Archive | April, 2012

Your Career Is More Than a 9-to-5 Job

30 Apr

When I left law school to enter the workforce I assumed that my career would simply consist of my 9-to-5 (or should I say 7-to-6) hour workday. Sure, I knew that I would have to possibly attend client dinners, breakfasts, or meetings outside of my workday, but I guess I never really assumed that sometimes my career would require me to give up part of my weekend.  

For me, the weekends are my time to do the things I don’t have time to do during the week – like sleep in, relax, play with the dogs, clean the house, and enjoy a nice meal on a patio outside. Just like many other workers, I love the weekends. Sure, there have been weekends where I have had to make a trip into the office to finish a project, and I highly despise those weekends. But to me, going to work on certain weekends is part of the territory in the field that I am in. It is expected and accepted.

While working on the weekends is “normal,” attending parties and social events is not (not for me at least). Recently I was invited to a senior partner’s weekend barbecue. Being that I am new to the company and am a lower level associate, I knew that attending the party was something that was not up for negotiation. I was discussing this fact with my mom, telling her how I was not 100% happy about losing some of my weekend, when she gave me some eye-opening advice. She said, “Melody, sometimes in your career you have to do things outside of going to work.” This advice put things into perspective for me. This was not just a party I was attending, it was part of my job responsibility and part of my career advancement.

Fast forward to Saturday night. My husband and I arrived on time and were escorted to the party via a shuttle provided by the people throwing the party. Instantly my husband felt out-of-place because he was wearing khaki shorts while all of the other men on the shuttle (who were older than both of our parents) were wearing khaki pants and sports coats. Apparently I had made the mistake of assuming that the party was casual, not business casual. Needless to say, when we were dropped off we walked into the party feeling a little uncomfortable.

After greeting the host of the party, who is probably one of the nicest men I have seriously ever met in my life, we made a beeline for the bar and each retrieved a glass of wine. We settled into a spot at the perimeter of the tent where everyone was socializing and stood there for a moment assessing the situation. I didn’t recognize anyone, which made me nervous. I am not a great socializer and don’t particularly enjoy situations where I don’t know anyone. So I started to get nervous, wondering how I, the shy one out of the two of us, would be able to make this evening interesting for my husband. Thankfully, after only a few short minutes we were approached by one of the senior partners I work with and his wife (both are young). I breathed a sigh of relief and began to relax.

From there the conversations flowed. We talked to some of the people I work with on a social level, which was a nice change. The conversations ventured into topics outside of work and allowed me to gain insight into the inner workings of some of the people I work with. When the topics were discussing work, it was the older partners giving me advice and insight into some of the other partners that I had not heard before. It was truly eye-opening and I believe that these conversations will definitely help me at work.

All in all the evening was fabulous. Not only was I reassured that my co-workers liked me, I was able to connect with my co-workers on a level that will help foster working relationships at work. I was also given the opportunity to meet a young aspiring attorney that wanted to talk to someone younger to gain some perspective. Having my boss come up to me and ask if I would talk to the young woman made me feel more good about myself and about helping this young woman.

So, what is the point of my story? Sure, attending work functions on the weekends may seem like a drag at first, but attending these can benefit your career in the following ways:

1. Attending can bring you closer to your co-workers and allow you to establish a relationship beyond work.

2. Attending can allow your boss and senior employees to see that you are dedicated to the company and your career.

3.  Attending can give you opportunities that you would have never had and allow you to meet people outside of your field.

4. Attending can give you more confidence about your career.

What sort of events does your career require you to attend outside of your ordinary work day?

Finding Inspiration And Motivation To Get The Job Done

26 Apr

Lately I have had a major case of writer’s block. I know it sounds silly. How can a person really get writers block when writing about career tips and the like, right? I thought the same thing. I kept thinking that if I waited another hour or another day something exciting would come to me, but it didn’t. Usually I am full of ideas to write about, research, and discuss, but lately I have just been lacking motivation and inspiration. I think it may be do to the fact that the past few weeks at work have been painstakingly slow. I literally find myself wishing that I was lost under a pile of never-ending projects and paper as opposed to sitting at my desk waiting for something to come along. This boredom at work has filtered over into my passion of writing, leaving me with no new ideas.

