Monthly Archives: July 2010

Hold the Phone: The Line Between Personal and Business

EntryLevelLifeButton_A Today it seems impossible to find someone who doesn’t have a cell phone of some kind. It’s also becoming impossible to find someone who’s not on their phone all the time. Your company may or may not have policies that forbid cell phones at work, so be sure you know the rules. If your company does allow you to have cell phones at work, there are some important things you need to be aware of. In a recent survey conducted by Express on smart phones versus workplace etiquette, 59% of voters said that most people are irresponsible with their smart phone use while at work. Phones can be an easy distraction, but follow these tips to help stay focused on the tasks at hand during your work day, and make sure your phone doesn’t become a distraction.

Keep it quiet. When you get to work, turn your cell phone to silent or vibrate mode. This will prevent your ringtone – however great you think it might be – from blaring across your workplace, alerting everyone that you’ve got an incoming call.

Limit your personal phone calls. If there is a reason you have to accept or make a personal phone call at work, keep it short and sweet. Don’t make too many personal calls at work because that will take time away from doing your job and might create a negative situation between you and your manager.

Excuse yourself. If you work in close proximity with your co-workers, like a cubicle, and do get a personal phone call, quietly step out to take it. Go to a quiet spot where you can possibly shut a door to keep your conversation private. Having a phone conversation could distract your co-workers and not everyone in your workplace wants or needs to hear your conversation.

Keep it tucked away. It’s not necessary to take your phone with you everywhere you go throughout your work day. Unless you are expecting an emergency phone call from someone, it is better to leave your phone in a secure place, like your desk, keys, or locker.  If someone does call and you’re away, they can leave you a message and you can call them back at a later, more convenient time. By leaving your phone behind during a meeting, it won’t be a distraction to you or others if someone calls you.

Create texting ground rules, too. Different generations have different expectations, so be mindful of others’ communication preferences. Be mindful that when you’re engaged in face-to-face conversations with co-workers, it’s important to give them your full attention. Make it a rule to not text at the same time you’re speaking with them.

Be cautious about smartphone apps. Smartphones are growing in popularity, and what they are capable of doing is quite impressive. With a smartphone, you have the ability to download applications for games such as Words with Friends – a scrabble game you can play with co-workers – or for social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. However “cool” these apps might be, they can cost your employer a lot of money in lost productivity if you’re more focused on your smartphone through the day than your job. Be responsible with your time while on the job and save your smartphone fun for your free time, such as lunch, breaks, or after work.  

It’s important to know about cell phone etiquette in the workplace. Always be aware of your personal phone usage and be sure that you’re getting your work completed first and foremost.

Meeting Notes: How to Write them Well

Have you ever been overwhelmed during a meeting because you couldn’t keep up with the discussion and still take notes? Or, have you gotten frustrated because you couldn’t understand or even read your meeting notes afterwards. If you’re not accustomed to taking notes, it’s important to learn how to write clear, organized, and detailed notes for every meeting from brainstorming sessions to board meetings.

Note taking is important because it helps you keep track of tasks and important information you’ll need to remember later. But, it can also be a little frustrating, especially if you aren’t a fast writer or if you don’t know what information to write down. To help you get the most out of the notes you take at your next meeting, follow these easy tips.

Remember the 5 W’s. Your notes should contain general information you can use as a reference when necessary. So, think like a reporter and don’t forget the 5 W’s when you take meeting notes.

  1. Who. Write down who was present at the meeting so you know where to go if you have questions or follow up information.
  2. What. Write down what the meeting is regarding.
  3. When. Take note of when the meeting took place, including date and time. This is especially important when you know you’ll have multiple meetings for an ongoing project.
  4. Where. Briefly note where the meeting was held to help jog your memory for details about the meeting later.
  5. Why. State why the meeting is important, including the purpose and determined goals.
    Having the following information may also be useful to you in case you have to give an account of the meeting, need to inform an absent team member about the details discussed, or when you need to refer back to the goals and objectives.

