Stay or Quit?

Dear, Anita,

I’ve been unhappy at my current job for a while. I am butting heads with my moody supervisor, and the daily grind (not to mention the commute) is getting me down. But I make decent money and have pretty good benefits. How do I decide whether to stick it out or quit?

Dear, On the Fence,
IOn_the_Fence_iStock_000009524325_Smallf, like The Clash, you are asking yourself “Should I stay or should I go?,” take the time to write a list of the positives and negatives. Sometimes the grass looks greener elsewhere because you are stewing on the few aspects of your job that get you down instead of ruminating on all the plusses. Putting it down on paper – or in Excel – may lead to a visual “aha” moment.

An online decision tool like helpMYdecision adds weight to each factor in the choice. Are your salary and benefits extremely important (10) or not very (1)? (Answer this after looking at your monthly bills.) Does working at something meaningful rank higher than money for you? Is a more cooperative relationship with a boss a 7, a shorter commute a 5 or an 8? Does having an office with a window versus a cubicle not matter at all to you? After weighting the determinants, rate your current situation then let the computer give you its “Best Choice.”  Sometimes, when we ask advice, we are really just seeking validation for the choice we’ve subconsciously made. So take notice if you think hooray! when the decision appears, or if you feel disappointed. Then go with your gut.

Manager_Employee_Serious_SpeakIf you’ve decided to stay, see what you can do to repair your relationship with your boss. Relationships are based on trust. Can your boss count on you to do your assigned tasks? It’s even better if you “go the extra mile.” It’s your job to make your supervisor look good to her superiors and/or customers.  Perhaps her bad moods crop up after she’s had an unpleasant interaction with her boss over problems or productivity issues.  She’s only human and may unwittingly take it out on those around her. Try the “kill her with kindness” approach, no matter her mood. Find something – anything – to compliment. It may not happen overnight, but you may be surprised how a little positivity can change a relationship or an entire workplace.

If and when you leave your current job, don’t burn any bridges. Use that 2-week notice timeframe to tie up any loose ends and leave your replacement with an organized desk and files. Telling your supervisor exactly what you think of her management style on your last day won’t really help you or her.

But don’t leave until you’ve found another position. It’s easier to find a job if you have a job (there’s some psychology at play – if you’re currently employed, you’re obviously a desirable hire.)  And it may take you longer than you think to obtain better employment. Keep your pro and con list in mind when searching for a new job to keep from jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Readers: Are you contemplating quitting your job? Why?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Better Résumé Words, or How to Improve Your Résumé by a Thousandfold

Dear, Anita,

A few months ago, our company was purchased and I was found “redundant.” I’ve been searching diligently for a sales job ever since, but I haven’t gotten many nibbles (responses), much less bites (interviews) with my applications and online résumé. I’ve got a wife and teenage boys to feed – and you know how much they eat! What advice do you have for me?

Dear, Displaced “Papa,”

During an interview, Ernest Hemingway revealed that he rewrote the last page to A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied. When the journalist asked what had stumped the famous author, Hemingway replied, “Getting the words right.”

If your résumé isn’t getting the response you desire, it may be time to take a fresh look with the goal of “perfecting your language” (see what I did there with the help of Thesaurus.com?).

You want to optimize your résumé for both humans and the computer software that may scan them first. Tailor your wording to speak their language. While your title may have been Sales Manager, another company may call this Business Development. When applying for a posted job, be sure to use some of the exact words in the ad – particularly the nouns and position title. This will ensure the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) will pass you through the gateway so a real live hiring manager will actually have the opportunity to read your résumé. And that’s when those sexy verbs come into play. The Daily Muse offers 185 Powerful Verbs that you can swap out with your templated jargon to make your résumé more dynamic.

Forgo the boring listing of duties following the trite, “Responsible for…” The recruiter is far more interested in what you accomplished while performing your job functions. Here’s where you pair your lively verbs with winning nouns and throw in a quantifier for good measure to create power phrases. Can’t you just hear the implied exclamation point at the end of the verbiage in the right column?

