Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Archive for the ‘work life balance’ Category

Vault’ s Careers Blog is Moving

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An announcement: after almost a year on WordPress, we’re discontinuing Vault’s Careers Blog on WordPress. But don’t worry: you’ll still be able to get your fill of career information and advice on Vault.com–where our blogs are going from strength to strength.

Our full blog lineup on Vault.com is as follows:

Vault’s Careers Blog
Vault’s Law Blog
Consult THIS: Consulting Careers, News and Views
In Good Company: Vault’s CSR blog
In the Black: Vault’s Finance Careers Blog
Admit One: Vault’s MBA, Law School and College Blog
Insider Career Advice from SixFigureStart
Innovate with Influence: Global High Tech

Thanks for reading us on WordPress.

We hope to see you over on Vault.com soon!

–The Vault Editorial Team

Career Moves to Make Before Year-End

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We have two months to go before 2011. You might be tempted to ease into the holidays and push into the New Year your work on landing a new job, starting a business, making a career change, or getting a promotion. But there are certain things you should do now to take advantage of the remaining days of 2010.

Prepare for end of year discussions. If your company pays bonuses or determines promotions at year end, this might be the time that decisions are made. Make sure people are aware of your contributions. If you have any emails from colleagues thanking you for a job well done, forward these to your manager. (If you have none of these, you should, so start collecting them for 2011!) If there is no formal review process, schedule a meeting proactively, so you can discuss in detail your contributions and your expectations going forward.

Use the holiday festivities to step up your networking. Many professional associations have holiday mixers, so if you haven’t kept up with your industry colleagues, now is a good time to play catch-up. If you have extra bandwidth, volunteer to assist at the mixer. You will make deeper connections with the group, and it’s a great way to ensure you meet with most of the attendees. Sending holiday cards is an easy but thoughtful way to build in a hello each year.

Plan and organize for next year. Clear out your office files. Mark your 2011 calendar for key meetings and appointments. Look at your company’s training calendar, and sign up now so you prioritize your professional development before your schedule gets too crazy. Think of your big career goals for 2011, and schedule your calendar now for reminders throughout the year. For example, if expanding your network is a goal, then schedule a weekly reminder to reach out to several contacts.

Finally, if there is a career goal you know you want now (e.g., land a new job, start a business, make a career change, or get a promotion), then start now. It’s a myth that hiring stops near the holidays. It’s also dangerous to wait for that perfect time to start. The above checklist of items are still good ideas, but should not displace efforts you make towards bigger career goals.
— Caroline Ceniza-Levine

The Omega Careerist: Surviving a Post-Layoff Wasteland

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It started quietly. Rumors of ominous portent spread through the office, spoken in solemn whispers. But you paid no heed. You just kept on working.

The first to go was one of the IT staff. Then another went missing. An executive left with nary a word. One accountant bolted for the door, desperately muttering something about “Grad School.” All that was left were a few dusty outlines on their desks, and some stale, half-eaten cake.

Suddenly, scores of people disappeared. All around you, one after another, coworkers were summoned away from their desks and were gone. A few emerged only for moments, visibly despondent as they tearfully clung to one another, and then never to be seen again.

Now you’re alone. Much of your department has vanished. And, worst of all, you’re saddled with their workload…

The years since 2008’s economic meltdown have been taxing and, at times, bleak for professionals. For those who kept their jobs, the realities of the “Great Recession” meant watching others lose their jobs, taking up overwhelming responsibilities, and facing a discouraging possibility that there may be no end in sight. It can seem like you’ve survived an atomic blast.

But, if you’ve studied thoroughly in preparation for these apocalyptic times, then you know there are ways to survive, even get by comfortably. Here are a few “End of the World” strategies you can apply at work.

Where the living envy the dead

The greatest blow has been to morale. After all, we lost our friends, our neighbors, our collaborators, our happy hour companions. And while the value of your work may have spared you from layoffs, you were perhaps left questioning if your career was still worth it.

Experts call it “Layoff Survivor’s Guilt.” For companies that suffered heavy cuts, human resources departments reported declining company loyalty and esteem. Job stress has since been on the rise, and so too has a sense of inability and remorse.

It’s up to employers to preserve unity amongst remaining staff. Following layoff rounds, employees should demand open communication from leadership about the state of the company and the road ahead. Group activities are also vital to rebuilding camaraderie; for instance, managers can organize outings to roam the desolate streets and scavenge for dry Post-Its and trophies in the abandoned offices of felled competitors. (Remember to wear your radiation suits!)

And for those who regret having survived while others got the ax: Fallen friends are still friends. Stay in touch via Facebook and LinkedIn, maintain contact, and remember them when news of an opening crosses your desk. You can benefit as well—the unemployed are always the first to know about free cupcakes and discounted manicures.

(As a point of etiquette, avoid griping to them about work—you risk prompting bitter retorts of “At least you have a job …” Or perhaps they’ll have gone cannibal, and hunt you for your delicious, employable flesh.)

