When a Former Employer Comes Calling, Should You Answer?

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Have you ever worked for a former boss or employer? And if you did, was your partnership as successful the second time around? Or did you hit a dead end?

Twice in my career I’ve been approached by former employers to work for them. In one case, a former supervisor invited me to be her administrative assistant 18 months after joining a new company. All signs pointed to yes. I loved working for her the first time around, I was stuck in a dead end job, and the new job paid about $5,000 more than what I was making. So I said yes, though I left 18 months later to pursue another opportunity.

More recently, I was invited by a former employer to manage their bi-monthly magazine. While I was flattered that they thought of me for this role, I didn’t feel I was the right fit for the job. With a new CEO on board, the company was going through a transition and the culture of the organization had changed. I didn’t want to lock myself into a stressful, political situation, and I wanted to be free to pursue my own creative writing. So I told them no.

Looking back, I do not regret either decision. Both situations have worked out fine. In the first scenario, in the short time I was there, I gained valuable experience in a new work environment. In the second scenario, I realized I did not have a lot to gain personally or professionally from rejoining a former employer. The organization  eventually hired a new manager who brings a sorely-needed fresh perspective to their publication.

If a former boss comes calling, would you jump at the opportunity? Whether you accept or decline the offer depends on what your needs are. There are reasons to accept, and reasons to say “No, thank you.”

Reasons to accept an opportunity with a former employer: 

It helps build your resume. Additional or different responsibilities stretches your professional muscles. Perhaps you have an opportunity to manage a department, oversee a project, or supervise staff that you did not have previously. Even if you hold on to this situation for one year, that experience looks good on your resume.

It offers a higher salary. Financial stability is always a plus, but don’t accept a job only because of the salary. You need to weigh other factors too, such as compatibility with co-workers and the supervisor, and opportunities for career growth. Taking a job, or staying in one, just for the money and benefits can hurt your morale. In my experience, these types of work situations tend not to work out well for the long term. And you may find yourself hitting the pavement again in six months after realizing that the job wasn’t’ everything it was cracked up to be.

You like the person you’d be working for. All things considered, when you like your boss and you have a strong bond with them, it makes it possible to like the job, even if it isn’t exactly the type of job you wanted. Having a good relationship with your boss can help get you through difficult work projects. Just be aware that your relationship with a former boss in a different corporate culture can put pressure on your relationship, and working for this person my not be so enjoyable the second time around.

Reasons to decline an opportunity with a previous employer: 

The company does not have a good reputation. Do your homework about the company. Just because a former boss invites you to work for them doesn’t mean the new company is right for you. The culture of the organization may not be compatible with your personality. Use social media to find current and former employees. Did the company treat its employees well? Is the company experiencing layoffs or going through a difficult managerial transition? While some change in the corporate culture is necessary to weed out outdated systems and processes, you don’t want to work in hostile, unstable work environment.

The opportunity does not fit in with your long-term career goals. Or you want to do something completely different. Our career goals are constantly changing. What might have been an exciting opportunity five years ago may no longer thrill you because you’ve moved on to different career options. If you’ve had writing jobs most of your adult life and you find you’d rather teach children, then no lucrative job offer is going to make you happy.

The job is too much like what you’ve done before. The office space and co-workers may change, but the work does not. The new opportunity might pay well and offer great benefits and growth opportunities, but if you find yourself doing the same type of work that you did before, and there’s not room for career growth, it’s probably time for a career reassessment. There’s nothing more disheartening than being stuck in a job with little opportunity for advancement and smacks of the same-old, same old.

It can be flattering when a former boss comes calling, but keep in mind that any new opportunity that arises should be a win-win situation. You should benefit from this opportunity as much as your boss does.

Listen patiently to their proposal and ask a lot of questions. Don’t fall for any carrot-on-the-end-of-the-stick proposals that your former boss might present to you. Those proposals may never materialize or they may benefit your boss more than you.

Know yourself and always keep a clear vision of your career goals. As long as you keep those goals in sight, you will never be steered in the wrong career direction. If you feel the opportunity does not meet your professional goals, then it might be time to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

How Online Commenting Can Be Hazardous to Your Career

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Can commenting on blogs and Facebook posts be detrimental to your professional well-being? What you say and how you say it in the online world says a lot about who you are, both personally and professionally.

If you’re like me, you read a lot of blogs and news articles online. It’s the key to keeping ourselves up-to-date on the latest events in the world. But what do you do if the author presents some provocative ideas that you disagree with? What if you jump into a heated debate between several posters online only to be gang tackled by other participants who disagree with your opinion? How do you disengage from this discussion gracefully and with your reputation in tact?

