Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Take advantage of losing your job

I experienced and survived my first round of corporate RIFs (Reduction in Force – the nice way of saying people are being fired). The office had a funeral home like atmosphere for the entire week and everyone left as quickly as possible on Friday thankful they dogged the bullet.

The person who was fired from my group had worked at the company for over 15 years. He was experienced and well educated (MBA, Chicago Business School and CPA). However, I noticed that his role within our group was underutilizing his skill set and he seemed to have no problem with churning out more years while remaining under the radar.

Even though it was sad to see him leave, I believe that he’ll be better off in the long run. Not only was he underutilized within the group, but he had been lulled into a false sense of security within the company. This feeling probably lead to his lack of motivation to standout and achieve something beyond his day-to-day work. But now he has the opportunity to take some time to think about what he really wants to do and search for a better position.

For those of you who are in a similar situation (and have appropriately prepared yourself for such an event financially), take the time to think about what you really want to do with your life. Explore alternative positions within your industry or different career paths. Catch up and network with individuals you haven’t talked to in a long time. Losing your job can be the opportunity to find the job you always wanted.

Here are some other ideas of way to maximize a job loss:
• Investigate alternative careers
• Begin to obtain an advanced degree or complete an unfinished one
• Volunteer
• Network through local business organizations or alumni organizations
• Take a job exploration test to broaden your ideas
• Spend time with your family and friends

The main point is to be optimistic about your unfortunate circumstance and to stay busy. Most importantly, don’t just site around your house trying to “discover yourself”. Discovery and realization only come through active involvement and exploration - not sitting around your house playing video games and debating philosophy.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Join a professional organization

At college, every major had a club. The Economics department had the Investment Club, and the English majors had their independent annual magazine. And just like majors at college, every career has a professional organization to join.

Professional organizations give many professionals advantages in the workforce. These organizations can keep you up-to-date on the latest advances in the industry, and they can offer great networking opportunities. At annual events you can hear seminars on the most recent developments in the industry and opportunities to meet other professions.

Also, a lot of professional organizations offer certification or “chartering” programs. Most certification programs require you to take a test and/or complete continuing education. The real benefit in completing a certification program is that you get to brag about it on your resume. Putting certifications on your resume allow you to show your commitment not only to your career but to the industry as well. Plus, it gives you talking points if you encounter other certified individuals.

The best part about professional organizations is that every industry has one! A few example professional organizations (and their web sites) are:


Professional Association of Custom Clothiers ( PACC )


National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) (2)

Social Sciences:

Social Science Research Network

Project Management:

International Society of Six Sigma Professionals

Securities Analyst:

CFA Institute

Financial Planners:

National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA)

Freelance Writers:


These organizations are also great if you interested in learning more about a particular field. Their web sites will be full of job postings, industry events, and networking opportunities. So before you considering thinking about the costly graduate school option to get your foot in the door, research an industry through a professional organization. You’ll be surprised how much you learn!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Don’t Rely On Your Job For Personal Happiness

Many people become overwhelmed by the search for the perfect job. And who can blame them? In life we constantly search for perfects: perfect car, perfect house, perfect mate, perfect job. But so often in our searching we forget where we started and why we were looking in the first place.

The perfect job is as aloof from us as any sort of “perfection” in life. There will always be problems with your job (and your life). An annoying co-worker, repetitive work, and bad bosses are in every job no matter where you work. Even if you find a job without these, it may only be until some new co-workers walk through the door or a boss gives you some new responsibilities until they surface.

But stop searching for the perfect job! Because your probably not searching for a great job, but a great you. I think people who are constantly looking for the perfect job aren’t sure of who they are or what they want out of life. Before you can be satisfied at work, you have to be satisfied with yourself.

So before you begin the job search, figure out what makes you happy. What do you enjoy to do? What type of lifestyle do you want? What are kind of people you want to surround yourself with? These are the most important career questions you need to answer. You can’t even think about looking for a job if you can’t answer these basic questions.

Once you become satisfied with yourself, you quickly realize how thousands of jobs could make you happy. In the end, jobs are jobs. You show up and do the best you can. But what you come home to at night are the really important things: your home, your life, your family. And after retirement, when your career is just a soft whisper in the back of your head, you’ll quickly realize how foolish it was to waste your time in search of the perfect job.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Making friends at work

The goal of a job is never to make friends, but meeting new people at work is an added bonus. It is important to know the people you work with so that you can anticipate their work styles. This will help you whenever you need to work directly with that person. Also, making friends with those you work around directly benefits you in two ways: it increases your networks and gives you an opportunity to learn from a different work style.

One of the easiest ways to make a friend at work is to start saying hello in the morning. Just by being friendly, you can really make an impact on someone. (Remember people don’t want to be impressed; they just want to know your nice and honest.) You can always ask the typically questions. How was your evening? Did you enjoy the weekend? But for those that are looking beyond these simple topics of conversation, there are two effective methods.

Try to round people up for a quick coffee run. If you invite a group of people to go get coffee, you appear as friendly and outgoing. Plus, inviting a small group of coworkers is an effective way to get to know a few people at once. It also takes of the pressure on the one-to-one conversations.

