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Advance Your Career Like a Ninja!

ninja_march2013_webLong ago, in ancient feudal Japan, there was an elite group of mercenaries who specialized in unorthodox combat known as the ninja. These covert agents were used as a strong contrast to the traditional samurai warrior, who observed strict rules about honor and combat.

Unlike a samurai, a ninja would be involved in espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and other underhanded activities. They were the ancient James Bonds of Asia, and were highly regarded and feared because of their effectiveness. To this day, western culture has built the image of the ninja as having supernatural powers like running on water or stopping swords with their bare hands.

The modern workplace can seem like the samurai – there are strict rules, codes of conduct, and cultures to adhere to. With so many expectations and understood behaviors, you may feel like your career is in a rut. You could be looking for the next step, but unsure how to cut through the clutter. Maybe you should consider these traits of a ninja to find unorthodox methods to advance your career.

Know Their Weaknesses
The chief role of a ninja was espionage. They gathered information on enemy terrain, building specifications, and obtaining information. It was very important for a ninja to know everything about their enemy and the area they had to infiltrate. The more they knew, the easier it was to find weaknesses and get the job done.

As an employee ninja, you should learn as much about your industry, and competition as possible, not to exploit or blackmail, but to be aware of their shortcomings so you can find ways of using your talents for innovation in advance of others.

Know Your Own Weaknesses
Nobody tried to fight samurai unless he was a trained warrior. Most martial arts weapons were actually farming equipment repurposed to fight the dangerous soldiers. That’s why the ninja specialized in stealth and disguise, because they knew full frontal combat wouldn’t be as effective.  Ninja weren’t warriors, they were covert.

In business, you need to be aware of how others perceive you and how your personality interacts with them. Narrowing down the commonalities you have when in conflict with others will help you identify your weaknesses so you can be aware of them when doing business with new people or when working with co-workers and managers.

Find the Value in Being Alone
While the ninja did have teamwork techniques, most of their missions were solo. They worked best when disguised as monks or merchants so they could spy in enemy buildings without arousing suspicion. One person could infiltrate and maneuver through a crowded place much easier than a team of people. The fewer people, the fewer chances of getting caught.

It’s difficult to be a solo worker in such a team-minded, extroverted culture in the U.S., but some people have no desire to manage large groups or be a part of a team. That’s why it’s important to demonstrate how you can be a superstar employee on your own right. Work with your managers to look for promotion opportunities on the basis of your solo work and your great results.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
The weapons and tools used by the ninja weren’t large or cumbersome, they were small and easy to conceal. The whole point was to look innocent until there was an opportunity to strike. That’s why monks were a favorite choice among the ninja because the robes could hide a plethora of weapons and tools. The key was having them ready, but not using them until the opportunity was presented.

When interviewing, you may feel the urge to present as much information as possible about your various skills and talents that could benefit the employer. Consider holding a few abilities that aren’t completely relevant to the job description until you’ve been hired. It’s the classic case of “under promising and over delivering.” When you demonstrate that you are more valuable than previously believed, that will place you in a much better position when promotions are being considered.

Hook ‘em
To get close to the target, sometimes a ninja would have to find ways of interacting with them and earn their trust. They would have to formulate “hooks” to get the attention of their enemy. It allowed them to establish a relationship quickly and lead to another meeting where the ninja could finish their mission.

The important factors to making a good hook are to find a reason to meet once, connect, and continue to meet. If you want to meet someone in your industry to look for better opportunities, find a reason for them to want to take the time to meet you. Approach the relationship with what you can do for them before asking for favors.

Now, young grasshopper, is the chance for you to use the ancient skills passed down from generation to generation. You too can become an office ninja master by using these tips to further your career. What ways have you gone beyond conventional methods to succeed at work? Let us know in the comments section below.

How to GO About Networking at Work

networking at workI can’t stress enough how important networking is. No matter your industry, personality, or situation, networking is one of the best ways to find a job. The connections you build during your job search will benefit you throughout your career.

But what happens once you get the job? Do you retire the Rolodex of connections or clear out your LinkedIn connections, and focus on the job at hand in your little workspace? NO! Developing connections and building relationships at work are just as important as building an outside network. Here’s how you can keep a strong network at work.

