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.

Nov 29, 2009

20 Business Books They Expect You Have Read

crib notes for the current canon
Instructor, Caroline Bender

Business reading (or reading in whichever trade you practice) can be quite rewarding.  It helps articulate and codify your own workplace experiences, provides insight into the experiences of others, explains the development of a particular business practice, and earns points with management.  The Finishing School understands that keeping up with the business canon is very low on your list -- not because of its priority, but because it can be time-consuming, and requires both hands.

As our faculty tend to sigh, when we ask for their weekly book reviews, "I wish I had time to read."

In the interest of your time management, and just in time for holiday hinting, BWFSandSC present our crib notes for 20 commonly cited business references, to help you keep up with the herd and select which of these texts will get your precious time.

full disclosure: The Finishing School is an associate of Amazon.com and indicates in the capsules below whether a book is available in Kindle format.  We are referring specifically to the Kindle brand electronic reader, powered by Amazon.  Texts may also be available through other electronic reading devices.

last disclaimer: consider your public library and/or starting a book-buying co-op with workmates and networking groups.  A share/swap program can help everyone benefit.

Now the list - chronological order
The Art of War - by Sun Tzu (6th C, BCE)

Indulge your zeal to win by studying the master’s 13 chapters on waging war, from Laying Plans to The Use of Spies. Made available in English in the 1970s, Art of War might be the business book most cited by other business books (unless The Prince holds that honor). Sun Tzu the man may be more legend than fact, but he is very quotable: “Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.”
Print, Audio, Kindle

The Wealth of Nations – by Adam Smith (1776)
You think you read this in Western Civ. Don’t read it again; just memorize this: unregulated markets will naturally lead towards equilibrium
Print, Kindle

How to Win Friends and Influence People – by Dale Carnegie (1936)
We think of this text as coming from the “gray flannel suit era,” but it is a generation earlier. Its core principles, carefully outlined, sum up as “don’t be a jerk.” These were indeed hard times. While not the first self-help book, it may be the inspiration for the first self-help book parody, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, published the following year.
Print, Audio, Coursework
Atlas Shrugged – by Ayn Rand (1957)
Not technically a business book – a novel, in fact – but quoted often around the cube rows, usually by frustrated upstarts who have not yet shrugged themselves. Atlas:Rand as Dianetics:Hubbard. You’ll never read it, but you might check out the audio for your commute.

Here’s all you need to know:
“Objectivism” means “man [is] a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” (that is pg 1170, so we saved you some time.)
Alan Greenspan was a disciple of Ayn Rand’s
“Who is John Galt,” is the workers’ catch-phrase we know today as “It is what it is.” Get the t-shirt.
Print, Audio, Film
The Feminine Mystique – by Betty Freidan (1963)
“Housewifery expands to fit the time available.” If you read this in your 20s, as an assignment, try reading it again. By the way, it is not the “feminist,” mystique. We weren’t there yet. As a working woman, you owe it to the Mad Men generation to familiarize yourself with this. Freidan analyzes why women of a certain class (and, let's be honest, race) were bored and frustrated, and plows through the modern century’s (Western) definition of successful womanhood. Flash forward to My Secret Garden and The Beauty Myth for more of the same.
Print, Audio
The Peter Principle - by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull (1969)
Everyone is eventually promoted to their level of incompetence. With this book came the study of "hierarchiology," the study of stratifications in human society. Decades later, structures like “flat” and “matrix” organization would attempt to resolve Peter’s basic principle. Let us know if you think it has.
The Managerial Woman - by Margaret Henning (1976)
The premise of this text, and of the Simmons College School of Management, which Henning helped establish, was that nothing taught to Henning and her co-author Anne Jardim in their Harvard Business program seemed to apply to the world as they moved through it. Moreover, they could not move their male colleagues to their way of thinking. They write, “The primary aim of this book is to help men and women understand the critically different beliefs and assumptions which they hold about themselves and each other, about organizations, and a management career.”
In Search of Excellence - by Tom Peters (1982)

Tom Peters is the kind of expert the word “guru” is applied to, having forged his chops in organizational consulting practice, being listened to by bigger heads than his. Tom Peters says pithy Zen-like things like “Great people don’t make great teams,” which of course is true. Why didn’t you think of that?
Print, Audio, DVD
The Leadership Challenge - by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner (1987)
“Leadership challenge” is a registered trademark and a sort of Mary Kay cleansing system for leadership development. Kouzes and Posner were big in the adult learning/student development scene when they dared to suggest that Leadership could be taught and learned ...and presented evidence to back it up. They also opened discussion on whether Managers and Leaders were necessarily the same thing.

Learn the 5 Practices of Exemplary leadership (also trademarked): model, inspire, challenge, enable, encourage.
Print, Audio, Kindle. Currently in its 4th edition, and updated constantly.

Bonfire of the Vanities – by Tom Wolfe (1987)
What other “business read” would have been serialized in Rolling Stone? This late 80s “Crash” type novel drops The Master of the Universe into New York’s boiling over melting-pot when he hits a black man with a car. Cited in the business world, it is usually meant to refer to opportunists looking out for their own interests at the expense of others and not understanding the culture they themselves live in.
Print, Audio, Kindle, Unwatchable Film

 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - by Stephen R. Covey (1989)
This is self-help more than business, but so many business people turned to it, to figure out what the heck had just happened to them, that it qualifies for our purposes here. Most managers have this on their shelf, along with One Minute Manager, and sometimes First Break all the Rules. If you can actually invoke the habits to managers, you might have a conversation starter (they bear a striking resemblance to the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa, to tell you the truth).

