Employers Value Good Writing, But Good Writers Are Hard to Find

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Many years ago when I worked for a property manager, I frequently drafted the manager’s correspondence to customers and residents. One day as she prepared to head out of town for business meetings, I happily volunteered to write a speech and a magazine article that she was obligated to write for a local association she belonged to. When she returned, she had two rough drafts on her desk to review. Needless to say, she was impressed. Not only had I saved her valuable time, but I showed that I brought added value to her management team. In fact, she was so impressed by my writing, she gave me more opportunities for writing beyond drafting her usual correspondence to the residents.

That’s just one example of how valuable writing skills are in the workplace. Even with the added emphasis of visual content, websites, podcasts and social media in today’s business environment, good writing still counts – a lot. If you can come to the table with strong writing and communication skills – skills frequently requested by employers – you can increase your value to bosses exponentially.

Despite the demands for strong writing skills, however, employers reportedly are having a difficult time finding qualified candidates with those skills.

In a recent study by Burning Glass Technologies, which provides job analytics to employers, employers reported have difficulty finding candidates with basic soft skills, such as writing, communications, customer service and organizational skills. According to their 2015 study of employer job postings, one in every three skills requested by employers is a soft skill. Even in highly technical jobs, like engineering and information technology, 25 percent of skills requested in job ads are baseline skills.

In another survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, employers were asked to prioritize the skills they sought most from college graduates. Some 82 percent of employers cited written communication, which ranked third behind speaking skills (85 percent) and teamwork (83 percent). Also high on the list of priorities are critical thinking and analytical reasoning (81 percent) and innovation and creativity (65 percent).

Why is good writing important for business? Writing is the fundamental basis for communicating with employees, customers, vendors, colleagues, and fans of your product. It’s a way of expressing thoughts and transporting messages, writes Jeff Bradford, President and CEO of the Bradford Group in Forbes magazine. “Good writing is good thinking that follows a logical path and is easy for someone to follow. Writing out what you want to communicate forces you to organize your thoughts.”

This is good news for professional writers everywhere. There’s still a place for us in the business environment despite recent technologies and growing emphasis on visual communications that seem to undermine good writing. Before you develop your visual presentation, website or podcast, you need good writing first.

Whether you describe yourself as a good writer or aspire to be one, here’s what good writers bring to the business environment, according to Business World magazine.

1. Good writers can make a positive first impression. When readers receive messages that are well-organized, well-thought out and grammatically correct, they form a positive opinion of the writer, and by extension, the organization the writer represents. In contrast, a message that is poorly written with misspelled words and grammatical errors gives the impression that the writer is disorganized, unintelligent and unprofessional.

2. Good writers demonstrate courtesy. They keep the writer’s information needs in mind as they draft their message. By paying attention to the tone of the message, writers show respect for readers.

3. Good writers have more credibility. Employers and clients view good writers as being more reliable and trustworthy. A well-organized and researched message also shows that the writer is knowledgeable and takes the time to plan their message rather than rushing to send it out to readers.

4. Good writers are more influential. There can be a persuasive quality to their writing. They know how to present messages in a way that influences people to take action, whether it’s to donate to a cause, join a membership organization, elect a political candidate, or purchase a product.

5. Good writers are sought-out for their writing expertise. Once word gets around what a word hound they are, co-workers and colleagues may ask for their assistance in editing their pieces or helping them write it. Good writers can gain more responsibility and recognition for their achievements.

6. Good writers understand that an online presence starts with good writing. With so much information on the Internet, good writing is needed to tell clients and customers about business goals, the company’s brand and products. Presentation matters, and it begins with good writing.

7. Good writers make good team players. People with strong writing skills are able to share ideas, give clearer explanations, and coordinate projects easily. Work partners value the clarity of their ideas and explanations. It makes working with them more enjoyable.

8. Good writers gain professional confidence. With each successful writing project, whether it is the launch of a website or a business proposal that wins a new client, good writers gain confidence in their abilities and are inspired to pursue new writing opportunities.

Not every employee has good writing skills. That’s why they are so highly valued in the workplace. If your writing skills are lacking, there are several things you can do to improve them. Take a few classes at a community college or grab a book and read about writing techniques. Most important, practice, practice, practice.

