Debra Wheatman, President of Careers Done Write, provides expert insight to the job search process that puts your career in gear with tips for interviewing, networking, job search strategies and how to create a winning resume and cover letter.
I recently asked my social media followers to tell me about times in which they encountered or were the recipients of sexist language and comments in the workplace. As suspected, the archaic sentiments surrounding gender roles and stereotypes are alive and well. Here is a sample of the feedback I received.
Shortly after graduating from college, I worked for a biotech firm as a receptionist. The R&D group was led by a woman who held a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Oxford. One day I answered a call from a gentleman asking for the name of the head of R&D. I told him that it was Dr. Victoria Smith. “Okay, Dr. Vittorio Smith? Could you spell his first name, please?”
I attended a conference and received the lead list. I brought it back to the office and gave it to my male peer, who asked me if I could type it up and send it to him. Uh, no.
We were planning for an upcoming client meeting that would be held at a resort. The manager of the client service team kept saying things about the “activities we have planned for the wives” and that “the wives could go sightseeing” during the meetings. I asked if my husband would be invited to join the wives, or if they preferred to have him go to the client meeting in my place. Nervous laughter.
“Yeah, so the Big Boss just spoke at a Women’s Leadership Conference. He got to feel what it’s like for women!” Female executive: “Oh, did all of the women talk over him, dismiss his ideas, and take credit for his accomplishments?” Dead silence ensued.
I was assigned to a project that was going to entail a significant amount of travel. The senior partner looked at me and said, “You. Are you married, single, what?” (I’m pretty sure he didn’t know my name, hence the “you.”) I said, “I’m engaged.” “And your fiancé…he’s okay with this?” I don’t remember what I replied, but I do remember thinking that I SHOULD HAVE said “Actually, until I’m married, I still need permission from my father in order to travel.”
We were hiring for a new associate in our group. I interviewed a very highly qualified candidate whom my male boss refused to meet. Why? Because she spoke with an accent. Meanwhile, 2 of the men on the team spoke in thickly accented English.
I was 22, and the assistant manager of a local movie theater. On a very busy Saturday night, a male customer approached me and demanded to speak with the manager. I responded that I was the manager on duty. A 40-something year-old male coworker walked by. The customer asked him if he was the manager. He responded that he wasn’t and that I was, in fact, the manager.
My male manager advised me to try to stop being so “bossy.” I told him that if I were a man, he would commend me for being “assertive.” “No, no, that’s not it, it’s just that sometimes people think you’re rude…” The usual nonsense.
I’m sure you have more stories to hear. Please send them my way!
Is your resume a turn-off to employers? Chances are that it is. 75% of HR professionals say that they routinely receive resumes that are not on point. That is significant. Are you committing any of these Crimes Against Employability with your resume?
You don’t tailor your resume for the job opening. Seven seconds. That’s how long a recruiter looks at a resume before deciding to move the candidate along to in the recruiting process. That means that your resume must quickly tell the recruiter that you understand the business problem she has, and how to solve it.
You use a functional format. This format is confusing to read; recruiters hate it. It makes it look like you’re trying to hide something. Stick to the reverse chronological format.
You have an objective statement. Straight out of the 1980s, objective statements say that you are out of touch. Not only do employers not care about YOUR objectives (they care about their own, and how you might help them achieve them), it is also a waste of prime real estate. Use the space at the top of your resume to highlight your major achievements and competencies instead.
Your resume contains grammatical errors and typos. This is self-explanatory. Your resume should be a tool of impeccable communication. Why would you want it to be anything less? Please proofread carefully.
You list your job duties and tasks. Employers and recruiters care about are your accomplishments and how you achieved them. Revise your resume to focus on your achievements and not your activities. Start by purging the phrase “responsible for” from your resume and cover letter.
It’s boring. Your resume is a marketing tool, not a recapitulation of facts. Use the resume as an opportunity to tell the reader who you are, and not merely what you do.
