Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Feb 27, 2011

No Sneakers at the Office - Adam Scholl (Book tour)

In Miss Bender's real life workplace, she informally mentors a young professional with real spark, drive, and upward mobility.  (She keeps Miss Bender honest, to tell you the truth.)  Recently, we were talking about some exploring in the job market this NewPro has been doing -- fly fishing really, but you never know when something may strike.  Her biggest concern of the moment (though she has no upcoming prospects from these on-line searches) is how she will  manage to squeeze an interview into her workday.

She says, "I can't suddenly show up one day dressed up."  Because of course her daily attire is jeans, t-shirt over longer t-shirt, and those yes-they-are-sneakers the Red Bull generation wear these days.

I said, with sincere nodding as I crossed my stockinged legs, "That's where you are making your mistake."

As the peskier of the 2 schoolmarms who run this Finishing School, Miss Bender does occasionally check in with the student body on their state of dress, is known to give the once-over during class change, and keeps a black blazer on hand in case you are called to the front office.

As another class enters an already-downsized workforce this spring, The BWFSandSC wants to remind you that appearances do count, and we do take off for spelling.  Your baseball cap in a meeting room is not at all like taking a stand about not wearing a dress to your First Communion.  That was acceptable because you were seven.  Just because your workplace doesn't issue you a uniform, doesn't mean there isn't one.

Into this confusing office culture comes a new guide for new professionals, on everything from office wear basics to etiquette, including business travel, office politics, finding a mentor, managing your time.  These are the things we used to learn in 5th grade health class, but we understand education has changed and you are not often asked to stretch outside of your comfort zone.

Author Adam T. Scholl, MBA, JD, and former Guardsman, has worked in a variety of industries and businesses, and brings that experience to bear in No Sneakers at the Office, which Amazon.com describes as "a step-by-step guide for college seniors, fresh-outs, and professionals under 30 seeking to enter, survive and thrive in corporate America."   Scholl talks about the motivation to share that guide to an emerging workforce in serious need.

Why did you name your book No Sneakers at the Office?
My publisher derived the title from a story that I tell in the opening chapter.  The story illustrates in part why it is important for persons new to the corporate world to know that the mannerisms and behaviors that may have defined one’s time at school will simply not fly in an office environment. 

What are the three biggest mistakes that recent college grads are making as they enter the workforce and how can they fix them?
The three biggest mistakes that I have noticed are
  • overconfidence
  • a weak appreciation of time management
  • poor communication
While confidence is by no means a bad thing and can do much to help recent college grads ascend the corporate ladder, they need to understand that while a college degree is a great achievement, it does not mean their learning days are over.  When it comes to time management, grads need to adopt a time management process so that they manage their workload properly (which is why in No Sneakers at the Office I devoted an entire chapter on this subject).  Grads must understand how to communicate successfully so that their message is received and understood by others.
What is it that recent college grads don't know that could hurt them?

It is not realizing the importance of their professional reputation. The business community is smaller than one realizes.  Your reputation influences employment where you work and where you may wish to work in the future.  

Give us a couple of examples of fresh-out success stories.
While on vacation standing at the check-in line at a hotel, I made small talk with a woman who subsequently introduced me to her son.  He and I spoke for a great length discussing topics from how to get hired to the difference between a job and a career, which I explain in my book.  From this conversation we continued to work to get him the position he wanted.  Because of his hard work improving his resume, improving his interview skills, and more, I am delighted to report that he got a position he likes.  Now, it is not the perfect position but it is a position that will allow for him to progress in his career path.  More importantly, his career is progressing successfully because he is not afraid to ask for help and he is open to new ideas.

What is it that you know for sure after writing this book?
The one thing I know for sure after writing this book is that learning is a lifetime process.  Even with my degrees and experience in the corporate world, there is not a day that goes by where I don’t learn something new.  I use the experiences, advice, and suggestions from people I meet to create an ever increasing toolkit of business skills and abilities.

No Sneakers at the Office makes a perfect graduation gift.  But you can bet they will roll their eyes when they open it.

