ASKING FOR A PROMOTION OR RAISE? DO IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS

For those of you old enough to remember, there was a Smith Barney commercial in the 80s featuring the actor John Houseman that said, “We make money the old-fashioned way – we earn it.”

While the 80s were wrong-minded in so many ways (leg-warmers and Steve Guttenberg, anyone?), the times did tout working hard as a means to achieving one’s professional goals.

Flash-forward to the “00s” or “Aughts” or whatever you want to deem the last decade. Of late, we’ve encountered quite a few young souls who thought it was perfectly acceptable to ask for a raise or promotion for personal reasons, not because they had earned it by working hard, taking on more responsibility, exceeding expectations or being a true asset to their company, boss, coworkers or clients. Instead, they believed themselves deserving of more money or recognition at work because they were, for example, facing a rent hike; feeling frustrated or ashamed that friends of the same age had reached a higher rung at work; believing that he/she should receive more than the cost-of-living increase everyone at the company was getting (but giving no concrete explanation as to why they deserved more), and — our favorite — it was embarrassing for his/her parents that their golden child hadn’t yet been promoted.

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How “It’s A Wonderful Life” Can Help You Get Noticed or Rewarded at Work

‘Tis the season of Yuletide movies and the age-old insights they offer about love, celebration and family togetherness.  From  A Christmas Story to Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas to A Miracle on 34th Street, we eagerly watch the “bah humbugs” evolve into good tidings of comfort and joy.

But, can those same feel-good flicks offer ideas on garnering success and happiness in the workplace?

Absolutely – particularly in the case of  It’s a Wonderful Life, one of the most beloved Christmas films in America. The heart-warming (maybe an eensy bit sappy) Frank Capra classic that shares the story of George Bailey and his impact on the small town of Bedford Falls offers some key lessons that anyone can leverage to get ahead at work, whatever your denomination:
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HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE TIME YOU HAVE

Barbara Walters once said, “Most of us have trouble juggling. The woman who says she doesn’t is someone whom I admire but have never met.”

We consider ourselves able to juggle a lot of different things both at home and in the workplace (as Jessica is a new mother, multitasking has taken on new proportions!),  but somehow there doesn’t ever seem to be enough hours in a day to get everything done. And in the current economic climate, we, like others, are finding that we have more to do and fewer resources with which to do it.

So how do you make the most of the time you have? With all the modern-day distractions we encounter all day long — from the constant ping of our e-mail in-box to call-waiting and cell phones — it’s amazing we get anything done. While we can’t add another day to the week (we always say it wouldn’t matter because we’d fill up that day too!), there are ways you can manage your time to accomplish more things on your to-do list.  They include:

1. Create an e-mail free zone. According to time management expert Julie Morgenstern, who wrote a book called Never Check E-Mail in the Morning, it’s important to set aside at least an hour each day where you don’t look at your e-mail.  She recommends it be first thing in the morning so you can dedicate that time to working on strategy and big ideas. (TIP: If you don’t open up your e-mail to begin with, you won’t be tempted to look at it.)  Once that hour is up, you can check your in-box and, chances are, very few important messages will have been missed during that time. If you absolutely cannot go an entire 60 minutes straight without checking e-mail, break it up into 20 minute increments where you don’t check for 20, then answer e-mail for 20, then don’t check again for 20 more minutes.
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For Crying Out Loud (AKA Showing Emotion At Work)

This past week, NBC’s Today Show featured a segment about John Boehner, the future Speaker of the House, and his tendency to cry over spilled milk…and legislation…and kids on a playground at school.  Then, on the Tonight Show, comedian Jack Black shared a song he had written for his two young boys letting them know that it’s okay to cry.

The long held belief that trotting out emotion at work is a big “no-no” may be (slowly) changing; it has become increasingly more common for public figures to whip out a hanky at the drop of a hat. But, congressmen and celebrities notwithstanding: In most cases, we still recommend keeping your emotions at bay while at work.
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What’s with the Attitude? Everything!