You use funky formatting. Yes, charts and graphs are great ways to convey ideas, but limit them to in-person presentations. On your resume, you want to keep it simple and easy to read and to understand. Also, if you’re submitting your resume online, the recruiting software often cannot recognize graphics, so it’s best to stick with text.
You include your entire work history. In 1999, you spent four months at a dot com before it went belly-up. In college, you worked as a waitress at the pizza joint near campus. None of these jobs belong on your resume. Again, your resume is a marketing tool; only include the positions that are within the last 15 years, and eliminate any short-term jobs you might have had.
The Bottom Line
Remember that your resume is a tool that you use to market your premium product—YOU! So focus on what really matters, which is how your achievements can help a new employer reduce expenses, save time, make more money, etc. Tailor your resume for each position to which you apply to convey that you understand the business problems at hand quickly. And lastly, sell yourself as the unique person that you are, and not as a worker bee who performs tasks!
In the bygone era, prior to the late 1980s, life in corporate America was good. It was comfortable. Predictable. Secure. All you had to do was go to college (or not), get a job, work your way up, and then, 40 years later, retire with a full pension. By 1988, “downsizing” had come into favor as a quick way to boost both shareholder value and earnings per share. In 1993, IBM, which had previously never reduced its workforce, laid off 60,000 people. Pensions were a quaint thing of the past, and the onus of planning for retirement was transferred to employees in the form of 401(k) plans, which are not guaranteed and are subject to market volatility.
Although Millennials and their younger counterparts, Gen-Z, are often characterized as unmotivated “snowflakes,” quite the opposite is true. Both Millennials and Gen-Z workers are, on the whole, a highly motivated and productive group. They are not, however, motivated by the same things that sparked Baby Boomers or even the famously apathetic Gen-X into action. Millennials and Gen-Z have always lived in a world in which employment is largely on employers’ terms. Gen-Z in particular, in addition to not knowing life without a handheld supercomputer, is likely to have had parents who struggled to pay crushing student loan debt. These generations realize that there is much more to life than status, prestige, and money. And they are not afraid to voice this.
Just last week, employees of Wayfair, an online consumer products retailer, staged a walkout and protest over company activities, which they believed ran contrary to their core values. This job action involved about 500 exempt, non-union employees, and was led by a 28-year-old employee. Similarly, Nike employees have protested changes to the company’s childcare policy while tech giant Google has experienced numerous employee protests over rampant, organizational sexual harassment. All of these actions have resulted in bad press for the companies, and have shone a light on the new employer/employee relationship. The People are no longer afraid of The Boss, and they will speak out when they think something is unjust.
If you’re an employer that believes there is “company time” and “personal time,” you’re behind the times. These younger workers understand that work can be accomplished, with a high degree of productivity, anywhere at any time. They are not interested in being tied to a desk or working set hours. Savvy managers are aware of this and focus on RESULTS, not on the clock. Similarly, any company that does not engage in formal acts of social responsibility is going to have a tough time recruiting these new workers. Both Millennials and Gen-Z want to know that their work contributes to the greater society at large and that it has a purpose beyond merely increasing shareholder value and EPS.
Does your company have a distinct pattern of hiring people who are precisely the same? Do your hiring managers base their hiring decisions on a gut feeling about whether or not they’d like to interact with candidates socially? Many do. But that’s not going to fly with the younger generation of workers. More than 60% of Gen-Z workers surveyed indicated that it is MOST IMPORTANT to work with people with diverse educational, experiential, and skill levels. More than 70% want a diversity of cultures and ethnicities represented, and 77% of Millennials indicated that a company’s level of diversity significantly impacts their decision to work there.
All of these shifts in attitudes are positive. If your company wants to be an employer of choice, it needs to make sure that it recognizes the changing values of the incoming workforce and adjusts to conform. Both Millennials and Gen-Z are acutely aware that the only constant in their careers is themselves and their personal brand, and as such, are highly motivated to develop both.
