First Impressions Matter–They Last

In job interviews and on the job, first impressions matter because they last. In fact, they often take effect in an instant but can be difficult to change, if not impossible (depending on how strong they were to begin with).

I’m not talking about something like “is my tie straight?” (if you wear one). I’m referring to more subtle examples, such as the way you greet someone (the interviewer, maybe a new boss or colleague). Do you come across as friendly but professional, interested in others but not nosy, and so on? Job seekers are often told to “act natural” or “be yourself,” but cautioned to be wary of missteps which can cause them to stumble.

If you’re well up in the ranks, you might be thinking you already know basic stuff like this. But bear with me, because even the best of us can sometimes overlook things that could put us at a disadvantage when meeting someone who’s important to our long-term career success–whether it’s during the job interview phase or after we’ve landed our new job.

Basics You Might Need a Refresher On

Over-confidence can be every bit as damaging as lack of confidence, sometimes even more so. For example, if your body language or your words suggest an arrogant sense of superiority, you just might rub someone the wrong way, only to discover that the person has a say in whether or not you land the position.

Briefly, these are key aspects to consider when you’re getting ready for an important interview, because they’re what interviewers are likely to notice about you (found in an article titled “The 7 Things Interviewers Notice First“–they were listed in reverse order in the article):

  1. Qualifications
  2. Enthusiasm
  3. Preparedness
  4. Communication style
  5. Body language
  6. Attire (clothing, etc.)
  7. Arrival time

I’d like to add a side note on the item about arrival time–which is something that’s very important but can be difficult to judge on occasion. As the article indicates, you definitely don’t want to be late. On the other hand, you don’t want to show up in the lobby 30 minutes ahead of time either.

In these days of cell phones being everywhere, there’s not much excuse for failing to notify someone if you’ve been unavoidably delayed; however, it would be much better, in my opinion, to build in a generous cushion of time and then find something to do with yourself during any “left over” time you might have–while staying near the location you need to be at for the interview.

First Impressions On the Job

Regardless of your rank in the organization, you’ll undoubtedly be meeting new people a lot–co-workers, subordinates, key customers or vendors, and more. To the extent possible, you’d be smart to bone up ahead of time on those you’ll be meeting, so you’re well prepared to achieve a positive first impression. Then all you have to do is maintain that positive impression in subsequent meetings!

Sometimes, of course, you won’t have an opportunity to prepare for a first meeting. It can happen unexpectedly for a variety of reasons. However, if you’ve been making the right kind of effort all along, you’ll probably come out of the encounter satisfactorily. By that, I mean that you’ve prepared yourself to make a first impression that will present you favorably in diverse circumstances–and will create a long-lasting impression you’ll be happy to be associated with.


Can You Negotiate Your Salary for a New Job?

Maybe the question should really be, “How can you negotiate your salary for a New Job?”

Recently an article titled “Negotiating Employment Agreements or the Real Reason Jennifer Lawrence Got Paid Less Than Bradley Cooper,” published on LinkedIn’s Pulse, talked about negotiating your salary from a different slant than I’d seen before. It definitely caused me to think about some of the assumptions we tend to make that might not be as soundly based as they seem to be.

Employment Negotiation–No Excuses?

According to the Pulse article, actress Jennifer Lawrence wrote a piece stating that she received lower pay for her role because Hollywood was sexist and because she didn’t want to appear difficult or silly by negotiating a much higher salary. Her essay in turn stirred up a big brouhaha about the gap between what men and women are paid.

The main point the article makes, however, is that Lawrence’s experience was a “glaring violation of the cardinal rule of employment negotiations – IF YOU DO NOT ASK FOR IT, YOU WILL NOT GET IT.” Author Elisaveta (Leiza) Dolghih contends that this isn’t directly driven by gender but by personality (how an individual functions). She goes on to state that “if your personality is like Jennifer Lawrence’s…and does not allow you to ask, find a person who will ask and negotiate for you….”

When to Talk Money

One issue that often bothers my clients is when to discuss salary during their search for a new position. If you’ve ever been in that spot, you know what I’m talking about. For years I’ve been advocating the view expressed by many professionals, including author Jack Chapman, that “he who mentions money first loses.” Just this week, however, I read a column by Nick Corcodillos (Ask The Headhunter) in which he flatly contradicts that view and insists that job seekers need to take the initiative in order to avoid missteps such as going through multiple interviews before finding out the range for the position–which might be thousands of $$$ below their target.

