at the office

At the Office

Things to know.

Meetnapping: When you are forced to go to a useless meeting and sleep with your eyes open.

Applying for job.

Your cover letter, resume and references are your ticket [well, that in addition to education, experience and qualifications] to being seriously considered for a job opportunity. The adage ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’, is never more true than when an employer sees your application for the first time. The following are some tips to making a good first impression; tips that could set you apart and land you an interview.

Carefully review the call for applications. Ensure that you understand fully the qualifications necessary to be considered, the deadline to submit your interest, whether you can expect notification that you have been selected, or not, for an interview, and any special instructions, ie. how to submit your application; in person, by email, etc.

Find out to whom your application is to be directed. Do not simply address your cover letter ‘to whom it may concern’, ‘sir or madam’ or ‘hiring manager’. Unless, of course, you are directed to make your resume package to the attention of ‘the hiring committee’ or ‘hiring manager’. Take the time to address it directly and correctly. If you don’t, your interest does not appear genuine, nor do you leave the impression that you are attentive to detail.

Never, ever, ever, list a family member as a professional reference. If you have never worked for anyone outside of a family business, indicate this in your cover letter and offer up other persons with whom you have a professional or working relationship instead, ie. a teacher, a supplier you have dealt with many times professionally, a committee chair of an organization that you have volunteered for, etc. Your references should be able to provide an external, objective opinion of you. Family relationships are complex and far from impartial.

Check your spelling and grammar. And then, check it again. Take special care in spelling the name(s) of who you are addressing your cover letter to and make sure you spell the company name right! If you can’t get that right, your application will win a one way ticket through the shredding machine. This is a red flag to an employer. What would happen if you made that mistake in corresponding with an important client?

If you have had a long and varied career, limit the number of past employers you list on your resume to the most recent and relevant. A work history that lists ten employers in the last five years doesn’t show that you are a multi-faceted, versatile or loyal worker, it indicates instability and transience. If there are good reasons for your quick and varied working past, describe this carefully in your cover letter, but, still, don’t list them all unless you are confident that the information best represents you.

Never begin your resume with your personal interests and hobbies. An employer is seeking someone to work for them, not to go on a date. Start with your education, then work history, professional memberships/certifications and professional references. Somewhere before or after your references you can list your interests, hobbies and volunteer pursuits, but only if you feel that these are relevant to enhancing your position with a prospective employer.

Ensure that your resume is accurate, concise, easy to follow and free of superfluous information. It should contain relevant information in order from most recent events and back from there. It should be no longer than 3 to 4 pages in length. Don’t smokescreen by embellishing your resume with images, multiple colours or multiple fonts. Don’t falsify accreditations. You would be surprised how easy it is to validate this information. You want a clear and easy to read summary of your accomplishments. The longer and more difficult to read your resume is, the least likely it is that an employer will read it through to the end.

Don’t indicate that references are available upon request. Build these into your resume and keep them relevant and up to date. Not listing references gives the appearance that you need to drum somebody up and need time to do so. And, for goodness sake, make sure that you ask the people you list as references for permission to use them. A reference should have the opportunity to choose whether they will provide a reference for you or not. And, you want someone who won’t sound unawares or surprised to a prospective employer when they are contacted.

Most agencies indicate that ‘those not selected for an interview will not be contacted’. In employer-speak this translates to ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’. Actually, what it means is ‘don’t call us’. The hiring process is as difficult for an employer as the job search process is for you. A single opening can result in dozens, hundreds and even thousands of applicants. Which is why the statement is made that you won’t be contacted unless selected for an interview. Badgering an employer with updates on their hiring process does not appear to an employer as tenacity, it appears as aggression or desperation, and not in a positive way. Further, it indicates that you don’t follow instruction well.

Manage your expectations. You don’t know the qualifications of your fellow competitors. Don’t presume that it’s impossible for anyone else to be more qualified than you are. If you are not invited to interview, it doesn’t mean that you are not a valuable candidate. It just means that there were more suitable candidates than you. Don’t let rejection extinguish your hope. Respect the decision of the hiring agency and move forward with your career pursuits. Don’t contact the hiring agency with accusations of unfairness. This will do nothing to enhance your position, nor will the agency soon forget this behavior should future opportunities arise. Accept the decision with grace and move on.

Good luck!

A few simple tips for a more productive desk and office space.

Ergonomics. You don’t need a human resource technician to assess [or cite] your workspace to figure this one out. The best person to establish your own level of comfort, is none other than you. Take a few minutes and review your desk, chair and the positioning of your computer or laptop (screen, keyboard and/or mouse, as applicable). Adjust, adjust, adjust. If your keyboard drawer, or desktop surface is too high for your laptop keyboard, lower your keyboard drawer (if possible) or raise your chair so that your hand positioning is more optimal for your typing comfort. Adjust the angle of your chair back and/or arms to increase your comfort while you are seated. Tilt your computer monitor or laptop screen to reduce glare. It’s amazing how a few little adjustments can eliminate back or wrist discomfort and eye strain.

Free the clutter. Free your mind. The less chaotic your workspace appears, the more organized you will feel [and be]. Try to establish a system and stick to it, whether it be a simple inbox and outbox, a desktop filing system, drawer storage solution, etc. It will save you time in the long run by eliminating a time-consuming hunt for something every time you need to find what you want.

Commune with nature. Most of us have no control over the colour of our office, the furniture in our workspace and certainly not over lighting design. Add a small potted plant to your desk. This is one of the simplest ways you can enhance your productivity at work. Studies indicate that having a plant in your workspace increases both productivity and cognitive-attention. As well, they naturally filter the air to remove mold and bacteria, keeping you happy, healthy and productive.

Monday Monday.