Tell us your Office Lessons Learned Young through our comments window, or by joining our Facebook fanpage.  We'll be posting micro-excerpts from Scholl's guide throughout the day for your reactions.

Feb 25, 2011

Help Wanted: Female

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Student Z.N. asks, "Why are women preferred to men for secretarial positions?" and what the question generated was an exploration of whether that statement is necessarily true.  That is certainly our recent, western, cultural belief, but has certainly not always been so.  When did it change, and what is the status of that alleged preference today, in a business world where women now proportionately outnumber men?

"Secretary" as a job title has fallen out of favor, and the role exists far less than it did, especially in the corporate arena.  Miss Bender's personal observation is that they only exist at the top levels, are more likely to be called "Admins" (with a little less reverence than they were when they outranked all the other secretaries) and tend to be shared by multiple execs (heavens!).

The Department of Labor breaks Office and Administrative Support Occupations (43-000, if you are coding along) into 58 sub-categories, which include postal, workers and shipping clerks.  Secretarial roles by name are 4 of them (executive -1.3M, medical-469K, legal-244K, and other-1.8M).  Incidentally, these are 2009 stats, before economic collapse. 

Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms 96% of  the 3M secretaries and administrative assistants are female,

Before the Modern age, secretarial duties were a clerk's role: appointments, correspondence, general gatekeeping, somewhere between a butler of the workplace and a batman.  In 1996, Ebony magazine ran a man-bites-dog story about the rise of  "male secretaries" which cited the usual reference of  the popularity of the typewriter bringing young women into the office, and adds, "By the 1930s, the number of men in secretarial positions began to diminish." ("Male Secretaries: A Minority but No Longer a Novelty," Ebony, August 1996)

The real question is why the complete conversion, in 80 years of rapid technological, educational, and social advances, from a male to female gender-defined occupation.  Did the women dominate.... or did the men just opt out?  And is the answer the same for nurses, school teachers, dental hygienists? (most female occupation -- did you know?  I didn't.)

One of the men in the Ebony article defines the fulfillment he gets from his secretarial work this way:
"Serving others and being on top of things and networking with counterparts are only a few of the rewards achieved from this career.  When one can take pride in the accomplishments in a day's work and know that as a result you have added a dimension to the situation, this really is gratifying."  (Ebony, 1996)  

On the other hand, it was another man who famously observed "secretarial work was real drudgery," and did something about it by developing a word processor with type one could manipulate on screen ("An Wang: getting to the essentials." Nation's Business, Dec 1987).

There are plenty of women who find drudgery in the secretarial role as well.  After all, 96% of all secretaries in the US may be women, but barely 5 % percent of women are secretaries by the BLS definition.  I'd like to report that the rest of us are scattered liberally throughout all professions, but it remains that our most prevalent occupations are what you would expect (same BLS source as above):

  1. Secretaries and administrative assistants, 3,074,000
  2. Registered nurses, 2,612,000
  3. Elementary and middle school teachers, 2,343,000
  4. Cashiers, 2,273,000
  5. Nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides, 1,770,000
  6. Retail salespersons, 1,650,000
  7. First-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers, 1,459,000
  8. Waiters and waitresses, 1,434,000
  9. Maids and housekeeping cleaners, 1,282,000
  10. Customer service representatives, 1,263,000
  11. Child care workers, 1,228,000
  12. Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks, 1,205,000
  13. Receptionists and information clerks, 1,168,000
  14. First-line supervisors/managers of office and administrative support workers, 1,163,000
  15. Managers, all other, 1,106,000
  16. Accountants and auditors, 1,084,000
  17. Teacher assistants, 921,000
  18. Cooks, 831,000
  19. Office clerks, general 821,000
  20. Personal and home care aides, 789,000
Wage gap figures also continue to cite the female wage as 80 cents to the male dollar.  ("...median weekly earnings of women who were full-time wage and salary workers was $657, or 80 percent of men’s $819" -- BLS 2009)  What is reflected in this gap is the low-paying nature of work where women are prevalent (above) compared to the high-paying work where men have been prevalent (skilled, manual, dangerous, and ... to be honest, sports.)