So today it finally hit me. I have writer’s block and I need some major inspiration. Then  I thought, why not write about that. Surely everyone in business needs a little creativity to get projects done, right? And surely everyone, not just writers, get stuck on a project that they just can’t seem to get rid of. What is one to do when they find themselves in this position? What should you do to find the motivation you need to get creative and get the job done?

Exercise

Exercise allows you to take whatever is on your mind and throw it out the window for that period of time. Breaking a sweat is a great way to clear your mind and start anew.

Change Your Scenery

I often write my blog posts in the same place – on my couch in our house. Sometimes it is hard to find inspiration while watching tv or listening to my dogs wrestle in the living room. If you find that you are lacking motivation or inspiration to finish or start a project, try changing your scenery. Go take your work and sit outside in the sun for thirty minutes, go to the local coffee shop and people watch, go to the beach – go anywhere that is different from where you usually are.

Listen to Music

A few minutes ago I was having a hard time deciding what to write about. In an effort to ease the tension  that had crept up into my neck, I turned on Pandora and listened  to music. I find that music always inspires me and puts me in a good mood. If you feel the same, try listening to music when you need that extra push to find your motivation.

Talk To People

Talking to people about the topic you write about will not doubt give you some material to write about or work with. If you feel stuck on a project or some research you are doing, pop your head  into a co-worker’s office and ask them what they think. If you are a writer ask your friends some questions about the topic you are writing about and see if that helps you find something to work with.

Change Up Your Routine

If you are stuck in the same routine every day things may get a little boring or seem repetitive. If you find yourself lacking motivation, try changing things up. I notice that when I do things a little differently than the last time it gives me a little more pep in my step. If you have been stuck at your desk for hours staring at a blank computer screen, take a walk around the block or do something out of the ordinary. Change things up and make your life more exciting.

Take a Break

Sometimes I find that if I work myself too hard I become exhausted. Exhaustion can then turn into being burned out and not having any motivation to do more work. My husband, who works very hard, tells me sometimes that he lacks motivation. I try to tell him that it is because he works himself too hard. While it is great to be a dedicated worker and the best employee you can be, it is also important to make sure that you don’t burn yourself out. At the end of the day we are human and we cannot be going all of the time. If you find yourself lacking motivation, maybe it is a sign that you need to just take a break.

Just writing this article has given me so many new ideas, which is fabulous. Rather than reading all of the websites and newspapers that I normally read, I just started typing and it helped me. What do you do when you find yourself lacking motivation or inspiration?

 

Happy Admin Day!

25 Apr

Just a reminder that today is Professional Administrative Day. Don’t forget to thank those people who help you do those impossible tasks every day and deal with your crankiness and annoying requests.

Thanks to my hubby, who sent me a text early this morning, I bought a card, a gift card, and a cupcake for my wonderful assistant, Terri. Remember to say Happy Admin (Secretary’s) Day to all of the Admins out there and remind them that you couldn’t do what you do without them.

What did you get your administrative assistant today?

 

Eating Clean At Work

20 Apr

My husband and I recently hired a personal trainer to whip out butts into shape. While we are by no means fat or unhealthy, we could both use some toning up. While our goals are slightly different (my husband wanting a more defined chest and me wanting lean muscles) we both have one common goal in mind: Eating Clean.

I first heard about this concept from my mom, who is crazy when it comes to exercising and eating right. I used to think she was crazy when she talked about eating clean and doing cleanses, but over the years I have come to realize that my weekly workouts are completely defeated when I eat horribly bad foods and drink to excess on the weekends. So my husband and I have committed to take on the eating clean lifestyle and everything that comes with it.

What is eating clean? Basically eating clean is eating whole, natural foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and complex carbs. This also means cutting out foods with refined sugar (diet coke), preservatives (all those frozen and canned meals), bad fats (hydrogenated, trans-fat), white bread, and any other ingredient that you cannot pronounce (which is in a LOT of the foods I used to eat). Eating clean also means packing healthy meals for work, eating healthy when you go out to restaurants, cutting out alcohol (or seriously limiting it), eating 5-6 small meals a day, and ALWAYS eating breakfast.

