Making an Impression at Work

Sometimes people just get it right. A friend’s son shared his story about making an impression on the CEO, CFO and Chairman of the Board of his company. He did not try to WOW them with a pre-planned encounter; he was himself – in the moment – showing his true personality and asking questions as if they were his peers.

Kudos to the executives who welcomed and cultivated a professional relationship with someone unpicked from a slate of high potential candidates and saw potential in the unobvious.

Here’s the story about making an impression at work – there are many lessons to glean. No doubt, the self-confidence this man exudes will take him very far.

So I’m standing out front of my office building taking a couple hits off my vape and checking my Instagram, when the CEO, CFO, and Chairman of the Board come strolling out. These are white collar men who have never heard the term casual Friday, in suits I can coolly appraise around $2k and shoes meticulously shined to a mirror sheen. The Chairman (whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting but am impressed by his record of many years as the CEO of our music company) takes a look at me and remarks, “That’s the coolest looking guy I’ve ever seen hanging out in front of our building”.

Now my first reaction is to blush a bit and fumble my words, because I am not sure if they’re making fun of me or not. The CEO and CFO introduce me and I am promptly invited out to lunch at the cafe down the block with three of the wealthiest and most successful men I’ll probably ever meet.

I did most of the talking, though I’m wisely tight lipped about most of my past, what seems to impress them the most is the admission that I am a high school dropout who never finished community college. While these three
gentlemen hold master’s degrees in accounting and business, they are extremely eager to hear my opinion of the organization, both as an hourly wage employee and as a newcomer to Los Angeles, taking my first tip toeing steps towards discovering my own identity as a Jewish person.

“Where is the representation for culture?” is my number one question to everyone I work with. I code pages and event forms every day for the silver spoon crowd – lawyers, real estate investors, and film producers. These people are fourth generation and up of affluent Angelino society. They had valet park their Mercedes for the networking meeting – I took the bus. My question to these community leaders was this – within the Jewish community, am I simply not Jewish enough? If we are supposed to bind together as Jews in the face of adversity, does classism still exist within our own institution?

Apparently these are important questions to ask, as I now have an official meeting with them after the holidays and an invitation to join the young adults’ leadership development program. A cool guy dressed all in black who’s not afraid to ask a trio of millionaires why our organization overlooks artists and musicians seems like exactly the kind of person who needs to be in a community leadership role here in Los Angeles.

How to Find out About Your Career Progression

You may have joined a new organization or you have been in a job for a while and you are curious about what kind of career progression your company offers you. How do you find out about it?

There are a number of people in your organization that can help you answer that question and who those people are will depend on the size of your organization or company. The larger the company, the more specialized the roles in the human resources department and that will decide who you should be approaching.

Who Knows About Career Progression?

The Human Resources department keeps information about career progression especially in large companies because it is a central point of contact. They conduct the research about positions and how salaries tie to the different levels within an organization. Here is a list of Human Resources people who may have knowledge about career progression:

HR Generalist – often the person who supports the business group or function. They have general information about career progression especially if they support functions across different divisions.  This is a good person to talk to first. Bounce off questions that you have about how to advance yourself in the organization. If they need more detail about your specific situation, they will consult with the specialists in their department or refer you directly to them.

Compensation Specialists map out the functional pathways of career progression within organizations so that can benchmark those jobs for compensation purposes.  This is good place to see how a functional organization’s career progression is mapped out to help you plan on different roles to consider for development. Absent having this information, an organizational chart would be helpful.

Organization Development Specialists help lead the succession planning efforts in organizations. Succession planning is the process where leaders identify and slot people for future promotional opportunities and create definitive development plans to aid in propelling their career progression.

Other Career Progression Sources

Let’s not forget that talking to your manager or the head of your department is also a great resource. They have may have come up the ranks and will offer personal insight into what kinds of skills or assignments will be beneficial as you move up the career ladder.

Finally, if there are people in the organization who have a role you aspire to, then do some research to see how they progressed either inside or outside the organization. Check to see if they have a LinkedIn profile – that may give you a good starting point. Once you have some specific questions outlined, ask for a meeting and find out their story. Most people love to talk about their career progression with others.