You know “win/win” from this source. 7 habits went a little Chicken Soup crazy in recent years (see Highly Effective Teens, by Covey-the-Younger, Sean). If you have to pick only one, stay with the original. And yes, that’s the Franklin Covey guy.
Print, Audio, Flashcards
Barbarians at the Gate - by Bryan Burrough (1990)
1990 seems recent to some of us. It isn’t. We are so accustomed to leveraged buy-outs, mergers, and bail-outs, that it is hard to understand why the fall of RJR Nabisco was such a big deal. Or how a cigarette company and a cookie company were the same company in the first place.

Barbarians at the Gate brought a Capote-like narrative non-fiction to business reading that made later works like The Predator’s Ball, The Informant, and The Smartest Guys in the Room possible. It also evoked an All the President’s Men memory as the story unfolded slowly before being compiled for publication.
Print, Audio, Kindle, Film
The 5th Discipline – by Peter M Senge (1990)
…is systems thinking. Well, sure, we know that now, but it took an MIT professor to work it out. Senge advocated for “learning organizations,” a popular idea that drove some mission statements, until chief learning officers and knowledge managers needed to be cut.

“The tendency to see things as results of short-term events undermines our ability to see things on a grander scale. Cave men needed to react to events quickly for survival. However, the biggest threats we face nowadays are rarely sudden events, but slow, gradual processes, such as environmental changes.” Senge states 11 Laws of the fifth discipline, which make for good quoting, but most didn’t catch on. “The cure can be worse than the disease,” did, and “small changes can produce big results.”
Print, Audio
Built to Last – by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras (1994)
Collins challenged companies and their leaders to become “visionary,” before "start-up," "innovate," and "leapfrog" were thrown around the office. Instead it tried to coin the word “BHAG” (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) which the grateful nation notices did not, in fact, last. (See Fast Company’s review of the companies Collins and Porras claimed would “last,” before the Internet boom.)
Spawned a franchise which includes Good to Great (2001) and Success Built to Last (2006)
Print, Audio
Who Moved My Cheese – by Spencer Johnson (1998)
Subtitled “An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life,” which turns out to be “go with it,” which is…sort of amazing. Also amazing was 5 years on the NYT Bestseller list. Change management is all the talk in the Information Age, as organizations attempt a do-over every few months or so. Cheese used the allegory/parable approach to over-explain how not to let stuff bother you. Rather than simply tell us the story, the narrative has us listen to someone tell it to someone else, which stretches the story to book length. This one can be read on Wikipedia.
Print, Audio, Braille
The Tipping Point - by Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
The phrase means "the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable" and uses the “3 laws of epidemics” to explain how change happens. People ate this book up, but couldn’t figure out how to make it drive profit. It did help the case for “viral marketing,” and may be the Big Bang of social networking, but that remains to be seen.
Print, Audio, Kindle
Good to Great – by James C Collins (2001)
“Greatness” in this context has a financial meaning, not necessarily “immortalizing” your brand or your impact on the world. Like any solid biz-text, it has 7 principles of (in this case) companies that “went great,” and coins a lot of cutesy terms like “rinsing cottage cheese” and “getting on the bus.” Collins himself calls it his “prequel” to Built to Last, but some of the eleven Great companies named in the text did not last.
Print, Audio
Jack: Straight from the Gut – by Jack Welch (2001)
Management went mad for GE CEO Jack Welch, and he may have been an early role model for those you work with and alongside (see Jack Donaghy and Don Geiss on “30 Rock”). In the 20 years he ran GE, he sliced through inefficiencies and personnel, adopted Six Sigma quality control, and increased the value of the company 10 times over. He also seemed famously out of touch with public outrage.
Print, Audio, Kindle
Freakonomics - by Steven D. Levitt (2005)
This is one for the water-cooler, if people still stand around those anymore, or for the smokers’ bench, esp. if you have no sports talk. Freakonomics gained notoriety for suggesting that abortion had actually reduced crime, but it also does creative math with baby names and wrestling. It’s awfully mathy, but in ways that try to appeal to a general readership For example:

“…as incentives go, commissions are tricky. First of all, a 6 percent real-estate commission is typically split between the seller's agent and the buyer's. Each agent then kicks back half of her take to the agency. Which means that only 1.5 percent of the purchase price goes directly into your agent's pocket.

So on the sale of your $300,000 house, her personal take of the $18,000 commission is $4,500. Still not bad, you say. But what if the house was actually worth more than $300,000? What if, with a little more effort and patience and a few more newspaper ads, she could have sold it for $310,000? After the commission, that puts an additional $9,400 in your pocket. But the agent's additional share -- her personal 1.5 percent of the extra $10,000 -- is a mere $150. If you earn $9,400 while she earns only $150, maybe your incentives aren't aligned after all. (Especially when she's the one paying for the ads and doing all the work.) Is the agent willing to put out all that extra time, money, and energy for just $150?”

One you can cite when making sure you and your business partners as “aligned.”
Print, Audio, Kindle, Film in progress

The Wisdom of Crowds - by James Surowiecki (2004)
New catchphrase preferred by those who also like “the law of large numbers.” Repeating the subtitle (Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations) would be too annoying. An expansion of the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – in this case smarter – that favors “disorganized” decision-making. The key difference between a smart crowd and a dumb mob, says Surowiecki, comes to 4 factors: diversity of opinion, independence of individual thought, decentralization, and a mechanism for turning private judgment into collective decision. (This is the part your organization may be missing.)
Print, Audio, Kindle

Can you provide the 20th?  If we have left out your favorite(s), please contact us through the comments, or through our Facebook page. We would welcome your review and recommendation on an upcoming book review Sunday.

Nov 25, 2009

Pell Grants for Unemployed Americans

Unemployment can feel like a maze with no exit as you try to choose which direction you should follow in your job search -- commiting to one path at the expense of others.

Stay in your current field?  But isn't this the chance you have been waiting for - to start again?
Get new skills and training?  With what money?  And if you sit out the job hunt in a classroom, aren't you spending more than you are earning?  And missing out on benefits?

