How to get and keep a job in this economy

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Survive the Recession in Style! Skills you need NOW 1. The Ability to Listen! Employers want someone who pays attention the first time. Keep a pen and paper handy and write down instructions and assignments. Make sure you get the details right and ask questions if you aren’t sure. Antithesis: The opposite of this skill is talking too much. Most people would rather hear themselves speak than listen. If you listen to your employer they will be very grateful. 2. Convey Information Concisely! As an employer I am under a lot of pressure. I have more work to do every day than I have time. I can listen for about three minutes and if you haven’t reached the point by then you will have lost me. If you are not naturally succinct you may want to write down your thoughts before approaching your supervisor. Time yourself if necessary. You should be able to explain what you want and why in under two minutes. Respect other people’s time and they will appreciate you. Antithesis: The opposite of this skill is talking to long without getting to the point. For self preservation I usually avoid these people. If your boss or supervisor has to avoid you at work, that is not good for your career. 3. Computer literacy! Most careers today involve using a computer. Employers don’t have the time to teach you computer skills. I personally know a few people who have very limited career options because they are afraid of learning how to use a computer. Don’t let fear stop you. If you aren’t good on the computer it is your responsibility to correct this deficiency. Take classes, ask a friend to help you learn. Get a computer at home so you can practice. Basic skills that are absolutely required include word processing, using email, using the internet, and Excel. Antithesis: Employees who are constantly stumped and always asking for help to do simple assignments are troublesome to everyone in the office. If you experience technical difficulties you should know basic trouble-shooting like restarting the computer. 4. Ability to work well with others! Everyone has coworkers they get along with and coworkers they are less comfortable with. No matter where you work you will find people who test your patience. You should be mature enough to conduct yourself professionally around everyone you work with. Antithesis: Your employer does not have the time or interest in “babysitting”. If your interpersonal issues reach your supervisor and they have to intervene in staff conflicts this is a red flag even if the problem is not your fault. Do your best to avoid these issues in the first place. 5. Goal Driven and Accomplishes Objectives! You should be very clear on what your goals are and have a plan for accomplishing these goals. Your employer may or may not have made these clear but remember the boss is always right. If your job is to sell widgets set some goals for yourself. How many widgets do you want to sell? Do some research on your own about how best to accomplish the goals for yourself. Antithesis: Sitting around waiting for someone to give you explicit direction. There is a great surplus of employees who fail to take the initiative. If you can’t figure out how to get your job done without someone holding your hand you are very much dispensable. 6. Cultural Sensitivity! If you don’t know what this means figure it out right away. If your employer doesn’t offer training then look it up on the internet. This is true even if you are an ethnic minority or member of another group that experiences discrimination. Antithesis: Discrimination of any kind is no longer tolerated. Absolutely do not make jokes or generalizations about people because of their ethnicity, sex, sexual preference or disabilities. This means nothing derogatory about women or men, those with disabilities, any ethnic minority, anyone’s sexual preference, anyone’s criminal record, status or class. Ideally you should avoid judging others but if you cannot do that judge them solely on their character. 7. Organizational Skills! Valuable employees keep their own list of things to do, and know where to find things including documents and supplies. Antithesis: If you are always searching for things, if your personal life is such a mess you can’t always get to work on time, if you never know what you are suppose to be doing then you are more of a problem than a help to your employer. 8. Time Management Skills! A valuable employee is an efficient one who works while at work. If you have more work than you can do, make sure you prioritize. Multi-tasking is now expected. You should be able to get some work done while you are talking on the phone. Antithesis: Wasting time at work. Absolutely do not let your employer catch you in any of the following activities: making personal phone calls, shopping on the internet, chatting up your coworkers about anything not work related, working on personal projects at your desk or checking personal email. As a general rule, if it isn’t work related you should not be doing it at work. 9. The ability to solve your own problems! If you find yourself flummoxed about how to proceed on a project make sure you think about it before you ask for help. Use the internet for help if