Now that I have incorporated the eating clean habits into my life, I have started to get worried about how I will handle all of the pressures to maintain these eating habits while at work. This past Tuesday we went out to lunch to celebrate one of my good friends and co-worker’s birthdays. She wanted to go to Mexican, which is probably my favorite type of food. While the others sat there eating chips, I used all of my will power not to eat any. I was very proud of myself. This was definitely my first very big accomplishment. Before I would tell myself that having a handful of chips wouldn’t hurt, but the truth is that it does.

One of my co-workers also eats clean, and I have found that talking to her definitely helps. We exchange ideas on what to eat and encourage each other.  She also warned me that people often try to make you cheat with your meals because they feel uncomfortable when they are eating bad and you are not. So, I have been thinking long and hard about how I am going to overcome those pressures to make sure that I stick to my lifestyle change (not my diet!).

Here are some tips for eating clean at work that I plan to use:

Don’t Succumb To Peer Pressure

If you have incorporated eating clean into your diet, it is important to always keep your goals in the back of your mind. When you are tempted to have some chips at Mexican, pasta at Italian, or any other bad meal remember what you are trying to accomplish. Think about it this way, if there are 365 days in a year, roughly 260 of those days are work days. If you allow your co-workers to peer pressure you into eating bad, you are spending 2/3 of those days in the year compromising your diet. Obviously this will drastically limit your progress.

Pack Your Lunch Ahead of Time

Prior to my decision to eat clean, I always forgot to pack my lunch the night before. Being that I like to sleep in to the very last-minute, this always resulted in me deciding to grab something downstairs from the salad bar. I was thinking that salad isn’t that bad. And while it isn’t, just because you are eating salad doesn’t mean you are eating healthy. Ranch. Dried fruits. Preservatives. Yuck.

This past week my husband and I pre-made all of our food on the weekend. This means that we grilled all of the chicken we were going to eat, I made the brown rice and veggies, and we packaged them up. This made it a lot easier to just pack everything up the night before to make sure that we ate healthy at work. Sure, eating chicken at lunch can get boring, but you can change-up the seasoning (no salt seasoning) and can put hot sauce or the like on it (low-sodium). I have found that I am content with my eating, especially since I am eating every 3 hours. To tell you the truth, I have never felt better!

If Your Travel, Make Sure Your Room Has a Microwave

A lot of people feel that it  is hard to eat healthy when they travel for work, but the truth is that you can eat exactly the same way if you pack your food (or shop when you get there) and cook it in the microwave. Sure, you may have to go out to dinner with a client or co-workers, but there are always healthy options on the menu. Rather than choosing a burger like everyone else, choose a piece of lean fish with a veggie. Ask the server how they season the food and ask them to change it if it sounds like too much salt. Here is some great advice for eating clean while you travel from the Oxygen Blog.

At the end of the day, when the going gets tough, remember that you get back exactly what you put in. Sure, you may have a desk-job, but that doesn’t mean you cannot eat clean. If you bring healthy snacks (no-salt almonds, protein shakes, fruit, veggies) then you should not be hungry while you work. If people tell you that you are crazy, ignore them and feel sorry that they have not discovered the eating clean lifestyle.

If you find yourself needing some extra motivation, here are some good blogs I have found. Look at these on your five minute breaks and feel better about the choice you have made:

http://www.heandsheeatclean.com/

http://www.cleaneatingmag.com/

http://www.thegraciouspantry.com/

http://www.cleaneatingonline.com/

How do you eat clean at work?

Asking For What You Want and Getting It

19 Apr

I was recently catching up on an episode of Mad Men. In the episode Roger asks Peggy to work through the weekend to finish a project for a client. In exchange for doing this, and doing it fast, he offers her $10. Rather than saying yes and agreeing to what her boss has asked, Peggy takes the opportunity to ask for what she wants – more money. $400 to be exact.