There are trade-offs, to be sure, but not the Catch-22 you are imagining -- especially now that the Federal Pell Grant program has opened up to unemployed workers.  Grant awards will not buy you an advanced degree, but they may make the difference in whether you up your game with new skills or pursue a new course of employment where jobs may actually be in demand.

You are eligible if...
...you are unemployed.  Not "on unemployment," just unemployed.  Obama does indeed want Moms to go back to school, just like the ads say.
...you are not currently in default on a federal student loan
...you have a GED or high school diploma but do not already have a Bachelor's degree
...you are enrolling in a program that leads to an undergraduate degree or certificate
...you are a citizen or eligible non-citizen

Grant funds can be used for
Tuition and fees
Books, supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous personal expenses
Living expenses such as room and board
An allowance for costs expected to be incurred for dependent care for a student with dependents
Up to $5300 may be granted per year, for up to 16 semesters.
Pell Grants are grants, not loans.  They do not have to be repaid.  Even if you were wrong about wanting to be an occupational therapist.
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) site is dense, but easy to navigate.  We recommend paging through the screens in the order they are offered in the navigation bar, and don't click off-page until you have read all of the main page information.  If you need to, make a note of pages you want to come back to, but clicking around in sites like these is how one gets lost.  Federal paperwork is always best approached in a linear fashion.

You can also begin at http://www.opportunity.gov/, which streamlines Pell info for unemployed students.

Yoour state may have additional training programs funded to feed understaffed jobs in demand.  Ask at your local career center.

Related posts:
Your Career Center Orientation

Nov 24, 2009

Moving Your Family Cross-Country

The Eastward Expansion
Instructor, Molly Beck Ferguson, singer/actress

Who says you can never go home again? After 11 years of living in Los Angeles, my husband (who is also a native New Englander) and I decided to pack it up and head back home to Massachusetts. I can’t tell you how many locals have looked at us like we are crazy and said, “Move here! Why? To this weather?” (Or more accurately, “Ta this weatha?”)

Aside from the fact that California is broke, hot, and LA was on fire all summer, we also have a 2 & 1/2 year old daughter.  We were afraid that she might grow up to be like Lindsay Lohan if we raised her there. We wanted seasons, a back yard, to be close to family…and to have the kind of upbringing that WE had.

It’s all about the little things. I never saw a school bus in the entire 11 years I lived in LA. How can she learn bad language from other kids on the school bus the way she’s supposed to, if we have to drive her to school every day?

When I read about the pioneers who traveled for months across the plains in search of a better life out west, I have to admire them. Many didn’t survive the journey. They had it really rough. Well, maybe they did…but they also didn’t have to deal with garage sales, moving companies, the TSA, cable companies, or banks that don’t tell you that since 9/11, all wired money transfers are stopped midway for an undeterminable amount of time until approved by the federal government. So sure, some of them keeled over from smallpox…but they didn’t have to get two freaked-out cats and a rambunctious toddler through security and onto a red-eye flight, did they? No sir.

In hindsight, I wish that we could have thrown more money at this situation to make the transition smoother for us – like to pay movers, babysitters and magical elves who pack your stuff in the night. But we just couldn’t quite make that happen, so we ended up doing almost everything ourselves, with the help of a few wonderful friends who lent a hand. It was a Herculean effort. With a capital H. It was 104 degrees in LA the weekend we had to load up our moving truck. Our TV weighed about 4000 lbs, and kept slipping out of my sweaty palms when moving it to the garage to sell for the garage sale. I’m completely shocked that my husband and I are still married after moving that thing. There were many times during this 2-month long intense process that I’m sure my husband and I were each secretly plotting to kill the other one in our sleep, simply due to extreme duress and irritation.

I do think that we did a few things right. We sold almost all of our furniture and appliances in California, and decided to re-buy stuff here. We probably spent a little more money this way, but it would have been a small fortune to haul a free hand-me-down bookshelf that someone gave to us 7 years ago across the country. So why not purge and start all over again? Purging is good. It’s therapeutic. And really, who needs all that crap in your garage, anyway?

We also shipped our cars with a reputable, bonded company equipped with an online tracking system. I heard so many horror stories from people who shipped cars, and I have to say the day we took them to be put on the cage to be shipped, I thought I’d never see them again. But everything went smoothly…and they arrived on time and in pristine condition - there wasn’t even a dead bug on the windshield when they arrived in MA.

Our most brilliant purchase for the move was the monkey backpack-leash for my toddler. Best $13.99 at The Right Start I ever spent. Yes, I feel your judgmental eyes reading this. A LEASH!?! For a kid??  I thought that way once too. My daughter is a  RUNNER. And when we knew we were going to fly with her, our 2 cats AND all of our luggage, we knew that there was no way to wrangle her and everything else.

While my husband was dealing with the TSA and all the hairy logistics of getting our cats checked in to cargo, I was running up and down the airport with her on her leash. My eyes didn’t meet the glares from fellow travelers who clearly didn’t think it was right to tether your child…because I knew that I was doing them a big favor. You see, by wearing down my border collie of a child and letting her burn off her extra energy, once she boarded the plane, she pretty much slept the entire flight. Oh, you’re welcome, red-eye travelers of American Airlines. Hope you had a good night’s sleep.

We’re also adjusting to a smaller town mindset, since there isn’t the anonymity of living in a city any longer. I see the same people every day on my errands, which is something I’m not quite used to. I realized that I can’t be irritable with store clerks, postal workers or bank tellers if the customer service doesn’t meet my satisfaction that particular day…because now they are my only go-to people, and I’ll be known in the community as “THAT lady.” But it definitely has its perks too. I was stunned when a woman in line ahead of me at the store turned around and offered me a coupon for 20% off my purchase, since she had an extra one. Uh…who does that!?! A person could get used to that…

Now that we’ve been here for almost 2 months, I know that despite having the “OHMYGODWHATTHEFRACKDIDWEJUSTDO!?!” moments that bubble up from time to time, this was the right decision for us. It was difficult, expensive, scary, exhausting, and frustrating.
One day back in early October, when I was at my wits end from unpacking and moving heavy furniture – thinking I couldn’t do it anymore without cracking up, my husband came into our kitchen and handed me a single red maple leaf, newly fallen, as a New England reward for all of our hard work. It couldn’t have been any more beautiful to me at that moment than if he had brought me an armload of roses. It’s still taped to our fridge, a reminder of why it was all worth it.
It even made up for moving that stupid TV.

