The Year Without Pants: Part I

In our blog post a few weeks ago, I talked about the book I’m reading, The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun.  I’m a few chapters in and it’s already a really interesting read about company culture, how we work, and how we think about our work.    Here’s what I’ve found particularly fascinating so far…

Customer Service: The Happiness Team

  • WordPress.com calls their customer support team “Happiness” and it’s employees “Happiness engineers.” The author admits that he began working for the company he was suspicious: can you change the reality of an onerous job and often overlooked team by changing a name?   All employees begin their tenure at WordPress with a few day stint in customer support (i.e. Happiness Team).   It puts employees on the front line, responding to customers, and learning the intricacies of their company.
  • The Happiness Team analyzed not only the types of problems coming in to them, but data around ticket numbers, response time and the experience of the customer when they submitted a ticket.  They strategically changed the process by which customers submit issues so that it sets a tone of responsiveness as opposed to interrogation.  They ask each customer, “What did you do?” “What did you see?”  and “What did you expect?” in order to gather the most information.  This thoughtful approach to the process and content of customer service, beyond just providing “good” customer service in terms of response time and problem solving, was very interesting.
  • They also analyze the success of new employees in the support role as data showed that it was an indicator of future performance.
  • The performance dashboard of each support team employee can be seen by all others, instilling a sense of healthy competition, importance, and accountability.

Management Trends: Fads Must Fit

  • “Every year new trends in work become popular in spite of their futility for most organizations that try them.  These trends are often touted as revolutions and frequently are identified  with a high-profile company of the day. Concepts like casual Fridays, brainstorming sessions, Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, matrixed organizations, or event 20% time (Google’s policy of supporting pet projects) are management ideas that become popular in huge waves, heralded as silver bullets for workplaces. The promise of a trend is grand, but the result never is.  Rarely do the consultants championing, and profiting from, these ideas disclose how superficial the results will be unless their places in a culture healthy enough to support them” (p. 29).  Read: We all can’t recreate the Google headquarters, nor should we.
  • It’s easier to utilize the latest trend in company culture than to honestly examine and attempt to change company culture.
  • In the case of WordPress, it was founded based on the principle of open source programming to “democratize publishing.” As a growing start up, this tended to attract like-minded individuals with shared values.  Their philosophy eventually distilled down to Transparency, Meritocracy, and Longevity.
  • “Talent is hard to find, especially at new organizations, which allows leaders to justify rushing to hire people who are selfish, arrogant, or combative” (p. 36). Hiring for immediate needs creates problems in the future.
  • Even their employment offer letters are non-traditional examples of the culture, values, and ideals of the company. They come across as more of an inspirational mantra or manifesto than an offer of employment.

These are just a few tidbits… stay tuned for more blog posts as I read on.  I haven’t even covered HOW employees at WordPress do their work yet (only 1% of their work is via email)!

Questions that have arisen for me as I read have been: How do you change a negative company culture? How do you hire for culture?  How do you know which management trends (read: fads) will work for your company/organization?  What is the role of team culture vs. company culture?

Interested in reading it on your own? http://scottberkun.com/yearwithoutpants/

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Back to Basics

Last week was a very exciting one for the Webinar Program!  A new record was broken, with 955 registrants signed up for a single session (pause for reaction).

What content could draw in so many alums, you ask?  ”Resumes, Interviewing, and the World of Work,” with local staffing agency CEO Robb Mulberger (Parent’13), author of The Ultimate Job-Seeker’s Guide.  We can see why Robb’s webinar received so much attention since it’s hard to encounter someone who DOESN’T need advice in either of those three categories! I am pleased to say that Robb did not disappoint.  With 40 years of experience in the staffing world, Robb had a plethora of insights that I believe every professional should be aware of during their job search.

Below were some of my favorite presentation points.  You may think they are obvious, but when you are in the rush of working a full time job and preparing to find another, it is amazing what can be overlooked.  For Robb’s entire presentation, visit our YouTube channel.

Sarah’s Favorite Insights:

1. Resumes are screened by people who in a minute or less put them in to three piles: Yes, No, and Maybe.  You get in the yes pile by succinctly stating what your skills are and how you will use them to help the potential employer.  Leave out the frills and DOUBLE CHECK SPELLING/GRAMMAR!!

2. You need to write and rehearse an opening statement you will find a way to inject in to the first few minutes of every interview.  Whether you are or aren’t looking for a new job, you should always be crafting your personal story.  Thus, it should be very easy for you to create an opening statement with a theme that you can circle back to throughout your interview.  It’s all about continuity of the brand!

