Archive for the ‘Career Advice’ Category

Starting Over Again

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Is everyone familiar with the TV show, Cheers and its catchy little theme song? “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…”

Like the song suggests there are times when I do enjoy hanging out with people who know me, friends and co-workers alike. They know my history, my quirks, and the sometimes oddball paths I’ve taken in life.

Work friends in particular may know more about me than I realize because chances are they haven’t forgotten all those sordid things that I’ve forgotten I’ve told them. Come on: you know you’ve done the same.

Who hasn’t gone out after work, had a few drinks, and said a little too much? Or in a moment of anger, said something they wish they could take back? I know I have. Because I haven’t always been the most discreet at work, maybe said too much about my medical history, or mistakes I’ve made in my youth (see previous post for multiple examples), I find the thought of starting over with a new company something of a liberating process. It enables me to start over, the slate wiped clean, so to speak.

As I’ve geared up for the move I’ve thought about all the ways I can start over. For example I could revamp my wardrobe so that I only wear long flowing skirts and ruffled blouses. Or I could go with more colorful options, instead of the brown and ivory I favor. Or what about being more tailored and conservative like Talbots or Ann Taylor?

No doubt there are some stressful days ahead: learning a new business, figuring out who the contact people are for everything from IT to office supplies, learning a new company culture etc.

I remember well (and hate) that feeling of helplessness that tends to come the first week of a new job. I am going to do my best to remind myself that it is natural to not know where to find the bathroom and it is normal to feel lost on a new computer system for a few days.

Now that would be real progress: far more important than deciding to wear wool dress pants instead of chinos.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Wish me well!

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Advice on Leaving Well and Careful Beginnings

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

On Leaving:
Whether you are in a commuter relationship or are just changing jobs here comes some more career advice. Once you’ve made the decision to leave your current position, handle yourself with grace and dignity. You want to do everything you can to leave on as high a note as possible.

Resist the temptation to go out with a bang, brutally slagging off everyone you’ve ever worked with, airing all of your grievances in one last blaze of glory.

In my youth I made the mistake of doing exactly that. My rationale was that I was doing those left behind a favor. A change in upper management had occurred six months before I left and I (along with others) really disagreed with how things were being handled.

When I left that company I viciously listed every single “fault” I thought the new management team had. My hope was that someone would listen and things might change for the better for my co-workers. Did they? Heck no.

In all likelihood all I did was ensure that I’d never be eligible for rehire. And it was (and is) a great company.

Another good reason to not burn any bridges is that most industries are rather incestuous. I’ve been in two industries in my career and I’m constantly amazed at how many people you run into repeatedly. You never know when your “new boss” might actually be your “old” boss.

Since my bridge burning days I’ve done everything I can to ensure that I leave on as positive a note as possible. Even when I don’t like how I’m being treated on the way out the door, I’ve bitten my tongue and smiled. Remember: it is only two weeks. You can survive almost anything for two weeks.

Careful Beginnings:
Even more critical as you move from company to company in your career is how you handle yourself in the first few weeks in your new position.

Don’t be that person who comes in (we’ve all met them) and every sentence begins: “At my old job we did XYZ.” Or “This is how we did it at ABC.” Or my personal favorite:“Wow! We had it so much better at MNO!”

Did you now? Shame you aren’t back there, isn’t it??

I know of which I speak. I’ve been on both sides of this: the poor sop having to listen to it until I thought I’d go deaf and even more embarrassing, the idiot saying this every ten minutes.

It is amazing the life lessons we learn through trial and error isn’t it?

Now when I go into a new position, I strive to understand the company’s culture, their business, and their processes. I’m a firm believer in getting my hands dirty and I always want to dig in and do the day to day work myself. I personally find it harder to manage a group of people if I don’t have a solid working knowledge of what their day’s work is like.

If I’m going to bring in key learnings from my previous jobs I present it differently, not referencing my previous company with brain numbing monotony. Ask questions, lots of questions and find out what is “our” philosophy here at ABC Company?”

So there you have it: leaving and beginning with grace, Lara-style.

Any other words of advice for me as I head off into my new career?

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, somewhat prophetically as it turned out, at least half of us in a commuter relationship will at some point in time have to leave their place of employment and probably the town in which you live.

For many people leaving a job is not that big of a deal. They didn’t really care that much about the job or their co-workers. To them they are just people where they work.

For me one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do since turning in my two week notice at work is to watch my team move on without me.

