Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Do you need a cover letter?

With so many people applying for jobs online, are cover letters a nicety of the past?

No, says Matthew Tarpey of CareerBuilder.

Just because employers do not ask for one does not mean you should not include one.

But what goes in a cover letter? What's so great about it?

A cover letter allows you to customize to tje job--show knowledge of the company.

In other words, you can say in your own (well written) words why you could be an asset.

Marks of a great cover letter:

--It's personalized. You line up your pluses with their needs.

--It shows your personality. If you write: I would welcome a chance to use my skills to pursue your company's goals," that is bland and boring. If you write: "I have always wanted to work for Company X, the gold standard..." that will catch someone's eye.

--It's professional--no text language or 4 for "for" and that stuff.

--And you can demonstrate your skills--say you learn from your reading of the business press that the company just merged with another...say "I have experience with the aftermath of mergers and think I can help bridge the gap between the two cultures you are blending..."

Or...something. You know best. Put some thought into it. Sometimes the cover is all the hirer reads. It better be good.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Don't let a bad employee control you

I hate cliches like "rent space in your head," but duking it out with a problem employee can be like letting that person move in.

Art Petty, Government Executive Magazine, writes about this.

This type of employee...

--Is a master manipulator

--Works within the system

--Finds ways to vex you with nose-thumbing ease, as Petty puts it.

This can drain your energy day after day.

This employee seems to be constantly thinking up ways to torture you. They go behind your back, spread rumors, take credit for your work, sabotage or contradict you in meetings, you know the type.

Some managers even choose to find another career, much less job, after expending time and sanity dealing with such a person. Or they become cynical and never trust anyone again.

What can you do?

After you finally get the person out, you need to reset your team, make stronger relationships with everyone.

Roll up lessons learned and move on.  One woman asked her boss what she did wrong and took the suggestions to heart.

Take another look at the organization's values--that is where the reset needs to be made.

Or maybe you need to take a break.

This is one job, one bad apple, put things in perspective. Don't let it taint your whole working life. What a waste that would be--and how happy would that employee be if he or she knew.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why is everything such an annoying hassle?

The election, getting to a doctor, controlling the upcreep in bills, family, eek.

Now--I open a new super expensive cartridge for the super expensive printer I bought because I needed a scanner--and the darn thing was empty.

Yes, a private citizen sold it to me--on eBay.

I am a huge user of eBay--more than 500 transactions to date. Usually I love it--and get keep spending down...but these dratted printer cartridges are outrageous--$25 a shot...for a month in my office?

My old Laserjet cost $20 a year for ink.

I know, I am a crabby throwback...But come on--$25 and empty?

I already left positive feedback--yes, the TWO came on time...But only one had ink in it...too late to point THAT out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

No matter what's on your resume, employers want more

If you are looking for a job, do you feel like you are on treadmill--this advice, that advice, what to do. No one ever seems satisfied. Am I driving you nuts, too?

Mary Lorzenz, CareerBuilder, says this is a common feeling. You do and redo your resume, then you also have to fill in huge on-line questionnaires, then more often than not...crickets.

But managers and HR people also have their frustrations, she says.  More than half (53%) say they don't get enough from a resume to make a decision. This is one reason, they go to social media.

--39% of employers would also like to see your work, your portfolio.

--29% want a cover letter.

And--this was interesting--more than half also reach out directly to people when they have an opening--one more reason to build your brand and social media presence.

It also helps not to alienate employers.

--Don't apply if you are not qualified--39% of employers surveyed said this is a pet peeve.

--Don't have unrealistic expectations about pay.

--Don't lie.

--Don't check on your application too often.

--Don't submit a poorly done resume.

Ask yourself:

--Do your skills match what they want? Make this clear.

--Have you communicated your work history.

--Have you outlined your current skills, your soft skills?

--Do you know the culture and would you fit in?

--Are you asking for realistic money?

--Would you stay long term?

--Would this be a new career for you?

This is a tough job--this getting a job--isn't it?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why Millennials would pick govt work

Stereotype of govt work--what's to like? 
Jerry Greenwell, Government Executive Magazine, says 60% of all federal workers are over 45 and one-third of all state and federal employees will be eligible to retire within four years.

This exodus is sometimes called "the silver tsunami."

Recently, some Millennials were quizzed on why they had worked in the public sector--or wanted to.

--Most said they wanted to make a direct impact on the community. One almost became a corporate shark, as she put it, but changed her mind.

--The advantages of the public sector, they said, included job security and good benefits.

