Love What You Do!

June 30, 2009

Last weekend, my daughter Hannah and I watched the movie Night At The Museum: Battle At The Smithsonian. In the movie, the museum exhibits – people and creatures – come alive each night only to return to their inanimate forms when the sun rises. Ben Stiller’s character was the former night watchman at the museum. One night, while talking to Teddy Roosevelt, he answers his Blackberry just before the former president discloses the one key to happiness. Teddy returns to returns to silence, never uttering the key.
Ultimately, Stiller’s character discovers for himself the key to happiness: doing what you love. He sells his company and returns to his job as night watchman. Hollywood cliché? Perhaps. Yet, during all my years in business – as an attorney, financial advisor, training director and human resource director – I found success and happiness are largely intertwined. Happy people are excited and energized by their work, eager to grow and achieve. They don’t complain or let setbacks derail them.
Are you doing what you love? Are you passionate, enthusiastic and keyed up about your job and career? Does your energy electrify others? By matching your personality and skills to a job you can help to ensure career happiness. These factors and questions will assist in clarifying your current job satisfaction.
1. Fit. Everyone is different, and each of us must find a career/job that fits our personality. Career happiness is very individual, and unique to each person. For example, most sales people would not be happy being engineers and vice versa, since the personalities of the positions are so different. Also, needs change over time. A young parent may desire more flexibility than when they are an empty nester. Does your job, your roles and responsibilities and organizational culture fit your personality and preferences? Are you in the right environment? Do you have the level of security and certainty you require?
2. Goals. Clearly defined goals that stretch a person stimulate feelings of accomplish. Do you have stretch goals that you can check off when they are achieved?
3. Control. Most people require a sense of control of their lives and work. This can manifest itself in different ways. Some people want the autonomy to make decisions and others want a highly structured environment. Do you feel that you are in control and empowered?
4. Meaning. People want to feel that they are part of something larger than themselves. Do you have a sense of purpose in your career and know how you fit into the larger picture of your organization?
5. Relationships. People need strong relationships at work with both peers and managers. Do you have a best friend at work? Are you part of a team? Does your manager respect you?
Unlike Ben Stiller’s character, most people do not find the “perfect” job and still lead happy and productive lives and careers. So don’t fret it if these leading indicators of satisfaction are lacking in your career. You can insert some of these ingredients of happiness to your job or, if not, to your life in general. For example, you can seek out more challenging assignments or create some for yourself like I do by running races.
The good news is that happiness is a choice. Regardless of circumstances you can choose your attitude. Optimism, relationships, expectations and commitment all impact career happiness more than the specific role. Therefore, changing a job may have little impact on your satisfaction. Happiness begins inside us and shapes the work we do and how we do it.
If you are asking a job to make you happy you are asking too much from the job. Teddy Roosevelt did not need to utter the key, because we all know the key is to choose happiness and not expect it to fall in your lap.