I have to say that this whole situation has raised issues I need to think through carefully before I do more salary negotiation coaching with clients! Apparently there aren’t any simple, straightforward answers. Maybe the best we can do is look at each interview process, each salary negotiation aspect, on a case-by-case basis. However, I think there are at least a few key points to keep in mind:

  1. Do your homework even before you submit your resume to a potential employer. Within reason (don’t take weeks!), gather the best intelligence you can about the company’s situation, background, etc.
  2. Explore what people who do what you do are making, taking into account things like geographical differences, to get at least a general, ballpark range. Compare that information to your anticipated target salary.
  3. Decide how you plan to bring up the subject of compensation (if you do) or how you will respond if it comes up before you feel you have enough information about the opportunity.
  4. Be ready to negotiate based on solid value, but be prepared to politely walk away from an opportunity as soon as you can tell that it’s not going to be worth your time (or the company’s) to push ahead.

So, yes, you can negotiate your salary for a new job–at least sometimes. At other times, the answer might be, probably not–or–it’s not worth the effort you’d have to make.


Stress in Your Job Search–and Beyond

A while ago I published a post about experiencing stress on your new job. Today I came across a post about “Top 10 Ways to Help You Stay Calm under Pressure” that I felt could be helpful if you’re experiencing stress and pressure either during your job search or after you land the new job. (I found this post via a an item shared by Edward Harrison, a member of the LinkedIn group, Top Leaders/Executives, which I also belong to.)

Stress-fighting Strategies for Your Job Search or New Job

According to the post (by Dr. Patty Ann Tubin), these are–briefly–the top 10 ways you can stay calm (i.e., minimize stress in your experience):

  1. Be Grateful!
  2. Think Positively.
  3. Go off the Grid.
  4. Get Sleep.
  5. Be Active.
  6. Practice Meditation.
  7. Don’t Play the Victim.
  8. Eat Healthy.
  9. Breathe Fully.
  10. Keep it All in Perspective.

That’s a pretty extensive list, although there might be even more that could be added. What I think the article does well is to take a commonsense approach to the situation, including asking a couple of wise questions in #10 and following it with this statement: “Chances are the answer to these questions will not incur loss of life. Anything less than that must be kept in perspective.”

So what I’m basically saying is that you can let the stress and pressure get to you and derail your progress (and very possibly your health) or you can work on incorporating as many of the top 10 techniques as you can–and as make good sense in your situation. For example, you might not be able to do meditation in the middle of a business meeting, but you can try to practice things like “think positively” and “breathe fully” (“take a deep breath” has long been advice given to someone who’s about to fly off the handle).

Need Help in Your Stress-Busting?

Sometimes you might need or want to call on a friend or colleague you trust to help you break out of stress mode. If they can give you relatively unbiased support (e.g., reasonably non-judgmental), they could provide much-needed breathing-room and perspective on the situation that’s fueling your stress.

At other times, it’s possible that more formal or trained support is what you most need. I’m no therapist or counselor, so I don’t advise my resume or job search clients on matters that veer into that territory. I can and have recommended that a client consult a trained professional for an issue that’s outside the scope of the services I’m qualified to provide. Most of the time you may be the best one to determine the nature or extent of your need for support, and as long as you recognize that you do need help and take steps to get it, that’s great.

Either way, I encourage you to identify the steps and resources you need in order to break the pattern of pressure-stress-pressure-stress, whether in your job search or in the new job itself. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief in the long run.


Good Boss – Bad Boss

Probably most of you could agree on some of the characteristics of a good boss or a bad boss, but other elements might well differ depending on your particular perspective. The main thing is that you need to determine what makes a good or a bad boss for you, in order to have a reasonably satisfying and productive experience in your job–now and in the future.

What Makes a Good Boss?

In my opinion, a good boss needs to fit at least the following specifications:

  1. Builds, leads and motivates teams to tackle challenges with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose.
  2. Provides support that enables you to grow and to respond effectively in difficult situations.
  3. Backs you up when you are being unfairly challenged, hassled, etc., even if it means going toe-to-toe with senior managers.
  4. Delivers constructive performance feedback in a timely manner but not in the presence of an audience.
  5. Gives credit publicly for your contributions so others know the value you have delivered.

What Makes a Bad Boss?

