Archive for the ‘ask Working Girl’ Category

Can You Permanently Delete Emails?

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Rhonda writes:

Hello there, Working Girl!

I am emailing a previous employee that has become a close friend of mine.  Well, we are talking gossip about the new girl who replaced her and all the people that are annoying in the office.  I know it’s not the best thing to do buttttt I have a way to permanently delete those emails so I figure I’m ok.  My husband tells me nothing is permanently gone so I should watch it.

Dear Rhonda,

Your husband is one smart cookie.  The sad truth is that everything you type into a computer is retained in its memory even though you delete it.  If a company really wants to retrieve your emails, it can.  Just like on Law & Order and all its many, many clones.

It’s natural to think of our office emails as our own.  When it’s just you and your keyboard there’s an illusion of privacy.  But it’s only an illusion.  You already say you know that what you’re doing is “not the best thing to do.”  That’s your own intuition warning you!

So, yeah, it’s fun to gossip and blow off steam about all your annoying co-workers.  It may be what’s keeping you sane.  Just be smart about how you do it.  Meet your friend for lunch and chat up a storm.  Email her from your own computer at home, if you have one.  Even the office phone (on your own time) would be a better option than the company email.

It ain’t worth the risk.

More info:  Here’s a short & interesting thread from people smarter than Working Girl about just this topic.

Underpaid, Overworked

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Chris writes.  It’s long but really interesting.


I am hoping that this website has some kind of an answer for me.  I have been working for a family as their nanny for almost 7 years.  The children are 11, 8, 7 now, all are in school full days as of a year ago.  The parents are the type where they are soooo smart that they have no common sense, and are COMPLETELY helpless at home. I do all of the cooking for the whole family, errands, all shopping (including Christmas shopping for the whole extended family), business calls, arrange appointments (doctor, dentist, house needs), tutor the children (reading, speech), help plan business dinners at their home as well as cook for the parties.  I do get paid vacations when the family goes on vacation; however, I make a few house checks while they are away (I live over an hour away).  I do all of the house cleaning in their 7,000 square feet home.  All of the laundry (the mother has HUGE hygiene issues and “dumps” them on me).  I guess I am to the point where resentment is entering in my daily work life, because I see the amount of money they pay out for services that are senseless.  They pay a woman who takes care of their 8 horses, who is only at the barn an average of 3 hours 5 days a week (she is only responsible for feeding a.m. and cleaning stalls) $840.00 a week.  Which is more than they pay me!!!  They continually tell me how they could not “survive” without me, but there is definitely an issue with taking advantage.  I have a wonderful relationship with the children, and I know that their parents are relieved and thankful for that, but there are countless occasions where one of the parents will ask if I can take the kids home to spend the night with me because they love spending the extra time with me, however, no extra money comes my way.  The family has a yearly income of several million dollars.  I am married and have two children of my own.  I spend on average 36 hours per week there (it’s a 3-day work week) and would like to ask for a raise.  I wasn’t sure if I should do research in the Maryland area for each job title that I hold, to get the proper amount that I am certainly worth.  They pay me $20 an hour, and I am pretty much laughed at by the other people that do work for them.  Any suggestions that you have would be very much appreciated.  Chris in Maryland

Dear Chris,

Wow.  From what you say, it’s time to ask for a raise.

The only questions are:  How much, and how will you broach the subject.  Do you have a contract?  (You should.)  When was the last time you got a raise?  It’s research time!

A few ideas to get you started:  Check out the International Nanny Association website, especially their salary and benefits survey.  Also here’s a nanny discussion forum, where you can read about other peoples’ experiences and may be able to get some questions asked.  And don’t forget the library, where librarians love to help people do research.

Gather as much data as you can.  In writing.  “Professionals” are impressed by facts and data.  You may be amazed at how powerful scientific-sounding information can be!  It’s a good idea, too, to review all your assets–your experience, any training or certifications you have, etc.–and write those down, too.