Running’s Business Lessons

May 10, 2009

Several weeks ago I wrote about the business lessons I learned while training for a marathon. I also learned a lot running in the race so here is the sequel! I regularly run in South Mountain Reservation in Essex County, so I decided to run in the first annual Muddy Marathon, a trail marathon held at the Craigmeur Recreation Complex in Rockaway. I generally train alone and figured I would complete the course in 4 ½ to five hours. My race day reality was quite different: I ran with others and finished in over seven hours and remarkably tied for second place out of a starting field of 25. My marathon reinforced many lessons that are applicable to both running and business.
So here are a few of the lessons that can help all of us in our business lives:
Teamwork – The race consisted of 4 difficult loops and over 6,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. It included running in knee deep mud, scaling a sheer rock face and running on the edge of a cliff. All of this was done while following trail marking that disappeared with the rain the night before the race. There is no way I would have finished the race by myself. I met fellow Essex Running Club member Chris Jaworski (Bloomfield) and others during the first loop and we ran as a group. Working as a team we ran faster and smarter than any of us could alone. We kept each other focused, alert and energized. I experienced the ultimate team building exercise and realized that teams, even those created literally on the run, accomplish more than individuals. Build teams and alliances at work and watch your productivity grow.
Expect the unexpected – Cliffs, bogs and bears were not what I signed up for, but that’s what I got. Today’s business environment is unpredictable and full of surprises. To succeed and finish the marathon it was necessary to adapt my approach – slow my pace, read the environment and react. At work, you must take your time to assess situations before you act because they may not be what you expected. Possessing dexterity and flexibility is a valuable trait in today world.
Cheerleaders – After my third loop (about the 20 mile mark) I was tired and sore and needed a lift. My wife, kids and parents were waiting for me. They gave me strength. My “cheerleaders” stimulated my energy and drove me to the finish. It is important to build relationships at work where you encourage others and they encourage you. Words of support are vital; make sure you offer positive feedback and support to others.
Competition – After each loop I asked the race organizer, what my place was in the race. I wanted to know how hard to run so I could finish near the top. Life is a competition. We all try to do our best and perform at our peak capabilities, but a true test is how you perform relative to others.
Pain is transitory, pride lasts forever – During the race I was in pain, but I never thought of quitting. Everything I ever accomplished in life came after difficult effort. At work, that includes many long hours and taking on difficult projects, but they lead the way to promotions and increased skills. While you are in the midst of a trying period at work, remember it too shall pass, and you will be rewarded with the pride of achievement.
Challenge yourself – I initially decided to run a trail marathon because they are generally more difficult and varied than road marathons. I was not disappointed. Our careers need to constantly challenge ourselves. Challenges help us stretch ourselves and bring us closer to our capabilities. Achieving in a more challenging environment also creates greater euphoria. So stretch your goals, take a risk and go for it!
One day I will wipe the smile off my face, but I will still have the scars to remember my achievements.

Job Market Tips

April 12, 2009

As the unemployment rate rises, employers continue to cut jobs making the competition for every open position is fierce. To land a job in this environment requires near perfect execution during the job search process. While many factors outside of your control will impact your ability to get hired, you must be certain that you control everything in your power.
A job search is perfectly designed to produce what it is producing. In other words, if you are having trouble in getting hired you must look in the mirror to see what you can do better. Here are some things that can help you improve your odds.
If you are not getting interviews, improve your resume. Recruiters, human resources and hiring managers receive too many resumes to view each one thoroughly. You must ensure that yours stands out. Make your resume easy to read by including a bulleted accomplishment section at the top and by bulleting, bolding and italicizing judiciously throughout the resume’s body. Ensure there are no typos or grammatical errors. Content should be process and result oriented and not a job description. Finally, customize your resume by reading specific job postings and reordering and adjusting your content to create similarities between your resume and the job description.
Finding a job in this market is a full time exercise. You must visit job boards and company sites every day. Many qualified candidates are applying for each position, allowing jobs to be filled quickly. For example, two weeks ago I posted an ad for a receptionist and in just 2 hours I received over 300 resumes. With my inbox overwhelmed, I took the ad down and hired someone from that group. Therefore, it is critical to be one of the first candidates. You must reach out to your network regularly and use sites like Linked In and Facebook to identify contacts in target firms.
Show proof of your ability by tracking your results and displaying them clearly. Bring reports, documents, performance appraisals – anything that shows you are as good as you say. The mere fact you bring evidence of your successes may sway the interviewer.
Do not speak poorly about others on an interview. I learned this lesson the hard way. I hired someone who spoke poorly about her previous manager and for two years I was reminded that the employee, and not her previous manager, was the problem. What someone says about others says often says more about who they are than anything else.
The perfect job may not be out there today. Give yourself permission to take a job for less pay or at a lower level than your target position. Currently, it is more important to be working than to have the perfect job. Put yourself in a position to weather the economic downturn.
Be truthful about how long you are looking. Everyone recognizes the difficult market and therefore it is ok to say you have looked for a job for a while and have not found one. Be truthful and say “I was laid off 6 months ago and I have been looking ever since.” The truth is better than saying you decided to take time off or wanted to travel – all of which make it look like you do not really possess a sense of urgency about landing a job.
Keep track of the positions you apply for with a spreadsheet or a notepad so you will be able to quickly reference who is calling you. A company wants to believe that their position is special to you. I rarely interview a candidate who says “I am applying for a lot of jobs. What type of job is it anyway?”
Apply for only one job within a company. I often receive multiple resumes from one candidate for different jobs. Be targeted. That sends the message is that you will take any job offered. Even if it is true, have the wisdom and self-respect not to express it.
Show up on time. I had a candidate show up late for an interview. He claimed the subway had a problem. I was very impressed with him so I scheduled a second appointment to make sure he showed up on time and if he did he had the job. Once again he was late, and I lost all confidence in his reliability.
These tips will help you stand out from the crowd!

