Thursday, December 30, 2010

Evidence that I don't actually have a hoarding problem

And here are my first "After" pictures...
(See, it was a CLUTTER problem, not a HOARDING problem!)  :)

Back room shelves (I know this doesn't look much different but I promise, it is!!)

Shelves in the back room (anyone need those wine glasses?!) Also, Susan, you need to come and get those blue plates.)

In the back room

Above the washing machine

Over the washer and dryer (it actually looks a little sparse, doesn't it?)   See my cute piggy bank for change found in the laundry?  And the basket for other items found in pockets, etc.? Clever, huh?  :)                

Above the spare refrigerator in the back room
I hope you can see from these pictures how busy I've been this week.  You can't even see the rest of that back room where there is now a visible floor and spare shelves over to the right and below. 

Next "zone":  Art space.  Here's a preview photo of Art Space "before": 

Oh, and thanks to everyone who guessed how many Easter baskets I donated to Salvation Army today.  The correct answer was 12!  It would have been 13 but I had to keep one because it was John's AND his mother's childhood Easter basket... sheesh, talk about sentimental.  Some people can't throw anything away!

Evidence of my clutter problem

Ok, I promised pictures so here they are... Honestly, it's embarrassing. 

I think the problem stems from a couple of things:
1)  A definition of what has value, and therefore, what must not be thrown or given away
2)  A sense of obligation to keep things that hold memories for ourselves, or worse, for others and not ourselves (e.g., an old picnic basket with a broken handle.  I've never used it, have no memories associated with it, but recognize it as something that was special to someone who was special to me, therefore have not been able to get rid of it.)
3)  Not taking the time in the moment to make a decision about something.  The old, "I'll deal with this tomorrow..." problem I share with Scarlet.
4)  Not scrutinizing the item:  Do I love it?  Will it bring value and purpose to my life?  Will I lose something by giving it away or giving it up? Would someone else benefit from or enjoy it more?   

So, here are a few choice photos to give you an idea what I'm dealing with... I've already starting the purging process so I will have a couple of "after" pictures to post by the end of this weekend. I've made 2 trips to Salvation Army, put 15 items on the porch for Freecyle pick-ups, posted one thing on Craigslist (hate that process, not doing that anymore!), and have filled four trash bags. 

Here is the laundry room and "back room" where the boiler and water heater are...


And here's a fun contest:  who can guess how many Easter baskets I took to Salvation Army today?  :) 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2011: a year to simplify

I was tempted to give this post the title, "2011: a year to simplify, purge, de-clutter and let go" but then I realized that title was seriously redundant.  So...I simplified. 

This will be my theme for 2011. Cary Natiello asked me why I was wearing a necklace the other day with the word "simplify" on it.  He said he didn't see the connection to me.  Huh?  Doesn't everyone know I really like simplicity, and try to remove what isn't necessary around me?  NO?!  Of course not. Look around my office, my house, my closets, my purse - you'd never come to the conclusion that I believe less is more, in spite of the fact that I really, truly do.  I love eye-candy, that I'll admit.  I'll never be one to live in a home that is grey and white and clean and sterile.  But I really have grown to hate the junk that piles up on counter tops and book shelves and bottoms of closets.  It's cluttering my mind. 

So, 2011 is about de-cluttering.  I'm going to set up a monthly theme to help me achieve my goal of removing from my life all things that aren't either 1) beautiful or 2) useful.  I've been doing some reading and research, naturally, and there are lots of folks who have already done this and have wisdom to share.  They recommend breaking the process down into smaller parts because if you're like me, you've accumulated so much crap you're really drowning in it all, and that in itself is overwhelming and immobilizing, and it's a self-perpetuating problem. 

I'm going to chronicle my simplicity journey to hold myself accountable.  I'll take a few pictures of some choice areas of my home that need to be tackled, and I'll post them here.  Nothing like some embarrassing pictures posted for all to see to motivate me to take action. 

I welcome you to join me, if you dare.  Post your pictures, too, and we'll keep one another on task.

Watch for pictures coming soon! 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Which is worse: job hoppers or old dogs?

I see a lot of resumes and can tell you with assurance that people who read resumes as part of their job come to a lot of conclusions without asking any clarifying questions of the candidates the resumes represent.  Right or wrong, consciously or subconsciously, assumptions are drawn and decisions are made, which directly affect whether a candidate is moved forward to an interview.  Here's an example of such a situation. 

