Archive | Work

Tips For Adulthood: The Art of the Cold Call

networking

networkingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

We all know the gospel of job-hunting. You don’t get jobs by applying for them; you get them by knowing someone. Some put the number of jobs obtained through networking — as opposed to answering an ad — at as high as 85%.

The corollary to this truism of the job market is that job-hunting is all about connections. Once you decide on a direction for your career, you need to start by talking to people in your immediate network — even if they aren’t all that close to what you want to do — and gradually work outwards, through them, into people working in the sector of your choice.

It’s true. People are more likely to answer your email/phone call if you’ve been referred by someone they know.

But does that mean that you should abandon the cold call entirely? Should you never just get in touch with someone doing work that interests you and see if they’ll let you speak to them?

It takes a lot of chutzpah, but it can work if done properly. I recently did it, and was offered part-time work. Here’s how:

Don’t assume you need to be an extrovert

Sure, extroverts have an easier time approaching strangers out of the blue. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily better at talking to them.

Quartz recently ran an interesting article arguing that introverts might actually be much better at networking than extroverts because they can focus and listen. And people appreciate that.

(Click here for a list of networking tips if you self-identify as an introvert.)

Do your homework about the company

You should obviously go to any interview — cold call or not — knowing a fair bit about both the person you’re interviewing and the company they work for. But when you’re doing a cold call, this preparation has to come before you even draft your initial email approach.

When I did this recently, I made a point of telling the person I targeted (truthfully) that I’d been following her newsletter and her blog for a years. I also made reference to something specific on her website. Sure, a bit of flattery is always a good thing. But I also really wanted her to know that I hadn’t just wandered in off of the street.

You’re contacting them because you’ve decided you want to work there and/or think they could help you get closer to your dream job. You want them to talk to you, but they have plenty of reasons not to. You need to be sure it’s clear from the get-go that they won’t be wasting their time.

Identify a problem to be solved

People are much more likely to respond positively to a cold call if you can convince them that you can help them solve a problem. That doesn’t mean that you should suggest that they hire you in your initial email because you are God’s Gift to X. Far from it. Humility goes a long way.

For example, if you notice that the company is doing a lot of marketing in trade magazines, but nothing online, ask about that. If it’s a business school, perhaps note: “I see that you offer a lot of courses on management training, but there’s nothing on team-building. Why is that?”

I’ve found that questions about gaps often prompt the person being interviewed to reflect on their own blind spots, and might even get them thinking about hiring someone to pilot an investigation into a new area. That person could be you.

Reveal your USP

You never want to go into a meeting — unless it’s a job interview! — and tell someone why they should hire you. Instead, you want to ask smart questions that impress them.

In particular, you want to pose those questions in a way that reveals what is unique about you that could really add to the team. (Some call this your Unique Selling Point, or USP.)

Lately, I’ve been targeting the higher education sector in my job search, offering communication training. I explain to everyone I meet that I “think like a social scientist, but communicate like a journalist.” This is shorthand for saying that I have a PhD, but don’t sound like I do. That’s an unusual skill set, at least in this sector. I play it up because I know it’s what makes me distinctive.

Be willing to hear the word “no”

You can’t cold call people if you’re not willing to hear the word “no.” When I first moved to the UK twelve years ago, I volunteered to run the Christmas Raffle at my then-five-year-old’s new school. This amounted to walking around the local village and asking every single shop person I met if they’d be willing to donate a prize to the raffle.

Guess what? A lot of people said some version of “no.” But a surprising number said “yes.” What I learned from that experience was that I didn’t really care if people said “no” to me.

Develop this skill and you’ll find the whole process a lot easier. (Here’s an inspirational story of one woman’s perseverance to get the job she wanted.)

How about you? Have you ever done a successful cold call? Why did it work?

Note: This article was originally posted on the Ellevate Medium page.

Image: Ghozt Tramp – Business Communication Duplicat Model via Wikimedia Commons

21st Century Skills For Older Workers

Older Worker

Older WorkerIn an era where people in the West are living longer and healthier lives, older workers  not only can – but often choose – to remain in the workforce longer or return to work post-retirement.

The numbers speak for themselves. In the UK, over 50s now make up nearly one third (31%) of the entire workforce, up from around one in five (21%) in the early 1990s. In the US, two age groups – 65 to 74 years old and 75 and older – are projected to have faster annual rates of labor force growth than that of any others.

A consensus is emerging that if we are to benefit from the value that older workers can bring to the workforce, businesses will need to adjust their hiring practices and rethink their commitment to things like flexible hours and re-training programmes.  So too will our concept of education need to evolve, to place even greater emphasis on life-long learning and multi-generational classrooms.

