Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Help for Ranty

This is part two of my attempt to help Ranty, who is discouraged by his slow rise out of the file room. You can find part one here.

FINE-TUNE, then PERSIST: You report you talked to your boss, and it didn’t work. You tried presenting a completed, fabulous project, and it was rejected. While I don’t advocate doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (“The definition of insanity is….”), I do suggest trying similar actions with a number of different twists before giving up. Observe your boss carefully, as suggested above, and ask trusted co-workers what works and what doesn’t, in their experience.

For example, you might want to try a more direct or indirect approach, a different time of the day or workweek, a different medium, employing more research in your pitch, or going more casual or formal based on their style. Most important, try asking your boss different questions. (What is the next step? What do I need to learn? What is holding me back? What do I need to focus on right now? Who would be a good contact for me? How can I help you? What would show you that I am ready for more responsibility? Can you tell me why you didn’t approve my idea? How can I be involved in the Miller project?)

LEARN: As far as the fated project is concerned, the one you researched and completed, only to be rejected by your boss, use it as a learning tool. Welcome to the world of work, where a lot of great ideas are met with lukewarm receptions. You can’t give up the first time, so you need to learn and move on to try again.

Ask yourself why your presentation wasn’t successful. Was your idea tied to strategic objectives? Was it something your boss would naturally warm to, or was it something that might seem to come out of left field? Was it presented effectively, in a way he/she could appreciate? Would you be more successful working with a partner or team than solo?

CONNECT: You don’t mention colleagues. Workplaces are social organizations and if you’re not already doing this, develop connections for your personal sanity and professional enrichment. Invest energy building relationships with co-workers and other departments, people who can help you understand and navigate the politics, partner with you with on projects, and maybe even champion your causes.

Ask yourself: Who can help me? Who can I ally with? Who has credibility? Who can serve as a mentor or sponsor? Who can introduce me to people I should know? Who can advise me both on this specific dilemma and my general career growth? How can I increase leadership and visibility outside my department? How can I position myself to take on projects and roles, serve on committees or work groups? Are there lateral opportunities I should consider? (And don’t forget: how can I give back to the people who have helped me with my development?)

LOOK OUTSIDE: Connect outside the company as well. Look for associations or groups to join. Connect with professionals online (Twitter, LinkedIn, industry blogs, etc.). Build your connections and accomplishments (and resume) while you decide the direction of your career. The good news is that your job is low-demand so you have plenty of energy for this! Use Ben Eubanks as a role model. You can imagine that if and when Ben decides to leave his job, he will have a range of enticing options available, and none will involve filing. You and I can’t be Ben, but we can learn a lot from what he does.

A little story to end: Today a seasoned co-worker and I brainstormed on how to bring others on board with a new technology. She said, “But I tried asking people!” I asked how she had asked, and based on her answer, suggested she take a different tact. Instead of making general requests in group settings, she could instead focus on building support one person at a time, starting with key players. She agreed, and added (quite brilliantly) that she would approach each person based on the win for them. She started teasing out what the win would be for each person.

The point? She and I have been working in a great workplace for a number of years, and still we are answering the same core questions as you: How can I get my ideas across? How can I be heard? How can I do more of what I love and less of the drudgery? Maybe this is part of the “learning” that you still need to do, and it has nothing to do with files and piles of paper.

SUMMARY: I am sorry you’re having a hard time, Ranty, and I hope you don’t think I’ve been unsympathetic. I asked a lot of questions and suggested you ask even more; if you get through most of them and still feel the advancement prognosis is poor, consider moving on. But don’t give up too quickly or too soon because you may encounter similar challenges regardless of where you work. And while you're there, learn all you can from the situation.

Good luck! Tell me how it goes and what you decide to do!

Image by lost thoughts, flickr

Help for Ranty: Getting out of a Dead End Job

HR friend and HRevolution rockstar Ben Eubanks of Upstart HR (@beneubanks on Twitter) asked for help for his reader, Ranty, who is frustrated in his first job after college, struggling to be seen as more than a filer and paper organizer. I have a number of thoughts for Ranty.

Dear Ranty,

I'm sorry that you're frustrated. Your situation is probably not quite as simple as “do I stay or do I go?” You could leave your job and move on, but you regardless of where you work, you need to be able to build credibility, sell your ideas, gain support, and try, try again in new and slightly different ways in order to be successful. And I know that you feel that you have tried, but your letter doesn't lead me to think you have exhausted all your possibilities yet.