Company Posts Your Position after Termination

What do you do when you have been terminated by your company and soon after the company posts your position or a similar position? It doesn’t seem quite fair as this reader states his situation:

27967595_sMy employer presented me a notice of termination 2 months ago. It was stated there that since the company has redundancy issue. But they are giving me monthly pay for 2 months and on my last day they will give me extra month pay tax-free. And I signed it without consulting anyone and I was not able to put “signature is for acknowledging receipt only” since I just learned that upon reading your advice and I thank you for that. This is my last month now and I have learned that the company has hired new employees but for a different division but still of same job position I have.

I am thinking now of going back to my employer and cancel the signed paper. Since it was stated there that the reason for my termination was due to redundancy, but they were able to hire new employees.

Will that signed document be an issue against me?

Thanks in advance,
Eric

The situation you describe happens a lot in companies, especially where there are different divisions, groups or departments. There are several ways that companies can justify a layoff. The most common are position eliminations or consolidations.

Layoff Reasons

When a position is eliminated, it is because the majority of work that the person performs is no longer needed to be done. This is most likely what you are referring to as being terminated by redundancy.

A position consolidation is when there are two or more positions that are collapsed into a single position. Companies usually select the person with the critical skills necessary to do the work or may use tenure for who is awarded the position.

Company Posts Your Position – Is it Legal?

Here’s what you need to know. In the United States, if a company lays you off from one division, group, or department and has defined the lay off to that division, group or department, they can create a new position within a different department, group or division without having to offer or allow you to apply to it (unless there is a bargaining agreement in place).  I know it seems unfair, but that is how it works.

It would have been more convenient for you to use the internal job posting system if you were still an employee to apply for this job; however, companies do not always anticipate new job positions while doing layoffs – especially in other others of the company. In my experience, there are many divisions and groups that do not share this kind of information with each other. As an example, the need for a new position does not arise until there is a spike in business with a new customer or demand which affects only that division, group or department and the rest of the company is unaware of this change in business.

While it is normal to be suspicious and think the company had a master plan about not keeping you, realize creating the new positions may very well be unexpected. The fact that the company posts your previous position elsewhere may  be happenstance.

Here are some positive actions you can take:

I do not think it is in your best interest to ask about cancelling your signed paper – to be honest you won’t be able to do it. Too much time has passed, you do not have a good case and all that will happen is you will stir up negative conversations with the company.

Instead, approach the company and let them know you have seen the new position in the different division and ask if you can apply to it. If you have a good work history, I would think they would welcome your interest. If the position requires relocation, you may or may not have an opportunity to apply to the position if they are not providing relocation benefits unless you tell them you will pay for it on your own. Many companies will bridge a short break in service and you would be able to keep seniority with any benefit plans.

Good luck!

How Cliques Impact Career Trajectory

Cliques exist in all organizations – sometimes they are obvious and at other times it is underground. Let’s be clear, not all cliques are bad, but cliques can impact your career trajectory.

Career Builder sponsored a 2013 nationwide survey conducted by Harris Interactive asking U.S. workers about how cliques impact work culture. The results may surprise you – only 11% of respondents feel intimidated by cliques. However, the impact of cliques cannot be ignored – 20% of the respondents said they had done something they were not really interested in or did not want to do just to fit in.

Some of the activities that respondents felt pressured into doing included:

  • Attending happy hours (50%)
  • Watching specific TV shows (21%)
  • Making fun of someone else or pretending not to like them (19%)
  • Liking similar foods (17%)
  • Partaking in smoke breaks (9%)

There are situations where people hide something to fit in. The results of this survey indicated that 15% of the respondents hid their political affiliation, 10% don’t discuss their personal hobbies and 9% keep their religions affiliations and beliefs private.

The power of cliques in an organization varies – there are factors that influence it. How strong and consistent is the organization’s culture? Is the culture built on positive principles?

For example, cliques survive when the organization’s culture is weak and negative. Cliques may form to maneuver the system or to offer a network of support for pushing ideas through because the current culture doesn’t have a system that is effective. The clique exists to build alliances and strength in numbers.

So what do you do when a strong clique threatens career trajectory or your ability to advance your career? You know the clique is the power house in the organization – does it make sense for you to apart of it? Think long and hard about it because once you are associated with the clique it is hard to extract yourself from it.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What are the intentions of the clique?
  • Does this organization’s culture offer other ways to support your intentions?
  • Do the clique’s beliefs align with your beliefs?
  • What are the pros and cons of joining the clique?
  • What are the short and long-term effects of being part of this clique?
  • Can I co-exist with the clique without being a part of it?
  • What happens to people who have joined and then are shunned?
  • If you move up the management ladder, how will your relationship change?

