Research Careers Blog

10 job search tips for 2015 graduates

Editor’s note: Peter K. Studner is president and senior consultant at Los Angeles- based outplacement services firm Peter K. Studner Associates and the author of Super Job Search IV. – See more at: http://researchcareersblog.com/#sthash.WP9kjcM7.dpuf
Editor’s note: Peter K. Studner is president and senior consultant at Los Angeles- based outplacement services firm Peter K. Studner Associates and the author of Super Job Search IV. – See more at: http://researchcareersblog.com/#sthash.WP9kjcM7.dpuf
Editor’s note: Peter K. Studner is president and senior consultant at Los Angeles- based outplacement services firm Peter K. Studner Associates and the author of Super Job Search IV. – See more at: http://researchcareersblog.com/#sthash.WP9kjcM7.dpuf

Editor’s note: Peter K. Studner is president and senior consultant at Los Angeles- based outplacement services firm Peter K. Studner Associates and the author of Super Job Search IV.

College seniors, rejoice: According to a new study from Michigan State University’s College Employment Institute, employers will be recruiting more college graduates in 2015 than they have in well over a decade.

ResumesWith hiring for bachelor’s degrees increasing by 16 percent from last year alone, it’s true that finding your first job may not be the monumental quest it has been for grads in recent years. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put just as much thought and effort into the job search process as they did. After all, your professional future depends on this next step.

Here are 10 things that 2015 college graduates should keep in mind as they search for employment:

Your first job is more important than you might think. As you send out résumés and applications, you should focus on finding a job that allows you to learn about working in your chosen field. That may seem obvious but some graduates are in such a hurry to get placed that they don’t take the time to consider where they want to be in three, five or 10 years.

Your college degree will never be more valuable than it is right now. After you accept your first job offer, you’ll receive promotions and new opportunities based primarily on your accomplishments, not on the diploma hanging behind your desk. The point? It’s important to consider your future goals and leverage your degree in a way that sets you up for a successful, fulfilling career in years to come.

Consider your skills when choosing a field. Yes, all college majors naturally correlate with certain career fields, and you should definitely consider applying to positions in those areas. But it’s also worth your while to spend some time independently considering your skills – both academic and otherwise – and think outside the box when identifying potential career paths.

Many job seekers with whom I’ve worked over the years have been surprised by the field in which they ended up, albeit pleasantly so! Spend a little time using the Job Skills Transfer Assessment Tool (JobSTAT) at the Minnesota Department of Labor’s Web site, PositivelyMinnesota.com. The tool matches your experience, skills and knowledge with possible careers, and lets you know where your skill gaps might lie. Although the actual job openings listed on the site are in Minnesota, JobSTAT is an excellent way to learn about careers that align with your current skills.

Look for opportunity, not salary. Many graduates have large debts to pay off and are understandably tempted to go for the highest salary offered (perhaps you can identify!), but that course of action could be a mistake. High salaries come with high expectations. And if you don’t have enough experience, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Furthermore, the position that pays best now might not be the one that helps you achieve your long-term goals.

Your first job should not necessarily be the one that pays the most; it should be the one with the greatest opportunity for you to learn – not only what to do but also what not to do. Observing a really bad role model in action is one of the most valuable work experiences you can get.

Don’t overstate your experience. Perhaps you held one or more jobs before you graduated from college. Even if those positions were in line with your career path, think carefully about the claims you make on your résumé. What did you learn from those jobs? Can you honestly present yourself as an experienced employee, or will you have to fake it during your interview and hope that you catch on quickly once you’re hired? Will you be squandering an opportunity at a top-notch company by overstating your experience?

It may be wiser to take a less lucrative position where you can admit what you do not know and openly express your desire to learn. Your attitude going into your first “real” job must be positive and proactive. Remember, the organization you’re joining will depend on you. No matter how small your role, you should be able to do your part – and then some.

Make sure your résumé tells your story. You have spent up to 8,000 hours acquiring your degree – don’t drop the ball now. Put as much effort into preparing your résumé as you did into crafting a crucial paper for an important class. Too often, job seekers (whether they’re recent grads or experienced workers) send out hastily written résumés assuming that hiring managers will be able to read between the lines and see how amazing they are. Newsflash: That never happens.

Poorly prepared résumés and other collateral materials will rule you out, even if you are the most qualified candidate – and you’d be surprised by how often this happens. Make sure your résumé does a good job of highlighting your skills, accomplishments, work history (if applicable) and education. You’ll also find helpful resources and hundreds of model résumés at SuperJobSearch.com and on the SuperJobSearch app, which is available for Apple and Android devices.

Prepare (and then prepare some more) for your interview. While the number of job opportunities is increasing, only candidates with outstanding presentation skills will get the plum jobs. Like it or not, most jobs are secured or lost in the interview stage, so put more effort into preparing for interviews than you do into any other part of your job search campaign.

Putting prior thought into how you might answer both standard and tricky interview questions can help you avoid disaster and gain an advantage over the competition. Be sure to rehearse your responses out loud, too. The more comfortable you are talking about yourself, your skills, your accomplishments and your goals, the better impression you’ll make on your interviewers.

Choose a company that aligns with your values. You may not have thought about how your personal values might – or might not – align with your career. But this is essential to consider before accepting a position, because the values factor will impact your performance and your personal fulfillment. When considering an organization, consider questions such as: How do they treat clients? Team members? Might my success come at a cost to someone else? What are their priorities? Will I feel proud or ashamed at the end of the day?

Do your homework. This is one area where negative information can be more valuable than positive. As you interview, learn from the people you meet about the success they have achieved. Their comments can provide you with clues as to how you might feel and perform in years to come.

Be sure to check out GlassDoor.com, which lets you read reviews of companies from current and former employees. Also, Barron’s magazine is a good source of information about many companies. To subscribe, check student magazine discounters (www.MagazineLine.com) for low-cost rates.

Make sure the company has a solid future. Independently, make sure that your research includes forecasts of the company’s activity, product or service. Bear in mind that the products and services they are offering today probably didn’t exist five, 10 or 15 years ago.