It sounds as though your employers have forgotten you’re an employee and have started thinking of you as a member of the family.  In many ways, this is a good thing, so introduce the subject of duties and compensation gently.  Choose your time well (when they’re in a good mood!).  Don’t get emotional or bring up grievances from the past.  Know what you want.  If you want more than one thing (say, a higher hourly rate plus extra when you take the kids home plus gas money when you check on their house while they’re away), rank those things in order of importance.  

Does this sound intimidating?  Make a list of the points you want to cover, bring it to the meeting, and follow it.  Your employers will be impressed at your clear thinking and it’ll help you to stay on task. 

Good luck and hang in there.

It's All Well And Good

Monday, August 11th, 2008

More grammar for working girls!  Let’s start out the week with a nice & easy question from Wanda:

Dear Working Girl,

I never know when to use the word “well” in a sentence.  I know it is “I am not feeling well.”  Yet is there a time to use the word “good“?

Dear Wanda,

Great question!  Knowing when to use “well” and when to use “good” is easy, except for a few common exceptions.

You say “well” when you are describing an action:  Fred writes well.  Sally rides well. 

You say “good” when you are describing a person, place, or thing:  Fred wrote a good book.  Sally’s horse is good.

Simple, huh?  “Well” describes verbs (like “writes” and “rides”); “good” describes nouns (like “book” and “horse”).

Now for the exceptions: “linking verbs.”

Sometimes a verb isn’t there to describe an action but just to connect a subject with information about it.  Forms of “to be” are common linking verbs.  Also:  “looks,” “appears,” “smells,” “seems,” “tastes,” “sounds,” “becomes,” and more.  

When a verb is a linking verb it’s correct to say a sentence like “These cookies look good” even though “good” is describing “look,” which is a verb, not a noun.*  Ditto for “Your music sounds good,” “Dad’s fudge tastes good,” and “Her perfume smells good” even though “sounds,” “tastes,” and “smells” are verbs.

How do you tell a verb is describing action and when it’s only linking?  Here’s a simple test.  Take your sentence and substitute “is” (or “are”) for the verb.  Try out the sentence in your head with both “good” and “well.” 

Example:  Change “These cookies look good” with “These cookies are good” and “These cookies are well.”  The sentence with “good” still makes sense; the sentence with “well” sounds stupid.  So when you put back “look” into your sentence you know to use “good” and not “well.”

Hey, maybe that wasn’t such an easy question after all. . . . .

*Another way to look at it:  “Good” isn’t describing “look” after all; it’s describing “cookies.”    

Renegade Mom Busting Loose

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Rachel writes in with this intriguing question:

Dear Working Girl,

I am a first time visitor to your site–courtesy of VocationVacation–and it is FANtastic.  Am I crazy to think that I can make it as a talk show host as a 45-year-old business professional and renegade mom with no “real” broadast experience?  Is Internet a better option?  I want to build a show that showcases Women in Business and empowers them with great resources and connections. . . would love to know what you think!

Dear Rachel, aka Renegade Mom,

No way, you are not crazy!  You can go down any path you put your two feet on.  You are allowed to choose a new career at any age.  You are even allowed to change your mind.  Here are a few recommendations from Working Girl:

Spend some time examining your motivations.  What exactly do you want to accomplish by being a talk show host?  Do you yearn to be a leader, with influence over others?  Do you love to bring people together?  Or do you simply get a charge out of gathering information and sharing it?  (These are the three psychological types described by Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point.”)

If you know precisely why you want what you want, it will be much easier to attain.

While you’re pondering, think about the actual job of talk-show host.  Analyze it.  Break it down into all its bits and pieces.  There’s the technical side (learning how to use the equipment).  There’s the voice component (do you plan to study radio announcing or take voice lessons?).  There’s the business part–finding sponsors (if you’re doing Internet), finding a job on an existing show, and finding people to be on your shows.  And, no doubt, a bunch of other stuff Working Girl doesn’t know about.