If you are a business owner or manager who doesn’t have good writing skills and doesn’t have time to do some self-study, look for someone who can help you. Hire a freelance writer, an administrative assistant, or editor who can help you formulate your messages and make you look your best in writing.

No matter what field you work in, the ability to write simply, clearly and concisely will help you become a valued member of the team.

Closing the Career Skills Gap

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is a strange time for the job market. On the one hand, there appears to be a lot of jobs available, judging by the number of job posting sites I subscribe to. On the other hand, there still seems to be many qualified individuals who are underemployed or not working at all. The problem seems to be a gap in the skills required by employers. What job seekers have is not what employers need.  Employers are specific about what they want and are willing to wait for the right candidate to come along, even if it takes up to a year.

This is not an aberration. The skills gap is a very real thing, according to a new survey by staffing agency Adecco. In its 2018 Workforce Report, 56 percent of business leaders believe the skills gap is real, even though 96 percent of workers felt qualified or overqualified for the last job they applied for. What is more interesting is that business leaders said many candidates were lacking soft skills – communication, creativity, collaboration, ability to learn, and critical thinking, among others. These soft skills are just as important, if not more so, than hard skills, like writing and technology. Hard skills can be taught, while soft skills usually cannot. It might be beneficial to emphasize these softer skills on your resumes and cover letters. (Adecco recommends that hiring managers recruit for the soft skills and train for the hard skills.)

Add to this the fact that job titles and job requirements have changed significantly over the past few years. When I left the corporate world five years ago, communications manager meant one thing. Now the job description is more expanded with more and different responsibilities than before. It’s no wonder returning workers like myself feel cut off from the workplace. Employers expect a lot from their workers and job requirements reflect that.

So that leaves a lot of otherwise qualified individuals out in the cold. How does the person on the outside close the skills gap? Where can they go to get skills training that can open up doors for them in the job market? Here are a few sources to kick start your own skills upgrade program.

* Online courses. A quick Google search reveals a whole host of online course sites, such as Udemy, Lynda.com and Coursera, to name a few. Those in the public relations and communications fields might also check out Mediabistro, which offers more specialized courses for their industry. These courses are taught by industry experts who have real-world experience in their particular field. That said, the quality of information and teaching may not be up to par with what you need, but online courses are a great way to get up to speed on industry practices and terminology. Also, costs may vary, so check these sites often for special offers and discounts.

* Community colleges. For those on a budget or are looking for a quick, down and dirty training program, check out your local community college. Many of them offer certification programs from culinary skills to paralegal or medical assistant. This might be especially helpful if you are looking to change careers but don’t have a budget or time for a full four-year program.

* Business networks. Check out local associations for your industry which may offer workshops or one-day conferences about the latest practices. For example, here in Chicago, the Independent Writers of Chicago held an evening workshop about breaking into freelancing. Check out organizations in your own locations to find workshops in your area.

* Staffing agencies. Many of these agencies offer online resources, workshops and open houses covering topics such as resume writing, interviewing and writing cover letters. The job market is constantly changing so it’s helpful to learn the latest trends in resume writing so you can present yourself in the best possible light.

* Internships. Another option to explore, especially for those new to the workforce, is internships. Some are paid; others are not. Some are advertised on job sites; others you may have to dig deep. In any case, for a short period of time, perhaps as much as one year, you can gain valuable work experience and update your skills through an internship that you might not get anywhere else.

* Volunteer work. If you know you are lacking certain skills, such as sales or proposal writer, look around your community for organizations that might need someone to help with writing proposals or selling tickets for upcoming events. You’ll be acquiring new skills and helping your community at the same time.

These are just a few starting points for skills development, and there’s no guarantee that it will open the doors you hope will open for you. If anything, it will keep your brain and job skills fresh and ready to go when the right job does come along.

7 Ways to Improve Your Professional Life in 2018

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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

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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.

Should You Stay Friendly With a Former Boss?

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“Never burn your bridges because you never know when you might need someone’s help some day.”