Focus on what’s important. In order to take clear and detailed notes, you need to understand what works for you. Being conscious of your writing pace will help you record the more important things as opposed to irrelevant things. It is impossible to catch everything that is discussed in a meeting, so you should listen more than you write. By carefully listening, you will ensure that you take down the most relevant information. Be sure to write things you know you will need to act upon later or specific information like dates, times, names, and places.

Use action words to write your notes and symbols. If the notes are for your personal use only, you don’t necessarily have to write full sentences. As long as you can understand them later, you’re successful. For example, if you were reminded of a task you were previously given via e-mail, instead of writing the task all over again, you can make a little note to yourself to check your e-mail. This will save you the time of writing too much down and becoming overwhelmed.

In addition to using action words, come up with a group of symbols to highlight information you don’t want to miss. Try using a star to mark information you need to remember or a checkbox or action items that you need to attend to. This will make your notes more organized and easier to understand later.

Don’t forget your ideas and questions. When taking notes, write any ideas or questions you may have in a designated section. This is important so you don’t forget what you want to say. It will also prevent you from interrupting or cutting somebody off during the meeting. By making notes of questions and ideas, you will remember them when it’s your turn to speak.

Create a to-do list. Have a to-do list in your notes. Specify who is responsible for accomplishing what tasks and the deadlines for each task. Don’t forget to add your action item symbol when the task concerns you. After the meeting is over, make sure to insert your tasks into your calendar or schedule so you can keep track of your to-do list in one location. This will help you actually remember to accomplish them.

Taking notes doesn’t have to be a pain. Just remember to cover important topics and write in a clear and succinct manner.

The Fundamental Office Tasks No One Teaches You

FundamentalOfficeTasks In an office environment, everyone is responsible for accomplishing specific tasks that generally require training. But, knowing how to accomplish basic tasks in the workplace that everyone is responsible for is important and will help you get your job done more efficiently. However, employers don’t always spend a lot of time training new employees on the processes and procedures for common office tasks. No matter your position at your job, learning basic office chores like making copies and filing documents is essential to your work. Basic office responsibilities may seem simple, but every company differs in the way they answer the phone to the way they distribute office mail. If you’re already in the workforce or soon will be, the following are basic information you should know about general office tasks.

Electronics. Almost every office uses various types of electronics. Whether it’s a photocopier, fax machine, or printer, be sure to find out how to use the equipment in your office. Learn how to add paper and fix basic paper jams. If your office uses one, know the code required for your photocopier or fax machine. Have a supervisor or co-worker teach you how to use the office equipment to help you avoid lost productivity and the frustration you feel when you can’t make the quick copy you need. Since administrative assistants perform tasks like these on a daily basis, they can be a great resource when you have questions about equipment in your office.

Timecards. Timecards are used in most office environments, and it’s very important to know how to fill them out correctly. So, when you start a new job, make sure you learn the right way to complete your timecard. Find out the deadline to submit timecards and who to submit them to. If your office submits timecards online, make sure you add the website to your list of favorites and keep the correct login information on file.

Filing systems. Filing systems are methods of storing and organizing files and their data in an office. Every business and employee has different methods and systems for filing information. While you may be allowed to organize your files to your preference, other documents in your office like legal papers and contracts should be filed according to company standards. Some businesses use job jackets, hanging file folders, notebooks, specific computer programs, or a combination of filing systems to file important documents, so make sure you follow your company’s system when filing information digitally and in print.

E-mail and meeting management tools. Computer software like Microsoft Outlook a very useful tool to help you manage your e-mail and meeting appointments. If you’re not familiar with your team’s e-mail management system, check out the software's free tutorials to learn the ends and outs for the program. You could even learn a few tricks like flagging e-mails or scheduling tasks to utilize this tool to its full potential. But, whatever software you use to manage your e-mail, if you don’t purge your e-mail inbox on a regular basis, it can get clustered fast. Be sure to keep your inbox clean and perform regular maintenance. Also, follow the company’s policies on using company e-mail and other electronic communication devices.