As you work through some of these questions, you will know if joining the clique or if this organization is the right choice for your career trajectory.

What to do when your boss wants to fire you

I received this letter this week about someone who’s boss wants to fire him and asks what he can do. Here is his story:

I am 63 years old, have owned my own business for more than 20 years and was forced to take a job for a large company four years ago when the economy took a nosedive and my business became non-existent. My problem exists with my boss who I cannot please – no way; no how.

In the four years I am there, he has only given me one positive annual review with a minimum raise. He had constructive criticism for the first three years that helped me improve but since last year he has been on my back for the last 4-6 months RELENTLESSLY!

He has written me up four times; the most recent April 17, 2014 when I was also suspended without pay for 3 days. I was never given a copy of the first two letters. The third report had erroneous information that he claimed “was witnessed” yet never occurred.

This last letter/suspension cited an incident in which I believe he was to blame as well as my doing something I was never advised he didn’t want me to do. When he handed me the letter (a week after the incident for which he never advised a letter would be forthcoming) he made the remark, “I’m going to stay on your back until you either quit or I terminate you!”

The basis for his dissatisfaction is stated as unsafe behavior and repeated safety violations. For the last six months he is always watching me – comes by my work area at the end of break and lunch to make sure I return on time and always inspects all of my work before, during and after completion – looking for any kind of error. No other employee under him has to work with such scrutiny.

The day I returned from suspension I was put on a project that was difficult and complicated and required concentration. It has been slow going but so far so good. The morning of the second day he called me in to his office and reprimanded me because the “job was taking too long”! If I rush I’ll mess up…. It’s hard to work under his watchful eye, knowing he wants me to screw up!

I spoke to HR yesterday and asked for a transfer to another department and was told we would discuss it more on Tuesday after she has a chance to research the matter. I’m afraid that entails her discussion with my boss and whether or not he will approve it.

I have several questions, the first am I entitled to a copy of the first two letters of reprimand? Second, WHAT DO I DO? He is in the second tier of management and I’m afraid no one will stand up to him….. I don’t stand a chance. Third, in the two letters that I have there are discrepancies to the truth – if I try to bring that to someone’s attention, who’s going to listen? Fourth, if I don’t get the transfer, do I let them fire me or quit? Fifth, would I be entitled to unemployment compensation?

Please give me some guidance. I am at my wits end. Thank you for your time. – BB

Answer:

You have found yourself in a complicated situation and you are not alone. I speak with many people who feel trapped. Let’s work down your questions one by one and see if I can find some options for you to consider.

Are you entitled to copy of your reprimands? While the obvious answer would be yes, the correct answer is it depends. If your company has an employee manual or policy that outlines the disciplinary process, it will include how write ups and warnings are handled. Get a copy of it and review it or go to HR and ask the question directly, “What is the discipline policy? What are the steps and how is it administered?” Once they tell you, if applicable, ask “What do you do when the policy is not followed?”

My suggestion, don’t get into a debate. Just get information. Decide what you want to do when you are not under pressure.

Second question, what do you do? No one can tell you what to do; you have to decide what to do yourself. The question I would be asking is…Why are you still there? Why do you feel trapped? There are many other companies to work for. Granted it might be harder to get into one or you may have to make some allowances but consider how the stress is affecting your overall quality of life. If you are there because you love the company except for this one boss, then you have lots of work to do to turn it around.

Third question about the two letters that have discrepancies – what do you do? Challenge them? I recommend people never to sign a document that is untrue or if you are under duress (hopefully you did not sign off on it). You can sign you received a copy of it. Going back to question one, if there is a discipline policy, there is often a way to contest or appeal a decision. This is the process you would use to offer your information into record.

If a clear disciplinary process does not exist, then you have to decide if fighting it is worth your energy. If it is, then write-up a response and give it to your manager and HR. Will they revise their stance? They may or may not. Based on what you have shared about your relationship with your boss, he definitely wants you out so he is probably backed into his corner squarely.

