Succeeding With “No Special Talent”

Hey Anita,

I’m graduating from high school and don’t know what to do with my life. I’m not very good at book learning, so college isn’t for me. I’d rather go on a hike than sit inside and study! How can I find a job where I don’t have to sit at a desk all day? But I don’t really have any special talents. Is it possible to be successful without a college degree??

Hiker walks on Mountain TrailDear “Mountains to Climb,”

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Everyone has an aptitude for and interest in something! If you haven’t already, make an appointment with your school guidance counselor. He or she can conduct some career tests and based on the results, point you toward appropriate vocational schools or community college certificate programs. Check out this Main Street article for ideas on outdoor careers that may suit your personality. Another great resource for adventurous grads is CoolWorks.com, a site that lists seasonal jobs in and near national and state parks and resort areas.

Zero_TalentI spotted an inspirational graphic, “10 Things That Require Zero Talent” on LinkedIn recently; it’s a good reminder of those “soft skills” that contribute to success that don’t relate to occupational expertise or educational degrees. I’ve written about many of them:

  1. Being on time. Check out my post, Snoozer or Loser, for tips on punctuality.
  2. Work ethic. If your parents didn’t instill a strong sense of job performance values, do it yourself with these pointers.
  3. Effort. Remember what it was like on Day One of Your New Job. Expend that kind of enthusiastic effort each and every day.
  4. Body language. There’s no need to discard your Body Language Consciousness after the interview. It’s a skill that can improve your everyday work life.
  5. Energy. Remain Alert All Day and don’t let Energy Vampires drain you.
  6. Attitude. Here are the Top 10 Attitudes Employers Look For.
  7. Passion. Targeting a Job that aligns with your passion makes it easy to get up each morning.
  8. Being coachable. Being open to advice, ideas, and instruction from a mentor, whether seasoned or youthful, is key not only for those just entering the job market, but employees at every stage of their careers.
  9. Doing extra. Going above and beyond is bound to earn some Compliments at Work.
  10. Being prepared. From Interviews to Exit Strategies, advance planning pays off.

Readers: Can you give an example of how one of these “zero talent” qualities helped you advance on the job?

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

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The Best Grad Gift: Career Contacts

Anita,

I’m graduating soon, and I’m nervous about finding a full-time job in my chosen field before all the gift money runs out! Can you help?

Dear “3.57 (that’s contacts, not GPA),”

Graduate introductionYou may have heard the networking theory “six degrees of separation” – you can be connected to anyone in the world through a chain of six acquaintances. Facebook crunched the numbers and determined the new normal in our social media age is only 3.57 connections.

It’s time career contacts rise above cash as the prized graduation gift. Parents, aunts, uncles, family friends, listen up! The best start you can give a grad is to introduce them to someone who can help their career. Don’t limit contacts to someone you know has an job opening. A seasoned professional in the same industry may be happy to meet with a recent graduate for 30 minutes to answer neophyte questions. A useful contact may not be able to offer actual employment, but could be the second link of the 3.57 connections needed to land a position.

Here are two ways to introduce your LinkedIn contacts to one another. A personal telephone call on behalf of a high-achieving young person you feel comfortable vouching for may be more effective than an e-introduction.

Back to you, graduates. It’s important you do your part. First, make sure you have a great résumé. Check out my blog post, Creating a Résumé from Scratch. Print on quality paper stock from a professional printer (pay for them if you must with some of those graduation gift checks) and always have copies ready for networking opportunities. Provide an electronic PDF version for any “angels” who may wish to forward it to their contacts via email.

Create a LinkedIn profile with a business-appropriate photo – no duckface! Check out Social Media Today’s blog, How to Use LinkedIn for New Graduates, to build a killer profile. Savvy networkers use the Alumni Tool on LinkedIn to widen their contacts further.

Whether communicating on LinkedIn, by email, or via telephone, explain why you’ve reached out to the connection (“My uncle, NAME, suggested you would be a good contact in the ____ industry. I’m interested in getting into the field and was wondering if you would have time to offer some advice?”). Most workforce veterans will be flattered and willing to help.

