Archive for the ‘ask Working Girl’ Category

Tell A Story, Get A Job

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

SFGirl writes in with this most interesting question:

When I’m asked what’s my professional accomplishment, I’d like to tell them a story.  What do you think?  Would that work?  Since the results of my work aren’t tangible I’d like to share how I started a new career, navigated the different areas, learned the ins/outs, the different terms, and how I bring value (like sales leads).  Can I steer the conversation in that direction with my story

Dear SFGirl,

Love this question.  Love your story idea a LOT.  But, and this is important, any story you tell should be short.  Think about what stories are.  They have three parts: (1) a “conflict” (some problem), (2) a “crisis” (what the problem threatens, what is at stake), and (3) a “resolution” (how the problem gets resolved, preferably by YOU, the hero of the story).

Now you don’t want to hijack an interview with longwindedness (Working Girl Rule: Talk less than 40% of the time), so you’ll need to really work on your stories.

Think hard about how you want to frame your experience in terms of stories and then try to boil them down to three sentences, one for conflict, one for crisis, and one for resolution.  Be specific.  Use real examples.  Practice telling your stories until you can do it quickly and fluently.  (Note the plural–stories.  You’ll probably want a separate story for each of the items you mention above.)

A great idea, and a great question.  Humans love stories!  We are hard-wired since childhood, since caveman days, to love stories, the beginnings, the middles, and–most of all–the satisfying way they get wrapped up in the end.  Learn to tell good ones and you will be an engaging, memorable interviewee.

When You Hate Your Job

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Karen of Canada writes in with a dilemma:

Dear Working Girl,

I just started a new job…and well…things could be better. 

How much crap do you put up with in times like today?  Considering that there is a line-up of people waiting just to find a job these days.  At what point did we stop caring about ourselves and only about the food we can afford to put on the table. 

Made the list and checking it twice!  But I’m still having issues with with weighing the pros and cons of working and hating the job, and not working and struggling to afford to live!

Dear K of C,

Hmmm.  The good news is you’ve got a job.  The bad news is you hate it.

First, consider:  The chances you will leave any job are approximately 100%.  Whether you quit, are fired, retire, or die, you are going to leave that job.

Therefore, the only thing you have to decide is what you are going to do until then.

So, evaluate.  Can you afford to quit the hated job and look for another?  Or will you need to keep the hated job while hunting for a better one?  Those are your two primary choices.  A quick look at your life and finances will tell you the answer.

Next step: Decide how you will handle the hated job in the meantime.  There’s still that having-to-go-in-everyday-and-put-up-with-the-nonsense part.  Here are a few ways to cope:

Look for something you like about the hated job and focus on that.  There’s probably at least one thing.  If possible, enhance that thing.  For example, if you enjoy collaborating with a particular person, figure out ways you can work with that person even more. 

Every single day, do something that brings you closer to the magic moment when you can say, “I quit.”  Make a new contact.  Mail a cover letter.  Schedule an interview.  Sign up for a class.  Research new employers.  Save some money!

Every single day, do something nice for yourself that makes you feel better about life in general.  Exercise.  Chat with a friend.  Hug your cat.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Working Girl has an entire chapter in her book about how to work at a job you hate (it starts on p. 25).  Sorry for the shameless sales pitch.  But WG’s had a lot of practice in this area–she worked 59 jobs, and didn’t find one she loved until job #52.

Hang in there, K.  Try to remember: Everything is temporary.

Taken For A Ride?

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Always nice to hear from SFGirl:

Dear Working Girl,

It takes me 2 buses and a train to go a networking event once a month.  There’s another person who works a few blocks over who I sometimes carpool with.  But it always feels like forced charity.  He replies at the very last minute before I have to catch the bus.  And I have to ask every month.  So I figure if I have to ask it probably means he’s not that interested.  Does that sound right?  In the past it wasn’t so awkward because his wife would ask, saying I helped her a lot when she was sick.  We’re both volunteers in this networking organization.

