Living at Your Desk

Cubicle_August2011_webFor most of us, we spend more waking hours at work than anywhere else. During the recession, positions may have been consolidated, and now with workloads peaking in some industries, the workweek is getting longer. So what do you need in your desk to survive at the office?

The Grooming Kit
You don’t want your 2 p.m. client meeting to know you had onions in your salad at lunch, so keeping items like breath mints, a toothbrush and toothpaste, dental floss, or mouthwash in your desk drawer isn’t a bad idea.  A small comb and hairspray may be handy for days when it’s windy or rainy and you have to lead a meeting. Your appearance creates a first impression, and you wouldn’t want that tainted by a bad hair day. For emergencies, keep pain relievers, antacids, and other medications on hand. You should also consider keeping deodorant or perfume on hand, just in case.

The Stationery Drawer
We’ve all heard that networking is key to professional development and a well-stocked stationery drawer can help with that. To foster deeper relationships, have blank or personalized notecards you can use for congratulatory or thank-you notes. When a peer is promoted or a co-worker chips in on a project, being able to write a quick personal note is a great way to show you care. And with the rarity of handwritten notes, you’ll really stand out. You may also want to stock up on inexpensive birthday, retirement, get well and sympathy cards so you can respond promptly to those occasions.

In line with stationery, make sure you have business cards and a portfolio with a notepad ready for last minute meetings. It will help keep you organized and looking professional in meetings. Have a system for storing business cards you receive into your electronic address book to make it easier to retrieve for correspondence.

The Kitchen Cabinet
While you don’t want a desk drawer full of rotting fruit, keeping a couple granola bars, packages of mixed nuts or crackers, or instant oatmeal on hand isn’t a bad idea to help you keep up your energy for a productive day. Having healthy snacks can offer you the right choice for crashing blood sugar or a growling stomach on a busy day. And if you want to win over your co-workers, you might consider stashing an emergency chocolate supply to celebrate hitting a deadline.

While you need to keep your desk and cubicle space clutter free, having some life essentials on hand can make “living” at the office a bit easier.

6 Tips To Foster Creativity

Creativity. I wish it were something that could be easily turned on. At the flip of a switch, life and work could become so much easier. But in the real world, working at fast pace day in and day out can be a challenge. Even for the most creative employees, the flow of ideas dries up sometimes.

How can you stay creative when your mind just doesn’t want to cooperate? Here are a few ideas that might help you shrug off the monotony of the daily grind and open your mind for innovation.

Identify Your Work Patterns
You know yourself better than anyone. When you’re faced with a challenge that needs a creative solution, take a look at your work. Is your mind fresh and ready to go as soon as you step foot in the office or do you need to go through your emails first? Make sure you slot time when your mind is at its best and your energy level is high to tackle a tough project.

Morning Routine
A bad routine can stop your productivity before the workday even starts. While creativity needs freedom and room to breath, having a morning routine can help harness and reel in those creative juices and put them to work. If you need a cup of coffee and to peruse through emails to jumpstart your brain, just be sure to allocate your time wisely. There’s work to be done and procrastination can add stress and hinder your creativity.

Don’t Be Distracted
Allowing yourself to lose focus can slam the brakes on your creativity. Instant gratification is the way we do business, and with the power of the Internet at our fingertips, distractions can be a mouse click away. Social networking, viral videos, news, and games can quickly take your attention away from work. If you’re easily tempted to check what’s going on in the Twitter world, try disabling your Internet to be more effective with your time managemet.

Get Feedback From Others
Listen to criticism about your work with an open mind. Critics with valid points can take your idea and help mold it into creative genius. Plus, as you learn to grow from criticism, you won’t be afraid to put your ideas out there and start proposing new solutions.

Allow Yourself to Be Inspired
Look for inspiration all around. Creativity can cease when you’ve been focused on the same thing for too long making it hard to think outside the box. You might find movies or listening to music a good way to get your creative juices flowing. Not all of us can pop in a movie when trying to approach a new project, but when you are out and find inspiration, jot down your ideas or leave yourself a voicemail at work to check into something further.

Take a Break
Sometimes all the tips and tricks cannot prevent the momentary loss of your creativity. There are times when the only cure is taking a breather in the form of a day off from work, taking a vacation, or using a weekend to rejuvenate, can help your mind recover. Rather than calling in sick, call in well. It’s best to plan this type of time off a bit in advance to prevent the stress of an unexpected absence. Taking a step back and allowing your mind to relax can help revitalize your creativity.

Being continuously creative and working at a high-level during the daily grind can be difficult. But by implementing a few tips, you can keep productive and generate creative ideas.

Working From Home – The Case on Telecommuting

Telecommute_July2011_web At the beginning of July we asked our readers about telecommuting, and 95% of respondents said they would change jobs to have the ability to telecommute. Why is the desire to work from home so strong?