I’ve never forgotten this tidbit of wisdom from a colleague many years ago. It seems once we leave a job for greener pastures, most of us are ready to put everything behind us, including our relationships with our supervisors and CEOs. We’re eager to start our new jobs or business opportunities. The last thing on our minds is keeping in touch with former bosses. As time passes, those relationships tend to be relegated to a dust pile, long forgotten.

But is that prudent? In an age when our business connections are vital to our success, shouldn’t our relationships with former bosses be a key component of our network?

Yet, how many of us keep in touch with our supervisors? It seems the only time we touch base with them is when we need their help – or a reference. That could be once every few years, or even a decade. Most of us prefer to keep our jobs and our bosses in the rear view mirror, with no intent to re-engage with them. But there are times when keeping those relationships alive can benefit you and your career.

I’m not talking about forming a close friendship with your former boss. But remaining friendly with them over time builds goodwill. With social media sites like Linked In, Twitter and Facebook, it’s much easier now to stay in touch with past supervisors than it was many years ago when I started my career.

A quick phone call every few months to say hello is always welcome. Another option is a brief email to recognize milestones, such as a birthday or a promotion. It’s not necessary to contact them often; usually once or twice a year is sufficient, more often if you had a much closer working relationship.

Keeping these relationships alive can benefit you and your career in a number of ways:

* It helps build goodwill for the long term. Express your gratitude for how they helped you in your career.

* They can be a source of support and professional advice when you need it. Likewise, you never know when they might need support and advice from you.

*They can provide a positive reference for you when you seek new job opportunities.

* It can open the door to new opportunities to rejoin the company working for your boss again in a difference capacity.

* It can present an opportunity to rejoin your supervisor if they move to a different company.

You don’t have to be close friends with your boss, but it does help to remain friendly with them. You never know when you might need their assistance, or how you might be able to help them.

The Battle for Your Brain: Classroom Instruction vs. Online Learning

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September has always reminded me of the start of school. And like the young students who return to school to continue their education at this time of year, I often turn to adult education classes to learn something new or refine my skill set. For example, last week I participated in an hour-long webcast about interviewing skills, a topic that never gets old in my field of work.

For many professionals, this is a time to ramp up their education by attending conferences, updating their skills or completing a certification program. Now as September quickly comes to a close, it seems fitting to explore educational opportunities to keep our skills fresh for the rapidly changing business world.

Education comes is different shapes, sizes and formats, and they don’t always have to be expensive. While online learning may be more convenient for many professionals, a study by Pew Research Center in March 2016 finds that a majority of adults still prefer learning in a physical setting over online-based programs. Respondents cited the desire to ask questions of a real live person and the tendency to get lost in all the information that’s offered on the Internet. “Learning is still very much a place-based thing,” says Pew researcher John Horrigan in the study. “The Internet plays a role, but it’s secondary in most respects.”

In today’s post, I’ll explore the pros and cons of online learning and classroom instruction. Depending on your educational goals and lifestyle, you may have a preference for one format over the other.

* Classroom instruction provides real-time interactions with instructors and classmates. You can put faces to the names of your fellow classmates. Online you may never meet your classmates.

* Students receive hands-on experience and learn by doing under an instructor’s guidance. Anything from auto repair, home improvement or gardening may be better suited for on-site, in-person learning rather than online.

* In a physical setting, students can obtain immediate feedback from instructors about their class work.  Attendees also have a chance to ask questions and get responses in real time. With online learning, there may be a time lag between the time you submit work for review and your instructor’s critique.

* There may be more and better opportunities to network with your peers in a classroom environment and maintain those relationships when the course is done.

On the other hand, online learning via the Internet may be more convenient for professionals who travel a lot or who don’t have time to take a classroom course.

* Online learning allows you to learn at your own pace on your own time or from any place that provides an Internet connection.

* Information is shared in smaller chunks so it’s easy to digest in short, compact time periods. For example, most podcasts, webinars or online class sessions may only be one hour and may only cover one specific topic, such as interviewing skills or using Linked In for a job search.

* Students may work in isolation rather than in a group setting, even though there may be other participants. There’s less opportunity for interaction with other students. Even online discussions lack immediacy and personalization.

