Decoding Nonverbal Cues in Interviews and Presentations

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Have you ever watched a comedian’s performance on stage when the jokes are making his audience laugh? Conversely, have you ever witnessed a comedian falter badly, knowing the jokes have fallen flat? The comedian knows, just by reading the audience’s reaction during the performance, whether his jokes are hitting the mark or not.

The ability to read an audience while performing is a useful skill in business too. Every time you interview for a job or make a presentation to a potential client, you have the chance to read the audience the way the comedian assesses theirs. But in the midst of performing, we can often forget to check in with the audience to notice how they are reacting to our message because we are more focused on our own behavioral responses.

How do you know if you have impressed your audience with your knowledge and credentials? How can you determine if the client is buying into your proposal? How can you determine if your responses are hitting the mark or if they are falling flat? There are numerous articles about how nonverbal communication can support our language during an interview or presentation. (You can find links to a few of them at the end of this article.) But few suggest how to “read” your audience’s nonverbal cues.

Usually business owners and employers are fairly practiced in maintaining a calm, non-committed demeanor. But if you pay close attention, they may send a few nonverbal signals showing the level of interest in you or your services. At the end of a meeting, the client or employer usually gives only a vague response, such as “We’ll get back to you next week.” Yeah, right, you think.

Any job seeker can tell you that the most frustrating aspect of interviewing is waiting for the call back. It’s difficult knowing what your fate is when it lies in someone else’s hands. By reading and understanding the employer’s or client’s nonverbal cues during the presentation, you can gain control of the process and keep the ball in your court.

It’s a delicate balance, staying aware of your own nonverbal communication while recognizing your audience’s. That can be difficult to achieve when you’re in the “heat of battle.” When you are focused more on your own nonverbal communications – remembering to smile, extending a firm handshake, making eye contact with each person in the room — it’s easy to miss the nonverbal cues your audience is sending you.

Generally speaking, nonverbal communication can reveal more about their intentions than anything they might say. Further what they say may not reflect what they’re really thinking. It’s up to you to cut through the clutter to read the message they’re really sending.

Here are four things to look at during your “performance”:

* Look at their body posture. Are they slouched or sitting up straight? If they lean forward, they’re paying close attention to what you’re saying. If they’re leaning back, they are cautious. If they’re leaning back in their chair with their arms folded in front of them, they’re not buying what you’re selling.

* Look at their head. Similar to their body posture, if their head leans in, they are paying close attention to you. If their head is tilted back, they may be more thoughtful and cautious. Watch their facial expressions too. If their eyebrows shoot up, they may be surprised. If their eyebrows are furrowed, they may be confused. Ask if they need you to clarify a point.

* Look at their eyes. It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul. With that in mind, notice what kind of eye contact the client or employer is giving you. Are they looking at you or at other things, like their mobile phone, the note pad they’re writing on, or something else? The eyes can show pleasure or pain too. Do they look bored, like they can’t wait for the meeting to be over with, or are they enjoying something you said. Their eyes may be smiling even though their lips may not be.

* Look at their hands. What are their hands doing? Are they sitting calmly in their lap? Are they twisting a pen or playing with their wedding ring, which might be a sign they are nervous and eager to do something else. If they are taking notes, do they continue to scribble as you speak, or do they suddenly stop writing when you say something that gets their attention?  That might be a sign that you said something that did not sit right with them.

By staying aware of your surroundings and noticing the subtle signals from the people you are meeting with, you maintain control of the meeting process and you can leave with a clear idea where you stand with the client. You won’t have to wait for them to tell you “we’ll let you know next week,” because you’ll already have their answer.

Related Reading:

10 Nonverbal Cues That Convey Confidence at Work
How to Interpret Nonverbal Communications in the Office
Using Effective Nonverbal Communications in Job Interviews

Tips for Self-Editing Interpersonal Communications

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Our personal communications is as vital to our success as our marketing and sales strategies, maybe even more so. The way we present ourselves to the outside world says more about who we are personally and professionally than any strategic plan. More often than not, what we do and say can either help our business or hurt it. For evidence of that, you only have to look at public figures like Roseanne Barr to see how swiftly things can change with one poorly thought out comment.

