What Makes a Story Memorable?


Have you ever read a book that stayed with you long after you finished reading the final page? Or watched a movie that kept you awake all night as scenes replayed over and over in your mind?

There are few stories that are so memorable that they grab you by the throat and throttle your senses, or grip your heart so tightly that you want to cry or scream. Most reactions to stories are more subtle, of course, but still effective. Sometimes, a film or book drains you instead, so all you want to do is clutch a warm, soothing cup of tea and sit huddled on the sofa staring into space trying to relive the story in your mind or erase it because it was too horrible to experience again.

Recently I re-discovered one of my favorite all-time films on cable and again, I experienced that “stickiness” of a good story. I grew up watching Fiddler on the Roof enchanted by the music and the romance in a time and place far away from the here and now. The story is about a Jewish peasant in prerevolutionary Russia contending with the marriage of three of his daughters. It wasn’t until I was older and watched it as an adult that I understood the historical and religious undertones of the story. Still, as I lay in bed that night a few weeks ago, the story, the characters and the music continued to play in my head, delaying sleep.

What stories have you read or watched that made you feel sad, angry, joyous, surprised, frightened or ecstatic? What films have made you take notice of an issue, a person or a piece of history that you had not noticed before? What stories or characters made you want to take some sort of action — to dance and sing, to hug your children to make sure they were safe and felt loved, or hop on an airplane to a place you had never been before, just because you saw it on the movie screen or read such a vivid description that you had to see it in person?

In the business world, the term “stickiness” refers to a website’s ability to keep eyeballs browsing its pages. I suppose the same “stickiness” can be applied to a story’s ability to stay on in your memory long after you closed the book. The story gives us so much pleasure that we want to experience that pleasure again.

So what makes a story memorable? What elements do memorable stories have in common that make them worth seeing or reading over and over again? Here are a few common elements, based on my own observations.

Fully developed characters. If fictional characters were real human beings, they wouldn’t be flat, emotionless people. Characters need depth, flaws, and qualities that makes them more like one of us. Strong characters don’t necessarily have to be good characters and they certainly shouldn’t be perfect or we wouldn’t be able to relate to them. Complex, multi-dimensional characters make the most memorable characters, and they aren’t always the most likable. Think Ebinezer Scrooge or Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort.

Sense of time and place. We might remember a story for its unique setting or its place in history. For example, the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz is memorable because its unusual color transcends what we believe to be true of traditional paths that are made of other materials and other colors. It makes us realize that this is not part of our world.

Emotional connection. A story can be memorable by the emotional connection it creates between the characters and their readers or viewers. We can sympathize with Topol’s father figure in Fiddler on the Roof because of the emotional conflicts he faces. We feel the love he has for his family and his community, and we witness the pain and confusion in his eyes as he sees his old comfortable world falling apart, and he feels helpless to do anything to stop it.

Suspense. Without suspense, there isn’t much of a story, just a bunch of scenes with no connection to one another. Suspense creates tension, which is the engine that drives the action forward. As each chapter unfolds, another clue, character, or plot twist keeps our interest. If we want to know what’s going to happen next, we have to keep reading.

A satisfactory conclusion. There is nothing more disappointing than reading a page-turner only to get to an ending that makes you wonder, “What happened?”  The ending may not be what you or I have in mind, but it makes sense from the author’s or director’s perspective. We are so conditioned to believe in “happily ever after” that we expect happy outcomes in movies and books. So when a story ends differently, like Thelma and Louise driving their convertible off a cliff, or two young lovers split up at the end of La La Land, it can be a bit startling. The satisfaction comes with understanding that there is a resolution to the conflict in the story; it just may not be the one we wish it to be.

Granted most of these examples are films, but these tips work just as well for books, TV shows, even song lyrics. They tell stories too. Whether you write stories, or just enjoy reading them or watching them on film, remember that stories aren’t worth experiencing unless you can make them memorable.

Want to Succeed in Business? Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

icon-1623888_1280The romantic relationship that went sour after six months. The job interview that didn’t result in a job offer. The startup business that shut down.

What do these situations have in common? They’re all examples of failure. It is such a normal part of our existence. Without it, how can we possibly expect to succeed?