Related posts
Tips for Flying with Toddlers
Family/Relationship Management Tools

Nov 23, 2009

The On-site Interview: Insider Tricks

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Congratulations on achieving the on-site interview!   There are many resources that will outline the basics of interviewing for you: extra copies of your resume, thank you notes, etc.  The Finishing School digs a little deeper. 

This is the Poise section of your war on talent.  Little things can help make you memorable (or prevent you from it), and give you some extra information about the organization that the interview itself may not reveal.

Put these in your databank:

1.    Practice the drive if you don't know exactly where you are going
Do not rely on GPS, which will not know that the parking lot is closed, or that left turns are not allowed between 7am and 4pm.  Ideally, practice this on a weekend, when you can take your time and get a good lay of the land.  This will remove a lot of the stress of your arrival.

2.   Arrive early
Planning for an early arrival gives you a cushion, of course, but it can also give you more information.  With enough time, you can explore the block a little, see what else is in the vicinity and whether this is a neighborhood you are glad to travel in after-hours.  (You know you are not leaving at 5.) 

Are there amenities like banking, restaurants, dry cleaning?  Seating areas outside?  Places to walk?  While not deal-breakers, these are quality of life features that can help you choose between competing companies if you are so fortunate to be in that situation.

3.   Be nice to the front desk
S/he is the director if first impressions, right?  Give her or him one to remember.  Call them by name -- it is probably in front of you -- which drops a hint they may have spoken to you before and/or you might be someone important. 

Apologize for being early, and be very glad to wait.  You will be able to observe a lot about the natural order of business from this seat.  You'll hear the incoming calls, spot some executives, and observe how many people express concern that you are "being helped."  You will see how co-workers relate to each other and feel the aura of the place.

4.   Accept water only
Coffee is high maintenance, it's hot, spills, and stains.  Soda will make you belch.  But by all means stay hydrated.

5.  Understand the org chart as best you can
If your day opens with your recuriter or an HR rep, use this time to understand who will be meeting you, and their relationship to the position in question.  Classier organizations provide you with a schedule (preferably in advance, so you can do some Googling of your own.  more on this later). 

But this step is often missed, or incomplete, so ask if you are not sure.  It is important to understand which of your interviewers will be junior or senior to your role, which receive the output of your work, and which provide inputs.  Not only does this guide your questions, it informs their answers as well.

6.  What can you tell me about...
You are familiar with the "Tell me a about a time..." interview style.  You may use it as well.
"How did that campaign come about," "what can you tell me about the successes of the previous Account Manager?" "How is the pipeline right now?"  Narrative does make for better conversation, and that street runs both ways.

Miss Bender's tip of the week is that it is fine to ask staff to describe their superiors ("How would you describe Tim's management style?") but it seems unfair to ask superiors to assess their subordinates ("What is Barbara like to work with?")  You are bound to hear some awkward performance review stuff you will always regret having heard if you become workmates.

7.  Try for corroboration
Don't fence yourself in with one set of questions you feed everyone, but a few key questions should be asked of people in different roles.  "What's the top priority," and "Who drives that effort," are the kinds of questions that may produce different answers from different groups -- something worth investigating.

8.  Name drop, but subtly
If you have been able to do some digging on your interview team, you have probably discovered some people and places you have in common.  Keep these in your brain, and watch for cool places to use them.  That is, not "Nice to meet you; I worked with Lauren too."    But, when the interviewer says, "Back at BloatCo, when I was there..."  you can play "Oh, we may know people in common.  Lauren Macovoy was at BloatCo, wasn't she?"  This shows your recall and networking skills.

If your interviewer says "Did you work with Jack Jackson at Previous Inc?" and you didn't, pretend to consider it, then say no.  If you did, the answer is, "Yes, I knew Jack very well."  This works for any relationship you had with Jack.

9.  Fish for rivalries and alliances
This is some underhanded play, but we are on point 9, so Miss Bender assumes a certain student advancement at this point.  Quoting something your previous interviewer said will elicit body language, and often some "free exchange of ideas" that no one expected.  It works like this.

Candidate: (picking up on thread of conversation): Eric talked about that as well.  I was interested in the way he described the procurement process.
Interviewer: (leans back, hands behind head):  Eric really understands that process.  He trained me when I first came here.

Candidate:  Jeni was saying that the spring layoffs have been difficult to recover from.
Interviewer: (long pause, nostril sigh) There was a lot of excess on the Sales team.  They are learning to work leaner.

10.   Watch your lasting impression
If you are more enthusiastic than ever about this match, say so.  Professionally and confidently, please.  No begging.

If you are not at all interested, keep it to yourself.  Write your thank you notes and wait for the follow-up.  You might change your mind.  A wierd exit is a great story for everyone to remember...for years.

If you are on the fence, keep it together.  There are probably more interviews to come, and the offer conversation is still a negotiating opportunity.  On your way home, and later with your personal board of advisors, you can sort out what you still need to ask, so you can prepare for the next time.

Keep striving,

Related Posts
Today's Glass Ceiling
Want to Manage?
"Good" Gossip

Nov 21, 2009

Weekly roundup 11-20-2009

Additional reading for extra credit:

Professor/Grad Relationships: Maximizing the Mentoring Potential
Grad Resources is a non-profit organization based in Dallas, Texas that serves the practical and emotional needs of graduate students on several university campuses across the United States.  Call National Grad Crisis-Line (800-GRAD-HLP)

Sloan Work and Family Research Network
The Alfred P. Sloan Work and Family Research Network is the premier online destination for information about work and family. The Network serves a global community interested in work and family research by providing resources and building knowledge.   Excellent primary source for individuals, employers, researchers, and policy-makers.

