Five Career Lessons That Are Commonly Overlooked

There’s no way around it; the truth is, we learn through our past experiences, including our mistakes. This is especially true in the workplace, where very few individuals gain higher ranking positions within their companies without having made a few missteps along the way.

However, from each mistake we make, we have the opportunity to learn something valuable. Unfortunately, we often forget to notice some of the lessons to be gained, not only from our failures, but also through some of the common external obstacles and complications we encounter along the paths of our careers.

Success on Road Sign

With this in mind, it’s wise to refresh our memories in reference to some of the more commonly disregarded, or overlooked, lessons that will actually aid us throughout the remainder of our professional lives.

1. Mistakes are inevitable.

Although we’d rather not admit it, we never stop making mistakes in life; and the same holds true for our careers. Regardless of whether you are just starting out or if you’re the CEO of a company, the time will come when you are involved in even the most minor inaccuracy or slip-up. However, take note that this certainly does not mean you are destined for an ongoing pattern of failure. It just means that you are human, and try as we might to avoid, mistakes are an inevitable fact of life. As the legendary Henry Ford famously stated, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”.

2. Success is not an overnight journey.

No matter how successful you are or how hard you try, for the majority of us, achieving ultimate success is most definitely not an instantaneous achievement. It takes a great deal of time, effort, and dedication to reach your goals; and even when we do, there is always room for further growth. Unfortunately, so many of us overlook this fact, even becoming despondent and discouraged if we do not reach our objectives within a predetermined time-frame. Remember, anything worthwhile takes time, hard work, as well as a pure dedication toward your goal. According to Mylan CEO, Heather Bresch, “There is simply no substitute for hard work when it comes to achieving success”.

3. Managers are not mind readers.

The worst thing for aspiring professional leaders to do is to sit idly and wait for something great to happen. For instance, if you feel you deserve a raise or promotion, you may have to ask for it when the time is right. However, when you do, be prepared to explain why you feel you deserve it. Demanding extra compensation simply because you’ve been with the company for a year, for example, is never a good idea.  Rather, explain what you’ve done to make improvements to your department or the company as a whole (if you can provide samples of your work, even better), highlight your commitment, accomplishments, and anything else that will spotlight your professional growth and worth to the company.

4. Continued education is always an option.

Even if you’ve obtained the position you’ve always wanted, you should still continue to educate yourself. With technology growing at such a rapid pace, it seems there is always something new to learn. It is important, not only for the company, but also for your own professional growth, to keep current on new and improved technology, business practices, as well as remaining in the know on your own company’s newest operations and chief competitors. Educationally speaking, if returning to school and earning a brand new degree is not a realistic option for you, there are many online certifications, tutorials, and seminars that will enrich your existing knowledge, and simultaneously show your superiors how serious you are about becoming — and remaining — a valuable member of the organization.

5. Balance your professional and personal life.

Have you ever heard the phrase “keep your work at work and your personal life at home”? Yet, if you’ve been a member of the workforce long enough, then you know this isn’t always entirely possible. During our workweek, we spend the majority of our waking hours at our jobs, and keeping the two mutually exclusive is not always completely achievable. After a particularly stressful day or week, many find it difficult to decompress and truly enjoy their time with family and friends, outside of the workplace. The same holds true when the concerns and issues of our personal lives become entwined with our professional lives, making it difficult to fully concentrate at work. This SC&C Work/Life Balance Quiz can offer a first step for employees to assess their current equilibrium, and make any necessary changes, going forward.

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In Closing

As our lives and careers continue to progress, it is important to keep these important lessons in mind. Sometimes it’s the smallest, or even most obvious, lessons that are frequently neglected. Nevertheless, their value holds true — not just during a temporary professional crisis — but well throughout our lives.

Further Reading:  Valuable Career Advice From Influential Executives

 

Fred Coon, CEO

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200

Helpful Tips For Composing a Difficult Email

While no one ever wants to be the bearer of bad news, there are times when we must compose a difficult or even “harsh” email. Whether it be sharing honest feedback, a differing opinion, or informing a colleague of a mistake; these instances which may not quite warrant a phone call or personal meeting, are still worthy of a properly written message.

male hands working with laptop computer

Often, however, even the most harmless words can be misinterpreted in written form, so naturally those conveying criticism of any kind have the potential to create more unnecessary tension between you and the recipient.