Does the company appear to have a solid plan going forward? Are there new products or services in the pipeline, and do they strike you as being viable? Even though you probably won’t stick with the same employer for decades, you don’t want to be caught short without a transition planned.

Look for paid internships. Understandably, most college graduates set their sights on full-time paid jobs. But don’t assume that internships are behind you.

Paid internships, which might last for six months, a year or even longer, are sometimes available to college grads. They’re a good place to learn what goes into becoming a top performer. (These are different from the internships offered to students in return for college credits.) Check out Job-Hunt.org for internship listings in your area, including those at Fortune 500 companies.

Be an active learner. Yes, you’ve successfully obtained your college degree but that doesn’t mean your education is over. In order to build a successful career, you must become a life-long learner.

Don’t assume you know it all – or even that you know enough – now or ever. Just as a company must keep reinventing itself in order to meet new market demands, you must keep developing your skills throughout your career. Those who keep learning new skills on a continuous basis will be the real winners in the long run.

Savvy graduates will take the time to prepare for their transition before actually going out on the job market. You’ve worked hard to get to where you are today – so make sure your focus and self-presentation complement, instead of detract from, the education you bring to the table.

Posted in Employment Tips, Employment Trends | Comment

The benefits of fun in the workplace

Editor’s note: Nat Measley is the CEO and managing partner at The Fun Dept., Philadelphia.

fun in the workplaceTo have fun or not to have fun? That is the question.

Are you curious how companies like Google, Zappos, Southwest and others develop those winning workplace cultures, with such high productivity and profitability? Regardless of the industry, there is a common thread running through the highest performing companies: the inherent or stated culture of fun. Among companies denoted as “great” in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, a whopping 81 percent of employees say they work in a fun environment.

If you look closely at the highly successful companies mentioned above, they incorporate fun into the fabric of their culture. Fun at work may not be a silver bullet that produces superior results on its own but a workplace environment that prioritizes fun will rise above the competition. With stout leadership, dedicated management and strong company values, company-wide fun can take you over the top.

Prioritizing fun in the workplace will have a direct impact throughout your company in a myriad of ways but there are a few specific areas that can be highlighted.

Organizational health

Everyone would agree that a healthy and happy employee is a more productive employee, right? Fun can be an important component of emotional wellness. Often, fun is used to encourage participation or bolster existing wellness programs. The attention on emotional intelligence in the workplace and its impact on the bottom line is rapidly gaining momentum. For most organizations human capital is the largest asset and the single largest expense. It seems like a natural place to focus on, considering it will have the largest impact on the bottom line. We have already seen the biggest advances in technology and those investments today are producing marginal returns and impact on productivity. The next revolution in the workplace is culture.

Productivity

Secondly, let’s explore productivity. Do you ever get a break? Are you expected to work eight hours per day, straight with no breaks? Fun can offer great breaks and distractions – not wasting time but true valuable break time. As an example, there is a national call and customer service center that offers its employees a unique schedule. They have broken up their average daily time commitment into on-phone time and quick breaks (dubbed “shorts”). These shorts are sprinkled throughout any of the call center employees’ days. They last 15 minutes or less, during which time employees can play ping pong, take a walk outside or do anything they please.

Look at Google. They give their employees 20 percent of any given work day to simply do what they want to do. And no, that time does not have to be work related. Why? One reason is for the sake of productivity of their work force. They realize that their people are working hard. The breaks are meant to enhance productivity of employee on-time.

Relationships and loyalty

Relationships and loyalty (sometimes retention) go hand in hand. A staggering 79 percent of companies believe they have a significant retention and engagement problem. Losing an employee can cost up to four times their salary, depending on the position. What about attracting the next generation of great talent? The tides are shifting and given the choice most people – especially Millennials – will choose culture over pay. Culture and fun is a differentiator that will give you the competitive advantage.

Engagement

How can engagement be affected and in turn, affect the bottom line? In human resources, one very popular metric is employee engagement – an employees’ emotional and active commitment to the success of the company. Engaged workers are enthusiastic about their jobs. And disengaged workers are not. According to a Gallup survey a company loses $2,246 per disengaged employee per year. Why? Disengaged employees take more sick days. They arrive late, miss deadlines and are more likely to instigate customer complaints. In all, they drag people and business down.

Fun can help. Fun has a 68 percent correlation to employee engagement scores. In other words, if someone perceives their work environment is fun on a survey, their individual engagement score will be affected positively by 68 percent. In other studies, 75 percent of companies observed who incorporate fun into their culture and operation who also currently measure engagement report increased or maintained scores over time.

Yes, it’s true. Fun at work is builds solidarity, connections and an outlet for workplace stress. When designed and delivered at regular intervals with forethought and understanding about what your staff needs.

OK, you get it. So, how do you get started? Remember this is a cultural change not a single event or two so it takes time. Start by assessing your culture. Ask yourself if you see value in fun fitting in and then explore how the fun can become a part of your operation. The next big revolution in the working world is focusing in on culture. Enlightened leaders recognize that the old hierarchical ways of doing business and treating employees like numbers, not people, are no longer effective. You will be glad you considered fun, and so will your employees and your business!

Posted in Employment Tips, Employment Trends, For Employers | Comment

10 connecting conversations to help your company succeed

Editor’s note: Dan Prosser is the author of Thirteeners and CEO of The Prosser Group and BreakthroughSchool.com.

Group Of Office Workers Meeting To Discuss IdeasHere’s an inconvenient business truth for you to consider: It doesn’t matter how valuable, cutting-edge or unique an organization’s product or service is if its people can’t connect positively and effectively with each other. In fact, workplace connectedness is one of the hallmarks of a great organization with a culture of high performance. Consider the following statements made by employees from Glassdoor’s 2014 top five best places to work:

  1. “The people above you really want you to be successful and offer a ton of valuable coaching and feedback.” – Bain & Company
  2. “You are surrounded by smart, hard-working people who genuinely care about the company. You truly feel like everyone is pulling the company in the same direction.” – Twitter
  3. “Eastman cares about its people through open communication, training opportunities, career advancement, and work-life balance … I like the focus on innovation and customer engagement to drive results.” – Eastman Chemical
  4. “Employees are…some of the smartest and dedicated I’ve worked with, and also a lot of fun to work with (seriously).” – Facebook

 

Best places to work companies don’t achieve connectedness through grand, expensive gestures. Their success comes down to the conversations that take place every day between employees and their leaders.

