At Work

Reinvent Yourself – Take the First Step

We recently received a question from a reader inquiring whether or not she wasted her time working in a specific industry for too long. She wants to get into a new field of work but feels as though future employers look at her past employment history and typecast her in to one role. Many workers seeking new direction face this issue. So what’s a job seeker to do? This series will highlight general strategies for reinventing your career self.

Whether you’re new to the workforce, considering a career change, or just trying to stay ahead of the competition, reinventing yourself just might help you land or keep your dream job. Reinvention is simply the process of re-examining yourself, taking what you’ve learned over time, evaluating who you are as a person and committing to a positive course of action. Over the next few days I’ll offer several tips on reinventing yourself and starting a new career!

Go back to the beginning. Take a moment to re-evaluate yourself and reconnect with what gets you excited. Assess yourself. Look at the things that you loved to do as a child. If you have a hard time figuring out your passions, ask your friends or colleagues what they think you excel at, or what they believe your strengths are.

Unite the old with the new. Once you have figured out your passions, match them to the skills and experience that you have gained throughout the years, whether during school, at work or through a hobby. This process will help you determine what jobs and careers will best utilize your strengths. Matching your skills and experience with your passions will show you what career choices are most suitable for you. Even if you want to stay on your current career track, this exercise will help you re-energize and focus on what you like best about your job.

Research your findings. Look at what you’ve learned so far in the process to discover the career path that complements your strengths. Ask questions of other individuals within that field. For example, ask those in your desired field about what they would change about their jobs, the pros and cons and tasks they perform on a day-to-day basis. Their answers will help you get a better understanding of what might be expected of you if you picked that career path. If you’re trying to rejuvenate yourself in your current job, ask yourself or someone in your field or company the same questions. This will help pinpoint what it is that you truly love about your job.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss tips on how to repackage yourself from updating your résumé to putting yourself in the right position to move into a new career.

Don’t Complain, Communicate: Boost Your Career with 7 Tips

Yesterday, I covered why complaining is dangerous to your career. That said, it’s important to understand the fine line between communicating and complaining, because one can hurt your career while the other can enhance it.


One of the most critical skills for employees seeking to grow professionally is communication. Sometimes, it’s necessary to communicate about negative things. Perhaps you need to tell your boss about an abusive co-worker. Maybe as a manager, you need to deal with an employee who messed up an entire product line.


Excellent communicators know that even when they’re dealing with negative subjects, they can keep things positive through what they say and how they say it. You can communicate professionally and make sure you don’t cross the line into the complaining zone by following these tips.


1. Prepare first. When you don’t take time to prepare your thoughts, it’s easy for communication about negative things to become complaining. Think of yourself as a politician who has bad news to deliver to the media – you wouldn’t go into it without well thought out points. Take the time to sort out your ideas, cool off if necessary and prepare your comments before taking on a conversation about a not-so-happy subject.


2. Communicate formally. Most gripe sessions are spontaneous, unplanned, secret and informal. To keep yourself from falling into the complaint trap when it’s time to bring up something negative, do so formally with an in-person meeting.


3. Don’t make it personal. This one is tricky, especially when other people are involved. But you should avoid making things personal when dealing with a negative situation. Otherwise, you’ll become too emotional and won’t be able to handle the situation with a level head. To keep things professional on the job, discuss issues, not people.


4. Discuss the problem briefly. Make sure you outline the basic issue, but don’t give more than a few minutes to communicate it, or you will end up in the midst of a gripe session. If you’re talking to someone else involved in the situation, you will need to take responsibility for limiting this part of the discussion, or you may find yourself dragged down a long path of negativity.


5. Focus on solutions. To keep the conversation grounded and to avoid getting personal, focus on talking about solutions, outcomes and opportunities. Sometimes, worst case scenarios are opportunities in disguise. Talk about what positive changes can be made or what needs to be done to address the situation fully.


6. Follow through. Because it’s a self-serving, emotional process, complaining rarely results in action. It usually starts and ends with negativity. To make sure your hard work and effort in addressing a bad situation properly don’t end up getting lumped in with complaining, follow through on your proposed solutions with actions to change things for the better.


7. Be positive. People often say that complaining is contagious, but positive communication is as well. No matter what negative things are going on, put a smile on your face and focus on the positive aspects of your work, life, co-workers, family and employers. You will realize that thinking positively changes your perspective and helps you communicate rather than complain – and it rubs off on the people around you, too.


Have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself complaining when you were trying to communicate? How do you make sure you stay professional and avoid workplace negativity?

5 Reasons Complaining Can Hurt Your Career

Everyone can think of someone who never stops complaining. They have too much work to do, dislike their boss, have annoying co-workers, struggle financially, have family problems, etc. The thing is, they may have very valid complaints. Maybe their boss is a micromanager and they have a co-worker who refuses to act professionally. They may be bogged down with boring tasks or have too many things assigned to them.


Regardless, you’ve probably had moments where you’ve pegged this person as negative, self-absorbed and socially inept. Perhaps you’ve found yourself complaining about their constant state of negativity – after all, it brings down morale, ruins your productivity and is distracting.


