Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘happiness

Why Wearing Your Costume to Work is a Bad Career Move

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It’s Halloween and the temptation to wear your costume to the office can be hard to overcome—especially if you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in getting it just right. But when it comes to dressing up at the workplace, those who value their careers should think hard about their wardrobe selection, and consider removing some of the “tricks and treats.”

While many people seem to take on a whole new personality at Halloween, workers should tread carefully when choosing a costume to wear at work—even if it means being forced to choose separate outfits for the office and their Halloween night shenanigans. Even if your company permits masks and costumes during office hours, it’s better to play it safe, and remember that the harassment policy you signed earlier in the year does not magically disappear with the holiday.

“People in costume lose inhibitions and behave as if a tail and mask give them license to act out,” says Vicki Lynn, Vault’s Vice President of Research and Consulting. “It’s important to keep a level of decorum when observing Halloween in the workplace.”

Steer Clear of “Sexy”

“Never wear anything that oozes ‘date’ or ‘sex,’ such as a bunny costume, sexy witch, cow girl, nurse, or teacher,” says Lynn. “If you think it crosses the line, it probably does. These would be costumes that show too much leg, butt and décolletage.”

Wearing provocative outfits could make co-workers feel uncomfortable or lead to unwanted sexual advances, potentially resulting in legal actions—something that no employer wants to deal with. This means that if you wouldn’t normally go to the office in an outfit that would make Lady Gaga blush, you should continue that practice at the office on Halloween. That goes for the guys too: Halloween is not an excuse to come to the office without a shirt on, no matter how much you enjoy those Old Spice commercials.

Watch What You Say With Your Costume

It’s possible to get into costume-related trouble even if you’re only revealing an opinion with your outfit.

“Beware of the signal or message that might be conveyed with your choice of costume—i.e. anything that could be conveyed as offensive to different religions, ethnicities, genders, and/or political leanings,” says Lynn, adding that “the best outfits are non-political masks.”

So, if you were thinking of using your costume to make a point about one of the issues of the day, stop and think about how colleagues or clients may react. Could you open yourself up to a harassment claim or altercation that could carry on past the Halloween season? Even if you’re only poking fun at a political figure, keep in mind that your colleagues may not share your opinions.

If there is even a remote possibility of causing offense, you may want to stick to something tried and true like a vampire. After all, with the way people react to Twilight, yours willl almost still seem cool.

Some Other Halloween at the Office Tips

  • Employers should voice their thoughts on Halloween protocols in the office so that everyone is on the same page before the big day.
  • Remember that even if you do show up in costume, you still have a job to do. Despite your disguise, the actions you take today will be remembered tomorrow and could contribute to the unemployment numbers next week. Stay in control.
  • It’s ok to celebrate but keep noise down and celebration contained to the lunch hour.
  • If you are client facing, your customers may not be amused by the costume, so keep it strictly for the lunch party with officemates only.
  • Halloween at the office can still be fun. Just pay attention to others around you and leave the more risqué fun, if that’s what you choose to do, for the witching hour.


— Jon Minners,

Written by A.A. Somebody

October 29, 2010 at 8:48 am

Book Review: What Color Is Your Parachute? (2011 Edition)

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Few readers need an explanation of the What Color is Your Parachute? series’ pedigree, or its ubiquity on the shelves of many professionals. As a manual for launching and furthering one’s career, the book has been a staple of graduation season gifts and a must-read for job-seekers since its first printing in 1970. However, with the latest edition of the guide hitting bookstores today, the 40-year old series risks looking long-in-the-tooth in light of the current economic climate.

Commendably, author Richard N. Bolles does his homework, returning each year to thoroughly revise the book’s content and address the ever-changing career landscape. As Bolles describes the process, his is not a job for slouches: “Four times a year, for five days in a row, I do nothing but interact with job-hunters, gathered in my home. I stay very up-to-date on the current problems men and women are running into, out there in the job market.” This research is employed to emphasize the troubled state of the job market, affirming the book’s scope and relevance, although his immediate lesson is that even a rocky economy can yield new jobs. To this end, Parachutes goes two steps ahead by pinpointing where the jobs are and leading readers to land a position on their terms.

These methods track, point-by-point, the path to professional success, dispelling initial discouraging mentalities along the way and finding optimal routes for submitting applications, preparing for interviews and conducting post mortem self-evaluation (after all, even a bad interview can offer positive results). The lesson doesn’t end merely with finding employment, as Bolles walks readers through the delicate art of salary negotiation and onward to preparing for a long and fruitful career.

