How do you know when it’s time to go?

Dec 18, 2012 by

This is my final guest post of the year for Opportunity Knocks. It’s been a great year and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to share posts with their community – and I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts too!

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No matter how much you love your job – or how much you want to love your job – sometimes the bad parts of the job take over the good. Usually it’s either your coworkers/working environment or the work itself (or both) that bring you down. But how do you know when its time to pack up your stuff and leave? Here are three clues:

1. The projects, tasks and responsibilities you have no longer appeal to you – Or even worse, they never appealed to you in the first place. If you are constantly being assigned work that is boring or doesn’t build on your skills or has no relevance to the broader work of the organization, that’s a big red flag. It may mean that your boss/employer has no sense of your skills or doesn’t particularly care to offer you interesting or meaningful work. If they don’t care to offer you interesting work most of the time, then you don’t need to be there.

2. You are angry and/or frustrated most (all?) of the time – One direct consequence of having work that is boring or outside of your skill set may be constant jaw-clenching, teeth-gnashing frustration and anger. And the more you are angry, the more you dislike your job, which makes you even angrier. It’s a vicious cycle that saps your productivity and can ruin even the good days at work.

3. You no longer care – In some ways, I’d argue that this marks the end of the line in terms of how much you can take at a job you don’t like. When you can’t muster the energy to get out of bed and physically go to work in the morning; when you could care less how or even if the work gets done; if all you can muster is a shrug in response to other’s questions or complaints of you, then it really is time to go.

The bottom line is very simple actually whether it comes to relationships or jobs: if the bad times become more frequent than the good, it is time to go.

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Tips for a great cover letter

Jul 2, 2012 by

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post with tips for making your resume better, so I thought I’d add the obvious companion piece and talk about cover letters.

Let’s be clear: as someone who hires staff, I understand the utility of a cover letter. But as someone who has spent a large part of her adult life hunting for a job, I kind of hate them. If you do them right, they take up a tremendous amount of time and can leave you feeling emotionally drained. That’s why it takes me so damn long to write them. On the other hand, if you do them really well, you’ll definitely get an interview. Plus, you can’t NOT do them, so might as well write the best cover letters you can. 

Here’s how:

  • Keep it shortI talked about this in the resume post as well, but it bears repeating. In this instance, no matter how much experience you have, your cover letter should NEVER go over 1 page. Hiring managers don’t have the time to read more than a page and may throw your application out if you ask them to (I’ve done it before). Keeping it short saves you time and effort as well.
  • Use examples – When you read a job description, it should be pretty obvious what the employer wants you to do. Your job is to provide an example or three of how you’ve done one or more of those tasks, ideally in a way to describes how you overcame a challenge to accomplishing that task or how you did it on time and under budget. Employers are inherently selfish so explaining how you’ve jumped hurdles and still kicked butt makes them salivate.
  • Explain why you care about the organization and the job – If you’ve been applying to jobs for a while, this can seem difficult. How can you possibly explain yet again why you care about the mission of an organization? If that’s the case then do what I do: clear your mind and think about why you want to work there. (And no, needing a job to pay your bills is not a reason – at least not for someone hiring.) Have you been reading about the organization’s work lately? Do you have friends who have worked there? Is it your dream job? If so, put that into your cover letter in a clear but not overly-effusive way.

Do you have other tips and tricks? If so, I’d love to read them in the comments!

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I must be totally nuts

May 7, 2012 by

Remember how I said I needed to shit or get off the pot this year? Well, on at least one big decision in my life things are “moving” (so to speak). My husband and I are seriously looking into buying a condo or house. We must be totally and completely nuts.

So far the experience has been – in order of emotional magnitude – bewildering, terrifying, frustrating, exhilarating, scary, really scary, and even more terrifying. And of course me being me, the first thing I thought was: this is a just like looking for a job. (I know, I can make an analogy out of anything right?)

This is where we want to buy! Arlington Village, by Flickr user Arlington County

Here’s the deal about buying property and job searching*:

  • It isn’t about you, its about themJust like employers looking to fill a position, people looking to sell their home couldn’t care less about you. It makes sense of course: they are out to get the best deal they can and they don’t give a crap who gives it to them. It doesn’t matter if you’re cool or nice or really want it. It never will matter, so just stop thinking it will.
  • Your best offer is often rejected (very quickly) – We’ve put in 4 offers so far and every single one of them was rejected within 2 days. (To be fair, the market in Arlington, VA has not slowed down like it has elsewhere; it stabilized and leveled out in 2009 and 2010 but its clearly back to its pre-recession levels.) Just like in a job search, no matter how much you offer, how amazing your application is and how much you’re willing to give up for the perfect fit, it often doesn’t matter. You propose and then they dispose – it’s as simple as that.
  • You have no idea what is going on in their headsNo matter how much you prepare, you’re just not going to know exactly what is going on in someone else’s head. This goes double for those selling a house since you don’t often get to meet or speak to them. But that will not stop it from nagging at you: What do they want? Why didn’t they accept my offer? What did I do wrong? And it sucks. So stop doing it as soon as you can.
  • The more targeted you are, the longer you’ll have to wait for successI don’t believe in applying to every job out there or going to see every house for sale either. That’s great because you don’t have to do as much work. But it can also be awful because it means you have to wait a lot longer to get what you want. And just like a job search, sometimes you start off wide and get more targeted in your search. Either way, you’ll need to acknowledge the sacrifice of work versus waiting time.
  • There are SO MANY other people trying to get the same thing – When we hire at my organization, we regularly get 60 to 100 applications for one job. And in every open house I’ve gone to with my husband, there are a ton of other young couples hoping to get a little piece of the American dream. They are our competition and the nagging worry that they may have more to offer, more money saved, more flexibility, etc. is maddening.
  • Waiting for exactly what you want is totally worth it – Obviously we haven’t found the house (or condo or town home) of our dreams yet, but I know when we do it will feel just like getting a dream job: amazing, fulfilling, overwhelming and totally worth the wait!

*The bullets make it look like this experience has been entirely negative, but that’s not really true. I believe every experience is a learning experience – even those that are sometimes painful!

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It’s the most wonderful (networking) time of the year!

Dec 12, 2011 by

I love this time of the year. I’d prefer if we had some snow in DC right now, but the chilly weather, beautiful lights and festive music make me happy anyway. I also love all the chances you get to see friends and family, especially those that you haven’t seen in a long time. It can be exhausting, but all those holiday parties, happy hours and general get togethers provide lots of time to catch up and network.

Some people think networking is a dirty word – but they are wrong! And there is no better time to network than during the holidays. Need a job? Need some side hustle work? Want to maintain relationships in case you need those things later? Then this is your season!

Here’s how you can make the most of these ample networking opportunities:

  • Bring a big pile of business cards everywhere you goYou know how I feel about business cards. I really, really hope you have some by now. If not, go to Vistaprint right now, order some and pay extra to get them delivered ASAP. This goes double if you have a side business that you need to promote. I carry my full time job card and my personal career coaching business card everywhere so that I can hand out whichever card is appropriate for the conversation I’m having.
  • Identify your targets – If you’re anything like me, you’ve got at least 5 holiday parties that you must attend and the option to attend several more. It can be exhausting to socialize that much, so try to be very strategic about which parties you attend. If you know that an organization you want to work for is having a big company party and you have a friend or acquaintance there, by all means try to get in. And if there are certain people at a given party that you want to talk to – for business or personal reasons – make your way to them early in the evening so that you can grab their attention before a bunch of other people do.
  • Watch what you eat and drink – This tip is true for any networking event, but I think it’s especially relevant during the holidays. It’s so easy to get carried away with the ‘celebrating’ and end up sloshed with smelly appetizer breath by 7pm. Try to eat at least a snack before you go to the party so you’re not starving and stick with one or two drinks at maximum.
  • Take it easy. Sort of. – Even though most people recognize that the holidays are a great time to network, it is easy to cross the line from “friendly catch up” into “desperate job seeking.” (Come to think of it, it’s easy to cross that line at any time of the year.) Plus, everyone you’re talking to is likely looking to make the most of their time at the party – so don’t monopolize. But on the other hand, don’t give up your opportunity to talk to that one person because they seem ‘busy.’ I once stalked a guy for over an hour at a party (I already knew him but hadn’t seen him in over a year). He was in the middle of a conversation and then someone else interrupted so I took that opportunity to cut in as well. I then waited around for another 30 minutes until he could break away; it took some time, but he ended up putting in a good word for me at an organization I wanted to work at.
  • Have fun! – No matter what you do, make sure you attend at least one or two parties that are just strictly for fun. They don’t call it the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ for nothing. Hanging out, having a little too much to drink and enjoying yourself is part of the holiday package. 🙂

Good luck on all your holiday networking!

Flickr photo courtesy of user rwoan
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How to get the money you deserve

Jun 15, 2011 by

You may remember a couple months ago I posted about a two-workshop series Alyssa Best and I were giving for women on negotiating salary (at the beginning of a new job and during the review process of an existing job). The workshops were a success and we’re planning offer them again in the future. The next time we may open them up for men as well which I think would be beneficial. For this particular workshops series though, we both felt it important to focus exclusively on women.