Recently, we were looking at two candidate's resumes for a senior level position.  Each appeared to have the required work experience and education for the job, and appeared to be capable of performing the essential duties for the position.  But, one had a history of changing jobs every 18 months for the last 10 years, and the other had been at one company for the last 18 years.  I scheduled a call with the hiring manager to discuss both candidates, and attached their resumes to the meeting invitation so that he could preview them before our conversation. When we got on the phone, he said he wasn't really interested in talking to either candidate, based on their longevity with prior positions. I knew where he was going, and why, and was prepared to speak to his concerns because I'd already vetted them with the candidates.  But, this situation is so common, I thought it might be one worth sharing with job seekers who might benefit from understanding what sometimes happens "behind the scenes" in the mysterious and frustrating "apply-phone interview-wait-hear nothing-receive decline email" cycle. 

What do hiring managers (and some recruiters) conclude from the resume of a person who has changed jobs every 18 months?  Here's the ugly truth:
  1. You can't hold a job; you don't get along well with others; you can't stick with something; you abandon ship when the going gets tough
  2. You will leave this job in 18 months, too
  3. You don't know what you want to do; you take the first job offered; you don't ask the right questions in the interview process
What could be the legitimate and explainable reasons for a person changing jobs every 18 months? 
  1. Series of layoffs; company closures/mergers/acquisitions; company relocations/restructures
  2. Moved with spouse who is primary breadwinner (this is absolutely legitimate for the candidate, but not necessarily reassuring for the hiring manager, see item #2 above)
So, what is a job seeker with this work history to do?  Well, first and foremost, if you have changed jobs every 18 months for the last 10 years, you really need to acknowledge that you have a sketchy work history, whatever the causes and explanations.  Second, you need to get clear and honest about the reasons for your various departures, and figure out how to articulate those reasons honestly and proactively.  If you're not getting interviews, you may have to put the reasons for leaving right on your resume.  If you're getting first interviews but not getting called back, you're probably not giving very good or believable or legitimate explanations for hopping around.  Bottom line:  you need to make sure your next job is a keeper, and plan to stick with it for 5 years.  And it's worth noting here that the following explanations just sound like excuses or further support the preconceived beliefs listed above, so you need to stop saying them:  "the job was misrepresented" (didn't ask good questions), "difference in company philosophy and my personal philosophy" (can't stick with it when it gets tough), "management differences" (doesn't get along well with others).   

Ok, let's take the alternate scenario:  a candidate who has been with one employer for 18 years.  Here's what hiring managers (and some recruiters) are saying behind your back:
  1. You havn't grown professionally for probably the last 10 years
  2. You're set in your ways and don't deal with change well
  3. You only know how to do it one way and haven't been exposed to anything different for 18 years
Of course there are also legitimate reasons for good people to stay at one company for 18 (or more) years, including:
  1. Progressive movement up and around the organization; variety of roles in different departments that have kept you growing professionally and personally
  2. Company worked hard to retain you over the years due to exemplary performance; salary couldn't be matched elsewhere
  3. Company worked with you during the phases of your life (children, illness, advanced degree programs), earning your loyalty and commitment
So how do you overcome the preconceived notion that you're an old dog and can't be taught any new tricks?  This is a lot easier to solve than the problem of the (perceived) job hopper, above.  You can demonstrate your progression within the organization by outlining your different job titles and accomplishments at each level.  Include the professional organizations you've belonged to and been active with over the years - they illustrate your connection to the 'outside world'.  Have you made presentations on topics you're an expert in? Served on a panel? Written articles?  Don't leave them off your resume. They are proof that you've kept up with the times and are relevant both inside and outside of the organization you've been with.  Bottom line: if you've continued to grow professionally over the years, tell the reader how and make it clear that you are a lifelong learner no matter what your company or role. 

Many hiring managers and recruiters operate with these unfair and limiting assumptions, to your (and probably their) detriment.  Your best bet is to be aware of them and prepare for them as best you can, on your resume and in your interviews.  I haven't even addressed all the unfair assumptions that are being made about people who have been unemployed, due to the economic situation...that's a topic for another day.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life Lessons I Wish Everyone Had Learned

My husband and I have a practice of espousing "Life Lessons" to our kids, on any variety of subjects and in varying degrees of seriousness.  For instance, a Life Lesson yesterday sounded like this:

     Life Lesson #264: If your shoes are rubbing at the beginning of a walk, take a minute right away to adjust them if you don't want a blister later 

Over the years, our kids have picked up on this tradition, and have started calling our their own life lessons.  Sometimes theirs are the most poignant, and you just have to say, "ahh, yes. Life Lesson #659, indeed!"  Here's one Jackson surfed up recently:

     Life Lesson #199: Don't pour grape juice from a full container to a small glass, anywhere but over the kitchen sink.  

