Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are you assertive enough at work?

Well, I was recently part of a discussion with a group of friends from a variety of work background. We had someone from engineering, HR, recruitment, sales, consulting, among others. The topic discussed was about being assertive.

The question we shared among the group was: Are you assertive enough at work?

The question was directed more towards their life at work than in personal life. While the entire group started out saying we were assertive, the real truth emerged only after sometime into the discussion. As much as we wanted to debate, we really weren’t assertive enough in our work life!! The dude in engineering wasn’t assertive when he told he sure wasn’t going to meet the product release deadline. The sales guy wasn’t assertive enough to tell a No to his client’s demands, fearing he might lose them. The recruiter wasn’t assertive when it counted the most, in telling the hiring manager to take a decision with the existing bunch of candidates. That the grass wasn’t greener on the other side of the candidate field. HR often ended up quoting stuff from policies, rather than a firm ‘No’ to crazy requests from employees (fearing attrition!)

Another obvious question asked was, do we then really need to be assertive? Off course we should be assertive. Isn’t that obvious? Being assertive really isn’t about forcing an idea on someone, pushing so hard that it forms cracks in a client relationship, does not mean you hide behind a HR policy instead of answering the question openly. It’s about being confident and not giving up on yourself when you know the outcome of a certain activity. Being decisive in your ‘No’ with valid reasons. If you choose to be assertive, you have then are decided to speak firmly about how you feel about a situation. It’s a thin between aggressiveness and assertiveness, striking a balance is the tough part.

There’s a ton of information on the web, telling/asking/showing/advising us on how to be assertive? Just what are we doing with that information? From our discussions, it was clear that most of that info got thrown to the backburner in a never ending rush to deliver results, please unrelenting clients and hire the next-best candidate.

So is being assertive a personality trait or one that we learn on the job? If we agree that circumstances reveal a person, is it then really possible to teach someone to be assertive (thinking on the spot rather than after the event has occurred)?

That gets me to ask you: Are you assertive enough at work? How do you manage to stay that way? Do share your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Manager asking for too many reports without sufficient notice

From a reader;

I work as an analyst and part of my job description requires me to prepare/generate reports on a regular basis. I’ve a weekly schedule that is planned way in advance and it helps me to prioritize my work such that deliverables aren’t affected. This mode worked great with my previous manager who has since left the Company. I now report to a new manager and I’m finding it difficult to adapt to his style of working. He’s ok with my weekly schedules and has been very supportive at work. However, I’ve noticed many times that he has asked for too many reports (not in the weekly schedule) without giving sufficient notice. The requests are mostly from clients who want a report immediately. This has had an effect on my weekly deliverables. I don’t want to continue in this manner. I need to discuss and sort it out. How do I approach my manager?

Is this happening only to you or have the other team members (if any) brought up the same issue? There are two things that come to mind. First, I get the feeling that your manager is much disorganized and needs help with time management and prioritizing his work. Also likely that he isn’t able to manage clients well enough and he’s getting pressurized to deliver things quickly. Second, maybe his trust and confidence in your work is high and hence he is relying heavily on getting the work done only by you. Either way he shouldn’t be having too many last minute requests, at the cost of already-scheduled work.

Whatever be the reason, it’s time for you to set up a discussion. Now. His management style is hurting your deliverables and that will come up for scrutiny sooner than later. If it comes to that, you’ll not be able to justify by saying you were catering to last minute/unscheduled requests. There’s a high chance he’ll ask why you hadn’t brought up the issue earlier. You get my point? It’s better to sort these things out before it reaches a point of no return.