Powerful Resume Words

March 17, 2009

Powerful, action oriented words help you to develop a strong and impactful impression. The following list of words show a person who is results oriented. These words should be used in your resume, letters, interviews. Choose the words that connect best to the position you are interviewing for and write them down. Then make sure you use them appropriately and consistently in your communications.
• Ability • Accelerated
• Accomplished • Achieved
• Adapted • Advised
• Analyzed • Arranged
• Assessed • Attained
• Awarded • Benchmarked
• Built • Capable
• Communicated • Composed
• Conceived • Conceptualized
• Conducted • Constructed
• Consulted • Controlled
• Coordinated • Counseled
• Created • Decreased
• Delegated • Delivered
• Demonstrated • Designed
• Developed • Devised
• Directed • Discovered
• Economized • Edited
• Eliminated • Enlarged
• Established • Evaluated
• Exceeded • Executed
• Expanded • Expedited
• Implemented • Improved
• Increased • Influenced
• Initiated • Instituted
• Instructed • Interpreted
• Invented • Launched
• Led • Made
• Managed •Modified
• Motivated • Negotiated
• Operated • Orchestrated
• Organized • Overhauled
• Planned • Prepared
• Presented • Processed
• Produced • Proficient
• Promoted • Provided
• Recommended • Recruited
• Reduced • Reengineered
• Reorganized • Researched
• Reshaped • Responsible
• Revised • Scheduled
• Selected • Simplified
• Sold • Solved
• Sponsored • Streamlined
• Strengthened • Structured
• Supervised • Systematic
• Taught • Trained
• Translated • Updated
• Won • Wrote

Please visit me at www.markschnurman.com or contact me at holbertgroup@hotmail.com.

It Is Critical To Remain Positive

March 8, 2009

The stimulus and bailout debate is centered on how bad the economy is and how inaction will lead to catastrophe.  The language of fear, negativity and pessimism has exacerbated the economic malaise and is killing our economy.  It may also adversely affect your career or company. 

 

Our self-fulfilling economic nightmare may occur, with or without the recently passed stimulus/bailout package, precisely because we are being scared into inaction like the proverbial deer in the headlights. 

 

People change or act for 2 reasons: greed or fear.  The internet stock and housing bubbles indicate that greed is a strong motivator.  The widespread fear engendered by the current debate caused a drop in consumer spending and associated rise in savings, harbingering a new era of frugality.  As a nation we are at a critical inflection point with 2 potential paths. We can let fear reign and quickly lose our global leadership position or we can exude confidence and create a sustained recovery.  The language of the discourse will largely dictate our future. 

 

So too it is with your company and career.   My firm downsized about 5 percent of its workforce or about 50 people. I delivered that difficult message.  To ensure poor morale and fear would not engulf the organization we were extremely proactive in our communications.  Our positive, future focused efforts and statements placed us ahead of the negativity curve and our employees rallied.  The results are extremely encouraging and the company, a real estate and financial services firm, is having a great first quarter. 