Extra(hour)dinary Parenting
Blogger Amanda Morrow Jensen (”ACMJ”) is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and work-from-home professor.  Check out this week's post on toddler independence.

The Personal Branding Blog
Personal Branding pioneer William Aruda presents the current thinking in personal branding strategy.

Your LinkedIn profile When You're Unemployed
Alison Doyle is the author of Internet Your Way to a New Job: How to Really Find a Job Online (2009) and the About.com Guide to Job Searching (2006).

Nov 20, 2009

Should I Get Another Degree?

BWFS sits down with business professional and student "Diane Chambers," a friend of the Finishing School, who is pursing an MBA -- 15 years after receiving her PhD.

CB: Congratulations on your admission to the Simmons School of Management.
DC: Why, thank you. It's #1 in opportunities for women, per Princeton Review, by the way.

CB: I was so glad to hear how much you are enjoying it.
DC: Indeed, it is such a pleasure.

CB: I was surprised at first that you would seek another degree, after having achieved the PhD. What do you hope the MBA experience will provide that the PhD hasn't?

DC: Well, the Ph.D. has gotten me to where I am now - but I'm bored and underutilized and looking for that next thing. I've actually prepared a list for you, of reasons why I decided to join the Simmons MBA program, if you'd like to hear it?
CB: You don't have to ask me twice to hear a list.

(*rumple* *dig* *sound of unfolding scrap of paper*)
While you're getting ready to share, let me ask, are there others in the program who are likewise pedigreed?

DC: There are! One has her Ph.D. in bio, one is nearly complete with her dissertation, and there are several with multiple masters' degrees, a surprising number of which are from the Harvard Ed School.

CB: Wow, well, there you go. So, to your list, then?
DC: Certainly

(*the throat clearing that signals the onset of a great bit of pontification*)

1. Those with an MBA get benefits - they are eligible for management development programs, and lately I've found those of interest.

2. Opportunities typically not offered freely at my resource-constrained workplace are now plentiful. It seems, at work, it's about fighting for and guarding an ever smaller slice of the pie, in terms of budget and headcount and office space. At B-school, the faculty and administration is invested in making sure matriculants get resources, support, connections, and opportunities. Frankly, I would be delighted to become a fat-walleted, generous alumna benefactor to Simmons SOM.

3. To gain information and tips, of which I was heretofore hopelessly ignorant, like "mentor" and "sponsor" and "how not to disappear yourself in the workplace" and "on the line" and "where to look on a 10K for the real dirt on a company."

4. To be able to ask extremely elementary questions about business with no damage to my credibility.

5. The career strategies course requirement (yes, I get CREDIT for polishing my resume - even if I outsource the actual work), presents a sly excuse to take charge of my career without negative ramifications. "Hi, friendly VP-type, would you be willing to review my resume? It's for school."

6. To become part of a different "in-crowd" and to adopt their language (but use it properly).

The languages and approaches between social science and business differ immensely. Now I am positioned to know where those obnoxious little buzzwords thrown around the workplace originated and what they really mean. Hint: the true meaning of these concepts often differs from the meaning batted around.

7. To arm myself with a credential and "insider knowledge" that can't be dismissed.

8. An answer to those who discouraged me rather than helped me along my path. You are oblivious, but I haven't forgotten (see point 5).

9. To fix some mistakes of graduate school.  Ex: Now I know how to engage faculty around research. Now I know to become involved in things like clubs and panels and brown bags, rather than focusing exclusively on labwork and papers and grades.

10. A VP I respect recommended it.

11. To get the heck out of the position I'm currently in and make a hell of a lot more money.

12. Oh please, we all know this is really an excuse to search for expensive suits on eBay and to recite lines from Wall Street (hey, it's for school).

CB:  You exceeded ten.  That distresses Miss Bender somewhat.
DC: I strive harder now.
CB:  I don't know if I can take you any Smarty McSmarter than you already are.
DC:  I'll remember you when I get to the corner office.

Related Posts:
Employment at Whose Will? (includes funding ideas)
10 Great Working Women movies (except Wall Street)
Lady Executives....

Nov 18, 2009

Your Career Center Orientation

Instructor, Caroline Bender

One step in your employment transition will be registering at your local job center, and like much of our exploration of the contemporary Unemployment Experience, yours will vary by location.  We will be giving you a tour of a typical center in the 2nd largest city in New England.  To find out more about the centers in your state or region, consult your state unemployment office or enter "career center unemploment (name of your state)" in your favorite search engine.  Your weekly insurance check or extension application may be dependent on your registration.  End of disclaimers.

Our sample career center is set up with one major idea in mind:  Job Searching takes time and can cost money.  Unemployed people should not have to spend money looking for work, says the DoL, so the career center is the best place to go for
  • computers and internet access
  • fax
  • jobs listings on and offline, including newspapers, trade magazines, and state postings
  • Company research sources
  • Union information
  • basic-level training on office skills like computers, typing, MS Office suite, etc
  • Apprenticeship and financial aid applications
  • bond paper, envelopes, and postage
  • assistance information on food stamps/WIC, fuel assistance, VA,etc
You do not have to be "on unemployment" to use the resources, but you do have to be a registered user. 

The office doubles as an info center for benefits questions, though the staff were clear to point out they are not the unemployment office.  The center is set up like many municipal offices: a line, a counter, a waiting area, and some private cubicles.  Most of the walk-up questions I overheard had to do with reviving a claims record after forgetting to file once.  (This is easy to forget - try setting a recurring reminder for yourself.) 

Opposite this room is the resource center limited to registered users only.