Interviewing can be a harrowing experience for candidates, but fortunately, most hiring managers and recruiters will give people a pass on being nervous. What is unforgivable, however, is coming to an interview totally and completely unprepared. If you’re planning on winging it or faking it until you make it, you run the risk of being eliminated in the first round. Fortunately, some interview questions are pretty standard, asked in almost every interview. You want to be sure you have a good response to them before you get in front of the hiring manager. Here are a few common interview questions, along with how NOT to answer them.
So…tell me about yourself. Although this question can be categorized as #LazyRecruiting, it is a question that I like. It’s one of my favorites. Although this one often hinders candidates, the beauty of it is that it allows you to control the narrative. And because it’s usually one of the first questions asked, your answer can set the tone and define the direction of the interview. How not to answer this question? Don’t treat it as an opportunity to share your life story. Instead, use it as a time to give your “elevator pitch,” that highlights your essential qualities.
Why do you want to work here/what interests you about this role? The worst thing you can do is to go into the interview utterly uninformed about the company and the role. For example, if you’re interviewing with G&E, you should know that the company does more than make lightbulbs. Research the company, the position, and the hiring manager before you have a conversation.
What is your greatest strength/weakness? Okay, this is another #LazyRecruiting question. So don’t give it a lazy answer! Don’t say that your greatest strength is your punctuality, or that your weakness is that you’re a perfectionist. Think about a REAL strength and an ACTUAL weakness – yes, a real-life example. “My greatest strength is my ability to lead teams. In my current role, I lead a team of 6 talented developers who, this year, surpassed our release goals by 28%.” Or, “I used to believe my greatest weakness was in understanding financial data and reports. I took a few classes on financial reporting and analysis, and now feel comfortable analyzing what the finance team sends me.”
Where do you see yourself in X years/what are your long-term career goals? Perhaps the interviewer is genuinely curious, but this is a question that has little bearing on the job for which you’re interviewing. Your career goals aren’t what’s relevant; what’s relevant is the business problem that the hiring manager is trying to solve. Instead of, “You know, I really hope to be cashed out, living on the beach, and running a taco truck,” try “I’m interested in growing my skills in X and developing my abilities in Y. This position interested me because it would allow for both of those.” Make it about the employer, not about you.
As with all things interviewing, it’s imperative to practice your responses and to do your research before you get on the phone or get in front of the hiring manager. Identify the three key messages that you want to convey and practice working those messages into your answers to potential interview questions. Most importantly, keep the focus on what you can do for the hiring manager and how you can solve the business problem at hand!
Peanut butter. Smooth and creamy. Rich and chunky. Paired with apple slices, smeared on bread, or turned into any multitude of confections, peanut butter is delicious. Turn to the nutrition facts on the label and it’s obvious why it’s so good—it’s packed with calories and fat. Enter PB2, a dehydrated, powdered peanut butter. You can mix it with water and use it just as you would actual peanut butter, but it has a fraction of the fat and calories. Whip some up and spread it on an apple. Marvel at how it tastes exactly like the real thing.
Except that it doesn’t. It tastes like something that tastes like peanut butter. It doesn’t have the creamy, salty mouth feel of peanut butter. It’s not satisfying like peanut butter. It is powder that tastes like peanut butter. Or consider zoodles, that spiralized zucchini that serves as a low-carb pasta substitute. Like PB2, zucchini is not the real thing. Zucchini will never stand in for pasta. It is egregious to claim that zucchini is an adequate substitute for pasta. It will never have pasta’s starchy bite or satisfying firmness.
We are kidding ourselves to say that these imposters are just as good as the Real Deal. We lie to ourselves because we desperately want to believe it is true. What other untruths do you convince yourself of and how are those beliefs holding you back? Here are some common lies we accept as truths when it comes to our careers.
I’m going to build my career at Company X. This is a lie we tell ourselves because it can be hard to admit that even if our performance is stellar, there are no guarantee that employment will continue. Always be proactive about your career and explore other opportunities.
My team never complains, so I must be a great manager. Really? “No news is good news” is not an effective management strategy. You need to get honest with yourself and with your direct reports and have some real conversations. Maybe you are a great manager. Who knows?