After any conversation – virtual or in-person – always thank the person for their time, even if the meet-and-greet didn’t didn’t result in a job offer or even what you may consider useful advice. You never know who your benefactor may know!

Readers: When you were fresh out of school, how did a contact or introduction from friends or family further your career? 

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

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Time Sheet Deceit

Anita,

I had someone tell me that her immediate boss did not feel like the HR director was paying her the wage he felt she deserved due to years of experience, so he told her to claim extra time on her time cards and was not required to work it. I and one other person were told this by the person claiming the extra time. Is this fraud?

200151700-001Dear “Raised Eyebrows,”

Smells like fraud to me. This supervisor overstating and approving hours as a plot to grant a de facto raise is a sort of vigilante justice that is unhealthy for the company, both for ethical reasons as well as bottom line considerations.

According to SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, one of the most common lawsuits is the wage and hour suit in which employees claim employers did not pay them for all the hours worked and/or overtime. It’s less common for hourly employees and their supervisors to be prosecuted by employers for falsification of time sheets, unless the swindled amount is significant. Several years ago, eight employees of a government contractor pleaded guilty to felony time card fraud. Many times, however, dismissal of the offending employees without a good reference is as far as companies will go, especially smaller businesses who don’t have the resources for costly litigation.

What you and your coworker do with this inside information is up to you. Since the HR manager is one of the alleged offenders, that typical avenue of recourse is not an option. You’d have to go over the HR director’s head to report your suspicion of time card fraud, including as much detailed substantiation as possible. If this is an offense against a private sector employer rather than a government agency, the Whistleblower Protection Act won’t shield you from any backlash from the suspect HR manager. If your company has an anonymous tip line, this would be a time to use it.

One of the ways for a company to monitor timecard falsification is to require manager approval. If a manager is complicit, as in this situation, implementing a time clock, card scanner, or computerized log-in system or installing surveillance cameras may be a necessary investment to prevent future loss from unearned wage scams.

Readers: Have you ever been in a situation in which you become aware that a coworker was falsifying his or her time? How did you handle it?

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

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A New Spin on Commuting

In lieu of answering a question today, here’s a Public Service Announcement.

National Bike to Work Week is May 16-20, 2016, with May 20 designated as Bike to Work Day. The reasons for bicycle commuting are wide-ranging:

  • Lessen your environmental impact – Bike commuting reduces air, water, and noise pollution.
  • Physical fitness and well-being – In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, the release of endorphins can energize you, enabling you to mentally tackle your day. You may even lose weight; here’s a cycling calorie calculator.
  • Reduce health care needs and expenses – A bike ride a day may keep the doctor away, saving health care costs for both employers and employees. Momentum Mag estimates that individuals could save $544 a year.
  • Save (more) money – It costs approximately $350 year to operate a bike vs. $8,700 annually for the average car.
  • Save time – Americans spend about 6.9 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, according to the recent Urban Mobility Scorecard. Whizzing by cars in commuter gridlock feels oh so good.

Bicycle commuting is not without its challenges. You’ll need access to secure bike storage so your two-wheeled vehicle is where you left it for the commute home. For safety’s sake, be sure to obey all traffic rules, use designated bicycle lanes, and wear a helmet. (Combat “helmet head” with some dry shampoo you keep at the office.)

On the subject of appearance, you don’t want to arrive at work looking like a hot mess. For a relatively easy commute, you could wear your work clothes (don’t forget to protect your pants from the bike chain). If you’re not lucky enough to be employed in a workplace with locker room and shower facilities, check nearby health clubs that may offer shower-only memberships.  Alternatively, you can use wet wipes in the bathroom to freshen up so as not to offend your coworkers’ olfactory sensibilities. A bike pannier is useful for lugging your laptop or a change of clothes to and fro (and you avoid that sweat stain under a backpack.)