“I had so much time…”

On the other hand, some less sociable professionals might welcome the solitude and peace of mind. Like an idyllic beginning of a Twilight Zone episode, just before the ironic twist. Now that all the chit-chat is over, you can go about your work undisturbed.

But not so fast. Without the others, management expects to “do more with less.” The “less” being you, laboring a whole lot more.

Should the increased workload prove too much, take a stand. Make it known that doing the work of two—even three or four!—people should mean being compensated accordingly. Were this truly a post-apocalyptic hellscape, it might entail increased food and gas rations; in reality, it’s worth perhaps a 6 to 8 percent salary hike.

If that can’t be done, or if the promise of greater pay won’t ease the burden, then remember that companies are still hiring. Even with a ratio of 4.6 workers competing for every one job, you have an advantage (albeit an unfair one): You’re a survivor. Employers give greater value to applicants who kept their heads above water throughout the last years’ tumult; some outright shun unemployed candidates like infected mutant hordes.

Of course, these are just a couple of the scenarios to be explored. In the spirit of Halloween, we encourage Vault readers to join in. In the comments below, tell us some of the “apocalyptic” circumstances you’ve encountered since the recession. We’ll mention the best ones on our Facebook page!
— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

Career Lessons: There are More Important Things than Work

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I had the great fortune to spend two days last week in the Bloggers Hub at the World Business Forum in Radio City Music Hall. Speakers of the ilk of Jack Welch, Al Gore, Joseph Stiglitz and James Cameron (yes, that James Cameron) held forth on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the coming years. Fascinating, engaging stuff, but the biggest surprise of the week was that the speaker who elicited the most profound reaction from the audience was a) not one of the headline names and b) didn’t really talk about business.

The mystery presenter was Nando Parrado, a successful businessman in his own right, but someone whose life was defined before he even joined the working world: Parrado was one of 16 survivors of a plane crash in the Andes in 1972. Just 22 years old at the time, he survived 72 days in the mountains without access to food or drinking water. His is one of the stories chronicled in the movie Alive.

Throughout his presentation, Parrado stressed that his experiences have left him in a unique position when it comes to facing challenges in life: he knows that no decision he makes will ever be as difficult—or have as much at stake—as the ones he was forced to make to save his own life. He makes the point with considerable clarity on his own website:

“Making decisions became easier because I knew that the worst thing that could happen would be that I would be wrong.”

Far from being a litany of the leadership or survival skills he learned along the way, the message at the core of Parrado’s presentation was much simpler, and infinitely more important. As he put it: “From the crash, I didn’t learn to be a MacGuyver of the Andes; I learned about love.”

He did so, in part, by losing both his mother and his sister in the same crash, and by having to come to terms with the fact that they were on the plane only because he had invited them to accompany him. And, having been lost in the mountains for so long, he also lived through the trauma of going home and finding that he had been given up for dead: his clothes had been given away and his sister had moved into his room.

All of which has left Parrado with a unique grasp of the importance of life, and the things that we should value. While he confessed to enjoying many of the finer things in life—from fine restaurants to expensive cars—he stressed repeatedly that nothing would stand in the way of his relationship with his family and those he loves. And that adds up to a profound, yet simple outlook on life:

“Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”

Parrado finished his presentation by coming back to tackle the theme of love directly, and to impart one of the few specific, actionable pieces of advice any of the speakers had to offer over the two days of the conference:

“Don’t lose your connections, kiss the ones around you . . .because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Written by Phil Stott

October 14, 2010 at 7:26 am

How Video Games Can Help Your Career

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Video gamers

AP Photo/Reed Saxon

Here’s a piece of career advice that you won’t hear too often: spend more time playing video games. Specifically action-oriented games such as “Call of Duty 2.”

No, seriously.

According to a recent Bloomberg article, research has found that “[p]laying action video games primes the brain to make quick decisions.”

The study pitted two groups of against each other in a problem-solving exercise: those who had played fast-paced action games versus those who had played slower strategy games such as “The Sims 2.” The results: those who had played the action games “made decisions 25 percent faster than the strategy group, while answering the same number of questions correctly.”

The takeaway, according to the scientist who led the research team: “Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference.”

So now you know: if you want to improve the speed of your decision-making—a key leadership skill—bust out the Xbox and start shooting something. Or at least use this as an excuse the next time you get caught scratching a gaming itch during office hours!

Written by Phil Stott

September 15, 2010 at 10:04 am

Post Work Socializing: Workplace Bonding or Boys’ Club?

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Man with beer

AP Photo/Fritz Reiss

Your liver or your career?

A recent FINS article suggested that anyone thinking of trying to make it on Wall Street should drink up: the culture on the Street is apparently heavily dependent on after-hours booze-ups. While that likely won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the financial industry (or many other industries, for that matter), it does raise the issue of workplace bonding—and the question of where to draw the line between an employee’s “fit” and their performance.