Dear SFGirl,

It sounds as if this person either has poor social skills or just doesn’t want to drive you to these meetings.  Try taking the two buses and train next time, and then pay attention to what he says/does when he sees you there.  If he really wants to take you (and had just forgotten to offer), he should say, “Oh, how did you get here?  I’m sorry, I meant to offer you a ride.”  And then he should offer you a ride home.

If he says NOTHING and maybe even avoids you, it means he really doesn’t want to drive you to these meetings.  Why?  Who knows.  People are funny.

Yes, it is a pain that you have to put up with an arduous commute while this guy has a car, but…..people are funny.  And sometimes it’s easier to take two buses and a train then it is to deal with the awkwardness and uncertainty of dealing with them.

Working Girl says:   Find someone else to ride with.  Or…..get a good book to read on the bus/train.  Or, if you can’t read on transport (WG can’t), nap or mentally compose haiku.  Or just contemplate the wonders of the universe.  Anything is better than wasting energy on Car Guy.

Great New Career Girl Site

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

If you have not already discovered Ms. Career Girl, you should skedaddle on over there.

You will notice, not coincidentally, that today there’s a little interview with Working Girl.  Drop in a comment!

Can You Try Too Hard?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

SFGirl, ever looking for ways to do better, wonders if it’s possible to “try too hard.”

Dear Working Girl,

Should people ever stop trying to ask their boss to help them grow, learn ,and be better employees?  I’ve asked my boss continually for opportunities to learn and my requests were denied.  The excuse was it wasn’t fair to others in the office who don’t want to learn and just want to work their 8 hours. 

I’d like to continue asking my boss about opportunities just to grow or let my boss know I don’t want a promotion or his job–just a chance to learn.  (That tip came from a really nice person at a networking event.  I remembered your tip about just going to those things and being genuinely interested in others.  He notices when people just want jobs.   He he.) 

My boss knows I’m curious and eager to learn.  I pop into his office before starting a project just to gauge how to be more efficient.  I’ve brought in sales leads and such–another one last week!  But if my boss has shown a pattern of denying requests to learn, is asking again pushing the envelope?  Am I asking for trouble?

Dear SFGirl,

You are right to be sensitive to the way your ambition comes off to your boss.  So often the message we think we are projecting is not the one being received. 

Hmmm.  It’s a bit odd that your boss’s reason for denying your requests (to attend seminars and/or classes, right?) is that it might make your co-workers feel bad.  A simple “We don’t have the budget for it” would suffice and wouldn’t sound as if he thinks your ambition is somehow out of line.

But it’s never wise to read too much into things.  It’s so hard to know what people are really thinking.  And even if he DOES think your ambition is out of line, that is no reason to be unambitious.  If it bothers him, it’s his problem.

However, it might be wise to cool it for a while.  Maybe he’s intimidated–if not by you, then by something else.  Bosses are subject to pressures from all sorts of sources.  The reason he gave might not be the real reason. 

Continue to do a good job and look for other ways to excel (see yesterday’s post).  Keep in mind that it’s always better for your boss to see you as an ally and support rather than a source of stress.  

Pick your “battles” with care.  Don’t ask to be sent to every seminar or course that tickles your fancy.  Wait a decent interval.  Then when something really great comes up, approach him again. 

And here’s a tip:  Express the request in terms of how it would help him, not how it could help you.  Try to show how the course would save the company time or money or supplies or hassle.  A good “dollars and cents” argument can be devastatingly effective.

You’re doing great.  You are ambitious and goal-oriented, so it’s probably hard to be patient.  But sometimes patience is the answer.  Hang in there!

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Here’s a wintery question from Ronni:

Hi Working Girl!

I live in Chicago, a city in which using public transportation to get around is a lot more convenient and efficient than driving and parking.  However, it is winter in Chicago, which means unplowed sidewalks, messy streets, and very cold temperatures.  If one has an interview, what is the best way to dress to be warm and dry, and yet still look professional?  For example, to get to the train station, I have to cross a bridge that is never plowed, so of course I will wear boots.  Once I get to the interview place, how would I go about changing shoes and whatnot so as to appear professional?  Even if I had dressy boots, I would not want to drip melting snow all over the floor.  In many downtown places, the restrooms are locked, so that option is out.  What do you suggest one does in a situation like this?