Here is what happened:

Peggy: Hold on a second. You want me to work up an entire corporate image campaign for 10 bucks?

Roger:  I can make you do it for nothing. I’m the boss.

Peggy:  You’re right. The work is $10. The lie is extra.

Roger: Incredible. What do you make a week, sweetheart?

Peggy: Oh, you don’t know. That’s helpful…

Roger; You know, I could fire you.

Peggy: Great. There are some portfolios in Joan’s office. You could find someone tonight.

Roger: Why are you doing this to me?

Peggy: Because you’re being very demanding for someone who has no other choice. Dazzle me.

Roger: Fine. How much do you want?

Peggy: How much you got?

Roger: $400.

Peggy: Give me all of it.

Roger: Jesus. (Hands $$ to her) This better be good.

Peggy: You want me to take your watch?

The entire time I was watching this exchange the only thing I could think is Go Peggy! Boy has she come a long way from not knowing how to interact with the boys and not asking for what she wanted and deserved. Sure, some may see Peggy’s actions as unprofessional, but I see them as a step in the right direction for her and women in general.

Too often women are afraid to ask for what they want and are less likely than men to use negotiation to further their own ambitions and goals. While I have often assumed that women in their 20’s and 30’s are able to ask for, and get, what they want through negotiation more than women in their 40’s and 50’s, this fact just simply isn’t true. While younger women feel that they act the same as their male counterparts, they don’t.

The result of women failing to negotiate is less pay. Apparently a woman’s failure to negotiate for just her first salary results in her sacrificing more than half a million dollars over the course of her career. YIKES! Not only is this staggering, but this number strikes home for me. At my first job interview my husband told me to be prepared to negotiate my salary. Rather than taking his advice, I listened to the best woman I know, my mom, who told me that they likely wouldn’t ask me what I wanted to make. So, I went into the interview not expecting them to ask me what I wanted to be paid. When that question came up I submissively sat there and allowed my future boss to set my salary at a number far lower than I would have suggested. I guess I sat there because I was just so grateful to have the opportunity in such a bad economy. Could this have cost me half a million dollars? Who knows, but the thought is scary.

In addition to the financial losses, women who don’t ask for what they want often advance more slowly in their career than equally qualified men. Why is this? Because men are the ones who are not afraid to ask for a big, prestigious assignment. Men are the ones to raise their hand when no one else will. Men are the ones that are more likely to put themselves out there. According to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, authors of Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, women expect that their hard work will be recognized and rewarded without having to ask. The truth is that this just isn’t how it works.

So what are women to do? Behave more like men? The answer is no. We all know that an overly aggressive women who asks for what she wants is often perceived as pushy and bitchy, while a man who does the same thing is seen as tough. While I don’t like it, society places a double standard on this behavior and doesn’t really allow women the opportunity to be the same as men when it comes to asking for what they want and moving ahead in their careers. Rather than being upfront and aggressive, Babcock and Laschever suggest asking for what you want in a more friendly and social way. Don’t play hardball, simply ask.

How do we know when it is ok to negotiate? Rather than thinking about what time is the most appropriate time, women should assume that most things in the work environment are negotiable. You want an office and not a cubicle, ask. You want a printer in your office so you don’t have to get up every time you print something, ask. You think you deserve a raise, tell them why you think this. The worst thing that could happen is whomever you are asking says no. It is also important to try to use your intuitive skills. Women generally have great intuitive skills and often know when something is wrong, so use this to your advantage when deciding when is the appropriate time.

But our economy is in a recession, is my boss really likely to give me a raise? Again, the worst thing he could say is no. Would you rather sit around wondering? I hope not. If you are uncomfortable asking flat-out for a raise then do some investigation to determine what other people in your situation are making. Talk to your friends and work and see what they have asked for and received. If someone with the same experience is making more than you, use that to your advantage when asking for a raise (of course be careful not to name-drop as that may get the other employee in trouble).

There are multiple things I want, should I ask for them at the same time? No. The idea is not to overload whomever it is you are talking to. Rather than putting it all out there, it is better to do incremental negotiating. One step at a time. Do not overload the person with your wants and desires.