--As for disadvantages, low pay, reduced staffs, and political interference were cited. "Money cannot be the reason," one firefighter said. Also, they said, starting new initiatives can be difficult because of lack of funding. Other turnoffs were shutdowns, pay freezes, competing for older workers and veterans for jobs, lack of full-time positions, and less opportunity for creativity.

--They recommended govt recruiters visit college campuses and participate in job fairs. Get govt leaders involved in getting people to think of govt work.

--They also recommended that govt agencies teach supervisors how to motivate and keep younger workers. Millennials like on-the-spot recognition, for instance, rather than a good review months later. Also supervisors need to institute open-door policies.

--The hiring process also should be quicker. If the process takes 120 days, you will hire who's left over, not necessarily the best.

--The Millennials also said the job descriptions for govt jobs needed work. They should inform--and inspire. Create a picture of what the applicant will contribute.

--And--of course--the govt needs to increase its online presence.Advertise on social media, the Millennials urged. Websites need to be uupdated and not look like they are artifacts of the Dawn of the Internet.

So...time's awastin'...Let's go after the new blood.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Time for some spring cleaning?

Writing in Government Executive Magazine, May 17, 2016, Barbara Hemphill says entrrepreneurs and managers often have cluttered offices.

These people, she says, think "big picture" and not "big mess."

A 2010 study by the office machine company Brother found that messy desks and time spent looking for things cost $177 billion annually. Nearly two work weeks a year per worker!

Getting and staying organized is not easy. Most offices have too much stuff. On one level, you need to regard this stuff and ask, "Does this help me accomplish my work or enjoy my life?" If you say no, but still hang onto the item, then ask: "What is the worst possible thing that could happen if I trash this?"

I used to go through piles and find things I did not know I had--but then I would think, if I didn't know I had this, I would never have looked for it--so toss.

Or donate or recycle (say books you will never read again).

Here are six tools Hemphill suggests:

Three containers--In, Out, File. Put them in reach of your deskchair.

Wastebasket/recycle/shred. Make it easy to put each item someplace.

Calendar. Get rid of the Post-Its and note reminders--get a calendar.

Contact management system. Names, addresses, phone, emails... In one spot.

Action files. These are close to your desk.

Reference files. You may not need these on a daily basis, but you don't want to throw them away.

Then you need to maintain this. If you can't, hire someone who can.

Sounds so simple...

Hey! I just threw away this article...it's a start.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Even trees need down time

All living things adapt to night and day, it's been found. Flowers open in the morning, close at night.

Even ancient researchers found that flowers in a dark cellar continued to open and close.

Now, a team of researchers from Austria, Finland, and Hungary measured sleep movement in trees, using laser point cloudss that calibrate millions of points each.

Trees droop during the night, they concluded. The branches and leaves change position. It's not a big change--but it can be measured.

Two trees were observed--one in Finland and one in Austria.

In the morning, the leaves and branches returned to their original positions in a few hours.

Were they awakened by the sun or their own internal rhythm. The researchers don't know.

Could the drooping be related to water? Maybe. It's part of the research.

And all this is part of life's rich tapestry, isn't it?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

True grit may be overrated

Are there other roads to success?
An Iowa State University psychologist named Marcus Crede and his colleagues studied the role of "grit" in performance.

Grit is defined as perseverance and commitment to long-term goals.

A Univ of Pennsylvania researcher named Angela Duckworth first studied grit--but Crede says grit is really no different than conscientiousness. Crede calls it a repackaging of conscientiousness.

The most well-known grit study was of West Point cadets. Those with above average grit scores were said to be 99% more likely to complete training than cadets with average grit.

Crede says this is a misinterpretation--that should be 3% not 99%.

But it has led to the encouragement of grit, the teaching of grit, even at the Dept of Education level.

Grit is easy to understand, Crede says--think of someone who gives up easily compared with someone who sticks with it even if it's hard--it makes sense the first one would succeed more often.

But this isn't true. Nobody, Crede says, wants to think life is made up of many factors that add up--your education, how hard you work, your conscientiousness, your creativity.

Adjustment, study habits, test anxiety, class attendance--all are more strongly related to performance than grit.

Well, durn, Pilgrim. (Like my John Wayne?)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Things nobody tells the boss

Dannielle Blumenthal, Government Executive Magazine, May 11, 2016, says if you're the boss, you may be clueless and no one will tell you.

Some things they may not say:

You don't know you job very well. You may be getting in your own way assigning busy work or any number of ways.