Why? Well consider these devastating facts from the book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (you can purchase it if you’re so inclined):

  • In surveys, 2.5 times more women than men said they feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiating.
  • Men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women.
  • Women are more pessimistic about how much is available when they do negotiate and so they typically ask for and get less when they do negotiate—on average, 30 percent less than men.
  • 20 percent of adult women (22 million people) say they never negotiate at all, even though they often recognize negotiation as appropriate and even necessary. [emphasis mine]

Like I said: devastating.

Women seem afraid to negotiate, they don’t tend ask for what they need and deserve when they actually do negotiate and then they end up with less money than men over the course of a life time. Consider this (also from the book):

  • By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.
  • Another study calculated that women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don’t. [emphasis mine]

Are you kidding??? $1 million more just for negotiating your salary! It seems easy right? So why aren’t women doing it?

When we asked the women in our workshops about barriers to negotiation, they cited several: many said they perceived negotiations as conflicts and wanted to avoid them; some said they actually thought they didn’t deserve more money than they were offered; others didn’t know how much they were worth and still others were so grateful to get a job offer (or have an existing job) that they didn’t want to present any resistance for fear that job might be taken away.

It’s easy enough for someone who has never experienced these barriers to dismiss them, but that doesn’t make them any less real for those who do. We offered all kinds of tips and solutions (if you didn’t come to the last workshops series, you should definitely consider coming to the next one. Keep an eye on my blog feed or Twitter stream for that announcement) and I wanted to share some specific tips to help you break down the barriers.

  • Negotiations as conflicts – Just to state the obvious: negotiations aren’t conflicts; the more you think of them as such, the more you will manifest confrontational behaviors yourself. Think of negotiations as conversations – two parties discussing each others’ needs and desires. Remember that the person you are negotiating with (i.e., the person who offered you the job or your supervisor at work) may be just as uncomfortable. If you can make the conversation pleasant and associate it with something less stressful like having a cup of coffee, lunch or just bracket the negotiation with informal chatting, it will seem much less confrontational.
  • You don’t deserve more money – This one may be the most baffling to me personally, but I can understand as a woman (and a nonprofit professional) how one could feel that way. First and foremost, you have to own your worth – you are good enough and dammit you deserve more money! If shoring up yourself doesn’t work, think about your family: if you have a partner, children or parents you may already be caring for them and/or contributing to the family’s income. If not, then chances are very, very good that you will someday. Moreover, once you get older you’re going to need to have something to fall back on; if you don’t make money now you sure as hell won’t have any when you retire (or you’ll just never retire and work until you die…not a pleasant thought).
  • You don’t know how much you are worth – This one is a little easier to tackle. First, do lots of research. There are tons of nonprofit salary surveys and websites that provide comparative salary info based on your location and job role – use them! Second, even if you can’t find the info you need you can figure this out yourself. How much do you need – bare minimum – to survive? Include rent/mortgage, transportation, medical expenses, utilities, food, toiletries, retirement and regular savings (yes these are basic necessities), etc. Then add in some extras: money for entertainment, for that vacation you want to take and for that weekly massage. With all of that, you have a basic line item. I’d encourage you to then add 20% or so to that line item to get a more well-rounded figure of what you’re worth. You work your butt off and you deserve to make money for it.
  • You are grateful for that offer or existing job – I can also understand this one given the ever present meme about the economy. But let me let you in on a little secret: I’ve done a lot of hiring recently and it has been VERY difficult to find a good candidate for these jobs. We need someone who can rub two sentences together to make a paragraph, has some sense of the kind of work we do and isn’t afraid to hit the ground running. I think these are fairly basic and yet we’ve still had trouble hiring. In the meantime, we’re struggling to try to cover the workload the new person will take on. What does this mean? By the time you get offered that job, you are the best candidate and the organization is desperate to have you start working. They are NOT going to say no or drop the job offer just because you ask for more money. Same deal if you’re in a job already: it costs thousands of dollars (probably 10s of thousands) for an organization to have to perform a whole new search, hire and then train someone new. They aren’t going to fire you because you asked for more money especially if you do kick ass work and have proven what you’re worth. And if they do rescind the job offer or fire you? You should count your blessings because that organization is obviously ridiculous and not worth your professional time.

What are some other barriers that you have experienced when negotiating? How do you build yourself up to prepare for that negotiation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Flick photo courtesy of user jollyUK
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