Office phones. As simple as using a phone may be, office phones may have a lot of buttons that can be a little tricky at times. Get a list of the different codes and extensions for co-workers so you can reference them when needed. Also, make sure you know how to transfer a call, place a call on hold, and join conference calls. Find out how to program your voicemail. Learn the phone protocol for leaving the office at lunch or for a meeting. Be sure you know the proper phone etiquette your office requires when answering a call.

The mail system. Since you may occasionally have to send out mail, make sure you’re aware of your team’s mailing procedures for regular business mail, shipping services like FedEx and UPS, and inter-office mail. Some businesses assign individuals to pick up and deliver mail from department inboxes. Or, you may have to take items to be shipped directly to the mail room. Find out where the mail room is located and where you can get supplies like shipping boxes, business and inter-office envelopes, and shipping tape so you don’t waste time looking for them when you need to get something in the mail fast.

Ordering office supplies. Most offices have a policy for ordering supplies, so find out how to request the supplies you need and when they submit orders so you don’t have to do without your much needed Post-it notes or white out. Some companies only provide certain items so make sure you ask what supplies you’ll be able to access. Also, make sure you know who’s responsible for ordering.

Remember, all offices differ in one way or another and the best time to ask questions about basic tasks is when you’re still new to the job. Don’t sit back in your chair waiting for someone to teach you how to make copies, take the initiative and learn how to make them now. Then, you’ll be ready to tackle whatever projects come your way.

What’s the Worst that Can Happen? Saying No to Projects

EntryLevelLifeButton_C You agreed to lead staff meeting this morning. It’s your day to go on a lunch run for everyone. You have a conference call with a client right after lunch. You have three back-to-back meetings from 2:30 to 4 p.m. You agreed to help distribute the office mail. And, to top it all off, you’re working the weekend shift to help out a co-worker who’s sick. Just the thought of all you have to do is overwhelming. It’s not a bad thing to want to be a “super employee,” but when you try to take on everything by yourself, you quickly start to feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done.  If this sounds familiar, you could be overcommitted at work.

Juggling tasks and demands is a big part of any job in any workplace, and the art of time management is an important skill to have as an employee. But, when you get bombarded with projects, how many times do you agree to do something else when you’re already maxed for time? To effectively manage your workday, you have to learn the art of saying one little word: “no.” Although “no” can be a scary word to say, it’s much worse to over promise and under deliver. The art of saying “no” is all about how you approach it and how you say it. Here are some tips on how to make your “no” effective when you can’t say “yes” to everything.

Track your project workload. Always know what projects you’re working on, when they’re due, and how much time you’re spending on them. This keeps you aware of what projects you have already said yes to and whether or not you can take on anything else. If your boss wants to assign you four new projects with an immediate deadline by maintaining a project list you can show him whether or not that can be accomplished with your current workload. If it’s not, ask if you can work out a new project deadline so you can have the necessary time to make the project the best it can be, rather than doing something quickly and filled with errors.

Know your job priorities. What key tasks are you responsible for in your current job? In your job description, what goals were outlined for your career? Those goals and projects are usually your main focus. But, you will have times where you do need to help out a co-worker with some of their tasks or take on a special project that has nothing to do with your job. It’s never OK to use the excuse of “that’s not part of my job.” A team does have to give and take, but if special projects are taking over your work schedule and you’re not able to complete your core tasks, something needs to give. For instance, if a manager asks you to pick up their dry cleaning, it might be time to have a chat with your boss about what projects you can gracefully decline. If someone other than your manager asks you to take on a project, tell them, “thank you, but I will have to check with my manager before I know whether or not I can do this project.” If you don't know what the priorities are for your job, check out the Tough Conversations podcast series to learn how to approach your manager.  