BORING: COMPELLING:
Responsible for client management… Increased new clients by 172%
Duties included sales… Acquired a $2.3 million service contract
Provide administrative support Document 200-275 customer notifications weekly

 

And while we’re on the subject of literary style, let’s discuss that lackluster cover letter yawner, “Please accept my résumé in response to your ad for…” Before you even walk in the door for an interview, your cover letter is your first impression. This is your opportunity to stand out from the crowd with a carefully crafted opening sentence. I wonder how many rewrites it took the Jerry Maguire scriptwriter to polish Renee Zellweger’s classic line, “You had me at ‘hello.’ ”

Readers: Take a crack at one entry in your résumé and share your rewrite below. Or if you’re stumped, let the Clew Community help out.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Work Toward 10,000 Steps

Dear, Anita,

Like lots of people, I’ve made a resolution to get in better shape this year. But with an 8-to-5 office job, it’s really hard to be active and lose any weight. What’s a desk jockey to do?

Dear, Cubicle Commando,

What? Your boss won’t agree to the hamster wheel standing desk?

A Japanese researcher in the 1960s, Dr. Yoshiro Hatano, determined the people should walk 10,000 steps a day to burn about 20% of caloric intake through activity. A pedometer company made this their sales slogan, and the 10,000 step recommendation (or challenge, as the case may be) is now, well, pedestrian. But with the typical American sitting 7.5 hours at work each day, according to JustStand.org, it’s hard to squeeze in 10K.

Would you like a few reasons to make the effort? According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the main cause for 21-25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes, and approximately 30% of heart disease. It’s being said, “Sitting is the new smoking.”

Let’s see how we can sneak more activity into your workday. First, you’ll need a tracking device. One of those pedometers should do the trick – just attach to the waistband of your PJs (you want to count those groggy morning schleps to the coffeemaker!) and switch it to your pants or skirt to capture your workplace steps. There are also cell phone apps like Pacer, Runtastic Pedometer, or Pedometer++. The drawback to a cell app is if you forget to take your phone to every meeting or trip to the bathroom, it can’t record every step. And they can deplete your battery more quickly. Wearable devices such as Fitbit or Jawbone fitness trackers come in clip on or wrist versions and allow you to monitor your progress on your computer or mobile device.

If you take public transportation to work, get off one or two stops prior to your usual and hoof it the rest of the way. If you drive to work, instead of looking for that rock star parking spot, leave your vehicle in no man’s land to log an extra 50, 100, or more steps on your pedometer.

Shoot for the stairs instead of the elevator. You work on the 13th floor? Lucky you (some buildings skip from the 12th to the 14th floor for the superstitious)! If the average flight of stairs contains 20 steps, you’ve just added another 260 steps before you even clocked in.

A trip to the break room to get your morning java – and the necessary restroom visit shortly thereafter – all start to add up.  Several times a day, pretend email doesn’t exist and walk to your co-worker’s office to hash out a project or ask a question. Is your printer within arm’s reach? Move it across the room so you have to get out of your chair more often.

A strenuous workout during your lunch hour may not be feasible, as you don’t want to offend your officemates if you haven’t time to shower before returning to your desk. Schedule the gym before work (yes, that means setting the alarm for o’dark-thirty) or after work if you’re nervous about finishing up in time. A lunchtime walk requires no change of clothes, though women may want to swap heels for sneakers. Make it a habit to window shop or stroll briskly through a nearby park. (If you’re opting out because you live in a cold, snowy climate, know this: your body burns even more calories to regulate your core temperature in cold weather. Bonus!)

Get a wireless headset for your office phone so that you can pace while on those conference calls. Schedule walk and talk meetings if you don’t need to access documents on your desktop computer.

Can you pat your head and rub your belly at the same time? If you’re coordinated, try an under-the-desk pedal exerciser if you feel you just can’t take walking breaks in your oh-so-busy workday. Test your pedometer to see if it measures cycling as steps.

Watch this British office worker reach and surpass her 10,000-step goal:

Keep the momentum going after work. Remember to take your phone out of your purse in the grocery cart so that all those trips up and down the aisles count on your pedometer app. When watching TV, get up during commercials – but don’t walk to the refrigerator every time.  Or, do what I did. Move into a second-story condo with a cute but incontinent dog who requires walks five times daily.

Readers: How many steps do you think you can tally each workday? Share your results below!

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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2014’s Top 10 Posts

Dear, Readers,

Many businesses conduct annual performance reviews. Why should I be exempt? (Gee, I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.)

I took a moment to reexamine the questions asked and answered in 2014 to assess readership, analyze traffic, identify employment trends, and see which posts merit a second look.

Adult male adjusting necktie.And the most viewed articles of 2014, in order of popularity, are (drumroll, please)…

#1: Tattoos & Interviews
Before you spend that crisp $10 bill your Granny taped inside your Christmas card on skin art, read up on why tattoos could limit your career path.