Of all these many factors, which will be easy for you?  Which will be difficult?  What and who do you already know that will help you enter this new world?  What do you need to do to acquire the skills you don’t already have and meet the people you don’t yet know?

Write all this down.  Organize the components in terms of priority and of chronology (what would you need to do first, and then second, and so on).  Voilà!  You have just created a road map to your fabulous new life.

Nothing is more exciting than embarking on  a new career.  Good luck!  And keep in touch.

What To Say When At The Interview

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Ashley writes in to ask:

Dear Working Girl,

I have an interview next week with a company I have tried to get a job with for over a year.  I made it to the Top 3 for a marketing coordinator position, when the company was sold.  Fast forward to one year later, and they have a PR Manager position available, in which I have a degree.  I found out I will be interviewing with the same Marketing Director.  I am concerned because I am getting married in a month and going on vacation.  This event has been planned for some time, whereas this interview has only been planned for a few days.  I would not want to withhold this information and seem sneaky, yet I don’t want to ruin my chances.  Should I tell them in the first interview, or wait to see if there will be a second?

Dear Ashley,

Short answer:  Wait.

The time to discuss start dates, vacations, benefits, and salaries is when an offer is on the table.  That first interview should be all about the job.  You should be talking about all the reasons you are the perfect person for it. 

Once you have wowed them and they have popped the question–that’s when you get down to brass tacks.  Surely you and the employer (how great that you already sort of know this person) can find a way to meet both your needs.  Getting married isn’t something people do every day!

During this talk:

  • Consistently show sincere enthusiasm about the job.  Never let them forget what a great employee you’re going to be.  Make them feel lucky to have found you. 
  • Be upbeat and optimistic.  Your attitude should be, “Of course a little problem like start date can be resolved!”
  • Display a willingness to compromise–this demonstrates good will on your part.  (Decide in advance what concessions you’d be willing to make.) 
  • Help brainstorm different scenarios (here’s a perfect opportunity to show off your problem-solving skills) 
  • Maintain a professional, businesslike demeanor.  Now is not the time to blush and gush about your wedding, fiancé, or honeymoon.   
  • Acknowledge the employer’s priorities, worries, and needs.  Show you realize it’s not all about you.  They will love you all the more for it.

Congratulations on your upcoming interview!  And good luck!

What To Ask For At A Job Interview

Friday, June 27th, 2008

SFGirl is hot on the job hunting trail.  She’s doing great, but has more questions:

Dear Working Girl,

I took your advice a few months ago and started calling up places sort of.  I called a classmate who passed my resume to his boss.  She didn’t have any openings but her friend did and alas I got an offer.

I sort of blew it by naming a figure (I said somewhere in the $40K range, which would be higher than what I make now).  I didn’t want to BS around with a 4-person staff.  She made an official offer of employment but wanted to schedule another meeting face to face on salary discussion.

A ton of questions for you because I am seriously scared and nervous.

How do I proceed from here on negotiating?  And how do I inquire about other benefits such as annual review, bonus, merit increase, and such?  She doesn’t offer a 401(k), transit discounts, or a medical flex spending except for a SEP after one year.  I’m most concerned with transit discounts because I’ll be commuting (half an hour).  How would you recommend I approach asking her about offering transit incentives such as commuter checks?

She’s offering me two weeks of vacation.  I get two weeks at my current job and six personal days–how do I get her to match?

Also, should I explain why I want to start a month later?  I mentioned during the interview I’m working on a big important project (she was impressed with the scope). I also have planned a vacation at the end of August for part two of my volunteer vacation–how should I explain that?

Dear SFGirl,

Okay, take a big deep breath.

First, huge congratulations on making networking work for you.  It happened just the way it’s supposed to happen.

Now to your questions. 

On salary:  You may not have blown it by naming a specific number.  Is that the number you want?  Would you be happy with it?  Has your research shown that this is the going rate?  If “yes,” then you are fine.  If on reflection you realize that you came in way low, then you’re going to have to be frank.  Say, “I know I said $40K-ish but since we talked I did more research and found that “x” is the market rate for a job like this.  But I’m open to negotiation.”