The orientation covered the services of the center, and some of the basic "what to do now" information.  The presentation was meant to be general purpose for any audience ( trades, professionals, clerks, and artists) and therefore spoke directly to no one.  It tried to explain the importance of networking, with a fairly schlocky video demonstrating how it is done, and the very basics of online job boards without demonstrating any.

After the group presentation, and the completion of self-assessment forms, job counselors were to circulate and meet individually with each participant.  There were not enough to go around, so they quickly dismissed anyone who understood how to complete the form, and did not have any "special case" needs.  If you do, assert them.  Remember that whatever you think your unusual circumstance is, they are prepared to address it, right down to that risky background check you are worried about.

What we want you to understand throughout this journey through the Unemployment Experience is that you can expect people to be helpful, and resources to be available.  It is in everyone's best interests to get you back to work.  We also want to remind you that we are nationally at 10% unemployment, and these staffs are overwhelmed.  Treat this office as you would City Hall and the Registry:
  • Don't go if you are in a hurry.   Expect a line.
  • Come prepared.  Your clerks explain state services through a help desk lens - describe your situation with facts and documentation, and be sure you know what your question is.  When you start with "a guy said they didn't have it," they will become frustrated.  They are not frustrated with your inability to ask the question, but with their inability to answer it.  But that is not what it will feel like to you.
  • Sjellë një përkthyes nëse keni nevojë për një të tillë (Bring an interpretor if you need one)  Your center may not speak Albanian.
  • Leave the children at home. 
  • Be a partner in your situation.  The state does not own you, but they don't work for you either.  Please do not resent the DoL staff because they have work.
When you sign up for a class or a networking session, attend it.  These opportunities are free to you, but they do cost the system, and you are taking a seat someone else might have liked.  If you need to cancel, cancel.

Observe the center rules.  If you just want free Internet, the library is a few blocks away.

Help other people if you can.  We are all waiting together.

Related posts
Downsized but not Defeated (book review)
Preparing for the Worst
When Work is Your Life

Nov 17, 2009

Traveling with kids: Tips for flying with toddlers

The holidays are approaching and that means travel plans are under way. Last year the Minchin family took a 5 hour flight to visit family for Thansgiving, traveling with a two year old (and one on the way) so you better believe I was looking for tips for keeping the stress to a minimum. Here are the top tips for traveling with little ones:

1. Travel light
Toddlers and babies have a high gear-to-body-size ratio, so you have to carry a lot of junk when you go anywhere. Juggling your carry-on, diaper gear, stroller, toys, sippy cups, snacks, tickets, ID, shoes (through security), your luggage, your kids, and the car seats can be way too much to keep track of. Think really hard about what you need to bring to stay sane for your three day visit to Grandmas house, and consolidate or do without the rest. You can probably get by feeding your baby or toddler in your lap, instead of bringing a portable high chair, for example. There will be plenty of things to entertain him at Grandma's house, not least of which will be all the family he hasn't seen. Leave room in your suitcase because Grandma and everyone else are going to be sending toys, presents and clothes back with you. If you have presents to bring you might want to consider shipping them ahead of time just to save yourself the hassle, and nowadays you have to pay for your luggage anyway.

2. Ditch the carseat
You don't have to lug car seats through the airport for your toddler or small child. There is an awesome product called CARES Child Aviation Restraint System which creates a 5-point safety harness for your toddler using seatbelt-like straps that fit in your purse. It's approved by the FAA as a safe alternative to a car seat for children age 1-4. You can check your car seat with your luggage and pick it up at the end of your flight, or if you rent a car you can also rent a car seat eliminating to need to schlep your own car seat around at all (this is what we did and boy was it a relief). It was easy to use, and while watching the DVD that comes with it (to demonstarte how it works) we discussed "the rules" with our two year old to prepare him for flying on a plane: staying in his seat, using his quiet voice and keeping his seatbelt on. It is a little pricey but if you consider that it can be used until he is about 4 years old, and that it spares you from carrying car seats through the airport, it is a pretty good deal.

3. Bring cheap entertainment
My biggest concern was keeping my son entertained on such a long trip. Like many moms I was afraid of being that family on the plane with the screaming kid so I scoured the web for tips from other parents. You never know if there will be in-flight movies appropriate for children, and looking out the window eventually gets old. The best idea that worked like a miracle was to buy several cheap, small, *quiet* dollar-store toys and wrap them like presents (I just wrapped them in colored tissue paper in case security wanted to check them out). Whenever he started to get bored I would give him a special present from the bag (I didn't let him see that I had a bag full of presents, I just kep surprising him which was part of the fun). He still talks about the presents he got on the plane and can identify each one today. I also downloaded several episodes of Diego and Blue's Clues to my iPod nano, and brought coloring books, markers and puzzles, all things that are light, flat and compact to fit in the diaper bag.

4. Load up the diaper bag
Here is one area where you will want to bring more than you think you need: More diapers, wipes, snacks and change of clothes than you plan to use. You never know if your baby and toddler will take turns being sick, if your plane will be delayed and even grounded for several hours without letting passengers off, or if the flight crew will run out of food. Be considerate and bring scented waste bags for disposing of diapers in the tiny airplane bathrooms. You can use these to collect wet clothes, spitup cloths, and garbage generated by your little angels, because you know the flight attendants will not come by to pick it up. Grandma will thank you for it too.

Share your top tips in the comments!

Nov 16, 2009

Ask a Manager: Getting Noticed by Management

Guest Lecturer, Dick Whitman, Manager in Residence

Dear Manager,
What are the best and worst things employees can do to get noticed by their manager or upper management?

The worst way to get noticed is to show that you are trying really hard to get noticed. We manager-types don’t like that. It’s the same way the monkeys at the zoo feel when you tap on the glass. It annoys us. So lay off the red exclamation points on your emails, ok?