If the former broker cited in the FINS piece is to be believed, he was slow to realize that he was missing out on more than just a hangover by not participating in post-work drinking sessions. As he puts it, he lost the opportunity to forge “emotional connections” with his fellow employees—and specifically with bosses. And while not hitting the bar on a regular basis may strike some as the act of a responsible careerist, the failure to build those bonds may have cost the broker: he lost his job when the financial crisis struck.

The article doesn’t offer details on whether any of broker’s former colleagues who participated in the carousing were also let go, or attempt to discover whether the layoff was related to performance issues in addition to the economic difficulties. But the very fact that one can come away from the piece speculating on that underlines the difficulty of balancing a close-knit work group with a commitment to remaining professional at all times.

Most of us have had a colleague at some point who seems to get by on personal connections rather than the quality of their work. And it’s certainly not difficult to imagine a scenario where the boss’ drinking buddies are treated preferentially over a colleague who may be just as talented—or more so—but lacking when it comes to that all-important emotional connection.

Many of us also have stories of workplaces or departments where all the talent an organization could possibly need is hampered by a poor culture and lack of communication.

The challenge for execs, then, is in striking the balance between the two: encouraging bonding without having it spill over into an institutionalized boys’ club. To that end, a good starting point may well be to set aside some regular office hours for non-work activities for your employees—with a careful focus on ensuring that people socialize beyond their usual work groups.

Of course, it’s difficult to prevent groups of employees from forming cliques and excluding others: people naturally gravitate to those with similar interests. But those at an executive level need to exercise care should they become aware—or even choose to participate—in such groups. Because while close “emotional connections” can produce close-knit, well-functioning teams, they can also lead to blind spots over performance or conduct. And that’s something no business can afford.

Do Unlimited Vacation Days Mean Happier Employees?

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Do you like the sound of unlimited vacation days? For Social Strata, a small social media company in Seattle, Wash., this is standard company policy as of 2010. No strings attached. For the first time this year, 1% of companies are reporting a shift to an unlimited paid vacation policy while achieving high rates of productivity, retention and employee collaboration.

In an interview with NPR, cofounder Rosemary O’Neill, said, “When I said, ‘Unlimited paid leave, no strings attached,’ there was a moment of, ‘Are you punking us? Is this a joke?’ “And contrary to doubts, this change hasn’t led to mass vacationing at Social Strata. In fact, O’Neill reports that compared to last year, there was no real upswing in the number of days off requested among her staff.

Netflix has been exemplified for years for its unlimited time off policy, a strategic decision for the movie subscription service, which recently got much heat for its competitive workplace policy that rewards high achievers and fires the adequate. Its PTO policy aligns with Netflix’s unique work culture, where your commitment to high performance and over achiever status dictates your stay and progress. As VP for Corporate Communications Steve Swasey puts it, “We have engineers who work pretty much around the clock because that’s the way they work. And then they take two months to go visit family in India. We have people who never take a vacation for three years and then take a 90-day trip someplace. But they’ve earned it.”

Paid time  off policies at leading companies reflect a gradual shift toward risking unlimited  paid vacation days in the hope of increasing productivity and employee  engagement.

WorldatWork, a human resources group, released a report earlier this year that certifies that this trend is on the rise. The survey that polled 1,222 people—a majority being benefits specialists—highlights that while large organizations still prefer to go with the traditional paid time off structure (separate categories for Personal, Sick and Vacation), medium-size and small businesses are shifting to either a lump sum (referred to as the bank-type system) structure or an unlimited vacation days policy (see graph to the left).

Several studies have shown that flexible work schedules keep employees happier, more productive and highly engaged. But there remains a force of thought that doubts the unlimited nature of an unlimited vacation days’ policy: I.e., is it subterfuge for higher performance and due diligence?

Having worked for a company that followed a traditional, categorized paid time off structure ensured that I took time off at the cost of shorter vacations. However, at another previous employer that followed the bank-type system, extended vacations were great but taking an unscheduled day off due to sickness, etc., always accompanied guilt and worry. Unlimited days, then, seem to perfectly bridge the two systems allowing for guilt-free sick days and restful vacations.

In the end, an informed professional’s career path depends as much on our ability to take time off as on productivity and adeptness. And employers who value personnel must ensure a 360-degree valuation of their human capital, especially in a world where thanks to social media, 24/7 connectivity demands that professional and personal become easily malleable.

See the complete results: Survey of WorldatWork Members, May 2010

Hear from Rosemary and Ted O’Neill on Social Strata’s unlimited paid vacation policy.

What’s your take on it? As an employer, would you risk possible misuse of unlimited days off in favor of increased productivity? How does your company regulate vacation days? Leave a comment, email In Good Company or connect with me on Twitter @VaultCSR.

–Posted by Aman Singh, In Good Company

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