Read any news feed or blog and you’ll likely come across an article that has drawn hundreds of comments, many of them rash judgments and unsubstantiated opinions. I try not to read the comments section of most articles, but when I do, I am often struck by the angry, disrespectful tone of commenters as they spit out their opinions. And when it begins to get personal, with individuals hurling insults at one another like they are hand grenades, I quickly exit the site.

It’s often tempting to comment on issues that you feel strongly about. That’s understandable, and sometimes even necessary. We all have to stand up for what we believe in. Knowing when to speak up and when to keep your opinion to yourself is a delicate dance we all must do, especially in business settings when our professional reputation may be at risk.

While in most situations, your contribution to the online conversation may be harmless, there may be times when it is better to stay out of the fray altogether. Discussions about religion, politics and social issues tend to bring out the most heated responses, so I tend to avoid them online as much as possible.

When faced with the temptation to get involved in these online debates, you can do one of three things:

1. Jump into the debate right away. This might make you feel better in the short term, but a heated response can come back to bite you later in the form of broken friendships and lost business opportunities.

2. Wait before responding. It can be a few hours or one day. Give yourself time to cool off, especially if you feel agitated or angry. Return to the online conversation later only if you still feel a need to express your opinion. Sometimes time and distance can help you see things differently, and you may simply decide to walk away from the conversation.

However, if you still feel a need to comment, plan the message carefully. Focus on the facts, and site statistics if needed. That will add credibility to your commentary. Be sure to remove emotion or anger from your response. When you provide a well-thought out response and communicate articulately, your viewpoint may be taken more seriously, even if others don’t agree with you. Besides you never know who may be reading those comments anonymously

3. When in doubt, walk away from the argument. Most online debates are not worth risking your professional integrity. And just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you have to express it. Sometimes the least said will work more in your favor.

Since you don’t know who may be reading your comments – family members, friends, employers, clients, colleagues, etc. – the best advice is to err on the side of caution and say nothing. Choose your battles wisely.

What you say, or don’t say, and how you say it often reflects a lot about who you are. Think about your personal brand. How do you want others to remember you – as an abrasive personality who runs roughshod over others who disagree with you, or as an intelligent individual who is open to hearing different points of view? Remember clients, colleagues and employers may be tuning in to what you post in the online world. Make sure what you say accurately reflects who you are.

Case Studies: Overcoming Event Planning Mishaps

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Photo courtesy of Hub Spot Marketing

If you’ve ever had to host an event or workshop for your company, you know that things don’t always go as planned. Events and workshops are prime settings for the unexpected – a speaker cancels at the last minute, the electricity goes out just as the opening presentation is about to start, or you inadvertently publish incorrect information on all your promotional materials.

The mark of a professional organization is not how well they put on a workshop or event, but how they respond when things don’t go as planned.

Recently, I attended two professional development workshops where I experienced firsthand how businesses deal with misinformation or miscommunications when promoting their events. One organization handled their mishap professionally, while the other seemed not to notice that anything was wrong.

Here’s a closer look at both scenarios, what they did wrong, what they did right, and what we can all learn from these experiences.

Scenario 1
My alma mater Illinois State University recently hosted a professional development workshop for women on a weekday afternoon. The email announcement showed that the workshop time was noon to 1 p.m., but the registration page on the website showed that the full program was noon to 4 p.m. with the luncheon taking place from noon to 1 p.m.

Naturally, the mistake caused a lot of confusion and upset individuals who could not leave their jobs to attend a full four-hour session.

How the university responded:
The organizers were genuinely concerned about the mistake and quickly rectified the situation. They worked with the speakers to restructure the program so it fit into a two-hour window, from noon to 2 p.m. The school then sent an email to everyone apologizing for the mistake and offered a full refund to everyone who planned to attend, whether or not they were forced to cancel or not. That meant they ran the program, including lunch, for free. Since this was the first time the university had hosted a professional development workshop of this kind, they used it as a learning experience for themselves to plan future events.

What they did wrong:
By all outward appearances, it seems one person posted the details on the website (which was correct) and someone else created the email blast. They failed to proofread and cross check the details to make sure the information was consistent.

What they got right:
The university immediately acknowledged their mistake, accepted responsibility and apologized. They went further by offering a full refund ($25) for every person who registered for the event, whether or not they cancelled or attended. They essentially ran the program for free – including box lunch.

Takeaway: By acknowledging mistakes and quickly rectifying the situation, you demonstrate your professionalism more clearly and directly. Clients and customers are more likely to continue working with you because of the way you handled the mishap.

