November 30, 2004
Being Nice Pays Off
Last night, I listened to Stephen Sills speak to a class of MBA students. Sills has had an impressive run in the insurance business. He founded a company called Executive Risk and built it up to 500 employees, at which time it was acquired by Chubb Insurance, one of the nation’s larger insurance companies. Having made a boatload of money from the sale, Sills tried retirement -- got a personal trainer and tried doing yoga, as he put it.
But it wasn’t long before Sills got the itch to go back to work in insurance. So in 2003, he started yet another company, Darwin Professional Underwriters Inc., which is now in rapid growth mode. Scores of employees that worked with Sills at Executive Risk are now with him at Darwin.
Sills spoke repeatedly about the great deal of emphasis on hiring people he feels good about. When you think about it, insurance is probably one of those industries where your employees really are your most important assets. After all, you’re not going out there and buying a lot of big machines.
Sills said he looks for three things in a new employee: intelligence, a good work ethic and kindness. What I found interesting, though, is that time and time again, he kept coming back to the third point -- the importance of hiring kind people, people who were “decent” and “did the right thing.” He said he wanted to hire the people that held doors for one another in the hallway.
I was taken by the fact that in an industry as old and established as insurance -- one that isn’t particularly known as a bastion for warm and fuzzy folks – this CEO still put so much emphasis on hiring people that he felt were decent human beings.
It’s a hopeful message for those of us who sometimes feel like only the mean survive.
November 29, 2004
Office Gift-Giving Etiquette
Like many of you, I woke up early last Friday to hit the stores hard. I'm not so devoted that I was there when the stores opened at 5 a.m., 6 a.m. or whatever horrific hour, but I was up bright and early for me. And I can happily say I'm just about done with buying presents for the 2004 holidays.
It seems like the retailers are pretty happy about it, too. According to DMNews, "ShopperTrak reported sales totaling $8 billion for November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, up 10.8 percent from the same day last year. Visa USA said sales on Visa credit and debit cards surpassed $4.1 billion the day after Thanksgiving, a 15.5 percent gain from last year." Yay capitalism!
Now that many of us are back in the office, I figured it would be a good time to look at workplace gift-giving etiquette. You don't want to offend anyone or miss a chance to get in a certain coworker's (or boss's) good graces.
This article from Mannersmith Monthly offers 10 guidelines for work-related gift giving:
- Know the person's preferences and try to match the gift.
- Be aware of cultural, religious or international taboos. Also be aware that some companies restrict their employees from accepting a gift over a certain amount.
- Use your common sense, no matter what the salesperson or Web site says is appropriate.
- Save the gag gifts for purely social occasions, and even then, proceed with caution.
- Save items with your company name on them for marketing campaigns.
- For business, select a gift that reflects your business and your image.
- A gift for the client's office can bring greater goodwill, especially if the staff participates in projects for your business.
- Wrap the gift. Half of the thought is the presentation.
- If you need some gift hints for a client, speak to his/her assistant.
- Start planning in advance. For extra help, contact a professional gift manager.
And this Ladies' Home Journal piece offers some dos and don'ts, including that it is good to give food -- "Nourishment has mass appeal, and it doesn't have to be a box of chocolates. A gift card for the local gourmet coffee shop can also feed someone's fancy" -- and bad to give perfume or cologne -- "Even if you know what the person wears, this is still the realm of spouses and dates. Ditto for themed boxers and socks: just don't."
If you have colleagues around the world, our article on international gift giving may also be helpful.
November 24, 2004
It’s almost turkey time. Have you given your thanks to the underappreciated people in your life? While some like to think of Thanksgiving as an appetizer for the month-long frenzy known as the holidays, I like to think of this time as a standalone moment of reflection. This year, I’m giving thanks to those of us who truly face life-or-death situations while just doing their job.
Every year while I was in grade school overseas, my class would collectively pack a care package to send to army and marine soldiers. Some of us would bake cookies, some would bring toothpaste, and others would contribute new socks. While at the time this tradition wasn’t affiliated with Thanksgiving, this year I’d like to reinstate it as my holiday ritual.
With security issues running amuck, such care packages as the ones my classmates and I created for soldiers we didn’t know are not currently accepted by the US Army. But there are a few goodies you can send to give thanks, as suggested by Operation Truth, an organization created by US Army veterans. A recent blog entry on the organization’s site titled "So You Wanna Help" lists a number of ways you can say thanks for the much underappreciated jobs of the men and women fighting in Iraq. If you’d like to hear stories from the front lines from the eyes and ears of those fighting the war, check out more blog entries at Optruth.org.
For instance, you can donate a calling card to keep service members in touch with their families. Or, if you would still like to send a care package to soldiers (even if you do not personally know any), you can send it through this service, which will ensure that they safely get delivered to soldiers who don’t already get mail. If you can’t afford to donate much other than a thought, you can send our troops a thank-you note via email.