Indeed.  Don't do that, Jackson. 

I am sometimes shocked by the things I see people do and I have to remind myself that everyone was not raised in my house, by my mother.  Not everyone grew up with someone giving them the important Life Lessons.  So, I'm compiling a list of Life Lessons, and I'll use this space to periodically update the list. These are in no particular order, just as they occur to me.  And I'll kick it off with some of my personal favorites: 
  1. Accept a compliment graciously. Don't make a person out to be a liar by telling them they're wrong about the nice thing they just said about you. 
  2. Get rid of your ugly old underwear.  You don't want to be wearing them when they pull your body out of a mangled car and you're on the evening news. 
  3. If you're at an important lunch or on a date, excuse yourself at the end of the meal and go check your teeth. Yes, you do have a big leaf of spinach covering your front tooth. The more important it is to make a good impression, the bigger the piece of spinach. 
  4. Take nice pajamas on a business trip or to spend the night with a friend. Wear them. 
  5. It is always a better idea to be over-dressed than under-dressed. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. 
  6. Keep a small container of personal essentials in your desk drawer at work. Deodorant, clear fingernail polish, toothbrush & paste, underwear, etc. 
  7. Don't pretend you know someone you don't. Not to their face ("yes, I remember you"), not if someone else name-drops ("of course I know Joe Namath!"), not by referencing them in writing ("so-and-so told me to call you"). It will backfire and you will look like a fool. 
  8. Keep the receipt for any item over $50.00. 
  9. Don't pay for anything on sale with a credit card unless you will pay the bill in full when you get it. 
  10. Don't answer the phone if you don't want to talk to the caller.  Your phone is a device for your own convenience, not the convenience of others. 
  11. Follow the double-digits rule: Never call someone at home before 10:00am or after 10:00pm.
  12. Never write a personal check to a child.  It will create an incredible inconvenience for the parents.
  13. Keep a set of blank thank-you cards and a book of stamps handy. 
  14. Keep copies of important documents in a zip-lock bag, in a fire-proof lock box. Birth certificates, passports, drivers license, marriage license, social security card, life insurance policies. Never send the original or only copy of a document you can't easily replace.
  15. Don't lend things you would be heart broken not to get back. 
  16. If you borrow something and break it or lose it, replace it. Don't offer to replace it, just do it. Don't borrow something you can't afford or aren't able to replace. 
  17. Don't throw away your high school or college yearbooks, no matter how sure you are you will never look at them again. Those people may end up being your professional network someday and by then you won't remember why you hated them.
  18. Never write anything in a letter, email or on the internet that you wouldn't want your mother/father/boss/spouse to read.
  19. Never let anyone take naked pictures of you. 
  20. Never let anyone take pictures of you doing drugs, or pretending to do drugs.
  21. Don't scream at, flip off, or cut off other drivers. One of them will be your future boss.
  22. There are 4 categories of clothes that constitute "dressing up". The clothes from one category seldom, if ever, cross over from one category to another.
      • Church 
      • Work 
      • Formal occasions
      • Halloween/costume parties/clubbing

What Life Lessons have you learned, that you wish someone had told you earlier?  What do you wish someone had taught the rest of the world? 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Now Thank We All Our God...a message from my father

Sunday, November 22nd marked the 22nd anniversary of my mother's passing.  For those who don't know me well, you probably didn't know my mother and also don't know the story of her 10 year battle with breast cancer and ultimate death in 1988.  My mother was an amazing woman in so many ways, and I was fortunate to have her in my life for 20 years. 

My father, Bill Libby, is still alive and very well, living in Abilene, Texas. He is 74 this year and still chooses to work full time at McMurry State University, teaching Old Testament and American History courses, and providing life counseling to students.  Dad sent the most moving email message on Monday of this week. I asked him if I could share it and he was happy to have me do so. 