From the moment I knew I was going to resign I dreaded the time that I’d have to say those words aloud: first to my manager and then to my direct reports and the people beneath them.

Logically I know that it is no longer my place to be involved in strategic planning meetings for the company and that it is normal that I am removed off of distribution lists and department pow-wows. But in the spirit of full disclosure I will say that at times it has been a painful process for me.

The team that we have now is a close knit group and the economic downturn hasn’t made things easy for us in the work place. But we stuck together because we’re like family.

If we’ve stuck together through thick and thin then why leave?

I’ve asked myself this question repeatedly. One of the biggest drivers was the opportunity that was presented to me, while risky, offered me a chance to grow within the industry that I love via the use of technology. I will actually run my own department. In my career I’ve always been Robin to someone else’s Batman.

Heck, I’ve never even been a First Wife.

Ironically, at first there is no department: just me. I pointed this out glumly to my husband, “I don’t even have a Robin in this new position.”

“Batman started out alone, Lara.” He said. “Robin came later.”

As dorky as that sounds, it made me feel better.

Leaving people you care about is never easy. But with technology what it is today, you can stay in touch. I hope the people who’ve come to mean so much to me at my current job will stay in touch. I hope that we aren’t just work friends.

As those of us in a long distance relationship know only too well, in any relationship where you don’t see the person every day, it takes effort to keep those relationships alive. I’ll do my best to maintain contact with the wonderful people I’ve worked with for almost eight years.

And here is to meeting new people, and learning new things…..and hoping that I get my own “Robin” sooner, rather than later.

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(More) Interviewing Dos and Don’ts and how I did EXACTLY what I told everyone not to do.

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

I’m 100% certain you read my previous blog on “Interviewing Don’ts” (and if you didn’t, then scurry back in blog-time and read it.

We’re still interviewing at work. And I believe I can now say I have heard it all.

Remember in the last post I was ROFLMAO about the girl who was going to text her mommy to make her feel better about herself? (Yes, she did invoke her mom during an interview and thankfully I missed that line during the actual interview because there is no way I could have kept a straight face. Seriously. Go read my blog. It was funny.)

Enter candidate #2: This woman was no where near as young as Text-Mom girl. Oh no. This one was absolutely old enough to know better. Here goes:

First of all, if I could make a comment about appearance in interviews. All I really ask for is that people are neat, they don’t smell – good or bad, and that their clothes are clean.

I get that most women are not running around in Jimmy Choo shoes or Hermes scarves, particularly for the entry level positions we’re hiring. Generally I’m not too picky about clothing provided it fits, i.e. not so sloppy they look like they walked in wearing their Saturday morning sweats nor so tight that I’m wondering if the circulation is being cut off in their arms, across their chest etc.

And while I’m on the topic can we discuss button up blouses that are straining so tight I’m concerned that if one of those buttons flies off I’m going to have an eye put out? Because really: I don’t need a peek at your chest: it only makes me sad about my lack thereof.

Having said that, I’d also caution someone against wearing too much jewelry. Before you go ballistic on me and we start debating what is “too much” allow me to say, I wore my thumb ring to my interview (mostly because I forgot to take it off). Hey: I can take a little walk on the wild side too!

But back to my latest interview: this candidate had rings on every finger. In fact, she had two rings on one of her pinkies. She had enough bangle bracelets to open up a Zale’s jewelry store and she had on a gold necklace that spelled her name out in wire….just in case I couldn’t read her resume.

Ah yes: her resume.

On her resume there was a sizeable gap in time. Like any good interviewer I questioned her about it.

“I worked some temp jobs,” she said.

“Such as?” I prompted.

“I worked two months at a gas station.”

“Good,” I said. “And the other 8 months?” I queried.

“Well – I worked for XYZ Company from home. Well, I mean….my mom took the typing assessment for me on-line because I don’t type very fast but I did all of the actual work.”

I’m sorry. Did she just say that she committed Employment Fraud? And that her Mom committed the fraud for her??

We always (with reason) have two people in an interview room with a candidate. With this little admission of typing fraud my head jerked up and I saw a similar expression of shock on my co-interviewer’s face.

Needless to say, we weren’t in that interview too much longer.

Ironically, we too have candidates take an assessment which includes a typing test. As my fellow interviewer handed her the slip of paper listing the URL to go to in order to take the test it took all of my strength of will to not say, “Here, hon. Tell your mom to knock herself out.”