Put something interesting on your desk. This is such an effective technique for meeting people at work. One coworker of mine has a small gumball dispenser on his desk. People are always popping in to take a gumball and chat for a few minutes. I just started a “Word of the Day” on my whiteboard. People stop by to ask me about the word and chat for a few minutes. Having these small gestures can make a big difference and really help people to engage in conversation with you.

Making friends at work is actually really simple. You just need to open yourself up to people. Too often we think that to make a friend or meet someone we need to impress him or her. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Don’t brag to others because it’ll just turn them away from you. Instead, be nice and talk about something you think they would be interested in.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Managing effectively

One aspect of any job is working with a wide variety of people. Everyday you will be forced to interact and work with people who come from a different background and have different values than you do. Some people survive in this situation, but others fail miserably. Why?

Anyone with the capability to work with and manage a wide variety of people will have a greater chance of success. If you are able to understand how people think and anticipate responses, you will have a better advantage in working and managing them.

So how do people obtain this ability? Know lots of people. But don’t know people that all come from the same background. If you are constantly interacting with people who come from the same background and have the same experiences you’ll eventually think that everyone is the same. However, knowing people with different experiences does more than allowing you to learn personalities, but it puts your own life in perspective.

Most high achieving managers are comfortable with who they are. And if anyone is exceptionally talented manager, it’s usually because they are personable and able to talk to almost anyone. Surprisingly, this skill is easy to obtain. You just have to open yourself up to others.

I find that a lot of people think they need to impress others or be “funny” when interacting with other people. Humans are not suppose to be natural entertainers. Otherwise we would all be in show business. Most people will respond positively to you if you just open up. What do I mean by open up? Simple. Let people know who you are. Tell them about your hobbies and what you like to do in your free time. Most of the time, people are most interested in unique hobbies. Also, be interested in others. Try to find out what they are passionate about. Making friend is easier than you think.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Don't exagerate your pay to others

Most young professionals are probably make the average starting salary relative to their field. Depending on the job, these individuals are probably making a modest means, receiving insurance, and participating in company retirement plans. Not a bad start for anyone from a personal finance perspective. However, a few individuals will claim to be making ridiculous amounts of money (probably somewhere above $100,000).

Even though there may be a highly remote possibility that these claims are true (Investment Banking analyst can be making this amount), the person is probably lying to you. However, what these exaggerating individuals fail to realize is that no one cares! Most of the time people are turned off by braggers and don't want to be included in their company. This just alienates a young professional from his or her most important network, their peers. Plus, it is difficult to compare jobs across fields. How can a finance person really brag to a non-profit working about how much he or she is making?

I would guess however that anyone grossly overstating his or her pay has self-esteem issues. By using compensation to brag to others, individuals are able to superficially raise themselves up. Don't fall into the trap of trying to make yourself look good. If you really want to talk to someone about work, discuss issues your having or interesting projects your working on. People will be more responsive, and it will allow them to relate to you more.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A few things to remember from the fall of Bear Stearns

Yesterday, 14,000 employees found out they had a new boss. In a truly historic event (I’m sure someone is already brokering a book deal), JP Morgan Chase has purchased the investment bank Bear Stearns for a little less than $250 million. The deal price represents an almost 98% drop in value and comes just days after Bear Stearns management reassured investors the company was worth $11 billion!

This is an incredibly tragic event, but a few lessons can be gleaned for the freshman of the workforce.

1. Be careful about companies attached to one particular market

While Bear Stearns offered many different products to a wide variety of clients, it was one of the largest underwriters of mortgage-backed securities in the industry. The downturn of the market (one could argue signaled by the collapse of two Bear Stearns hedge funds) began to slowly impact the company in a wide variety of ways. Working for a company that is too closely tied to one market can spell trouble for employees during market downturns.

2. Don’t hold more than 10% of a company's stock in your retirement account

As you begin to move up the corporate ladder, stock options will become an increasing component of your compensation. Make sure this stock only represents AT MAXIMUM 10% of your total assets. Sell the rest you are given and invest it in a mutual fund. Although there will be years your coworkers will make more, you will be better protected and diversified. Bear’s stock fell from a little over $150 to $2 in a year.

3. Pay attention to rumors

Although they just may be rumors, you can never be too sure. Start updating your resume and thinking about emergency plans right away! The best defense can be a good offense. You might even want to think about what other industries you could enter if a market downturn is widespread.

4. Never be a martyr

Even with all the hard work and years of dedication the employees put in, it just wasn’t enough. To top that, the company was so broke there will definitely be no “reimbursement” to the employees. Never give your employer more than is deserved to them. Show up. Work hard. Do your best. But the days of “sacrifice” are over. I’m sure you can find something better to do with your life.

5. Have 6 months of living expenses in the bank at all times

The basic message of the Bear Stearns saga is you never know what can happen. Despite all of management’s positive reinforcement of Bear’s position, the company collapsed overnight and 14,000 people woke up without any job security. The average job search takes approximately 6 months to complete. Make sure you have enough saved away for the basics while your searching.