Preventing fallout is the goal when sending a hard email, yet fortunately, Sara McCord, professional advisor, writer, and career contributor, has offered some valuable guidelines for composing those difficult emails.

Line one: Start with a friendly opener.

McCord states, “When you’re writing the opening line (after the salutation that is), it can be helpful to imagine it’s a conversation. If someone walked up to you and dove right into their point, you’d be put off.” Often it’s something as simple and obvious as “Hope you enjoyed your weekend” or “How are you today?” that can get the message off to a good start.

Line two: Thank your recipient.

When appropriate, recognize your reader’s efforts. In short, always acknowledge the positive before the negative. Thanking your recipient for their efforts, time, work or thoughts on the issue at hand, can help to soften the impact of the rest of your message.

Line three: Show that you understand your reader’s perspective.

Of course, you don’t want to waste too much time before getting to the main idea, but pointing out a possible strength within the recipient’s work, standpoint, or input, will help them keep an open mind to the actual point you are trying to make. As an example, McCord suggests, “…you might tell a direct report that you can see how the strategy they implemented would help the team operate better [or] you might tell a colleague they did a great job addressing the client’s main concern”. However, what is important here is to keep your comments honest and sincere, as most people notice when they’re being “softened up” for something negative. Also, be sure to keep the praise related to the issue at hand, and don’t overdo it to the point where your main message becomes muddled in the process.

Main body of email: Provide structured explanation.  

While you may feel that your recipient does not particularly care to read the details of why you are heading in a different direction, in actuality, it shows your reader that you have enough respect for their input and intelligence when you do provide ample explanation. Nevertheless, you do want to avoid over-elaborating on the problem, so try to keep your sentences as clear and concise as possible. McCord suggests the examples, “We decided to go a different direction because we needed a strategy that prioritized cost-effectiveness, due to budget constraints”; or perhaps, “… I’d love to see [these] changes carried through other aspects of the presentation because we’d like them to be consistent”. If you are offering multiple changes, McCord advises the use of bullet points to clearly delineate your ideas. However, the key is to include the reasons for your change in each sentence. In this case, budget constraints and/or consistency throughout a presentation are the desired results.

Concluding line:  Offer your assistance.

McCord advises that, as the writer, you should “[always] end by asking if you could clarify anything or answer any questions”. While it’s commonplace to remind the reader to contact you with any questions, there is an important purpose for including those words. Ending your email simply with your critique provides a very one-sided approach to the subject. Offering your help, not only shows your concern with the reader’s response, but also upholds a collaborative spirit wherein you convey the message that you plan to solve the issue together.

Of course, the sign-off consisting of a simple “thank you”, “best”, or “sincerely”, is all you need for a closing.

Subject Line: Choose words carefully

While the subject line is reliant upon the content of the email, you should still keep the tone non-confrontational and constructive. Some even suggest that for emails of this type, avoiding words like “urgent” is a good idea. Also, be sure not to offer too much information directly from the body of the message in the subject line.

Email Envelope On Mobile Showing One Message Received

Integrating these tips the next time you must compose a difficult or potentially negative email may just make the experience less uncomfortable for both you and your recipient.

Further reading:  The Importance of Skilled Business Writing

 

Fred Coon, CEO

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200

What Should Employees Never Discuss at Work?

There is a marked difference between tiptoeing around an office of eggshells and being blatantly, even obnoxiously, offensive. In most cases, that line is pretty wide and not terribly difficult to manage. Granted, there are certain areas where words get muddled or a misunderstanding occurs, however, generalities aside, there are pretty clear markers on what is, and what is not, acceptable workplace conversation.

Even for those with the best of intentions and quality social skills, there looms a danger that occasionally just happens: the dreaded miscommunication. While most often not anyone’s actual fault, the best strategy for managing this is one of containment: Disengage, do damage control, and be liberal with apologies as called for within the particular situation. Certain individuals, especially within a professional setting, can seem prone to not only take offense, but doggedly hold on to it. The best advice is to make your position of an honest mistake clear; things may be slightly awkward for a time, but it beats an open ticket with HR any day.