As I discuss in my new book Thirteeners,business – all business – is actually just a network of interconnected conversations. In too many companies, these conversations are destructive. They spread like a virus and keep people disconnected. In others, the conversations create environments where people feel heard, mirrored and validated.

A small percentage of companies consistently achieve the kind of authentic dialogue that connects people, allowing them to execute through conflict, chaos, good times and bad. These are the thirteeners. They’ve figured out how to promote conversations that contribute to employees’ feeling connected to each other, to their company’s vision, to their common purpose and to their strategy. Your company can promote these kinds of conversations, too.

Here, I spotlight the 10 connecting conversations happening in successful companies:

Conversations that encourage contribution. Your employees invest a huge amount of their time and intellect on your organization’s behalf – and they want a return on their investment. Believe it or not, the return they want most is not a bigger paycheck. What they want is the chance to make a difference – to contribute something meaningful to the outcome of the organization and be appreciated and acknowledged for it.

When your people don’t create this opportunity, your employees leave you for what they perceive as a greater opportunity to matter. But when you assign responsibility and allow people to provide solutions that you actually put to use, they’ll speak highly of you and they wouldn’t think of leaving. In fact, they’ll want to work harder to make you even happier. Be sure to let them know that you want to hear their ideas and suggestions!

Conversations that convey acknowledgment and appreciation. Chances are good that many of your employees were wounded in the workplace before you hired them: They’ve been passed over for promotions and given insufficient compensation for hard work. They’ve been taken for granted and treated like numbers. (Maybe this has even happened within your own organization.) The good news is, you can help right these past wrongs – to your benefit.

Your first impression might be that saying thank-you and good job is awkward and might feel clumsy, and your employees may also feel that way at first. However, I promise you that the rewards of your efforts will greatly outweigh your initial discomfort. You’ll be giving your employees a gift they’ve never received anywhere else, and they’ll feel a sense of wholeness that they’ve never experienced at work. And as a result, their engagement, loyalty and productivity will soar.

Conversations that encourage alignment. In companies that are listed as best places to work, everyone heads in the same direction – not necessarily just by following the leader but also by making sure that when any strategic element is altered, everyone has an opportunity to contribute to changes that must take place in other areas of the business. Operations in aligned organizations have minimal confusion. There are no territorial disputes, and everyone looks out for everyone else.

If you’re a CEO or executive leader with final authority, it’s important that you use contribution conversations to allow others to bring ideas to you. Your job isn’t to find the holes in their concepts but to be able to say whether you can be aligned with the proposed effort or action. If you can, then you empower others to dig deep into themselves and contribute. If you can’t, then share what’s preventing you from being aligned. That becomes a teaching opportunity.

When people are aligned, they understand the business goals for the year and the role each goal plays. They recognize there must be alignment for their efforts to affect the bottom-line success of the company.

Conversations that build accountability. When employees are being accountable, they make specific promises to take action to accomplish goals. Everyone sees everyone’s promises, and there are no secret deals to undermine the effort to keep those promises. And, of course, those promises are kept. The results of people’s actions are fully measured, and everyone’s contribution is visible.

In a culture of accountability, everyone is “count-on-able.” And it’s not just leaders who make sure that accountability happens. In a connected organization, everyone holds each other accountable for fulfilling promises. If a person promises to produce a particular result, someone (or a team) holds that person accountable for fulfilling that promise.

This requires saying, first, “You said this, but you didn’t do this”; then, declaring what’s missing; and, finally, requesting a promise to clean up the situation (or renegotiating the original promise). There is no shaming involved.

Conversations that facilitate continuous communication. Even great companies struggle to shore up communication. But in companies where there is a high degree of communication, employees hear from management about anything that happens, especially if it impacts the way they do their jobs in a timely manner.

In many organizations, one of the first steps in shoring up the communication gap is ensuring that no one finds out about task-essential information accidentally or after the fact. It doesn’t reach anyone first through gossip or the grapevine. Whenever possible, strive for proactive transparency.

Conversations that build relationships. I call relatedness the source of all results. When there is relatedness, it’s very easy for an employee to talk to his or her direct supervisor, because that supervisor listens. And there is real solidarity among executives, managers and employees.

Nothing meaningful happens unless there is a relationship between the two people working together. Two strangers might have a problem starting the conversation necessary to getting the issue handled – even if they work for the same company. But two colleagues with an established, positive relationship can get the ball moving quickly and without misunderstandings. This is how connectedness cures a host of ills.

Conversations that underscore responsibility. When most people hear the word responsible in a workplace context, they assume it has to do with blaming others for what went wrong or for not doing what they said they would. But no company listed as best places to work practice that. For them, being responsible means taking the initiative to do what is necessary to get the job done.

Responsible employees don’t wait for a supervisor to tell them what they need to do before taking action. Make sure your people know that they have permission to take the initiative. Then make sure they have the resources and support to do so.

Conversations that encourage integrity. What does it mean to demonstrate integrity? It begins when management says they are going to do something, and the statement is followed with authentic action. Their actions are always in-step with what they said they would do.

This is not the same as being honest, decent or virtuous. Integrity is a way of being in which management says X is going to happen, and X happens. And it applies beyond management. There is a clear and total match between what people in the organization say and their actions.

Conversations that develop a sense of possibility. When employees can see and understand where the company is going and can feel connected to their company’s plans for the next three to five years – and longer – they will not fear that their job could end suddenly through no fault of their own.

Your job as a leader is to discover possibilities for your business – both for your workplace and your marketplace. You must then share those with your employees and let them contribute, as co-creators, to a strategy you can successfully execute together.

Conversations that acknowledge (and enhance!) fun, rewards and gratefulness. This isn’t a discussion that you can start around a conference table or during a one-on-one meeting with an employee. (Can you picture yourself saying to your team, “So, how much do you love working here? I feel so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful company, don’t you?”) Instead, it has to originate – voluntarily – with your employees. The good news is, it will develop organically once you start having the previous nine conversations.