Fourth question about asking for a transfer – this is a good option and could be a win-win for you and the company as long as the relationship has not been damaged beyond repair. There is nothing to say about letting them fire you…if your boss wants to fire you, he will make it happen. Most states follow at-will employment where the employer can terminate a relationship for good or bad cause or no cause at all. There are some exceptions depending on what state you live in. The best place is to consult your local unemployment insurance office for details.

You always have the option to quit – your employer is not the trap.

Fifth question – will you be eligible for unemployment? That will depend on your state and how they handle unemployment claims. States have different definitions for discharges based on good or bad cause. Some states are lenient on providing benefits; others make distinctions based on good or bad cause. Check with your state unemployment insurance office.

Living Up to Expectations

Sometimes you have to fight for what you want in life. That fight might mean living up to expectations – your own or other’s.

Last week, I met a remarkable young woman. In fact, she brought tears to my eyes. She contacted me about career coaching and we met at a local coffee shop.

We began our discussion with a mini coaching session where she talked about her big dream of working in a career that she was passionate about. She had an idea about what industry it might be in but had faced a challenge along the way.

As we spoke, she confided that she had a learning disability that reared its ugly head in her senior year in college – so much so she changed her major to graduate. Her new major landed her in a position where the pay was dramatically different (under $10/hr.) from what she would have earned.

Clearly, she was unsettled and wanted more in her life. Challenges were just that…they were not barriers. She had big dreams and determination to fight for what she wants.

It gives me pause to think about what makes you give up and what makes you fight for the big dream that you have. Is it an internal drive or is it living up to expectations that may be influenced by family or other important people in your life? Is one stronger than the other?

When I asked her about what drives her, she talked about what her siblings had accomplished and that she wanted to be just as productive and successful. How many times has that standard played in your head?

As the oldest of three kids, I was the trail blazer so I did not measure myself against older siblings. However, I did hold a standard determined by my father’s accomplishments.

I recall feeling like I needed to measure up and did everything I could to excel in my career. The barometer was clear and at every promotion or career move I made, I looked for confirmation that I was on the right track.

It was not until many years later that I told my parents about the expectations that I had set for myself believing that was what they wanted. Their response: “They wanted me to be happy in whatever I did”.

I have no doubt that the young woman I met will be successful in what she does – because she is living up to expectations of herself and not letting anything stop her from getting it.

The Secret to Making a Career Leap: Mastering the Trapeze

What’s stopping you from making the leap in your career? Are you too comfortable at your current employer and the thought of taking a risk to go somewhere else or do something else is just plain scary? Perhaps you are in the job market because of a layoff and you feel stuck. Here’s a funny thing about both of those situations, lack of action can be a comfortable state.

No matter how difficult your current situation is – you have probably adapted to it. You may not like it. You may want to change it, but the fear of what you do not know or the fear of what you think you know may be stopping you from moving forward.

Think of a trapeze. Let’s suppose you are flying in the air and you have someone on the other end that is willing to catch you – but to do so you have to let go.  Becoming comfortable with a trapeze doesn’t happen quickly. First you practice with a safety net and when you master it you may advance to not using a net.

Letting go in your career means you will be airborne – without the support and comfort of what you do know (no matter how bad it is). You are banking that the risk you take will pay off with a new start, big promotion or change in career direction. It’s a big risk to take that career leap because it means you may have to try new things or approaches because what you are doing today keeps you grounded in the comfort zone.

How Can You Take a Career Leap?

There are a couple of things you can do to prepare yourself for making that career leap.

When you fly through the air without knowing where you are headed – that means you’ll be using the safety net a lot. It’s OK to gather some data and to do some exploration before you start trying to fly. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What is it you specifically want?
  • Who do you want to work for?
  • What role do you aspire to?
  • What will you get from it when you are there?
  • What are you willing to do to make it work?

Career changers might use an assessment such as the Strong Interest Inventory to rediscover where their passion lies. Career advancers and fast trackers may find interpersonal and/or hard skills training the avenue for upping their game. Job hunters may find that they fall flat when interviewing or networking. Whatever it is, do it before you start to fly.

When you trust that you can do what you set your mind to do and stay focused on the outcome, letting go becomes less scary if you are prepared. Lack of preparation makes letting go more difficult to do because you don’t have the confidence needed to move forward. Remember when you get to the other side, you will feel the sense of accomplishment.