But, if you’re honest with yourself, you probably have to admit that you complain at work too. It’s natural to want to talk to your co-workers about issues, frustrations and struggles – work related or otherwise. But complaining at work is a dangerous habit. Here are five reasons complaining is bad for your career. 


1. Complaining plants seeds of negativity. You may start by complaining every once in a while about your finances or your spouse. But complaining about one thing sparks complaining about other things. When you give in to the habit of complaining, it increases your stress level, pushing you into the downward spiral of negativity. Before you know it, you may be complaining about everything from your car to your boss. Your outlook on your job is bound to get worse the more you complain.


2. Complaining about your workload makes you look incompetent. Wasting time complaining about how much you have to do merely demonstrates to your boss that you’re not focused, skilled at time management or capable of doing your work. Smart employees know to approach their boss for help balancing their workload instead of complaining about it.


3. Complaining about your tasks makes you seem entitled. Complaining about not liking the work you are assigned makes you seen ungrateful and high maintenance. It also demonstrates to your boss that you don’t have the skills or confidence to propose new tasks or projects.


4. Complaining is a sign of a bad leader. Leaders don’t complain; they foster change. Complainers make bad leaders. They encourage other people to complain rather than taking action to improve things. This puts the entire team in a negative environment that kills productivity, cooperation, creativity and innovation.


5. Complaining stunts career advancement. Here’s the thing about complainers – they rely on complaining to cope rather than relying on their skills and abilities. Being dubbed the complainer can kill your career advancement opportunities because it becomes the attribute that sticks out most in your employers’ minds, no matter how good your work may be.


It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a difference between communicating and complaining. Communicating focuses on solutions and positive change, while complaining is usually self-serving and focuses on how you feel. Check back tomorrow for more on how to get past complaining and start communicating.


Do you have a co-worker who always complains? How often do you find yourself complaining at work? What do you complain about? Have you ever considered how complaining can affect your career?

Leaving on a Good Note

Ever start a job and know immediately that it wasn’t for you? If you read my post on Picking the Job That’s Right for You, you’ll remember the dilemma that my sister-in-law faced when trying to pick between several job offers. She ended up picking a job by following those tips. However, she didn’t plan on one of companies she interviewed with calling her back and offering her more money, better hours and increased benefits (which was the reason she turned it down in the first place). This was the job she originally wanted, and now it was a perfect match.

My sister-in-law decided to take the new job offer. Now, she had to figure out how she was going to tell her employers she wasn’t going to continue to work for them. She had only been there one day. Breaking the last tip on my post – don’t back out, she had to find a professional way of leaving without burning bridges.

Leaving a company, whether after one day or five years, is always difficult. Try following these tips to ensure that your transition out is a good one.

Let your boss know first. When you decide that it’s time to leave a company, talk to your supervisor before you talk to your co-workers. One thing that will surely upset your boss is to find out that you’re leaving the company from someone other than you. Try to schedule a meeting with your boss as soon as you make the decision. After you have informed your boss, then you can tell your colleagues.


Be honest. When talking to your boss, let them know why you are leaving the company. Whether it is for a professional or personal reason, being upfront and honest will give them the opportunity to remedy the situation if possible. It also allows them a chance to know what they might need to correct to retain future employees.

Be polite during your exit interview. If you are leaving the company due to a clash in the corporate culture or negativity among your co-workers, let them know the situation in hopes that they can correct the problem for future employees, but do it tactfully. Inform them of the situation with professionalism and maturity. Your boss is more likely to take your complaints and resignation positively if your demeanor and dialogue are well thought out and without malice.

Give a two-week notice. This is a typical time frame when leaving a job; however, if you work in a position that requires more time for your employer to find a replacement, then notify accordingly. Also, follow up with a short and simple resignation letter. Include your boss’s name, employment dates, departure date and your signature. If relevant, thank your boss for the opportunity, and try to say some positive things about him/her and the company.

Wrap up loose-ends. Try to finish up all your projects before your departure. If possible, type up detailed instructions for the next employee on how to do your job. Offer assistance in training the next employee if possible. By offering help and making the transition from one employee to the next a little easier for your former employer, you will demonstrate and generate respect rather than ill-will.

To keep yourself from having a bad experience on your way out of an old job and into a new one, keep these tips in mind. You never know, your past might collide with your future. And you wouldn’t want a bad exit to hurt your future career plans.

Have you ever had a bad experience when leaving a job? How did you handle your departure?

Life in a Sardine Can – How to Survive Cubicle Dwelling

trapped at workForty million Americans work in cubicles, according to an article in Fortune magazine. That’s a lot of people squeezed together in tiny workspaces across the nation. Working in close quarters creates unique stressors. That’s why practicing cubicle etiquette can make life in the box much more bearable.

Wear headphones to drown out noisy co-workers. Listening to music while you work can actually increase your focus by eliminating outside distractions. Headphones are a much better option than just bringing a personal stereo to your desk because even if you play your music quietly, chances are your cube mates will still be able to hear it and may feel annoyed at the added noise pollution.