But bacon is bacon.   34.5% of married women out earned their husbands in 2008, and based on current unemployment breakdown by gender, we can extrapolate that the % is higher today.  Last summer The Atlantic dove deeply into the question of whether equality was being realized, or if women were simply becoming the new men.  I must, by necessity, link you to that very long article to continue this conversation.  

Your comments are always welcome, and your articles in reply are even more so.

Feb 21, 2011

Please Speak Up

Instructor, Caroline Bender

File this under things the Finishing School will tell you that clearly no one else will:  You need to speak up.  Young ladies, this is not what we fought girls' gym, coffee runs, taking the notes in any meeting, and junior deputy assistant titles for -- for you to mutter, mumble, and talk in a high-pitched voice through a clenched jaw while looking at the floor.

Oh yeh, I am riled up now.  And you'd better believe I am not, like.... ending every phrase....?  in a, like... question...?  This behavior is exactly what we mean when we use the term "can't get out of your own way." 

Somewhere along that way, you have retreated from the awesome, cartwheeling, chatty 9-year olds you were into skittish pinch-voiced wallflowers, and it is holding you back.  I am not speaking to the 14 year-olds (though heaven knows we should be working on this with you) but to women in our workforce, 20s and early 30s, who can not command a room -- because we can not hear them.  Recently, I was making a purchase at a counter, and I could not hear the total price spoken to me by the cashier.  I said, with open FM throat, "I'm sorry?"  And, god bless her, she repeated it loudly. ( well, more loudly)

You may believe you have a soft voice, or a high-pitched one.  This does not prevent you from projecting it, and your ideas, to your audience (of 1 or of many).  A swallowed statement tells others
- what you say is not important
- you are not important enough to say it
- you are not sure about it
- you can not be bothered

And we know none of that is true.

Think of the women you admire in your workplace.  Think of the ones who command the respect of others, the ones everyone attends to when they are speaking, the ones other speakers choose to direct their eye contact to.  Pay attention to the way they speak.  Even our beloved Tess McGill knew what Katherine Parker had going on; her ethics and motives were questionable, but people listened when she spoke.  (That's a Working Girl reference, required viewing here at BWFS.)

We know you would be working on this if you only had some tips, so here a few ideas for how to improve your vocal projection, and by extension your professional confidence and standing.  You will be surprised by the results.

Listen to yourself - Record meetings that you attend, and especially those that you lead.  This can be done the old-fashioned way, with a hand-held recording device, by phone through your conference line, or on-line using a meeting management tool like WebEx or LiveMeeting.  In all cases, you'll want to announce to attendees that you are doing so, and ask if there are objections (this is actually a legal requirement in some states, so best to do it for all.)  It is not appropriate in all situations, so use your best judgment.  You do not have to tell people why -- you may say, for example, you've found it helpful for note-taking and action items (which it is).  Play it back on your own time and critique what you hear.

Work on your growth areas in small bites - Assess yourself on volume, "listenability," and content, of course.  I once worked with an experienced accomplished co-worker whose information bank I needed to draw from often.  Unfortunately, he did not modulate his pitch to a single degree.  My brain worked so hard to find the spaces between his words and the ones that required "punch," that I couldn't hang on to his meaning.

Experts recommend about 8 notes in your spoken words.  And the last word of the sentence should not be so much higher that people think you are asking a question.  It suggests uncertainty. Even high-pitched voices can project confidence -- any listen to NPR ought to convince you of that.

Identify your "um" noises - might be "like," "ya know," "know what I mean," or actually "um..." and "uh..."  Concentrate on letting them go.