Remember, asking for what you want is not bad. If you are worried that your wants are inappropriate, ask others what they think. It is always good to get a second opinion to determine whether your wants and needs are realistic. Finally, you cannot expect your boss to be a mind reader. Too often my husband and I get in an argument and at the end he says, “well why didn’t you tell me that’s what you wanted?” The truth is that men and women communicate differently, so you cannot expect a male boss to understand things from your perspective and to know exactly what you want. Stop expecting people to be mind-readers and get out there and ask for what you want!

Have you asked for something that you wanted at work? How were you perceived? How did you feel afterwards?

Sexual Harassment In The Workplace Still A Problem In Women’s Eyes

18 Apr

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, one in four women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. One in ten men also say they have been sexually harassed and a quarter of the men say they fear being falsely accused of sexual harassment. 64% of people surveyed said they believed sexual harassment to be a problem in the workplace, and 88% of those women harassed said the same.

For most, knowing what is and isn’t sexual harassment can often be a blurry line. How are we to know what makes one person uncomfortable and not another? The EEOC states that sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work performance, or create an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment. Ok, but how do we know what is or isn’t sexual harassment? Because sexual attraction may sometimes play a role in sexual comments or conduct in the workplace, it is often hard to distinguish between those sexual advances that are invited, uninvited-but-welcome, offensive-but-tolaterated and flatly rejected.

According to an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case, for a sexual harassment case to succeed it is important that the individual being sexually harassed did not incite or solicit the conduct, and that the individual saw the conduct as undesirable and offensive. When a court is considering such a case it looks to the totality of the circumstances. If both people have different stories, which is obviously likely to happen, the court will consider the woman’s to have more credibility if she complained or voiced her opinion about the inappropriate conduct. This is especially true if the parties used to have a consensual sexual relationship.

Ok, enough of the legal mumbo-jumbo. What types of things may be considered sexual harassment?

Touching Any Body Part Besides The Individual’s Hand

Of course whether this is considered sexual harassment depends on the situation and the relationship between the parties, but there is no doubt that your boss rubbing your shoulders when you are stressed out can make you uncomfortable. Other than a handshake, it is best never to initiate physical contact with another co-worker. If you are being touched in a manner that makes you feel uncomfortable it is important to voice your opinion on the situation. You don’t need to go into detail, simply saying “I think this is inappropriate” will suffice.

Making Any Comment About The Opposite Sex’s Appearance

Because sexual harassment is in the eye of the receiver of the comment, it is important to be careful what you say about the opposite sex’s appearance. At a previous job I had a boss that would always comment about my appearance. At first I thought he was trying to help me look more professional, but when he started saying things like “you have a really great body” or “I wonder what you look like all dressed up” things became awkward. Like most women, I felt as if I was in no position to say anything to a boss when it was my first “real” job, but regardless, his comments still made me uncomfortable. If you are the type to comment on the appearance of others because you think you are giving them a compliment, maybe it would be best to ask if such comments make them uncomfortable.

Calling An Employee Anything Besides Their Name

I hate when people call me “honey” or “sweetie” because to me it is degrading. I have never had anyone of the opposite sex call me either name, but if they did I am sure I would be uncomfortable and pissed. It is important to always refer to people by their names unless they tell you to call them by something else. if you are an executive and are calling your lower-level female employee “honey,” she may take that the wrong way.

Telling A Male Co-Worker To Think Above Their Belt Buckle

According to The Grindstone, such a comment could be taken the wrong way and lead to lawsuit.

Staring

At one of my previous jobs a young woman complained that one of the tech guys always stared at her. She told her boss that the staring made her feel really uncomfortable and she threatened to file a lawsuit with the EEOC if the staring didn’t stop. To her, the staring was unwanted and creepy. To others this may seem strange that this woman felt uncomfortable being stared at, and some may even find such a thing flattering, but remember, a sexual harassment suit is based on the individual’s perception. If you find yourself staring at someone by accident, make sure to apologize and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Checking A Co-Worker Out

I have had numerous women tell me that they feel extremely uncomfortable when men, especially male executives, stare at their breasts or glance at them when they are talking. Who knows, the male may not even be looking at her breasts, but to the woman he is and it makes her uncomfortable. I have had another woman tell me that a male co-worker looked her up and down and said, “you look good today,” which made her feel really uncomfortable. Maybe if she hadn’t caught him checking her out the comment would have been perceived differently, but that wasn’t the case. The point is that work is not the bar. Work is not the place to be checking out your co-workers and looking (or thinking) about them in inappropriate ways.