While failure is as common as eating or walking, it’s how we react after we’ve experienced failure that defines us. Either we can suffer in silence and decide to never try anything again, or we can dust ourselves off and get back on the horse (or bicycle, if you prefer) and keep riding. As someone recently shared with me this bit of wisdom from her CEO: “Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Aren’t we all afraid of failure? Failure is normal. It is expected. How many of us want so much to be successful in everything we do that sometimes we turn a blind eye to the value failure brings to our experience? Perhaps we should begin to honor our failures as much as we celebrate our successes. After all, we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. We learn perseverance, patience and resilience. We learn the conviction of our ideas, our talents and our hard work.

For each project that fails to meet a deadline, for every team that does not achieve its year-end sales goals, for every relationship that slips away, and for every business that shuts its doors, there is something to be gained. We cannot be afraid to fail. It is as vital to our lives as breathing. We cannot be afraid to fail if we want to be successful someday.

Just look to Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln, two of the most successful men in American history. We might remember them for their successes, but they had many failures too. We remember Thomas Edison as the inventor of the light bulb and phonograph, but he invented many other items in his lifetime that failed to catch on with the public, such as electric pens, automatic vote recorder, and tinfoil phonograph. But he didn’t allow the failure of these inventions to derail him. He kept going, and kept inventing.

Abraham Lincoln ran for public office multiple times, and won a few races along the way. But we remember him for his ultimate victory, becoming the 16th President of the United States.

The reason why these men eventually succeeded was because they refused to dwell on their past failures. Dwelling on failures will only slow you down and make you doubt yourself, and that’s the last thing you want to feel about yourself. As a colleague told me many years ago, “Fear and doubt will kill every opportunity that comes your way.” Perhaps more troubling than failure is not trying at all.

So what if we fail? We can all learn from Edison and Lincoln, who clearly refused to let their failures define them. They refused to give up. I believe what is necessary after a loss or failure is to take a step back and reassess what happened and why, and more important, to do so without blame or self-recrimination (which can be tempting, but counter-productive). Most of all, remember that just because a project ended or a business failed, it does not mean you are a failure as a human being.

Failure may be the best thing that happens to us in our lifetimes. We might feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty about our failures, but there is nothing to fear from them. Maybe it’s time to appreciate them for what they are and how they make us better people over the long term.


Review: Writers Museum A Perfect Showcase of American Writers and Literature

American authors
If you’re like me and you love to read and talk about books, then you will want to check out the American Writers Museum (AWM). After a soft opening to the public last spring, AWM is finally beginning to draw more visitors and book fans to its location on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. For anyone visiting Chicago and looking for a literary hangout, AWM may be just the ticket.

I had the opportunity to visit the museum for the first time, thanks to a friend who is a member who invited me as her guest. While she listened to a talk about the life and career of Chicago writer Nelson Algren, I wandered through the exhibits, marveling at the history and literary genius of American writers, such as Algren, children’s author E.B. White, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others.

I particularly enjoyed the temporary exhibit Capturing Stories, which featured the visual works of photojournalist Art Shay who photographed notable authors such as Hemingway, Studs Terkel and Gwendolyn Brooks. Another temporary exhibit featuring the life and career of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie series, reminded me how much a writer’s personal and family life influences their creative work. It also reminded me that I had read the first book in the series, Little House in the Big Woods when I was in fifth grade.

Permanent exhibits include a chronological presentation of the writing industry and the significant historical events that overlapped it; profiles of Chicago authors and the impact their work has had on our society and the city of Chicago; a children’s author section with a sparse collection; and a collection of games and exercises throughout the museum so test your knowledge of authors and their works. One such game, which could be played with one or two players, displayed a paragraph from a known published work with missing words. Players select a word from a list provided and can earn 25 points if they choose the word that correctly matches the published work.

Another example of the interactive nature of the exhibits is the ongoing survey of visitors about their favorite American authors and favorite published works. On my visit, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was the top named book, and Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were the top named authors. The list is continually updated based on visitors’ survey responses.

The program calendar also has something for everyone — from gallery talks and children’s story time to conversations with first-time authors and discussion groups. AWM is rather compact in size, taking up the entire space on the second floor. Figure to spend at least two hours navigating the exhibits.

If I have a complaint at all about AWM, it would be the noticeable gaps in the exhibits. For example, the children’s section featured only four authors: Langston Hughes, E.B. White, Louisa May Alcott and Maurice Sendak (author of Where The Wild Things Are). I wondered why other prominent children’s and young adult authors such as Dr. Seuss, Charles M. Schulz, Judy Blume, Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew mysteries) and R.L. Stine, were not included.