That’s why it’s important to learn self-editing techniques. Self-editing is the process of reviewing, revising and correcting your own communications. It is similar to the self-editing process for a manuscript, except it is geared toward social media, emails and correspondence, such as cover letters.

A poorly worded email can make you look ignorant, while a well-crafted letter written in an angry tone can make you look unprofessional. Neither one will help you achieve your business goals.

What you say – and how you say it – gives the recipient a clear idea of who you are. Further, what you say or write may not always be exactly what you mean. Ever write something that sounded fine in your head but when you or someone else read it back to you, it didn’t have the same meaning? Somehow the meaning got lost in the transition from your head to the paper or computer.

More important, what you write or say can have lingering and sometimes devastating impact. One poorly thought out tweet posted in a knee-jerk reaction can cost you clients and customers. In conversations, what you blurt out cannot be taken back. Ditto with social media and emails. Once it’s out there, you can’t get it back, and the damage to your business and reputation is already done.

We are all guilty of these communication miscues, but there are ways to refine our skills to prevent this from happening too often. I’m just as guilty as the next person, so I’ve learned from my experience to self-edit my interpersonal communications with the same attention to detail as any writer would a manuscript for publication.

Before writing that cover letter or email to an upset customer or responding to someone’s Facebook post, take a few minutes to follow these tips to self-edit your communications.

Step 1. Using a note pad or blank sheet of paper, write everything down that you’d like to say. Spill your guts. By putting it all down on paper, you won’t be in a position to hit Send or Post right away. If you’re angry, or upset or excited about a situation, writing your ideas down on paper first will help dispel some of that emotion.

Keep in mind that you will not use everything you write down in your final correspondence. But just like writing a novel, it will help you get all your ideas down first. Then you can edit it later.

Step 2. Set the letter aside for a few hours. Let it simmer on the backburner. Go and do something else for a while – head to the beach, play basketball, take a nap, watch a movie, anything to get your mind off the letter. Your emotions will simmer down by then too so you will be able to think more clearly.

Step 3. Come back to your letter after sufficient time has passed. I recommend at least a day if you are truly upset about something. Otherwise, a few hours will be sufficient. Review what you have written. Underline or highlight the important points you want to make that still ring true. Keep it to only two or three points however, so your final letter won’t be overly long.

Step 4. With a red pen, cross out the sentences and sentiments that do not belong, things you wrote in anger or excitement, or extraneous content that does not add value to your letter. Whatever is left can be reviewed and edited for appropriateness or to help you support your key points.

Step 5. Rewrite your letter, email or social media post with the highlighted information left over from your draft. Chances are it will be more concise and less emotional than before. That’s a good starting point.

Step 6. Review again for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Misspelled words shows carelessness and lack of attention to detail. It also shows you didn’t take the time or didn’t care to proof your work.

Step 7. Pay attention to the tone of your letter or email. You want to come across as professional, clear-thinking. Although if you are writing a letter to support a cause or persuade someone to take action, a little emotion may be necessary. But don’t overdo it.

Step 8. Avoid personal attacks. Focus on the issues you are writing about. There are ways to express dissenting opinions rationally and intelligently without resorting to personal insults, which only makes you look bad.

If in doubt about your ability to self-edit your personal communications, have someone you know and trust proof it for you.

This same process holds true for social media posts. Write down what you want to say on paper first, set it aside for a few hours, then come back to it. You may decide to tone it down, revise your comment or not post it at all. There is no reason to respond to someone’s comment on social media right away. Buy yourself some time and put thought into your response. What you say and write reflects on you, for good, bad or worse.

Self-editing is an important part of the personal communications process. By following these simple steps, you can communicate with colleagues and customers with greater confidence and integrity, and they will see you as someone with whom they want to do business.

Nine Ways to Survive Without Communications Technology

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There are times when you need to take a technology break; other times you’re forced to take a break due to circumstances beyond your control.

That was my predicament last week when I lost my cable Internet and TV service. In the meantime, the battery on my mobile phone went on life support and I had to order a new battery. While I waited for the new battery to arrive, I had to keep the phone plugged in at all times.