Two smart businesswomen discussing ideas at the table in the office

Having covered a few generalities, we’ll now go on to compile a more specific list of common, and easily recognizable, subjects to handily avoid in the workplace.

The List

Let’s discuss a few of the following items, taking a moment to go into a little bit of exposition even though many may seem ubiquitously obvious.

  • ANY Political or Religious Topic: This one is right on the edge of such common knowledge that they hardly bear mentioning. We do so, however, to say this: Political issues aren’t limited to actual politics. It can easily encompass any degree of social or economic issues, even the most seemingly innocuous.
  • Money: Discussing your individual financial arrangement with the company, be it right-to-work or contracted, is generally considered extremely taboo, justified by an attempt to circumvent conflict within the ranks.
  • The Compulsive Contrarian: Many offices have that one individual who, despite the topic or subject, simply can’t speak positively about virtually anything. Do yourself (and the company) a favor and don’t be one of these people. Moreover, do your best to avoid engaging in conversations with these types individuals as well.

Now that we’ve covered the primary trifecta, here is a short-fire list for further consideration:

  • Personal life “drama”
  • Relationship details and sexuality
  • Personal orientations
  • Gossiping about the boss and/or other coworkers

Group of business partners communicating at meeting in office

Covering the Bases

The plain fact is that poorly considered conversations have the potential to genuinely harm your career. Regardless of the legitimacy (or even maturity) of the resulting fallout reactions, you really have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. Is the risk worth the expression? Most often, the answer will be a resounding “no”.

Conversely, the end result of this culture of personal and professional preservation may potentially result in something of a lifeless-feeling workplace, with you and your coworkers hesitant to genuinely open up and make any real connections. How to balance this equation is a task that’s going to be relative to you, specifically, and your particular environment. In the end, only the individual can really assess the ins and outs of their own professional culture, determining what is and what is not acceptable.

Our advice is to proceed with caution. A single unintended misstep can have repercussions that can last a lifetime.

Further reading:  Tips For Being a Great Coworker

 

Fred Coon, CEO

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200

Guidelines for Evaluating a Job Offer

Getting a new job offer is both exciting and nerve-wracking at once. The excitement goes hand-in-hand with any step forward in your professional career. The nerves come into play as they do with any major life transition. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, let’s settle in and keep a cool head while we examine the preceding step to all this: receiving a job offer and how to properly evaluate it while keeping your best interests in mind.

A solid job offer provides a glimpse of what individuals should expect from their future employer, even beyond compensation and job description. New hires just need to keep their ear to the ground to pick up on all the details, such as the seriousness of the proposal and hints toward the culture of the company, itself.

Job offer

Perhaps most importantly, new hires should not feel compelled or pressured to decide immediately. Let the initial rush settle before you reply so that you can take a clear and level head, with your own interests and career goals firmly in mind before you engage with their overture. Even career-veterans sometimes allow themselves to act with a bit too much spontaneity; and understandably so. After all, at its heart, an offer is an open acknowledgement of your value and talent.

Step by Step

There is a superfluity of guideline compilations out there, yet many of them reiterate similar notions.  We’ve drawn together some of the best (and occasionally overlooked) items for you to take along as you consider if a new position is right for you.

  • Salary. Your primary and most obvious consideration: The compensation must be within your acceptable range.
  • Benefits and Perks. There can be a lot to unpack here and not all of it is going to be glaringly obvious. So make sure that you review the list carefully. Consider (and ask, if they don’t mention) whether the position offers savings, health care, relocation compensation, leave, vacation time, profit sharing, reimbursements, etc. The list can go on extensively, so write out those that matter the most to you in descending priority and tackle them in order.
  • Ancillaries. These can range extensively, and may include items such as child care, specialty insurance, hazard pay, travel allocations, and so on. The list may be extensive, so be sure to cross-check the position you’ve been offered with the company background and the types of duties they’ll be expecting you to perform. As with any perks, if you don’t ask directly the matter may never come up.
  • Job Title and Description. Is your role congruous with what was decided upon during your final interview and/or verbal agreement?  Be sure that there are no surprises in your listed title and responsibilities, as far as your written job offer is concerned.