3. Research the organization.  Not only should you not arrive to an interview ill prepared, but you should think outside the box.  Research the company AND its competitors.  Read not only the latest article found on your Google search, but the ones from further back.  If you are interviewing at, say, Georgetown University, you better know about the McCourt gift! Search buzz words and values that you believe align with the company, and feel comfortable speaking to each of them.  Find EVERY interviewer and their superiors on LinkedIn and see if there is any kind of common ground you can bring up during your conversation.  Alumni always come and tell me about candidates who were not well versed on the company/industry prior to an interview, and they are offended by the lack of attention to detail.

4. Job security resides in skill sets.  Hard skills: Technical/software knowledge, basic business principles, and oral/written communication skils.  Soft skills:  Problem solving abilities, people skills, and a general curiosity to realize solutions.  How do you build competitive skills?  Never stop learning.  Always be on the lookout for opportunities to increase your knowledge in a specialty area so you can continue to build out your resume and add to your professional story.  If continuing your education in a classroom setting is not an option for you, realize that there are plenty of other opportunities to hone hard and soft skills.  Take advantage of networking events, webinars/seminars, and professional conferences, especially if your employer will foot the bill.  If your current job is not helping you sharpen the skills you desire, find volunteering opportunities that focus on your areas of interest.  

5. Lose the dark tinted glasses or cell ear piece.  KIDDING! I know none of you would even think about wearing either one of those items to an interview.

Pitch Perfect

The elevator pitch. Your matchbox statement. Your tagline. Your brand. 
When I think of these I think of something rehearsed and awkward sounding.  Like a kid playing grown up.  Like creating a headline for an online dating site.  Gimicky.  Salesy.

An elevator speech doesn’t have to be a series of contrived, memorized sentences.  If you do some thinking in advance about your personal brand and professional experiences it may not feel so awkward.   An elevator pitch is rarely one sided – it’s part of a conversation – so don’t make it feel like a monologue.

Here are some tips to consider: 

1.  Keep your audience in mind.   Are you talking to an investor?  Fellow alum?  Potential employer?  Friend of a friend? Your company CEO? This will not only change the content but the tone of your elevator pitch… from formal to friendly, from focused to familiar.

2.  It will change over time.  While you may have your standard elevator pitch in mind, also spice it up with some recent highlights or developments (and some of those developments may be episodic or over time). Did you just surpass a goal? Host a recent event? Attend a conference? Complete an educational endeavor?  Travel for professional purposes? Has your company grown significantly in the past 18-24 months?

3.  Have a few different versions.   This goes back a bit to #1.  If you run into your boss or boss’s boss in the elevator your elevator speech is probably going to be more about some recent happenings in your area.  In this case you may want to mention some of the headlines in your work as of late.  Did you just launch a new program or product?  Did your team just pass a significant milestone?

4.  What makes you/your work/your company unique? How do you stand out from the competition? What is the compilation of key attributes that make you different from people in a similar role or with a similar background?

5.  Be interesting.  In other words, if someone says “what’s new?” have an answer.  What’s the most exciting part of your work?  What is your proudest accomplishment?  What project have you been working on most recently? Sometimes your personal and professional brands collide.  In a networking environment, preliminary talk often lead to conversations about what connects us – hobbies, interests, activities.  Those are just as much a part of your personal brand.

Check out this great article from FastCompany about The Problem With Your Elevator Pitch and How to Fix It.

Top 10 Interview Tips

The biggest downfall of interviews:  assuming that because you are a “people person” you don’t need to practice.  While you may be the life of the party, natural networker, or social butterfly, it doesn’t mean that you can necessary ace the interview. The fact is, most of us aren’t comfortable talking about ourselves and our accomplishments, much less in a clear and succinct way.  Start your interview prep with identifying your top 3 strengths and 3 specific examples of each.  This will get you started and most interview questions will come back to those strengths and examples.

There is a ton of information out there on interviewing here are our top 10 tips:

1.  Sharpen your pencils.  Just like when you had to bring 5 #2 pencils to the SAT’s, make sure you have everything you need and know where you are going.  Do a dry run to check out the parking situation and see how long it takes to get there.  Bring a pen, paper, tissues, mints, a snack, extra copies of your resume and cover letter, and a bottle of water.

2.  Research.  While this is an obvious one, we can’t reiterate it enough!  And we’re not just talking about googling.  Find connections in your network (hint: fellow Hoyas) to talk to about company culture.  Look at industry trends, recent news, their competitors.  Take your research a step further by a) integrating your research into the interview and b) asking questions based on your research. Bonus points for researching your interviewer(s) in advance. Note: It’s not a good idea to connect with those interviewers on LinkedIn until you get an offer.

3.  EVERYONE is part of the interview process.  From the person who schedules your interview to the receptionist who greets you, to the hiring committee, your interview starts as soon as you begin correspondence with a company or organization.  The content and timing of emails, responsiveness to phone calls, and how you treat employees when you actually get to the interview all count in the process.

