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Water Cooler

Information and insight about your career and the workplace at large
November 2004

News and Views

Eliminating the small stuff—the tolerations, or petty annoyances that keep you from being your "best self"— can almost instantly improve the quality of your life, claim Scott Blanchard and Madeleine Homan, authors of Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest: The Coaching Secrets Top Executives Depend On (William Morrow/HarperCollinsPublishers, 2004). Tolerations—like the stack of business cards that need to be entered into your contact manager (and are instead sitting in your inbox)—drain your energy. Setting aside a specific time to deal with these energy drains, or delegating them to someone else, keeps you focused on more important things and instantly boosts your mood. More

The demand for mentor relationships is growing, and companies are seeing the value of pairing mentors and proteges as an important factor in whether or not employees decide to stay with the company or seek a different position. Employees say the quality of the match is key and that mentors can be found both inside and outside the company. But how do you find one? More

Job seekers typically make five mistakes when negotiating compensation: (1) quickly accepting the first offer; (2) negotiating by phone; (3) playing hardball; (4) asking if the offer is negotiable; (5) accepting an offer strictly on the merits of salary and benefits. Career consultant Steve Stromp offers some advice for sizing up the job offer and for putting it in perspective so that you don't make a choice you later regret. More

Does certification guarantee competence? IT and training consultant Susan Schwartz says no—certification is accreditation by test-taking, independent of any training curriculum. "Certification has its place," Schwartz writes in an article published by Suite101.com, but it's also important to screen candidates on "soft" skills like the following: interpersonal communication, understanding of business goals, flexibility, expertise within the job area, self- motivated learning style, and knowledge of the designated computing environment. Without multi-dimensional screening, you risk failing to build a strong and effective team. More


ToolBox

Is your communication crystal clear and laser sharp— or do you tend to write sentences that contain phrases like "values-driven paradigm shift" or "repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital"? A plain-speaking editor could help—but when you don't have one, Bullfighter, from Deliotte, might do the trick. Bullfighter works like the spelling and grammar checker in Microsoft Word, but focuses on making your prose easier to understand and less jargon-y. You can get a free download here.

Hear Keith Yamashita, whom Fast Company called "the most influential consultant you've never heard of," at the Excellence in Government West Conference, December 8 - 10, 2004. Yamashita wrote the book Unstuck, reviewed in the October 2004 issue of WaterCooler. The conference, which focuses on leading change in the public sector, is a shot-in-the-arm for federal managers. In addition to sessions on personal development, best practices and innovations, and managing transition and change, the conference will feature a series of field studies to the Navy SEALs Training Center, San Ysidro Border, the San Diego Zoo, and more for a closer look at leadership and innovative management in action. More


Making It Work for You

Readers, this is your space—for tips on how you've solved a problem on the job, "gotten over" not tooting your own horn, or anything else related to being your own best advocate in the workplace. Special Offer: Get a complimentary copy of Mentor Me when your story is selected for publication in WaterCooler . Send your story to watercooler@mentorme.info and watch for your byline in a future issue.

This month's story is from a woman who took a chance—on the advice and encouragement of another, and most importantly, on her own ability to succeed.

She Did It—and I Could, Too

The Blizzard of '96 changed my life.

My kids' school closed for the week, but by Wednesday, I had to return to work. My husband and I traded off going into our offices for part of each day, dreading the school closing announcements on the early morning news.

On Thursday, I had to call Irene, a woman in our babysitting co-op whom I did not know well. I expected to commiserate about the havoc the storm was wreaking on our work schedules.

"Well, actually," she said calmly, "I work from home, so I've been fine."

She was a graphic designer, she told me, and had been self-employed for a few years. When I told her that I wanted to go out on my own someday as a writer and editor, she was immediately encouraging. And she walked her talk, suggesting that we get together so that she could share how she started out.

A week or so later, when the snow had turned to slush, I took the morning off from work to meet Irene for coffee. At this point, eight years later (!), I don't remember what she specifically told me as much as her calm confidence that, of course, I could set up my own business. By the end of the morning, my mind was spinning with ideas and with logical steps about how to get there.

That's how I began the planning that culminated, about four months later, in setting up Full Circle Communications, my own publications company. I may well have done it without Irene—eventually. But our conversation gave me the confidence to actively pursue this dream.

And networking paid off for Irene, too, although that was not her intent when she helped me. I hired her to design my marketing materials.

—Paula Tarnapol Whitacre, Full Circle Communications, Alexandria, VA, ptw@fullcircle.org


NEW: WaterCooler (WC) Personal

Have You Thanked Someone Lately?

Recently I read an article about relationships in a women's health and fitness magazine. One of the experts quoted in the article said that in any happy relationship, the proportion of compliments to criticism is always at least 4 to 1.

I suspect that in work (and in personal) relationships the proportion of "thank you's" to "then would you please do..." should also be at least 4 to 1.

Gratitude often gets forgotten in the rush of getting to work on time, in our sometimes overwhelming and growing list of "to-do's." November, in which we celebrate THANKS-giving, is a good reminder to appreciate the little—and the big—graces that come our way.

Instead of sending holiday cards in December, I make it a point to send gratitude postcards in November. I sometimes include a small gift, like a pair of movie tickets. It takes time, but the delight and surprise that this unexpected "thank you" brings to the recipient makes it worthwhile.

Some people keep a gratitude journal to remind them of the gifts they take for granted—gifts like a sunny day, a playground for their children, a driver letting them ahead in merging traffic, the co-worker who comes into work and just by doing her job, helps the company be successful. This is a great practice.

But it's also a great practice to speak the gratitude out loud to the one who made you feel grateful.

Whom can you thank today?

Gift Idea for the Holiday Season

Help someone say yes to a dream and mentor herself or himself into a job and career s/he loves, simply by gifting them with Mentor Me.

An easy read, the book can help new or transitioning professionals

    ♥ gain confidence in their ability to succeed in the workplace,
    ♥ develop the skills they need to be politically effective in their career,
    ♥ discover the shortest and surest route to influencing others, including their boss,
    ♥ make performance reviews less threatening, more rewarding,
    ♥ navigate the four most common career transitions, and
    ♥ recognize when they need expertise beyond their own experience, and learn where and when to find that help.
Ahh-Hah Discovery Tools is extending a special 25%-off package deal (which includes free shipping) for readers of WaterCooler who buy the Mentor Me book and the Mentor Me Career Advancement Kit together. It's like getting two gifts in one—the book for your friend, and the binder for yourself (if you want to practice the "one for you, one for me" gift-giving tradition!).

The Advancement Kit, an attractively packaged binder with a table-of-contents page and 10 pre-indexed tabs, helps you organize your career advancement plans, track your accomplishments, and launch your own "mentor me" action plan.

Bought separately, you'd pay $30.50 plus shipping and handling. Take advantage of this special offer, and pay only $23 —with no shipping/handling costs for either product. To view product descriptions, click here.

To order and receive your 25% discount, call Holly Hospel (1-317.823.7051) and mention that you saw this special offer in WaterCooler, or order online here.


Coming Up

Workshops and Book Signings

Computer Learning Centers Partnership, with Women in Technology, date and time TBA. Contact: Glynda Mayo Hall, 703 324-5237; Glynda.Hall @fairfaxcounty.gov