Do your Research

This point cannot be overstated. Before responding in any way to the offer, get online and do some sleuthing. Look up the company, look up consumer reports, employee reviews, media events, and so on. The insight and data you’ll glean will be absolutely invaluable towards making the right decision, and will arm you with the surety to ask for more than you may have previously thought you could.

There’s another aspect to all this that you shouldn’t forget to think about: the nature of the company itself. In your professional career, as in all things, your core values must come into play. Your life is the sum total of what you stand for and who you are as a person; and your career is not magically separate from that equation. People often have to make moral compromises to their values and personal ethics in their line of work, but what to remember is that there is a line, and it’s never comfortable to cross over it.

Young businesswoman sitting at workplace and reading paper in office

Do your best to ensure that your next professional steps will be in line with your core values and the things that matter to you as a human being; or at the very least, don’t compromise you to the point of feeling irredeemable.

Further Reading:  How Job Seekers Can Identify Their Best Company Culture

 

Fred Coon, CEO

Take your job search and LinkedIn profile to new levels and achieve your career goals with LinkedInSecrets.us. Leveraging LinkedIn for Job Search Success 2015 will transform how you use LinkedIn on a daily basis and create a profile that will WOW recruiters and hiring managers.

Why You Should (and Can) Build a Great Relationship With Your Company’s HR Department

Whenever it becomes necessary to raise the subject of Human Resources, it seems curious that some people immediately react with a sense of apprehension.

Sadly, there are those who have been known to exploit the office of Human Resources, trading on one worker’s fear of being ostracized or fired for inadvertently disrespecting other workers’ rights and freedoms. Often, this occurs regardless of whether or not there was an actual offense.

Human resources

Mostly it’s a commentary on the individual who attempts to gain an advantage by manipulating the system. Unfortunately it’s all the Human Resources Department as a whole that suffers because it’s their job to see the complaint through, whether or not it is justified.

There have been instances of supervisors and managers of questionable ilk who have used HR as an invisible club, or a threat, to control their charges. In both cases, it makes employees wary and distrustful of HR, or its hypothetical potential to damage their careers.

However, these notions regarding HR are misguided at the very least. The truth is that a company’s Human Resources Department is likely the backbone of the organization. Viewing HR in such narrow terms, simply as a company’s “law enforcement”, is not only antiquated, but incorrect. While a significant portion of their aim is to be sure that all employees are holding to company policy, their purpose is to also ensure the fair treatment of each worker; and that is only the beginning.

The very best way to establish and maintain a great relationship with your company’s Human Resources Department, is to truly understand the functions of and the principles behind HR to the fullest extent.

HR is Multifaceted

The HR department is far too important for the types of “games” mentioned above. Most departments can break themselves down into a couple of predominant functions. The Manufacturing department makes; the Production department organizes; the Purchasing department buys; the Sales department sells, and so on. No such (overly simplified) single word definition exists for the Human Resources Department.

HR is absolutely vital in any large business, and the most important department in most SMBs. If your company is large enough to warrant having one, it is one of your top resources, bar none. Consider: HR interacts with every single employee, on every level, before, during, and after their employment. That means they interact with every single department and facet of your organization at every level. HR is omnipresent in the company structure, as they handle:

  • Legal compliance
  • Employee Selection advice
  • Recruitment
  • Employee relations
  • Training and Development
  • Benefits
  • Liability
  • Safety
  • Compensation
  • Strategy

Being Legal

Unless they are politically motivated, changes in Federal and State laws come about slowly, and in a fairly predictable fashion. It is HR’s job to assure that the company remains in legal compliance with Federal and State laws, as well as making sure that all workers are properly documented to work in this country.

Managing & advising on the selection pool

Hiring managers can’t work in a vacuum, so to speak. They often don’t have the skills (or the time) to qualify hundreds of candidates. HR whittles the pool down to a manageable size, according to the company’s work force requirements, and offers guidance to hiring managers not familiar with standard hiring practices and coordinating with company needs.

Getting candidates in the door

Recruitment is probably the most important area for HR. Determining which method is utilized to alert candidates to an open position is one of their chief strengths. Selection of the proper ATS (Applicant Tracking Software), based upon the company’s needs, will help the company achieve the results it desires.