necessary. Antithesis: interrupting others regularly to ask for help or opinions. Again your employer and your coworkers probably do not have time to hold you hand. If your supervisor has to solve all your problems why do they need you? 10. Honesty! A valuable employee always tells the whole truth. Everyone makes mistakes and employers understand this. You don’t have to be perfect but you must be perfectly honest. It’s better to say that an assignment is not done that to say it is and hope you have the time to finish it before your supervisor finds out. Antithesis: Even if your employer never confronts you, because we are still human and avoid conflict, you can be sure they will find out when you have been dishonest. Just one case of dishonesty erodes the trust we have in you. 11. Flexibility/Adaptability! An indispensible employee is one who will do what it takes to get the job done. You should be willing to work extra hours to meet deadlines, to do things that aren’t a part of your job description but need to be done, and to help others when necessary. When you demonstrate flexibility your employer will become more and more dependent on you and that is a good thing! Antithesis: The worst thing you can do is to complain about everything you are asked to do. This is work, you aren’t supposed to like it all the time. If you complain your employer will stop giving you work and pretty soon there won’t be much reason to keep you. 12. Dedication/Work Ethic! The best employees show up on time, day after day, they work at work, they care about their job and always do their very best. This doesn’t mean they are perfect, simply that they honestly give it the best effort. These are the busy people. Antithesis: if work is not a priority for you, if you don’t really care, you just go there to get a paycheck, then it will be obvious to your employer. Try to find something at work to be enthusiastic about. 13. Reliable on-time attendance! Believe it or not showing up is half the battle. Occasionally I wonder why I have so much responsibility at work and others do not. Honestly I think the main reason is that I show up. If I’m suppose to be somewhere at a certain time I am usually there early. I don’t use excuses. Even as a single mother I have organized my personal life so that I’m able to work at work. Get your tires checked on your own time so that a flat doesn’t make you late for work. Leave early so that you can be on time even if traffic is horrendous. Take care of your health so you don’t have to call in sick. Arrange several back-ups in advance so if the kids are sick you can still go to work. Antithesis: If you are coming in late, leaving early, taking long lunches, or calling in sick on a regular basis it is obvious to your employer that you don’t really care. Employees like these are a dime a dozen. 14. The boss is always right! If your boss says two plus two is five agree with them. Even if you have a good relationship with your supervisor, NEVER disagree with them in public, only in private. This is called “followership”, be a fan of your boss, find nice things to say about them, find ways to support them and they will love you. Antithesis: If you demonstrate lack of support or hostility towards your supervisor, even if you believe you have very good reasons for doing so, they aren’t going to want you around. Absolutely do not contradict the boss in public or talk behind their back to anyone. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. 15. Demonstrate Respect! Treat everyone at work with respect. Be kind and supportive to the maintenance people, the clerks, the managers, and the employer, basically everyone. If you are simply kind you will win a lot of fans that will support you in good times and in bad. Antithesis: With such a tight job market employers have no use for people with poor social skills, primadonnas, and complainers. The golden rule always applies and particularly at work. Treat people as you would want to be treated. 16. Adequate grooming! You don’t have to look like a fashion model, unless of course you are one. Personally I am much more concerned with what people accomplish than what they wear. On the other hand, you never want to be an embarrassment to your employer. Good employees aren’t too concerned with wowing people but do look presentable. Antithesis: Clothing that calls attention to you, clothing that is in any way risqué, too much make-up, too much jewelry, too much perfume, or clothes that are unclean. Less is usually more at work. 17. Contribute beyond your job description! This is similar to flexibility discussed above but has some additional elements. Contributing beyond your job description means noticing things that need to be done outside your job and doing them. If you use the last of the toilet paper get more and put it on yourself, don’t holler for someone else to do it because you are too important. If you see someone else’s papers in the printer go ahead and deliver those papers to them. Antithesis: People will value you less if you use the last of the copy paper and don’t replace it, if you leave your mess in the kitchen and assume someone else will get to it, and if you use the last of the folders and don’t either order more or make someone else aware of the problem. 