Overall, the American Writers Museum does a pretty good job of collecting, organizing and presenting an interesting array of artifacts and information about the world of writing and literature. While it’s a worthwhile showcase of the best of American writers, there is plenty of room to grow.


10 Words That Could Dominate the News in 2018


Online dictionary Merriam-Webster recently shared their top words for 2017. Tops on their list: feminism, which the site selected because of its prominence in news stories throughout the year. Other words included on their list for 2017 were: complicit, recuse, gaffe, federalism, empathy, dotard, syzygy, gyro and hurricane. These words were noted because of a higher than usual percentage of look-ups in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary following references in news stories.

Seeing this list made me think of 2018. What words do you think will dominate the news media in the coming year?

I’ve come up with my own list, presented below in alphabetical order. Some have already been mentioned repeatedly in the news; others are likely to be popular in the coming months. It will be interesting to see if any of these words will make Merriam-Webster’s list a year from now.

Backlash – With social media, it’s all too easy to speak out in favor or against a person or issue. It’s also just as easy to receive backlash for those comments. In the past few years, celebrities and public servants have received backlash for bad attitudes, poor behavior and subpar performances, and that trend will likely continue in 2018. So “backlash” will continue to dominate news stories in the coming year.

Bi-racial – As the nuptials of Britain’s Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle take place this spring, we will no doubt hear more about Markle’s background and family. Markle is biracial, meaning her parents are of two different races. I believe her notoriety will bring to light what it means to be biracial in today’s society.

Bomb cyclone – Sounds intimidating, and for those who live along the Eastern coast of the United States, it was intimidating last week as a bomb cyclone blasted through the region. Bomb cyclone, also known as a weather bomb or explosive cyclogenesis, refers to a weather phenomenon when a low pressure system’s central pressure drops 25 millilbars in 24 hours or less. The conditions are ripe for an epic winter storm with snow and high winds followed by a significant drop in temperature. Popular Science has a nifty explanation of this term.

Global cooling – This is a term I devised to describe the cool response the U.S. has been receiving from its international allies. Since Donald Trump took office a year ago, the U.S. has seen a rash of unpopular policy reversals that have affected our relationships with foreign countries and our standing in the world, such as the Paris Climate Agreement. The result is a “global cooling” attitude toward the U.S., a trend that is likely to continue in 2018 and beyond.

Harassment – As more women come forward to share their stories of harassment in the workplace, the word ‘harassment’ will emerge as a top word in 2018. Harassment comes in many forms, and it isn’t always sexual; it can be verbal, physical and emotional too. And women aren’t always the victim; men can experience harassment too.  Workers will need to educate themselves about what constitutes harassment in the workplace, which is another reason why it will be one of the top words of 2018.

Impeach – There’s been a great deal of doubt surrounding the Trump presidency. As the year progresses, we will likely hear more about Trump’s business dealings with Russia, resulting in continued public outcries for impeachment.

Isolationism – In 2018, I think we will begin to hear more about isolationism, a term referring to national policies that avoid political and economic involvement with other countries. Isolationism has been a recurrent theme in U.S. history, most recently in the 1930s leading up to World War II. With President Trump’s talks of building a border wall along Mexico and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. may once again be moving toward isolationism.

Nuclear – As Trump’s cat-and-mouse game with North Korea heats up, a nuclear incident becomes a very real and scary reality. Discussions about nuclear policies will continue to be a heated debate in 2018, making “nuclear” a top word on my list.

Resurgence – According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, resurgence means “rising again into life, activity or prominence.” As the mid-term elections draw near, I believe we will see a resurgence of political and social interest by individuals and groups alike. More people who had never become politically or socially active will run for office or get more involved, and the results may be startling. Don’t be surprised if we see sweeping changes in the makeup of Congress at the midterm elections in November.

Treason – Much like the word “impeach,” expect to see the word “treason” in many news stories this year as more of President Trump’s political and business dealings are uncovered.

What do you think? Would any of these words make your top words of 2018? What words do you think will dominate the news in the coming year?

7 Ways to Improve Your Professional Life in 2018


Happy New Year! Welcome to 2018!