There’s nothing like losing your cable TV, Internet and mobile phone service all at one time to make me appreciate communications technology.  One wonders what any of us did with our time when we weren’t tethered to our mobile phones, cable TV or Internet service.

Modern technology is wonderful – when it works. But what do you do when it doesn’t? What are our options? How can we communicate with one another when there’s no phone or Internet? Messenger service? Smoke signals? It made me feel that the Universe was forcing me to tap into my own personal reservoir of resources by cutting out the extraneous noise that could interfere with my creative genius.

It was a tough few days, to say the least. After losing technology, I felt I had lost touch with the rest of the world. Rather than wallow in self-pity, I looked around at things I could be doing instead. I found I had more time to do other ore meaningful things, such as volunteer work, communing with nature,  catching up on reading and writing, catching up on sleep, to name a few.

Without technology hogging my time and attention, I was able to get more stuff done in less time. It forced me to slow down my work day, to pay more attention to tasks in front of me. I didn’t feel the added “busyness” of life that I usual did. The experience taught me the value of a “noiseless” environment to help me accomplish my daily writing goals.

If you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, without technology, without access to the world at large, don’t fight it. Use the time and space to complete unfinished projects or work on tasks that you’ve been meaning to do. Think about other things you can be doing instead, such as:

1. Volunteer. Get out in the community and do something constructive to help others, whether it’s caring for someone’s pet, helping at a local shelter or food bank, or teaching someone to read. Whatever you do will be good for your soul.

2. Enjoy live music. It’s summertime and that means outdoor concerts and festivals. Tune out the phone and tune into the music.

3. Catch up on reading. Without cable TV and Internet service, you have plenty of time to indulge your reading passion.

4. Catch up on sleep. Oddly enough, without TV and Internet to overload my senses, I fell asleep more easily at night and slept longer than usual. I guess it is true that our technological devices can interfere with our sleep habits. If you need to sleep, turn off your tech tools a few hours before bedtime. Your body will thank you for it.

5. Catch up on housework and home repairs. Without tech distractions, you can tackle those home repair jobs you’ve been meaning to get to. Paint the living room a new, fresh color, fix the leaky kitchen sink, or clean out the closet.

6. Get cooking. Without tech interference, you have more time to explore new recipes or put a spin on an old one. As I like to say, when the going gets tough, the tough get cooking.

7. Catch up on your writing. Got a novel you’ve been hankering to work on for months? Now is the time to work on your manuscript. No technology is needed either – just good ole’ pen and paper and your imagination.

8. Start a conversation. Sometimes we can become so immersed in our phones and laptops that we forget what it’s like to have a real, down-to-earth conversation with a real live person. Head to a nearby coffee shop and leave the phone at home. Instead, look around you and strike up a conversation. Isn’t that what coffee shops are for?

9. Take a hike. You don’t need a mobile device to commune with the great outdoors. All you need is a good sturdy pair of shoes and some sunscreen. Then sit by a pond, or walk in silence through the woods. When you don’t have access to cable TV or Internet, when your phone is running low on battery, it’s time to soak up the sun, the clouds, the moon and stars. How else will you be able to hear yourself think? Sometimes you have to shut out the distractions of your life to hear the messages Mother Nature is sending you.

It’s never fun to lose technology tools. You might find yourself feeling upset and anxious at first, knowing you have to live without these modern conveniences, but after a few days, you may find yourself chilling out more, not feeling rushed and perhaps even feeling a little more clear-headed.

So while you may lose your connection to the outside world, you may find a better connection with yourself instead.

Three Reasons Twitter Helps Your Business – And Three Reasons It Doesn’t

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In recent months, we’ve witnessed countless ways that Twitter has either helped or hurt a person’s business or reputation. It doesn’t take much for a person’s comments on Twitter to stir up an avalanche of responses, for good, bad and indifferent.

Twitter is a platform for sharing news, data, comments, stories, images, videos, observations, and a whole lot more. Marketers love the medium for its ability to help their businesses create brand awareness and connect with new and existing customers. But as we have seen too many times before, it can also hurt your business in terms of lost opportunities, lost customers and damaged reputation.