Dear Ronni,

Ah yes, Chicago.  The last time Working Girl was there it was really cold.  And that was in the month of April.  So she can only imagine what it’s like now!

In WG’s HO, this is a case where it’s not so much what you do but how you do it.  Everyone, including prospective bosses, knows that in snowy unplowed Chicago people are going to need to wear boots and whatnot.  Meaning: Your doing so is not a shameful secret you need to hide.

In fact, the whole what-to-do-with-your-boots/whatnot dilemma is a great opportunity to show that you handle life’s little (and, by extension, big) foibles with grace and class. 

What you do will vary with the situation: If there’s a nearby Starbucks, you might change in the restroom.  If there’s a building concierge, maybe he/she will let you borrow a back room.  If there’s a receptionist, ask her (most likely it’ll be a her) for the key to the ladies’ room.  Or to lend you an empty office.  Or at least let you have a chair so you can sit down to change shoes!

How you do it, on the other hand, will always be the same.  You will always be low-key, pleasant, and dignified.  You’ll smile.  You’ll ask for what you need, say thank you when you get it, and then let the whole matter drop.  In fact, needing to ask prospective employers for a little favor like two minutes to change from boots to pumps offers you a nice opportunity to establish a sense of fellow-feeling.  You know, that whole “we’re all in this together” bonding thing.

So all you need is a decent-looking totebag for carrying your shoes, and then stowing your boots, and you’re good to go!  (A thought: If there’s a receptionist, you might ask her if you could leave the tote in the reception area so you don’t have to enter the interview room with too much, um, baggage.  But if you do have to greet the interviewer carrying all your stuff, set it down neatly, straighten up, smile, shake his/her hand, and proceed with the interview.) 

When in doubt, keep in mind one of WG’s favorite expressions:

Never apologize, never explain.”

And good luck with your job hunt.  All the instability in the economy right now means uncertainty, sure, but it also means opportunity.  May you find that opportunity.  Or may it find you.  Happy New Year!

Making Sure You Get Credit That's Due

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

A two-fer from SFGirl this week:

Hi Working Girl,

In my work it’s hard to be visible.  No tangible/direct results–lots of inputting data and numbers.  I’m visible in demonstrating knowledge/awareness of what’s happening in the industry.  In the hallway if I run into my boss I’ll let him know I went to this forum about trade, and what I learned.  I’ll bring in reports research think tanks will send me from these events.  I come across as enthusiastic and knowledgeable–that’s clear.

Occasionally I’ll provide a sales lead to our sales rep from my networking efforts.  I’ll go to an event and someone will want to know more about my company services.  Recently I set up a meeting between this potential lead and sales rep.  He’s still pursuing the lead and copied me and his boss on the email follow up.  But my boss doesn’t know I facilitated this potential sale.  If anything materializes and he makes the sale, how should I let my boss know?  Would asking the salesperson to follow up, copy me on the email and my boss, be helpful?

Dear SFGirl,

Yes, you definitely should make sure your boss knows you are out promoting the company’s interests and–this is key–contributing to the bottom line.  And you are right to think through the best way to go about this.  As the Wicked Witch of the West said, “These things must be done delicately!”  (Sorry, The Wizard of Oz was on the tube the other night.)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking the salesperson to copy your boss, as well as you and his boss, on his status reports.  If the salesperson doesn’t do this, for whatever reason, there’s also absolutely nothing wrong with you just forwarding his emails to your boss.  All you have to say is “FYI” and hit Forward.

Or, you could reply to the salesperson’s email (“Great news!  So glad it worked out!”) and cc your boss.

Your boss isn’t a mind reader.  The only way he/she is going to know what’s going on is if you tell him/her.  You don’t have to make a big deal of it.  You’re just providing information.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to put this referral in your “accomplishments” file.  You do have an accomplishments file, don’t you?  This can be an actual paper file or one on your desktop.  Whenever you do anything worthy of note, be sure to write it up and put it in your file.  This way at review time (or when you’re updating your resume), you will have a good record of all the good stuff you’ve done.