The thing to realize is that a manager needs to balance the needs of the entire team along with the objectives of the job and his own ability to make things happen for you. It can never be all about one person. As far as I’m concerned, generosity toward teammates and a sincere contribution to the company’s success – in addition to quality work – are the most important things an employee can do to show his or her worth.

This takes patience as well, because sometimes there are just not a lot of opportunities for advancement that a manager can offer. You might find yourself on a longer path than you are comfortable with, but you can measure your success by the amount of trust your manager has in you. This can be seen when you are given important projects to work on, or when you are asked to share the things that you know with your team.

So try to stay away from expressions like “Me too!”, or “I was just going to say that”, or “Hey! Look at me!”. You don’t need to get the last word in every email exchange. If you send your manager information, and he replies with “Thank you”, you don’t need to reply with “You’re welcome!”. If a client sends you a nice email praising your performance, it is perfectly acceptable to tell your manager that the client was happy and sent a nice email. However, forwarding it along when the client or other teammates on the thread don’t think to do so for you…it looks like horn-tooting, which again, is akin to the glass-tapping.

While I am suggesting that you look for ways to help the company and the team for the common good, and to do it selflessly, you might think that you have already been doing that for a long time and you are still playing the wallflower. In these cases, I recommend that you talk to your boss about it. The important thing here is that you don’t go asking for a promotion or worse, storming in guns-ablaze all full of ultimatums.

You may have varied success with these methods depending upon the manager, but I have always found it refreshing when an employee comes to me and says “I feel like I have been making a good contribution, but can you tell me how you think I am doing, and what I would need to do to get to the next level (or ‘how I can get to a point where I take on some new challenges’)”. If you show that you are taking some responsibility for your own performance, and your own fate within the context of the needs of the company, you will generally find a manager who is more open to discussing your goals and how to help you reach them.

Nov 13, 2009

Weekly roundup 11-13-2009

Are you "Professional"?
This week on Career Rocketeer, one of the fastest growing career search, career development and personal branding blogs on the web today.  Founded by Chris Perry.  Additional services still under construction - check back often.

How do you lead when the news is all bad?
More resources for leaders in turbulent times.  As our resident manager explained this week, staying "on message" can be difficult when the message is hard to swallow.  Forbes contributor Susan Adams reinforces that honesty is still good policy.

Resume Red Flags
Work Coach Ronnie Ann Himmel responds to concerns about resume "red flags."
Work Coach Cafe specializes in the interview phase of your worklife, and includes several tip lists on interviewing, resume writing, and networks.  Ronnie Ann also published Zen and the Art of Being a Receptionist, which complements this week's post on the secretarial arts.

Top WebSites for Finding Freelance Work
As compiled by CEOWorld magazine

Nov 11, 2009

Avoiding layoffs: Making yourself indispensible

Everyone is expendable, and in many cases there is nothing you can do about a layoff when your company is forced to reduce headcount. There are steps you can take however to make yourself harder to live without should the time come to make the hard choice of who to let go.

1. Do work no one else wants to do
In every workplace there are jobs that no one wants to do. If you take those tasks and execute them with gusto you can quickly make yourself an indispensible part of the team. This works best when it is a mission-critical task that you actually enjoy and can excel at. Even if you don't enjoy it, if you do it well no one will want to lose you because then they'd have to find someone else to fill that role (or do it themselves). But don't go around offering to scrub toilets or complain loudly about how you work late every night on the WEENIS - there are limits to what tasks will help move the team forward and which just make you out to be a martyr.

2. Find a Gap and Fill it
Whether it be a gap in process, in skills or in knowledge on your team (or even with your manager), seize the opportunity to fill it. By doing so you can make things better for your coworkers, make your manager look good, and be seen as a knowledgable asset to the team. For example, say you and your co-workers regularly labor over tedious data manipulation in excel for your monthly reports. One way to help would be to use formulas to set up a report template that everyone can use to save time and reduce errors. Or, if you happen to be interested in new relevant technologies that your team could benefit from learning about, offer to put together a presentation to share what you know. This only works if you are sincere about sharing and helping your coworkers. No one likes a showboat who only offers to help when the boss is in earshot, and touting your awesome knowledge on a subject at the expense of others will only backfire.

3. Become a subject matter expert
Like the first two tips, making yourself the go-to person for a given subject can help to make you a necessary member of the team and therefore harder to lose. This works best when you have the opportunity to dive deep into a project as you may doing tips 1 &2. This is not about hoarding knowledge or being a know-it-all; it's about acquiring sufficient experience with a subject area to be considered an expert. If you don't see any opportunities to do this within your team, volunteer to work on cross-functional teams and build relationships with groups your team depends on to get their job done. These connections can help you to become the liaison who people turn to when they need assistance from the other departments.

Implementing these techniques out of a sincere desire to make a difference is key and can help cement your place as a valuable, productive team member. Continuing to produce and add value, while "owning" certain subjects can make you a less obvious choice when the time comes to make cuts. If, in spite of your excellent performance you are still let go, you can use these tips in your new job when you want to establish yourself quickly as a valuable member of the team.

A Secretary's Story

Misses Minchin and Bender share the distinction of having begun their career at the same entrée step, though it had changed its name to Administrative Assistant by the time Minchin had taken her chair. The fact that we share this experience is not so astounding. Many women – perhaps most – get their start in this role. What we find more interesting is how differently we experienced it, and how it shaped us for future roles. Neither is right or wrong, neither is better or worse. But one of us was happy in that slot, and one of us was not.  And both of those stories are true.

We thought we would reach out to the secretaries, admins, PAs, and receptionists among us by telling these stories.  Some of these points may speak to you too.

To paint the picture for you, I was the junior secretary in a shared office space with a Gibbs grad who frequently reminded me that she was my “soo-peer-i-ya.” Her Boss was senior to mine; therefore, she was senior to me. It was the rules of the Officers' Wives, and I understood that.