 

In sharp contrast, a colleague related that when his company failed to give raises and bonuses employee morale went into a tailspin. By every measure, employee and company productivity dropped and the firm, with about 75 employees, is now struggling for survival. The inability of the employees to properly frame the current economic malaise may cause their demise.

While it is not always easy to stay positive in difficult times here are some tips.

 

First, find a silver lining.  A recession is when your neighbor loses his job and a depression is when you lose yours.  Most of us are merely in a recession and can still pay our bills.  While we strive for more it is comforting to still control your future and your life. 

Second, stay focused on the present and work harder than before.  The further out we place our gaze the less clear it is and these uncertain times make it difficult to look too far in the future.   Control what you can today.  In addition, the harder you work the less time you have to perseverate on negativity.  Your efforts may get recognized and help your organization perform well in tough times.  

Third, be a cheerleader.  Negativity is contagious.  Negative conversations and topics are emotionally draining and self-defeating so avoid them.  Be exceedingly optimistic and you will feel better and become a leader.  No one knows how or when the recession will end, so you might as well smile your way to its conclusion. 

Fourth, keep perspective.  All American generations experience significant hardships.  The Great Depression and World War II are examples of the difficulties we faced as a nation.  The generation forged in the crucible of these challenges is famously referred to as the Greatest Generation.  Adversity allows us to appreciate what is really important – family, friends and simple pleasures.  Rabid consumerism is probably not at the top of our lists. 

 

Finally, be realistic.  Maintain a positive outlook without being a Pollyanna.  For example, at an old firm I was unhappy and needed to take my skills, abilities and career elsewhere.  Though miserable, I faked a positive attitude and eventually found a better fit.  Keep your resume updated and your eyes and ears open.  It is a difficult job market, but there are opportunities.  Be patient and you will eventually find them. 

 

To quote founding father Thomas Paine, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”  They are also the times that allow us to find greatness in ourselves.

Interview Success: The J.O.B. Interview Method

January 25, 2009

The art of the interview is about managing what’s and how’s of the information you present to the employer. Content, order and delivery all matter. The following J.O.B. framework is a useful tool for interview preparation and delivery.
Before explaining the J.O.B. framework in depth it is helpful to look at the interview from the employer’s perspective. The employer is looking for a candidate with the technical expertise and ability to perform the position’s responsibilities and who has the overall skill set to succeed. Finally, the employer is seeking a candidate who will be a good cultural fit in the organization.
The J.O.B. framework offers candidates the opportunity to deliver the right information at the right time, and that’s what interviewing is all about. J.O.B. framework:
• Job specific skills and experience
• Overall skill set and experience
• Being a good cultural fit
Job specific skills and experience. This is the most important information to share. In an interview it is vital to exhibit the technical, job specific know-how, skills and abilities to perform the specific job for which you are interviewing. For example, if you were interviewing for a sales management position in the pharmaceutical industry you would want to stress your strong sales management background, pharmaceutical experience and degree and proven track record in coaching your team to higher performance. Other examples include specific software programs, six-sigma expertise, re-engineering experience, patent law or tax accounting experience. Focus the interviewer early and often on the idea that you have the specific skills and experience to do the job.
Overall job skills and experience. These are the skills needed to succeed at any job and are a lot more generic. Examples include, hard working, diligence, honesty, persistence, good communication skills or results orientation. These skills can be claimed by anyone, regardless of position, so they are less persuasive, but still important.
Be Compatible. Whereas the 2 previous points speak to your ability to perform the job this speaks to your ability to perform the job at a specific company. Are you a good fit for the department or corporate culture? Are you willing to work the hours and meet the travel requirements? Are your compensation and job growth expectations in line with what the position offers?
The J.O.B. framework provides a helpful approach to interviewing because it lets you understand and convey what is important. When preparing to interview you should split your responses into 2 main categories. First, list all your specific job experiences that relate to the position. Next, order the skills and experiences with the most important first. To find out what is important to the employer, you should review the job description to identify the skills the employer is seeking and present your experience in the same order since the job description states what the employer thinks is important.
Next, list the overall job skills and experience. While these lack the import and weight of the specific skills these should be shared, but are not critical. Try to sprinkle these throughout the interview, but only after you share your job specific skill set. Once again be sure to back your claims up with evidence. For example, if you say you are hard working explain that you regularly work nights and weekends.
Cultural fit is simply observed, but you should remain close to the vest on your cultural and job preferences until you have a sense of what the employer is seeking. So stay general in terms of your preferences and delve into them more deeply after you have received a job offer. For example, if you want to work in a home office, but are not sure if the position is home or office based, state that you are open to where you work as long as you have the tools to succeed.
Prepare for your next interview by using the J.O.B. framework and you will deliver the right information at the right time, and that is what interviewing is all about!