Yesterday morning I went as usual to St. Paul United Methodist Church, taught my Sunday School class on the meaning of the “hajj” as we are studying Islam, then went to sing in the choir for the main service.  Was I surprised!  Thanksgiving is coming so the staff had chosen “Now Thank We All Our God,” as the opening hymn – congregation and choir.  And it got to me rather quickly – the combination of the song, the date, and the past. Here is the history of that song for me...
When Amy Dunkle and I were married in September 1961 at Grace Church down in Wilmington, Delaware, both of us had been students at Drew Theological School.  Both of us had some experience with church music of various types.  Her dad Bill Dunkle had been pastor at Grace Church for a number of years; Amy had gone to middle school, high school, Mary Baldwin College, and Drew from that church.
Planning our marriage, we decided to use that hymn as the processional, not a traditional organ piece.  So the church choir sang for us with a congregation of about 1000 people.  And as we processed, the church was ringing with that hymn being sung – “Now Thank We All Our God” for the wedding taking place, for the families, and for us.  It was very moving.  And the hymn became even more special for us.  Stationed in Germany, we would often hear it sung in local congregations in the original German form.
When Amy was at Walter Reed Hospital the final time, we now and then talked privately about her eventual funeral service.  And a couple of times, Chaplain Dick Tupy and I talked also.  Eventually we made a decision – “Now Thank We All Our God” had begun our married life; now the same hymn would close our married life.  So at the funeral that Thanksgiving week, we sang “Now Thank We All Our God” as the final hymn of the service at Arlington Cemetery Chapel.
And Sunday morning at St. Paul, I had to take out my hanky and wipe my eyes several times as we sang.  For a moment, I could not even see the page, but eventually got my focus and sang again though not as loudly as usual.  So an unusual combination of the date, the song, and the memories.  But we all have memories from various times in our lives.

So Thanksgiving is coming this week.  Blessings on all of you.  And don’t  forget to thank God for all you have and have had.

Love to All, Dad/ Bill

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I've started to listen to pod casts during my commute to and from work. I'm subscribing to various pod casts through iTunes. Who knew there was so much content available for free?! 

I listened to one of the many NPR pod casts a few days ago, one about frenemies.  If you're not sure what this phrase means, it's a relatively new term that's meant to describe those individuals whom we call friends but don't really trust, or care for, or want to spend time with. At least, that's my interpretation of the word and what I took away from this pod cast.  It included several stories about people's relationships with frenemies, and I'm still thinking about it. 

First, I hope I'm no one's frenemy.  If you're reading this and you consider me your frenemy, I am sorry for anything I ever did that has hurt you.  Seriously.  Maybe we aren't as close as we were, or I have neglected you, or I have forgotten something special to you, or I said something hurtful to you.  Or maybe you just don't like me!  It's ok:  If I'm your frenemy, and you don't want to have anything to do with me, please un-friend me, don't read what I write, tell me to go away and shut up, drop me like a hot potato!  Life is just too short.  Let it go and let me go and if you need to say something to me, just say it and tell me I am not your friend anymore or I never was or whatever.  I just can't stand the thought that someone is pretending to be my friend but secretly disliking or hating or resenting or distrusting me.  It just makes me want to cry, thinking about it!

Next, I am mulling over the notion that there is something oddly addictive about a frenemy.  I had a frenemy for a few years, whom I haven't communicated directly with for more than 10 years, but whose name I still periodically Google just out of curiosity.  Why?  If I found her, I wouldn't want to rekindle our "friendship". I don't trust her and she hurt my feelings deeply before we went our separate ways. But she still has a hold on me in some small way.  It's unhealthy and a waste of my time and emotional energy, but still... I wonder if she considers me her frenemy too?

Why do any of us keep relationships going with people who don't make us feel good? Who drain us of good energy? Who need more than we can or want to give? Would they want to be told, or dropped like a hot potato, as I described above?  Do some relationships just have to exist, because of history or shared relationships with others or obligation, real or imagined? Is it easier to just pretend? 

What do you think?  Do you have any frenemies?  Why?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Are We Addicted To Distractions?

Enjoyed this blog post... I know I am easily sucked down the drain by the endless pull of available distractions. How 'bout you?
Work Shifting - Are We Addicted To Distractions?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Five Things You Can Do To Land a Job in a Different Town

If you're looking for a job in a city you don't live in, here are five things you can do to increase your chances of being considered:

  1. Look like a local:  Establish a phone number in the area you're hoping to move to/work in, and put that number on your resume.  Leave your real address off your resume, or get a P.O. Box in the target city.  Or, use the address of a friend who lives in the area. 
  2. Make it easy for them:  If you don't require financial assistance to relocate (assuming you haven't done #1 above and companies can see from your resume you don't live in the area), state at the top of your resume that you do not need financial assistance to relocate! (This alone could be the reason companies aren't calling you. If their relocation budgets have been slashed, they may only be considering local candidates. See #1.)
  3. Talk like the locals: Get to know the area you're hoping to move to. Become familiar with the companies, neighborhoods, housing options, traffic patterns, big events, sports teams, etc.  Learn about the issues facing the city and surrounding areas. This will help you when you go for interviews because you won't feel so out of your element, and you'll be able to carry on conversations with the locals about matters that are relevant to them. You'll also feel and project to others a sense of belonging. 
  4. Create urgency:  If a recruiter or hiring manager contacts you about a position, tell them you'll be in town talking with a couple of other companies next week/next month/whenever you want to be interviewed, and would love to schedule a time to meet them while you're there. This accomplishes two things: it creates a sense of urgency about your candidacy because they think other companies are already talking to you, and it takes the travel, hotel and food expenses off of their plates. This is attractive if they have no travel budget or have local candidates they're planning to interview before they bring you to town.  (Some of you may feel this is lying and are concerned about getting "caught", since you don't actually have other meetings lined up. Don't claim to have interviews with companies you don't, just say you're visiting companies and talking about jobs with them. Who says you're not going to stop into a couple of other organizations and drop off resumes while you're there?)
  5. Act like a local and hang out with the locals: Attend the monthly meeting of the professional organization for your industry, in the town you're targeting. If you can't attend, get on the website and read the member blogs and comment on them smartly. Establish yourself with your future peers. Follow their tweets. Ask questions about the companies, issues, and opportunities. Subscribe to their newsletters.
In short, you need to create a local presence in the town you're hoping to move to, in order to land your next job there. There are so many qualified and experienced candidates available, and companies are running lean and trimming costs wherever they can.  Get smart and start thinking and acting like a local, until you are one!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thoughts on Teasing, after reading "Orbiting the Giant Hairball"

Last week a co-worker gave me a book, "Orbiting the Giant Hairball", by Gordon MacKenzie. This co-worker is in a leadership role and he has taken to giving this book to everyone he hires. He also gives them a button that says, "Proceed Until Apprehended", which is his way of saying, "Do the right thing, don't let the turkeys get you down, don't let the status quo be your guide."  I like him and his renegade spirit, even if it does scare me a bit from an HR perspective.  Anyway, I digress...

I had the chance to read "Orbiting..." on the plane ride down to a retreat in Monterey earlier this week. I highlighted and flagged like crazy - so many great lessons and examples about leadership, creativity, and challenging assumptions! I highly recommend the book. 

There was one section that I have continued to think about, and it had to do with teasing, particularly in a corporate environment.  MacKenzie tells of a woman who stepped up bravely to draw something for a group, and was then teased by the group until she shrunk away, having lost her confidence and wishing she hadn't put herself out there at all.  MacKenzie says he recognized the teasing immediately for what it was - shaming.  Here's an excerpt describing how he confronted the group:

“Teasing is a disguised form of shaming… I suspect that when you teased this woman, it was an unconscious effort to throw her off balance – to stop her from risking, which she was most clearly beginning to do. Why would you want to do that? …[B]ecause we don’t want to admit to others or ourselves that we are trying to stop growth, we disguise our shaming as teasing – ‘all in the spirit of good fun.’

I think there's really something to what MacKenzie said.  Now, I know there is a difference between teasing someone whom you love and care for, or at least genuinely like, and with whom you have trust to the extent that you can have a laugh over a blunder or an old joke.  I can't say that all teasing equates to shaming.  But I will concede that there is a fine line, and it is too often crossed, even among friends and family.  

I've felt the kind of teasing that is, in fact, a form of shaming, and I think I'll know it when I see it in the future.  At work, I've felt it from some of my male counterparts when they're teasing me about how talkative I am, or how animated my communication style is, or how passionately I feel about a work situation.  When they're teasing me, there are smiles all around (including on my face) and the scene takes on a bit of a frat boy vibe.  I generally say something cute like, "I know you wouldn't tease me if you didn't like me."  I want them to know, "I can take it", so I never let on that I feel like a little sister or the newcomer to an established club.  As I reflect on this, it makes me pretty angry, though I'm not sure if I'm more angry at them or myself. 

I think this kind of teasing is a way for some individuals to tell me to stop standing out, stop doing things differently, get in the box.  In other words, stop shining.  I think it's driven by their own fears or feelings of inadequacy, not by my behavior.  I don't believe those feelings are necessarily to the same extent for all who are teasing me, but it certainly fits the bill for some of them.  And for the rest?  It's just inappropriate in a group situation. In fact, it might make someone else feel left out or "small" to have one or two individuals demonstrating their deeper friendship by teasing in front of the rest. 

At this point, I recognize that any reaction from me other than unflustered and unaffected, will likely start the "can't take a joke, over-sensitive" chatter, which might be just as difficult to endure.  So, I'm not sure if I will behave differently the next time I am teased.  For now, I'm just writing this blog post to get it off my chest, and hoping that those who read it share it with others and think about whether they are teasing in friendship or teasing from a place of insecurity.  At the end of the day, I just don't think work is a place for teasing.  Sure, let's have fun.  But teasing is best reserved for your closest, most intimate and most trusting relationships.  I don't know about you, but those relationships very rarely exist for me at work.