Then stop talking.  One of the secrets to successful negotiation is to not babble.  Speak your piece and then stop.  Let her make an offer.  If it’s way low, then counter offer.  Keep the mood light.  Remember that this is supposed to be fun.  Remember too that you can also use benefits as bargaining chips (see below). 

On benefits:  Let her tell you what they are.  If there are other benefits that she’s not offering that you really want (like the transit discount), then just ask.  It never hurts to ask, if you ask in a nice way.  Benefits are great bargaining chips if she’s offering less salary than you want.  It’s the same offer/counter offer game as salary.

Keep in mind you will probably not get everything you want (that’s the essence of compromise!).  In fact, here is a good rule of thumb for most human interaction:

Pick your battles.

How?  Make a list of everything you want and then decide which are “musts” and which are “nice to haves.”  Ask for what you want and if she hesitates, be open to giving up one or two of the “nice to haves.”  With each thing that you give up, you earn goodwill points.  Make it easier on yourself by giving up stuff that isn’t super important to you.

On vacation, etc.:  Tread carefully on showing hesitation to start or asking for vacation.  AT THE SAME TIME realize that you will never have more negotiating power than now, the moment right after she’s offered and right before you’ve said yes.  Make sure she knows you are eager and happy and excited about the job (assuming you are–you say “alas” you got the offer–why?).  Be honest and frank about your reasons.  You’re setting the tone for your working relationship here.  Let her tell you about her wants and needs!  (She has them.)  And, again, be open to compromise.

Your general attitude should be calm and optimistic.  Maintain the belief that you are two mature reasonable women who want the same thing, and that you can reach an agreement that’s good for both of you. 

Good luck!  And keep in touch! 

Creating Contacts 101

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Ronni writes in to ask:

Dear Working Girl,

*SIGH*  I keep seeing the contacts thing.  But for someone who is new to a city and has no contacts, then what?  How does one get contacts?

Dear Ronni,

Good question!  Yeah, it does seem impossible to get to know people when you’re in a new and strange place.  But guess what?  No one was born with contacts.  Everyone who has contacts has had to create them for themselves.  And you can, too.

Here’s what Working Girl did when she moved to Paris.  She started with the name of one person, a friend of a friend of a friend.  She called that person and asked to speak with her about possible freelance writing opportunities.  At the end of the talk, she asked for names of other people she could contact. 

Rinse.  Repeat. 

I know.  It seems so simple.  But it can be hard to get started.  (Hint: It gets easier the more you do it.)

That first person never hired Working Girl, but did pass her name on to someone else, who did give her an assignment.  It didn’t happen overnight.  But it happened.

You can also build a network by taking classes and seminars, showing up at trade shows, attending lectures and art exhibits, joining civic groups and political parties, volunteering to work for worthy causes, and going to professional association meetings, networking luncheons, class reunions, sporting events, conferences, parties, church, job fairs, and the gym.

Keep a database of everyone you meet and keep in touch with them!  That means renew the contact from time to time (at least once a year). 

Important:  Please remember you’re not just collecting names.  You are forming real connections.  This means showing sincere interest in them as human beings. 

You can do this by introducing them to others you think they might like, sending them clippings that might interest them, remembering them with a note from time to time, donating to their causes, referring business to them, meeting for coffee, and on and on. 

All in a friendly, non-stalkerish way, of course!

Start with three people.  Just three.  And see where it takes you…….