This video from Go Redmond (in Washington’s “bicycle capital of the northwest”) offers some helpful bike commuting suggestions.

Many public buses have bike racks, so you can get to work fresh as a daisy, and then bicycle home and reward yourself with a hot shower. You’ll still reduce your carbon footprint by half. You may want to make alternate arrangements to get to work in inclement weather (or you could use these tips on biking in the rain).

More and more companies are making it easier for employees to bike to work. As part of its Cool Commute Incentives, Clif Bar offers employees $500 toward the purchase of a bicycle – if they use it to commute at least twice a month. Most of the 70 employees at backpack company Osprey Packs pedal to work and can earn around $500 a year with non-motorized commuting incentives. (The Bicycle Commuter Act allows employers to provide a tax-free reimbursement of up to $20 monthly to its bike commuters.)

Many tech companies, such as Google, Apple, and Facebook, even go so far as to maintain bicycle fleets on their campuses.  Learn more about how your company can be certified as a Bicycle Friendly Business.

Readers, how often – if ever – have you biked to work?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Writing Matters

Anita,

I have been aplying to to alot of admin assistant jobs, and I can’t even get an interview. While I don’t have any experience, per say, I have great orgazational skills and am great at meeting dead lines why won’t someone give me a chance???  plz help me.

Red pen correcting proofread english text

Dear “Miss Spell,”

Even if you are not applying for a position as a journalist, your writing skills will be evaluated by those reading your résumé, cover letter, and correspondence. Despite the fact that many intelligent people were terrible spellers – George Washington and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a couple – spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and grammatical gaffes can make you appear, well, slightly stoopid. Take a look at these Cover Letters from Hell or résumé bloopers from Monster. (My favorite is “I am seeking a salary commiserate with my training and experience.” My sympathies for bungling your job chances because of that typo.)

Common Misspellings, Mistakes, and Muddles to Avoid

  • Your meeting is tomorrow, not tommorrow or tommorow
  • Accommodate has two Cs and two Ms.
  • Yours truly, not yours truley.
  • I’m sending my résumé under separate cover, not seperate. Remember, there’s a rat in separate.
  • There is definately no A, however, in definitely.
  • Did you receive my résumé? (The exception, “I before E except after C,” applies here.)
  • I believe I’m the best person for the job. (No exception here, the I goes before the E.)
  • I have the experience (not experiance) required.
  • Don’t be greatful for the opportunity to interview; be grateful.
  • You’re not in costumer service (unless you really do work in theater); you serve customers.
  • You have a Class A Commercial license, not a licence with double Cs.
  • It will be noticeable if you leave the E out of noticable.
  • Contact your Personnel Supervisor, not a Personal Supervisor.
  • Et cetera is abbreviated etc., not ect.
  • It’s a mistake to use the contraction for “it is” in its place. (Most possessives have an apostrophe – like Joe’s job – but “its” does not.)
  • Last, but not least, let’s address the homonyms there, their, and they’re.

Their = possessive pronoun
There = location/place
They’re = contraction of they + are

Used properly in one sentence: “They’re going over there in their car.”

Turn on Spelling & Grammar check automatically in your Word documents. Of course, technology can’t be relied upon to pick up every nuance. “I am fully aware of the king of attention to detail this position requires” [emphasis added] did not trigger any alerts, but wouldn’t escape a sharp recruiter’s notice.

Résumés are written in a kind of shorthand that breaks the conventional rules of English grammar. Incomplete sentences, often bulleted, are more conducive to quick scans by busy hiring managers who don’t have time to read a novel to discover if you are qualified for their open position. Check out Careerealism’s Special Grammar Rules for Résumés.

After creating any sort of business correspondence, check, double-check, and triple-check before hitting the “send” button. Better yet, find a second set of eyes – a friend or a colleague – to proof your work.

Readers: Have you ever noticed – after the fact – a mistake on your cover letter or résumé? Share your blunder below.
Recruiters: Do you have any humdingers from your Blooper Hall of Fame?

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

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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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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