Go Small
We all know and work with that one person who seems to talk to everybody. While there’s nothing wrong with being social, it can be a time drain to build relationships with as many people as possible. It’s best to focus your attention on building a more efficient network of co-workers who all have different skill sets, opinions, and perspectives.

Go Outward
While it’s always good to build strong working relationships with those on your team or in your department, you should look to those you aren’t familiar with to build a good network. Keep in contact with people in other parts of your building or who do jobs that aren’t familiar to you. Networks can be powerful when you bring people together who don’t normally work with each other.

Go Weak
You may think I’m crazy for telling you to build weak ties instead of strong ones, but it really isn’t counterproductive. It feels like developing strong relationships will be the most beneficial, but binding weaker sticks together can end up being stronger than a single big stick. Those you are close to probably share the same social circles as you. Developing weaker ties with others outside of your normal circle connects you to a larger list of people you would normally never talk to.

Go to the Heart
We associate the place where everyone goes to converse as “the water cooler,” and that place can be a great resource for bringing people together. Those who frequent the hubs of conversations tend to be the ones who attract the most people. Instead of asking familiar faces if they can help you, try asking people at these casual gatherings if they know anyone who can help. It’s much easier for someone to say no if directly asked for help, but asking for a connection encourages them to think about the situation. They can stay passive while still helping out.

Go All Out
When building your network, don’t be afraid to use it to touch base with someone you’d like to meet. If you’re not the type to just barge into someone else’s workspace and introduce yourself, or if your target is just very busy and never has the door open, consider getting your boss to contact that person’s boss. Explain to your manager why you believe developing a relationship will help you in your career. If that isn’t an option, try to find out if you share the same goals or hobbies as a reason to talk.

Building a network doesn’t happen overnight. With some patience, generosity, and sincerity, you can build a great network just outside your workspace. With these suggestions, you can increase your network company-wide without wasting time or feeling pushy. How have you networked at work? Sound off in the comments section below.

To Be a Super Job Seeker, You Need to Sell Your Kryptonite

what is your greatest weaknessLast month, Movin’ On Up asked readers what they think is the toughest interview question to answer. With more than 44% of the vote, the toughest question was, “What is your greatest weakness?”

It can seem like a trick question at first. You’re supposed to be like Superman – flying in to save the needs of the employer. How can you talk about what you’re doing wrong when the whole point of an interview is to convince them you’re the best for the job? Even Superman, who is weak to kryptonite, still manages to save the world.

When you’re selling your personal brand to an employer in an interview, you have to stamp out the concerns an employer may have with hiring you. That’s why it’s important to be a candidate that is aware of your faults and working to improve them. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and the most common answers can do more harm than good.

Super Strengths Aren’t Weaknesses
Weaknesses are often strengths taken so far that they end up hindering you. Either way, most employers can tell you’re spinning these weaknesses as strengths. It’s important to know your specific weaknesses and avoid general strengths as weaknesses like, “I work too hard,” or “I care too much.” Superman being too powerful may make him a less interesting hero, but it doesn’t make him less capable of saving Metropolis.

During the 2008 Democratic presidential debates, the candidates were asked their greatest weakness. Hilary Clinton and John Edwards gave the typical answers of, “I get frustrated when people don’t seem to understand that we can do so much more to help each other” or “I sometimes have a very powerful emotional response to pain that I see around me.” But Barack Obama gave a different answer. He said, “My desk and my office don’t look good. I’ve got to have somebody around me who is keeping track.” President Obama’s honesty made him relatable, which helped him win the primary.

Super Honesty Isn’t Super Either
While you should never lie or stretch the truth about your weaknesses, there is a point where you can share too much, which can leave negative impressions on the employer after the interview. Be honest but brief when talking about your weakness. If they ask for more, stick with your two greatest, but end with a positive note about what you’re doing to improve them.

Superman with a Super Plan
The most important part about discussing your weakness is what you are doing about it. People aren’t so much interested in how you fall, they want to see how you get back up.  Superman may have been weak against kryptonite, but he always had a lead suit ready to protect him if he had to deal with it.