Greasing the wheels

Naturally, they are responsible for smoothing employee relations and mediating disagreements, when prior attempts have failed. They can suggest solutions and solve seemingly intractable problems. The key to good relations, however, is to know what you want from your HR interaction before you go in. If you have an objective they can help you work towards a solution. Do you want them to be present while you talk to an overbearing boss?  Ask them for help getting to your ultimate goal.

Training, Developing, and Retaining

Companies generally don’t hire the first person off the street with the correct qualifications. When HR vets a new potential employee, they’re looking for existing skills or potential which could be useful in the future. The smartest companies offer training for their employees through HR to make sure they can perform their assigned tasks, but those with particular foresight also provide development for their existing workers to increase their value to the company.

If you want additional training, consult with HR to see what is available. They can even provide a strategy for proposing the additional training to your supervisor. They’ve seen it before and can point out benefits to the training that you might not see for yourself.

Of benefit to everyone

HR manages the company benefit plan by aiming for broadest appeal toward the types of employees that the organization is seeking, or wishes to retain. One of the more clever innovations they’ve developed is the selectable benefit plan. For example, a multiple-income family, with a very good plan from a different employer, can choose to focus on a comprehensive dental plan for their children with orthodontic needs, along with massage therapy, flextime, telecommuting, anytime-vacations, or other perquisites.

Mitigating Liability

There are all sorts of issues that arise in the workplace, such as those discussed at the very beginning, unfair employment practices, discriminatory practices, or harassment. When they are dealt with early, before they have a chance to escalate, it can — and does — keep the company name clean and clear. The last thing any organization wants is to be front page news for being embroiled in a legal battle with an employee, or a group of employees.

Protecting Employee Safety

Another area where HR must intervene is employee safety. New employees in the vulnerable sector (first job, or under age 25) need to be apprised of their right to refuse unsafe work. From a conscionable point of view, no organization wants anyone to suffer an unnecessary injury, be put in a life-threatening situation, or worse. From a corporate perspective, any such circumstance will create nothing but bad press for the company. In basic terms, HR helps to make sure you don’t end up in the spotlight for negative reasons.

Paying Market Value

In 1900 CE the work week was 6 days of 9 hours each, and the wage hovered around $1-$1.30. Henry Ford elected to pay $2.50 per hour to attract workers to the arduous and difficult job of assembling his cars. Due to his personal ethics, he would then double that wage ($5, four times the going rate) for anyone who would agree to go to church and never drink or gamble (among other restrictions). Workers who agreed to the increased wage were subject to surprise inspections by Ford’s company Morality Enforcers.

However we look at history, companies do not want to be paying out four times that of their competitors, other than in exceptionally specific circumstances. HR ensures that wages are both competitive and attractive to the types of prospective employees the company wishes to hire and retain.

Strategy

HR also participates at the C-suite level, helping to determine current strategies to achieve future objectives. They use educated foresight when choosing who train for the future needs of their organization.

One of our most significant failures as Corporate America was failing to recognize the retirement of the baby boomers. The first wave took millions of years of corporate experience and put it out to pasture with no replacements on the horizon. The second wave, occurring now, will take another large chunk of corporate experience with it.

Less than 25 percent of companies had forward-looking HR departments who were prepared, and have already hired the people they would need in advance. The rest are still struggling with the ramifications.

business partners concept with businessman and businesswoman handshake at modern office indoors

The Takeaway

HR is not the enemy, and never has been. Their job is to make the company better. If increasing your skills improves the organization, they are all for it. They thrive on resolving situations that may have a negative impact on the company, and seeking solutions that result in increased efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability.

If you’re not being successful in your current position, they can probably help you shift within the company to a place where your skills or ambitions can be more useful. If you’re working hard and progressing, but not getting any acknowledgment, HR often undertakes the responsibility of recognizing employees for their accomplishments.

If you feel you have more to contribute to the organization for which you work, sometimes HR can connect you with a mentor who can help you progress. In many ways, HR frequently picks up a certain amount of managerial slack: Their primary purpose is to make the company better, and they appreciate any help (even if it benefits you personally) that aids them in getting a bit closer to that goal.

Further reading:  Understanding Human Resources: What is the HR “Gray Area”

Fred Coon, CEO

 

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200