Maintain your ethics. In the workplace, not everything you do is going to get you ahead of the game. Never under any circumstances should you do anything that compromises your integrity. For example, if a co-worker asks you to lie to your manager to cover up a mistake she made, that definitely justifies saying “no.” Sometimes saying “no” may make you the unpopular person, but it’s better than jeopardizing your values and losing your job. Don’t let individuals bully you into saying “yes” to something that’s against company policy or makes you feel uncomfortable. If someone asks you to do something questionable or illegal, tell them “no” and explain that you feel uncomfortable with that. If you continue to be asked to perform that task, contact your HR department.

Keep things relevant. Obviously if you don’t know how to do something, don’t just agree to take it on. If you find yourself in the situation of not knowing how to complete a project because you don’t have the skills, let your manager know your concerns. It’s better to decline the project rather than try to take it on and hurt your career in the process. Most managers and co-workers would be appreciative and understanding of what you can and cannot do. Instead, they should look at that as a learning process for you under the guidance of someone more experienced. In the event that this happens to you, explain that you would like to take on the project, but do not have the necessary skills to complete it. You could also let them know you’re interested in learning how to do that particular job, but you would feel comfortable with some training or supervision first. 

“No” doesn’t have to be a bad word, as long as you can logically show why that is the best answer in a situation. Just keep in mind that as you continue to grow and develop in your profession, you will be expected to take on more duties. As your schedule gets busier and your projects increase, be sure you’re in control of your projects and your workday so they don’t control you. Follow these basic tips to empower you to say “no” when necessary.

Tough Conversations with Your Boss: Surviving the Uncomfortable

You agonize over it. You try to prepare for it. You put it off. And then you worry some more. Having conversations with your boss about sensitive subjects like admitting a mistake or requesting a raise is sometimes uncomfortable. And, gearing up for a difficult conversation can be a little bit like preparing for battle. It’s hard to know what you’ll face.

See Dwight Schrute’s action packed effort to get ready to ask for a raise on The Office.

But, tough conversations are an inevitable part of the workplace. At one time or another, you will probably be faced with an awkward conversation with a supervisor or co-worker. By choosing to address your concerns – instead of ignoring them – with your manager, you could open the door for big progress in your career, like improvements in your relationship with your boss, broken processes, your attitude, and even your paycheck. Plus, how you handle a difficult conversation with your boss now can be a great learning experience for future conversations you could have as a leader or supervisor in the future.

To help you effectively handle a tough conversation with your boss, Express is excited to share a free podcast training series on difficult workplace conversations. So, before your next uncomfortable conversation with your supervisor, gear up with these tips and advice to make discussions a little bit easier.

Clarifying Priorities
When your workload is overwhelming and your task list seems endless, things can quickly get out of hand. Having a clear understanding of your work priorities and deadlines is important. When you need direction on your responsibilities, have a conversation with your boss to keep things from falling through the cracks. Knowing exactly what’s expected of you will allow you to do your job as efficiently as possible. When you meet with your manager, be specific and honest about your concerns. Together, come up with a solution that works for you both. Check out this podcast for tips and advice on having a tough conversation about priorities with your boss.

Admitting a Mistake
Admitting that you’ve made a mistake can be one of the most difficult conversations to have. It’s always hard to swallow your pride and tell someone you messed up. But, instigating a conversation about a mistake you made is far better than being confronted about it later. If you’ve made an error that could affect your company or co-workers, don’t try to hide it. Be proactive and take responsibility. Be honest with your supervisor no matter how difficult it may feel and admit your mistake. The longer you put it off the bigger the issue could become. Together you can come up with a solution to help prevent a future mistake from occurring. Listen to this podcast for the right way to admit a mistake at work.