(Editor’s note: I am currently not on Twitter though I do see benefits of it for customer engagement. On a personal level, I don’t feel a need to use it to gain followers because I value my privacy far too much. Facebook takes up too much of my time as it is.)

According to a Pew Internet survey as of February 2018, 24 percent of Americans use Twitter on a regular basis, or about 67 million people in the U.S. That’s a huge increase from 2012 when only 13 percent of Americans used Twitter. Still, in recent months, the platform has fallen behind Instagram, which boasts 27 percent of American users.

Demographics tell a larger story. Four out of 10 Twitter users fall in the 18 to 29 age group while 27 percent are between the ages of 30 and 49. If your business targets these age groups, Twitter is the ideal platform to market to them.

There are a few downsides to consider when using this platform. Below are three reasons Twitter can help your business and three reasons to use it with caution.

Three sound reasons for using Twitter:

1. Brand awareness. If you are just launching your business and you are looking to build your customer base, Twitter can help create awareness for your brand. The key is to interact regularly with followers. Don’t push your product or service too much or too often, which will only turn people off. Being overly promotional is a common mistake with new business owners.

Instead, share your insights about the latest news, your knowledge and your commitment to the industry, related to your brand. Keep it professional, which increases your credibility with customers. Make sure people understand who you are and what you do.

2. Customer engagement. Once you’ve built your following, you have to keep them following you. Keep them engaged by sharing tips and tricks related to your business. If you run a tax business, for example, you might share an idea for saving money or a new update from the IRS that could impact their next tax return.

Many businesses also turn to Twitter for faster customer service. The key is to respond to customer complaints or feedback fairly quickly. That’s important because many customers have short attention spans these days. A recent survey by Sprout Social finds that 89 percent of social media messages to brands are ignored. The average time that a brand responds to a complaint is 10 hours while the average user is willing to wait only four hours. That’s a huge gap of time. The sooner your business responds to customer complaints, the better you look in the eyes of your customer base, and the more likely they will stick with your company.

3. Reputation management. By providing valuable information to your followers, you are seen as an expert in your field, which only boosts your reputation. For example, a physician specializing in women’s health might post links to reports about the latest breast cancer research and follow up with additional posts to comment on it. Each time you post a comment, an idea, an observation or link to a new study or an article of interest to your customers, you are seen as the go-to expert in that field, and your customers and clients will continue to seek out your professional opinions. In fact, they will continue to expect the same level of knowledge and expertise each time.

Three ways Twitter can hurt your business:

1. Gaining followers is more important than gaining customers. Twitter is a communications platform designed to help you develop meaningful connections with people. When you focus exclusively on its ability to tell you how popular you are, however, then those connections have no meaning for your business. At the first sign of trouble, those followers will have no reason to stay and will likely abandon you. Focus on the quality of relationships rather than quantity.

2. There’s no guarantee that your followers will translate to actual customers. Followers are just that – followers. But are they the right followers for your business? Are you reaching the right audience in terms of demographics? If you serve high-end customers but your followers aren’t in the same income bracket, you might have to rethink your marketing approach.

3. It’s too easy to abuse and misuse. As we’ve seen too many times before, comments can spread like wildfire in the Twitter-verse (see Roseanne Barr, Kathy Griffin). Faster than you can say “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to write that,” the damage is done. As your own brand, it’s imperative to mind your manners when you are on social media. Avoid getting too personal on the medium; keep it professional if you use it for professional purposes. Twitter and Facebook are great for connecting with people but it is also easy to post something without thinking about the consequences. That said, it is possible to express a dissenting opinion without resorting to personal attacks or bullying tactics.

Twitter is a valuable platform for marketing purposes, but it’s not for everyone. Not everyone in your targeted demographic will be on Twitter either. As long as you play it smart and avoid the minefield of trolls and critics hiding in the Twitter-verse, Twitter can be an asset for your business.

Related reading:
Why Do Normal People Struggle with Twitter?
10 Reasons You Should Stop Using Twitter Now
Don’t Write Off Twitter

 

Why Vacations Matter for Your Professional Life

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Yes, Virginia, you are allowed to take a summer vacation.