Benefits of reporting for work at home
When Express Employment Professionals asked what the biggest reason to telecommute was, 66% responded, “to eliminate commute time and costs.” Time spent in a car can seem like time wasted. And with gas prices in the U.S. averaging over $3.50 per gallon since March of 2011, spending your paycheck to get to work can be really frustrating.

Only 10% of respondents cited “fewer interruptions” as their reason for wanting to work from home. This response is lower than other studies that have shown the productivity benefits of employees who telecommute. A study out of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Northwestern University showed that telecommuters had higher job satisfaction than office-based workers, citing that they were able to focus on work because they weren’t caught up in long meetings, co-worker interruptions, and office politics.

Express also asked employers about telecommuting and 56% of respondents who allow employees to work outside of the office saw “increased employee morale” as the biggest benefit. This may coordinate with the work/life balance that telecommuting can bring. A Brigham Young University study showed that employees who worked from home didn’t experience the strain of work/life balance office workers feel. This is coupled with the added benefit to employers that workers who were telecommuting could clock an extra nine hours a week without feeling a reduction in work/life balance.

Striking a deal
If you want to ask your employer if telecommuting is an option, here are some tips to bring up the topic.

  1. Ask about the company policy on working from home. Just because you haven’t been allowed to work offsite, doesn’t mean its not allowed. In your next regular meeting with your manager, ask about the company’s view on telecommuting. It may be acceptable in some positions and unacceptable in others, so seek to understand why and learn more.
  2. Explain the benefits to your employer. Your manager may not care about your commuting during skyrocketing gas prices, but he may want to know how you can meet your deadline for next week’s audit. If you need a break from workplace distractions to get more work done and meet a deadline, you may be able to negotiate time out of the office. Another scenario may be having to meet a home repairman. Instead of asking to use vacation time, offer to work from home on a specific project while you wait for your air conditioner to be fixed. It’s a win-win, your work gets done, and you’ll stay cool.
  3. Don’t let them down. Of course productivity is important, whether you’re working in or out of the office, but it’s critical you get your work done when being allowed to telecommute. With 45% of leaders saying “decreased productivity” is their biggest concern in allowing employees to work from home, you don’t want to prove them right. When you’re scheduled to work outside of the office, let your manager know what projects you’ll be working on and then follow up with them on your progress. Respond promptly to phone and email messages, reinforcing that you’re focused on work. Some offices may want you to be on the clock during your traditional hours, while others may allow you to flex your work hours when telecommuting. Either way, you’ll need an agreed upon time that you’ll be working. If you have children, make sure you arrange for childcare so you can get your work done without distractions. Don’t forget to take all the supplies you need home with you, and remember to bring all of your work back with you to the office.

Telecommuting needs to be an option that benefits both the employer and employee. While there are pros and cons to working outside of the office, the most important thing is that the work gets done, and gets done well.  

Time to Replace Your Objective Statement

ObjectiveStatement_July2011_web With increasing regularity, job seekers draft a résumé with an opening “objective statement” section without realizing this can be a turn-off to employers.  Objective statements, by definition, are a declaration of what you want out of your next position.  Think, “A stable position with room for advancement”.  However, employers rarely hire an applicant based on what the applicant wants, but rather based on what the applicant offers

Objective versus Qualifications
In today’s demanding job market, the most effective job seekers are utilizing a “summary of qualifications” as the opening section to their résumé in lieu of a traditional objective statement.  This summary of qualifications states what you are offering to a potential employer in terms of expertise and experience, causing the potential employer’s first impression of the applicant to be a synopsis of the positive impact you’ll make, rather than what you are demanding from your next employer.  At the end of the day, employers only invite a handful of applicants in for an interview and it makes sense that those job seekers who demonstrate what they offer, instead of highlighting what they demand in their next position, will be those lucky few chosen for the interview.

Change It Up
When you start your résumé with an objective statement it may say, “Seeking an administrative position that works closely with customers and keeps the office organized and efficient,” instead of telling them what you want try kicking off your résumé with an objective statement like this, “Organized administrative professional who types 55 words per minute, has supported a staff of eight in a fast-paced environment and effectively managed an office expense budget of $50,000 annually.”  By shifting the initial focus of your résumé to what you bring to the table instead of what you are looking for in a job, you’ll help the potential employer picture you contributing to the team.

Common Mistakes Young Professionals Make and How to Avoid Them

CommonMistakes_July2011_web Barely a month ago, graduations took place across the country. Résumé and cover letters were sent out, jobs were landed, and now young professionals are entering the workplace for the first time. If you’re a new employee or know someone who is, it’s important to remember your first impression and work ethic can make or break your climb up the corporate ladder.

With the current economy, distinguishing yourself from the masses can be that added edge you need to find success. While it is important to standout, you don’t want it to be for the wrong reasons, like making some career rookie mistakes like these.