On most days, employees of best places to work companies can’t wait to get to work. Yes, really. They say things like, “This is a great place to work, and I feel grateful to have the opportunity to be here with these great people.” Often, they say they can’t believe they get to work there. That’s because they feel involved, appreciated and connected.

I attribute many of the outcomes in business to the degree of connectedness that exists between people. Can I prove it? Not scientifically. But there are enough people who accept this view of how the world works to make it worth talking about. Even more, it’s important to implement it in our organizations so that we can realize our potentials and so that our employees can experience a level of relatedness that brings them satisfaction.

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6 things to do after a great interview

Editor’s note: Peter K. Studner is president and senior consultant at Los Angeles- based outplacement services firm Peter K. Studner Associates and the author of Super Job Search IV.

Woman handing over resume at interview.You’ve just had your first, second or even third interview with a prospective employer, and you walked away from the meeting with a really good feeling. The interviewer may have even let slip that you’d be a great fit for the company or that your accomplishments are impressive. Understandably, you’re excited about the possibility of being hired. And if you’re like many job searchers, you’ll assume that your campaign is (finally) at a turning point.

But don’t ease off the gas pedal just yet!

A lot can happen between an outstanding interview and a job offer. Often, a great interview will put you in a group of five or six finalists, which must be narrowed down. Or the company might locate an internal candidate who eclipses external applicants. Or they decide to put the search on hold, or cancel it altogether.

The point is, there are many reasons why a promising job lead can dead-end, even after the interview stage. So don’t break your forward momentum until you have an offer in hand!

Here are six things job seekers should do after a great interview:

Don’t assume you’ve crossed the finish line. This bears repeating: Smart candidates will keep their campaigns moving full steam ahead while waiting for a job offer. Stop-and-go searches are depressing and create enormous amounts of needless stress each time you have to restart your campaign.

Keep networking and courting other employers. Try to actively cultivate as many job possibilities as you can. Ideally, you want to have a few offers come in at the same time so that you have a choice of the best position for your career.

Oh, and one more thing: Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to help others. For every 12 to 16 networking encounters, candidates usually hear about at least one job opportunity. While you might not be a good fit for each of these opportunities, chances are you know someone else who is! Fellow job seekers will appreciate the lead, and in turn, they’ll start looking for opportunities for you.

Assess your interview. While your great interview is still fresh in your mind, review it with an honest eye. Consider (and write down for future reference) what went well and what you’d like to improve on in the future, if necessary. This might be as general as cultivating more confident body language, or as specific as tweaking your approach to a certain question.

There is no such thing as a perfect interview. Treat each one as a learning opportunity. Hopefully you’ll receive an offer and won’t have to use your notes but it’s always best to actively engage in improving your skills.

Keep your references informed. If you have given the company references, be sure to inform those people that you’ve completed a promising interview and that they might get a call. If possible, discuss the position with each reference and point out which of your skills and accomplishments you’d like them to emphasize to the employer.

I suggest sending your references a copy of your resume with your most pertinent accomplishments highlighted. Ask each reference to let you know if they get a call and how it went.

Say thank you. Of course you should send a short message to each person you met at the company, thanking them for their time and consideration. It’s becoming increasingly acceptable to do this via e-mail, but sending a hard copy never goes amiss.

In addition to expressing your appreciation, you might include a follow-up thought based on a particular interview question. And be sure to state that you look forward to the next step in the process.

Look for opportunities with competitors. When you interview with one company, it’s worth your time to research and approach its competitors in case they, too, have job openings. Google “competitors + [name of company].” Then, depending on your requirements, you might approach one or all of the results.

If you don’t see a similar job opening listed on the competitor’s Web site, prepare a neat cover letter addressed to the person in that company who would be interested in your accomplishments. For example, if you are a quality control associate, address your letter to the vice president of quality, or operations, production or manufacturing. Call the company and ask for a specific name and contact information, stating that you want to write that person a letter. Or better yet, find someone within the company you can network with using your LinkedIn contacts.
Your letter should not ask for a job but should tell the reader about your key accomplishments and inform him or her of your availability. After all, since the company with which you originally interviewed hasn’t made you an offer or promised you a job, you are still a free agent.

Get the most bang for your travel buck. If you are traveling out of town for an interview, plan to visit with other companies on this trip. In advance, call their human resources departments to ask if you can drop by and talk with one of their internal recruiters. If some or all of your travel expenses are covered by the company with which you’ll be interviewing and you are asked why you’d like to stay in the area longer, do not discuss your plans to visit other organizations. Merely say you wanted to see more of the area or to visit with a few friends or relatives.

To make the most of your time away, I also recommend that you locate some of the leading recruiters in the area and arrange to meet with them. Call in advance, indicating that you will be in their town on business and would love to stop by. Do not name the company with which you will be meeting, as the recruiter may very well work closely with your prospective employer. Keep it confidential.

The biggest mistake most job seekers make after a successful interview is simply doing nothing. Remember, the more you network, apply and interview, the closer you will be to getting that ideal job. Don’t stop until you’ve crossed the finish line!

Posted in Corporate Researchers, Employment Tips, Employment Trends | Comment

Strategies for engaging Millennials in the workplace

Editor’s note: Aimee Lucas is a vice president and customer experience transformist at Temkin Group, a Boston-area customer experience research and advisory firm.

Millennials in the workplaceEngaged employees are valuable assets, yet organizations are having difficulty engaging the fastest growing portion of the workforce, Millennials – employees born between 1980 and 2000. Temkin Group’s 2014 survey of over 5,600 U.S. full-time employees – 33 percent of which were Millennials – found that just over half of this generation were moderately or highly engaged, putting them behind both Generation X and Baby Boomers.

