Staying Positive During Your Job Search

November 26th, 2013

Hunting for employment is full time work with no pay, no benefits, and no coworkers to commiserate with in the break room. It’s a tough gig, but it’s temporary, and maintaining a positive attitude is critical to landing your next great job.

Whether you’ve been on the hunt for a week, a month, or longer, there are a few things you can do to keep your spirits up.

Create space. If you have a desk in your home, now is the time to clear out the clutter and start fresh. If you don’t have an official desk, a folding card table, dinner tray, or even a bookshelf will do. Just make sure it has room for you to keep yourself organized.

Put on real clothes. Nothing can bring a person down faster than spending all day, every day, in their pajamas. You don’t have to put on a suit, but make a habit of showering and dressing every day.

Network. Create opportunities for yourself by networking in person. Start with friends in your industry. Call or email and propose meeting up for coffee. Networking is different than job hunting. Don’t go into these meetings ready to present your resume. Instead, ask questions. Do they like their jobs? What skills would they recommend you build on? Before you part ways, ask if there’s anyone in their network they think you should have coffee with. Try to do this three to five times a week.

Expand your skill set. If you’ve ever looked at a job description and felt discouraged because you didn’t meet all the qualifications, now is the time to tackle that challenge head on. Need better Excel skills? There are thousands of tutorials on YouTube, and they’re all free. Checking out books from your local library is equally inexpensive. Junior College and Community College courses are also great ways to boost your skill set.

Volunteer. Another great way to build job-specific skills is to volunteer. Most non-profit organizations welcome any time you are willing to give. In return you get on-the-job training and a unique opportunity to make a real difference in your local community. As an added bonus, when it comes time for organizations to hire new employees, they are much more likely to hire someone they know does great work – you.

Embrace routine. Humans do well with routine. Whatever you do, try to make it a habit. For some people that means spending three hours on a job hunt before lunch, getting some exercise, meeting with a friend or former colleague in the afternoon, updating social media (particularly those sites that can help a job search, such as LinkedIn), and wrapping up the day with family. Whatever routine you prefer, embrace it. Which leads us to…

Make room for fun. Let’s face it, there are certain activities that just aren’t highly compatible with a full time job. For the relatively short period while you are engaged in your job hunt you can sleep in a bit, train for that marathon you always wanted to run, take the kids to the zoo in the afternoon, or cook an elaborate dinner. As long as you carve out time to continue working on your job hunt every day, there’s no reason you can’t take a little time for yourself as well.

Best of luck in your job search, and remember to make the most of your unemployment – it won’t last long.

The Holiday Effect

November 19th, 2013

There has long been anecdotal evidence that things tend to slow down in the business world come November. It’s as if the falling leaves change more than the season.

To answer the question of why employees are more likely to be distracted or discouraged during the holiday season, Theresa Welbourne, PhD, executed a fourteen-year study of what has come to be called the Holiday Effect, exploring what causes these changes, how long they last, and what managers can do to mitigate the effects.

Dr. Welbourne’s research outlines several reasons why employees tend to be less productive during the holidays.

  • Family issues tend to come to a head over the holidays. Family members fight more, and stress levels tend to increase when people feel pressure to spend money on gifts.
  • The holiday season tends to include an increased number of parties and events, which can leave people feeling sleepy and distracted the following day at work.
  • Many people suffer from seasonal depression, which often goes untreated and can be compounded by the stress of family, gift giving, and social engagements.

According to the study, the Holiday Effect can last as little as three days, or as long as three months, and has a lot to do with what industry you work in.

Consulting firms begin to feel the effect just after Halloween, citing that clients are harder and harder to get ahold of as the season progresses. Companies in the financial services industry do just fine in October and November, but tend to experience a drastic fall in productivity come December.

Retail companies usually see a steady increase in activity starting in August. By early November companies in this industry are operating at peak productivity levels, but as demands increase after Thanksgiving employees begin to burn out. Long, hard hours take their toll, increasing stress and fatigue.

Managing employees through the holidays requires a thorough understanding of when your organization hits its slump. While some businesses resist doing employee surveys during the holidays (knowing that scores will be lower than in other parts of the year), such surveys can be very helpful in determining when your staff is struggling.

Employers can help minimize the Holiday Effect by training supervisors to recognize the signs of stress, burnout, and depression. Encouraging staff to seek help when they need it is an important part of managing at the end of the year.

Organizational changes can also help make the season brighter. Offering flextime can go a long way toward minimizing stress for employees with families. Ensuring that team members understand what is expected of them is a good practice any time of year, but is particularly important during the holidays. Making an extra effort to give timely feedback and being open to employee input can help avoid any buildup of tension.

Simply understanding that the holidays are a unique time of year is a huge step. Talk to your employees about the weeks ahead, try to anticipate challenges, and if all else fails, keep in mind that before long the leaves will sprout again and spring will come to lift our spirits once more.

Stepping Out of the Echo Chamber

November 12th, 2013

It’s a normal human tendency to want to build our teams with people we relate to and understand. Working with like-minded people is comfortable. Unfortunately, it can also lead to an office culture akin to an echo chamber.

In the echo chamber, when one person has an idea, the rest of her team will be quick to tell her all the things that are good about it. This is different than being surrounded by yes-men. The problem of the echo chamber, of being surrounded by people who think and act like we do, is that our team members have the same blind spots as we do.

We can build much stronger teams when we recognize the value of a diverse workforce and learn to praise our workers when they tell us things we don’t necessarily want to hear. It’s a two-step process that can lead us out of the echo chamber and toward a company culture of innovation and productivity.

Step 1: Hire a diverse work force. This could mean hiring more women, or people from different cultures, but it is just as important to consider personality types. Introducing a few number-crunching introverts to an office full of aggressive sales reps can add much needed substance to otherwise great sales pitches. Something as simple as bringing a democrat into an office full of republicans can create opportunity for new discussions.

Having different perspectives interacting can help teams to see holes in their work, question assumptions that might be negatively impacting performance, or recognize new opportunities.

The challenge is to get a diverse team to work well as a single unit. To do that, you must take one more step. You must learn to be open to ideas that don’t immediately mesh with our own.

Step 2: Appreciate people who bring you seemingly bad news. This is the harder step and the reason may people shy away from hiring individuals with opposing viewpoints. It can be hard to hear what’s not good about our work, but consider the upsides.

Imagine you spent a week compiling a presentation for your board of directors. In your mind it is perfect, but when you show it to your team one person notes a data point that was not included, and which dramatically affects the results as you’re presenting them.

Resist the urge to retreat into defensive rhetoric such as “you just don’t get what I’m going for,” or “that’s not important.” If instead we are able to recognize the value of having caught an error internally, we will see the employee who brought the bad news as the true asset they are.

Managers interested in fostering a truly creative work environment need to encourage people to voice their thoughts carefully. It’s important that nobody feel attacked during the feedback process. Using phrases such as “I noticed…” or “I wonder why you chose to…” can open discussion. Taking ownership of observations by using “I” can make feedback easier to receive and create space for dialogue.

By building a team with diverse perspectives and fostering an environment of creative feedback you will see new and interesting developments in office dynamics. Ideas that never would have occurred to you will come into play. Not all of them will be exceptional, but it only takes one great idea to change the course of a company.