Timing is crucial when you set up a discussion. Don’t do it when he comes up with his next last-minute request. That will backfire. Instead choose a time when you’ve completed work on his latest request. That’ll give you some data points to talk about. You need to find out if he is comfortable with a formal discussion or an informal one? If it’s a formal discussion that he prefers, then set up a meeting on his calendar at his convenient time. Tell him you want to discuss a concern that’s affecting your work and deliverables. Next, when you meet him, go prepared with points that you want to discuss about. Don’t try and get defensive, rather have an open and candid conversation. Get to know his side of thinking and address them accordingly. If he’s a good manager, there’s a high possibility that he will see that his actions are indeed hurting your work and change them to work better. On the other hand, if he turns out to be a jerk, he’ll agree to change and yet continue with his previous style. Hope it’s the former and not the latter that you encounter, since you mention that he’s very supportive at work.

If he turns out to be a jerk and doesn’t change his style. You have a few choices. While scheduling your work the next time around, allow for some buffer. If a project requires 10 days, you ask for 14 days, you then have a 4 day buffer, should he come up with last minute requests. Make sure you document very request that comes your way. That will be helpful for later discussions and will also act as a cover. If that’s not the way you work, you decide if you want to work for this manager.

My experience says that nine of ten times, having discussions early into an issue helps clear the air. Good luck!

Post that might interest you:
Yes, it's ok to disagree with your manager.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Awards aren't retention tools? Or are they?

Here’s the situation:

A manager has got to choose a top performer for giving the quarterly/annual performance based award. Should be a cakewalk, no?

Since he must have mentored, trained, tracked, monitored and given feedback for each team member’s performance over the last one year. Each one of them must have contributed their bit and in cases even gone beyond their scope of work. The review exercise isn’t done just for the purpose of the awards. It’s a critical part of the annual review process. Every thing gets captured. These stats help a manager identify the top performer. Well, that’s the ideal situation.

Apparently, that’s not what happens in most cases. I’m a big fan of performance based awards. As the name itself indicates, it purely based on performance. Yet, I’ve often come across managers who want to give out performance based awards to employees who show signs that they would quit soon (offer in hand!) or have started looking for better job opportunities with a competitor. That’s something that I strongly disagree with. Awards then serve as just another retention tool. I’m averse towards managers who use it for that purpose alone.

Yes, there are folks who do suggest that awards are part of retention strategies. That’s valid if you do have well defined criteria/parameters to judge performance and reward accordingly. Everyone on the team then is aware of their standing and hence decision making is a lot more transparent.

Here’s what an award really shouldn’t be:

  • Lucky draw. You have one award to give; put names in a hat and pull out a lucky one! It’s just plain ridiculous. No. I’m not kidding. It’s happened.

  • Make the award a cyclic trophy. This year Employee A gets the award, next year it’s Employee B’s turn!

  • Popularity contest. Truly, this one takes the cake. I’ve been part of discussions where manager’s wanted to give performance based awards to their fave team member, who also happened to be popular among other team members. Again. It’s plain ridiculous.

  • Have as many award categories as possible. It makes a manager’s job easy when he can choose multiple people from the same team for different awards! Sounds crazy?
All of the situations mentioned above do exist.

Employee recognition makes a huge difference and it is a big deal. Period. However, employees will take it seriously if it’s done in a transparent manner and managers play a vital role in deciding a recipient of the award. It’s obvious that the repercussions of an incorrect choice could be drastic. It’ll end up hurting team morale, causing rifts between team members, brings down productivity and not to mention the obvious, lot of exits.

The role of HR in this process is to ensure that key parameters for awards revolve around being fair, transparent and consistent. Get managers to stick to these parameters. If not, get rid of the awards. It's better to not have them, when it causes more issues.

  • Have you received an award recently? Or anytime in your career?

  • You felt you deserved to win that award that your colleague won?

  • What has your experience been with performance (or anything similar) awards?
Would love to hear your thoughts. It will help other folks to deal with situations better. It will also help me to share your thoughts with people who frame criteria for identifying performance awardees.

That would make life at work a whole lot better.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Candidate Tip: Part 3

In case you are reading this for the first time and wondering how come it's Part 3 already! Then you can catch up by reading the earlier parts to this series here & here.