How Job Interviewing Is Like Dating

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Kate writes with this question:

Dear Working Girl,

I have progressed to finalist stage at two different non-profits and had a really wonderful first interview this week at another.  One of the finalist posts (the medical nonprofit) I have done through a recruiter, the other (art nonprofit)  through networking.  My mentor is a former consultant for them and I have more connections through my undergrad school and my professional association.  I have told my recruiter about the art nonprofit, but I’m still sort of wary about how to inform the art nonprofit that I am looking at other posts.  Do you have a resource for how this kind of conversation should go?  The last time I had a promising lead, I told them straight up that I had interviews upcoming with two (big name) schools, and they ended up not calling me back.  So I think I may have been too upfront (either that, or they were just rude).  Any thoughts on telling your interviewers that they aren’t the only name on your dance card? 

Dear Kate,

Wow, these sound like really great prospects.  Congratulations!  You’re making the connections/networking game work for you.  Yay!

But why do you feel you need to tell prospective employers you are interviewing elsewhere?  They’re going to assume this anyway.  Making it explicit could turn a hot prospect cool.

Picture this scenario:  You have a burning desire to visit your town’s country club.  You’re not a member.  But Pierre, Nigel, and Sven are.  The only way you can get to the country club is if one of these three guys, biggies in the community and known rivals, invites you as his date.

One day you meet Pierre for happy hour and he starts to talk about the country club’s upcoming Fourth of July bash.  You don’t know Pierre well, but the conversation is starting to sound very promising.  Is this a good time to mention your lunch with Nigel?  Or the fact that you just had coffee with Sven earlier in the day?

There are those who might say yes.  Make him jealous, they say.  Let him know he’s not the only fish in the sea, and that you’ll get to that country club party with or without him.  But Pierre is more likely to feel resentful than jealous.  After all, he hates Nigel and Sven!

A better tack is to make Pierre feel as if he’s number one as far as you’re concerned.  He knows you have other options (he SAW you and Sven at the coffee shop), and he’s not going to appreciate having his nose rubbed in it.  The way you get Pierre to go out on a limb for you is to make him feel secure and special and wanted. 

It’s the same with job interviewing.  Employers make a big show of talking about skills and experience and whatnot, but the final decision is an emotional one.  They want to fall in love!  And people are far more likely to fall in love with people who show they love them.

Of course, you don’t want to come off sounding desperate.  Maintain the composure of someone with options.  Usually just the knowledge that you have another interview, another prospect, gives you that slight air of unavailability.  Which, paradoxically, makes you more irresistible.

It’s true that letting a prospective employer know you’ve got other irons in the fire might jumpstart them into making an offer.  That’s where your recruiter comes in handy.  He or she should be the one to say to the prospective employer, Hey, I happen to know Kate has other pending offers and if you want her, now is the time to make your move, buster. 

It sounds so much better coming from someone else.

For more on this, check with Nick Corcodilos of Ask the Headhunter.  His thing is that, as a job hunter, you need to say right out, I want this job. 

She's Just Not That Into You

Friday, June 6th, 2008

SFGirl, our favorite job hunter, writes with this issue:

Hi Working Girl,

A few more questions for you as I run into unexpected situations.

If you invite someone for lunch, do you set an ending time?  I want to be mindful of people’s schedules and most of the time I let people guide the schedule initially.

I scheduled a lunch with a woman only to have her show up and tell me she has half an hour before she’ll have to run to a meeting.  Part of the problem was the café was too loud and too many people going in and out.  We sit there and she spots her sister-in-law.  So she apologizes and excuses herself.  They see each other only at family functions so it’s nice to run into family.  She’s checking her phone every 5 minutes when we’re meeting also.  At this point, would it just be better to thank her for the time and end the meeting?  She answered some good questions but it felt so rushed and I felt pressured to finish early.

Dear SFGirl,

Ha.  Your contact did not sound as if she really wanted to do this meeting.  She did agree to it, though, so Working Girl finds it a bit rude of her to eat a lunch (paid for by you!) and not focus on the subject at hand.  But many people are rude, or maybe just self-obsessed, so we need to learn how to deal with it.  Here’s some thoughts on the points you bring up:

1.  Yeah, it’s a good idea to specify a beginning and ending time.  This won’t prevent a person from saying, “A last-minute meeting has come up and I only have 18 minutes” but it can’t hurt and might help.