At this time of year, it’s easy to get frustrated with long store lines, incessant Christmas music and having to get frisked at the airport during your no-longer-cheerful holiday travel routine. But don’t let it turn you into a Grinch. Having a sunny attitude helps in any situation but it’s particularly important when you’re up for a job opening, promotion, plum assignment, or new business.

Showing poise, enthusiasm and willingness to work hard often goes further than just being the most qualified person for the gig. There’s nothing worse than a bad attitude from an employee, coworker, or vendor. It’s like going to a great restaurant, but having an obnoxious waiter: the food and setting may be of high quality, but if the service stinks, you’re unlikely to return or recommend it to others. In this day and age, when companies are paying closer attention to their bottom line and making fewer hires and promotions, having a positive outlook and a team-player mentality will win you extra points in the workplace.

Here is some advice that will help you steer clear of an attitude-generated misstep:

Never say “That’s not my job.” With smaller staffs and more to do, companies are asking employees to take on bigger roles, sometimes with assignments that fall outside of their exact job description. If you want to move up and be valuable, take on the extra assignment, even if it’s not in your wheelhouse. You may learn something new. The worst reaction when a boss or client asks you to go above and beyond the norm is to complain that it’s not your job to do such-and-such. If you’re a math-challenged writer and you’re being asked to do the company’s accounting, then it’s okay to say, “I’m more than willing to take on extra work, but I’m afraid that accounting is not my strong suit, and I don’t want to let you down. Is there another assignment you need help with that’s more appropriate to my skill set?” That way, you’re turning down the request because you lack the knowledge to handle it properly, not because it’s technically not your job.

Watch your expressions. We’ve all seen it: people rolling their eyes or making faces behind their boss’ back when they hear something they don’t like. Though you may think no one notices, it’s just bad form. Keep your negative thoughts inside and, to take a cue from Lady Gaga, learn to have a poker face (or even better, a happy face!) in front of others.

Quit your complaining. We all have moments at work where we’re annoyed at our boss, colleague, or client, and are tempted to whine about the situation to coworkers or office friends. Here’s the thing: complaining in the workplace is not only unprofessional, but it’s also dangerous—not to mention negative PR for yourself. You may think you can trust that cubicle mate with whom you eat lunch every day, but she very well could be angling for an assignment or promotion that you’re up for and now you’ve armed her with the knowledge that you’re unhappy about something at work. If you’re truly upset about a situation, set up a meeting with your boss, client, or colleague to address it in a professional, clear way instead of griping about it behind their backs. When you’ve had a bad day or someone has rubbed you the wrong way one time too many, save your rants for later when you can safely air your grievances to your best friend, mom, or spouse.

Don’t stew in your own juices. People aren’t mindreaders, so just say what you mean. Instead of sighing and muttering to your boss, “I guess I’ll just stay late again” because you have so much work to do, sit down with her and say, “I appreciate the additional responsibility you’ve given me, but I’m trying to figure out how to get everything done within normal working hours. Though I don’t mind staying late on occasion, it would help me to hear from you what projects take priority so I can tackle those first.” That way, you can get clear direction from your supervisor instead of toiling away every night until you get bitter or burned out. Had Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater, whose meltdown made headlines in August 2010, communicated his frustration about how customers were treating him instead of letting it boil over, he might have avoided his “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore” moment, saving his job and keeping him out of trouble.

When has a negative or positive attitude hurt or helped you in your career?  Share your thoughts with us at Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

DON’T PUT YOUR CAREER ON ICE THIS WINTER

The weather across the country had turned colder…and so has the job market. Recent stats took even the White House by surprise. According to the recently released numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent and the number of unemployed persons was 15.1 million in November. Scary. But, what can you do to keep warm during this extended and early freeze?

Hatch a plan.