  1. Put your phone on silent mode during an interview. There’s only one other person in the room. So acting like it’s not your phone ringing, is stupid!

  2. Talking in low voice because you're not in a good place to take the call isn’t the interviewer's fault! It was scheduled. Plan better.

  3. It's ok to say that you don't know the answer for an interview question. Answering vaguely doesn't help. But do ask the answer.

  4. Speak only in the language that's chosen as medium for the interview. Bringing in native words sounds unprofessional. Avoid it.

  5. Are you a manager? Then isn't 'Conflict Management' a critical part of a manager's role? What's your approach? Critical to know.

  6. When you are offered coffee/tea & you sip it loud enough to be heard 10 cubicles away, it's just GROSS.

  7. Swiveling in your chair during an interview looks very unprofessional. Stay put. Unless you don't want the job.

  8. If you chose to send your LinkedIn profile before sending your detailed resume, then please update your LI profile.

  9. Why use a pseudo-name on a resume?!? I'm stumped.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Email ID's on resumes: Big deal?

Here’s a question I posted on Twitter:

Is it right to read into email ID's of candidates on their resume?

I really didn’t expect it to cause such a stir! It set off quite a discussion. The real intent was to understand the impact on recruiters/hiring managers/readers when they review resumes that have mail ID’s such as iamsingle@ / devil-may-care@ / crazydudeinahurry@ mentioned in a candidate’s resume. Well, many of them were of the opinion that they definitely found it weird that the candidate even considered such an unprofessional mail ID for a resume. A few argued that it gave them insights into the candidate’s innovativeness! It really might be the case, you never know.

My intention was not to judge the use of a particular ID. It was all about questioning the impact on end users. Think about it for a second. You got a mail sitting in your Inbox from a sender who chose an ID owntheworldbytomorrow@ to send the mail. What would your first reaction be? Treat it as Spam? No? Another set of detail-oriented folks may get into the nitty-gritty by stating that one can chose a different Display Name for an ID. But what if the person just put the same email ID in the resume? You don’t get a display name there. Or would you? See, nitty-gritty can have mind-numbing effects!

Instead, how about creating a mail ID for the sole purpose of job searches? An ID that sounds professional. You really don’t even need to check it after you’ve got a job. It’s that simple. Not to mention the obvious, it’s FREE!

Your resume is doing a lot of marketing on your behalf. It’s talking to people even before you get to the table. Much before you even get to say a word in-person. If it’s doing so much work for you, would you want to take risks by showcasing yourself as someone who doesn’t take things seriously? Think about it for a second.

Before you ask, a crazy/weird mail ID doesn’t mean your resume will get rejected. It shouldn’t be. Or rather, will not be. Recruiters don’t want to shrink their talent pool on the basis of a mail ID on a resume! However, that doesn’t stop either the recruiter/hiring manager from showing hesitation while talking to such candidates, especially if the role demands a professional outlook.

Here’s my take though: Email ID(s) on a job application/resume has importance. Candidates should choose to display one that's appropriate for job searches.

What are your thoughts? Would love to hear them.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Start-up: Hiring challenges

From a recruiter:

Dear HR Store,

I’m a recruiter at a start-up that has started hiring. Seems like the market conditions are improving and big players in the market have started hiring too. Candidates are accepting our offer, but that hasn’t stopped them from talking to the big players. My question to you is: how many times can we call candidates after they have accepted our offer? What can we do to convince the candidates to join us?


First, welcome to the world of start-ups. I just love the thought of a start-up. Hmmm……Sorry, I digress. This question’s about you. Not me. I’ll proceed to answer your question in two parts.