You aren't keeping an eye on the political climate. Your dept or work group may be on the outs, not the ins. You need to watch for this and counter it.

You refuse to think about other people's motives. Everyone operates out of self-interest to some degree. Do you see the hidden agendas?

You are afraid to admit when you are out of your league. Everyone has some drawbacks, some limits. Revealing this is the first step.

The trend is for layers of managers to be thinned--this means you need to clue yourself in all the more.

I have technology limits...I get flummoxed easily. But I stop and regroup and try to ask people who know these things...they get sick of me...but I try to be nice about it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ah, romance--maybe we have it all wrong

Too much communication or too little?
Hard to say.
There is a new book out called Great Myths of Intimate Relationships: Dating, Sex and Marriage by Matthew D. Johnson, a psych professor at Binghamton.

He debunks 25 myths we all hold dear. No, he says, love is not intuitive--there is science.

Among the debunked:

--Opposites attract
--Having kids brings couples closer
--Men have a stronger libido than women
--Access to many profiles of partners increases the chances of finding a mate
--Children of opposite-sex couples are better off than kids of same-sex couples
--Premarital counseling can prevent discord
--Good communication is key to a happy relationship
--Men are from Mars, women from Venus
--Couples "matched" by dating service stand a better chance
--Living together before marriage is a good way to tell if you're compatible

Take that last one--living together before marriage. Turns out that's not true--it actually increases the chances of dissatisfaction and divorce down the road. Johnson says this is because often people drift into living together to save money or some reason and then everyone urges them to get married--and voila, not that compatible...

I also agree that opposites do not necessarily attract--at least when it comes to looks. If one party is gorgeous physically and the other is not, it begins to gnaw at the relationship--at least in my estimation.

And you can definitely have too much communication. Constant chatting, oversharing, trivia, and the "we need to talk" thing--buzzkills.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Those scamps at Facebook

According to Joon Ian Wong, Nextgov, May 12, 2016, Facebook has arranged for hundreds of kids from middle school on up to play a game it's developed--in order to find good security hires.

Apparently they are having trouble finding security people--a software job being filled in a month,, a security job taking 6-7 months.

Zuckeberg is well known for liking "the hacker way"--finding innovative ways to solve problems, not breaking into systems.

The Facebook game is called Facebook Capture the Flag. Teams compete to control the most territory, a la RISK.

But in this game, the participants must answer questions related to security to progress.

Facebook used to use this for testing applicants or seeking people in person, but now they have open sourced it.

The game has made-up bugs for the players to find--but some are so skilled they found flaws in the Facebook software itself.

Can we say unintended consequences, boys and girls?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Aw, are the perks shriveling?

Sorry, guy--if you can't code, you're
Corinne Purtill, Nexgov, May 11, 2016, says the wild benefits for which Silicon Valley is known are proving too expensive.

You know--the climbing walls, vacation money, on-site barbers, massages, skateboard half-pipes, free meals, and so on.

In March, Dropbox informed workers they would no longer get free laundry service and shuttle bus to San Francisco. Also they could only have five guests a month for the free dinners and open-bar Fridays.

These things were setting Dropbox back $25K a year per employee or $38 million a year.

DropBox even apologized for commissioning a 5-foot chrome statue of its mascot--a panda.

Evernote has stopped it free home cleaning service.

Of course, losing a perk creates more dissatisfaction than never having had it at all.

One exec ventured that maybe the best perk of all was just doing the work.

Nice try.

I remember eating in the National Geographic's fancy cafeteria with employees there--wonderful food for about $2 a meal. Then it all went away. Sob.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

DHS boils down its mission statement

Charles S. Clark, Government Executive Magazine, May 11, 2016, says the Department of Homeland Security has boiled its mission statement from a long, wordy chunk to one sentence:

"With honor and integrity, we will safeguard the American people, our homeland and our values."

When I saw that, I thought, "Wow is that awkward." But then I read the old version, which among other semantic horrors, used "mature" as a transitive verb ("maturing and strengthening...").

Who writes this stuff? Well, it was the work of 3,000 people. Apparently the secretary Jeh Johnson asked for ideas. Then he took the words that appeared the most often--honor, integrity, and safeguard and crammed them into it. He also talked to the three previous secretaries.

This is what happens when nonprofessionals try to write things.

First, I don't like the word homeland--never have. It's not something Americans say. We say continental United States or our nation...something like that. How do you summon up honor to do something--you are honorable or not. And "our values"--apparently this is open to debate these days when some people think our values involve questioning people on their faith and then restricting them if they come up with the "wrong" answer. Where's the "integrity" there, for that matter?

