Annual Reviews and Raises?

A reader writes…

Dear, Anita,
Is it normal for companies to conduct employee performance reviews and offer annual pay increases? If so, how are things looking for 2012?

Dear, “Financial Forecast,”

I remember, back in the day, when employee performance reviews and pay increases were a routine “event” each year. Managers would set a date to either meet in the conference room (or even go out to lunch) and go through a thorough evaluation of the work ethic, productivity, attitude, responsiveness – you name it, the review covered it – of each individual employee within his or her department. At the end of each review, the moment of truth would arrive… the pay increase! Back then, a top performer could expect an annual increase of 7% -10% (if not more). Anyone receiving a 5% increase or less was walking the fine line of termination.

Times certainly changed! By around 2001, annual percentages decreased significantly, and a 5% pay increase was considered “top notch!”

With the economic downfall over the past several years, companies have either done away with annual increases altogether, or they have turned to a pay-for-performance approach in which increases and incentives are focused on high-performing employees only.

Now, it doesn’t take a financial expert to realize that today’s economic recovery has not picked up enough to significantly raise salary budgets to the levels they were back in the heyday.

However, according to information I found on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) site, base salaries in 2012 are expected to increase on average:

  • 0.7% for “low performers”
  • 2.7% for “middle performers”
  • 4.0% for high performers

According to a compensation practice leader at WorldatWork, “The situation where significant numbers of employees are not receiving any pay increases appears to be over for now.”

In my opinion, an annual increase (at least to keep up with the cost of living) should be implemented across the board. It may be wishful thinking, but since the price of everything else seems to go up without a problem… why shouldn’t this?

What do YOU think?
Post your comments here!


(Remote) Part of a Team

A reader writes…

Hi Anita,
I just accepted a position where I will be working remotely, yet the rest of my department works together in the same office…  miles away.  What can I do to integrate with my co-workers… and feel like I’m part of the team?

Dear, “Lone Ranger,”

Telecommuting is becoming widely accepted with businesses nationwide.  While working from home (or in a satellite office) may seem like a luxury…. for some people, it’s a challenge.

You are definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to teambuilding and interaction.  Many people thrive on the energy, activity, and even gossip that goes on in an office.  Others find this just plain distracting and are perfectly content being on their own – no commuting, no dress code, no in-person meetings.

The trick to feeling like you’re part of the team is communication.  Big surprise, right?

Your manager plays a critical part on how well and effectively you integrate with your co-workers.
At minimum, you should:

  • Have weekly department meetings where everyone gathers in the office, with you on speaker phone. Incorporate web meetings so everyone sees the same visuals, at the same pace.
  • You can even consider using available technology, such as web cams and Skype, to literally be seen in the meeting! Be sure to dress professionally (from the waist up, at least!)
  • You should also have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with your direct supervisor – over the phone (ideally, once a week).
  • Email communication is essential. Daily and weekly updates will help ensure projects are on track and on schedule.
  • Be prepared to join in-person meetings (frequency may vary depending on distance, travel, etc.) – putting a face with a name (and a voice) always helps.
  • Be a part of department birthday parties and/or gift exchanges.  Sure, the rest of your group may be eating cake in the boardroom… but you can indulge in something yummy wherever you are too!
  • Make a conscious effort to be available, offer help, and show support when situations come up that may require your input or expertise.
  • Actively contribute to group discussions or brainstorming sessions.  Since you are not physically in the room, you are more likely to be left out.  Be vocal… but not obnoxious. Here’s the kicker, sometimes you may feel like you’re interrupting the conversation, or that it can be tough to guess when you should start to talk with a room full of people already in discussion. Don’t let this discourage you or make you feel more like an outsider. Be polite, wait for a pause, and chime in! Your manager (or someone in the room) should serve as a moderator and individually ask each person if they have something to add.  That ensures that everyone is included and prevents people from talking over each other.
  • Pay close attention to the personal interests of your colleagues.  Anytime you can relate about kids, hobbies, or interests, you’re more likely to establish relationships – despite the distance.
  • Take ownership of a task or project and be a part of a “Show and Tell” session with your team.