After the candidate was gone the two of us laughed to the point of tears. “On the plus side,” my co-worker pointed out, “You can assume she’d be honest.”

We chuckled as we imagined what our own respective mothers might say to us if we asked them to take an assessment for us. Most responses involved getting cuffed upside the head by our mom and being told, “Get your own #$%!* job!”

What was the deal with these women bringing up their mothers in interviews? They undercut their own authority even more so than women who are offered jobs who say, “I’ll have to discuss it with my husband.” Really? Do you need a note from your mommy (or husband) too?

Fast forward to my interview, the one where I was the interviewee for a change.

I went through six different people beginning with a recruiter on a phone screen. Then a phone interview with someone from the company and then four in person interviews: three of which required me to fly to California for a day. The fourth one occurred here in my city.

I entered this process thinking, “how hard can it be?” I’ve been interviewing people for years. Surely I know how to answer interview questions. Perhaps more importantly I know how to NOT answer some questions. I also do a fair bit of public speaking and generally can think and speak well on my feet. Therefore I decided I had this thing nailed. It was in the bag.

Ah the power of my own arrogance.

The first two phone screens went quite well. Flush with my success I boarded a plane and was only a tad bit nervous as I flew across the country to have my first face to face meeting.

At 9am, I met with the recruiter I had been speaking with on the phone. Imagine my shock and embarrassment when I had trouble answering basic questions about why this job interested me. My answers were wooden. I repeated myself. Frankly: I sucked.

After we finished meeting I had a few minutes to run to the loo and grab a diet Coke.

In the washroom I stared at the woman in the mirror and wondered what happened? How had I gone so tongue-tied? What about all of my career accomplishments and accolades? I dabbed at sweat on my brow and quickly scanned my own resume to remind myself of all I’d done. I even reread the letters of recommendation I’d brought along in case they wanted them. (They didn’t but I ended up feeling better!)

“Get it together, girl!” I growled at my reflection.

Luckily I did manage to get it together when I met with the Managing Director and Senior Vice President. Since subsequently I was offered a job I’d go so far as to say I acquitted myself rather well.

I’m sure that when the Director and SVP sat down with the recruiter and exchanged notes about the interviews the recruiter probably wondered if they’d all interviewed the same woman.

Then it was down to the last interview, back in my city. It was at this point that I once again became too cocky. I figured I must have passed the tests in California or I wouldn’t be sitting across the desk at the executive office now.

It was as I discussed how my tenure in my current position (retail dealing in cosmetics, jewelry and women’s apparel) would translate nicely into a different business sector (men’s products: tools, etc.) that I committed the cardinal sin: I said, “When I was discussing this position with my mother – ”

I broke off in horror. Had a truly just brought my mother to my interview?

I sure did. I was aghast.

Hastily I finished the sentence. Inwardly I was cringing but I just smiled and carried on with the interview. What else could I do?

I feel a bit of a hypocrite to offering advice words of advice at this point, but here goes:

1. Practice, practice, practice. Have a friend “interview” you.
2. Use your favorite search site and research interview questions. Double points for “difficult interview questions.”
3. Make sure your clothes are appropriate for the interview. Dress appropriately for the level of the position and the industry it is in. Clean, neat and well-fitted is imperative.
4. Beware of what you mock….for one day you too could become someone worthy of mocking.

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Cha-Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

(Thanks to David Bowie for today’s title)

I’ve been rather quiet on this blog for a few weeks. And with good reason: I’ve decided to leave the company that I’ve worked for since 2002.

It was not an easy decision. The people there have been my extended family. I’m not indigenous to the state I now live in and I have no people here….at least none that are related to me by blood (and even less after Mr. J moved out of state too).

Thus leaving the place that has nurtured me, expanded my career horizons and frankly, during some of the darker episodes of my life, sustained me has taken an extraordinary amount of courage.

Of course, harder to explain to people is why I’m taking a job that doesn’t put me geographically closer to Mr. J.

“Why would you do that?” people have asked, dismay and confusion written all over them.

The most succinct answer is this position will allow me to work remotely, which will allow me to spend more time with Mr. J.

In my defense, I didn’t go looking for this job. It came looking for me. And I have to say: there is nothing quite as sweet as being courted by a recruiter and then the top management from a company. I heartily recommend it.

When I was in college I remember being friendly with the Economic Chairs’ Secretary. To my 21-year-old self she seemed ancient (which basically means she was about 35).