How many times can we call candidates after they have accepted our offer? Well, I’m tempted to ask, what is the purpose for which you are calling the candidate? Are you calling daily/regularly with an intention to find out what the candidate’s been up to since accepting your offer? That’ll look like you are stalking the candidate or you’re unsure of your choice or might even tell the candidate that you are desperate to get him onboard. Yes, it might be all of that and more. But that’s not the impression you want to give the candidate. Right? So, ideally here’s what you could do. Start with a call a week. That should suffice if the candidate’s going to join you within two weeks. If the joining time is more than two weeks, you could call a couple of times a week after the first two weeks. Understandable that you want to give your interactions a personal touch, but an overdose of anything is harmful. You could even try mails on other days. Make your mails informative. That should help a lot. Try and avoid calling daily! That’ll end up hurting your cause a lot.

Your next question, what can we do to convince the candidate to join us? So, what do you talk about in those calls / mails? Do you have a unique story to tell the candidate? Why, when or what was the reason for the startup to take shape. Take the opportunity to use those calls as personal touch time to give the candidate as much information as possible. Ones that will help him take an informed decision. Talk about improvements in product line, new customer wins, new additions to senior management/other teams, re-emphasis his role in the team, growth plans for the start-up, financial plans etc, Hiring for a start-up can get challenging, but you can make life easier for yourself by getting as much information as possible. You are expecting a candidate to give up his regular job and take a chance with a start-up with hopes that it will payoff soon. Give him enough reasons for doing just that. It may have been covered in the earlier interviews, but the gravity of the situation would have sunk in only after he went back home, consulted with his family, friends and peers in the industry. Decisions change rapidly based on the inputs he gets from them. Highlight that the startup is an opportunity that is very rare and one where he will find enough challenges that would be of high interest. Involve the manager in your talks. In most startups there isn’t a manager! Get the boss to do some talking too. Helps a great deal.

Good luck!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Things that make a resume work...

I got some questions on resume writing and how to make a resume stand out. While there’s enough information that you can get by Googling, here’s a list that I would suggest. Yes, many things mentioned below are obvious. I might sound like a broken record, but when it comes to searching for jobs, candidates end up hurrying on the document which talks on their behalf.

Here are things that might help make your resume work:

  • ZERO virus! You may wonder how that happens. But it does. Scan you resume.doc before you send it out.

  • Your career objective. Even better if you can mention short-term and long-term. If you don’t have one I’ll assume you are OK with any role we have.

  • Time periods for various positions. Previous held or currently holding. Both month & year. If there is an overlap or if you are working for different companies at the same time. Mention that.

  • Your contribution/achievement to projects you’ve mentioned in each role. NOT your team’s contribution.

  • Mention only those skills that you are confident with using / have used proficiently. Exposure to a certain skill doesn’t necessarily mean you know it in-depth! Right?

  • Contact details (phone, emails, etc,). Absolute must. If you have a preferred time to take calls, mention that. Again, if don’t tell, means you’re ok to take the call at anytime.

  • Don’t mention your blog. Please. Here’s why.

  • Any gaps/breaks taken before completing your education or even between two jobs work? Such as a sabbatical, medical reasons, etc., Mention it. Else, if it comes up during later discussions, it will look like you were trying to hide something.

  • Personalized cover letter. Please don’t send a mass mail with each recipient in the Bcc. It’s not a personal mail. It’s your career at stake!

  • Anything beyond 3 pages will not be read. So don’t waste time mentioning each and every thing you did in the last 10 years. Read the job description and then apply.

  • Read: Your resume’s got 30 seconds. Make it count.

  • Your resume font is crucial. Choose one that looks professional. Comic Sans doesn’t look professional. Period.

  • Typos. ‘Manger’ instead of ‘Manager’, ‘Martial Status’ instead of ‘Marital Status’, etc., Read thoroughly before submitting your resume.
  • Finally, keep it real.

Agreed. You are currently doing all of this and yet you’re not getting that most-awaited-for call. That’s just the way it goes. You really aren’t in control of that. But you can and must control things that are in your grasp. Your resume definitely figures on top of that list in a job search. You’ll do yourself a big favor by making sure your resume is presentable. That it has things which the employer is looking for or stuff that would at least make them consider your resume.

Post that might be helpful too: Resume Writing

Good luck!