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Friday
Jan092015

Taking stock on anniversaries

Many large corporations have institutionalized management techniques that are beneficial in theory, but detrimental in practice.  One example is the annual performance review.  It sounds like a great idea – at least once a year, managers and employees should sit down and talk about what they’ve done in the past year, discuss what worked and what didn’t, and make plans to improve things in the future.  If approached in the right spirit by everyone involved, it can be an extremely useful exercise. 

But in too many companies, the review process has turned into a burden for overworked managers and employees, who have to take time out from getting things done to compose elaborate “goals and objectives” documents that are already obsolete by the time they are approved; the process becomes one more distracting bureaucratic hurdle standing in the way of getting your job done.

Still, the idea if not the typical practice of an annual review is a good one, and whether you work for a company with a dysfunctional review process, or are self-employed or otherwise free of an imposed review, you should schedule time with yourself to consider what you have done in the past year, and what you want to do differently in the coming year.

Periodically review your accomplishments and opportunities, and decide what to change.

This self-review should look at what went right and what went wrong in the past year.  Sometimes you can do it all by yourself, but often you will need to solicit feedback from people you work with or who are affected by what you do – your co-workers, your manager, your clients, or your customers.  Based on what you learn, you can then decide what changes to make for the coming year.  Unless you discover you are completely on the wrong track, these changes don’t have to be numerous or large -- often small, incremental improvements are best.  And remember to schedule time in another year to look at things again, and see if you actually carried out the changes and what impact they had.

You don’t need to review everything you do at the same time; often it makes sense to consider different projects on their own.  For example, September marks the first anniversary of this newsletter, so now is a good time for me to look back at what I’ve accomplished with it, what problems I’ve encountered with it, and what changes I want to make in the future.

Overall, I’ve been quite pleased with how it has gone.  I’ve had favorable comments on the newsletter and simply getting twelve issues of the Positioning People for Success Newsletter out in a year meets the goal I set for myself when I started.  But timeliness has been the biggest problem; you may have noticed that issues have been slipping later and later in the month, and the August issue was so late in the month that some of you received copies that were accidentally labeled “September.”  So my resolution for the next year is to get the newsletter on a firm schedule, with issues going out on the 2nd Wednesday of every month.

However, I can’t really objectively review my own creation, and I have to turn to my readers for help.  Send me an e-mail to let me know what you think of the first year--what I’ve done wrong, what I’ve done right, and how I can improve it in the coming year to make it most useful to you.  Then next September we can both look back and see how I did.

Friday
Jan092015

Back to School

September marks the traditional start of the academic calendar after the long summer break.  The importance of this date depends on your relationship with school.  If you are a student, of course, it is a major event, as you catch up with old friends or make new ones, and begin a fresh year of studies with new classes and new teachers.  But once you’ve graduated, unless you become a teacher yourself, your life becomes largely uncoupled from the academic calendar, as one year fades into the next without the abrupt changes every September. 

Still, there are always reminders of the yearly academic cycle.  If you have children, their school schedule becomes a part of your life, and you may be heaving a sigh of relief as the start of school gets them out of the house.  Even if you don’t have children, there are flurries of advertisements for back-to-school sales to alert you to the season.  Some reminders take surprising forms.  Here in the Boston area, there are so many colleges and universities that most apartment leases run from September to September to fit the academic schedule, so that September 1st the streets are clogged with moving vans on the unofficial holiday known as “Moving Day.”

Despite these reminders, thoughts of school gradually fade.  But one time you should think of school is when you are looking for a new job or new clients.  Many colleges and universities have excellent career centers that provide services such as job listings, workshops, networking, resume assistance, and career counseling to current students and alumni, usually for free.  Even if it has been many years since you graduated, one step in your job hunt should be your school’s career center; thanks to the internet, it usually only takes a few minutes to find out what services they provide.

It’s never too late to use your school’s career services to help you find a job or a prospect. 

Obviously, career centers will be most useful if you still live in the same area as the school, since you will be able to drop by in person, and they are more likely to have good leads on local jobs.  But even if you now live across the country, they can still be useful. 

One of my clients did her undergraduate work at a major southern university before moving up north to get her MBA and work.  When I was helping her find a new job in business, I suggested that she contact her old university, which had a well-regarded business school.  Even though she had only attended as an undergraduate and never took classes at the business school, as an alumnae she was allowed to draw on the business school’s career services and use their exclusive job listings database.  The database had a national scope, and through it, she was able to make a contact in her own area that ultimately led to a job.

Friday
Jan092015

Negotiation: it’s not just about the money

It has finally happened.  After sending out countless resumes, enduring endless interviews, and waiting by the phone for weeks, you’ve at last had a job offer from your dream company.  Your first impulse is to immediately accept the offer – after all, it’s what you’ve been working so hard to get – but you need to pause for a moment and decide if you are completely happy with the offer, or if you want to try to negotiate something better.  Money – your salary, bonuses, stock options, and such – are usually what comes to mind in job negotiations, and sometimes it is indeed possible to negotiate for increases in these areas.  But just as important for your ultimate satisfaction with the job can be intangible, non-monetary forms of compensation.  And given your new company’s budget constraints, negotiations for increased non-monetary compensation are much more likely to be successful than holding out for an increased salary. 

Job negotiations are about more than just money.