I remember her lamenting the fact that she hadn’t gotten her degree when she was younger. Instead she had married right out of high school, had two babies and then divorced. She was going back to college now but she cautioned me to finish my BBA.

The real take away for me was how she regretted so many missed opportunities: or the road not traveled.

I vowed that when I was “ancient” I wouldn’t look back and say, “I wish I’d done this. And I wish I’d done that.” I decided I would carefully weigh all options presented to me and make sure that I wouldn’t someday regret the decisions I did make.

Now that I’m “ancient” plus a few years, I can say that whenever an opportunity has arisen, and not necessarily just work related, I’ve asked myself, “How will I feel if I don’t do XYZ? Will I regret it later? Will I consider it a missed opportunity?”

I get calls from recruiters pretty regularly. All of them, until now, haven’t been situations that would work for me.

This one did.

Or I sure hope it does. At least I won’t later look back and say, “I wonder what would have happened if I’d taken that job with ABC Corporation?”

I am excited and yet sad as another chapter in my life closes and a new one begins.

On what I promise will be a funnier note (at least some of it), the things that I have learned on this journey of changing jobs have been eye opening.

Several topics I’ll be exploring in the near future:
1. Why leaving on good terms is imperative
2. Disengaging from a team
3. (More) Interview Dos and Don’ts and how I did EXACTLY what I told everyone not to do. (Thankfully I had an opportunity for a do over.)
4. Irony and my beater car
5. How a winning lottery ticket lost me my debit card

Do you have any words of advice as I travel into my position?

Come on: someone tell me some war stories!

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Listen Up Long Distance Relationshippers: Interviewing Don’ts

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Attention all Commuter Couples: There is a good chance that you or your significant other will have to interview for a job one day if you two decide to live in the same locale. At my job we’re interviewing external candidates for positions in our department. I have sat through hundreds of interviews in my career and this last round has come up with some of the best answers I’ve ever personally witnessed. I thought that you might appreciate some advice on what NOT to say.

One woman had been out of work for an extended period of time. The hiring manager asked her what she’d been doing since her last position. The candidate looked at her as if she were crazy and said, “I have to spend 35 hours a week trying to find a job so I can get my unemployment. That is a full time job.”

Okay. In other words, you’re only here so you can keep drawing unemployment??

Maybe I’m being harsh, but then unsolicited she tells us about a “bill collector” with whom she has struck up a relationship. He calls her regularly since she has been out of work. “I’ve struggled a little bit financially. He suggested that I’d make a good collector because I am so good with people.”

First, we were not hiring a collector so this information regarding her burning desire to change career paths and her not so stellar credit rating was relevant how?

Second, I’m staring down at her absolutely perfect French manicured acrylic nails and then back to my own raggedy, chewed off finger nails. I can’t help but wonder if she should perhaps shift her priorities and instead of paying $35 plus tip every two weeks in upkeep on her nails pay her bills! Maybe she wouldn’t have to talk to that ever so nice bill collector every month. Just a thought.

Regardless of what I thought about the aforementioned candidate, the next one takes the cake. Apologies all around if the under 25 crowd is offended but take it from someone old enough to be your mother: if you are old enough to be interviewing for a job with a corporation then you are old enough to know better than to say what this chick said. Read on:

The manager was hiring into a call center. Her question was fairly straight forward, “How do you deal with a difficult customer?”

Candidate answer, “Well, before I get off the call I like to think that the person on the other end thinks we’re BFF.”

Did she really use the initials? Yes. She did. I had to turn away and stifle a laugh.

The hiring manager continues, somehow keeping a straight face, “Let’s say you get back to back difficult calls, how are you going to shake that off so that it doesn’t negatively impact your next call?”

BFF Girl: “I’m going to get up, go grab something to drink and text my mom. She’ll text me back and tell me how great I am and not to let it get me down.”

She’s going to text her mommy? Really?

Visions of her pouting and sucking her thumb filled my head.

I had to leave the room.

I won’t even regale you with the ones where the candidate provided us unsolicited details of his acrimonious divorce, or how a woman told us she regretted having her baby as it had taken her out of the job market or my personal favorite: the sexual harassment “issue” (air quotes included) which occurred after a crazy night out on the town with her co-workers.

Ironically enough there an article about stupid answers to interview questions was on MSN Careers the same week we were interviewing. Check here for even more fun interview answers you might want to avoid.

I’d love to hear any hilarious interview questions or answers you’ve been subjected to. Comments are love!

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