Have a happy Thanksgiving -- and thanks for reading our blog!
November 23, 2004
Great Interview, Great Employee?
As the person responsible for Monster’s Interview Center, I’ve written and read plenty about interviewing. In addition to the scores of articles I see, I get hundreds of emails from job seekers with questions, insights and complaints. Frankly, after a while, it feels as though you’ve seen them all before; the wording is just a bit different from one to the next.
But last week I happened upon one of the most interesting articles I’ve ever read on the topic of interviewing. It appeared in the New Yorker in May 2000, but you can access it through the author’s Web site. The article, titled The New-Boy Network, describes how inaccurate and inexact interviewing can be in determining whether someone will be a good employee.
The article’s author, Malcolm Gladwell, writes about how impressions are formed within seconds, and those impressions aren’t necessarily based on anything to do with competency or ability. As Gladwell puts it, “The interview is hopelessly biased in favor of the nice.”
It’s a long article but well worth the read, in the opinion of a guy who has read plenty of articles about interviewing.
November 22, 2004
Welcome to the Family, Defense Tech
The Monster Blog has been trucking along for almost a year (our birthday is in December). Rebecca made a great start, and now with five contributors, we're still finding our voices and defining our goals as the world and the world of work continue to change.
One recent change here is our new relationship with Defense Tech, which Forbes calls "a leading Web log...for information and analysis on the future of the military, law enforcement and homeland defense."
Christopher Michel, founder and president of Military Advantage, which joined the Monster family last March, said: "The addition of Defense Tech enables us to provide unique insight into the developments that impact homeland security, military operations, law enforcement and the everyday lives of those in uniform. Defense Tech makes sense of today's rapidly changing technology environment, distills the critical issues and identifies the most meaningful trends. Today, we see unprecedented interest in these topics from the general public as well as from defense and national security professionals."
There are a few things I like about this new addition to Monster. First, it's nice to have another blog on our side as well as another journalist. Noah Shachtman started Defense Tech in January 2003, and I look forward to picking his brain for blog tips and discussing the role of blogs in American journalism. He should definitely have some opinions on this as he also writes for the New York Times, Wired magazine, and The American Prospect Online.
Next is the effect homeland security and its accompanying technology have on the job landscape. According to our article by John Rossheim, the security industry supports about 140,000 jobs, and security spending is growing. We all know what that can mean for job seekers.
So welcome, Noah and Defense Tech. Looking forward to working with you.
November 19, 2004
I Prefer the Office
I read an interesting article this week about someone who left the 9-to-5 routine to work for herself as a freelance writer, mostly because she hated working in an office. I immediately zapped it off to a blog-writing friend who had recently gone down the same path. He’s doing well and enjoying himself, and feels it was the right decision after several years of working at a daily newspaper.
Hearing these stories made me think about my own work-from-home gig a few years ago. There are many pros and cons to such a situation. I hated it. Let me tell you why.
For one thing, like every job I’ve ever had, this one was very deadline-intensive. I tend to put in superhuman effort to meet deadlines and do it well, so thinking about what was due would wake me up at 2 a.m. -- with my office down the end of the hall and all. At times when I was really against a tight deadline, I’d even get up and work. And that’s not all. My husband would often call me for dinner (I’m lucky enough to have one who cooks) to find me working away into the night. And I frequently wouldn’t take lunch until 4 p.m., because without the often-welcome distraction of the office klatch, I’d become so wrapped up in my work that I’d honestly forget to eat. Breaks are important during the day, but without someone bugging you to take one, how many of us would?
I had to quit for my own sanity. It was all a job’s bad points without the things that make work life bearable. I need people around me while I work. I’ve got to physically leave my home and go somewhere different to create the psychological barrier between work and my personal life. While the article that started this walk down memory lane makes many good points about the drawbacks of working in an office, I still prefer it to the burnout and feelings of work/life imbalance I felt working at home. Every now and again, if the New England winter makes it a slippery slope to try to come in or I need a car repair, I will work at home, but I wouldn’t want to make it a habit.
November 18, 2004
I am constantly worried about my career. I don’t know why -- I’m sure there’s a deep-seated reason I can probably track back to being picked on as a child or something -- but I’m always thinking about what I should be doing to get to the next step. I have always been under the assumption that the more experience I get, the better off I’d be. That was until I went to yesterday’s department meeting.
A lot of the producers here get emails from job seekers 50 and older with real issues finding a job. They have everything you’d think would be an asset to an employer -- work and life experience, as well as proven skills and results -- but instead of being the first choice, they are often overlooked for positions.
This is pretty scary when you think of all the Social Security and 401K issues this country has been having and that there's a pretty good chance we will all need to work longer than previous generations.