Bottom line is this… The more you contribute to the success of the group, the more highly respected you will become.  You will be closely involved over the phone, via email, and in meetings to the point where your remote location will eventually seem obsolete!

Good Luck!

Interview Rules

A reader writes…

I have an important interview tomorrow for a job I really want to get…. Any final “clues,” Anita?

Dear “Need A Clue,”

Tomorrow’s the big interview, huh? Have you done your homework and researched the company? Are you planning to go to bed early tonight so you feel well rested?

Okay, I know. I’m supposed to be answering the questions, not asking them!

For a slam-dunk interview, let’s get back to basics on general rules of etiquette:

Rule #1: Never slouch in your seat. Sit up straight, and show poise and dignity.
Rule#2: Make eye contact. I know you’re nervous, but looking at the floor is impolite while speaking to someone… anyone. Employers want to know that you’re confident in yourself.
Rule #3: DO NOT chew gum. This is disgusting (and unpleasant to look at in most public situations).
Rule #4: Dress appropriately. Many people dress too casually for interviews. You should wear something professional that gives a good first impression.
Rule #5: LISTEN to the interviewer. We have two ears and only one mouth for a reason! You should do double the listening and keep your mouth shut when appropriate. Employers want good listeners.
Rule #6: Don’t talk too little… or too much.  Prepare answers in advance as best as possible. If you say too little, it will be difficult for the interviewer to get to know you. On the other hand, you don’t want to ramble.
Rule #7: Ask questions. Typically at the end of every interview, you will be asked, “Do you have any questions?” “No” is the WRONG answer. Asking questions shows that you’re interested in the company and have done your homework. That said, do not let the first question out of your mouth be, “How much money will you pay me?” The time for talking about compensation should come later.
Rule #8: No slang
Rule #9: No swearing. Really? Did I have to remind you of that one?

And for heaven’s sake…

Rule #10: No begging. I know you really want the job, but let your skills and qualifications shine through… not your desperation.





An Objective Point of View

A reader writes…

Is it a good idea (or a bad idea) to include an “Objective” at the top of my résumé?

Dear, “Objective Perspective,”

This is an excellent question that comes up all the time – To have (an objective)… or not to have!

Let me tell you, objectives are a bad idea. They are a thing of the past and can actually decrease your chances of getting called for an interview.

Why, you ask?

An objective can either be so vague and generic that it doesn’t have a lot of meaning and basically takes up space on your résumé. On the other hand, it can be so specific that you become pigeonholed into a certain (and very limited) job category.

Plain and simple… I object to the objective. Instead, I propose another idea for the top of your résumé: consider a “Summary” or “Profile” statement that consists of a short overview (1-3 sentences) that describes your experience and key strengths. (Even though this will appear at the top, I suggest you write this part AFTER you have completed the rest of your résumé to ensure that it effectively sums up everything.)

Next, within your summary, carefully choose your words. Since keywords are used by hiring managers, recruiters, and in online résumé mining, your wording here is… key (pardon the pun)! Here’s a tip: read the job description that’s being posted and incorporate some of the buzzwords you see. Be honest, however. In no way am I suggesting that you put so much buzz in your summary that you get stung when you’re caught lying about your background. Keep it honest, but with a nice spin.

When preparing your summary, imagine that you’re in an elevator and you’re asked what you do. Quick – the elevator doors are about to open! You need a clear and concise answer that highlights your strengths.

For more help with your résumé, the folks at Select Staffing have a Résumé Writing service that offers great insight and is sure to make you stand out in the crowd. Take a look!


Interview DOs and DON’Ts

A reader writes…

I know it’s always a good idea to ask questions to the employer during an interview, but which kinds of questions are okay and which are not?

Dear “DOs and DON’Ts,”

A career is like a marriage – it’s meant to be long term, it has its ups and downs, and it requires a lot of “getting to know one another” to ensure a good match.