Further research into this generation revealed the differences between Millennials and their older colleagues is not as distinct when it comes to what they look for in a workplace or in their bosses. While the following characteristics are not exclusive to this generation, our research found Millennials are:

  • Group-oriented. Millennials prefer team-based, collaborative work. Relationships are important to them and they interact with an extensive network of personal and professional connections. Our research found that compared to other employees, Millennials put greater importance on working with people they can learn from.
  • Progress-driven. This generation wants to make a difference at work right away. Our research shows that compared to employees from other generations, Millennials favor jobs with a boss who teaches them and helps them progress in their careers.
  • Socially conscious. Millennials seek meaningful work and will look to work for employers whose principles align with their personal values. Despite the desire for meaningful work, the study found that nearly 40 percent of Millennials do not understand the overall mission of their company, making them the least mission-connected of the three generations primarily represented in today’s workforce.
  • Autonomous. Millennials prefer choices over mandates. Compared to respondents from other generations, Millennials seek jobs that have flexible work hours and that encourage creativity, rather than bosses who provide specific directions for getting work done.

 

Companies are recognizing both the challenges and the opportunities associated with Millennials and are using a variety of approaches to engage this generation with their work and employer. We expect this focus to continue through 2015 and beyond as this generation continues to grow in number and begin to become leaders themselves. To understand how to best capitalize on this generation we interviewed a number of companies and identified five specific strategies that can be integrated into a company’s existing employee engagement efforts:

Expand job descriptions. Millennials want opportunities to grow and showcase their skills in meaningful ways, and they desire feedback confirming they are making valued contributions on the job. Companies should clearly define performance expectations and what success looks like and create a variety of opportunities for this generation to expand their knowledge and skills.

Create connections. This generation is used to working on teams and collaborating with others. They actively seek opportunities to form relationships both inside and outside of their organization. To fulfill Millennials’ need to build relationships, companies should foster network building within and across generational lines, organizational levels and functional roles.

Make work matter. Meaningfulness is a powerful intrinsic motivator, especially for Millennials who want to make a difference in their company and in the world at large. It’s important that organizations help this generation connect to the company’s values, culture and causes employees care about.

Make work more flexible. Millennials have grown up in a world that affords them many opportunities to choose where, when and how they communicate, learn and complete their assignments. To keep pace, organizations need to demonstrate adaptability in how they communicate, train and expect work to be done.

Develop Millennial leaders. Savvy companies need to help managers and leaders across the organization understand generational differences so that each group evolves its approaches and processes that touch employees.

HR must step up

If organizations want to actively engage Millennials, then their primary employee-focused programs need to adapt. Here’s a primer for HR groups that want to make an impact on the Millennial generation:

Hiring and onboarding. Millennials evaluate potential employers across many dimensions, including brand reputation and alignment of values. Thus, HR organizations should have a well-defined company brand and communicate that brand through the channels that Millennials naturally gravitate toward, particularly in the digital/social realm. Branding stories should center on “employees like me” and highlight how Millennials are making an impact at the organization. During the onboarding process, HR should reinforce the brand and company values and help new Millennial hires form meaningful internal relationships quickly.

Training and development. Most Millennials are used to more interactive forms of learning. So while traditional classroom-based programs might be the norm today, HR organizations need to incorporate technology-based training and collaboration tools into their Millennial learning plans. HR must facilitate growth and development outside of the classroom through stretch assignments, special projects and formalized coaching or mentoring programs. HR organizations should encourage managers to provide more frequent feedback, and train them on how to offer clear and specific coaching that recognizes both the good and the bad.

Performance management. Millennials are ambitious and have high expectations about how they will progress within their organizations. They look for very clear success criteria and want to see the path ahead of them. To appease their need for advancement, HR organizations should develop clear career paths that include more frequent milestones that emphasize individual skill development and that recognize growth even without formal promotions. This also means that HR must help managers let go and allow Millennials to take new jobs inside the company, otherwise these young employees may leave the organization to find opportunities elsewhere.

Recognition and incentives. Millennials, like generations before them, want to hear that they are doing a good job – they just want to hear it more frequently. Millennials are accustomed to structure and regular praise, and in the workplace this translates into a desire to know how they are measured and a need to receive recurring validation and approval that they are on track. HR organizations should establish non-monetary recognition programs that encourage managers and peers to find Millennials who are demonstrating the behaviors required for success. HR should also examine its formal incentive programs and incorporate rewards for demonstrating the company’s values and for exceptional team performance – both workplace elements that are important to Millennials.

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The secrets of employee motivation

Editor’s note: Beth Pearson is co-founder and HR lead at B2B research company Circle Research, London.

employee motivationResearch is a people business. Our raw materials are the opinions of respondents. Our product is the insight extracted from these raw materials by clever folk. An agency or client-side researcher can only make a difference if they’re skilled at building relationships with key stakeholders. This all means that attracting, developing and motivating top talent is critical to our industry’s future. What’s the secret?

We recently conducted a survey of more than 800 white collar employees from a variety of industries to find out.

At face value the answer was obvious. One fifth named remuneration (18 percent) or their work/life balance (17 percent) as the single most important sources of happiness at work. But as researchers we all know that the obvious answer isn’t always the true answer. So to uncover the true drivers of happiness we ran a regression analysis between overall satisfaction at work and 23 workplace attributes. The results were revealing. Base salary and work/life balance actually have only a moderate correlation with job satisfaction. They matter along with a handful of other factors related to working conditions but are really just the basics. Outstanding employers seem to add three secret ingredients: They inspire through their leadership; invigorate by providing people with enjoyable, stimulating roles; and they make people feel valued individually while at the same time creating a sense that they’re part of something bigger – part of a tribe which shares a common identity and has bought employees into the same vision.

That rings true with my own experience.