It is at that point when Bolles introduces the interactive portion of the book. Forming the centerpiece of his advice (as well as informing the title) is the Flower Diagram, a circular chart which helps candidates determine their strengths, experience and interests. By measuring these factors, this mainstay of the series encourages the reader to pursue his or her professional priorities and find the ideal role.

However, what Bolles doesn’t touch upon in all this is the element of social media. Considering the increasing usage of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin among candidates, this exclusion proves shortsighted—as Vault’s career experts have determined, companies now use these networks not only to connect with candidates but also to screen them for interviews and consideration. Thus, a developed social media presence becomes imperative to competing with fellow job seekers.

This is where Parachute shows its age: While it does make mention of applications such as Skype as a tool for counseling, few pages are devoted to using internet resources, with its analysis even pooh-poohing the practice of applying for positions online. Bolles, considered by many a veteran of the career advice trade, isn’t off the mark by suggesting that the tried and true methods are still the most effective, but his disregard for the global resources afforded by the internet will hopefully change in later editions.

Another note on Bolles: Readers will find that the author imbues Parachute’s more personal insights—particularly its workbook—with references to Christianity and spiritualism. Bolles acknowledges that his devout beliefs might not mesh with those of other faiths; as such, he “tried to be very courteous toward the feelings of all my readers, while at the same time counting on them to translate my Christian thought forms into their own.” So take it as you will.

Ultimately what earns What Color is Your Parachute? its lasting reputation is that very human voice behind the career lessons. This sense of personality separates Bolles from his many contemporaries, who more often rely on faceless, clinical bullet points to do the talking.

Zappos: Rewriting the Book on Corporate Transparency

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Does your company have an HR handbook? Chances are, you’re thinking yes, of course. What about a culture book for employees? Zappos does.

The company, which started by selling shoes a decade ago, is today an Amazon subsidiary and has expanded to a multitude of merchandising. It is also probably one of very few companies to grow its brand around an idea of transparency, ethics and collaborative culture. For Tony Hsieh, cofounder and current CEO of Zappos, this was intentional from Day 1. In his recently released book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose—which I will be reviewing in the coming days on Vault’s CSR Blog: In Good Company—Hsieh devotes a whole chapter to the Zappos Culture Book.

In short, the book contains employee interpretations of what their company’s culture is all about and how it is different to other companies. And this is no mere PR exercise, designed to make the company look good: all of the entries received were inserted with minimal editing, even when they were anonymously submitted. Of course, Hsieh took a risk; no company is perfect and since culture is perceptional, the initiative could have resulted in a mudslinging session directed at Zappos management.

But it didn’t. While the majority of the entries were positive, not every employee was thrilled with the company’s culture—and that was reflected in the book. Hsieh, as promised, inserted both the criticism and the positive feedback when creating Zappos’ first Culture Book. His aim: To show existing and new employees what working there is all about, including the good, the bad and the ugly. In fact, much to his delight, the book has been downloaded by people who don’t even work at Zappos.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh blogs regularly as well as staying engaged with customers and employees via Twitter

The company produces a new Culture Book every year. For Hsieh it epitomizes the evolution of the company’s brand over its short existence. “We wanted to be as transparent as possible, so we decided that none of the entries would be censored or edited, except for typos. Every edition of our culture book includes both the good and the bad so that people reading the book can get a real sense of what our culture is like. With each edition, it would also be a way of documenting how our culture was evolving over time.”

The idea of a culture book isn’t unique; it is Zappos’ treatment of transparency and accountability as a priority that makes this worth noting. Most companies conduct some form of employee survey to gauge problem points and get feedback on what’s working. However, publishing it without censorship in a publicly available document is what makes Hsieh’s approach sustainable. Even if it isn’t popular in every C-suite.

As a manager, how open are you to engaging your team in positive criticism? With new generations stepping into the workforce every year, ideas are bound to constantly evolve, but are management styles redefining and realigning accordingly? Whether you call it corporate responsibility, sustainability, or something else entirely, it doesn’t need highly designed websites and ad campaigns to work. It can start small: like spearheading a collaborative and transparent workplace culture. But it has to start from the top.

Hsieh puts it succinctly, “Even today, our belief is that our Brand, our Culture, and our Pipeline are the only competitive advantages that we will have in the long run. Everything else can and will eventually be copied.”

Join the discussion by leaving a comment, emailing Vault or connecting with us @VaultCSR.

Does Dissent Have Any Room In Your Team?

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In today’s highly skilled work environment, dissent is a no brainer. As college graduation rates continue to climb, they are gradually also redefining work culture. Hierarchies and established ways of doing things are increasingly being tested by a new generation, adept in technology and much more in favor of a work/life balance. Call it the war between the millennials and baby boomers or just yet another realignment of the way we operate in corporate America, life in the cubicle is changing.