CAUTION: I caution you not to get lost in a negative tailspin. You're frustrated and disheartened, and if that comes out in your work (which it is likely to do if you’re thinking things like “I don’t concentrate, and I can’t make myself care,”) you're in a danger zone. If you continue in this vein, you may find your boss saying sayonara before you do. Look for ways to re-energize and re-engage yourself, regardless of whether you ultimately stay or go. One suggestion is to watch what you are thinking, saying, and asking; and if your thoughts and questions are not constructive and strategic, tweak them so that they serve you best. (I am a big fan of asking questions, as you’ll see.)

CONTROL: If nothing else I say makes sense, please listen to this: I urge you to take control of your own career growth. Don’t wait for or rely on your boss. Chances are throughout your life, no matter how much your supervisor encourages your growth and provides opportunities and counsel, you will need to supplement this with your own development plan. This will be true regardless of your workplace.

Next time: Connect, Fine-Tune and Persist
Photo by juan23for

Friday, December 11, 2009

HR vs. Motherhood

My comment on Punk Rock HR’s recent blog post, “HR is not Your Mommy,” quickly got too long winded. Absolutely, as my June, 2009 post would attest, I agree HR professionals are not your hall monitor, party planner, or shrink. Or your mom, for that matter.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas of possible overlap between the worlds of “mom” and HR. Here are several.

Harder than you might think

In my carefree, childless days, I went to dinner with a friend’s family and raised my eyebrows at her preschool boys who spent most of the time scaling chairs, knocking over glasses and climbing under the table. “When I have kids,” I remember thinking, “they’ll never do that. They’ll be well-behaved.”

Oh yeah? Well, you know what? If it was easy to raise perfect kids, everyone would have perfect kids.

Being a mom is not all bedtime stories, time outs, and kissing skinned knees. Several years ago, it was learning disabilities, gangsta attitude, disgruntled calls that my son was performing parkour on the school roof. Now its preparing a new driver to hit the road rage ridden streets of DC and traversing fun subjects like local gang activity, safe sex, drugs, and college.

Similarly, people may assume HR is all bedtime stories (planning the holiday party), time-outs (policing employee behavior) and kissing skinned knees (playing nice-nice). Well, any of us that are in HR know it’s not that simple or that easy. Though we may have input in some of those areas, our true work lies in contributing to the life and continued success of the business.

Adaptability, Change

An infant is a different creature than a toddler, who is unlike a preschooler, an eight-year old, pre-teen, early teen, high schooler, or young adult. When your kids hit the turbulent adolescent years, your awesome baby-rocking skills are irrelevant. The world has moved on and a completely different--and hard-earned—skillset is imperative. Add to that that kids have different personalities and needs; what worked for Michael probably won’t work for Sara, and that parenting theories continually evolve. Thus parents are constantly learning and adapting to the coming and current environment.

Kind of reminds me of HR.

The skills and abilities needed at the HR Assistant level are not the same required as an HR Generalist, which again are very different from Chief HR
A lot of what worked in human resources in 1995 changed by 2005. The HR world has experienced even more change in the four years since, and will probably see as much or more change in the coming two.

More parallels

Then there’s management skill. Or leadership ability. Many moms have plenty of one or both.

Or step-parenting. Blending two families was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, personally or otherwise, and I could talk about it in lots of business and HR terms: mergers, acquisitions, onboarding, offboarding, ROI, strategic planning, vision and mission statements, etc.

The parallels go on, but the point is that both HR and Mommy-hood are harder than they may look from the outside. To do them well, or even competently, requires acquiring ever-shifting and evolving knowledge, attitudes and skills.

image by House of Sims

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Power of the Word

Be careful of your thoughts; they may become words at any moment. --Ira Gassen

“There’s nothing worse than weak coffee,” I observed gloomily, watching the stream of tea-colored liquid splashing to fill my mug in the office kitchen.

And then I caught myself. There’s nothing worse than weak coffee: Really?


How about war, drought and starvation, murder, rape, or the exploitation of children?

Okay, I think I can think of a few things worse than weak coffee. And then I wonder: why do we do this? Why the drama, why the exaggeration?

For the rest of the day, I am more careful with my language.

What about you, my reader: What are the areas of exaggeration or drama that you fall back on? What lessons do you have to share?

Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs. --Pearl Strachan
image courtesy of Marfis75

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Preaching to the Choir: Resume Help

Awhile ago, it occurred to me that I have been preaching to the choir. Still, sometimes I can’t help myself, and I find myself compulsively delivering the message to the wrong audience yet again. What am I talking about?

I am an HR professional who reviews a thousand or more resumes every year. We are a nonprofit social services agency, and more often than not, resumes could use significant help. I am not talking about a few creatively spelled words; I am talking about probable deal-breakers like these examples from this week’s in-box:

1. All contact numbers out of service or message cue full.
2. Employment history reading “2005-present” even though the last job ended in 11/08.
4. No phone number at all.
5. Omission of the only job relevant to my advertisement.
6. Complete lack of spaces between words and punctuation,like this,and/or this,which is a bit disconcerting to say the least.

