The Productive Professional

A Test


There's an article in the February 6th edition of Fortune discussing In it they say "You can learn a lot about CEO's by what they keep in their office, but with Benioff, we're mostly baffled".

I think the Manager Tools community can get this with the two clues which are in the article. (In fact, I think most of you will get it with one, but I'm giving you two). Number One: "...a phrase Benioff uses in conversation about his business as often as he puts !!!!! in emails...". Number Two, from the description of his office: "In addition to the framed magazine cover stories and standard-issue notes from US presidents, ... there's a .. bobblehead of Powell, with a handwritten note from the general, saying only "Oy!", a lava lamp from Google; Kermit the Frog, an animatronic donkey sporting a Cal-Berkeley yarmulke..."

There's a bunch of other clues in the article, but I think that's enough for you to know, if you ever met him, what the most appropriate conversation style would be. Prove me right?

Milk Round


When we wrote our podcast about job fairs, we wrote it part because we'd been asked by a listener how he should maximize his chances at a job fair he was going to. But, in the back of our minds was a niggle that perhaps job fairs were less common than they used to be.

The Milkround is a British institution whereby big companies go around to universities recruiting for their yearly intakes - a series of job fairs if you will. And, it's been getting smaller every year, as companies use other, cheaper methods of recruiting.

There's an article in Wired magazine though which suggests that job fairs are on their way back - for startups. It makes sense: "One company shouting in to the dark that they're hiring a developer isn't going to compete with Goldman Sachs if you're a startup. Get 100 startups together with 500 obs and it levels the playing field a bit". So even if you're looking to work at a startup, better dust off that mp3.

Facebook & Job Success


All over the internet today it seems, is reporting about a study recently published in Journal of Applied Social Psychology. In the study, the researchers used people's Facebook pages to establish a 'personality score'. More friends, more pictures of you out and about and more status updates gave a higher score. Later, they compared that score to evaluations given by employment supervisors and a correlation was found. The more pictures of you on Facebook with your friends, the more likely you are to be successful at work, is the quick conclusion which is making headlines everywhere it seems.

However, as one of the researchers says in this article:, it's really not that simple. First, they only looked at 56 Facebook profiles. Second, it's one piece of research.

Third, do you to be the one who test out that research by putting pictures of yourself drunk on Facebook? I wouldn't. What are you going to say to a hiring manager who won't hire you because of it? "Some professor told me it would be okay?" Didn't think so.

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Be Understood


Donald Rumsfeld gives his advice on running good meetings in Bloomberg Businessweek. He starts with what we would agree is the most important item: start on time. He adds, finish on time too, which we'd agree with too.

Later he says, 'the reason for talking is to be understood' - which of course made me think of our recent High I and emails cast. What most of us do, most of the time, is just talk - or type. We don't think about how the person we're communicating with will understand our message.

As hard as it is for me, as a high D, to write someone's name at the beginning of an email and to finish with regards, Wendii, if they started their email with my name, I do it. And the results of that simple change, convince me that Rumsfeld is right. The small change is worth it. There is no point in talking, if you're not going to be understood.

Drawing Conclusions


An article in Wired Magazine describes a series of experiments from the 40's, based on the animation of two balls. "In the first film, the red ball races across the screen, touches the blue ball and then stops. The blue ball, meanwhile, begins moving in the same basic direction as the red ball". When asked to describe what happened, people said, the red ball hit the blue ball and caused it to move - drawing a conclusion they couldn't possibly know.

In a later experiment a small blue ball moved in front of a larger red ball - and the subjects said, the red ball is chasing the blue ball. When I read the description, I leapt to that conclusion too. It can't be true - the balls are inanimate, but we seek to explain things and we use the words we know. When we're having to quickly assess a new situation for a threat, this is obviously a useful ability.

But we use this skill in situations where we should not. That's we spend part of the explanation of the Feedback Model explaining behavior. When we give feedback, we have to describe the behavior - the red ball and the blue ball are moving in the same direction - not the conclusion we draw - that the ball is being chased. Because we can't know that our conclusion is right - and if we get it wrong, it takes the effect out of the feedback. When giving feedback, we need to stop ourselves drawing conclusions.

Thank You Cards


In a short piece in Bloomberg Businessweek, Douglas Conant, former President and CEO of Campbell Soups gives his thoughts on writing thank you notes. He's a big fan, apparently, having sent 20,000 in his 18 year tenure.

The most interesting part for me, was that he says he kept his notes short - 50 - 70 words. Talk about lowering the barrier. How hard can it be to pick up a box of thank you notes, and writing 50 -70 words each time you see something that it's worth saying thank you for?

The other way to lower the barrier and say thank you more often, is to say thank you for smaller things. Really - I have a reminder each week which says 'send thank you notes'. Sometimes, I have to work really hard thinking about who I want to thank. I've sent thank you cards to a person who made my world better by being cheerful every time I saw her. She pinned it up in the communal office where she worked, and EVERYONE knew about it. It wasn't trivial to her. So don't worry, just say thank you.

Reach Out


At a conference recently I talked to someone who is looking for his next career step. When I asked who he'd talked to, he told me he was looking to find the right people to talk to in other departments.

There's definitely value in finding the right person - we'd all love to find the perfect mentor who jumpstarts our career first time out. Meeting the right mentor is like other kinds of relationships though - you have to kiss the frogs before you find the prince. Instead of finding the right person, just start meeting people. Use any introduction you can get.

I've noticed in the US, people are much more likely to speak to strangers than I'm used to. That's how I found out how delicious black raspberry icecream is - a guy recommended it to me, when I was just stood in the supermarket. It never hurts though, even though I find it odd. So reach out - you never know what the positive result might be.

Skills, Knowledge and Attitude


On PersonnelToday's website, there's a summary of a report of a survey by XpertHR which says that in the UK at least, employers say there are too few graduates to fill entry level positions. I was intrigued by this, because we hear a lot of 'the last 2/3 graduating classes haven't got jobs due to the recession and are therefore stuck'.

80% of those surveyed though, said that the problem was the actual number of graduates, but the quality. They 'faced difficulties recruiting graduates due to a lack of skills, knowledge or the attitudes of the candidates'. According to the article, this is the second survey in as many weeks to have this finding.

What strikes me about this statistic is that two of the three, graduates can easily change, themselves, without any cost. Changing your attitude is as easy as deciding to. Getting more knowledge is as easy as going to the library (and most graduates have access to their college library for several years after they leave). Skills is harder, but there's nothing to stop you practicing your excel skills at home. If the problem for graduates getting jobs really is just skills, knowledge and attitude, it's an easy problem to solve.

Phone Calls


I was watching a random cop program and one of the protagonists needed information on where the person she was hunting was. She called the office, pretended to be the firm detailing his car and got the information she needed.

When I was a recruiter, one of my jobs on a Thursday was to get the local paper and call all the other agencies trying to find out which clients of theirs were hiring. You'd be amazed what people will tell you, without you having to tell any lies, just by using a pleasant voice. I called a business locally recently and asked for someone, only to be told he was in rehab. I didn't even give my name.

There's two lessons to this. One, if you need to know something, just ask. You'll probably get the answer. And two, if you get random calls from people with pleasant voices, find out who they are and what they need to know before you give away confidential information.