The Secret To Great Networking

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

SFGirl is still on the networking/job-hunting trail.  She’s resilient and persistent–a really great example for all the rest of us working girls!

Hi Working Girl,

On vacation recently, I met two people just randomly and they gave me their cards.  One works in my industry and another in a different area but possibly related.  The contact who’s not in my industry was super nice.  She gave me the name and number of a well-connected guy who knows all about hiring, recruiters, and working with major clients on projects.  I’ve followed up and hope to hear from him soon.  We had a nice chat–she was sitting next to me on the flight home–it’s amazing how these contacts occur!

So my question: How do I build a long-term relationship with someone who works in a completely separate industry and job?  She and her husband just moved to the area recently.  Her husband also grew up in the same city my father did in China.  I wanted to invite them over for lunch, dinner, or tea.  Would that be appropriate?  What should I say when I invite her over, as in my purpose?  My original idea was just to bring like-minded people together (her husband/my dad and me/her).  But I’m starting to wonder if I should approach this with a purpose or specific goal?  Suggestions would be great!

Dear SFGirl,

Way to go on the airplane networking!  Working Girl has never been good at that–she shuns speaking with seatmates because she’s always afraid they might be nuts and she’ll be trapped talking to them for the entire flight.    

Anyway, to your question.  Your first impulse, that of bringing together like-minded people, is ample reason for an invitation.  Their being new to the area makes your gesture an extra kindness.

But you’re thinking more deeply into the possibilities of the connection, which is always smart.  And which brings us to the big networking “secret.”  We network in the hopes something good will eventually come of it.  Something good for us!

But in the moment, while we are meeting/talking/lunching/dining/tea-ing, we should be focusing on the “networkee”  and not on ourselves. 

When you network with the thought “what’s in it for me?” uppermost in your mind, it shows.  The networkee gets a sense of being used.  Yuck.  So while in the act of reaching out, focus on the networkee’s feelings and needs.  You will earn that person’s regard.  Maybe even gratitude.

You seem to be interested in these people on their own merits (the China connection).  That’s a pretty good basis for a relationship, don’t you think?  Any more of an “agenda” could sour the whole thing. 

So have a great time with your lunch, dinner, or tea.  Tea would be lovely, by the way–less of a commitment than lunch or dinner.  You want to keep things light.  Don’t overwhelm them with your hospitality and make them feel they’re in your debt!

A sweet gracious get-together with you being your own sweet gracious self.  That’s the ticket.

Finding Your Dream Job Takes Work

Friday, November 14th, 2008

A cry for help from another Karen, this one in Canada:

I am sooooo lost.  Let me begin with telling you what my life is right now.  Maybe that will help with the soon to come advice.

I have a 1 year old.  I am currently a stay at home mom except for the few shifts I pick up here and there at my previous employer.  I was in school taking Production Art, when I found out I was pregnant.  Unfortunately I was unable to finish before I had my daughter, but I did go back to school when she was only 3 months old.  I graduated and found a job after 2 months of looking.  Then after 3 months of work in my new career, realized that I hated my job.  I began getting bad stomach ulcers and decided to quit and try to figure out what my “real” calling was.  But after being out of full time work now for 6 months and doing nothing but raising a child, I have completely lost any idea of what I want, who I am, and where I am going other than motherhood. 

I think I just need some help figuring out how to figure it all out.  Lol.

Dear Karen from Canada,

You’re in a time of great flux.  Having a baby and starting a new career are two big projects, and you tried to do them together!  So it’s not surprising that maybe it didn’t go as smoothly as you might have hoped.

And there’s nothing like having a baby to make you rethink your life.  What you are going through right now is perfectly normal.

So, okay, it’s re-evaluation time!  Why don’t you start by making some lists?  Lists are great.  You take all the thoughts/fears/worries that are whirling around in your head and put them in words.  Once they’re on paper they will feel more manageable, guaranteed.

First, sit down and list the reasons you got into Production Art in the first place.  What attracted you to it?

Second, list the ways in which it fell short.  What didn’t you like about it?