Project Strength Instead of Weakness During An Interview

January 11, 2009

Recently, I was interviewing a strong candidate who lost his position when his company went under. The candidate had a solid educational pedigree and work experience. He was bright and articulate and was just about 5 minutes away from receiving an offer. Then the following exchange occurred.
As the interviewer I said: “Tell me what areas each of your last 2 managers would say you can improve on.”
Candidate: “2 jobs ago my manager said that I was not completely engaged because the job was not what I was looking for, and at my last job my manager would probably say that the role was not the right fit for me and because of it I was bored at times. That said, I am passionate about this job and think it is going to be the right fit for me.”
I interpreted the candidate as effectively telling me that his past managers were unhappy with his effort, focus and commitment and that unless he found the perfect fit he would not give his best and total effort to a position. The candidate was professional, impressive and close to an offer, but I could not take the risk that he would be unhappy.
In this hypercompetitive, buyer’s job market you must not offer interviewers reasons not to hire you and that is exactly what the candidate did. Instead of offering to go above and beyond, he presented himself as unpredictable. No matter how nuanced, exhibiting or intimating a bad attitude, laziness, lack of commitment, focus or teamwork can kill your opportunity.
Employers know that past performance is predictive of future performance and will ask interview questions to find out about past behavior. But how can you show positive past behaviors that predict the future successes while addressing a negative or offering examples of weaknesses?
There is a simple 3 step process that will allow you to construct negatives into positives. The 3 steps are:
1. identify a non-core area for improvement
2. position it so it can be seen as a positive
3. show how you are working on improving the area.
First, only identify weaknesses that will not devalue you as a candidate. So identify the 4 or 5 core roles for the position you are interviewing for and be sure to not address any of them in the weaknesses area. For example, if you are interviewing for an engineering management position that uses specific software you should not identify basic engineering, the software or management skills as areas for improvement. In addition, you should not show weaknesses in the area of work ethic, learning, commitment and getting along with others. These are core traits that are necessary in all jobs.
In the example from above, the candidate stated his last 2 managers did not think he worked “that hard.” Some people put in a minimal effort while others work hard, but in this economy no one needs to take a risk on a “lazy” or “unmotivated” candidate.
Second, look for an area that is a negative, but can be perceived as a positive. For example, you can say “I try to take on too much work” or “I try to balance multiple projects” and have missed some deadlines because of it. This statement can position you as a hard worker. Since managers can help employees manage workflow or time, but cannot put the fire in an employee’s belly this subtle approach can have a powerful impact. Either of these answers can present you as a candidate who will work hard and who can flourish with a little guidance.
The third and final step is addressing the weakness. For example, “because I recognize the importance of meeting deadlines I have begun to manage my projects on a timeline so that I do not bite off more than I can chew and can meet my deadlines. But this is an ongoing process for me.” All of us can improve in different areas but here is a candidate actually endeavoring to do it!
These’s tips will help you turn your weaknesses into positives and help you land your next job!

Are You Sabotaging Your Career?