Learning to embrace opposition and maneuvering it toward resolution is no easy task. Even in the most modern and youth-centric offices, traditional rules and authority often end up becoming reasons for dissent and fraction. But sometimes all it takes is a different take on the process or eventual conclusion of a project.  As an executive, then, how do you handle conflicting ideas from team members?

Keeping in mind that not all offices follow a democracy, here are five ways to ensure your team remains motivated, creative and purposeful.

1) Set the tone for the team and the project: When introducing the project, make the process, the expected conclusion and everyone’s role in it clear. By detailing personal targets as well as specifying individual roles, you will make participation easy as well as achievable and accountable. Also, by spelling out the process, you’re indicating how much participation, engagement and thinking outside the box you really want. Because let’s face it: not every project needs brain surgery and new processes. But what if you’re positive that your idea will succeed and you just need your staff to fall into line? Again, offices aren’t democracies, so just make your idea clear and ensure that everyone understands what you want. You might not receive the Favorite Boss of the Year award, but at least you won’t send mixed signals to the team

2) Talk it out: Despite making goals and the processes clear, sometimes team members–many of whom have been taught that creativity, engagement and leadership give birth to the best ideas–will still go ahead and put forth a proposal that might run counter to yours and propose a different set of outcomes.

You can handle this two ways: a) Invite the employee to present her idea to the team and get collaborative feedback. Hey, after all, two (or three) heads work better than one. Or b) you have a one on one conversation with the employee and demonstrate why you think your proposal has a higher rate of success. If there remains disagreement, chart out the pros and cons, connect the differences in the two proposals and invite dialogue instead of restraining thought. While debates don’t always lead to conclusions, they ensure active engagement and tell your team that their ownership in the project is equally valuable.

3) Test it: If an active debate doesn’t sort out the picture, give her the chance to test it out. Give the employee a fixed time span, the resources and the bandwidth to test out the proposal within a limited test area. By encouraging a practical solution, you’re ensuring engagement, encouraging creative thinking, leadership and respecting their input. As I said, the aim isn’t to prove someone wrong, but to find the most efficient and successful way of completion. Together.

4) Simulate a proposal: Simulation exercises can be useful in resolving team conflicts. Especially if the project is time-sensitive and you need to test out a new theory/proposal of a team member, and don’t have the resources to ensure a proper test. Give the team member a test environment to work with internally and use the results of the simulation, whether that be a closed network meeting, a survey of the contended parties, or a role play within the office, to decide the eventual process. Again, this will keep your team motivated and involved. And nothing breeds respect for the boss and commitment to the company’s success like active engagement.

5) Make it clear: Every executive has a different modus operandi. Make it clear if your prescribed methods are the only way. The autocratic management style still exists in many executive suites and if it is the way you swear by, the least you can do to ensure follow-up and diligent conclusion is to make it clear from the start. Again, no guarantees of team loyalty laurels, but at least you ensure attracting the right kind of talent for your team. Rest assured there remain many today who will kowtow to your ideas and orders without the tiniest objection, so if obedient and hard working employees are your goal, make it clear.

    How to Find Engaging High-Tech Careers

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    AP Photo/dapd/Joerg Sarbach

    One of the long-held stereotypes of high-tech engineering jobs is that of a cave troll typing away in a basement cubicle, sacrificing personal time in order to hit impossible deadlines. This image extends to the large corporations that value productivity, obedience, diligence, and intellect above all else.

    Contrast this stereotype with the 21st century view of how to stimulate innovation in large corporations: passion, creativity, and initiative. According to Gary Hamel, these traits do not necessarily replace obedience, diligence, and intellect; they complement them.

    One of the logical conclusions of Innovate With Influence is that high-tech job seekers should place a high priority on finding employment at large, multi-national corporations. These types of companies have better potential to innovate on a global scale. The key word here is “potential”, because not all traditional corporations have crossed the chasm when it comes to implementing 21st century management techniques for their global employee base.

    When interviewing for a high-tech position, you would do well to uncover how far your potential employer has come in the practice of stimulating employee initiative. Keep in mind that when you speak with a corporate representative (e.g. someone in Human Resources), they will likely present a rosy view. They may claim that employees are encouraged to take initiative. They may highlight real examples of employee passion and creativity.

    Focus your line of questioning on your potential boss and co-workers instead.

    Realistically you are looking for the following type of answer:

    “Deadlines and productivity are a big part of what we do around here, but initiative plus productivity is prized above all else”.