#2: Applying for a Job When Not 100% Qualified
How many times have you read through an online job posting thinking I’m perfect for this… until you come to one or two bullet points that you don’t possess? See when to apply and when to not waste your time.

Woman with "Hired" Sign#3: Explaining Away “You’re Fired”
Should you include an employer from which you were fired (ahem, “relieved of your duties”) on applications and résumés? There’s no black and white answer.

#4: Top 10 Interview Fails
Top 10 lists must work; you’re reading one now! Read about interview faux pas and make a resolution to avoid committing even one of them at your next interview.

#5: How to Find Jobs Not Advertised on the Top Job Boards, Part 1
Think beyond CareerBuilder and Monster.com when it comes to searching for employment opportunities. Why Part 2 didn’t also make the top 10 list is a mystery. I suggest reading both.

Team Player#6: Top 10 Attitudes Employers Should Look For
While written in response to a question from a manager, job seekers can use this insight to make sure they convey these attributes in their résumé and cover letter and during interviews.

#7:  10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 1
Communication is 7% words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language. Since a whopping 93% of nonverbal cues are missing in emails, it’s no wonder there are so many misunderstandings! Use the tips in this post (and the rest in Tablet 2) to prevent slipups.

#8: No Payroll Deductions
Being paid under the table? Not receiving an itemized paycheck stub? Learn what’s legal and what’s not.Raising_Hand

#9: Salary Negotiation Mistakes
Avoid these 10 mistakes while asking for a raise or negotiating a starting salary.

#10: Applying to Internal Position
Here is advice on deciding if you want to move up (or laterally) within your company, and how to negotiate this potentially tricky scenario.

Readers: What was your favorite Anita Clew article this year?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita. Your question might make next year’s Top 10 list!

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Holiday Missive


Dear Readers,

I wish you a joyous season celebrating
your traditions of faith and family.

Blue_Candles_1200

I’ll be back to my custom of offering pragmatic advice after the holiday season. If you are a job seeker, an employed person, or a manager/supervisor, ask a question at http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Bonus Deductions

Dear, Anita,

I just got a year-end holiday bonus check and I’m grateful, but confused. The amount taken out for taxes seems way too high. It seems to be a greater percentage than my usual paycheck deductions. What’s up with that?

Dear, Bob Cratchitt,money

Oh, joy! Oh… wait! I hear this concern about bonus checks often. Uncle Scrooge… excuse me, Uncle Sam may be to blame. The IRS views bonuses (as well as commissions, overtime, even things like employer-paid moving expenses) as “supplemental wages.” Employers may use either a flat 25% withholding rate or an aggregate method. The aggregate method combines the bonus amount with the most recent regular wage paycheck. Then, the normal withholding amount based on IRS tables is determined for the total of both amounts. Your payroll department subtracts what was already withheld from your last paycheck and withholds the rest from the bonus amount.

The aggregate method, while more cumbersome, is actually the more accurate method of determining your actual tax liability. Pay now or pay later – April 15th, to be exact. (Not-so-fun fact: the average American works the first 111 days of the year – or to just past Tax Day – to pay their taxes.) The good news is that if the withholding at the higher rate was actually too much, you’ll be refunded when you file your tax returns.

Man doing his accounting, financial adviser workingSpecial rules apply to bonuses of $1 million or more (don’t you wish you had that “problem?”), and they are bumped into the 39.6% withholding rate.

Before you go out to spend your anticipated bonus, use the AmCheck Flat-Rate or Aggregate Bonus Calculator. Remember, in addition to the federal taxes, bonuses are also subject to withholding for Social Security, Medicare, and any state and local taxes.

Readers: Did you get a holiday or year-end bonus this year? What are your plans for the windfall?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Dear Santa, I Want This Job to Become Permanent

Dear, Anita,

I’ve been looking for work for a while, and have an opportunity for a temporary job during the holiday season. If I take it, is there any possibility I can stay on after the season ends?Santa List

Yes, Virginia,

Christmas comes but once a year, and so do some seasonal jobs, most notably in retail and shipping. To lengthen the traditional 12 days of Christmas employment into 365, follow this list and check it twice.