Making Sexually Explicit Comments or Jokes

There are some people out there that have a sort of twisted sense of humor and find sexual jokes funny. That is fine, but not in the workplace. These types of jokes and comments should be completely left out of the workplace, even if they are made to your friends or buddies.

Talking About Your Sex Life

I have a male friend that works with a woman who is constantly talking about her sex life, or the lack thereof. He always tells me how uncomfortable these types of conversations make him. I am sure he doesn’t know that he has a potential sexual harassment suit on his hands, but he does. Talking to anybody about your sex life can make the other person feel uncomfortable, even if they don’t seem uncomfortable. To you such conversations may be normal, but to others sex is a deeply personal matter. It is best to keep your personal life personal and vent to someone outside of work.

As I explained above, I have been the receiver of unwanted comments from a male at work. While it was happening I never thought “I am being sexually harassed,” but I should have. I should have told that individual that I didn’t appreciate his comments.

Have you experienced sexual harassment in the workplace? Did you say anything to the harasser or human resources? How was the dispute resolved?

Drafting An Unforgettable Opening Line For Your Cover Letter

16 Apr

Picture via www.internqueen.comYour cover letter is probably one of the most important things that you send to a recruiter. Along with your resume, your cover letter is your first line of contact with a recruiter. It is the one shot you have to show the reader why they should read your resume and why they should consider you for the interview. I have drafted many cover letters over the years and have learned one thing: boring cover letters get you nowhere. Yes, cover letters and resumes are already somewhat boring, but why make it more boring than necessary?

I used to write general cover letters that I would send out to every single employer. The only thing I would change was the name of the employer and my goals depending upon what the employer seemed to be looking for. As can be imagined, I sent many cover letters and resumes that went unanswered. It wasn’t until I got creative and changed my opening line that I started receiving calls for interviews. My opening line went from the boring “I am writing to express my interest in the open Associate position at your firm” to “One month ago I closed my first million-dollar acquisition after only practicing law for one year.” Now you tell me, which line is most likely to get the recruiter’s attention?

The goal of a cover  letter should always be to wow the reader from the start. If the person sees that you have the boring “I am interested in the position line” they won’t want to keep reading. Just think about how many resumes an employer gets in one day. When trying to come up with an interesting opening line I tried thinking about my biggest career accomplishment to date.  I wrote out a list (a short list mind you) and tried drafting crafty opening lines with each accomplishment.

Now, some of you may be thinking that your career accomplishments don’t sound that exciting or maybe you feel a little uncomfortable talking yourself up. I am a firm believer in the power of words, and I know that if you can get creative you can make any experience sound exciting. For example, rather than saying “Last year I worked on an advertising campaign for a national company” say “Last year I was part of a team that single-handedly created a record-breaking advertising campaign for a national company that ran in more than forty states.” The goal is to talk yourself up and make yourself sound interesting and desirable. Here are a few more examples of good opening lines:

As an Editor for ABC Magazine I have increased customer satisfaction by 70% and nearly tripled the readership within one year.

Last year I lead a multi-national campaign that lead to an increase in donations for the ABC Non-Profit Organization and helped solve the hunger problems facing the children of Africa.

Would you like to reduce costs, increase productivity and build a happy team?

If you are seeking to add a results-proven, solidly credentialed manager to your team, then my resume will be of interest to you.

The goal is to write an opening line that will make the reader pay closer attention to your resume and accomplishments. There is nothing wrong with using your accomplishments and writing them in such a way that catches someone’s attention. Now, of course what you write on your cover letter MUST be true, but with the right use of words you can make anything sound interesting.

What is your opening line and have you found it to be effective in landing an interview?