The long Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer, and the start of summer vacation season. But many American workers are likely to forego any summer plans. For some it is because it costs too much to pack up the kids and the dog and head to far-off destinations. For others, work calls for them to stay close to home and to their jobs. If you’re one of these workers skipping your summer vacation because you are tethered to your job, you are not alone.

According to a 2017 survey by employment website Glassdoor, 66 percent of American workers report working when they take a vacation, up from 61 percent in 2014. Fewer employees are able to completely “check out” while on vacation (54 percent in 2017 versus 63 percent in 2014).

Even when they were able to take time off, 27 percent of workers said they were expected to stay aware of work issues and get involved if a problem arose, and 12 percent were expected to be reachable by phone or email, deliver work projects and participate in conference calls while on vacation.

Much of this has to do with technology, which has enabled people to work anywhere and at any time. But it also makes it difficult to shut down and unplug ourselves, to truly unwind and relax. Most employers give their workers earned time off for a reason – to regroup mentally, emotionally and physically so they can return to work refreshed and avoid burnout.

But not everyone takes advantage of this employee benefit. We should though. Science says so. A 2016 study by the University of California-San Francisco and Harvard University finds that taking a vacation for one full week brings about genetic changes in our body that reduces stress and boosts the immune system, and the mood-enhancing benefits can last up to 30 days.

To get that mood-enhancing benefit, you have to take the time out for yourself. You need to give yourself permission to take a vacation. No one is going to force you to take it. It’s all about setting boundaries to your work life.

The key, say scientists, is to do it right. Yes, apparently, there is a right way and wrong way to take a summer vacation. According to small business expert Barry Moltz, here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your summer vacation.

1. Make a plan. Put it on your calendar. Browse destination websites and brochures and learn about places you plan to visit. Just by researching and looking at travel images can boost your mood – before you have even begun your vacation.

2. Keep it simple. Don’t try to cram every activity into every day. Keep your schedule loose, and allow time to just “veg out.” There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing. That’s what vacations are for.

3. Break free of patterns. Try something different that can get you out of your comfort zone. For example, try disconnecting from electronic devices and talk to people you are traveling with, or sleep in until 8 a.m. if you are used to waking up at 5 a.m. When you change up your routine on vacation, see what creative ideas come up.

4. Seek out blue spaces, like bodies of water. Blue is associated with calmness and leads to lower levels of stress, according to researchers. I would also seek out green areas too, which is grounding and calming. Think public parks and golf courses.

5. End your vacation on a positive note. Enjoy a romantic dinner for two or plan a fun adventure, like sky diving or zip lining. People tend to remember their vacations more favorably if it ends on a high note.

With these suggestions, there’s no reason to skip a summer vacation. When you do it right, you’ll come back to the office more refreshed and energized. Your bosses will thank you, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend!

Closing the Career Skills Gap

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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.

How Do You Know If You Are a Good Fit for a Job?

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It’s a tough job market these days. So many candidates for fewer jobs makes it tougher for anyone to stand out. Even if you possess top notch skills, there is no guarantee that hiring managers will be knocking at your door to hire you.

We’ve all been there before, mired in a job search that isn’t yielding many results. You send out hundreds of resumes for jobs you think you are interested in and are qualified for, but you never hear back from employers. The problem may not be you, and it may not be the employer. Instead, it may be that the hiring manager does not see you as a good fit for the job.

So how can you be sure that you do fit the job description? Staffing firm Careers in Nonprofits revealed a cheat sheet of questions job candidates can ask themselves when applying for jobs. I’ve outlined each of the four questions below.