18. Sunny disposition! Good employees leave their personal problems at home and come to work in a good mood or at least not in a bad mood. Antithesis: nobody likes to work with someone who is cranky, moody, angry, resentful or nasty. Even if you work hard, your head will be one of the first on the chopping block simply because nobody likes to work with you. Most people have a lot of valid reasons for getting upset. If you do have significant issues take the initiative to take care of them outside working hours. See a therapist or talk to friends to help you. If work is what is making you crazy then you need to figure out why and address it calmly. Are you doing all the work for half the pay? Document what is going on and then sit down with your supervisor but be pleasant. If you are calm, reasonable and offer a solution your employers will be more willing to work with you. 19. Loyalty! You are paid to support and assist the organization or corporation where you work. You are their number one fan. If you sing our praises we will sing yours. Antithesis: the opposite of loyalty is not supporting the goals of the organization either overtly or covertly. You should never speak badly of the corporation no matter how valid your criticisms are. I am constantly amazed by “the grapevine”. As big as the world is, it can be very small. If someone on my staff criticizes me or the organization behind my back I usually hear about it. Worse, the gossip factor usually brings it to my ears a lot worse than it originally was. 20. The ability to supervise yourself! Some of these tips are beginning to sound a lot alike and we have already covered hard work and dedication and the ability to solve your own problems but this is a slightly different skill. When you supervise yourself you know exactly what your employer expects of you and deliver it without being asked. Your employer knows they can count on you to do things the first time you are asked or even better without being asked. Antithesis: If your supervisor has to constantly remind you, nag you, and motivate you they are unlikely to give you more responsibility. If you are self-motivated you will be of much greater value. 21. Optimism! As an employer I hear plenty of negativity. Particularly in this difficult economy; There is plenty of doom and gloom to go around. If you can manage to be optimistic your supervisor will seek out your company. Try to find good things about your job, your employer and your organization. Antithesis: Negativity! There are always things to complain about but just don’t. 22. Continuous personal improvement! And finally, great employees are always updating their skills, even before they are asked. Do you notice that you get frustrated with your computer? If so, sign up for a class outside of work hours. Don’t ask your employer to pay for it, just take the initiative. Maybe your supervisor mentioned something in your evaluation that could be improved. Don’t get defensive, just learn that skill or address that issue. For example, one of my great weaknesses is working with others. I prefer to work alone but my job requires me to work in teams. I contracted with a coach to help me develop these skills and with a therapist to overcome any underlying issues. My people skills have improved. Antithesis: Stagnation is not only boring for you but for your employer. How to Acquire these Skills Now If I have plenty of cash (not) and plenty of time (unlikely) you could hire a coach to help you however that is not necessary. The best thing to do is look at the above list and rate yourself on these skills. Use a scale between 0 to five: Five: You are better at this than anyone you’ve ever known or heard about including Einstein. Four: Others have complimented you on this skill Three: Your skill level is satisfactory and you haven’t experienced any problems here. Two: Others have told you that you can improve in this area. One: Part of the antithesis of this skill describes you. Zero: If the antithesis describes you to a tee give yourself a zero. Self Honesty Self honesty is really important here and something that most of us don’t truly have. You won’t get anything out of this exercise if you don’t tell the truth to yourself. This isn’t for anyone else, this is for you. Your boss is never going to see it. Having used this list with countless people the biggest mistake I see is that many people give themselves all fours and fives. Because I happen to know these people I can tell you for a fact that they are kidding themselves. For example I will see people give themselves a five for “being concise” when over the years they have rattled on for hours to me. Or someone will give themselves a five for showing up but they conveniently forget the time there furniture was delivered, or their child was sick, or they took that three hour lunch break, or they left early because they didn’t think I would notice, or all their personal phone calls. The other less common mistake I see is people giving themselves all zeros and ones. These people usually have more of a self-esteem issue than a skill issue. If you aren’t already a fabulous success then you probably are somewhere in the middle on most of these issues. Personally, and I have been fairly successful, I give myself mostly threes. Yes, I can