Study others - speaking of which, here are some authoritative women's voices of varying types that share the commonality of holding your attention.  You don't need to be Oprah Winfrey to rule the platform, though she is a great bar to set.  (editorial note - these are mostly Youtube links.  We apologize for any ads you must endure)

High - Yeardley Smith (aka - Lisa Simpson, no one's shrinking flower).  Compare Yeardly to her interviewer, and you'll see the key difference
Low -  Rachel Maddow.  Here she is with a tableful of female tenors
Soft -  Katie Couric.  In this clip, Katie also talks about voice and body calibration.  Good tips here too.
Loud - Linda Ellerbee.   Way before her time -- TV had little space for her, since David Brinkley was still on the air.
Accented -  Nothing says authority like Christiane Amanpour
Impeded -  Ask Connie Chung if a lisp is a show stopper.  Then ask Sarah Vowell.
(and just for fun, Sarah on Rachel)

Practice - at every opportunity.  Privately, try reading aloud, singing in the shower, talking back to the TV, imitating actresses you admire.  Publicly, practice your meetings and presentations before you give them.  If you have mentors you trust to critique your work, take them into your goal and invite them to coach you before and  after your presentation.

There is a Toastmasters chapter within an hour of you -- maybe even less, maybe even on the job.  Toastmasters International, founded in 1924 is dedicated to "improv[ing]...communication and leadership skills, and [helping members]  find the courage to change." 

Learn when to stop speaking, as well as when to speak.  An opinion expressed well in a few words is always stronger than a filibuster that doesn't hold water.

Believe you can - You will see the rewards of positive speaking almost immediately.  Use the reactions of your audience to build on your confidence.

Repeat - The more you work on the things you want to improve, the more you succeed at doing so.

Outside Reading
The Eloquent Womanhelping help women with public speaking techniques, eloquence and confidence
DVD: The Stress-Free Guide to Public Speaking and Presentations

Feb 7, 2011

You can do anything for a year

Instructor, Caroline Bender  

The title of this essay is a common theme around the Finishing School.  We find platitudes to be useful devices, particularly when they can also serve as mantras.  We'll explore more of them in future installments, like "I'm a consultant," and "it's just something for the summer."  "Be careful what you wish for."  "Which would you regret more..."

These have been trying times, as we are all aware.  In the bleakness of the Mother of all Recessions, you may have taken the first thing that came along, or the part-time version of what you really wanted, or the position reporting to the position you are really qualified for.  And your faculty likely offered, in encouragement....

Experts may not be able to agree on how many days it takes to make a habit, but it takes at least a calendar year and a full 4 quarters of business year to understand what you have gotten yourself into.... and what you are getting out of it.

Happy Anniversary.  Getting through the first year is not the focus of this essay.  You do that by being dazzling, open-minded to the culture, and a valuable asset.  All the way to the bank.  This essay challenges you to face the second year.

Assess your goals - what were they for this job, really?  They have been completely pragmatic - keep the house, pay the bills, avoid new debt -- in which case, congratulations!  You met them!  They won't appear on your performance review, and it is best not to mention them among The Brass, but to yourself, say Atta Girl.  Then vow to drop 80's Lady bizslang.  It is not becoming.

Reassess your goals - if your goals were loftier, and remain unfulfilled, take some time to evaluate them with fresh eyes.  Take a couple of days for this assessment.  You need the time to really reflect, personal inventory style.  How did these goals fail to be met?  What part have you played in that?  You may have set goals that you realize can not be met in this environment.  If that's the case, shape that goal to something more attainable.  Remember to make it Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.  If the original goal might still be attainable, review what part you played in missing it, and find incremental objectives for getting closer to that goal.

Not much of a goal-setter?  That happens.  Maybe you like to feel more "in the now" than that.  It is a legitimate lifeway.  However, it does require you to complain a lot less about where you are in that "now." Even Ekhart Tolle will tell you, "When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness."
So don't project goals; we won't make you.  Instead, your assignment is to reflect on the events of the day like this:

What did I not like about my workplace today?
How was that situation or event created?  How did I participate in it rather than turn it into something pleasant?
Yes, this takes a great deal of presence of energy.  But you're the one who wanted to live in the Now.

Plan.  or Dream.    Picture your next anniversaryImagine who you are in that picture, and what you can do (or not do) to realize that picture.  What part will you play in fulfilling such a prophecy?

Why not try this for a year?  We think you can do it.

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