With the flip of the calendar, not only have we changed months, we have moved on to a brand new year. I always look forward to this time of year – a time to reassess where I have been and where I would like to be in the coming year. It’s an exciting time for me because I have an opportunity to make changes in my life to produce the kind of success that I want for myself. Rather than resolutions, I prefer to call these efforts “calls to action” or “priority-setting” because I think it’s more positive and helps drive my efforts for the rest of the year.

What about you?  Have you made any promises to yourself to change some things in your professional life?

Whether you call them resolutions, goals or calls to action, you can always find ways to improve your professional life. There’s always room for improvement, especially if you want to stay relevant in your industry or company. Here are a few examples of improvement goals any worker might consider achieving in 2018.

1. Learn new skills. Take time to assess the skills you already have. Then take a few minutes to assess what skills are most in demand for your job or in the workplace overall. If you work in sales, perhaps you need to brush up on your public speaking skills, visual design skills for your presentations, or learn a new system for tracking your contacts and sales results. You can never have enough skills, and the more updated your skills are, the more in demand you may be at your company or in the job market.

2. Mind your manners. Be aware of how you think and how you behave around others. B respectful of everyone you know and meet on a daily basis. If we have learned anything from 2017 is that sexual harassment happens everywhere every day. Be mindful of your own actions. And if you experience or witness harassment in your workplace, speak up. The best way to combat harassment is to bring it out in the open and make people aware of their behavior when it happens.

3. Take care of your health. Let’s face it, you can’t be productive at your job if you are sick. If you catch a cold or flu, stay home and get the rest you need. Your co-workers will thank you for it. Good health also means good health habits, such as getting at least eight hours of sound, restful sleep at night, getting annual physical and dental exams, eating more healthful meals, exercising regularly, drinking water instead of soft drinks, and practicing stress reduction techniques like meditation. When you feel your best, you will produce your best work.

4. Build your network. For some professionals, a strong network is vital to their business. If your own network is lacking, resolve to build it up in 2018. It isn’t how many people you know, but WHO you know. The quality of your relationships may be more important than how many people are in your network. Those who know you better are in a better position to give you what you need, whether that is career guidance, business referrals or job opportunities. Remember to offer your assistance in return. Don’t be shy about giving testimonials for good business service, pass along job leads or give helpful advice to a colleague. The good you do now can come back to you in spades later when you need it.

5. Get organized. Most people aren’t born with good organizational ability. Sometimes you have to train yourself on how to be organized. Did you ever stop to think that your lack of organization may be holding you back from performing at your best? For example, if you keep misplacing your keys or your bills keep getting lost in a pile of papers on your desk, put up a little shelving unit on your wall that contains hooks for your keys and pockets for your bills. That way you know where to find them and you don’t have to keep looking for them when you need them. Developing systems at home and at work can help you operate more efficiently.

6. Update your financial skills. If finance has always baffled you or you have difficulty making and sticking to a budget, it may be time to seek some help. There are numerous apps available to help you with budgeting, for example. Take a class at your local library or community college or download e-books that can help you understand basic finance principles. If you really feel stuck, seek out the advice of a professional financial planner. Learning about financial planning can help you not only personally, but also at work where you may need to manage a department budget.

7. Practice better work-life balance. In the competitive business world, it is easy to keep saying yes to business opportunities, projects, invitations, and so on. We can get so caught up in the day-to-day business obligations that we neglect our personal lives. Or likewise, we get caught up in our personal obligations that our professional life suffers. Practicing better work-life balance may be a simple as learning to say no. We all need time to catch our breath. Living life at full throttle eventually catches up to us. We’re not meant to live life at full speed, or we’ll simply crash and burn. To avoid burnout at work or in life, slow down. Start saying no to things that are non-essential to your happiness. Work-life balance can happen; it just requires an assessment of your priorities and making some tough decisions. But you’ll be happier for it in the long run.

8. Give back to your community. Speaking of work-life balance, one way to bring more balance into your life and your career is giving back. That can mean anything from fostering a dog or cat in need to mentoring a young professional in your office. When you do something for someone else, it gives you a warm feeling inside knowing that there is more to life than your work.

These are all common sense objectives. You don’t have to pursue all of them. Choosing one or two can make a difference in your life, not just for today but for many years to come.

How Introverts Can Become Better Leaders


Who says you have to be an extrovert to be a good leader?  Some of the finest political leaders and corporate CEOs are renowned introverts, including Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few.