January 2, 2009

As a Director of Human Resources and someone who has dispersed a great share of career advice over the years it never ceases to amaze me how often people engage in irrational, self-sabotaging career behavior. Career Coaches help their client’s careers by offering advice and expertise and taking the emotion out of decisions. Below are some of the most common forms of career self-sabotage I have witnessed and how to avoid them.
Overreactions/Underreactions. Years ago, while in graduate school, I had a professor who purposely elicited emotional responses from his students. We would watch regularly as students would have strong emotional reactions and lose control. Calmly, the professor would say that when someone overreacts there is a reason that generally has little to do with the actual event. So why do you overreact at work? Pent up frustration, anger, fear or excitement?
Taking things personally. Jobs and careers are critical to our identity and generate income, savings, introduce you to friends and create a sense of self-worth. When things happen at work it is easy to be emotionally involved and take things personally. But is it is not always personal. Take a step back and look at the situation with an unemotional eye.
Lack of self-knowledge. Knowing your strengths and limitations enables you to properly assess your skills and abilities. Without understanding your unique value proposition you cannot appreciate the interplay of forces that impact your career and may not properly assess situations or read the tea leaves. So what are you good at? What can you improve on?
Fear of taking risk/failure. You want a promotion and raise. Are you willing to pay the price and take the risk? Are you willing to risk rejection? This often manifests itself with people failing to seek the promotion, ask for a raise or a place on a key project team. Ask and you shall receive.
Following others (Lemming Effect). Following the wrong person is what I call the Lemming Effect. There are a lot of leaders, official and unofficial, in the workplace. It is critical to align yourself with the right person, one who is professional, well thought of and well connected. Too often I see people associate with negative people who help to make decisions for them and have their career stalled. Independently, analyze the situation and don’t rely on the herd to do it for you. Use common sense.
Making decisions without all the facts. While information does not lead to better decision-making, it helps to effectively understand the situation. Get enough facts and brainstorm your choices. Viewing the breadth of choices is empowering and leads to better decision making. After gathering a reasonable amount of information, do a cost benefit or risk reward analysis. Your analysis should look at the pros and cons of your choices, their likelihood and magnitude of success and failure. Understand the downside consequences.
Making decisions without seeking feedback. Before making decisions seek feedback and input from others. Get advice from people educated and trained differently, perhaps even those in different businesses. They may be able to offer you unique advice.
Failure to adjust. Evaluate your decisions and adjust accordingly. If you see you made a mistake, cut your losses. Do not continue down a bad path to fix a mistake. For example, if I realize I hired the wrong person I fix it as quickly as possible. To do otherwise will only lead to more downside.
I always thought it strange that to ensure that they make the proper investment decisions, many people engage Financial Advisors. These Advisors get paid handsome sums of money by helping people make prudent investment decisions. Yet far fewer people reach out to career coaches who can ensure that people have the money to invest in the first place. Career coaches help clients make rational, well thought out decisions and remove the element of emotions from the decision making process. It is worth the investment.