The Know It All
Yes. You may have spent the past four years in college preparing for your exact job. Maybe you’ve even had a few internships as well. That doesn’t necessarily mean you know everything there is to know about your field. Experience has to be earned, it’s not taught at school. So be open to learning through new projects and taking advice.

To avoid this hazard, you must know one thing – you don’t know it all. You may have some great ideas and out of the box thinking, so don’t be afraid to share them. But don’t approach every problem as if you have the only solution. Finding the appropriate approach is key.

The Rulebreaker
Young professionals have the unfortunate label of rule breakers. Whether or not the title is deserved, do not give credence to it. Follow the rules to a T and you can reinforce your credibility and show you have respect for the regulations. Do not waltz in 15 minutes late everyday, be punctual or better yet early instead. Stick to your company dress code and dress for the job you want. Bending small rules just isn’t worth it in the long run and there are better ways you can ensure your success.

The “InstaLeader”
While you now have the opportunity to contribute to your team, avoid trying to become head honcho on day one. When entering a new workplace, you want to come in and hit the ground running with your best effort. Don’t come in and try to take over. Instead, be supportive on team projects. Keep in mind that you are no longer striving for A’s on report cards, but actual professional success. Sometimes bringing your “A” game means earning respect, following instructions, deferring to others, and effectively work within a team.

The Twitter Screw-up
The popularity of social networking is skyrocketing. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the new Google+ offer plenty of options to stay connected. While it can be a fun and easy way to stay connected, it’s hard to know exactly who is reading. To limit access to your profiles, you may consider not befriending or connecting with certain people on some sites, and select strict privacy setting to maintain control of your online reputation. You may want to err on the side of caution with your personal online content to prevent it from creating a negative impact on your professional life.

For social sites designed for professional networking, such as LinkedIn, always check for typos as you would with your résumé and make sure your content is an honest and accurate representation of your work history. Glaring mistakes or inconsistencies can hurt your credibility.

The New Guy
Mistakes are bound to happen as you enter your career and can even be part of a good learning process at times. The good news is that very few of them are career-enders. Your professional development depends on how you learn from them and move past them. Just remember to maintain a positive outlook when these bumps come along. And accept responsibility for your mistakes, admitting you are new and still learning.

It may seem like there is a lot to keep in mind when planning a successful career, but to avoid burning bridges and ensure a successful future, it is work well worth it.

Beat The Heat: Dressing Professionally Cool

Summercasual_webJust in case you might have missed the past few months, there is a heat wave hitting the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, temperatures are shattering records in the South and Southwest, while average precipitation has been well below average.

With scorching temperatures setting daily record highs, the summer look might just be pool clothes. But work doesn’t stop in the summertime, and it’s important to remember to know where to draw the line for acceptable work attire. Whether you’re starting a new job, or you’re a workplace veteran, you should know that what you wear represents yourself as well as your organization.

Dress codes don’t go by the wayside just because of the temperature. We’ve shown you how to warm up in the wintertime, so here are some tips to help you keep cool and professional in the summertime.

When putting together a work outfit for the summertime, think of breathable cotton fabrics. Wrinkle resistant linen-cotton blends can make a nice replacement for wool suits and lightweight fabrics will give a welcomed relief in unbearable temperatures.

Keep the Sleeves
Even though you might have incredibly shaped arms, resist the temptation to go sleeveless. It’s widely considered that tops with sleeves are deemed more appropriate for the workplace. If you were to go sleeveless, keep it covered with a thin cardigan or jacket.

Don’t wear sandals. Not only can flip-flops look unprofessional, they can be distracting and noisy. Open toed shoes are usually considered inappropriate in a business setting. For a little more breathing room, consider peep-toe shoes as an alternative.

Long hair can make you feel hot, especially in this scorching heat. Men, try getting a trim to cool off and cut down on maintenance. Women, try tying up your hair to keep your neck cool. Quick updos can help you achieve a simple yet professional style.

Summer Colors
When picking out summer work clothes, be sure to think about colors. Keep in mind that while some lighter colors are cooler than darks, extremely bright colors can be distracting. Stay with lighter more natural shades like neutrals or whites, which will direct fewer rays from the sun and keep you chill.

Men may consider changing to bamboo socks in the summer, they are more breathable than cotton and are said to keep you two to three degrees cooler. Ladies may try thigh-high and knee-high styles of hosiery to provide a slightly more comfortable alternative in the summertime.

Keep it Covered
Remember that just because some companies allow shorter sleeves during the hotter months, you still need to keep your tattoos covered up.

Maintain your reputable image by dressing appropriately year round. A consistent look will help project reliability and credibility.

Even though tuning into the morning news just to hear the weatherman say, “It’s going to be another scorcher” has become all too normal, you’ll know how to stay chill and dress appropriately. And don’t forget to check your company handbook on dress codes before contemplating any changes to your wardrobe this season.