Just because you consider yourself an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to be a good leader. And in fact, you don’t need to be the CEO of your company, or even a manager, to be a good leader. A good leader makes solid decisions using the talents and ideas of those around them. You can find good leaders at any level of business, even among administrative employees. The only difference is the job title, and really, what’s in a job title anyway these days?

But back to my point. You can find people with good leadership ability at any level in the organization, and they aren’t necessarily the most outgoing, extroverted personalities on the team. Being introverted is not the same as being shy or timid, although many of them are. Introvertism, as I call it, is a way of interacting with the world. For example, introverts may socialize as often as an extrovert, but introverts tend to meet fewer people and prefer to have more meaningful conversations with them, while extroverts tend to spread their net far and wide. After an intense meeting or attending a networking event, introverts are more likely to “chill out” in a quiet corner to regroup and gather their thoughts, while extroverts tend to thrive in social settings. Introverts are more likely to patiently listen to multiple opinions and seek input from different parties before making a decision, while extroverts may find it easier to block out outside opinions and simply move forward on their decisions. There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert; it’s just a different way of interacting with the world around them.

Unfortunately, it is the more outgoing, extroverted personalities that seem to grab the promotions and higher-level visible positions, leaving behind equally qualified introverts behind. But introverts can still achieve success in the business world; it just takes a bit of courage and common sense. So whether you want to lead an organization or simply develop better leadership skills in your current role, here are six tips for becoming a better leader.

1. Know your strengths — and embrace them. Do you know what your best skills are? Why do people enjoy working with you? What would they say your strengths are? Once you understand what your best assets are, play them up. For example, if one of your strengths is being a good listener – and many introverts are good listeners – use that skill to build empathy in business relationships.  If you are naturally curious about new people and new ideas, embrace that curiosity by asking lots of questions and showing sincere interest in the people you work with and the ideas you hear. That curiosity can lead to the development of innovative products or services that can be prosperous for your business.

2. Volunteer on team projects. Show off your skills or gain new ones by volunteering to be part of a team project. When you join a team or committee, you show you are willing to take on additional responsibilities. Higher ups will appreciate your initiative and willingness to share the workload. If you succeed in the task you volunteered for, colleagues may keep you in mind when they need someone for a specific task.

3. Honor your commitments. Nothing says you take responsibility seriously than keeping your word. If you say you’ll get the report done by Monday morning, do so. If you promise to make follow up phone calls to your best customers, do that. Every task you can do on time and without complaint leaves a positive impression and adds to your credibility. Honoring your commitments and following through on tasks is another way to show your leadership.

4. Lead by example. You’ve heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” That is true in the business world as well as in your personal life. Sometimes it’s best to let your actions speak for themselves. Good leaders don’t have to boast about their activities; they let their actions speak for themselves. Sometimes the best leaders are the quiet ones; they don’t necessarily have to act as a cheerleader. They demonstrate their leadership by simply going about their business quietly and unobtrusively and with little fanfare or drama.

5. Find someone to be your champion. Quiet introverted types aren’t comfortable blowing their own horn. Find someone to do it for you. Sometimes you need someone who knows you well, has worked with you previously, and knows what you are capable of; they are the best people to speak on your behalf. Good leaders surround themselves with people who are willing to champion their cause. Look around your office or among your peers. Is there one, two or three people you can identify who can be your champion? When you need that extra support or buddy to help you in a pinch, for a project or promote your cause, call on them to do some of your dirty work. That’s called having a strong support system.

6. Network for meaningful connections. Introverts tend to prefer small groups or one-on-one encounters with people, so attending conferences can be a bit intimidating. Look around the meeting room. Identify one or two people who may be there by themselves and approach them and introduce yourself. They may be just as intimidated by the prospect of networking as you are! Making small talk isn’t always easy for introverts but it is a necessary part of building relationships. You never know if that initial conversation can potentially open doors to more meaningful and profitable business partnerships.

The path to a more visible, leadership role can sometimes be a bit rocky for introverted types. But with a little courage and patience, you can build better leadership skills and more self-confidence to be the leader you believe you can be.

What Do Your Job Postings Say About Your Company?


I’m always browsing job ads, but I apply to very few of them, usually because  they are so poorly written that’s it’s difficult to understand exactly what they are looking for in a candidate. And I ask myself, “Why do I want to work for this company?”