Scenario 2:
Raby Institute, a medical clinic, hosted a free evening workshop about women, wealth and wellness. According to the promotional material, two speakers would discuss money management and workplace success for women. The promotional copy focused primarily on the money management aspect, but when I arrived, only one of the presenters spoke about networking etiquette and how to make stronger impressions in the workplace, not at all what was advertised in their marketing materials. The woman who was to speak about money management never spoke at all, but acted as a greeter and introduced herself to everyone as they arrived.

In addition, at the end of the program, they encouraged everyone to complete a “feedback form.” Fine, except the feedback form had nothing to do with the program. Instead, it looked more like a new client intake form for a local financial institution where the financial expert worked.

How the business responded:
Neither the office staff nor the speakers seemed to notice or care that the program did not match the advertising. Not even the attendees seemed to notice or care. When I mentioned to a young woman sitting next to me that the program was not what was promoted, I was baffled by her response. “Yeah, that’s true, but it was still a really good program.”

Not sure if there was a miscommunication between the clinic staff and the speakers about the topic of the program, or if the program was changed without the office staff knowing about it. In any case, I walked away feeling cheated because I expected one type of program and got something else instead.

What they did wrong:
Clearly organizers were either misinformed about the program or the speakers changed the format without notifying the office staff. It might have been an honest mistake, or it might have been an intentional move to mislead attendees. To make matters worse, the so called “feedback form” had nothing to do with the program but instead was an intake form for a financial services company. It was dishonest and misleading.

What they got right:
The third element of the evening’s program centered on wellness, which made sense considering the workshop took place in a doctor’s office. On hand for the program was a nutritionist and chef who brought in samples of healthy appetizers and refreshments, which we all enjoyed. She was the hit of the night. And the price for the workshop was right too – free.

Takeaway: Make sure your advertising matches what the program is about. Make sure someone is confirming the details about the workshop before promoting it, even if it means having the presenters review your marketing copy.

When planning and promoting workshops, it’s easy to let the details get away from you. Be clear in all your communications, get the details straight and have someone proof all the information before sending it out. If mistakes occur, accept responsibility and offer a genuine, considerate response. Offering a refund or a discount on a future events can also help restore customers’ faith in your business. Remember that everything you say and do reflects directly on your reputation and professional integrity.

Movie Review: “The Intern” Teaches Workplace Communication The Old-Fashioned Way

It used to be that men carried a clean handkerchief with them for those rare occasions when they needed to blow their nose, or as Robert DeNiro’s character Ben Whitaker suggests in “The Intern,”  hand it to a woman in distress. “Women cry,” he explains to a young male co-worker at About The Fit, a clothing ecommerce business where they work. “You need to be ready to give them your handkerchief. That’s the only reason we carry it.”

In a later scene, when the object of the young co-worker’s affection cries, fretting about her future with the company, he rushes to her side and hands her a handkerchief (conveniently provided by Whitaker who happens to be standing by).

In today’s fast-paced business environment where Twitter and texting are today’s communications tools of choice, sharing a handkerchief seems quaint. But perhaps DeNiro’s character knows something many of his younger co-workers haven’t learned. You can communicate a lot more with a simple gesture – a hug, a smile, a hand on a shoulder or passing along a clean handkerchief – than you can with any mobile device or social media message. The fact is, exchanging words in an email or text message might be the standard of the day, but they are only tools of the trade. What do they really communicate? What we might have gained in efficiency in our communications via our mobile devices, in the process, have we lost the personal connection and compassion that our relationships need to thrive?

Whitaker was a master at observance. He learned more about his workmates just by watching their behavior and listening to their conversations. Whitaker’s calm and cheerful outlook did not go unnoticed by his boss, Jules Ostin (played by Anne Hathaway), who wanted to transfer him to another department because she was uncomfortable with him around and didn’t believe she needed his services. He was, in Jules words, “too observant.”

How much more can we learn from our colleagues and clients if, like Ben Whitaker, we simply kept our mouths shut and observed what is happening around us. Whitaker may not have been Facebook-savvy, but he understood more about how to communicate with compassion and maturity.  He noticed when Jules was struggling in her marriage without interfering, though he might have been tempted. And he refused to judge others for their behavioral indiscretions and refrained from expressing his opinion, allowing others to learn from their own mistakes. He was adept at reading people’s emotions, and that’s a lost art.

What I appreciated most about this film, though not a movie classic by any means, was that the younger co-workers eventually accepted Whitaker and all his apparent eccentricities. They learned more from him than they were willing to admit, including the co-worker who was so intrigued by Whitaker’s old battered briefcase that he bought one for himself on Ebay.

These are communications lessons we all can learn, no matter how old or young we are.