5 Secrets to Getting Promoted

The goal of any university’s career counseling centers is simple: ensure that students find a job after graduation.  But what happens after students get that first job?  What do they need to do to next?

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Thank goodness the first company I worked for had a week-long orientation for new hires in order to help set us up for success once we started work.  Yet, despite the 40+ hours of training I sat through that week, the most valuable training I received came to me at the happy hour at the end of the week.  One of the managers gathered a handful of new hires around him to tell us exactly what we would need to do to move up in the company.

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How to find a mentor

Mentorship has been popping up in my life a lot lately.  In the past two weeks, I’ve attended the 10-year anniversary for Stanford’s alumni-student mentoring program, met with my own mentor of 16 years, had dinner with my mentee of 6 years, and volunteered to be a mentor at UC Berkeley’s Women Empowerment Day.

It was at that last event that one of the young women asked a great question:  In the absence of formal mentoring programs, how do I find a mentor?

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One key decision-making mistake to avoid

This is a public service announcement, courtesy of  my long-time friend to whom I dedicated this blog, Winnie.

“You should never have major conversations or make major decisions after midnight.”

Such a simple statement.  And such a great piece of wisdom.

Most people recognize that we shouldn’t make decisions when we’re drunk.  Duh.  Our judgment is impaired.  Yet it’s incredible how many of us will have no qualms about making major decisions at other times where our judgment may be just as impaired, such as when we need sleep.  Research has shown that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.  It may be even more dangerous because people don’t even realize how dangerous it is, so they’re more likely to actually do it.  It’s about time we recognize the dangers of being drowsy.

Just say no to sleep deprived decisions.

Think about it.  When have you made a major decision at 2am?  In college, Winnie decided to cut her own bangs at some ungodly hour that only college students see on a regular basis.  Just because she felt like she needed to change her look.  You can imagine how she felt about that decision the following morning.  And for the six months it took to grow her bangs back out.  Amazing thing is, this happened three different times in her college career.  And they were all bad decisions.

Two years ago I thought I found the perfect apartment, which was big enough for my then boyfriend (now fiance) to move into whenever he felt ready.  I wanted him to weigh in on the decision, but we were both so crazy busy with work that the only time I could catch him was after midnight.  And what came of those conversations we had late at night about that apartment and the prospect of living together?  Nothing.  He was too tired to think straight.  What happened when we had the same conversation during daylight hours?  He realized that it was silly for me to move into my own apartment just seven blocks away from where he lived, so he decided to move in with me.  It’s amazing how clear a little bit of sleep can make your mind.

So today (or tonight), I’m asking you to join me in taking this pledge: It can wait until morning.

Because it can.  Really.  There’s a reason they say, “Sleep on it.”

It’s always darkest before the dawn

“Hi Michelle.  I’m calling you about the Operations Manager position you interviewed for.”

Finally.  The call I was waiting for.  

I was very specific about the type of job I wanted after grad school.  I wanted to manage operations for a network of charter schools.  In the bay area.  Of which there were only five.

My top choice employer was on a hiring freeze.  One didn’t want someone with their MBA.  Two of the five were not growing.  And after three months of searching, I was in the final round at the last organization where I had a chance to get the job I wanted.  I thought I had done well in the interviews, but when I answered the phone, something was off in the hiring manager’s voice. Continue reading

Move your story forward

“No one wants to read a book about how the protagonist sat around thinking about all the things she wanted to do.”

My friend was talking about a recent revelation she had after analyzing a number of fiction best-sellers.

The audience wants to see the characters take action.  Action produces conflict.  Conflict is exciting.  Conflict helps characters develop.  It offers the opportunity to triumph.

 

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She was right.  And she was taking her lesson to the streets.  She decided to act like the protagonist she would want to read about in the story of her life.  While on a run, she passed by Boudin’s (the San Francisco bakery famous for its sourdough) and thought that it’d be cool to learn how to make bread.  But instead of just letting that thought sit as she continued her run, she went inside to find the master baker.  She took a risk, took action.  Now, don’t you want to turn the page and find out what happens next?

The rest of her story is hers to tell someday, but she presents a valuable lesson.

How do you want the story of your life to read?  Will it be safe, but with many regrets about what might have been?  Or will it be full of risk-taking, mistakes, and interesting lessons?

What type of protagonist do you want to be?  Will you sit around and wait for your fairy godmother to come grant your wish?  Or will you venture out and seek out what you want?

What will be your greatest challenge or conflict?  What will your triumph look like?  How will that feel?

And most importantly, what action will you take right now to drive your story forward?

Sometimes you should take the leap

Special: New Zealand from the West Coast for $450. Roundtrip.

It was the day before graduation.  I hadn’t found a job yet.  I had planned for that, and had some money saved up to last me at least through the summer.  I even had set aside $600 for travel.  Figured I’d go visit my roommate in Mexico.

Or I could go to New Zealand.  For a fare that would usually get me halfway across the country, I could go halfway around the world!

But what about finding a job?  I had just submitted some job applications, and was in the middle of doing a lot of informational interviewing.  Wouldn’t it be reckless to just up and go to New Zealand? Continue reading

Universally useful skills that you should develop

“Knowing what you know now about the skills required to do your job, what would you advise students to learn while they are still in school?”

I was at an alumni-student networking event geared toward humanities and science majors who were interested in careers in the public service sector.  Most of the other people in the room had studied things like psychology, history, biology, and literature.  I felt a little out of place, as the lone engineering alum in the room, but I had come as a representative from industries that do hire humanities majors.