Why aren't decision makers calling you back?

I've been growing increasingly impatient with a particularly annoying behavior of people who call me at work. For the most part, these people fall into two categories: job seekers, and sales people. I am definitely more patient with the job seekers, but I'd still like them to stop doing these annoying things they're doing.  Here's what a typical message sounds like on my voice mail, 5-10 times per day: 

 "Hello Meg/Mac/Mug/um.../Meg Steele/Maggie/Megan, this is Flibjskah (mumbled name), from Ajdilaoosnd (mumbled company/school/social service/social network name) and I'm just calling to ______ (insert annoying stand-in phrase from list below*). Please call me at 212-555-12xx (mumbled last two digits)..." 
The message usually continues with a lengthy Value Proposition Speech but by now I've hit "delete" because it doesn't matter what else they say since I can't call them back.

Alright, let's just break this down, starting at the top: 

  1. Caller, please know who you are calling and get their name right.  If you aren't sure how to pronounce it (because "Meg" can be pronounced so many different ways, right?!) just don't say it on the voice mail message.  If you botch my name, I'm pretty sure you don't know me and weren't referred to me by someone who knows me. 
  2. As an extension of #1 above, if you don't know me, then you definitely want ME to get YOUR name right so that I will know who I am calling back, and won't be embarrassed that I don't know your name when I do. Speak your name clearly, slowly, and more than once in the message - at the beginning and at the end. This gives me a chance to correct it on my phone log at the end if I got it wrong the first time. Don't assume everyone knows your name as well as you do or that they know how to spell it. (An employee once called me because she was seriously agitated that I spelled her name 'Kelly' instead of 'Kellye', when I had never seen it in print. Really?!)
  3. If you're representing a company, it's a good idea to apply the same standards of diction, enunciation, and volume as stated in #2 above, as your message continues. I am very likely going to Google your company before I call you back, so it's a good idea to spell it if it's a weird name like 'AdJurpion' or something. The other day a guy left me a message and said he was from 'Delta'.  Yeah, right. He was from 'Delta Healthcare', a staffing agency, which I found out when I searched for him on LinkedIn. Hmm... was he deliberately misleading me? I'll never know, I guess. Deleted...moving on. 
  4. "I'm just calling to..." - and now we get to the real source of my irritation, and why I wrote this post. Caller: Be honest about why you are calling, please.  If you want to know why you didn't get the job you applied for, say so.  If you want 15 minutes to do an online demo of your product, say so. If you want me to refer you to someone else in my company, say so.  Please do not try to fool yourself or me by using one of these phrases*: 
  • "I just want to know if you got my application."  No, you don't. You received the auto-reply from our ATS saying your application was received. What you want to know is did anyone look at it? Are you being considered? Is there anything you can do to advance your candidacy for the position?  Job seeker, I promise that if you ask the real question you want the answer to, I will call you back and do what I can to help you or have someone else do the same.  We really do care about you and want you to have a good experience with our company, even if we can't hire you. But I can't call every applicant personally to say, "just want you to know we got your application."
  • "I'd like to learn about your priorities for 2011."  Oh, ok. Let me stop everything and call you back, stranger-whose-name-I-couldn't-hear, to tell you my priorities.  HUH?  Seriously?  Why would I do this?  If you're trying to sell me something to address one of my priorities, tell me so. Here's an alternative that might inspire me to call back, "I represent ABC Co. and we have a solution for ____ (insert the reason your company is in business still in this economy, e.g., ineffective job postings, screening under-qualified masses of candidates, narrowing your candidate pool to 2 or 3 highly qualified individuals, etc.) If this is a business problem you would like to solve, I can give you an overview very quickly over the phone. You can reach me at..."  This doesn't sound desperate, I don't think I'm #452 in your weekly cold-call list, and it is focused on my need vs yours. No offense, but I am not going to prioritize calling you back to tell you my priorities. 
  • "So-and-so (insert name of one of my company executives) asked me to call you about our product/service/candidate..."  You know what I'm going to do next?  Ask so-and-so if they referred you to me and if they really want me to call you. And 99.9% of the time, they simply told you my name so you would stop calling them.  But they did not refer you to me nor say you should call me nor ask you to call me. When this happens, and the executive tells me, "I said no such thing!", you have effectively lost credibility with both me and the executive. And guess what? Neither of us will call you back.  Instead of trying to intimidate me, just say, "I've been trying to find the right person to talk to at your company, and so-and-so gave me your name."  It's the truth, does not imply an endorsement, and does not make an ass out of you, me, or the executive. 
  • "This is ___ (insert first name only here). Call me right away at..."  If you can imagine that I am a relatively busy person, you can imagine why I am not going to call back. There's the whole icky underlying message of "I'm so important you should know me by first name. I'm like Cher, Oprah, Rihanna, Batman, and Obama. I am that big and if you don't call me back you are a big stupid idiot."  Blech. Then there is the false sense of urgency in your tone of voice, like you think maybe I'll think you're a teacher from my kids' school or a co-worker of my husband's, and I better step out of my very important meeting to call you back because something could be seriously wrong with the most important people in my life. Yeah, buddy, I won't fall for that twice.  When you leave this message, I immediately delete it.  Just go away and get over yourself.  (Don't you know that teachers always start their messages with, "This is (teacher name), everything is fine with the boys. I'm calling about..."?)
  • "I have left you X number of messages, would you please, please, please call me back and just let me know if you're interested in me/my product?"  Ugh. This is especially distasteful.  If you've left messages for me like the ones above and I haven't called you back, and this approach is your last ditch effort, it's not looking good for you.  Begging is pathetic.  And, it's a lot like my first example in which the caller doesn't state the true reason for the call. In actuality, you really do know already, if you're willing to accept the message that my not returning your calls conveys, "I'm not interested."  And now you've made me feel bad and we'll have a whole new layer of awkwardness where I actually have to apologize for not calling you back so that you could try to sell me something or debate why you weren't chosen for the job. 
I am ready for all the backlash this post will bring from salespeople and job seekers and anyone else who does their business via phone.  I promise, it's not that I think I'm better than or more important than you. And I recognize that it's your job to try to reach me, get an audience with me, or get an answer from me. In my heart, I want to help. But if I returned calls to everyone who called me, I would spend way too many hours per week just doing that.  I have to prioritize the calls I make and return.  I want to spend my time in the most productive way I can, and that is talking to people who have something legitimate to share, teach or demonstrate to me, and those individuals whom we really do want to hire but just haven't connected with yet.  Perhaps the time isn't right for us to talk, but please don't put yourself immediately into the "delete" pile before you've had your chance.  Be honest, speak clearly, and don't try to scare, guilt-trip, or intimidate me into calling you back. I'm already over it. 