Non-monetary compensation can include the number of vacation days you receive, how often you can work at home, whether you get a window office (or an office at all), who you report to, and your job description.  And sometimes you can find indirect ways to increase your compensation without increasing your salary, such as tuition or parking reimbursement – because they are accounted for differently with different tax implications, companies sometimes have more flexibility in these areas even when they are unwilling to increase direct compensation.

I had one client, a software designer, who suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which meant that he was more likely to feel low or depressed when deprived of direct sunlight for long periods.  Thus, when he moved to a new job, it was in both his and his new employer’s interests to make sure he had an office with a sunny window.  The company wasn’t able to provide him one when he was starting, but they promised that he would have one within six weeks, and in the meantime agreed to let him work two or three days a week from home.  The company was happy to do this since it didn’t cost them anything and ensured a productive employee, and my client was happier than he would have been with a higher salary but an inside office.

Friday
Jan092015

Looking beyond your job

It seems that everyone wants to offer you one stop shopping.  Your cable company wants to sell you cable television, internet access, and local phone service.  Your bank wants to give you a checking account, sell you a mortgage, be your stock broker, and handle your life insurance.  And your supermarket not only wants to sell you any kind of food you might want, it also wants to be your florist, your pharmacist, your bank, and your video rental store.

While these attempts at offering one stop shopping can offer convenience, they don’t always provide the best goods and services, or the best prices.  When you want the best bread, you may have to stop at a good local bakery in addition to the supermarket, and the cheapest stock transactions may come from a discount broker rather than your bank.  You can get a lot from one stop shopping, but you can’t get everything.

Because we spend so much of our lives in our jobs, it is important to find a job that satisfies our own individual needs –  (Newsletter #7 A winning “Success Formula”).  But just as it is rare to find a store that truly offers one stop shopping, it is not always possible to find a job that satisfies all of our needs.  In such cases, it is useful to remember that while a job is an important part of our lives, it isn’t our entire life.

You don’t need to get everything from your job.

If you’ve decided what is most important to you, and can’t find a job that provides it all, consider what things you can get outside your job.  If you love traveling and meeting new people, you may find a job that allows you to travel, but if you can’t, perhaps you can find a job with sufficient vacation days to allow you to travel on you own.  If you have a strong social consciousness and giving back to the community is important to you, you may find a job with a social service element, or you may find that you are otherwise more suited to a different kind of job, and show your commitment through donations and volunteer work.

I had one potential client who contacted me because she was dissatisfied with her life.  Although she enjoyed her work as the leader of a new product development team at a technology company, she felt there was something lacking, and wanted my help in discovering a more satisfying career.  She was in her early forties, and was afraid that if she didn’t make a move now, she would be stuck with a vague dissatisfaction for the rest of her life.  But when I talked to her during the initial free consultation, I discovered that despite her professed dissatisfaction she actually loved her current job, since it met most of her needs – the opportunity to work on a variety of intellectually challenging tasks with smart people.  The only problem was that the job provided no outlet for her strong artistic instincts. 

Rather than working with me to attempt to find a new job that would use her skills, allow her to continue to work on a variety of intellectually challenging tasks with smart people, and would also have an artistic component, I suggested that she look for an artistic outlet outside of work.  She had always enjoyed paper crafts, and she decided to commit herself to taking at least one class in paper crafts a month, and devote more time to this hobby while continuing at her job.  She never did become a client, but I still count her as one of my successes, since she told me several months later that she was now happy in her life and her job.  She had it all, even if she couldn’t get it all at one stop.

Friday
Jan092015

What are you worth?

Most of us wish we were paid more than we are.  I had one client who wanted a raise.  She worked for a small company as an environmental analyst, and had the nagging feeling that she wasn’t being paid what she was worth.  I suggested that before approaching her boss and asking for a raise, she should do some research, and discover the going rate for someone with her skills and job description.  She searched online, talked with trusted colleagues, and consulted her alma mater.  Sure enough, she was being paid about ten thousand dollars under the market salary.  This information allowed her to make a persuasive case for a raise, and her boss agreed to bring her up to the industry standard – her company wasn’t trying to shortchange her, they were simply unaware of what she was worth since environmentalism wasn’t their primary focus. 

Find out what your skills and experience are worth

There are a large number of sources for such salary information; the best ones to use depend upon your field.  Many professional organizations issue reports on salaries in their field; their web sites are a good place to start.  Browsing job listings is another approach.  The U.S. Department of Labor has a guide to occupations, including salaries, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/.  Some of the other sites used to assess salary expectations include www.salary.com/salary/layoutscripts/sall_display.asp,  www.wetfeet.com/research/compensation.asp, http://www.rileyguide.com/salguides.html, http://jobstar.org/tools/salary/index.php, and http://www.salaryexpert.com. And as with most information, a reference librarian at a public or academic library should be able to help you.

If you are self-employed, comparing salaries won’t do you much good.  But the same principle applies – you should know what is typical compensation for the services you provide you clients.

If you find that you are underpaid, then you are in a strong position to negotiate a raise (or possibly to look for a new job), or to increase what you charge.  If your compensation is about right, then at least you know where you stand, and if you still desire more income, you will need to find a way to increase your value.  And if you find that you are overpaid, you can keep quiet and count your blessings.

Of course, there are a number of factors that can influence your expected salary, including location, education, skills, experience, and job description.  This complexity can complicate the process of finding what you should be paid, but it can also be an opportunity, since you may find that getting a degree or applying your skills to a different area can increase your earning potential.