoing stream, and the water would become stagnant and just plain smelly ☺.

Have you ever considered mentoring someone even though you might still be at an early stage in your career? For those of you who are in need of someone to invest in your career growth, here's a post on how to find a mentor.

October 26, 2011

building on your strengths


Do you read work-related books or blogs to keep you in the loop of what's relevant in your field? I've started doing this in my free time and it is radically changing the way I view work and my role at my current employer.

I recently did the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment out of curiosity. I majored in Psychometrics, so personality assessments always interest me. This one in particular has taken my career planning to a whole new level.

StrengthsFinder 2.0The assessment is based on Strengths-Based-Psychology, suggesting that we change our way of thinking from "what's wrong with me and how do I fix it?" to "what am I good at and how do I build on that?". Mind-blowing revelation for me, because all this time I have been buying books and reading up on how to fix all of my weaknesses (which is pretty depressing to say the least). Sure, it helps to work on things you want to improve on, but the majority of my energy and time should be going into developing my natural strengths. People pick up very easily when I am trying to be a different version of someone else, when all along I could have been the best version of myself.

I was surprised by a few of my top strengths, because they are different from descriptors typically found in personality assessments. Being "strategic" (for example) is something I've been taking for granted all my life, but now I can look for opportunities at work to exercise this strength, and if my current role doesn't require this skill I can consider choosing a career path that does.

What I also love about the assessment is that it doesn't give you your score per item, and it only identifies your top 5 strengths. I usually look at my lowest scores instead of my highest ones, and beat myself up for not being strong in those areas. So phew... now I don't even know if I scored badly for any specific item.

Odds are, if you are doing what you do well every day, you are bound to be more engaged in your position. So you can get a copy in bookstores or online (amazon.com or loot.co.za), and in the book you'll find your password for the online assessment. With your registration also comes a 6 month free subscription to the Gallup Management Journal (FANTASTIC reading!) so you really get great value for money.

Have you read it?? Do you agree with this strengths-based way of thinking??

October 24, 2011

looking the part at the office


I am sure that I'm not alone in this: when I look in the mirror and like what I'm wearing, it doubles my confidence on my way to work that day. Subconsciously it really makes a difference and it makes me feel more competent when I look more professional or put-together.

I have to admit that I'm still putting together the basics of my professional wardrobe, so I'm no expert. There are also so many different dress codes to choose from, that no one rule of thumb applies to all workplaces. So the rule I try to follow is to consider the required dress code, look at what most of my colleagues are wearing and add just a bit of professionalism on top of that. You don't want to overdo it and look like the president's secretary when the dress code at your office is business casual, but you do want to create the impression that you are competent and well put-together.

I work for a company that is not client based, and so we don't need to dress in order to impress outsiders or visitors very often. But I can still create a brand for myself among my co-workers that may add to my career success in the long run. It sends the message that I mean business, and that I take pride in my job. People tend to take you just a little more seriously when you look professional, and customizing your wardrobe is an easy way to achieve this.

I found some cool blogs and sites focusing on dressing for success, enjoy:

October 21, 2011

staying in shape when I spend all day at my desk


I am not crazy about exercise. I always thought that everyone feels like this but I have come to realize that some people really love working out and even crave doing it on a daily basis. Good for them, they don’t need any coaxing or guilt trips to convince them to exercise. But what about the ones like me who need 10 reasons to hit the gym... once!?

To top my frustration, I married one of those sports fanatics. “Man I feel like exercising!” is a phrase I hear from him almost on a daily basis. Imagine the guilt trip that I go on after a comment like that.

But even though I don’t like it much, I have come to acknowledge the benefits that exercise can offer, both short- and long term, so I choose to submit. Here are some things that have made a process a little easier for me:
  • Get into a routine - I have decided how many hours I want to fit into each week, and distributed them into 4 sessions per week. I try to do a class on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and I allow off days in between to make room for my elaborate social life J.
  • Find a gym buddy - Lucky for me I have a 24/7 eager gym buddy who reminds me every day that we need to work out. Having a gym buddy keeps me accountable, and if I skip class I also let my gym buddy down, so I think twice before skipping. I also have a friend and a colleague who joins me for some of the classes I do, so we can give each other a pep talk when the self discipline starts running low.
  • Figure out what you like - I am very interactive by nature, so a group class is more enjoyable to me than a personal gym program I have to follow over by the machines and weights. I also love music, so I prefer the studio classes where we do steps on the beat of a song and memorize patterns or routines. I am not a very competitive person, so I struggle to associate with people in the boot camp class who push themselves to all kinds of physical limits at the blow of the military instructor’s whistle. Other people will love other formats, what are yours?
  • Remember why you’re doing it - When I read up on how much working out will benefit me, the motivation comes much easier. If I think of how I want to have a great posture and unlimited mobility when I’m an old granny someday, it’s much easier to sign up for another gym class. The way it lifts my mood and helps me breathe after a very solitary day at my desk really makes it worth it, and letting out in a kickboxing class will do the trick after a stressful day!

I am no pro, and I started exercising way to late in my life so I’m hoping that what I invest now will still make a difference.

I found this post on working out when days are just too short – enjoy!

October 19, 2011

who are you calling average?

I was doing my daily reading when I came across a post discussing how to manage the average employee.
At first I thought "Wow, I hope I'm never referred to as average", and then I wondered if this post might actually help me to ensure that I'm never categorised in this way.

There have been days when I felt that average was good enough, but the more thought I put into my career planning, the more I realize that being excellent in my position is one of the best ways to advance my career.  High performance from my side translates into good annual reviews, good relationships with my seniors, being recommended for promotions and securing solid references for whenever I may need them in the future. On a more personal note, it provides great job satisfaction to know that my efforts are valuable to the company.