    Corporations need productive employees to generate revenue. They also need creative employees that take the initiative to guide their teams into the future while simultaneously delivering upon their commitments. There are two lines of questioning that will help you assess the culture of your potential new team.

    Question the manager. Fully understand the product, the deadlines, and the revenue levels of his or her group. Follow up with questions about initiative: How do your direct reports show initiative? What are they working on? How do you specifically encourage them to take initiative?

    Question the direct reports. Do they work on anything else besides the product that they are responsible for? How specifically does their manager, and their corporation, encourage initiative?

    I work for a large, multi-national corporation (EMC) that is currently in the midst of a shift to a 21st century management style. My company sponsors global idea contests for all employees. I am also starting to see contests held within individual business units. Coding challenges are a part of the corporate experience. Knowledge transfer across geographies is emphasized. Employees and local universities are also encouraged to lecture on their area of expertise.

    Beware the answer that rings of “we work hard, all day, all the time”, and/or “we don’t have time for that stuff”. If you have your mind set on the practice of innovation, this particular company may not be the one for you.

    However, if you find ready answers to your questions, you have likely found a corporation that “gets it”. There’s a good chance that accepting a job offer will result in the opportunity to combine productivity and initiative.

    -Posted by Steve Todd, EMC Distinguished Engineer. Read more of Steve’s posts on careers in the tech field on his Innovate with Influence blog on Vault.

    Twitter: @SteveTodd

    EMC Intrapreneur

    Written by Phil Stott

    March 24, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Job Happiness Still Matters – Even in this Economy

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    What’s happiness got to do with finding a job? A fair question in an age where the career focus for many has shifted to the simple act of finding a salary, rather than a fulfilling position. But given the choice, most of us would choose to do something enriching rather than simply punch the clock in exchange for a paycheck, and it pays to keep higher ideals in mind when conducting any kind of search or career planning.

    Throughout 2009, the Happiness Project‘s Gretchen Rubin posted regular blogs on Slate–one of which I stumbled across today, and which touches on the concept of finding the ‘yes’ in any given situation.

    The central conceit of the post concerns learning a life lesson from actors: when they’re given a scene with a negative event—for example a fight with a partner, or an argument with a boss—they have to figure out what’s motivating their character to stay there and continue the scene, rather than walking out on it. In other words, they’re “finding the yes.” Taking that approach, says Rubin, is one way to avoid dwelling on the negative aspects of a situation in your life. Sure, you might be miserable at work, but there are probably reasons that are keeping you there.

    The obvious corollary to Rubin’s point is that sometimes the “no’s” of any given situation greatly outweigh the “yes” moments. Compare, for example, a situation in which you hate your colleagues but love the experiences you’re gaining at work to one in which you hate the type of work you do, but continue showing up to collect a paycheck because you’ve got a mortgage to pay. In each of those cases, there’s a “yes” to balance out each “no,” and therefore an understandable reason to continue showing up at work—especially in the current economic climate. But as far as career happiness goes, only one of those situations has any kind of payoff that would tempt most people to continue in the position if another opportunity presented itself elsewhere.

    As I suggested in the opening paragraph, the act of finding a job has of late become little more than that for many people. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that the “any port in a storm” mentality can have serious career repercussions further down the line. To stretch the metaphor a little, when the storm abates, you don’t want to find yourself in a port with no route—or an incredibly long one—back to where you’d like to be. While times may be tough, then, keeping an eye on the happiness quotient in your professional life is still an activity worth pursuing.

    How the Job Search is Like Dating

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    Wouldn’t it be pretty cool if a career fair was more like a singles bar; where you could cozy on up to a prospective employer late at night and make your move? You know how the saying goes – “Drink ‘Til He/She’s Hirable.” Talk about an uncomfortable morning that would be when you showed up to work and your employer realized a mistake was made.

    All kidding aside, Susan Adams over at recently posted an article Why Job-Seeking Is Just Like Dating and it made me think about my own job search and the parallels it had to finding the right girlfriend.

    Slip out the back, Jack

    Back when I was a reporter, I had completed my seventh year at the paper (what we would call the Seven-Year Itch in relationship terms), and I began finding other jobs to be more attractive. The way they looked in those slinky outfits, almost calling out to me, while my current job was just there, no longer willing to give back; always claiming they had a headache when I asked for a raise.

    And so, I began looking elsewhere.

    Head on over to for the rest of this article on How the Job Search is Like Dating. (Hint: There are some Paul Simon lyrics involved.)

    –Posted by Jon Minners, Communications Manager,

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