My career will fulfill my life. Some people do find an existential satisfaction in their careers. However, most people have a career that they like, that provides them a certain standard of living, but does not define them as a person. This is perfectly normal and okay.
Do what you love, and you can make it into a career. This is one of my least favorite pieces of career advice. The ugly truth is that it’s really, really difficult to take a personal interest and make money from it. Otherwise, I know plenty of people who would spend their days reading novels while getting paid.
I don’t need to be on LinkedIn. It’s stupid. Wrong.
My reputation speaks for itself. I don’t need to do this “personal branding” thing. Yes, your reputation will speak for itself. But if you’re not managing your personal brand, you have little control over what that reputation is.
The best, most qualified person gets the job. Sometimes. But usually the person who connects best with the hiring team is the one who gets the job. That’s because soft skills are much harder to recruit for than technical skills. People hire people they think they’d like to work with.
The bottom line
Get real and get honest with yourself. Challenge your long-held beliefs to see how they stand up within the context of today’s world. What was true five or ten years ago may no longer fly.
With the speed in which tech is evolving, will there actually be anything left for humans to do that machines can’t carry out? Fortunately, yes. Unsurprisingly, most of them have to do with utilizing people skills, which we have covered here on Careers Done Write.
So, with that in mind, here is a list of some jobs that are safe from automation… At least for now.
Last year, NBC News reported on the very first auctioned work of art made using an algorithm. The controversial canvas was made by feeding a system 15,000 different portraits, which resulted in an entirely new image altogether. While it’s an interesting take, the painting garnered plenty of flak for its definition of “art.” After all, humans draw from life experiences, emotions, and creativity to bring ideas to life. Without these important factors, art loses its essence as a vehicle for sharing experiences. So, if you’re a singer, writer, or designer, you probably shouldn’t worry too much.
At the moment, people have enough issues with technology and its invasion of user privacy. It’s unlikely that any job that deals with tackling personal and sensitive issues will be handed over to robots anytime soon. After all, people go to professionals like therapists because they need emotional support and advice. The therapists don’t just simply listen and digest information. Therapists go through extensive training and education just to know how to empathize and understand patients properly — something only a living, breathing person can provide.
Healthcare is another industry that is inherently humanistic. For any medical professional, compassion and encouragement are both invaluable skills to have. But with the increasing demands of patients and growing health complications, tech innovation is inevitable. Instead of replacing doctors and nurses, machines can save lives by improving the quality of work and boosting efficiency. One example is the recently created deep learning model by MIT researchers that can predict the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer. Even if the robot is able to take care of the detection part, it’s still up to the healthcare providers themselves to take the necessary steps to improve their patient’s condition.
The legal industry is known for being very traditional, but the legal professionals on Special Counsel point out the need for innovative solutions to fight tough legal challenges and uncover new possibilities. It’s especially true during conflicts — many of which involve technology. But whatever the case, AI won’t automate lawyers out of jobs just yet. Humans are still needed for their independent professional judgment and critical thinking, while automation can take care of mundane tasks such as contract management, ensuring compliance, and sorting files.
The collective unconscious is a tenet of modern psychology attributed to Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung. The collective unconscious refers to the unconscious mind shared by all of humanity. It is composed of archetypes, which are simple representations of universal figures and relationships. Archetypes are a concept that relate to models of people, behaviors, or personalities. In Jungian psychology, we have inborn tendencies that play a role in influencing human behavior.
Jung believed that the human psyche was composed of three components: the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the ego represents the conscious mind while the personal unconscious contains memories, including those that have been suppressed. The collective unconscious is a unique component in that Jung believed that this part of the psyche served as a form of psychological inheritance. It contained all of the knowledge and experiences we share as a species.