But to do this, we we will also need to rethink the sorts of skills these workers need if they are to remain “fit for purpose” in this changing workforce..and how to obtain them.

Read the rest of this post over at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Man sitting on chair beside table by Bruce Mars via Pexels

The Ups and Downs of Working At Home

working from home

working from home I had coffee with a friend the other day at a swank café by St. James Park in London. I’d known her back in Chicago where we’d both worked as journalists. She arrived a bit late, Blackberry in hand, dressed in a smart, tailored suit.

“Sorry,” she apologized breathlessly, glancing at her cell phone as she took her seat. “Meeting ran late.”

As I listened to her describe her job, I felt more than one pang of nostalgia. I think it was her reference to people “scurrying back to their offices” that really got me. Until recently, I, too, worked in an office. Now I work from home as a freelance writer, where I can at best manage a saunter from the bathroom to my desk.

She also mentioned her office’s Wednesday lunches and how they made her feel part of a team. In my current set up, I’m lucky if I can catch the mailman’s eye and bond with him over my utility bill.

It’s only natural that working at home induces a certain discomfort. After all, when you say, “I work,” the logical follow-up is “Where?” And when the answer is “home,” it does sound less legitimate.

Read the rest of this post over on Kuel Life….

Image: Apartment Comfortable Contemporary Couch via Pexels

Nourish Your Inner Project Manager Through Cooking

cooking

cooking

I spent a week at my 86 year-old mother’s house recently. I was there to help her to clear out her home in preparation for an imminent move to an independent living facility.

The visit invariably entailed a lot of emotional moments: looking at old photos of my (deceased) father…throwing out 3/4 of her Christmas tree ornaments because she’ll no longer have a full-sized tree…realizing that at her age, the risk of tripping on a Turkish rug far outweighs its aesthetic appeal.

I could go on.

But I was also reminded of a fundamental truth about my nature: I am a born project manager. Whether it was driving to the local, jumbo-sized American liquor store to pick up boxes, sorting through old clothing to donate to the Vietnam Veterans of America, or interviewing potential moving companies for estimates, I was completely in my element.

Best of all, I had a deadline: we had to have the entire house de-cluttered in advance of an open-house scheduled a week after I arrived. So I spent seven days doing nothing but running around making lists, checking items off, and assigning duties to my three siblings for the next six weeks before I return for the actual move.

Manager vs. Maker

I once wrote a blog post with a short quiz to help people figure out if they are fundamentally “managers” or “makers.” (Conceptual hat tip: Paul Graham)

A manager is someone who divides their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job.

A maker is someone who needs large blocks of time to carry out tasks – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.

Most people clearly sort into one or the other category. I, unfortunately, have one foot in both camps: I relish large blocks of time to do any sort of writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently a member of my family…).

The Problem with Being a Creative

Back when I was working, this problem solved itself. My last job encompassed both halves of my personality, such that I spent about 50% of my time writing and editing and 50% of my time managing projects, budgets and people.

It was, in that very specific sense, a perfect job for me.

But now that I’ve been made redundant, I am really struggling to keep that balance in my life. I now have vast swathes of free time, and although I am prioritizing my book project, there are only so many hours in the day one can write.

While there are any number of books out there offering advice on how to develop your inner artist, you don’t hear all that much about how creative types can nurture their inner swim coach.

Cooking as Project Management

One thing I’ve started doing to feed (no pun intended!) my inner project manager is cooking.

Let me confess that I’ve never been much of a foodie. My husband loves food, many of my friends love food, but, until recently, about the only foodstuff I ever really paid any attention to was beer. My sister loves to quote the time I commented, as an 11 year-old: “It was there. So I ate it.” Food had no allure in and of itself.

Nor did cooking. Cooking has always just something practical I did in order to ensure that my family was healthy. But as an activity unto itself, it was completely joyless.

Lately, however, I find myself really getting into making recipes. There is something deeply soothing about listing all the ingredients, tracking them down – especially the rare ones (Ras El-Hanout, anyone?) – and then carefully orchestrating the production of the meal so that it all comes out on time. There is also, invariably, that dreaded terror when (just as when you’re in the office), you fear that you might actually miss that deadline…and then the utter relief when you don’t.

I’m a huge dessert fan, so cakes loom large in my repertoire. But someone also gave me a Persian cook book for my birthday last year and that has been a great source of inspiration.

Of course, there are other ways to exercize your inner project manager if you’re immersed in something creative – volunteering or joining a board is another way to go.