Since we’re using matrimony as our analogy, consider this…

If marriage is like a career, then dating is like the interview.  It requires open dialogue between both parties, shouldn’t move too quickly, and, well, can often become revealing!

And just like dating, if you ask the wrong things in an interview, it can be a real turn-off!

Here is a quick list of interview “DOs and DON’Ts” that may help you get the “I do”  you’re looking for from an employer.

Interview DOs – (sample questions you should ask that show interest):

  • What type of  training does the company provide to groom and grow employees?
  • What is the hiring manager’s management style?
  • What does the potential boss like most about the company?  What would he or she change?
  • How is success evaluated?  How frequently?
  • What have current or former employees in this same position accomplished for the company?
  • What would I be expected to accomplish within the next 6 months to a year?
  • How long have employees worked here?
  • Where did the potential boss start at the company?  How long has he/she been with the organization?

Interview DONTs – (if you ask these upfront, the marriage is off!):

  • What does your company do? (Do your homework in advance)
  • How much does this job pay? (I know you’re dying to know… but save this for a later interview.  You can research similar positions and “going rates” in advance).
  • What are the hours? (Nobody wants to hire a clock watcher)
  • How many sick days do I get? (Employers are looking for leaders not unhealthy couch potatoes!)
  • How much time off do I get? (You haven’t even been hired and you’re already looking to be gone?)
  • Do you do background checks or drug tests? (Uh… got something to hide?)

Follow these examples, and you’re sure to get hitched…  oops, I mean hired!

Conflicts with Upper Management – How to Address in an Interview?

A reader writes…

I recently quit my job due to conflicts with my manager. It was not a pretty situation. How do I explain this in a job interview, without sounding like I can’t respect upper management?

Dear “Conflicted,”

I am so sorry you experienced this predicament.  Leaving a job on “bad terms” with your manager never feels good and can certainly make upcoming interviews a little awkward, to say the least.

The fact of the matter is some people just don’t mesh well.  People are different, personalities vary, and work styles don’t always jibe.  Heck… that’s what makes the world go ‘round, right?

Just because you conflicted with one person, does not necessarily mean you can’t, or won’t, work well with another – and it certainly is not a reflection of your skills, abilities, or accomplishments that are (hopefully) listed on your résumé.

Here are a few thoughts to consider when the inevitable question, “Why did you leave your last job?” comes up:

  1. Be open and honest (without sounding negative, resentful, or bitter). Explain that you were unable to progress in your current position due to differences of opinion with your direct supervisor.  You can elaborate on attempts you made to work together and be flexible… but that in the end, it just wasn’t a good fit.  From there, you can go on to say how much you think the company you are applying to is a perfect fit for you.  Do your research about the company and sprinkle in some details you learned…  ALWAYS impressive!
  2. Try to turn the negative situation into a positive one.  Okay, I know I may sound like a Pollyanna right now, but hear me out!  Conflicts with your manager taught you a lot about yourself.  What you can (or cannot) tolerate, things YOU should probably change or improve about yourself, what types of work environments suit you best, etc.  From this experience, you now know what you want (or need) in a manager.  It’s the perfect segue for YOU to be the one asking questions during an interview.  You know, tap into the management style of your next potential boss! You can simply address the question by stating that your working relationship with your previous manager was an “invaluable learning experience” but that you’re ready to make a change.
  3. You could refrain from explaining the specific situation about your manager and simply state that you were ready for a new challenge – that you had learned all that you could in your current position and felt ready to move on.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful and wish you the best of luck!

Hey readers!  Anyone else been in a similar predicament?  How did YOU handle explaining the situation in an interview?  Post your comments here!


Coming Clean About a Termination

A reader writes…

I was fired from my last job! How do I handle that in an interview?