Since discovering Twitter, I have often posted resume tips under the hashtag #jobsearch. Eventually it occurred to me that my efforts were misplaced; if someone is sophisticated enough to use social media at the Twitter level, they are more than capable of doing a quick Google search for resume help.

Despite this realization, I still occasionally succumb to temptation and I tweet my #jobsearch tips, even though I know I am preaching to the choir. Frankly, I don’t know how to reach the people who most need the help but I can’t stand to sit on my hands, doing nothing. Call me an HR geek, but a resume at its sublime best is a beautiful art form, a portfolio gracefully showcasing the culmination of one’s talents, accomplishments and contributions. It galls me to receive these mangled pages, like the one from the woman who spelled her name Tamara on page one and Tamera elsewhere in the document, or the six-page resumes that are a hodge-podge of cut-and-paste from years of mismatched job descriptions.

Today I am reaching out to you, my reader, in hopes that you have ideas for me. I feel driven to assist job seekers most in need of basic assistance with resume creation, and I don’t know how to reach them. What can I do? Do I contact the high schools, the County Workforce Development office, organizations that help immigrants, and/or something else?

Give me your ideas. Thanks.

image by Strabanephotos

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eat This, Not That! (Write This, Not That!)

Are you familiar with the hit book series Eat This, Not That!, guides helping tweak your food selections one choice at a time? Following the authors’ advice, you get more bang for your buck--or calorie--as you hone in on the leanest choice in the food category, whether ice cream, buffalo wings, or fast food burgers.

Eat This, Not That! sprung to mind when I clicked through Chris Ferdinandi’s social media resume.

“Write This, Not That!” I thought wistfully, mentally reviewing the stacks of resumes that flood my in-box weekly. 49% are competent but quite traditional. 49% could use a good deal of assistance and coaching (most of my applicants are low wage sector service workers, many coming from cultures that probably employ very different application procedures than we’re used to in the US).

Two percent of the resumes make me pause and sometimes even say “Wow, I like that!” But none has ever knocked my HR socks off the way that clicking on Chris Ferdinand’s resume would--if I was so lucky as to have it grace my in-box.

I’m not suggesting that you clone Chris’ resume. But I do encourage you to take a little bit of a chance. Be bold. Be creative. Or be a little bolder and a little more creative. Look at each component of the resume with a “Write This, Not That!” approach. Where can you employ technology, and add pizzazz, color and personal interest?

“I can’t take that chance!” I can hear job seekers protesting in a panic. “I’ve been told to follow all the resume rules. They’ll throw my resume out!”

I can sympathize and all I can do is agree. It is true: they might throw your resume out.But if so, is that really the kind of place you want to work? A progressive, cutting edge, forward-thinking company will be curious and intrigued, even excited, to receive your creative endeavor. An old school organization might react very differently, perhaps even feel threatened by your boldness. “This person does not follow the rules,” they might sniff dismissively. “Dangerous.”

But again: do you really want to work there? If the answer is yes, write a traditional resume. If not, throw out your old CV and start over. Take a walk on the resume wild side and Write This, Not That!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More than Just Money: Helping Charities

In the current economy, charities encounter a double-bind: increased need coupled with lower donations. You may want to support a favorite cause but have fewer financial resources. Good news: contributions of time and professional expertise are also valued. My top suggestions:

Program Services: Staff the hot line, counsel youth, build houses.

Administration: Wearing multiple hats, nonprofit staff are stretched thin but many donors shy away from financial support of overhead and administration. It still needs to get done, of course. Do you know how to get a mailing out? Manage an event? Archive, organize or file? Answer the phone? Edit a newsletter? Solicit donations? Come on in!

Technology: Regrettably nonprofit hardware, software, social media strategies, and technology budgets may lag years behind the corporate world. This slows organizational and mission effectiveness. If you are technologically adept, nonprofits will gratefully welcome your help with every aspect of managing and furthering technology.

Training and development: A charity's professional development budgets may be a fraction of that in the for-profit sector. If you love to teach, share your expertise in team-building, wellness, leadership, reading financial statements, employment law, emerging technologies, etc. HR professionals, help a charity update their employee handbook or improve their performance management system.

Supporting charities doesn’t solely mean writing checks or ladling lunch at a soup kitchen--as appreciated as both of those actions are. Your professional skills go a long way toward supporting the necessary infrastructure to do good in the world. And if you are between jobs, why not lend a hand to a good cause while also preparing for that later interview question, "So, how have you been spending your time?"

To find volunteer opportunities, try Idealist or Volunteer Match. Good luck and have fun!

photo by moonjazz