In “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” to which he responds, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”  When she says, “I don’t much care where,” the Cat points out, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”  Take a lesson from Lewis Carroll’s heroine: Think about what your goals are during this (seemingly) long cold employment period and start breaking down how you’d like to accomplish them. It could be as simple as hanging on to your job; it could be slightly more difficult (i.e. getting a raise). For the former, work on ways to be your own best publicist in the workplace (for example, by volunteering to work on additional projects). For the latter, start compiling evidence of the ways you add value or how you’ve saved–or made–the company money through the work you’ve done.

Help others to help yourself.
You know the saying “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”? Consider a different perspective: Do something nice for others and they will likely be more apt to do something nice for you. For example, if someone you know is a fledgling graphic designer, recommend them for a project.  At a minimum, they’ll remember you.  More importantly, perhaps you’ll come to mind when they come across an opportunity that would be good for you. Given that the majority of job leads and new business come through people you know, it’s smart to increase the odds.

Keep calm and carry on.
When faced with a winter of discontent, an important thing to remember is that it will ultimately turn to spring, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Take stock of what is going right in your life: family, friends, job, bank account, puppy, etc. At the risk of sounding too Holly Golightly, it’s always good to look at the bright side.  There’s always someone worse off than you.  While we don’t wish an unfortunate situation on anyone, it may put your own in perspective and stop you from wallowing, particularly if you are sinking into the “woe is me” portion of the broadcast.

Instead, enjoy the holidays with friends and family, have a cup of eggnog, relax and then as the New Year arrives, think about your career resolutions for the year ahead so you can start fresh and confident about what you want to accomplish in 2011.

What are you doing to keep your options warm in this cold snap? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter (@BestPublicist).

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GIVE YOURSELF A HOLIDAY GIFT: REASSESS YOUR CAREER

Where did the year go?  We feel like the dog days of summer just ended (summer, what summer?) and now we can’t go into a store without hearing Bing Crosby sing White Christmas. As the countdown to 2011 is in full swing, instead of focusing solely on buying gifts and decorating your tree — or lighting the menorah or kinara, what have you — now is an opportune time to take a good look at your career and assess where you want it to go in the New Year.  Are you vying for a new job?  More responsibility in your current position?  An entirely new career?

Here are a few key things you can do between now and the end of December to take stock of your career situation:

1. Check out the market. Speaking from personal experience, we’re actually hiring right now (and know of lots of others doing so as well) so it’s not true, as many people think, that the job market dies down between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  In fact, we’ve seen some really stellar talent out there at this time of year and, because many people take a break from their search over the holidays, there’s also less competition. Check job listing sites but don’t rely solely on them.  Ask around — often the best jobs are the ones that aren’t advertised and, if someone is hiring towards the holidays, he or she will be eager to snap up a strong candidate who is ready to start as soon as possible.   No one wants to kick off the New Year without a full staff in place.

2. Spread some holiday cheer. If you’re not finding open positions in your field, try to book some friendly informational interviews at companies that interest you.  Things tend to slow down for people in December so they might actually have the time to squeeze in a quick coffee with you (or, if not, you can at least get on their calendars now for after the New Year).  Offer to come to their office or a convenient location for them — and be sure to pick up the check.  If you can’t get in to meet people face-to-face, send a nice note or small token to wish them a happy holiday season.  Be creative so you stand out from the pile of “Season’s Greetings.”  We just received a package of salted caramels in a small corrugated cardboard box with a hang tag that we absolutely loved — it was low-cost and simple but memorable (and delicious!).

3. Look back and look forward. December is a great time to analyze your accomplishments over the past year and set goals for the year ahead. Write them all down — having a record will come in handy when you want to ask for a raise or promotion in your current job, outline your assets for a potential new job or create a roadmap to follow as you move forward.  Ask yourself: Did I achieve what I wanted to this year?  What could I have done better?  What am I most proud of?  What do I hope to accomplish in 2011 and how will I tackle it?

How do you view the end of the year — as a time to get some rest and focus on friends and family, or an opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.