I’m used to answering this question for students interested in pursuing a career in the fields in which I have experience, consulting, marketing, general management, and non-profit.  However, there were students at my table who were interested in paths I had no experience in, like healthcare and research.  I quickly tried to think of an answer that would be relevant to this particular audience.  The next alum to speak, agreed wholeheartedly that the skills I mentioned were extremely useful in her daily work.  This surprised me, as her work as a mental health counselor is very different from what I do on a daily basis as an operations manager.  Maybe I really had hit on some universally useful skills.  Here is what I had told the audience.

There are a handful of skills that have served me well throughout the different jobs I’ve held in the past 10 years:

Listen to what people need.  Dig for the issues that really matter.  Know how to break big things into smaller manageable pieces.  Be able to communicate with people outside of your peer group.

 

These are some of the basic blocks of problem solving.  No matter where you go, nor matter what you do, you will encounter problems.  And at some point in time, someone will look to you to solve them.  Regardless of what type of problem it is, taking the time to hone these skills will help you in your career.

Listen to what people need.  Most of the time, you will need perspectives other than your own to comprehensively evaluate a situation.  Talk to others to view the problem from multiple different angles.  What are the pain points they face?  Solutions are of no use if the don’t address actual needs felt by the people involved.

Dig for the issues that really matter.  My college advisor once told me, “What people say they want and what they actually need are not necessarily the same thing.”  Often it’s because it’s impossible to give everyone what they want.  But it’s much more feasible to get most people what they need.  Zoom in on what’s really important.

Know how to break big things into smaller manageable pieces.  If the problem feels overwhelmingly large, it’s difficult to move forward.  Divide it into chunks.  The pieces will be easier to tackle, because you can either take them on one at a time by yourself or delegate them out to others.

Be able to communicate with people outside of your peer group.  More specifically, learn to communicate with the folks two levels above you.  There will be times when you will seek their input, approval, and/or recognition, and you will need to present your case clearly and concisely.

How to impress your boss

Shortly after I started working, someone gave me one of the most useful pieces of advice I received early on in my career:

If you really want to please your boss, make their job easier.

Being recognized as a good employee takes more than just working hard and doing what you’re asked.  This became especially clear to me when I became and manager and had different kinds of people reporting to me.  As your manager, my job is to provide you with the guidance and resources you need to produce quality work, which I am ultimately responsible for.  Sure, you could be a hard worker. 

But if I have to expend a lot of time, effort, and extra thought to get you to do the job I need you to do, you can be a pain to manage.

So, how do you become the worker that is pleasant to manage?  There are a few things you can do.

Save them time.   Do you have regular check-in meetings?  Come with an agenda.  Have a lot of questions?  Consolidate them into a list and get them answered all at once instead of peppering your boss with questions throughout the day.  If you’re accompanying them to a meeting, offer to take notes.  Record major points made, key questions raised, and next steps, then send them your notes.  Your boss is a busy person, and they will appreciate your organization and efficiency.

Tell them what you need.  Your boss is ultimately responsible for the quality and completeness of your work.  If you aren’t making adequate progress, identify what’s holding you up.  You could need more clarification, guidance, training, input, feedback, or a decision?  It’s better to proactively ask for what you need than to leave them wondering why you haven’t gotten the job done.

Come with an answer.  Where possible,offer a hypothesis and ask whether they agree instead of asking open-ended questions.  For example, “I think I should do x,y,z.  Do you agree?” is a lot easier to answer than “What should I do?”  By coming with a point of view, you relieve them from the burden of having to fully think through something from scratch.

Keep them in the loop.  If something has gone wrong, or if you think you won’t hit a deadline, raise the issue sooner rather than later.  Your boss will be a lot more forgiving when they have enough time to react to problems rather than when it’s too late to do anything.

Speaking from a manager’s point of view, if you are the employee who makes your boss’ job easy, you become the person they enjoy working with.  You are the one they always want on their team.  You are invaluable.  There’s a high likelihood that they will do what they can to keep you happy, so that they can keep you.  And that’s a good place to be.

The lie that keeps me up at night

This was the week I was supposed to catch up on sleep.

It’s Spring Break for Main Stacks, so there are no 8pm-midnight dance practices after I get home from my full-time job, and no 12+ hour competition day this weekend.  And yet, I’ve only woken up well rested one day this week.  What’s wrong with me?  Well, I’ve had trouble sleeping.

I’ve been accruing sleep debt for weeks now, my body is exhausted, and I’ve been perpetually sick for a month.  But there’s one sentence that prevents me from letting my body do what it’s supposed to do.  It has occupied my mind in the past, and I’m sure it has settled into your brain at some point, too.  It goes something like this:

I can’t sleep, I need to figure out how I’m going to meet that deadline tomorrow.

I can’t sleep, I need plan out everything I need to get done on Saturday.

I can’t [sleep, eat, exercise, or other action critical to maintaining health], I need to [do something that isn’t really as important].

It’s a big fat lie.  With every year that goes by, I’m learning that there are fewer and fewer things worth sacrificing sleep for.  Here’s why: Continue reading

Getting back into the swing of things

I haven’t written a post in a month.  It’s been on my to-do list, but it just hasn’t happened.  Why?  At first, it was because life got busy, in a wonderful way.  I spent an inspiring weekend making vision boards with my sister and cousin.  I got engaged.  I met up with friends from different parts of my life who I hadn’t seen in 2 – 12 years.  I started the spring competition season with my dance group.

Life is full of things I enjoy.  Writing this blog was another thing I had enjoyed.  Why had I put it off for so long?

Because inertia is a powerful thing.  For those of you who don’t remember Newton’s first law of motion, it basically says that something at rest will stay at rest and something in motion will stay in motion unless some force acts on it.


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