After reading this post on how to be a remarkable employee, I think that sticking to the basics are the way to go for me:
  • Under-promise and over-deliver: Over-promising has gotten me in trouble a few times, so I have stopped "promoting" what I aim to do. People generally don't like when a product doesn't live up to the advertisement, so I try to apply this simple principle at work.
  • Add value: Doing more than what is asked shows that you care and that your mission is to add value to the cause (as opposed to clocking up time in order to get paid). My manager always appreciates it when I deliver an outcome quicker or better than I needed to, and that recognition also motivates me to do it again the next time around.
  • Be honest: In stead of covering it up or blame-shifting when you made an error, do you find it easy to just be honest and own up to it? I'm working on this because I realise that being honest about my mistake tells my employer that I can be trusted. Taking responsibility and finding alternatives to fix the problem also shows that I'm resilient and flexible.

These are pretty basic priciples but surprisingly hard to accomplish, so setting three basic goals (like these) are better than setting no goals and better than being considered "average". What kind of goals would you set to start distinguishing yourself?

October 17, 2011

sitting up straight


Hunching in front of my computer all day is certainly not the reason I chose HR as a career. Am I the only one with neck spasms tense back muscles over here?? I have been craving a massage for weeks!
So there are a number of ways in which I can improve my posture like stretching often and sitting up straight, but the real pain for me is realising that even though I am made for interaction, I am sitting in one place and looking at my computer for the biggest part of my day. So I try to take regular strolls through the office and make use of this time to engage with colleagues and making some eye contact. Not only does it improve blood circulation, but I get a chance to build relationships and get to know my colleagues.
I love to work with people so much, but most of my "working with people" tends to happen via email and phone. Not ideal! This interesting article on what sitting at your desk all day is doing to your body has just reminded me again that this is no laughing matter.
What do you do to take a break from your desk? Or do you enjoy looking at a screen more than connecting with others??

October 14, 2011

yes, I am a recovering perfectionist


I am not obsessive about order or having everything in it's perfect place. I am also not extremely focused on getting every detail of everything I do just right, but I am someone who struggles with allowing myself to make mistakes. So in that sense I feel that I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and even though it drives me to do well at work, it can fast-track me to burn-out if I don't manage it well.

I tend to have a lot of grace with others when they make mistakes, but when it comes to MY performance in MY line of work, I often find myself wanting everything to run smoothly without any hiccups or errors. And when I do make a mistake or my project is interrupted by an unexpected turn of events, I tend to feel overly responsible and I expect some sort of punishment for being, well, human ☺.

I decided one day to came clean about this to my manager, as I was really adding unneccesary stress to my work load. As soon as I started talking about it with someone I could start working on reprogramming my thoughts a little.

I also realise that my intentions aren't wrong because I really just want to deliver the best results possible, but I have to keep reminding myself that I'm human (just like everybody else), and that every hiccup or crisis holds great learning opportunities for me.

So I'm learning how to embrace and appreciate failure, and having a mentor at close range is really helping! I iread this interesting post on how healthy/hurtful perfectionism can be, and just reading someone else's experience really encourages me. Reading this post on how to manage a perfectionist has also given me some ideas as to how I can better manage myself.

Can I hear an "amen" from the other perfectionists out there!!?

October 12, 2011

bored at the office?


 
Servicing employees can be a full time job and most of the time there’s a lot to work on (especially when we’re recruiting for multiple vacancies and the occasional crisis comes along). But there are days (like today) when everyone is happy, we’re not recruiting and we have yet to start with our next special HR project. There is no hovering deadline or serious crisis, my phone doesn’t ring for most of the day and I only have 2 random emails in my inbox. Not the most exciting way to spend time at work!
Lucky for me, this doesn’t happen too often. And I’ve come to realize that it’s just part of being in employee service. It’s a good thing if everyone is OK, and so I can use this time for something else. So instead if feeling frustrated, I try to focus on the following:

  • Filing – Yes, I know, this can be gruelling! But when most days are rushed and jam packed, filing is something that’s easily neglected. And even though it’s no fun, it helps to either organise or “audit” our files to be sure we’re keeping track of everything important. Sometimes it leads me to a crucial oversight or a gap in our paperwork, which means... more work – Yeah!
  • Reading – This can be challenging because it really wears out my eyes to focus on my monitor all day, so I subscribe to a couple of HR magazines and I have a labour law guide or new book to flip through every now and then. Even though some of the info is repetitive, it keeps me aware of what’s happening in our industry and it expands my basic understanding of HR. This means that I can make more valuable contributions or suggestions at work.
  • Connecting – We tend to get a little disconnected by using hi-tech communication to replace real face-to-face interaction. Taking a stroll through the office and having a chat with one or two employees helps me break this barrier. Making some friends or just getting to know your colleagues is a sure way to improve your job satisfaction and engagement.
  • Career planning – Whether it be within my current organisation or a future employer, it’s important for me to set some goals for what I would like to achieve in my career. I can also think of new initiatives, or ideas to improve our current systems. This shows that I’m pro-active and that I want to add value. Also, I don’t EVER want to become too complacent in my current role, so monitoring my skills gaps is a good indicator for which workshops or seminars I might want to attend.  
  • Networking – Referring back to my grad school textbooks might be outdated, but catching up with peers and old classmates really broadens my knowledge of what others are doing in my field. Meeting new people at seminars or workshops can also add to the people I learn from, and you never know when someone might want to consider you for a position because you've gotten to know each other before a position was even advertised.

I found this post on what to do when you’re unstimulated at work – enjoy!