Clean up your area every now and then. Since most cubicles don’t have doors, there’s nothing to keep co-workers from seeing your space. If you have three mugs of week old coffee, a half-eaten sandwich and piles of crumpled paper cluttering your desk, chances are, your cube mates resent your sloppiness. Not only are these messes distracting, when food’s involved, there’s the germ and odor factor to consider.

Wait to be invited into a conversation before offering your two cents. Because cubicles provide very little privacy, it’s common to overhear co-workers talking in other cubicles. But, just because you can hear them and there isn’t a closed door doesn’t mean they want you to join in their conversation. To be sensitive to your cube mates, don’t chime in just because you’re curious or even happen to have the exact answer they’re looking for. Let them come to you instead. This will help your fellow cube dwellers feel like they have more independence and privacy.

Don’t shout over cube walls. Even if your co-worker is only a few feet away, it’s best not to try to talk over cubicle walls. The reason is that everyone else sitting around you will also be forced to hear your conversation. Sending a quick e-mail, picking up the phone or getting up and walking to the co-worker’s desk will help to keep the noise level down.

Avoid habits that may grate on others’ nerves. Things like loudly clearing your throat and blowing your nose, spraying cologne or perfume in the cube, eating smelly food like onions or fish or talking on speakerphone are cubicle taboos. Any behavior that accosts your neighbors’ senses is best to avoid.

I’d like to hear your cubicle stories. What are your pet peeves? How do you make the most of working in a small space?

Pick the Job That’s Right for You

My sister-in-law recently received her bachelor’s degree in nursing and began searching for a job. She was a licensed practical nurse for 12 years prior to her graduation – so she had a lot of experience in her field, which helped her job search. She received several job offers and is having a terrible time trying to figure out which job to take. She has three small children, so picking the right job is crucial to her work/life balance.


This job dilemma is a good one to have; however, some people aren’t quite prepared to handle this situation when it arises.  Of course, in the grand scheme of things, you must take into account all factors when trying to find the right job choice for your career. When trying to determine the right job, keep these tips in mind:


Take time to compare: Don’t say yes immediately. Make sure to take some time to evaluate each job offer. Write down the pros and cons of each offer, and go over them with your family or someone you trust. If you have additional questions, write them down and call the potential employer back for answers. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. You want to make sure it is a good fit for everyone involved.


Focus on your priorities: Money isn’t everything, so make sure that you understand everything each potential employer has to offer. Check out their benefits and healthcare package. Do they offer corporate perks or bonuses? If you receive a great salary but the company doesn’t offer any benefits program, or career advancement opportunities, is the pay worth it?


Be honest: Let other prospective employers know that you were offered another job and you are trying to determine the best fit. You don’t have to divulge any information about the salary or who is offering the job if you don’t want to. Let them know that you need some time to evaluate the offer, and give them a time frame in which you will get back to them. Most employers will understand if you ask for a few days to think.


Don’t back out: Make sure that you are respectful to all prospective employers. After you decide which job you are going to take, don’t back out. Once you have accepted a job offer, the company lets all other applicants know that the position has been filled. If you back out, the employer has to start all over, and it doesn’t usually reflect well on you.


You may love the idea of having multiple job offers, but the anxiety of picking between them can be tremendous. By following these tips, you can help narrow the field down to the one offer you want to accept.

Have you ever juggled multiple job offers? What was the deciding factor – money, benefits, time off?

The Workplace Classroom: Creative Moments Allow Lifelong Learning

workplace classroomMost of the children in my area are starting back to school this week or next – which got me thinking about my own school days.

I remember lying awake the night before school started filled with excitement about wearing my new school clothes, meeting my teachers and finding out who I’d sit by in class or play with at recess.

The start of each school year was filled with eager anticipation for the new things I’d experience and discover.

When I graduated from college and entered the working world, I really missed the ever-changing class schedule that promised challenging ideas and unfamiliar faces. But, after my first year in the professional world, I got in the groove of my new lifestyle and missed my scholastic days less.
In my current job, I still have the opportunity to take new classes (projects), meet new students (vendors, clients, co-workers) and learn from interesting teachers (supervisors, colleagues, books). While my recess (lunch break) doesn’t involve swinging on the monkey bars or playing tetherball, it probably could if I wanted to head to a local park in my work clothes.

One of the things that made elementary school great was the opportunity to cut loose and experiment with new ideas – whether that was increasing our understanding of politics by sculpting world leaders out of Play-Doh or learning about teamwork by running a three-legged race.

Those moments stimulated our minds and helped us kids refresh from a sometimes draining day of reading, writing and arithmetic. I think those same moments are invaluable in the “workplace classroom.” Employees need to be able to try out new ideas and shake off the hum-drums when their enthusiasm wanes.

Infusing creativity and fun into the workday helps employees stay sharp and engaged.
Of course no classroom or workplace is all fun and games, but my favorite classes were always the ones where I learned without realizing I was learning. The same can be true at work. If we have enough moments that stimulate our minds and shake up the status quo, we don’t feel like we’re working, but rather exploring and making contributions to our world.

What were some of the best learning moments from your school days? How could some of those creative learning times be brought to your workplace?