operate a computer, conduct research on the internet and re-start my computer. However I don’t know HTML, I have no idea what goes on with the server or how to network various computers . Therefore I give myself a three for adequate level of skill. Double Check Your Work: Ask a trustworthy friend to review your work. In most cases they will tell you that you scored yourself too high in some areas and too low in other areas. In order for this to be effective you have to choose someone who is not afraid to tell you the truth. Discover Your Strengths and Weaknesses: Once you have double-checked your list and have a more objective opinion of your skill level, look carefully at all your skills. You should, if you have been honest have several one’s and two’s. Sadly nobody, even you, is perfect. Make a list of the one’s and two’s. These are the issues holding you back professionally and probably personally as well. Important: Don’t beat yourself up with this information. You are not bad or wrong, you are fantastic. Every single person alive has strengths and weaknesses. The difference is that right now you know what yours are and can address them. Now make a list of all your fours and fives. Celebrate your strengths! Play to Your Strengths: Now that you know what your strengths are make sure you focus on them. If like me you are bad with people but good at writing then work with your supervisor to take on more writing projects and fewer people projects. If this isn’t possible, then look for jobs where you have solid skills. If you are doing what you do well you will be much happier and so will your employer. For example I am really bad at organization, like a one. I waste hours looking for things I cannot find. Worse, my brain just doesn’t work like that, hours of coaching might make me a little better but I’m never going to be your go to person for organization. When I take on organizing projects I’m miserable and so is everyone else. In my case I have the luxury of hiring an assistant who is organized. And for any supervisors out there reading this Google “Strength-based management” and learn how to get more out of your staff by giving them jobs they do well. Address Weaknesses: A couple years ago it was acceptable to be weak in several areas. There weren’t enough qualified people to fill the available positions and employers had to make the best of what they had. If you were goal-oriented your employer might pretend not to notice when you were late every day. This is no longer the case. Lots of highly skilled people are out of work and this puts more pressure on you to address any issues that might be holding you back. Important: Have a positive attitude about this, get excited about improvement rather than depressed that you aren’t perfect. Remember that nobody is perfect, but you can perform better than you do now and that is really encouraging. Have fun with it, work with people who will support you and your efforts. Celebrate small improvements. Survive the Recession in Style! If you are one of the few people who has actually taken the time to complete this exercise then you really do care about doing your best. You are already taking much more initiative than most people and I’m willing to bet you have more job security than you know what to do with. If for some reason that is not the case, it will be by the time you are finished implementing what you have learned.

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  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks for the great comments.What the author is advocating isn't sucking up to bosses because they are the people in power. It's more about following the chain of command and finding ways to love what you do and support the management structure that your company has. Although there are people who would call it "sucking up", the truth is that objecting to management structure or rebelling against your employer doesn't solve anything, it doesn't make a difference and only makes you a problem employee. If you hate your boss or the company you work for, then these strategies won't help solve that problem.
  • Hayle
    That’s a great post!
  • Gregg
    What you're advocating is the "employees should be seen and not heard" brand of cronism. Kissing the bosses butt just because he/she is the boss is probably the WORST thing you can do if you are truly loyal to the company and working towards maximizing efficiency. An incompetent manager is far more damaging to the company than an incompetent employee as it is often employees who take up the slack caused by poor management. Some of the author's  points might be valid in regard to being self motivated on the job but I'd advise all readers to stay clear of this person's advice on issues that she has a clear bias towards.
  • Cynthia Knight
    Cynthia Knight
    Bravo!  I am a member of the "I am not a perfect individual or employee" club.  Thank you for allowing us a little recovery time to breathe in and exhale.  Most of my work has been scrutinized with micro-managing.  I am not afraid of this, but it does present some pressure for perfection. I do enjoy achieving success and meeting deadlines.  Good luck to all who encounter this era of uncertain employment.

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