But for me, cooking seems to work just fine, at least for now.

I guess once my mother moves into her new place, I’ll need to start working on some recipes for her…

Image: Food. Pot. Kitchen. Cooking via Pexels.com

Why I Hate Being In Between Jobs

desk

deskI had a singularly unpleasant experience this week. Both of my children, separately,  told me that I needed to get a job. And not (primarily) for financial reasons.

Ouch.

The worst part of it was that neither of them was trying to be mean. They were merely observing that as a person who is currently in between jobs and writing a book that isn’t (yet) under contract – I needed to find somewhere to direct my considerable energy.

They had a point. I’m one of those weird, hybrid people who relishes large blocks of time to do anything creative, like  writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently, a member of my family…).

Not surprisingly, my son has told me lately that I need to stop “fussing” over his taking his asthma medicine and getting to school on time. My daughter has put it more bluntly on more than one occasion: “Stop nudging me!” she’ll shout and then slam the door to her room. (I tried ironing. I really did. It helped, sort of.)

But it wasn’t just they’d both correctly identified my inner swim coach rearing its ugly head.  It’s that they were tapping into my greatest fear: that I am not legitimate.

I think all struggling writers – and maybe even some of the commercially successful ones – fear that without the formal trappings of an office – e.g., business cards, a regular paycheck, a door (!), it’s often hard to feel “legitimate” in your chosen profession.

In my case, however, in addition to devoting large chunks of time to a creative project, I am also devoting large chunks of time to identifying exactly how I want to spend the next phase of my professional future.  But how do you tell a 13 year-old that you’re working on “constructing your evolving narrative”? (Even though that is what precisely what I’m doing, and it’s coming along quite nicely, thank you very much.)

At lunch last week with a friend, himself a successful consultant transitioning into an as-yet-to-be-defined but hopefully more fulfilling new career path, I confessed to these feelings of illegitimacy that were plaguing me.

“Delia!” he exclaimed. “I am an intelligent person and I’m telling you that you are legitimate!”

But it fell on deaf ears.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve mastered all this stuff and am completely inner-directed, such that I don’t need some sort of tangible, external signal to validate the way I’m spending my time right now.

But that would be a lie.

I know that because I’m shortly to start a (non-paying) visiting position at a local university, developing a project connected to my interest in aging and adulthood.

That alone ought to be enough for me. And I am genuinely excited about it.

But when they wrote to tell me that as part of the position, I would also have a computer and an office, I was inexplicably elated.

Wow! A computer and an office!,” I thought to myself, a mere two and a half months since the last time I had both of those things. “I am a person again!

Phew.

Image: Desk by Pexels via Pixabay.com

How To Redefine Yourself When You Are Made Redundant

pale ale

pale aleI’m about to lose my job. It’s a long story, but the Reader’s Digest version is that I work for a large, British NGO in London that just lost a big chunk of its government funding.

As a result of that decision, my entire department is being shut down at the end of July.

The Upside of Starting Over

I’m actually really happy about this state of affairs – not for my organisation, but for me personally. I’ve already changed careers a couple of times, so I’m all about the “episodic career.”

As we all know, starting over professionally in mid-life doesn’t need to be a negative thing. Indeed, it can be the start of something really exciting and rewarding. I’ve been thinking hard about what was coming next for me for a while now and relish the prospect of trying something new.

Plus, the prospect of collecting a nice severance package sweetens the deal even further. I mean, seriously, how often are you paid to go hunt for a new job?

So why, then, am I feeling so lousy?

Being Made “Redundant”

I think it’s the terminology they use over here to describe this state of affairs. In the UK, it’s called “being made redundant.”

Say what you will about the term “layoff,” but it’s a heckuva lot better than “redundancy.” For me, anyway, getting “laid off” connotes something restful – you’ve been given leave to hang up your cleats and exit the sports field gracefully. You can now kick back with a low-alcohol Pale Ale in the back yard and read The New Yorker to your heart’s content. (Not your fantasy? Feel free to substitute in your personal set of unemployment-induced indulgences…)

But it’s temporary: you’re just hitting the snooze button. Normal life resumes shortly.

In contrast, being told that you are being made “redundant” conjures up images being – at best, burdensome – and at worst, completely unnecessary. In the dictionary, “redundant” is defined as “No longer needed. Superfluous.”

And that depresses me.

The Fear of Slowing Down

I’m a do-er you see. I’m always on the go, from 6 am to 10 pm. For God’s sake, I use a wheelie suitcase as a briefcase! I am a living and breathing metaphor for purposefulness in motion.