Being an introvert, I’ve always had to deal with my energy levels when interacting with customers, clients, or co-workers. When working long periods of time with several people, my work quality deteriorates and I tend to have a short fuse. That’s why I logged the times of the day I felt most energetic and planned meetings around those times. At the job I even resorted to pinning a color code to my apron so my co-workers knew when I was good to help them or when I had low energy.

To prepare, talk to your former professors, mentors, or managers to see what they see you need to work on and come up with a plan to improve those areas. You will never be without faults, but it’s important to an employer to know that you are aware of them and working on them.

As Superman has his kryptonite, every job seeker has a weakness. That’s a given. But what can separate you from your competition is what you’re doing about it. What are you doing to combat your weaknesses?

Use Halloween for Team Building and Getting Noticed at Work

Celebrating Halloween at workIn many ways, Halloween isn’t just for kids. It’s a holiday that reaches across ages, genders, and cultures to give everyone a day to have fun and escape the mundane. It’s such a big holiday, the National Retail Federation is expecting Americans to spend nearly $8 billion in 2012 on Halloween décor, candy, and costumes. Naturally, this celebration usually makes its way into the workplace.

Every employer is different and will have different ideas and viewpoints on how to celebrate Halloween. If your company does have a yearly Halloween get-together or allows costumes during the workday, it can be a great opportunity to build a better relationship with co-workers and stand out among management. As long as you dress and act appropriately, doors of opportunity can open for you. Here is how enjoying the Halloween fun can help your career.

Let Down Your Hair
Barbara Morris, founder of the software company Laser Image, is a strong supporter of celebrating Halloween at work. Last year, she was astonished when one of her very quiet, hardworking, and introverted employees dressed up as Michael Jackson and began to sing during the company costume competition. Her opinion of that employee drastically changed and she soon promoted the employee to senior project director.

While this is an extreme example, it does help prove that participating in fun employer events can demonstrate that you’re a team player and investing in the organization. Most managers see you with a serious work face and rarely get to see the relaxed, fun side of you, which shows them you’re a well-rounded employee.

Think Outside the Box
Maybe your job is very mechanical or procedural. Even if your workday doesn’t give you the opportunity to change or try new things, Halloween can give you a chance to demonstrate your creativity and critical thinking. If you can turn some heads – respectfully and tastefully – you can get plenty of networking opportunities with senior leadership who heard about an employee’s funny, different, or outstanding costume. Your co-workers and supervisors will see you using skills they might not know you had.

Even if your employer doesn’t officially recognize Halloween and doesn’t allow dressing up for any reason, there are ways you can demonstrate your creativity and skills not normally seen. Just because you can’t dress up, that doesn’t mean you can’t make your workspace a little more spooktacular, which can increase traffic and exposure of you and your area.

The Other Side of the Coin
Managers won’t be the only ones who will notice your other side. Having fun with co-workers can give you a chance to connect and see other sides of them you haven’t seen before. Halloween festivities let you and co-workers see each other laughing and joking, which often helps you realize there are real people behind what you see typically at work. This kind of socializing can also help ease tension and stress from work, and help you and your team members be more productive.

There are several benefits to putting on a silly costume and having a little fun at work once a year. As long as you remain professional and courteous, celebrating Halloween at the office can improve teamwork and can help you build your career. What are some of your favorite Halloween workplace memories? Share them with some photos, and we’ll feature them on the blog!

Top Interview Questions for Temporary Jobs

Someone Interviewing for a Temporary jobInterviews for full-time jobs are scary enough, but how do you tackle the tricky subject of answering interview questions for temporary assignments? We all have different reasons for working temporary jobs, but you may get asked a question that you don’t know how to answer in the right way. To sharpen your skills, here are some of the most commonly asked questions from staffing agencies about temporary jobs and the best ways to answer them.