Does your organization have a mission statement? Maybe mission statements do get people on the same page...but they have to be less general and badly worded.

In my opinion...anyhow.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Is art more than a workplace frill?

Karen Higginbottom, Forbes, says art in the workplace is often underplayed.

Art, she says, can have a direct effect on productivity and employee well-being.

Exeter University's school of psychology found that employees who had control over the design of their workplace were not only happier and healthier, but up to 32% more productive.

They did several studies, comparing in some workspaces that were "lean" (bare and functional) to those that were "enriched" (plants, pictures). They also looked at those where individuals designed the area and others where managers decided the decor.

Another survey done by the Business Committee for the Arts and International Assn for Professional Art Advisors found that companies (law firms, food distributors, etc) with art collections reduced stress, increased creativity, and encouraged expression of opinions.

Art seems to affect women more than men. Eight percent of the men in one survey said it had some effect on them, but all the women said it had a moderate to big effect.

One law firm wanted to add "splashes" of color. Another wanted art that was "really fun."

I like things on the wall--I can never decide which calendar I like for the year, so I put them all up. I have color pix of my cartoon characters I am developing. Beaches, animals... I like eye candy. It's not the classics, but so what.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No job is forever anyway

Mary Lorenz, CareerBuilder, says this is a great time to look for a temporary job. This industry is booming and is set to increase more over the next three years.

Since the recession, which we are barely out of, companies are relying more on temporary and contract employees--it gives them more flexibility.

Temporary jobs, of course, give workers less security, but security may be an illusion these days anyway. In exchange for less security, temporary workers can explore different types of work, different companies, and make different contacts.

Your market value, as a result, may increase. Those hiring for permanent positions like to talk to people who are working--you will be.

You will also pick up new skills and learn about different corporate cultures.

And--you might end up permanent. In a 2015 CareerBuilder survey, 47% of employers said they planned to hire temps, and of that number, 58% said some of those temps would work into permanent roles.

Temp jobs are not limited to data entry and admin work. A wide variety of jobs now are available on a temporary basis--to name a few, help desk, truck drivers, software developers, assemblers, nursing assistants, teachers, maids, salespeople, landscaping, security guards, telemarketers, and many others.

So don't turn up your nose at a job because it's temp.

Monday, May 9, 2016

What do you think is key to happiness?

At work--the key to happiness at work. Belle Beth Cooper, Government Executive Magazine, May 5, 2016, says it's autonomy--control of your destiny. Or at least control of your schedule, flow, and the chance to see your ideas implemented sometimes.

Even teams can achieve autonomy.

Studies have shown autonomy correlates to lower turnover, higher engagement, and increased job satisfaction.

It also can alleviate negative emotions, such as those felt by customer service reps.

Autonomy can even improve longevity. One British study, anyway, showed civil servants with lack of job control got more heart disease.

People, according to another study, crave economy two and a half times as much as influence.

In handing over the reins, employers should start small. Give autonomy slowly--so you don't have to take it away.

Set strategic direction--and let the employees set the goals.  Employees need to feel they are choosing for themselves.

See anything here you can use?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Has the Small Business Admin rooked your company?

Charles S. Clark, Government Executive Magazine, May 5, 2016, says the SBA recently celebrated record-breaking contract awards to businesses eligible for set-asides (contracts where they would have an advantage in bidding).

But--the American Small Business League, a long-time critic, has launched an injunction to force the SBA to measure its success differently than it does.

It calls SBA policies "illegal" and say they have defrauded small businesses and small businesses owned my women, minorities, and disabled vets (the special condition groups).

It's really easy to get in the weeds on this, so I will try to boil it down. Small businesses are supposed to get 23% or more of the total value of all prime contract awards each fiscal year.

Note that word "all."

Within that 23%, the goal is 5% for women-owned, 5% for minority-owned, and 3% for disabled vets.

But--according to this lawsuit-- the SBA has created a category called "small business eligible dollars," which is a significant lower budget number to divvy up.

A ton of types of contracts and agencies are excluded. I can't list them all here.

So, if you are bidding on small business contracts, keep an eye on this suit. Conceivably it could force some change.

By way of disclosure, I was once a certified small business contractor. I never got even one contract--but I have to say it was crazy difficult and I sort of slacked off trying.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Your parenting skills may be great for the workplace

Mother's Day is coming up, but this applies to fathers, too.