Requesting a Raise
Asking for a pay raise can be uncomfortable no matter the economic environment. But, if you feel your diligent work merits a pay raise, don’t be afraid to talk to your supervisor about it. Most employers want to retain top talent and understand that having competitive wages is necessary to keep their employees. Before you talk with your boss, be sure you’re prepared to explain the reasons why you feel you deserve a raise and be able to give evidence to support it. If you want a pay raise, listen to this podcast before you meet with your boss.

Difficult conversations don’t have to feel like a battle. You can make your tough conversations with your boss easier by following the advice of the Tough Conversations podcast series. For more information on having difficult discussions with your supervisor or leader, visit

Please note, the video clips herein and their sponsors do not necessarily represent the views of Express and are used for educational purposes only.

Getting to Know the C Suite – Advice for Dealing with Upper Management and Executives

EntryLevelLifeButton_E When you think of working with upper management or executives in your company, does it make you feel slightly nervous or make your heart start to beat fast because they hold so much power over your career? When you get into the work world, there will be times when you have to interact with executives on projects. So, make the most of the opportunities to impress your company’s management with these tips.

Be respectful of executives and their time.
When it’s time for you to meet with the vice president of marketing or the director of operations, be sure you are prepared for the meeting. People who work in upper level positions have a lot to focus on and a lot of meetings to attend. So, don’t waste their time. If the leader requests the meeting, ask in advance about what you need to bring. Be sure to research your topic of discussion, identify key talking points, and prepare a PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheet, graph, or document for the meeting as needed. Prepare questions you need answers to. Make it a point to be over prepared and have more knowledge about the meeting than you plan to use. And, always thank them for their time at the beginning and end of each meeting.

Reserve time on their schedule.
As mentioned above, managers and executives are busy. Be sure to reserve the appropriate amount of time on their calendar for your meeting with them. You may need to coordinate with an administrative assistant. If so, be sure to go through the right channels to book the correct time and space needed to meet. You can’t just walk into an executive’s office whenever you want to meet. To get their full attention and ensure uninterrupted time, be sure they receive and accept a meeting request. You may also want to follow-up with their assistant on the day of the meeting to make sure they are on schedule. Be flexible with your time when dealing with executives because something might happen prior to your meeting that requires you to reschedule with them for a later time.

Know how to address them. 
Do you address executives formally as Mr., Mrs., or Miss, or do you call them by their first name? This is something that may differ across the board depending on your company’s culture. At times, you might have an executive who is really personable and likes to joke around with everyone. But, if you address them informally, it could be offensive to them. You might have a Generation X manager who is more laid back and wouldn’t ever dream of anyone addressing them with a formal title. To be on the safe side, always address executives formally on the first meeting. From there, they can let you know a little more about their personality and specifically how to approach them in the future. After your meeting with them, if you’re still not sure how to address them, follow the lead of those around you, and when in doubt, be more formal. 

Always be honest and act with integrity.
When you’re in a meeting with upper management or executives, always be honest about what you know and don’t know. If, for example, someone unexpectedly asks you to report on the specifics of a project or how much something will cost and you don’t know the answer, don’t try to make something up to look good. Be up front and honest and let them know you don’t have the answer for them, but that you will research it and get back to them quickly. In most cases, they will respect you for your candor. Either way, it’s better to be honest than to fudge the truth and get found out later. 

Know your next plan of action when you leave the meeting.
Before the meeting is over, make sure you are aware of the next steps you need to take to complete a project. Know your key action items and any upcoming deadlines. If you are not clear about something, ask for clarification before the meeting is over. If you have any questions, be sure to ask. Sometimes you might be fearful of asking an executive a question because you’re afraid of what they will think of you. But, by speaking up and asking thoughtful questions, you’re letting them know you want to do a good job.

It’s important to realize that although those in upper management and executive positions hold some significant power within the company, they are still people too. There’s no reason to get worried about interacting with them. If you do get the opportunity, it is a sign that your employer trusts you and respects your work, and it’s an opportunity to learn from the very best in your organization.