  1. Does the job description match what you are currently doing? If the job description calls for someone with basic accounting skills and you currently do not have those skills in your current position, then that may one reason that hiring managers have dismissed your application. The more closely your current work matches the job you are applying for, the more likely a hiring manager will follow up with you.
  2. Is the job title similar to other job titles you’ve held in the past? If you held similar job titles in the past, that might make you more appealing for prospective employers. For example, if you have a history of working in administrative assistant jobs, it may be much easier to apply for a similar role. But what if you want to move up from an administrative position, perhaps into a managerial role? In that case, emphasizing your skills set would be critical, especially if you supervised other workers or managed a department or program. Those skills can be transferred to a bigger role elsewhere.
  3. Are you applying because you want THAT job or because you want A job? There’s a big difference between the two. It can be tempting to apply for any old job that comes along just because you’ve been out of work for a while and are desperate to find something, anything to pay the bills. But hiring managers aren’t interested in hiring someone who wants to collect a paycheck. They want someone who is committed to doing that particular job, do it well and do it for the long term. If you can’t commit to that, then you are likely not a good fit.
  4. Do you meet most of the qualifications? While you don’t have to meet every single requirement for a job, meeting most of them will help gain the hiring manager’s attention. CNP Senior Manager Kimmi Cantrell says being overqualified can be as problematic as being underqualified. Hiring managers tend to dismiss overqualified candidates believing that they are only interested in a short-term employment until something better comes along. However, if you really like a job, love the work you are currently doing and you meet most of the qualifications, then go ahead and apply.

While these questions are a great starting point for any job search, they don’t take into account career changers. What if someone worked as a teacher previously and now wants to move into nonprofit management? What if you’ve worked as an accountant for many years and are now switching gears to become a graphic designer? I imagine there are different sets of questions to ask yourself as you apply for those jobs.

As you investigate job opportunities in your own field, run through these questions and see where you stand. I think it’ll be easier to dismiss many jobs that are clearly not right for you. True, you will probably send out fewer resumes, but they will be more qualified applications. You will need to spend more time crafting your cover letter and customizing your resume so that you can properly showcase how your skills and experience match what is required in the job. But the extra effort can pay off.

Remember, it’s not how many jobs you apply for, it’s the quality of the applications you’re submitting. And that can result in more job interviews and ultimately, job offers.

 

Should You Reveal Your Salary History to Employers?

equality-1245576_1280I’ve been completing a lot of job applications lately.  I am appalled whenever an employer asks for my salary history. I understand that the question is meant to weed out candidates who may be perceived as “too expensive” for the employer. But it seems that this outdated practice smacks of discrimination.

Attitudes appear to be changing, however. As many as eight states, jurisdictions and cities have banned questions about past salary from job applications, including the city of Chicago for its city employees, and more states and cities may follow suit. Many private-sector companies are doing it on their own without any legal mandate. The belief is that banning this question will help close the pay gap between men and women.

It’s a good move in a positive direction. Asking about salary history is meaningless in the current employment climate. There are too many career changers, too many stay-at-home moms trying to return to work, and too many professionals taking career breaks than ever before. How are these workers supposed to present their past salary when there are gaps in their work history? Does it really matter what a person earned in the past, and does that information have any bearing on their current or future employment? Maybe that worked in the past, but not anymore.

In a recent LA Times news article, employment attorney Jonathan Segal said older workers and those who have taken career breaks and are trying to re-enter the workforce at a lesser pay can benefit from the question’s ban because they are more likely to be subjected to bias. “Eliminating this question not only helps eliminate the pay gap for women but may help older employees who are being excluded because employers think they won’t be happy working for less,” he told the LA Times.

Other questions should also be eliminated from the hiring process, such as age, graduation dates, skills and experience. Hiring managers can still get a sense of candidates’ qualifications simply by asking performance-specific questions, says executive recruiter Lou Adler of The Adler Group. He says the banning the salary history question can open up the talent pool with candidates who would otherwise not have been considered for the job. Adler recommends that hiring managers ask candidates what they accomplished in their career that best matches the performance requirements of the job they are applying for. Their response often will reveal their level of experience, skill and knowledge without managers having to check off requirements from a skills list.

Think of this performance-based question as an essay question on an exam rather than multiple choice or true-false questions, which don’t always reveal how much a person knows about a subject. Adler adds that unqualified candidates will self-select out of the hiring process because they won’t be able to answer the performance-based question.

Age is another taboo question in the hiring process. I was surprised when a job application I completed recently did not ask my birth date. Only problem was they asked what year I graduated from college. It can be all too easy to calculate someone’s approximate age based on their graduation date.

So how should you handle these taboo questions during the hiring process? Employment experts suggest the following tactics:

1. On the application form, leave the salary history section blank or put in zeros.

2. Delay any discussions about salary until you’ve learned more about the job. Most likely that means waiting for the in-person interview. Example: “I prefer to table this discussion until I know more about this opportunity and determine if it’s right for me.”