Dear “Damage Control,”

There’s no doubt about it, this can be a difficult situation.  Though I don’t know your exact  circumstance, nor the cause of your termination – don’t worry, you can spare the details –  I have some ideas that may help:

  1. When you’re asked, “Why did you leave your last job?” (by the way, you WILL be asked), try softening the subject by saying something like, “Unfortunately, there are a lot of people losing jobs these days.” Then sit tight and hope the interviewer switches gears.

I hate to say it, but he or she probably won’t.  Instead, they may pause and assume you will elaborate.  Or, they will ask for more details about YOU specifically.  That’s when you need to put on your trusty thinking cap and, as the Boy Scouts would say, “Be Prepared.”

  1. Deliver a brief, well-phrased, and well-rehearsed response that ends on a positive note.  More often than not, especially in an uncomfortable situation, people tend to dwell on the details that will merely raise more questions and make the situation worse.  Put down the shovel my friend, and stop digging yourself into a deeper ditch!
  2. Address your contributions and accomplishments in your last job.  Next, simply explain that your organization went through a series of transitions and staff was reduced – which is not uncommon these days.  Or, you can explain that you ended up with a new manager who wanted to make changes (if that was the case), and you were unfortunately part of that “change.”
  3. Here’s the kicker…  you want to gracefully transition what was once a “challenge” into an “opportunity” by saying something like, “In many ways, maybe this was a blessing in disguise.  I am looking forward to new opportunities, and this will give me the chance to develop my skills and career in a new environment.”
  4. End by asking a question about the company or expectations of the position.  You know…  throw ‘em off course a bit by re-directing the conversation.

In a nutshell, discussing a termination is never easy, but as long as you are honest, yet to the point, you will feel much more comfortable… and confident!




Job Hunting Strategies

A reader writes…

Happy New Year, Anita!
I am graduating from college this spring. What are some good job hunting strategies? 

Dear “Go-Getter-Grad,”

Ahhh… look at you, all grown up!  It’s time to trade the backpack for a briefcase and the late-night parties for mid-day lunch meetings. 

Pounding the pavement as a new grad can be exciting, yet very frustrating.  Though competition is tough, jobs are out there… believe it or not! You just need to put on your thinking cap and follow these words of wisdom:

  • Stay active
    Continue to search for open positions that make sense for you and approach people or places of interest. Sitting around and waiting for job offers to come to you is just plain dumb.  This is the real world, kid…. employment will not be handed to you on a silver platter! 
  • Be confident
    Without actual work experience, I know this can be tough – especially during an interview.  Don’t fake your skills or abilities.  Emphasize what you’re passionate about (professionally speaking), your motivations, time management skills, etc.  Keeping up with the syllabus in college took persistence and initiative.  These are traits employers look for.  Remember, your first job out the gate may not be your “dream” role.  Try a few temporary positions to gain some exposure to the working world (… It’s time well spent (as opposed to watching YouTube all day!)   
  • Network
    Network as much as possible… all over the place! Social Media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Facebook are good places to be as you can speak to directors and professionals in the relevant areas of your career. Some staffing firms, like my buddies at Select Staffing even post open jobs on their company profile pages.  Who knows, it could be your gateway to a new career!
  • Watch your attitude
    Stay positive, professional, and realistic.  I crack up at these grads expecting to land 100K salaries in entry-level positions.  Keep it real folks!  You need to show enthusiasm for a position while staying polished and focused.
  • Practice makes perfect
    Do a little research on frequently asked interview questions (I’ve addressed several on my blog for your reference) and rehearse your answers.  Practice with your friends!
  •  Brush up on your own knowledge
    Stay up-to-date on news. And research companies, industries, the job market (in general). You never know what type of interview questions may be thrown at you! Be prepared to talk about recent books or business / trade magazines you’ve read. Even refresh your memory on college curriculum you completed. 

You have a wealth of knowledge, a lot to contribute, and a whole life ahead!  Good luck with your career search, grad!

Have a wonderful New Year!

The #1 Interview Question

A reader writes…

How do you answer the dreaded, ‘Tell me about yourself’ question in an interview? – What do companies want to hear?