So the idea of slowing down terrifies me. Some of that’s about legitimacy – the normal sorts of professional identity issues one struggles with when he or she is unemployed.

But in my own case, there’s a much deeper cause to my uneasiness: the worry that I won’t re-start. That there will be nothing left to do. No more mountains to climb, to borrow a phrase from the Reverend Mother in The Sound of Music. And who am I without constant movement?

So to be labelled by my society as inert and unproductive is quite possibly the worst thing you can do to me. It taps into my worst fears: that the game of life is over and there’s just…me. It’s like a form of dying. Or at least that’s how I experience it.

Redundancy vs. Renewal

I know this is all very silly and superficial. There’s no reason that I have to define my new professional status by the dictionary definition of redundant. As Shakespeare once memorably asked: “What’s in a name?”

I also know that, deep down,it won’t be long before I’m back in the saddle, throwing myself into the next big thing. Indeed, the biggest challenge for me will be remembering to savor “slow living” before I resume the race.

But if you happen to see me before then, whether on the street or in cyber-space, please do me a favor. Try not to mention the word “redundancy” in my presence.

I prefer the word “rebirth.”

Which, according to the dictionary, means “A period of new life, growth or activity. A revival.”

Amen.

Image: Coopers Pale Ale from Adelaide Australia in the Bier Garden Saigon Vietnam JAN 2012 via Wikimedia Commons

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You Need To Change Jobs

mask

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I ran into a former colleague at a party recently. He told me that despite having a prestigious and well-paying job in the private sector, he felt that he needed to move on from his current job because he’s been wearing a “costume” to work for the past two years.

I could completely relate. At various points in my professional life, I have felt that I had to don a costume every day when I went to work because my job was not an authentic reflection of who I was or wanted to be.

One of the great things about the “new old age” is that we’re all living longer, offering us many more opportunities to envision mid-life as a time of self-realization, productivity and growth. So if you’re wrestling with whether or not it might be time for you to shift gears, here are five tell-tale signs you might want to act on that instinct:

You feel like you’re wearing a costume to work. See above. Note that this doesn’t mean that you have to hate your job. The first time I experienced the “costume” syndrome – back when I was an academic – there were aspects of my job I loved, including the amazingly talented and intelligent colleagues I worked with on a daily basis. But if it feels increasingly like you are pretending to be someone you aren’t at work – and the energy from that performance is exhausting you – then you need to think about how to channel that energy into a job search that can bring greater meaning and fulfillment.

You envy other people’s jobs. My husband and I have an expression for that feeling you get when you order something at a restaurant and then immediately regret it as soon as your dinner partner’s plate arrives. We call it “order envy.” Order Envy applies in the work world as well. I once ran into a friend who told me that he couldn’t wait for “Monday to start,” because there was so much to look forward to in his work week. At the time, I was experiencing something more like “Sunday Dread” about the five days that were to follow, so his cheerful enthusiasm felt like a knife through my soul. If you feel envy right now rather than relief that you don’t have that “Monday feeling,” you know that you are ready to look for a new job.

You feel suffocated when you get a promotion. A younger friend with whom I used to work invited me to coffee recently. She said that she needed some urgent career advice. Turns out, she’d just been given a promotion. “But isn’t that a good thing?,” I asked, naively. “No, it’s awful. I feel absolutely suffocated. Like because they’ve offered me more money and a better title, I can never leave now.” I, too, have experienced the “golden handcuffs” syndrome at points in my life. It was beautifully rendered in an episode of Friends where Chandler gets a promotion because he’s so good at his job and they want to give him an inducement to stay in the team. But instead of being thrilled, all he wants to do is to run for the door. Pay attention to those feelings; don’t ignore them. It’s a huge sign that you feel stuck in your job and need to emancipate yourself.

You look at job listings, even though you just started your job. Another dead give away. Of course, it’s possible that you only took your current job as a temporary measure. But if you’ve recently started a job that you convinced yourself was right for you, then you should be investing 100% in learning everything you can about that new job: how the company is structured…what’s actually required of your post…getting to know your new colleagues…the technology that’s used…the organizational culture, etc. etc. If, instead, you find yourself still out there wondering “What if?”, you’re doing the wrong thing.