Good news--Rob Zaldivar, CareerBuilder, says  68% of employers think being a parent counts as relevant work experience.

Here are the skills they like:

Patience. Calming a child and calming an irate customer are surprisingly similar. (68% of employers surveyed valued this)

Multitasking. Keeping kids clean, safe, occupied, fed and clothed takes multiple skills--often at the same time. (61% recognized this)

Time management. Parents know the value of a routine. Baths, bedtime, or mealtimes--they go best if you have a pattern. (57%)

Conflict management. If you can get a kid to leave the park or leave the toy behind in the store, you can manage a customer or coworker. (51%)

Problem-solving. As a parent, you solve problems all day long. The boys put the Barbies down the storm drain outside, the toilet is overflowing, someone has a huge head bump, ER or no ER? You do it automatically. (50% of employers value this)

In fact, the kids may be the toughest customers you will face. Your skills are essential at home and marketable in the workplace.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reverse advice for improving customer service

John Kamensky, Govt Executive Magazine, Apr 15, 2016, talks about a Harvard Business Review study on customer service.

The researchers Jochen Wirtz and Ron Kaufman, who have worked with global clients for 25 years, say don't start with the customer-facing employees. They already know why customers are angry. The real problem, they say, is probably with the back office--IT or some other function. Retraining the frontline staff will not help.

Don't focus on specific skills or scripts. Instead ask the frontline people to create value for others, outside and within the organization.

Don't do pilot changes. If things need fixing, create momentum fast and set your sights high. Attack all the weak points at once.

Don't track traditional metrics. The cite one company that shifted from quantitative metrics to open-ended evaluation of what customers want.  The frontline people went from trying to get good satisfaction scores to making customers happy.

The other day, I was making yet ANOTHER call to my phone/cable/TV company. The reductions in the bill promised, with a confirmation number, were not made. It's always something with them. They say anything--willynilly--and do none of it. The bill is different every month.

Exasperated, I finally said, "Everything is going to Apple Boxes, Roku and streaming. Companies like this will be out of business!"

She said, "Oh, don't say that, I am a single Mom with two little kids."

Sheesh. I felt like a grease spot on the sidewalk of life.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Could this creep out of govt and into the workplace?

According to a story by Aliya Sternstein, in Nextgov, a top National Security Agency (NSA) official wants to track online habits of government employees at home.

About 80% of the agency's workforce has retired since 2001, and the millennial and Gen Y replacements go online a lot when they get home.

Currently, the bosses only look for aberrant behavior at work--including what they describe as "unbelievable amounts of child porn on govt computers."

Workers used to be re-investigated very five years--now they are continuously monitored.

There is even talk of issuing everyone with a security clearance a number--like a FICO number--indicating the likelihood that employee would go rogue and compromise national security with some online action or behavior.

Do they have a point?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Three top things Millennials need to work on

Ready for work--or
Isabella Clivilez-Wu, chief executive image strategist at Wu & Clivilez Executive Image Coaching, says the top three areas of office life Millennials need to improve are email etiquette, networking, and appearance.

EMAIL ETIQUETTE. Written communication is challenging because you can't see body language or hear tone of voice.  If it's private, don't push REPLY ALL.

--Don't mark all emails as URGENT. If something is, no one will pay attention.

--Don't write in all CAPS.

--Don't be too casual, using profanity or not checking spelling. Remember please and thank you--they are still stand-bys.

NETWORKING. This author sees a direction connection between networking and net worth. Yet, many Millennials are loners, independent, don't like making lasting connections. Texting is distancing. They like that.

--Don't become so set on meeting someone, you barge into conversations with your agenda.

--Your goal should be to leave a favorable impression, whatever is said. Don't overshare.

ATTIRE. Designer Tom Ford once said, "Dressing well is a form of good manners." By dressing well, you control the situation. They say dress for the job you want, which may be a step or two above the one you are applying for or have at present. And keep an eye on the culture of the place. Even if it's a jeans and Foosball joint, that may not be good introductory apparel.

Neutral, muted or deep colors are usually best. Women who wear two vibrant colors can look unprofessional. Skintight is bad. Don't let the girls out to play. Any shirt with writing on it--no.

C'mon, think--this is pretty much commonsense. Yet people slop around in jeans and a ball cap at the office in many environments. Or wear some hootchy mess with dangly earrings and a pencil skirt that would actually be tight on a pencil.

You can think, "Oh, but I am young and independent" as much as you want. But try to find someone to pay you with that attitude--now that is tricky.