Land The Interview

December 30, 2008

We are clearly in a buyer’s market where employers possess both leverage and pricing power. As the economy weakens and the unemployment rate rises, employees become more nervous about what the future holds for our companies and careers and begin searching for alternative opportunities. As a Human Resources Director, I track the response rates for my job postings and have seen a 54% increase in responses verses a year ago. The competition is fierce so you must be extremely proactive in your job search.
If you try to get an interview the same way everybody else does you will get the same results. You must be unique and use various strategies outside of the norm. Here are some tactics that can help you get your foot in the door.
Call the employer. Most candidates send their resume by email. A job posting can garner literally hundreds of resumes. It is impossible for the employer to screen and review all of them. In contrast, very few candidates call the hiring manager. So be different,
Step one is to call the company and find out who the hiring or recruiting manager is for the position of interest. Simply say “I have corresponded with the recruiter for the “position”, but am not quite sure of his/her name. Can you help me?”
Once you have the name of the hiring manager/recruiter put together a list of 4 or 5 critical reasons why you are a great candidate for the position. Then call, introduce yourself and say “the reason for my call is I have a strong background in . . . and believe my past successes such as [insert critical reasons] make me a great candidate for the position. I forwarded my resume and would love the chance to speak to you about my background to see if there is a good fit.” Focus the conversation on your strengths and close for the interview.
Send your resume by regular U.S. mail and email. Since the vast majority of resumes and correspondence today come through email, a hard copy sent through regular mail may ensure your resume gets noticed. Again, find out the name of the hiring manager and send your resume and cover letter to their attention.
Network into the organization. All of us know a lot of people. Create a list of your college friends, colleagues, vendors, friends and neighbors and you will quickly have access to a strong network to tap into. Networking sites like Linked-in (www.linkedin.com) and Facebook (www.facebook.com) can help by offering you a well defined network and identify where your connections are employed. The purpose of your network is not to get you hired, but rather to get you the meeting, whether by phone or face to face. Contact your network and ask for help.
Personally drop your resume off. Years ago as I was looking for an operations manager a candidate showed up at my workplace to introduce herself. She was professionally dressed, had her presentation down and was respectful of my time. She told me she simply wanted to ensure her resume was reviewed. Linda, who was a candidate I would have passed on if I received her resume via email, turned out to be one of the best hires I ever made.
We are in difficult economic times and changing jobs is very difficult for everyone, so you must differentiate yourself. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. These techniques will help you get more interviews.

Assertiveness Can Lead To Career Success

December 9, 2008

Assertiveness

Years ago, when I was being recruited by a major southern bank, they flew my wife and I down to Charlotte to become better acquainted with the city and to pitch us on accepting the position.   On the flight I sat in the middle seat and my wife sat on the aisle.  A man came to our row and switched his gaze between his ticket, my wife and the seat numbers below the carry on storage.  After about one minute of doing this, my curiosity was piqued and I asked him if I could assist.  I will never forget his response: “I must be mistaken but my ticket says I have this aisle seat, but because your wife is sitting there I must be wrong.”  We looked at my wife’s ticket and she promptly moved to the window, her correct seat.  This was my introduction to the indirect, nonassertive nature of southern communication.  A New Jerseyan would have simply said “Hey that’s my seat, get up!” 

In that scenario, and in the workplace, it is best to strike a measured balance between a passive and aggressive approach.  The following tips will help you strike the right balance and help you show your metal and get what you deserve.

1.       To be assertive you must have an end in mind.  Knowing what you want allows you to be authentically firm and keep you from equivocating under pressure. 

2.       Prepare what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.  Preparation will imbue you with additional confidence and help you deliver your message more effectively.  Without preparing you may get nervous and be too passive or too aggressive.

3.       Pick the right time and place.  Many people become nervous when they need to be assertive and end up making their case in passing or as an after-thought. If you want a raise, a new office or an internal job transfer schedule the conversation with the right person and take it to a neutral site if appropriate. 

4.       Be direct.  Don’t beat around the bush.  For example you can say “I want to move into the open office.”  Whether or not your request is granted the other person will respect your directness.

5.       Be clear in your requests by making them time and result specific.  Instead of “I need the project completed soon” say “I need all the data entered and scrubbed for errors by 12:00 Friday.” 

6.       Confirm directions via email.  If you are giving directions, ask the people you are directing to send you an email confirming the details of your conversation.  When having an important conversation with your boss, send them the email.  The follow up ensures a shared understanding and minimizes confusion and future pain.

7.       Don’t confuse the issue.  Stay focused on your goals and don’t let the issue become confused.  For example, if you are seeking completion by an employee of a project, don’t let them change the subject to another employee who they perceive is the problem. 

8.       Use I statements.  “I” means it is your opinion, belief or request.  It places you in an assertive position where you take responsibility for your actions.

9.       Have Positive Body Language.   Use a strong handshake and strong body language.  Stand or sit up straight, look the person in the eye and keep your body open (don’t cross your arms and legs).  Be sure not to point or to get too close since those are signs of aggressive behavior.

These tips will help you become a more effective leader, employee and coworker and get what you want out of your job.  Its time to get out of the back seat and begin driving the bus!