2.  If she says “30 minutes,” just take the 30 minutes.  Why end the meeting even earlier?  Get what you can get. 

3.  An unwilling subject may make you feel pressured to abort the meeting.  Don’t let it show.  Remain calm and pleasant.  Don’t let them see they’re getting to you (even when they are)!

4.  Note for the future:  Choose a less-hectic venue.  The choice may not always be yours, though, so just do your best to roll with the punches.  Remain calm and pleasant!

5.  The fact that she was constantly checking her cell phone means that either she wasn’t really interested in meeting with you or that she’s ill-mannered, or both.  The best you can do here is to remain calm and pleasant (that again!), behave in a civil, well-brought-up manner, and hope your good example rubs off on her. 

On the bright side, you did get some good questions answered.  So the luncheon wasn’t a complete waste.  But some of your job-hunting efforts WILL be a complete waste; it just comes with the territory.  Continue to cast a wide net and don’t get too fraught over any one possibility.

And you never know what might happen down the road.  This same person may remember you later when she hears of an opportunity and–stranger things have happened!–she might feel guilty for being such a ditz and decide to do you a good turn. 

Or she may not. 

All you can really do is maintain your own dignity and keep trying.  You’re doing great.  The key here is to–again–keep trying

SFGirl Job Hunt Update

Monday, May 19th, 2008

SFGirl writes in again with news and more questions:

Hi Working Girl,

I’ve set up two informational meetings for the rest of this month with possibility of another one.  As I become more familiar with these meetings, I had some more questions.

In reading your post, how do I approach offering my ideas and suggestions to a particular company during a conversation?  Sometimes my conversation flow seems a bit abrupt or too sudden.  How would you lead into your ideas?

I know in the past when I set up informational interviews, people would usually say they’d keep my resume on file and let me know if anything comes up.  And I send handwritten notes to thank them for their time.  But the work doesn’t stop there, does it?  How often and when do you send updates?  I try not to send emails just to say “hi” but with something more substantial such as an interesting article.  If I don’t get a response with occasional relevant updates, does it mean they’re just not interested or maybe they’re just busy? 

Dear SFGirl, 

Congratulations on setting up informational interviews!  That’s a fantastic first step. 

You’ll find, as you pursue your search, that some meetings are dead ends and that others lead you down unexpected paths.  The job hunt is a meandering quest, full of false starts and unanticipated developments.  Try to look at it as an adventure.

When people say they’ll keep your resume “on file,” it usually means they plan to never look at it again.  Nothing personal, it’s just the way things are.  So you need to keep your name and face in front of them somehow.  Sending pertinent articles is a good idea.  Ditto for thank you notes; they are vital. 

In addition, consider other creative ways to build a relationship with potential bosses/colleagues (without stalking!).  Attend professional association meetings they also attend.  Maybe they volunteer for a charity that you can volunteer for, too?  You’re in journalism, right?  Next time you publish an article (another project for you), be sure to send them a copy. 

A conversational flow that is too “abrupt” or “sudden” just means you need more practice talking with strangers!  The key to being a fabulous conversationalist is to concentrate more on what the other person wants or needs than on what you want or need.  Make it about them.

If the talk never seems to naturally give you a lead-in to mentioning your ideas, you ARE allowed to change the subject!  Be friendly.  Be casual.  Start out, “You know, I have a few ideas about the new program you’re putting together.”  And then list your ideas.  Because it’s about them, they will hang on your every word.

Always, when you are talking with people whom you want to like you, let them talk more than you talk.  Make it at least 60/40 (60 them, 40 you), or even 70/30.  People love to talk.  And even more, they love to be listened to, so really listen.

Cast a wide net.  Set up lots of informational interviews, explore lots of different avenues.  This will improve your chances and keep you from concentrating too much on any one opportunity.  There are many fish in the employment sea, even during a slow economy.  Good luck and keep in touch!