3. Don’t ask about salary up front in initial conversations. Adler suggests candidates miss out on job prospects because they are so focused on salary that they disregard jobs that  don’t meet their own salary expectations. The best opportunity may offer less salary but also offer other perks such as education reimbursement, retirement savings plans or additional vacation time. When assessing a job opportunity, consider the entire package.

4. When asked about education, put only the school name and the degree received on your resume and application. Leave off the graduation date. If the online application form asks for a date, put in zeros. It’s far more important for employers to know that you did attend college and earn a degree, but they don’t need to know when you graduated.

Of course, there is always a chance that employers could disregard your application on the grounds that you are not revealing these details, but then you need to ask yourself if this is a company you’d want to work for anyway.

In today’s highly competitive job market, you want to create a level playing field. You don’t want to reveal more about yourself than employers need to know.

Can a ‘Returnship’ Help You Transition Back to Work?

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Mid-level professionals who have taken career breaks are gaining in popularity. So too are returnships, or sometimes called re-entry programs. Returnships sound a lot like internships, but they are geared toward mid-level professionals who want to return to the workplace after an extended leave of absence, whether to raise a family, care for an elderly parent, travel the world, pursue more education, or simply take time to rethink their career path.

The concept of returnships was developed in 2008 by Goldman Sachs’ execs when they found through their research how difficult it was for women to return to the workforce after a long break. Returnship programs offer short-term employment, usually 10 to 12 weeks, where returnees can become re-acclimated to the business world, update their skills and gain valuable real-world experience to close the employment gaps in their resumes. It’s especially difficult for mid-level professionals to return to work if they choose to pursue a different line of work or enter a new industry, and returnships can aid in that transition.

As I go through my own struggles to re-enter the workforce, the concept of returnships is intriguing. What I like about returnships is that they provide employers with a valuable recruiting tool to help them when hiring. Both the employer and employee can use the program to test out the working relationship to see if it can work for the long term.

But not everyone is sold on the idea and there are a few downsides. For starters, most re-entry programs seem to target financial and technical professionals and are sponsored by larger companies, such as GM, J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse. If you’re not inclined to work for large firms or don’t have a background in finance, operations or tech, then these programs are probably not going to appeal to you. If more small and mid-sized firms offered these programs (and they probably do and I just haven’t heard about them), they might appeal to more people. (If you do know of a small or mid-sized business with a similar type of program, I’d love to hear about it.) The rest of us (including myself) may be better off pursuing temporary and contract gigs.

Some opponents suggest that returnships don’t always result in job offers at the sponsoring company, which puts you back to square one. But even if the program doesn’t result in a longer-term situation, returnships can open the door to other opportunities that you did not have before. With the new and updated skills you’ve acquired, an expanded professional network and valid work experience, you have more to offer future employers. Those are major pluses you did not have before. So in that sense, a returnship is not a total loss.

Another argument (see Working Mother blog) is that returnships are a waste of time, and you are better off skipping the temporary gig/internship route and pursue permanent placement right away. The theory is that you already have established skills and workplace experience, so a returnship isn’t necessary. But the truth is when you spend any length of time away from the workplace, there is always the risk that your skills may acquire a bit of rust. Also, not everyone has the confidence to leap back into the workplace after an extended break. Returnships allow returning workers the chance to get their feet wet, slowly at first, until they do gain confidence in their skills.

If you’ve been out of work for more than two years, it may be more difficult to convince potential employers to hire you. Perhaps too, your network of professional contacts isn’t producing the leads you had hoped, or you are trying to enter a new field. Returnships can ease the transition, but a lot depends on how comfortable you feel about returning to work in the first place, how much time you have spent away from the office, and how rusty your skills are.

If considering this path to a new career, here are a few additional things to keep in mind:

1. Do your homework. Just as you would research a potential employer, take time to research returnships. They are not all created equally. Find out what kind of work you’ll be doing, how long the returnships last, and what the pay would be. Also check out sites like iRelaunch.com which help  returnees navigate their way back to the working world and find an appropriate re-entry program.