I lead HR at Circle Research and when talking with peers in similar roles elsewhere over the years I’ve noticed a pattern. When agencies are good at retaining and motivating talent, there seem to share six common features:

  • They have a clear vision. Human beings have a need to belong and feel a purpose in their life. As most people spend the majority of their waking hours in the office, the workplace forms an important role in fulfilling these ambitions. So as an employer if you communicate a clear vision in an inspiring way, then you’ll tap into these powerful fundamental human needs.
  • They are inclusive. If you want people to buy into a vision and feel part of it, then you need to involve them. At the very least that means providing regular updates on company strategy, financial performance and progress toward key goals. But why not take it a step further and invite everyone to give their own input on the company strategy? Not only does this foster a sense of ownership, you might find that opening it up to a wider team brings a fresh perspective.
  • They are results-focused. If you’re serious about rallying people around a vision, then you need to make it clear that they’ll be judged on their contribution to reaching it – the results they actually achieve. This also means that you can be flexible in your working practices and let people work where they want, when they want (after all, as long as they achieve the results, does it matter how?). This freedom is a big motivator – it lets people better manage their life and shows you trust them.
  • They are meritocracies. Being results-focused goes hand-in-hand with being a meritocracy. If the result is what matters then reward shouldn’t come simply because of time served or skill in navigating internal politics. Rather, once someone has the skills needed for the next job role, promotion should come immediately and automatically.
  • They provide career direction. Most people are ambitious and if an employer is vague about how they can help fulfill this ambition, one of two things usually happens. Either they’ll give up and let their ambition fizzle out, or they’ll find another employer who nurtures their ambition. So clearly detail the career roadmap in your company, including the skills and behaviors needed to progress from one stage to the next, and use this as the basis for performance appraisals.
  • They engineer stimulating jobs. Let’s be frank. Doing the same thing day in, day out gets boring, especially for the intellectually curious types attracted to a career in research. So if you create boring jobs, expect your people to be demoralized. But if you build variety in their role and ensure that they’re constantly being pushed just outside of their comfort zone, you’ll engage and grow them.

 

So ask yourself this – truthfully, do people in your company have a reason to be excited about coming into work?

 

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7 women who are shaping the future of MR

Editor’s note: Sinead Hasson is managing director of market research and insight consultancy Hasson Associates, London.

Businesswoman Throughout Women’s History Month, I read many brilliant and passionate pieces about women who have had an amazingly positive impact on the lives and careers of both women and men. But then I realized I hadn’t read anything about the women who’ve shaped market research.

Now, if you were asked to name the women in history who made a significant contribution to market research, who would you name? When I asked colleagues and clients that very question, we were spoilt for choice. But after a lot of thought, I developed this list of women I believe are playing leading roles in making our industry successful:

Wendy Gordon – Gordon is a Fellow of the Market Research Society, author, conference speaker and media commentator. She was honored by The Women’s Advertising Club of London as one of its Women of Achievement, all while working with a variety of clients, spanning many business sectors and geographies.

Phyllis MacFarlane – MacFarlane has been chair of the Market Research Society and chair of GfK’s U.K. business GfK NOP. Most recently she has been promoting and developing MR across Africa in her role as global training director for consumer experiences.

Elizabeth Nelson – Nelson co-founded Taylor Nelson in 1965 and was awarded an OBE for services to eco-labelling in 1992. Since then she’s worked as chair of an NHS trust and been CEO of three charities. Throughout her career, Nelson has pioneered research innovation and industry governance and has continued this work as part of her role on the Market Research Society’s main board.

Rita Clifton – During her time as chair of Interbrand, Clifton recognized the importance of the digital age and set up new digital branding services. Clifton was also responsible for presiding over the annual league table of the 100 most valuable brands in the world. While president of the Market Research Society, she made many significant contributions to the industry and most recently was awarded a CBE in last year’s Honors List.

Jane Frost – Frost is currently the CEO of the Market Research Society and is championing its modernization and value for members. In addition, her work to introduce the Fair Data trust mark is seeking to safeguard the public. Beyond the private sector, Frost’s work in revolutionizing HMRC’s customer intelligence and corporate strategy earned her a CBE.

Betty Adamou– Adamou is renowned in the industry for Research Games – a term she coined herself. A frequent conference speaker and writer, she’s shared her work on games and research at countless market research events worldwide, inspiring the industry at large to appreciate the benefits of adopting this approach.

Kristen Luck – One of the original pioneers of the multimedia online research business during her time at ACNielsen, Luck is also a regular speaker at industry conferences and a columnist for Research Business Report. She’s also been the recipient of the American Marketing Association’s 4 Under 40 Award and a 2010 Stevie Awards finalist.

Shaping the future of market research

When young female candidates in our industry ask me for examples of mentors and ambassadors the women above are the first names I offer. In my opinion, they’ve never stopped striving to improve the industry as a whole, innovating and disrupting with equal measure.

That said, I am worried that we’re not doing enough to attract the next generation of female industry leaders to follow in their footsteps.

As you read this, there are thousands of female undergraduates across the country preparing for final exams and considering their career options. The competition for talent has never been as fierce.

For this reason, I’d ask the industry to create a hall of fame for people who’ve shaped our industry. Men and women. But we shouldn’t stop there. We need to shout our achievements from the rooftops to make sure we attract the best and brightest if we are to secure the rightful future for this amazing industry.

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10 tips to help you move beyond surface networking

Editor’s note: Nancy D. O’Reilly is a clinical psychologist, an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc.

women networkingIf you want to join the women-helping-women movement, you’re already looking for opportunities to make deeper, more meaningful connections, support each other and make the world a better place. But just going to the conference, fundraiser or team meeting isn’t enough. You have to know what comes next – what to say or do to connect with other women in ways that yield real relationships and change lives (including yours) for the better.

Here, excerpted from my book, Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life, I offer 10 tips to help you supercharge your new connections:

  • Make the mental shift from “What can I get from you?” to “What can we create together?” Simple as it sounds, this really is the first step and the key to successful connections. When we think of networking as a self-serving exercise, we really don’t want to do it. It feels bad. But when we infuse sharing and giving into the process, suddenly it feels good. And it works.
  • Go to functions alone. This will force you to meet people rather than spending the whole time chatting with friends and colleagues. At first, it’s really hard for some women to do this (probably most of us) but we are hardwired to connect. When you get over your initial anxiety, you will see how natural (and fun) it feels.
  • Sit beside a woman you don’t know. Like showing up alone (though perhaps a bit less scary), this will force you to get to know someone new. Be friendly: introduce yourself, introduce her to others and find something in common.
  • Have three or four good “go-to” questions in the bag. This will be a huge help in case a conversation grinds to a halt. (Awkward!) It doesn’t matter what the questions are but you might consider thought-provokers like, “If time and money were no object, what would you be doing right now?” or “What is one goal you’d like to accomplish before you die?” or “What have you done lately that was fun?”
  • Practice being interested rather than interesting. The old style of networking involved a lot of selling your skills and showcasing your knowledge. Resist the urge. Instead, when you’re talking to someone new, ask her about herself and really listen to her answers.
  • Probe for people’s passions. Then stick to that topic for a while. You can tell when someone is excited about a subject. Her eyes light up. Her voice gets animated. When this happens – whether it happens when she mentions snow skiing, Civil War history or helping African women support their villages – keep the conversation going along these lines. Passion is a powerful energy source for making connections.
  • Read three relevant articles before the event. If you are at a business convention, you might want to scour the trades for new trends, products and processes. This gives you fodder for discussion. The idea isn’t to use it to show off or impress the other person but to bolster your own confidence, which makes you comfortable enough to connect.
  • Gravitate toward women who are smarter than you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be the smartest, most interesting, most successful person in the group. Try not to feel threatened by other amazing women – instead, ask yourself what you can learn from them.
  • Ask, “What can I do to help you?” (Then follow through.) This may catch people off guard. They probably expect you to ask for an interview or a chance to pitch your product. When you ask a woman if you can, say, introduce her to an influential colleague or bring your therapy dog to the children’s hospital she runs, she will be delighted.
  • Avoid phoniness at all costs. Be real. Don’t hide or downplay your true nature or your beliefs to fit in or to make sure the person you’re connecting with likes you. Healthy relationships are built on transparency, and people respect this … even if you don’t agree on everything.

 

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The 12 types of bosses

Editor’s note: Geoffrey James is a business journalist writing for Inc.com, Boston.

There are 12 types of bosses, each with a different management style.

Business and authorityEveryone needs a field guide to identify which type of boss they’ve got and how to get the most out of the experience.

1. The visionary

Visionaries are more concerned with the future than with what’s going on here and now. They manage by creating (or trying to create) a reality-distortion field that makes a team believe they can accomplish the impossible.

While visionaries can be fun to work for, they can also be intolerant, overly critical and sometimes throw tantrums when they don’t get their way.

If you’re working for a visionary, drink the Kool-Aid, work the long hours and learn to repeat this mantra: “This product will change the world.”

2. The climber

Climbers are interested in you only insofar as you can help or hinder their ascent to the corner office. They spend most of their time and effort figuring out how to win status, claim credit and build alliances.

Because they’re obsessed with their own career, they see you (and everyone else) only as either a help or a hindrance to achieving their personal goals.

If you’re working for a climber, become the person who has his back when his fellow climbers try to stab it.

3. The bureaucrat

Bureaucrats want everything run by the book. They are resistant to change because they see their current situation as the best of all possible worlds.

Bureaucrats thrive inside large enterprises but falter in smaller firms because the lack of a crowd makes it too obvious that they really aren’t doing all that much.

If you’re working for a bureaucrat, document everything you do and limit your activities to what’s been done in the past. Warning: Bureaucrats can grind your creativity into dust.

4. The propellerhead

When engineers get into the management chain, they bring a technology-oriented worldview with them. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean you’ll be judged almost entirely on your technical competence.

The propellerhead boss prefers employees who are experts in some technical field – the more obscure the better. They consider all nontechnical types (like MBA holders) equally stupid and useless.

If you’re working for a propellerhead, become fluent in nerdy pop culture references. If possible, illustrate business points by quoting lines from specific Star Trek episodes.

5. The fogey

Fogeys have been around since the days when “secretaries” (whoever they were) used “typewriters” (whatever they were). They’re wise in the ways of the world but clueless about what’s actually going on.

Fogeys who are close to retirement are often quite jovial and easy-going; those who must continue to work because they can’t afford to retire can be meaner than dyspeptic weasels.

If you’re working for a fogey, don’t assume that every duffer is a doofus. Reassure your boss that he’s still relevant and then recruit him as a mentor.

6. The whippersnapper

The flip side of the fogey is the barely-out-of-college go-getter who’s assigned to manage a group of seasoned employees.

Whippersnappers are energetic, enthusiastic but secretly afraid that nobody is taking them seriously.

If you’re working for a whippersnapper, respond enthusiastically to the energy they bring to their job and never, ever remind them of their relative inexperience.

7. The social director

Social directors consider the personal interactions that happen in the workplace as important as (and sometimes more important than) the work itself.

Social directors manage by consensus. They call a LOT of meetings and spend a LOT of time letting people air their opinions and ideas.

If you’re working for a social director, build alliances and garner supporters before trying to get any decision made. Also, be the one who brings the donuts to the meeting.

8. The dictator

While most people find the “my way or the highway” boss irritating, working for a dictator has some advantages. They make decisions quickly, without over-analyzing.

On the other hand, dictators are impervious to outside opinion and brittle when it comes to change. When they fail, it’s usually on an epic scale.

If you’re working for a dictator, simply follow orders and hope for the best. But be ready to job hunt before the dictator drives your organization over a cliff.

9. The sales star

Selling is part of every job, and every boss should be able to sell his or her ideas. The problem with sales stars is that’s the only thing they know how to do.

Sales star bosses are usually created when top sales professionals are promoted into management, which is stupid because managing people requires a different skill set from selling to customers.

If you’re working for a sales star, encourage them to sell for you! Bring them into situations where a deal must be closed or terms negotiated.

10. The hatchet man

Hatchet men (or women) are brought into an organization to fire people as quickly as possible, usually to make the company more attractive to investors.

There are only two roles available for people who work for a hatchet man: henchman or victim. Ultimately the favored role, that of henchman, is temporary: They often get canned too.

The best way to deal with a hatchet man is to be long gone by the time he or she arrives.

11. The lost lamb

Sometimes people who have no management talent end up in a position of authority, usually because a manager left and the organization needs somebody to “hold the fort.”

Lost lambs continue whatever policies were previously in place and dread doing anything that will be held against them once they’re pushed back into the ranks.