Although a lot of factors could come into play here, these are a few of my least-favorites:

  1. Gives lip-service, at best, to the concept of teamwork and fails to create an atmosphere that supports it.
  2. Considers your possible professional growth not part of his/her responsibility and potentially a threat to his/her own success.
  3. Refuses to support you when you’re stuck in a disagreeable situation through no fault of your own.
  4. Harangues and bad-mouths you not only to your face and in public but at other times as well.
  5. Expects you to work yourself half to death but gives no public recognition of your efforts.

How Can You Tell a Boss Will be Good or Bad?

There might not be any surefire way to tell 100% of the time, but you can take a few steps to minimize the risk of landing up with a bad boss:

  • Do your homework before you interview at a company. Research not only the company but its management. Go beyond the company’s own website to find background on the person you would be reporting to…AND his/her boss.
  • Watch and listen carefully when you go for a job interview–not just when you get into the interview room but before that. Sometimes you can pick up subtle–or not so subtle–cues that will give you useful clues.
  • Tap into your network to double-check with them about any possibly useful information they might have on the person who would be your boss in the new job, before you decide to accept an offer.
  • Think with your head but also consult your heart and instincts. If they seem to be sending contradictory messages, consider carefully before you commit to joining the company.

Lastly, remember that the boss-employee relationship has two components, not just one. Sometimes a not-so-great boss can be transformed into at least a good one if you bring the right qualities and outlook to the relationship. If you’ve slipped up somehow and ended up with a bad boss, accept the fact of the misstep and begin thinking what you can do to improve your situation one way or another. On the other hand, if you’ve ended up with a good-to-great boss–celebrate!


My New Job is Stressing Me Out!

If this blog’s headline strikes a chord with you, you’re probably not alone. What helps make a new job unsettling at best and highly stressful at worst is the disconnect that too often seems to occur between what you expected the situation to be and what it actually is. The root cause isn’t always obvious, and what you should do about it might not be obvious either. It merits some careful thought.

Voluntary Job Change–Why Stressful?

Assuming you’ve pursued and landed the new job because you wanted to make a change and felt this was the right choice, why are you finding it stressful? Of course, there could be a number of reasons, but here are a few:

  • You didn’t prepare as well as you thought or as well as you should have, so you have encountered more surprises than you were ready for.
  • You forgot just how much adjustment is involved when taking on a new role in a new company, and you’re not cutting yourself enough slack during that period of adjustment.
  • Events occurred that you couldn’t have anticipated, and they’re complicating the already-complex settling-in process. That could include management changes, restructuring that affects your job or group, or many other situations that force you to adapt and re-adapt frequently.

New Job Desperation

At least with a voluntary job change, you know you had choices. That said, you can hope to navigate through the stress of those first few months at least partly by assuring yourself that–in all probability–things will get better as you continue to work out the “bugs.” On the other hand, if you made an involuntary job change–whether because of a layoff or a termination or some other factor–you might have the added stress of feeling a sense of desperation, a burning need to make a success of the new job “or else.”

I doubt whether anyone can really wipe out that added stress for you, but I’ve seen personally and with clients throughout my adult life that it is possible to mitigate the stress. The list of potential approaches for doing this is probably a very long one, but these are some that I’ve seen work effectively:

  • Beg, borrow or steal at least a few minutes each day (more than a few if you can manage it) to decompress periodically, much as a deep-sea diver has to do during an ascent. You might not get the bends if you don’t do this, but other health repercussions certainly could occur.
  • Establish a flexible method of prioritizing and re-prioritizing your “to do” items to help you stay organized when chaos threatens to overwhelm you. It doesn’t matter whether you go high-tech or low-tech for your method; what matters is that it’s something you can and will use consistently.
  • Document instructions received as to what you need to be doing–including the source of those instructions. Generally, your immediate boss’ instructions would be considered the most important, but what happens if his/her boss comes straight to you with a directive or if someone who works for an executive in another department than yours gives you an “urgent” task to tackle? Obviously, you’d want to get clearance from your boss for departures from the expected process, but in any case, document key points–for your own protection if nothing else.

When all else fails, remember the old adage, “This, too, shall pass,” which indicates that all material conditions are temporary. You might not be able to control all aspects of a situation, but you can often influence their direction and duration.


3 New Job Mistakes to Avoid

In a perfect world, your new job would be challenging but not overwhelming and you would move forward with no obstacles during the first 6 months to a year. Unfortunately you probably don’t live in a perfect world. At least no one I know does!