Q: What interests you about working a temporary job?
This question gives you the opportunity to demonstrate that you have a plan for your career and are willing to work toward your goals. Your answer should be more than just needing a job to pay the bills or something easy to pass the time until you find long-term work. This could be a chance for you to get some experience before deciding to go to graduate school, or provide you the opportunity to work while your children are in school and stay home when they aren’t, or you may need some experience after college to decide on a career path.

Q: What characteristics do you have that make you a fit for temporary work?
Some people like variety, and it’s ok to tell an interviewer that. Temporary jobs can provide opportunities to work in different work environments. Staffing agencies look for qualified individuals who enjoy working with new people and workplaces. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t do well working in one place for an extended period of time. You’re a quick learner and enjoy experiencing new things.

Q: Are you interested in long-term or short-term assignments?
If you’re looking for long-term assignments, inform the interviewer that you are looking for positions that could get you hired full-time by the employer. You’re thinking in the long run, which translates into strong work ethics to the interviewer. If you want short-term placement, give specific times of the year that you’re looking to work. The more detailed you are, the better tailored the assignments will be to you. If you have no preference, put the focus on the desire for a job that can develop and grow your skills.

Q: How easily do you adapt into new work environments?
Everybody has a different approach. It’s important to let your interviewer know so they can place you in an environment that best fits you. You may find excitement and energy working with new people and cultures and assimilate to new jobs easily. You may be quiet at first so you can internalize (http://blog.expresspros.com/movinonup/2012/06/climbing-the-corporate-ladder-when-youre-shy-and-introverted.html) your new surroundings and duties, but quickly learn to be productive. If you have a lengthy work history, think back to how you’ve handled the different work styles and tell the interviewer how you’ve developed your own style for managing new work environments.

Q: If you were offered a full-time position, would you be interested?
If temporary work best fits you or your family, don’t feel like you have to say yes. For whatever reason, you are looking to hone your skills without being tied down to a specific job or geographic area. Even if you are looking for full-time work with an employer, you should always tell the interviewer that it would depend on if the job and company is the right fit (http://blog.expresspros.com/movinonup/2012/02/warning-signs-an-employer-may-not-be-for-you.html) for you.

What are some questions you have been asked in temporary job interviews? Share them in the comments section below.

Toot Your Own Horn Bigger, Better, and Louder – How to Self-Promote Better

The Art of Self PromotionWhether you’re looking for a job or climbing the corporate ladder, others are going to have to know about your accomplishments and what you can do. Odds are, no one will know how valuable you are unless you speak up and talk about yourself.

For many, self-promotion feels awkward and sounds like bragging. No one wants to hear someone talk endlessly about how awesome they are, but if no one knows about your skills and abilities, you could miss out on several opportunities to work or get promoted. Here are ways you can effectively self-promote without sounding like a loudmouth.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Becoming known doesn’t happen overnight. Self-promotion is about building lasting relationships that develop over time. A reputation isn’t instantaneous, it’s earned. You need to take your time to let your creativity flourish. Despite what people say, your best, most creative work doesn’t come under pressure. You have to establish trust and respect, and you can’t do that quickly or with sloppy work.

Start slowly by placing small, easily achievable goals for self-promotion. Things like going to an industry event, meeting an influencer or industry leader for lunch, or writing a blog or guest column in a publication are great ways to get started. Make sure you track your progress so you can have something to measure as the months go by.

Know When to Hold ‘Em, and Know When to Fold ‘Em
The importance of self-promotion isn’t just in what you say, but it’s also in what you don’t say. You are trying to establish a personal brand,  and now that you have goals established, you have to do what will achieve those goals. If you work construction, you may want to make bold statements about a new type of material that could strengthen bases or a new tool that could speed up production on tile installation. But being vocal about your opinions on internal politics, labor disputes, or gossip doesn’t help you become known for your skills, creative ideas, or accomplishments. Talking about things not pertinent to your area of expertise won’t help you meet your goals.

Know What you Can’t Do
The more general you try to be, the more forgettable you’ll be. That’s why it’s important to specialize when self-promoting. When branding yourself, find one to three specific skills that are your best, develop and work on those skills, and then promote them. When you become an expert in a few areas, you will stand out among your peers and leaders. Most of the time, generalists look weak or lacking in direction while specialists are seen as committed to what they are good at.