P.S.  I almost forgot... please leave your phone number right at the beginning of the message. If you wait til the end of your Big Value Proposition Speech, I may not stay on the line that long. Remember, Name, Company Name, Phone Number (and email address - much more likely I will reply!), and reason for your call.  Then name and number again. Bingo! Your phone is ringing!  :) 
P.P.S.  I see you calling me over and over and over in a 5 minute period. I have caller ID.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What to eat at a business lunch or interview

Oh my god, seriously? I just read a tweet about a woman who ate a drippy egg salad sandwich at a lunch interview. Dummy. Two rules about eating "out" or with people who aren't in your family:

1) Know if you have good manners or not (if you're not sure, ask someone who will be brutally honest with you)
2) Order and eat accordingly

If you just aren't sure if you have good table manners, here are some fool-proof ways to ensure you don't make a complete ass of yourself during a meal at which you want to impress. Of course I can't cover the basics of table manners, like not licking your knife and not stacking dishes at the table...there are just too many. But here are some basics to keep you out of trouble, because if you don't know the basics yet, you're probably not going on many interview lunches.

1) Don't order anything saucy or that requires a spoon - not pasta, not gravy, not dressing, not soup - nothing that can drip
2) Eat foods that only require one hand. Yes, you read it right. That means no hamburgers, burritos, or ribs, and nothing you have to cut with a steak knife.
3) Don't use this meal as a chance to catch up on your caloric intake. The purpose of the meal is not to eat - it is to talk, listen, and make a good impression. The food secondary.
4) Don't get a doggie bag - just leave the leftovers on the table. Read #3 again.
5) Use your napkin often.
6) Excuse yourself at the end of the meal and go to the restroom, even if you don't need to "go". Check teeth, wash hands, check for any spare drips, crumbs.