  • Show up on time or – gasp! – a few minutes early for each and every shift. It’s a sad fact, but punctuality is noticed by managers because of the severe lack of it these days.
  • Don’t be a clock-watcher. If you are in the middle of helping a customer or an assigned task when the end of your shift rolls around, finish up before clocking out.
  • Be flexible with your schedule. You’ll endear yourself to your supervisor if you volunteer for night and weekend shifts and offer to cover for the inevitable no-shows.
  • Learn from the full-timers. Get to know the permanent employees, and pick up tips from those in the trenches all year long. Maintain friendly relations with all coworkers.
  • Be self-motivated and willing to do anything asked of you. Managers appreciate employees who don’t need constant reminders and supervision to get the assigned tasks done.Red_Shirt_Worker_Small
  • Do your best. Some seasonal employees do just enough to get by. Doing even more than asked will make you stand out from the crowd.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. If you can keep a smile on your face during this hectic season, you’ll be seen as someone easy to work with year-round.
  • Make your wish known. Be sure your supervisor is aware that you are interested in staying on after the holidays – preferably after you’ve just gotten positive feedback or an “Atta Girl” from said supervisor.

Once you get hired on a permanent basis, January will become your most wonderful time of the year.

Readers: Have you turned a holiday job into a permanent position? Add your top tip to the list in the comments below!

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Coworker Gift Exchanges

Dear, Anita,

Morale has been low around our office since we learned we would not be getting a year-end bonus due to a downturn in company sales. I’d like to organize some sort of gift exchange to spread some holiday cheer. Any ideas?

Dear, Cindy Lou Who,

There are several un-Grinch-like options to get you and your coworkers in the Christmas spirit.  I’ve even heard of some offices that do some version giving a gift on each of the 12 Days of Christmas. Not literally, though like Andy on The Office:

But a gift swap should be fun and not a burden (so the 12 Days of Christmas is out, considering all the other family and friends you have to buy for). Keep the gift budget to a comfortable level for all participants. It’s not about the cost; it’s about how creative you can get for the money!

Why not try a Theme Gift Exchange? One year can be ornaments, the next year a coffee/tea mug, and the following year food items, to mix it up a bit.

The simplest way to exchange gifts with workmates is to have a Gift Grab Bag. Everyone brings a gift of a pre-set value suitable for a coworker of any gender or age and contributes to the grab bag.

Celebration of Christmas in the officeTo add a little friendly rivalry to the party, try a Yankee Swap or White Elephant Gift Exchange.* Everyone contributes a wrapped gift – a new item for Yankee Swap rules; a used one is often brought for White Elephant exchanges with sometimes hilarious regifting high jinks. Draw numbers to see who gets to pick from the array of gifts first. Player #1 chooses a present, unwraps it, and displays for all to see – and possibly envy. Player #2 then either “steals” that item or picks an unopened gift from the remaining pile. Each subsequent
team member can either steal any opened gift or choose to unwrap another. Any player whose gift is stolen gets to pick again. The game continues until everyone has a present.

Another option is Secret Santa. WikiHow has instructions on setting up this name-draw exchange. For a laugh, here are some additional rules, courtesy of Visual.ly. At SecretSanta.com or Elfster.com, you can let the Internet help keep the name draw and notifications undercover. Euroffice offers some workplace gift-giving tips in its infographic here.

Gift exchanges can occur at the holiday party, lunchtime potluck, or December’s departmental meeting. In lieu of a gift exchange, keep to a food motif. Simplify the Martha Stewart 8-step Cookie Swap party – festive paper plates and saran wrap will do! Each person brings two dozen holiday cookies and goes home with a sampling of each of their coworkers’ culinary creations.

Sometimes the best way to get your mind off your woes is to help someone else. Consider organizing a Charitable Drive. You can collect Toys for Tots, help Make-a-Wish Foundation, donate to a local charity that organizes gifts for foster kids or for children whose parents are in prison, or sponsor a needy family by providing gifts plus a holiday meal. To quote Dr. Seuss, “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!

Readers: What was your most memorable holiday gift-giving event at work?

*Random tidbits: The term “white elephant” refers to a burdensome gift not easily disposed of, supposedly after the King of Siam gifted albino elephants to courtiers who displeased him so they would sink into financial ruin because of the costs to maintain the animals. The “Yankee Swap” term is said to have come from the civil war tradition of trading Confederate soldiers for wounded or sickly Yankee prisoners of war.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Giving (and Receiving) Holiday Client Gifts

Dear, Anita,

I manage our sales department, and since we’ve had a profitable year, we were thinking of sending out gifts to clients this Christmas. I know our company employees like the goodies that roll in during the holiday season. Any suggestions?