The workplace can be a fascinating microcosm of human behavior. No doubt, you’ve been to a lot of presentations. After a while, they all sort of sound the same, don’t they? That’s the collective unconscious at work. Another reason they seem similar is that most speakers fall into one of these six archetypes:
Vaudevillian. The vaudevillian is funny. He puts on a show. People love the vaudevillian, even if there isn’t a lot of meat to what he has to say. The vaudevillian is smart, because he recognizes the universal truth about success—80% of it is about the image you create, and only 20% of it is what you say.
King of Ummm. Need I, um, explain? Um, this type of presenter, um, makes me, um, want to uh start a tick sheet and tracking the uh/um usage. What do we retain from the King’s speech? Ummmmm.
Slide Reader. Stares at the screen and reads the slides. The worst. Zzzzzzzz.
Fancy Pants. Heavy on the graphics within the presentation, lots of slide transitions, and sometimes it is scored with a musical composition, like Star Wars. When Fancy Pants’s embedded video won’t play, panic ensues.
Detective Friday. This is the person whose presentation is heavy on the charts and graphs. Detective Friday has no sense of humor, and betrays no humanity. He is about Just the Facts. Not surprisingly, Detective Friday is often a finance person.
Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker. Matt is impassioned. He lives and breathes it. He wants YOU to succeed, because that way WE ALL succeed. In spite of living in a van down by the river, Matt believes that we can unlock the achievement within all of us.
The bottom line:
Who do you want to be? You know you want to be able to relate, but you don’t want to simply be the entertainment. Focus on your core message, work on relating it to your audience, and then massage your presentation so that you are engaging and not boring!
In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, two swindlers convince a vain emperor they could weave the most elegant clothes so uncommonly fine, only those with the highest refinement, good taste, and exceptional intelligence would be able to see them. The ambitious emperor heartily agrees, thinking it would help him to distinguish the wise men from the fools in his empire. The con men pretend to weave the most beautiful cloth ever seen. Unable to admit that perhaps he himself is unqualified to be emperor, the nobleman pretends to admire the imaginary cloth. The day comes for a public procession, and the thieves make a great deal out of dressing the emperor in his fancy new duds. For his part, the emperor puts on his most regal face and strides down the street, his noblemen carrying the train behind him. All in attendance remark at the stunning beauty and quality of the emperor’s new clothes.
Finally, a child speaks up and says what everyone else is thinking: “The emperor has no clothes.”
This story has a few morals, but perhaps the most relevant to the workplace is that sycophancy makes the sycophant look like a fool. All the royal subjects who were heaping lavish and undeserved praise on their inept leader are equally foolish as the emperor himself.
Suck-up. Toady. Back-scratcher. Brown-noser. Lackey. Boot-licker. Regardless of the term you assign, it’s critical to your integrity, and by extension your personal brand, that you know how to identify and deal with workplace sycophants. These people are empty black holes of neediness, and if you allow them, they will suck the life out of you. They heap insincere praise on leaders, tend to bully peers and subordinates, all in their quest for personal power and self-preservation. Their modus operandi is venomous and can infect the workplace, and you, unless you know how to handle them. Here are some tips:
Let the sycophant know that you’re on to them. Brown-nosers are out for themselves, and, like roaches, will scatter and hide when the lights are turned on. Instead of merely ignoring the behavior, call them out. “I’m not asking for you to agree with me. I’m asking you what you would suggest we do about XYZ as we move forward. Please refrain from flattery.”
Remain alert. Remember that a sycophant will have no problem using you as a means to their end. Try to remain as detached and emotionless as possible when you interact with them. Make them stick to the facts.
Establish clear rules. You’ve undoubtedly heard the saying “You teach people how to treat you.” You need to lay down the law with the sycophant and let them know that you are not susceptible to their empty praise and flattery, and that you will not tolerate it.
Don’t engage. This one is simple. Just refuse to play their boot-licking, apple-polishing, obsequious games. Ignore the praise and flattery and keep every interaction with them focused on the issue at hand.
Whatever you do, don’t get embroiled in the situation such that you do not begin to think the same way. This kind of behavior is untenable and will only serve to damage you. Keep calm and plan a strategy to get people to realize that sucking up is intolerable.