In the words of the infinitely wise The Mamas & The Papas, “Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day…..every other day of the week is fine, yeah…..but whenever Monday comes, you can find me crying all of the time”. Did you have trouble waking up this morning? Are you struggling to find a reason to smile today? Well, according to researchers, Monday mornings are so depressing that in fact, on average, half of all workers will be late for work today, we won’t crack our first smile until after 11:00 a.m. and most of us will only log in 3.5 hours or so of productivity. Experts account that our Manic Monday tendencies are seated in ‘deep-rooted’ tribal instincts and after the weekend, we need to reconnect to the ‘tribe’ through chit-chat in communal areas aka around the water cooler. Try playing the ‘it’s-genetic-and-scientifically-proven-that-it’s-my-neanderthal-ancestry-to-blame-for-why-I-couln’t-wake-up-on-time’ excuse out on your boss when you roll into work late this morning. Be warned, this could end up with an as equally a neanderthal response, like getting thrown out of your tribe for good; referred to in modern times as ‘fired’. Instead, try these less drastic measures, suggested by experts as the top five ways to beat your case of Monday Blues: watching television, romantic activities, on-line shopping, buying chocolate and planning a holiday. Incidentally, none of which should you be [caught] doing while at work. However, as you are only logging 3.5 hours of productivity, I can’t think of a better way to spend the other 4.5 hours than improving your emotional wellbeing.

Office Essentials.

The desk. Think about how many hours you spend at your office. Now stop! If you don’t, you might just find yourself in the midst of a full-blown panic attack. Anyway, for many of us, our desk really is our home away from home. Whether your office style is obsessively neat and tidy, all business and no fun, or you treat your desk like its an extension of your own home, cozy and [inappropriately] comfortable, aside from the staple items we all need to do our jobs, there are some items that everyone should have close at hand, to get us through the day. And, ahem, they should be kept neat and tidy-like, tucked in a drawer.

Advil. Not for the morning after the night before, but for the afternoon after the morning bored-I-mean-board meeting.

Lint remover. For those early mornings when you dress in the dark only to find out, once you make it to the office in the light of day, that the cat must have slept on your neatly folded trousers the night before; oh, and how the fluorescent lighting really showcases every calico-colorer hair.

Bandaids. Isn’t it amazing how much blood can gush from the tiniest, itty bitty paper cut?

Tide-to-Go Pen. For post-paper-cut-hemorrhage stain prevention.

Hand lotion. All that paper pushing sucks the moisture right out of our skin; did I mention how attractive dry skin looks under the aforementioned, flattering fluorescent lighting?

Air-freshener. In your favourite scent. This is a triple duty item. 1) Some folks just don’t think twice about microwaving leftover cabbage fried with bacon and onions for lunch; 2) You will get the occasional visit from a client or co-worker for whom deodorant is seen as entirely unnecessary; and, 3) A little scent pick-me-up, or aromatherapy if you will, can go a long way to improve your mood and energize your senses to get through to the end of the day.

Manic Monday.

Are you back to work today after a holiday break? Okay, not everyone is lucky enough to get time off at Christmas, so this could be just another regular day at the salt mines. Whatever the case, you may feel the need for some inspiration and motivation to get you through the workweek. Studies suggest that the task-demands required in an average 8-hour workday actually need over 24-hours to complete. It is no wonder why employers place so much emphasis on time-management skills.

The following are a few tips to help you survive milking the most hours out of your workday. And, not one of them involves stashing a bottle of Vodka under your desk. Though, that could be part of your contingency plan.

1. Switch things up first thing in the morning. Unless you have been clinically diagnosed with OCD, try to break your routine. Live a little and have tea instead of coffee, take a different route to work or walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. If these sound a little too crazy for you, you could start by taking baby steps; stir your coffee counter clockwise or stand on one foot for a few seconds. Human behavior experts indicate that breaking your routine can kickstart your perspective into overdrive which aids in problem solving.

2. Skip the 20 or 30 minute breaks at mid-morning and mid-afternoon and take a 3 to 5 minute break every hour instead. Do something during this time that entertains you. Provided that what entertains you is socially acceptable, of course [unless you have a private office with a lock on your door]. Check the headlines on your favorite news site, even if that happens to be TMZ. Login to Instagram or Twitter. Just remember, don’t get sucked into anything for longer than 5 minutes and don’t break any of your workplace’s policies on social media surfing while on the clock. That includes using your own smartphone device. Taking short entertainment breaks actually allows us to return to our tasks with renewed focus.

3. Avoid the mid-morning-slump by listening to your favorite high energy song as loud as acceptable [though, I would suggest headphones so as not to disturb your colleagues]. It would be ideal if you could bust a move too. But, depending on your workplace, channelling your best Brittany Spears or Elvis or whatever suits your fancy as if your office were a dance club, could be frowned upon. In any case, short bursts of external stimulation are proven to increase your stamina and will get you through the rest of the morning until lunch time at least.

4. Similarly, avoid the mid-afternoon-slump by eating a piece of fruit. Fruit is a healthy way to boost your blood sugar, providing you with the energy to keep you going until quitting time. If fruit isn’t an option, yes, you could grab a donut or a cookie. However, the refined sugars in these sweet little fat-monsters cause unhealthy spikes in your blood sugar that quickly lead to energy zapping crashes. Opt for a cup of tea with honey instead. A little caffeine and some natural sugars are a better alternative.

5. Have fun with fonts. Get crazy with colours. Write with a colored pen. Even little changes, like using ‘times new roman’ instead of ‘arial’ can have a big impact on our psyches, boosting our morale. However, avoid that devilish red colour; it is linked to feelings of negativity, inducing stress and anxiety. Must be rooted in our childhood; when our cruel primary-school teachers tortured us by marking wrong answers on tests with big red X’s.

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