What are safe bets to order, if you're following tips 1 and 2 above? Here are a few ideas:

1) Omelette - can be cut with a fork, not usually drippy, easy to control, you'll recognize everything in it generally speaking
2) Salmon or Halibut filet - not overly smelly, and same traits as Omelette above
3) If you must have a sandwich (breaking rule 2 in first list), make it a turkey or ham sandwich and if the restaurant hasn't cut it in half before serving, start by cutting it in half. These tend to be dryer, more manageable sandwich varieties, I've found.
4) If you're at an Italian restaurant and have to order past (breaking rule 1 in first list), choose the lasagna or something baked. It will be dryer and easier to manage than a saucy spaghetti or fettucine dish.

I hope these tips are helpful for you. And seriously, if you're just not sure if you have good table manners, or you know that you don't, suggest coffee instead of meeting over lunch. And then order a small, plain coffee, definitely nothing with whipped cream!

Laid down on the tracks!

Today I used the phrase, "I am laying down on the tracks over this!" several times, and it was the perfect metaphor for what was happening... I had to really stick my neck out for something I feel strongly about, against some pretty strong opposition and with a considerable amount of professional and relationship risk. It ended up working out in the end but I am pretty concerned with what I experienced from some folks I work with, in the process of working through the situation.

It started several weeks ago when I asked a group that I've been working closely with for 6+ months, to take a few minutes out of our 3-hour working meeting agenda, to hear me out on a concern I was having about the direction we were going with the project we've been working on. I made my impassioned speech and they listened intently. I felt heard and respected for having dissented based on principles. But, alas, at the end of our time together we were back on course, heading in exactly the same direction as we had been. I was deflated, and confused, and needed to process what had happened. When I left that day, I pretty much unplugged emotionally from the project-I just needed some space, some distance to be able to look at it from their perspective. Another week or so went by before we got back together, and when we did I tried a couple more times to influence the team to stop and take stock of where we are and whether we were really confident the solution we are proposing is the right one. After all, in a few short weeks we are scheduled for 20 minutes on the agenda of our senior leadership meeting, and I sure as heck don't want to use that time proposing something we're not entirely sure is a good idea. Again, the team heard me out but one person in particular was really taking my comments in a negative way - feeling challenged and therefore defensive, and interpreting my questions as unproductive negativity. I've been told that my style is especially inquisitive and that others can interpret my questioning as antagonistic, so I am sensitive to that perception and try to be careful not to overdo it.

At the end of our time together this week, we were further along on the path I didn't want to go down, and I had pretty much given up. I considered that there does have to be a point at which a team member concedes to the rest of the team. And, I'm a pretty reasonable person, so it isn't difficult to convince me of the merits of an idea as long as it doesn't hurt other people or animals or create hate and discontent in the world. Nevertheless, I left our session this week even more disenchanted and, frankly, worn out from the fight. I felt alone in it and with time working against us just decided to let those with passion about this idea drive it to completion. "I can play a supporting role this time, no problem", I told myself. Besides, it really seemed as if the others in the group were on board with the direction we were going. I sensed some frustration but certainly no one was saying, "stop! no! I don't agree!"

Well, today I had a conversation with someone I consider an adviser and mentor, and shared some of my concerns. She listened and reserved comment until I'd had my say. Then she said, "Meg, why are you going forward if you don't agree? This is important, you're right, and I honestly believe your team needs to reconsider what you're saying because I think they're misguided in the direction they're headed." With her advice bolstering my confidence, I started calling the members of my team one by one. And do you know what?! Each of them in turn said the same thing, "Oh Meg, I am so glad you said that. I know you were trying to tell us this weeks ago but I had already lost any hope of turning things around. I had already withdrawn and was letting (insert lone champion of bad idea name here) take the lead because I just didn't have the energy for the public debate anymore." They each promised to back me if I stepped up once more to challenge the group's decided direction. And then two of them took the lead to confront the one lone champion, and got her to agree with a compromise that will buy us some time to get together as a group to realign on our decisions.

How incredibly frustrating it was to hear my peers say how much they appreciated that I was, again, disagreeing with the group's decision. Two of them actually said they realized they hadn't been speaking up or even contributing, because they just wanted the project to be done and weren't invested. WHAT?! And I'll admit that there is a part of me that wishes one of them would admit that I was right and I was the only one with the guts to call out the elephant in the room - multiple times - while the rest of them let me appear to be the antagonist. I hope that in a similar situation, I be a champion for the lone gutsy dissenter, until the group gave them the consideration their objections deserved...especially if I agreed with them all along!

This is a long story for a simple point: sometimes you have to lay down on the tracks and strap yourself to them for people to realize you're serious. And, maybe sometimes an idea is too far ahead for others to grasp, and you have to try again and again to bring them around if you really believe it's worth the fight.

Ok, I've had my say. I feel better now. This is a good reason to keep a blog, I think.