Almost 10% of white-collar workers in the US now work from home on a full-time basis, and more than 40% of all white-collar workers work from home at least once per week. This flexible work arrangement is one that costs employers nothing but engenders high engagement from employees. While many people report that they are more productive when they work from home, many also struggle with the blurred line between home and work. To combat that, try implementing some of these protocols to make working at home efficient.
Have a designated workspace. Don’t sit on the sofa with your laptop, or camp out in the laundry room. Ideally, your work-at-home workspace should be separate from the rest of your living space. Do you have a spare room you can transform into a home office?
Have dedicated working hours. Commit to working only on work-related tasks for certain hours of the day. Many businesses have “core hours” during which all employees must work. If your employer has a core hours policy, be sure that you stick to it. At the same time, don’t fall into the trap of working all hours day and night. (Sounds like me!)
Equip yourself with the right equipment. That means a good desk and chair, along with a high-quality router and high-speed internet service.
Get dressed. You don’t have to put on a suit every day, but get out of your pajamas! Aim for pants that have a button and a zipper each day. Dress and groom yourself as if you were going to the office.
Let others know that you are working. Just because you are at home and not in the office does not mean that others have carte blanche to interrupt you. If they wouldn’t bother you about something if you were in an office, they shouldn’t bother you about it at home either. This goes for children, too. Just because you are at home instead of in an office does not mean that you are a non-working, stay-at-home parent.
Maintain good contact with colleagues and managers. It’s paramount that you are in regular communication with your coworkers and your boss. In fact, when you’re working remotely, you might even have more interaction with your peers than you would if you were in the office with them daily.
Plan for human interaction. Maybe you can go out for lunch or coffee but be sure to get out of the house. Sitting at home, isolated except for conference calls, is a recipe for loneliness and disaster.
Manage your workflow. Create a daily list of things you need to accomplish. Prioritize that list and work off of it. This will also make it easier for you to write your status reports.
Follow these suggestions to help make your work at home setup work for you. You might even find that you are most efficient when you don’t have to trek into the office.
Many factors impact the development of a company’s culture. Most notably is its mission, which is something that is driven directly from the CEO. Ostensibly, the mission of any for-profit organization is to make a profit. Lots of companies stop with that. These are the places where there are quarterly layoffs so that the numbers look better and where employees don’t have adequate office supplies. Then there are companies with robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. They tout their programs in the media, regularly report on their carbon footprints, and share their annual findings with employees, customers, and shareholders.
Why would a company take the latter approach? It doesn’t add to the bottom line. Or does it? As younger generations enter the workforce, cultural attitudes shift. And as customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and society at large hold companies accountable for their actions in the world, savvy managers respond. Some CSR initiatives include environmental programs, philanthropic efforts, ethical labor practices, or volunteering programs. Smart executives understand that CSR is critical to overall success; it provides a way to address critical business issues such as:
Improved employee engagement. If you feel like your employer is doing the right thing, you feel that by extension, you are too.
Increased employee identification with the employer’s brand. CSR is a way for companies to build and strengthen their brands. Through a robust CSR program, a company can engender a sense of pride among the employees who work there.
Improved retention. CSR can help to facilitate positive feelings among employees about their experience with a given employer. When people like where they work, they tend to stay.
Recruitment tool. A survey by the non-profit Net Impact found that 72% of students about to enter the workforce stated that a job where they can “make an impact” was important for their happiness. The workers of today and tomorrow want to know how their work will affect their communities, beyond merely helping to boost earnings per share.
More creativity. When organizations express their values and passions through CSR, employees may be inspired to develop new and better ways to do their work. This is a win-win for the employer.
Successful companies go in with a long-term commitment. Having a positive impact on societal issues such as living standards is not a “quick fix” project, nor is it a “pet” project. For job seekers, vetting out a potential employer’s commitment to CSR is yet another way to help to understand the company’s culture. Consider inquiring about the subject the next time you have a face to face interview. The response—or lack thereof—can tell you much more about what it’s like to work at a company than any recruiter ever could.