You immediately apply for a short-term assignment outside your department. I work at a large, global organization that invests heavily in its employees’ professional development. Part of this is achieved through what’s called an “attachment scheme,” which is basically a way to enable people from different parts of the organization to work elsewhere on a short-term basis in order to learn new skills or deepen others. It’s a wonderful scheme – and really does facilitate life-long learning inside the workplace. (Other companies do something similar through short-term international assignments.) But I’ve noticed that some of the people who try and take advantage of the attachment scheme in my company have barely been there long enough to learn the job they were hired for in the first place. To me, that is a sign that they really need to change jobs.

How about you? What things have you experienced or observed over the years that told you that it was time to move on?

Image: Mask Carnival Venice Italy by Skeeze via Pixabay

 

Vacations, Paid Leave and the Madness of American Workaholism

summer vacation

summer vacation LONDON – The hint of an autumn breeze sweeps through my window on an early Sunday morning in August as I work through the annual back-to-school inventory of uniforms and school supplies. My eye graces the “To Do” List I crafted back in late May – still sitting in a corner of my desk, as if beckoning me to “action” it – with the myriad festivals, theater productions and “Top 10 European Budget Holidays” we’d meant to get to with my family before September. And I’m hit – not for the first time in the past three months – with a terrible realization: I never took a summer vacation.

I’m not alone. According to a survey conducted by Skift, a travel intelligence company, last year just 15% of Americans planned to take an actual summer vacation. Those numbers improved slightly in 2015, with figures from the Allianz Travel Insurance Vacation Confidence Index forecasting Americans travelling more this year, but spending less.

Which brings us to economics. Let’s start with the fact that vacations are expensive – the average American vacation cost $8,272, according to Skift – and many people simply can’t afford them. Of the 1,005 Americans polled for that survey, one third of them said that they wouldn’t take a summer vacation because they can’t afford it. Indeed, Americans who earned less than $25,000 per year were the least likely to take vacation days, with almost half of that income bracket taking no days off last year. As an article on CBS Money Watch put it: “Low-wage professions or part-time jobs…are increasingly pricing workers out of taking time off.”

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

Image via Pixabay.com

Working Moms: Don’t Use Academic Research To Validate You

working mothers

working mothers

Like many out there, I was overjoyed to read the results of a recent study from Harvard University claiming that being a working mother  has tangible benefits to our kids. More specifically, the new research showed that working mothers are good role models for their daughters.

I was on my way to work when I read about the study and entered the office with an extra skip in my step. One of my colleagues, also a mother of two, called out to me before I even got to my desk. “Did you hear?” she said. “Work is actually good for our daughters!” She was positively beaming.

“Yup!” I replied triumphantly. “Already tweeted it!”

We high-fived each other across the cubicle, leaning in (to borrow a phrase) to the nine hour day that lay ahead, a tad less anxious than we’d been the day before and – in my own case – suddenly awash in confidence that missing my daughter’s cross country tournament the week before hadn’t permanently damaged her self-esteem. To the contrary, now she’d be even more confident and motivated because she had me as a model, holed up in an office miles away, toiling away on that final edit to the paper whose deadline took greater precedence over watching her run a race.

Continuing to ride that high, I immediately jumped on Facebook to contact a friend of mine who teaches family and child policy at a prominent American university and is up on all of this research. “Isn’t this great?” I wrote, linking to the study on her Wall. “Because didn’t most of the earlier studies say the opposite? And P.S., Yay!”

Actually,” she wrote back,”this body of research is so hard to interpret because so little of it is well-identified and there are so few plausibly causal estimates. Mostly people seem to conclude what they want from the existing literature. Thus, YAY! indeed for this latest study.

Fffffffffffffttttttttttttttt.

That’s the sound of the air coming out of my Guilt-Free-Mom balloon upon receiving her dispiriting reply.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

Image: Women in the Workforce via Wikipedia.com

Embrace Your Emma Watson and Become a Mentor

emma watson davos

emma watson davosLONDON – This week, the sublimely gifted Emma Watson has taken to the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos to exhort the corridors of power worldwide to do more to ensure that women are equal participants in the workplace.

As UN Women Goodwill Ambassador – not to mention a star of one the highest grossing film franchises of all time – Watson has the sort of global platform that can enable her latest initiative – IMPACT 10x10x10 to make some real inroads in “encouraging governments, businesses and universities to make concrete commitments to gender equality.” But you don’t need to be Hermione Granger to play a role in advancing women’s status and power in the workplace.

Indeed, we can all do our part – particularly we middle-aged, mid-career female professionals who are close enough to remembering what it was like to be struggling to move up the career ladder but senior enough to have a few years of worthwhile experience under our belt.  Which is why I took the decision in 2015 to start mentoring younger female colleagues in my company to help them both identify and realize their own potential.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side.

Image via watsonfans.com