Some companies are stepping up to the plate, such as Home Depot, to offer older workers a place they can feel comfortable. But not everyone, myself included, can work at a home-improvement store. Many of these workers will even take a pay cut to ensure their family a steady salary and respectable health plan.
Some resume and interview tips can help older workers improve their chances-- yet this issue will not be settled by forcing older workers to fake youth.
In 2005, 20 percent of American workers will be older than 55, and it’s up to the companies in this country to find value in the experience these workers offer and create programs to accommodate them. Let’s face it -- we will all be old someday, and the last thing you’ll want is someone like me teaching you how to tile your floor.
November 17, 2004
Is Playing On the Job OK?
Our office environment is...unique. We have pool and ping-pong tables in our "Monster Den." Yes, we do get work done, but we like to sometimes pretend we are in preschool. Thad hides random things like debris-filled cake containers in my work space. I've learned to keep my coffee cup far removed from my keyboard, in constant anticipation of flying candy coming my way. I even got hit with a wayward hackey sack once.
I always thought this behavior was just a Monster thing, but I have a few friends who work at other companies that share this playful work experience. I was once on the phone with a friend working at a consulting firm when I heard a huge thump. He had to go, because someone just one-upped him at a paper-clip fight.
As long as nobody gets hurt, everyone involved is voluntarily playing and, of course, everyone gets their work done (and the company policy condones it), fooling around at work can be a good momentary destress or even keep one awake through the dreaded 3 P.M. slump. But when the games get in the way of your job, pranks can turn awry.
In July, for instance, seeming playfulness caused the country's leading nuclear weapons lab to shut down. Lab director Pete Nanos didn't think it was so funny when classified computer disks disappeared and a student got hit in the eye with a laser beam -- all within a week. "If you think the rules are silly, if you think compliance is a joke, please resign now and save me the trouble," said Nanos. (Check out other intriguing national-security-related daily information on DefenseTech.org.)
So what's the moral? Light, safe, invited and non-job-related fun is probably OK, granted that it abides by your company policy. But, say, hiding important company-related documents or doing something that could cause physical, moral or emotional harm is not. You dig?
November 16, 2004
The Accepted Addiction
Addictions ravage lives. I’ve always felt somewhat blessed I don’t have an addictive personality. Well…except for one thing. I am deeply entrenched in perhaps the most widespread, widely accepted (even encouraged) addictive behavior in the US: Coffee consumption.
Some people say they have one cup of coffee a day, maybe two. I don’t even count.
Brewing a batch is literally my first activity of the day. And thankfully, my employer provides free coffee to help sustain my habit through the workday.
Is there another addictive, borderline harmful behavior as accepted and promoted the way coffee drinking is? As you might expect, there’s an organization out there that exists solely to promote java, the National Coffee Association. This group reports that 166.6 million coffee drinkers raised their cups in the US in 2003. And a staggering 2.5 billion pounds of coffee were roasted in the US last year. My math has that working out to about nine pounds for every man, woman and child in this country.
Johns Hopkins researchers recently released results of a study that showed that when coffee addicts tried to quit drinking the stuff, they can get headaches or have difficulty concentrating. In severe cases, people experience bouts of depression and flu-like illness, including nausea, vomiting and muscle pain.
A serious drinker finds quitting coffee no easy feat. No doubt about it, coffee is a big-time addiction. Can’t you just imagine class-action lawsuits against Folgers and Starbucks five years down the road -- plaintiffs asking for compensation for millions of hours of lost sleep?
Oh well, just some thoughts about my workplace addiction. I’ll stop now; I have to go pour another cup.
November 15, 2004
Speak Simply to Impress
You know these people, you’ve been in meetings with these people, and heck, you may even be one of these people. I’m talking about the folks who read up on something, find a meaningless term or two and then use it to puff up themselves or what they do.
If you are one of those people, Heath Row dug up a neat little tool that will help you commit your crimes against the English language for Fast Company’s blog. It’s Leslie Lee’s Web Economy BS Generator. Use it well, and please refrain from attending my meetings.
To everyone else: Simplicity is elegant. Clearly expressing yourself is the best way to get your point across. Don’t utilize when you can use, don’t pontificate when you can think, and don’t ever say “transform distributed infrastructures” or “redefine integrated bandwidth” (phrases courtesy of Lee’s little app). I’d like to think that those in the working world are getting smarter, and what you say will be more important than how you say it. Alas, many workers are impressed by multisyllabic words, even if they don’t mean anything at all.
"Some people use high-brow academic vocabulary words, where you have to almost build a sentence around the word. Then a lot of people give you a blank stare when you use it, and you have to explain what it means. That's not going to get you anywhere. You can be called out really easily if you use a word you're not comfortable using. You have to be really comfortable using a word and feel comfortable other people will understand it."