Once you have these two lists, decide which reasons are related to the specific work itself and which relate to lifestyle.  For example, a work reason might be you love creating art or you love working with Photoshop (assuming this is what you do in “Production Art”).  A lifestyle reason might be that you like being with creative types or that you appreciate not having to dress up every day.  Also, and this is important, list the reasons you didn’t like PA that were specific to your former job (like, your boss was a nut or the commute took two hours).

Study these lists.  Talk about them.  Show them to friends or, preferably, someone who can be a mentor to you.  (Don’t have a mentor?  Now is the time to find one!  Or two.  Or five.  Check out this post.  And this one.)

Basically, what you are trying to do is to identify work where you do stuff you love in an environment you love–i.e., your Dream Job.  This is a huge project!  You don’t always discover what your Dream Job is right off the bat.  Once you know what your Dream Job is, you don’t always attain it right away.  Most of the time we don’t, actually.  It takes time.  It takes trial and error.  Which is where you’re at right now. 

You don’t need to feel bad that you are still looking.  The important thing is that you are looking.  And that you keep on looking.  Come to think of it, here’s another post from not too long ago on this same topic.

Good luck.  You will find your way.  Meanwhile, give that one year old a big hug from Working Girl!

Don't Know What You Want To Do?

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Reader Maura writes:

You may have addressed this already, but what about those who have a career, are not crazy about it, and have NO idea what they want to do with their lives?  Example: Me. 28 years old. Working for the same company for 5 1/2 years.  Too comfortable.  Love the people I work with, especially my boss.  I don’t love the work, I don’t even like it really.  I’m bored even though there is plenty of work to do.  I’m not motivated and feel like there is something else out there that I could bust my butt for, but just don’t know what it is.

Just wondering if you could blog about this sometime.

Dear Maura,

Oh, wow, that is the biggest topic of all!

And the most important.

You may or may not be comforted to know that your situation is 100%, completely, entirely normal.  Many (most?) people do not know–when they are 28, or 38 (even 48!)–what they want to do in  life.

So you don’t need to feel bad that you don’t know yet.  The only thing to worry about is being in a state where you’re not searching.  A life’s work, true calling, dream job, whatever, doesn’t just fall out of the sky.  We have to hunt it down.  (While hunting, most people make one or more wrong moves.  That’s also part of the deal.)

It may help to think about what a dream job is.  In a nutshell, it’s a job where you are doing things you are good at and that you like doing, in a field that gives you joy.  It’s also good if this work reflects your values, earns you the amount of money you want/need, has the level of responsibility you want/need, and is in an environment you like being in.

Sound like a tall order?  Here’s a small, specific way to start:

  1. list the skills you have that you are good at and enjoy doing (e.g., advising, gathering data, teaching, selling, supervising, bringing order out of chaos, writing, drawing)
  2. list fields that give you joy (e.g., travel, computers, houses, law, children, languages, nature, health, airplanes, money)
  3. list what you like about the job you’ve got now
  4. list what you don’t like about the job you’ve got now

You should end up with a lot of data.  Is it pointing in any particular direction?  Say your lists reveal that you love giving advice, are interested in money, are happiest at work when you’re with people, and are unhappiest when stuck by yourself in the background.  Hmmm.  Whadyya think?  Financial adviser?  (Next step: research–e.g., talk with current & former financial advisers, read their blogs, books, magazines, etc.)

Maybe your lists don’t point in any one clear direction.  (Real life is never as simple as the examples you read in advice columns!  Your path will not be like anyone else’s path!) 

So show your lists to others for their reactions.  Talk with a former professor, older friend, former boss.  Get a mentor.  Get ten!  (Click here and here for some thoughts on that.)  Are you a book-oriented person?  Mr. Bolles’s “What Color is Your Parachute?” is still the gold standard for finding your dream job.  Are you a research junkie?  Google “how to identify your true calling” and have at it.

It’s a big project.  It may–um, will–take a while.  Fortunately, it’s hugely fun.

One last thing: Meanwhile, in the job you have now, try to enhance the parts about it you like and minimize the parts you don’t like.  Or start a new hobby that absolutely turns you on (fringe benefit:  hobbies often point the way to new careers).  Or start volunteering.  Or take a class.  Or something!

The key:  Do something