* Online learning may require greater self-motivation to keep up with the course work. For example, when I participated in an online writing course, I found it difficult to stay motivated because of the limited interaction with the instructor and classmates. I quickly lost interest. I realized I needed the camaraderie, interaction and feedback from fellow writers.

Whether you take classes online or in a physical classroom at the library, place of worship or local school, education is important to not only keep yourself relevant in business but for also introducing fresh new ideas that you can use at work or in life. Knowing what your educational goals are and what your learning style and preferences are can help you determine which format of learning is best suited for your needs.

Tips for Leaving a Job on Positive Terms

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My father used to say, “Always be kind to the people you meet climbing the ladder of success because you never know when you might meet them on the way down.” That is definitely true when leaving a job, even more so if you did not have the best experience working there. When you are miserable at the job, are eager to leave and don’t have the best relationship with your bosses, it’s tempting to walk away with little or no advance notice and with little thought or care as to how this rush out the door might affect you and your career down the road.

But that approach may not be wise, say career experts. If your personal integrity is important to you, you want to walk away from your job without burning bridges, if for any reason that it makes you look good.

If you are like most workers, you’ve changed jobs multiple times in your adult life. According to the Bureau of Labors Statistics, workers spend an average of 4.6 years in a given job. That’s an awful lot of job changes over the life of a single worker.

Granted, some of those situations may be forced departures – downsizing and firings – but for the most part, you’ll most likely leave a job for positive reasons, such as a better opportunity at another business, going back to school or starting your own business. And when you do choose to leave, you want to be sure you do so on the best possible terms. After all, you never know when you may need their assistance in some way, such as references or future employment.

Here are a few tips for leaving a job on the best possible terms. While some of these suggestions may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised at how much some workers overlook them.

1. Give at least two weeks’ notice. For most administrative professionals, two weeks’ notice is sufficient time to help you and your boss figure out the best way to transition out of the job and tie up loose ends. For those higher up in the organization, you may need to offer to stay longer, perhaps a month, to close out your term there. Giving less than two weeks is considered unprofessional. To show you are a true team player until the end, give the appropriate notice.

2. Talk to your boss first. Once you know you plan to leave your job, talk privately with your manager, explain your reasons for leaving, and start planning the transition out of the organization. Until you speak with your manager, avoid gossiping with co-workers, clients or vendors about your plans.

3. Be transparent about your reasons for leaving, but don’t badmouth the employer either, especially if you had a bad experience working there. According to the Harvard Business Review, don’t tell one person one reason for leaving, and tell another person a different story. Remember, once you’ve updated your social media with your new employment information, people will find out soon enough what you will be doing.

4. Don’t trash the business in the exit interview. Use the meeting to reiterate your reason for leaving, and express your gratitude for what you learned while working there. Any negative feedback you give about your bosses and co-workers reflects poorly on you, not on them. And any suggestions you might give about improving their workplace are likely to fall on deaf ears.

5. Don’t leave unfinished business. Complete all the tasks and projects that you are responsible for, or work with your boss to determine alternative arrangements, such as transferring the project to another co-worker. If necessary and if it will help your bosses, make a list of all your responsibilities, the reports and projects you do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. This step might be especially helpful in a small organization that has fewer resources to help them determine if outside support might be needed.

Another option is to offer to train a co-worker to do your tasks until they hire a replacement, or to return to train the replacement. While the employer may not take you up on the offer, making the suggestion leaves a positive impression and shows you are a team player until the end.

6. Be sure to contact all your vendors and clients that you worked with to say good-bye. Tell them why you are leaving, express gratitude for working with them, but don’t recruit them to your new business, which could be a conflict of interest.

7. Ask for references. If you had a solid working relationship with your manager, do ask for a reference in case you ever need one or your new situation does not work out. Ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn as a professional contact or if they will provide a testimonial of your skills. Most managers are usually open to maintaining some kind of connection with former employees. If you don’t ask at this point, when good will is at its peak, you might forget later.

Taking care of business before you leave a job helps build good will for the long term. And like my father told me many years ago, you never know when you might need a former manager’s help at some point in the future. You don’t want to burn your bridges along the way.