 I was 23, a full-time graduate student and a full time subordinate in a double-time office. It was everything I had imagined being a working girl in the city would be, except for the wool suit and nickel lunch.  (and sometimes I wore the suit anyway)

Expectations were very clear
This says more about management than it does about the secretarial profession, but remember that I had very little frame of reference other than Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox.   It was still common practice at that time for expectations to be laid out in the very first meeting, for culture and habit to be codified and all questions asked up front.  This was not about Power, but about Authority, which my Boss had in buckets.

The things that were mine were mine alone
After outlining the things that were within her authority, she outlined the things that were within mine.  I believe you can tell when you are supporting someone who has never had a secretary before, and who has never been one.  And I believe that the bosses who don't draw the boundary lines think they are helping.  But they are not.

She didn't have to offer not to get underfoot in my corral, because she did not expect to ever enter it.

There were daily opportunities for success
Some of them were very small victories.  You will find as you climb your ladder that some days you would give it all back for just one tiny victory.  I saw results all day long, and some of them were quite large indeed.

What a rhythm we had
I strove to be Radar to her Henry Blake, and when she departed, for her own next growth spurt, it felt very much like the choppers taking off.  I held entire parts of her brain for her, so the rest of it could work on bigger things, and she trusted me to do it.  I took representing her as a tremendous responsibility that instilled a professional maturity I would not have come to on my own.

I got to try everything

One reason the secretarial entree was such a powerful jumping off point for a generation of women who would have the opportunity to actually grow out of the pool (Bender-style) was that we had our hands in every pie.  Because we answered the phones, handled the correspondence, coordinated the meetings, organized the notes, we knew all the inner workings of our bosses' jobs.  Because we were mentored (or hazed) by those Senior Secretaries, we learned the politics of our organizations and the art of the deal.

(seniors smoked like chimneys even in 1987)

Now that everyone literally keeps their mail and phone calls in their pocket, it's no wonder no one knows what's going on in the building.

The sisterhood was real
There was 1 man in our sphere, and he was a temp after the departure of my Soo-peer-i-ya.  He was eventually replaced by a woman.  At the top of our food chain was a fierce old Yankee who supported the President.  Departmental secretaries and any grad student like me were at the bottom. The pecking order was as real as sorority hell week, but the minute you were in trouble (professional or personal), your team came right off the bench to your aid. 

Our Yankee leader once tugged my ear for leaving a staffer's review in the copy machine and sternly reminded me of the burdens of confidential access.  But she didn't rat me out.  I suppose 22 years later, it is safe enough for me to fess up.

For someone like me, the structure, the rules, the clear lines of demarcation were exactly what I needed to feel grounded and secure enough to stretch myself.  Miss Minchin can tell you the other side of that experience.  And her story is just as true.

Nov 9, 2009

Ask a Manager: Staying on Message

Guest Lecturer, Dick Whitman, Manager in Residence

Dear Manager,
How do you handle having to stay "on message" when you don't agree with upper management?

This is often a challenge to me, particularly because my personal style is so rooted in building trust and loyalty with the team. Still, I need to maintain the balance of effective leadership along these lines while staying loyal to my own leaders. It would be hypocritical of me to expect a kind of loyalty from my employees that I am unwilling to give to the people to whom I report.

I would like to tell you that I always agree with what my leaders tell me. But then, I would be insulting your intelligence, and that breaks a big rule with me. I actually have a few driving rules that I try my best to honor:
  • Never lie to the team
  • Never insult their intelligence
  • Be as open and candid as possible
  • Never break a confidence
  • Do not throw company management under the bus

Obviously, the very nature of this dilemma can make it difficult to follow all of the above rules at once. The last one above is perhaps the hardest to honor. By not throwing my management under the bus, I don’t just mean that I avoid bashing them. That is clearly unprofessional. What is more important to me is that I try not to tell my team anything along the lines of: “I don’t agree with this, but they are making me do it, so I am making you do it.” That compromises my own integrity, and it doesn’t help the company to be unified in its objectives.

So how do I deal with it then? Well, provided I am working in an environment in which I trust the leadership overall, I feel it is my duty to fight for my beliefs, and for the best interests of my team and my clients. I do my best to make my case strongly and effectively, but most of all professionally and respectfully. I feel that if I am working in an environment where I am able to question authority, I can make a real contribution. I expect nothing less from my team in dealing with me. The key to this is to know when the discussion is over, and to understand when it is time to carry out the directive from the boss. I don’t always agree with it, but I understand that I am not always right.

So when this happens, and my objections are overruled, it is my job to go out there and get the team to execute. The most effective method I have found to accomplish this is to try and get a good understanding of the drivers behind the decisions that have been made. If I don’t agree with the proposed solution, I can at least gain some insight into the problems that the company is trying to solve. In almost all cases, I am well aware of these. Once I can get my arms around the problem, it is easier for me to go back to the team and communicate the impact of the current state. From there, I can communicate the plan to address the business needs, followed by communication that starts with, “so this is what we are doing about it.”

From there I can listen to my team’s feedback and validate any concerns, while staying on message with the notion that the current plan is what we need to support. In these situations, I am often able to commit to staying close to the situation, to monitor the risks as we go, and to try again with my management if the plan’s execution hits a bad turn. I commit to this, and I do my best to follow through in every way possible when a course correction is warranted.

The above approach has served me well overall. Luckily, I have had only a few cases where I was so far apart from the leadership of my company that I found myself unable to justify the direction. Staying on message under these circumstances without breaking my own rules caused me a great deal of heartburn. In both cases that come to mind, I was dealing with a pervasive disconnect between my own values and those of my company’s management. After trying to reconcile this and failing, I decided that I was not well-matched to the company and so I moved on. As a bottle of steak sauce once told me: “Yeah. It’s that important.”

Ask a Manager: Have a workplace dilemma? Want to understand what goes on in the mind of a manager? Post your questions in the comments.

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