4.  The hardest question:  Tell me about yourself.  This question is inevitable so make sure you nail it.  I’ve done alot of mock interviews in my career and hands down this is the question that most people not only don’t nail but flub miserably. This is your open-ended chance to talk about whatever you want – take advantage of it.  It frames your entire interview. Keep in professional in nature and choose a few most relevant highlights.

5.  Respond in bullet points.  You have 30-60 minutes to discuss the highlights of your educational and professional background.  That’s alot to encapsulate and alot for your interviewer to take in. Make it easy for them by breaking down your answers into succinct pieces of information and examples.  Keep your answers clear, concise, and linear by enumerating where possible.

6. First impressions count.  According to Forbes, you have 7 seconds to make a first impression.  The first 5 minutes of your interview are the most critical.  People want to hire employees who are smart but who are also enthusiastic and that they like. It’s human nature.

7.  Ask for business cards – it sends a signal that you want to follow up and are invested in the process.  And yes, a thank you note is critical.  My personal preference is to send an email thank you within 24 hours of your interview.  If you have multiple interviewers, send separate, unique emails.   While a written note is great, the time to write, send, and mail may leave your interviewer assuming you didn’t send one.  In a world where decisions can be made quickly, timing is everything. Make your thank you note substantive too – chances are each interviewer will forward to the hiring manager.  If you are a traditionalist, feel free to send a handwritten note in addition to the email but make sure you use professional stationary and the content is not identical.

8. Ask about the interviewer’s experience.  Everyone likes to tell their story.

9.  Bring examples.  Do you have examples of marketing pieces you put together, annual reports you have compiled, anything tangible that represents your work? If so, use them as props to supplement your answers during the interview.  It will make you stand out from the competition.

9.  Finally… breathe.  When asked a question, don’t be afraid to take a moment to collect your thoughts.

We all get so wrapped up in the competitive nature of the job search that sometimes we need to take a step back and remember that interviewing is a two way street. You want to use your interview as an opportunity to determine if this is the right company and job for you too.   It’s not all about them!

We love this infographic on interviewing as a little reminder to hang on your mirror before the big day!  (source: http://visual.ly/what-you-wish-youd-known-your-job-interview)

We want to know – what questions do you have about interviewing? 

Urban Dictionary: Workplace Edition

We love hearing new office lingo and office buzzwords.  Every company seems to have it’s own set of office language and, as annoying as we think those terms are, they seep into our brain like a song we can’t get out of our head. The moment you find yourself using them without thinking twice you know you have officially “drank the koolaid” as they say.  While, out of context, workplace jargon may sound like an SNL skit, knowing your workplace vernacular can be an important part of understanding your company’s culture.  The problem with office lingo is when it becomes so overused that the jargon lacks action or meaning.

Here are some of our favorites!  Tell us yours!

There there:
In a sentence: “What’s the there there?”
Translation: What’s the point? What’s the goal?  Although, everyone seems to have a hard time defining this one or knowing where it even came from.  For more answers, Google “there there and Gertrude Stein.”

Pressure Test:
“We can pressure test that idea in our next leadership meeting.”
Translation: Let’s see if this is really a good idea or not.

Strawman:
“Write up a strawman for us to discuss so we have something to react to.”
Translation: You do the work first and then I’ll tell you what I think.

White paper:
“Give me a white paper on that.”
Translation: I’m going to see how serious you are about your idea by telling you to put it on paper.

Put a pin in it:
“Let’s put a pin in that and come back to it.”
Translation:  I don’t feel like talking about that right now.

Unpack:
“Can we take a minute to unpack that idea further?”
Translation: Pump the brakes buddy, we need to talk about that more.

Offline:
“Let’s take this conversation offline.”
Translation: I don’t want witnesses to our either extremely granular and boring or super controversial side bar commentary.

Bandwidth:
“I”m concerned about the bandwidth of my team with all of the upcoming additions to our calendar.”
Translation:  We’re overworked, probably underpaid, and we need more staff.

Ping:
“I’ll ping the sales team for the numbers they promised us.”
Translation: Get in touch, reach out.

Circle the Wagons:
“Let’s circle the wagons to make sure we’re all on the same page for tonight’s program.”
Translation: Huddle up.

Boil the Ocean:
“We’re not trying to boil the ocean here.”
Translation:  We’re not trying to do the impossible. Alternately, it can mean wasting time.

Parking Lot:
“Let’s put that idea in the parking lot for right now.”
Translation: See “put a pin in it”

Swim Lane:
“Data analytics isn’t in my swim lane.”
Translation:  Not my problem, not my area.

Water Through the Pipes:
“Let’s put some water through the pipes on this and see what people think.”
Translation: Where are the leaks/issues? See “pressure test.”