Challenges undoubtedly will occur on your new job, and some of them might be daunting, to say the least–especially if they’re situations you had no way to anticipate and prepare for. However, although you can’t plan for every possible eventuality, you can avoid at least a few, major new job mistakes by taking some smart preventive action.

3 New Job Mistakes People Often Make

One of these mistakes actually precedes the start of your new job. The others relate more to things you might do (or not do) once you’ve officially begun your new position.

  1. Forget–or don’t bother–to perform due diligence regarding the company and position you’re about to interview for. You don’t need to (and probably can’t) find out absolutely everything, but smart job seekers make the effort to gather good intelligence beforehand.
  2. Arrive for day one of your new job without doing as thorough preparation as you could and should have. In other words, show up without a sound plan of action for the start of the job.
  3. Lead off at a fast pace to make changes and pursue ambitious goals without scoping out the situation first. Rarely is rapid-fire emergency action really required, and it can all too easily backfire.

Mistake Prevention Steps

Here are just a few steps you can take to prevent the new job mistakes mentioned above; feel free to explore further and add your own to these:

  1. Consult reliable sources–both online and offline–that can give you some useful information about the company’s current situation, future prospects, etc. Online sources would include LinkedIn and Google searches for information both about the company and about its management. Offline should include anyone you know or can connect with who has current or fairly recent knowledge about the company.
  2. Put together a 30-60-90-day plan (if you didn’t do this earlier) before you show up for work the first day. Include in that plan items such as the people who will report to you, the person you report to and anyone else within the company who might be essential to carrying out your charter. Refresh your memory regarding information shared with you during your interviews and at other times that indicates expectations for your performance and might suggest potential roadblocks you will need to take into account.
  3. Review any crises or potential crisis situations you know you will need to deal with and balance that with useful, related information and knowledge about the people you will need to interact with in order to move forward. Determine which actions do need to occur quickly and how best to execute them for maximum effectiveness; mark the others for less expeditious action.

No one can guarantee that everything will work out in your new job; but by taking care to avoid the new job mistakes mentioned above, you will increase the odds of your success.


Job Search is a Team Sport

Having just about completed a massive (coast-to-coast) relocation of home and business, I learned a valuable lesson that job seekers can (and should) apply to their next job search. With few–maybe no–exceptions, you can’t tackle a huge project alone and expect to complete it successfully on all fronts. Major projects require teamwork, and even then, they can be challenging.

Job Search a Team Sport?

You might quibble about my labeling job search as a sport. Would it help if I put “sport” in quotes? Seriously, a team sport is one that (by definition) involves more than one player. Usually that means there’s a captain–a leader–who gives the team a focus and helps them work together to achieve a common goal. That might mean winning a lot of games in whatever the sport is or at least making a strong effort to do well and to keep improving until they achieve a goal they’ve set for themselves.

That concept works for me just as well in terms of a job search. You could consider yourself the captain of your job search team, the person with a clear sense of the goal (a new job) and an awareness of at least some of the challenges that could lie in store for you before you reach that goal. But a captain isn’t much good without a solid team behind him or her. A captain can’t cover all the positions required to win.

Who Needs to Be on Your Team?

Some people should be with you on your job search from start to finish. They might be family members, close friends, respected colleagues, or some other category. The important point is that they need to have a strong desire to see you succeed in finding your next great job, either because they have a vested interest in the outcome or because they get a lot of satisfaction from helping someone achieve a key goal–or both. They should be people whose opinion you value and respect, not someone who might work harder on his or her personal axe to grind than on your success.

At times, though, you’ll want a person on your team who doesn’t have to be there for the long haul. That can include people whose expertise in a particular area presents a potentially strong value for your job search. You might consult such a person on a short-term basis, get the help you need, and let them go with gratitude for their contribution.

With my long-distance move, I had a lot of helpers, and I couldn’t have done it without them–such as the amazing real estate agent who sold our home in California at a good price, the agent in Massachusetts she connected me with (who found us the wonderful home we now live in), the resourceful handyman that second agent recommended, and the friendly neighbors who put me in touch with top-notch service providers in our area for essential needs such as plumbing work and irrigation systems.

Your job search is arguably one of the most important activities you’ll engage in, professionally speaking. Make sure you view it as a team sport and line up the players you really need to get you where you want to go.