If you’re working for a lost lamb, move your projects forward without forcing your manager to make any difficult decisions.

12. The hero

Heroes prefer to coach others than to do things themselves. They have a knack for figuring out exactly what their employees need in order to do a superlative job and then how to get that for them.

Heroes always give their teams credit for the wins but take personal responsibility for the losses. They believe that “the buck stops here” not that “shit rolls downhill.”

If you’re working for a hero, enjoy it while it lasts, because chances are the hero will get promoted upward or be recruited to work elsewhere.

Adapted from Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know by Geoffrey James.

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Why Six Sigma may stifle innovation

Editor’s note: Edward D. Hess is a professor of business administration, author of Lear or Die: Using science to build a leading-edge learning organization and Batten executive-in-residence at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.  

Dell. 3M. Motorola. General Electric. They are just a few of the organizations that have embraced Lean and Six Sigma over the past couple of decades. And no wonder. There’s something so appealing, so elegant, about the concept that drives these systems: Take what we already know, replicate it, improve it and repeat. It’s so easy a robot could do it – and that’s precisely the problem.

Perpetual motion with broken light bulbs and glowing bulbVery soon the tasks that Lean and Six Sigma have helped operationalize will be handled primarily by robots and smart machines.

That’s a good thing. Nothing beats a robot in terms of efficiency and perfection. But here’s the real question: How good is your company at doing all the things robots can’t do well – such as innovate?

As you’ve no doubt heard, the only real competitive advantage these days is the ability to learn and innovate. That means your organization must be okay with risk – and the screw-ups, missteps and waste that inevitably accompany it. The problem, of course, is that an organization steeped in the lore of Lean and Six Sigma naturally views them as sins to stamp out.

So am I suggesting we abandon the quest for operational excellence? Well, no. We must allow Lean or Six Sigma or whatever operational excellence system we follow to coexist peacefully with a deep desire to learn and try new things, even when the outcome is unknown.

Yes, it’s a paradox. But it’s one that must be hardwired into the fabric of an organization through a learning culture, because learning is the fundamental process that underlies both operational excellence and innovation.

Lean and Six Sigma just need to happen in the context of a hybrid business model, one that also prioritizes the need for innovation while keeping in play the best aspects of operational excellence – for example, its focus on relentless, constant improvement.

If you want to survive the coming Digital Age of Machines (a.k.a. the 21st century), you MUST create a learning environment with these five key elements:

Give employees permission to try and fail. Perhaps the most popular reasons Lean and Six Sigma are used by companies are to increase efficiency and reduce costs. However, when you worship efficiency, you also can handcuff learning and innovation. Employees must be given conditional permission to fail within proscribed financial tolerances, with the knowledge that they won’t be punished for their mistakes so long as they learn.

Bridgewater Associates, the biggest and one of the most successful hedge funds in the world, is passionate about the power of mistakes. Bridgewater actually encourages employees to get excited about their mistakes because each error that employees learn from will make them better faster. Employees are instructed not to feel bad about their mistakes or failed experiments, or those of others. Learning from mistakes, being honest about personal weaknesses and stress-testing one’s thinking, the company believes, is a reliable strategy for long-term success.

Shift leadership toward coaching-ship. The knowing and telling that can make up leadership under Six Sigma-style systems can stifle independent thinking. If you want an adaptable learning (thinking) organization, you need to humanize your management models, and that requires many leaders and companies to fundamentally change their attitudes and behaviors toward employees. This paradigm shift from command and control leaders to developmental coaching is pivotal to creating a culture where employees are not fearful of making mistakes and feel safe enough to try. Humility, empathy, emotional intelligence and self-management are required leadership capabilities for today’s companies. These qualities nurture the very human capabilities that are at the root of adaptation and innovation: the ability to ideate, create, emotionally engage and learn in conditions of uncertainty, ambiguity and rapid change.

Allow the best ideas to rise to the top. In an idea meritocracy, the best ideas win out regardless of the position held by the thinker-upper. Innovation and creativity are what matter, not hierarchy.

Google has successfully built an idea meritocracy to drive innovation and experimentation – in other words, trying new things. To support this culture, pay level is irrelevant in decision making, and so is experience or tenure – unless the experience provides data used to frame good arguments. In fact, Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, stated in the book How Google works that Google employees are told not to listen to HiPPOs, or the highest paid person’s opinion just because of their position.

Make candor with a duty to dissent the gold standard. Operational excellence can lead to command-and-control, hierarchy-based cultures. Unfortunately, these cultures have a tendency to stifle dissent and limit learning.

At Google, employees have a duty to dissent. This means that relative rookies can – and do – raise objections and present alternate ideas when they disagree with their bosses. A similar duty to dissent can be found at UPS, which has an employee-centric culture of constructive dissatisfaction, meaning that everyone has the duty to find ways to improve.

Candor and permission to speak freely without fear of punishment are critical to becoming an innovative organization. This is evidenced at Google, Bridgewater Associates, Pixar Animation and W.L. Gore and Associates.

Teach employees how to overcome their weaknesses. We cannot learn when we constantly seek to be right, actively avoid the risk of making mistakes or ignore those who disagree with us. Employees must work around these human tendencies in order to become better thinkers, learners, and in turn, innovators.

We are sub-optimal learners. In order to learn, we have to be open-minded and be willing to constantly stress-test our beliefs against data and we need to really listen to people who disagree with us. In other words, we have to be willing to be wrong! Overcoming the strength of our ego-defense system requires management of our emotions and quieting our egos. We need to decouple our beliefs (not values) from our egos. We are not our ideas. Yes, in order to optimize the good things our human brains can do, we must overcome the bad aspects of our humanness. That requires a learning culture and the rigorous daily use of best thinking, listening, and collaborating processes.

Ultimately, Lean and Six Sigma systems thrive on eradicating variance. Innovation, on the other hand, thrives on variance. Reconciling that difference along with the different tolerances for failure can be achieved under an umbrella learning culture.

I believe that technology advances will make operational excellence a commodity, making innovation the key organic growth strategic differentiator. That means the organization of the future has to be both operationally excellent and innovative. That is made easier with a learning culture.

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