When you specialize, you don’t even have to focus on your strongest abilities. Sometimes you will notice a need in your field or company that needs to be met and no one is filling it. That way, you won’t be bragging as much as you’re trying to fill a gap in your industry or with your employer.

Self-promotion can be scary and feel self-centered, but you have to get your name out there if you want leaders and decision makers to remember you when opportunity knocks. What are your strengths? How can you tell others about your accomplishments? Let us know in the comments below.

How do I Network When I Don’t Know Anyone? A Guide to Working the Room

How to Network Alone When You Don't Know AnyoneEverybody has been there before. You walk into a networking event, industry professionals meeting, or social hour and don’t know anybody there. For some, it wouldn’t be much of a problem because it’s an adventure to meet new people and make connections, but that’s not the case for most. Networking can be awkward, uncomfortable, and downright intimidating. What’s a person to do?

Whether you’re looking for a job or advancing your career, networking is an important tool. Building strong working relationships can help open doors to landing a job with a desired company or improve your trade by seeking advice from others for guidance and support. But, building a network from scratch can seem like an impossibility.

You don’t have to be well connected to make connections. Everybody starts somewhere and you can have fun, meet people, and grow your network without knowing anyone in the room with these easy tips.

Have a Plan
With just about everything in life, it’s best to have a little strategy before going blindly into a strange place. You’re not strategizing military formations in a war, but you should be prepared if knowingly going somewhere unfamiliar. Before going, catch up on the latest industry, community, and national news. Being caught up on the latest headlines and having an opinion on it can help you start conversations with others and demonstrates your passion and expertise in your field. If you’re attending an event, find out who is going to be there, learn about them, and think of a question or two to ask them. When in doubt, people love talking about themselves, so try to have a few open-ended questions just in case.

Pick Your Targets
Depending on your personality, you should find people you think you would fit in with. A more open, outgoing person might target those who are getting the most attention or the biggest crowd. That’s probably where the most interesting conversation is and your chance to shine. For the more introverted person, look for people who are by themselves or in smaller groups. They may not be very outgoing and are likely feeling the same pressure you are, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a potential resource of information and leads.

Break the Huddle
Many people feel like walking into a circle of people at a social outing is unwelcome. They feel like they are intruding on a conversation that they weren’t invited to. It’s generally acceptable to walk into a conversation at a social event. The more outgoing people don’t see it as an intrusion, but an inclusion into the conversation. If you’re unsure about joining a group of people, walk closely to the group. Casually observe the conversation and get the attention of someone in the group. Once you make eye contact, send a nonverbal greeting their way and wait for a response. If you get one back, introduce yourself and join the conversation.

Talk Genuinely
You may feel out of your element when talking to a group of strangers, but that doesn’t mean you should stop being yourself. Don’t worry about acting the way others expect you to – be yourself. Always be courteous, respectful, and mindful of etiquette, but don’t accept invitations or participate in anything that feels out of character. Many can see through it and  it can hurt your relations in the long run.

Being genuine means being honest with others. Actively enjoy and convey interest in conversations that are actually of interest to you. If you aren’t interested in the conversation, you don’t have to continue being a part of the discussion. You’re missing out on opportunities to make stronger connections with other people. If you need to leave a conversation, exit gracefully by saying something like, “I need to refill my drink. It was a pleasure to meet you,” “I need to step out. It was great talking to you,” or “It was wonderful getting to know you. I hope you have fun tonight.”

Follow Up

Meeting people and building relationships at an event will be much more effective if you keep up with them after your first meeting. Following up with those you meet demonstrates your reliability and interest in your new contact. It doesn’t have to be anything in-depth or boring. It could be something as simple as sending a funny or interesting link related to your conversation, asking how things went after a particular event they were preparing for, or scheduling time to meet for lunch to discuss something if your contact offered to help you with a job search or career development.

Everyone is a stranger until you meet them. Once you get past the fears and be yourself, you’d be surprised how many wonderful people you can meet and relationships you can build when stepping a bit out of your comfort zone and enjoying yourself. Let us know some of your best networking stories in the comments below.