Job ads are supposed to help you find qualified candidates for your open positions, but if they aren’t written clearly and succinctly, they may not bring the best-qualified prospects to your door. As Alison Green of AskaManager.com wrote in Inc. magazine recently,  job ads are a form of marketing. And it’s up to you to market your job openings to attract – and keep — the best candidates.

Here are five problem areas I’ve noted in job ads and what they may say about your company:

Problem 1: The ad is too vague, too general or lacking adequate detail. They contain phrases like “communications manager oversees the operations of the communications department,” which really doesn’t say anything, and candidates are left wondering what is expected of them.

What this says about your company is that you didn’t take the time to think through your hiring needs before committing those ideas to paper. How will this person spend their day? Will they supervise anyone? When you don’t have a clear idea what this job is to begin with, it will be difficult to explain it to anyone else.

Problem 2. The ad is heavy on technical language or industry jargon. In fact, there is so much jargon that it is difficult to know what the new hire will be expected to do. You have to ask yourself if all this heavy language is covering up a job that is actually quite thin, and are you making the job sound bigger and more important than it really is? Or are you more concerned with making a certain impression on candidates than clearly communicating your hiring needs?

What this says about your company is that your workplace may be more formal and structured, even more than you intend. Appearance may matter more than substance. If this is not true for your workplace, then it’s time to reevaluate and rewrite your job postings so they accurately reflect your company.

Problem 3. The ad is too lengthy and wordy. If your ad is presented as one long paragraph that runs on and on, it can show a lack of focus and a certain carelessness in the way you present your company. Perhaps you were running on a deadline or had too much work to do that you didn’t take the time to format the ad cleanly.

What this says is that your company is operating from the hip, so to speak. It gives the impression of messy, disorganized thinking. People are busy and don’t have time to read the small, fine print in your ad, so it is helpful to break up the copy in smaller paragraphs and use bullet points for key responsibilities, which is much easier to read. Take the time to edit down the copy too so you focus on the most important elements of the job description.

Problem 4. Too much emphasis on perks like free pizza for lunch every Friday and a game room, and not enough information about how the new employee will spend their day at work. While the perks may attract candidates to your company, are they the right candidates for the position? Why do they want to work for you – for the perks you offer or for the opportunity to contribute to your organization? The truth is, you can offer free pizza every week, but good, quality employees may still leave your company because they don’t get along with their boss, don’t feel they are doing meaningful work or they found a better job offer elsewhere.

What this says about your company is that you want to create the impression of having a fun, sociable place to work. But focusing primarily on the perks sends one of several possible messages. Perhaps there isn’t enough substance to the job itself, or employees work long hours so you feel a need to “reimburse” them with free lunches. Focusing on the fun, sociable aspect of the company is important, but don’t gloss over the details of the job, leaving candidates to wonder what the job is really about.

Problem 5. The ad asks for a salary history. This is the 21st century, yet it is surprising that some companies still ask for a candidate’s salary history.  You have to wonder what kind of work environment they have. Comparing salary history in today’s job market is difficult, if not impossible, because candidates may be coming from different locations or industries where salary levels are determined differently. Candidates may not have the same job title as the one they are applying for, so looking at what they made in previous jobs doesn’t give you a direct comparison. Asking for a salary history is not only obsolete, it is a wasteful, meaningless exercise.

What this says is that your company may be out of touch with current hiring trends. If you are not current with hiring practices, what other business practices are outdated at your company? You may need to rethink your hiring strategy and get yourself up to date on the newest recruiting tools.

For the record, here’s an example of a clearly written job description for an office manager/executive assistant. There is no doubt what this person will be doing. It is written in a friendly, conversational tone too.

When writing a posting for your next job opening, use your imagination and be creative. If you don’t have the desire or time to rewrite job descriptions, hire a professional writer to help you prepare something that will grab a candidate’s attention and make them want to work for your company.

Eight Reasons That Hiring Older Workers Makes Good Business Sense

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2020, one-fourth of the U.S. workforce will be over the age of 55.

Let that sink in for a minute.