GiftDear, UnsELFish,

First, be sure the companies do not have a No Gift Policy in place, or if a gift policy imposes a dollar limit on tokens employees can accept from vendors and suppliers. HRHero conducted a survey on workplace gift policies and got an interesting sampling of employer responses:

  • Gifts from clients that can be shared with others in the office are acceptable.
  • Any gift of a greater value than $10 must be returned or donated to [a charitable] organization.
  • Nothing valued at more than $25 from a customer, vendor, or other third party can be accepted by an employee.
  • Employees are prohibited from receiving gifts from customers or vendors when the gift is valued at more than $50.
  • Any gift over $100 must be reported to HR.
  • Guidelines say no gifts can be solicited, and only gifts of minimal value, such as inexpensive cups or pens, can be accepted.
  • No cash or gift cards can be accepted.
  • Another employer reported that there’s no policy and the subject has never been an issue.

If your customer list is small, a personalized present based on the client’s interests shows you really pay attention and value them and their business. If your client list is larger, you may want to differentiate gift price points for various levels of patronage. Your top tier may get a $100 value gift, $50 for the next level, and $25 for less prolific customers. (Keep tax implications in mind – the maximum IRS business gift deduction is $25 per person per year but check with your accountant for any nuances.) If you have several contacts at one company, give a food gift basket for all to nosh on or a shared experience such as taking them out for a sporting event. You may go the democratic route of purchasing one item for all customers; this is definitely easier to organize and you may get a bulk discount for your purchase.

businessman in santa hatShould the gift do double-duty as a promotional item with your company’s logo? Only if the item isn’t cheesy (cheese is only acceptable with crackers in a food gift basket).

Don’t be a bad Santa. Use your corporate responsibility to make sure not to offend your clients’ social conscience. Some customers may have an aversion to leather, alcohol, tobacco, or even to a box of juicy steaks, if they’re vegan. Many people have nut allergies or gluten intolerance.

With all of these hurdles to being an elf bearing gifts, charitable donations may be the way to go. Employees are not receiving any personal gain, so they won’t (in theory) become biased. If your client base is primarily local, choose a well-respected community nonprofit and donate a certain amount in each client’s name. If your business reach is nationwide or global, choose a national charity or a gift that allows the recipient to choose, such as CharityChoice Gift Cards. Helping those less fortunate at the holidays is way better than unpalatable fruitcake.

Readers: What is the most unusual holiday gift you have received from a supplier, or given as a vendor?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Take Stock with a Mock Interview

Dear, Anita,

I have worked for and run the family business for over 33 years, but due to dwindling sales, I am going to have to close the doors and go to work for someone else. I applied for a promising management position, and have been called in for an interview. I know the questions I used for the specially-skilled positions at my company, but am unsure what will be asked of me. Help – I’ve never been on the other side of the desk! 

Job InterviewDear, First-Time Interviewee,

I’m sure in your tenure as a business owner that you’ve seen your share of faux pas in employment interviews.  Check out Top 10 Interview Fails  and see if any of the mistakes seem familiar.

Now that we’ve broken the tension with a good chuckle, let’s talk turkey.  Don’t wing it; be fully prepared for your interview. Write out your answers to common interview questions, and then rehearse them out loud until they sound conversational rather than scripted. Enlist a trusted friend or colleague to participate in a mock interview to give you valuable feedback. They can let you know if you’re talking too fast or if you answered a question with uncertainty. You may wish to videotape yourself. I know, it’s painful to listen to your own voice, but review the recording and analyze your performance like a pro sports coach. Some career centers and counselors offer mock interviews for an even more realistic experience than pretending with a biased buddy at your kitchen table.

As you probably know, the ice-breaker is usually, “Tell me about yourself.” While some experts maintain that your answer should be 100% work related, I disagree… slightly. The interviewer is not hiring a robot; they are hiring a team member that should fit into the company culture. But do keep the personal bit short (“In my spare time, I’m an avid cyclist”). You shouldn’t rattle on, sounding like an online dating profile.

Pick out a dozen or so of the tough ones in Monster’s list of 100 potential interview questions (don’t be alarmed… you won’t be asked all of them!). For a management position, expect to answer some variation of “Describe your management style” or “What would your direct reports say about you?”  In your situation, the interviewer may ask about the specifics of your business closure. See From Self-Employed to Employed for my advice to entrepreneurs re-entering the workforce.

This mock interview video from health care company Cerner Corporation is geared toward recent graduates, but illustrates some dos as well as don’ts for first-time interviewees:

Readers: Let’s role-play! In the comments below, give your best answer to the opening volley, “Tell me about yourself.”

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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