2. Keep expectations low. Even if you are accepted into a returnship program, there is no guarantee that it will result in a job offer. You may very well have to start over with a new job search. See it for what it is – an opportunity to get re-acclimated to the workplace, update your skillset and gain valuable experience that may be a stepping stone to the next opportunity.

3. Have a Plan B. If you aren’t accepted into a returnship program or they don’t fit in with your career plans, consider other options. There’s always contract work and temporary gigs to help you transition back into the workplace.

Returnships are not for everyone, but they can be a viable away to return to the workplace and gain new experience.

5 Ways to Make Remote Working Work for You

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Congratulations! You’ve just been offered a job that allows you to work remotely either full time or a couple of days a week. Or perhaps your boss has finally given his approval for you to have a more flexible schedule so you have time to care for an ailing parent or pick your kids up from school. You’ve just become one of the growing number of remote workers in the U.S.

According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting Report, produced jointly by Flexjobs and Global Workplace Analytics, 3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005. That’s a whopping 115 percent increase since 2005. The average remote workers is 46 years old, holds a bachelor’s degree and earns a higher median salary than an in-office worker.

What makes this shift possible is rapidly changing technology, which allows workers to connect with their in-office mates, and the changing family dynamic. Many of today’s households are headed by a single parent or with two working spouses, making it difficult to meet responsibilities at home. People are also increasingly recognizing the value of work-life balance and don’t want to waste their time on lengthy commutes.

So if you are one of the lucky ones who can work from home, here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your remote work opportunity.

1. Develop a new routine. Once you are working from home, you may find that your normal work routine won’t necessarily transfer over to your home life. That’s because you may have home responsibilities that may disrupt your day, such as taking a parent or child to the doctor. Your day will need to be planned around these activities, which you may not have had to do before. Further, you may spend more time planning your day than actually completing work tasks, making you less productive. Depending on your personal situation, you will have to use some ingenuity to figure out a new routine to work productively.

2. Honor your commitments. Take your remote work opportunity seriously. Be available for team meetings. Start your day at the same time, even if it means starting at 6:30 am. Meet your deadlines. Meet with your boss regularly, by phone or by Skype. Make sure you understand what is expected of you. Your company is trusting you with this arrangement, so it’s up to you to show them you are able to continue to do your job at the same or higher level of effectiveness than before.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. Even though you may work from home, you are still part of a work team. Not all remote workers feel this way. A November 2017 Harvard University study found that many remote workers reported feeling shunned and left out by their in-office workmates. Office politics can play a big role in this. It’s up to you, your manager and co-workers to communicate on a consistent and timely manner so you feel you are part of the team. Set up weekly meetings and conference calls. Be available to answer co-workers’ questions. Put project details in writing. Be present; be visible. Don’t be a ghost.

4. Make space at home. This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you have a designated space in your home to work with few interruptions. Make sure your technology and wi-fi is up to date, that you have a comfortable chair to sit in. If possible, keep the door closed so you can work quietly and let others in the household understand that you can’t be disturbed unless there’s an emergency.

5. Monitor your work hours. Believe it or not, working remotely may open up the possibility of working longer hours than you anticipated. A recent Quartz study finds that remote workers who have more direct control over their hours tend to work longer hours, thus increasing their chances of burnout. Keep track of how much time you spend working. If you feel overworked, bring the issue up with your manager before burnout hits.

Not everyone is on board with remote working. A March 2018 survey by Crain’s Chicago Business finds that many Chicago area businesses are slow to adapt to remote working programs. Nearly four out of 10 respondents (39 percent) said their company does not offer flexible schedules at all or if they do offer them, they are difficult to use. One out of four (25 percent) respondents said their company does not allow employees to work from home, while 20 percent reported that the option is offered but their company makes it difficult to use.

According to a 2017 survey by Cyberlink, one in six workers think remote workers are less valued by their company and get promoted less often. That kind of mentality can  deter workers from seeking remote opportunities within their own company.

Despite some of the drawbacks and slow adoption by many businesses, remote working and flexible work arrangements are here to stay. As more workers realize the importance of creating better work-life balance in their lives, they will continue to demand more flexible work options.