One out of every four individuals working in the U.S. in the year 2020 will be over 55. Think about what that means for your business if you are an owner and employer. Are you prepared to hire older workers and have them become a viable part of your team? With so many 55-and-over individuals available for work, it would be a mistake to overlook them when it comes to hiring. They bring a lot of strong skills and business experience to the table, and they’re not about to retire any time soon. When you’re searching to hire the most qualified individuals for your business, don’t overlook the candidates over age 50 because they may have the skills that you need for your  business.
Still not convinced if older workers fit in with your organization? Consider these advantages:

1. Older workers bring loads of business experience. That means they can usually hit the ground running from Day One and make an immediate impact. They’re not shy about asking questions or get clarification about a project, and they’re eager and willing to learn.

According to a 2014 survey of the Society of Human Resource Management, 77 percent of HR managers surveyed cited work experience as the top advantage of hiring older workers, followed closely by maturity and professionalism (71 percent) and a strong work ethic (70 percent).

2. Older workers won’t break the bank. Although they bring a lot of work experience, they’re not expensive. In fact, in most situations, they’re not looking for a promotion or an office in the VIP suite. They’re more interested in finding a job with a steady income, one that allows them to contribute their talents. That desire for stability makes them attractive to employers who may tire of younger workers jumping ship after giving them on-the-job training.

3. Older workers are willing to learn new things and develop their skills. If they’ve lost a job or had an extended period of unemployment, some may have gone back to school for additional course work or taken computer classes to update their skills. So they return to the workforce well prepared and better educated to tackle today’s biggest business issues. And don’t worry about a lack of understanding of current technology either. Today’s 50+ workers are more technologically savvy than previous generations. These individuals have grown up with older versions of technology, so learning new technology shouldn’t be a problem.

4. Many older workers have a stronger work ethic than their younger peers. They understand what is expected of them, and you won’t find them standing idly in the break room gossiping with co-workers. They arrive on time, are willing to work overtime if necessary and they treat everyone with respect. In fact, their work ethic makes them excellent candidates for customer service positions, according to Over50JobBoard.com.

5. Older workers are loyal and reliable. They’re not looking to climb the corporate ladder or the next business opportunity for themselves. By age 50, they’ve already reached the pinnacle of success in their careers and are in the twilight of their careers, they simply want to contribute to a cause, be active in the community and stay relevant in the business world. You know you can count on them to arrive on time, be respectful of other workers and with clients, and perform their tasks efficiently and with little fuss or drama.

6. Older workers bring maturity and professionalism to the job.  Because of their experience, they have faced numerous business scenarios requiring good communication, clear thinking, problem-solving ability and an ability to look at a situation from different angles. As a result, there is a maturity in their decision-making that you won’t find in younger workers.

7. Older workers are ideal stress relievers. Because they have faced many high-pressured situations in the past, nothing fazes them. They can remain patient, calm and cool-headed in the most stressful situations.

8. Older workers have a positive attitude. They’re generally cheerful and are grateful to be working at all. Think of Robert DeNiro’s character in “The Intern,” who was always happy to help out his co-workers, do as he was asked without argument, and always had a smile on his face. He was just happy to belong to a group of dynamic professionals and contribute his insights and experience to the job.

The next time you need to hire someone for a job, don’t overlook the over-50 candidates. They have a lot to offer and may have just the skills you need to help your business thrive.

Tips for Working Productively in Open Office Environment

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I recently began working in an office with an open space plan. My staffing representative warned me about the open space when she set up the interview, so I was prepared to see how the space differed from previous offices I worked in that weren’t as open. My initial reaction was that it reminded me of a news room, with a line of desks facing outward toward the windows and another line of desks facing inward toward the inside offices.

Noise can sometimes be a problem in the office. One co-worker who sits near the front reception area often slips into a small conference room nearby with his laptop to concentrate on his project.  Other times, he wears headphones to escape office chatter while he works at his desk.

Open space floor plans have been around for several decades, but it’s only in recent years that they garnered criticism from employees who claim that they don’t provide a lot of privacy and can be noisy. Do a Google search about open offices, and you’ll find loads of articles that downplay their strengths, such as these stories from The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal.

True, they have many good points, such as letting in more natural light, allowing employees window views that they would not have had otherwise, and producing a closer, cohesive working unit among workers. Open office spaces were designed to encourage better collaboration among employees, but studies show that isn’t always the case. The truth is, not everyone works productively in an open office environment. Some people work in positions that require more privacy for interviews, such as human resources (or as they call it these days, “talent management”), while others need quiet time to read or write reports or technical information.