Dear “Self,”

Ha! This is how all my “notes to self” begin. But seriously, you bring up a great question and one that deserves a lot of thought.

First of all, let me clue you in on a little secret… the “tell me about yourself” question is almost a guarantee in EVERY interview. It’s how employers like to start conversations. But that’s the key here – It’s a potential EMPLOYER asking the question, not some stud or hottie standing next to you at a bar. With that said, your answer must remain professional and relevant to your work style. The interviewer wants to hear a quick, 1-2 minute summary of your professional experience and an explanation of why you are the best candidate.

Start off with a summary of your professional experience in a sentence or two. Then, highlight your biggest accomplishments, especially during your most recent work experience. Wrap up by describing how your unique combination of experience and accomplishments applies to the position, and how you would benefit that company.

While potential employers want to know about you, as a person, what they’re really after is what you can do for them. Telling them about how you discipline your kids or your interests in the “Home Shopping Network” may make you stand out, but not in a good way.

A well-prepared self-introduction will set the tone and direction of the rest of the interview. Take this opportunity to impress your interviewer right from the start because, remember, you can never make another first impression.

Finding Jobs For Ex-Felons

A reader writes….

How can a person, recently released from prison, find employment?  If I admit to being convicted of a felony (on the application), I don’t get called back.  How do I get my foot in the door by being honest?

Dear “Honest Engine,”

Before I deliver my advice, I want to start by commending you for trying to get back on track in the working world.  Finding a job can be difficult for ANYONE . . . . Add the dreaded question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” to the mix – and you’re in a real pinch.     

To lie?  Or not to lie?

Well, judging by your question, I can see that you’re not only on the right track… but on an HONEST one.  To you and ALL my readers out there… honesty is the best policy… ALWAYS!

While it’s true that there are several employers (including many temporary staffing agencies) that will not hire anyone with a criminal background, there are other options and opportunities.  You just have to look in the right place, be persistent, and remain truthful.   Consider these words of wisdom:

  1. Be open about the fact that you have “paid your dues,” and let the employer know that you are ready to get your life back on track.  Stress your willingness to work hard and your dedication to the job.  More than ever, companies are conducting background checks on new hires. Falsifying information on the application will not only jeopardize your chances of getting hired, but it’s leading you back down the wrong path.
  2. Do not apply for jobs that are close in nature to your conviction.  For example, if your crime was theft, you should probably avoid positions that involve cash handling (such as cashiers, etc.)
  3. Aim for entry-level positions.  I know you may be overqualified, but it could be the gateway to bigger and better things.  Many employers are willing to take a chance with “at risk” employees and are often pleased by their performance.  Though I don’t know the type of work you were doing, here are a few positions to ponder:
    1. Food Prep
    2. Fast Food
    3. Dishwasher
    4. Retail Stores (hardware and appliance, nurseries, automotive)
    5. Telemarketing / Call Centers.
    6. Carpentry / Masonry / Construction
    7. Gardening / Landscaping
    8. Warehouse  / General Labor
    9. Machine Operator
  4. You may also want to look into city or government jobs.  Naturally, these groups want to encourage crime-free communities and are supportive of putting people back into the workforce.  I did a little research and found this list of possibilities:
      1. Water and Sanitation services
      2. Recycling services
      3. Joining the military
      4. Joining the Peace Corps (paid volunteer services)
  5. What about local nonprofit organizations, social services, or ministries? Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army may have employment placement programs for you to explore.
  6. Look for local job fairs in your area.  Find out, upfront, whether jobs are available to ex-felons – that way it is addressed early on in the process.
  7. Do a little research on the Federal Bonding Program, a FREE Fidelity Bond that insures “high-risk” job applicants.  Contact the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Association for more information.

To any potential employers reading this article….

There are a lot of solid candidates, like this fellow, who are ready to work. Keep in mind that as a business, you can earn tax credits by hiring ex-offenders and keeping them on the job for a certain number of working hours.  Is your company currently implementing the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program?

Good luck!  Please keep me posted on your progress!


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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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