The good news is that many employers are offering their workers alternative arrangements for dealing with noise issues. By adding sound proof rooms, creating quiet zones and rearranging floor plans, many employers have been successful at accommodating workers’ need to escape disruptions.

Open office spaces are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to work in them. Here are a few tips for working more productively in an open office environment without losing your sanity:

* Move to another location in the office. If things get too noisy, and you really must concentrate on a project, see if you can slip into a nearby empty office or conference room if it’s available. Another possible solution is to put out a “Do Not Disturb” sign at your desk.

* Keep headphones handy. You don’t have to be listening to music or a podcast. When you slip on headphones, you subtly and clearly communicate to others that you are not available. It’s comparable to putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

* Alter your work schedule. What are your most productive times to work? For some, getting into the office a little earlier, say 7:00 am, before everyone else, gives you at least two hours of quiet time to work on a project with no disruptions.

* Work from home. Sometimes working from home may be more productive than working in an office. If you really need quiet time and you know you can be productive there, and as long as your supervisor approves the time outside the office, then working from home might be an option worth looking into.

Open floor plans at the office are here to stay. But knowing how you work in any environment and knowing what options you have to deal with unwanted distractions can help you remain focused so you produce your best work.

Want to Improve Your Business Skills? Try Working a Crossword Puzzle


An editor I worked with many years ago used to set out the day’s New York Times crossword puzzle so that everyone in the office could fill in the blanks that he could never finish. Usually by the end of the day, that crossword puzzle was completely filled in.

Another company I know has one or two jigsaw puzzles set up in one corner of the office in varying stages of completion. Workers who pass by can work on them, filling in a few pieces at a time while taking a break from their own tasks. Little by little, the puzzles are getting becoming more complete.

You don’t have to work in an office with a group of co-workers to enjoy the benefits of working puzzles. Computer games make it possible to complete puzzles on your own. Whether you play Free Flow, Angry Birds or Tetris, on your own or with a group of people, on the computer or in an office, computer games and puzzles can do more for your professional life than just provide a temporary respite from the daily grind. They can also help you build skills that are as beneficial to your business success as they are to your personal life. Here’s what games and puzzles can do for you:

They can help you solve problems. 
When playing games and puzzles, you are faced with a task, and it’s up to you to figure out how to achieve it, whether it’s to arrive at a certain destination, overcome an obstacle or reach some other goal. You may not have all the information you need to get there so you have to make the best decisions possible, and you may not have a lot of time to make them. Games like chess can also help you learn to anticipate an opponent’s moves so you can be prepared to respond appropriately. The more problems you solve in puzzles and games, the more skilled you become in solving problems in your everyday business life.

They help you process data and meet deadlines. 
Since some games are timed, you may be faced with a running clock – or a looming deadline — while trying to solve a problem. When you don’t have a lot of time to work with, you have to make snap decisions. You learn to quickly assess a problem, come up with possible solutions then decide which one will work best in that situation – all while racing against the clock. If you work in a fast-paced environment, these types of timed games can help you become better problem solvers while under pressure to meet a deadline.

They help improve concentration and focus. 
Playing puzzles and games helps you focus on the task at hand and block out distractions and improve your concentration. When you are able to focus on the task at hand with minimal interruption, you can resolve the problem or reach goals more quickly. Participating in games and puzzles proves that multi-tasking is counterproductive because you need to have good concentration to successfully complete the puzzle or problem in front of you.

They help develop self-trust and intuition.
When working on problems at work or working on a puzzle in your spare time, you may find yourself working with limited data. With less than optimal amounts of information available, you have to find other means to solve problems. Usually that means trusting your own past experience and your intuition to know what your next move may be.

They help improve your emotional and mental outlook. 
The most obvious benefit to playing games is the emotional lift it gives you. Games are just plain fun, and when you take time to have fun, your outlook improves. By setting aside your own work problems to focus on a puzzle or game for even 10 or 15 minutes gives your brain a rest so that when you do come back to work, you can look at a problem or task with a clear head. And with a clear head comes a solution you did not see before.

Clearly, games and puzzles offer many benefits. Just don’t overdo it on the playing part and refrain from using games to avoid working on a project you should be doing. If you have a habit of spending too much time playing games and puzzles, and not enough time working on your latest client project, perhaps you need to time yourself. Games and puzzles are a leisure activity after all, not a key part of your job. So set the clock for 30 minutes for play time, then get back to work.