Jun 19 2012

Job Tip: Go On An Interview

Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 9 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

Job interview

Job interviews can be very stressful: you’re trying to give the interviewer an accurate picture of who you are and what you can do while “selling” him/her on the idea that you’re  a great hire—not an easy balance.

It’s tough, especially since most people only interview when they’re in a position of weakness. They either don’t have a job or are desperate to leave the one they’re at.

Talk about zero leverage.

Practice Your Job Interview Skills

When you aren’t desperate to get the job, you’ll notice a huge difference in how you approach a job interview. You’re more calm, you answer questions easily and without hesitation, and you aren’t nearly as nervous.

You become more confident, and that makes you look a lot better. 

You’ll be surprised at how confident you feel when you’re interviewing for practice. Instead of focusing on saying the right thing or trying to hit every checkbox that the interviewer is trying to fill, you’ll find yourself asking some questions about the company and the position. Is this a place you would even want to work at? Is this someone you would want to work with?

I’ve gone on several interviews that started out as “practice” for myself and ended up as really interesting opportunities. That’s the other interesting bit of this experiment: you never know what you’ll find out there unless you’re looking. And as a good friend of mine once told me, “I’m always looking.”

Another reason I like this exercise is because once you get a company showing some interest in you (whether you intend to leave or not), your current job will be easier. I’m telling you, there’s nothing like going on an interview and feeling wanted and valued by another company to make the stresses and annoyances of your job go up in smoke.

It reminds you that you don’t have to be there. You don’t have to deal with this stuff. You could leave at any time.

It’s a very empowering feeling.

Let’s recap all the advantages of interviewing for practice:

  • Confidence booster
  • Improves/sharpens your interview skills
  • Liberates you at your job
  • You might find a better job
Seems like a no brainer, right? Now go out there and get an interview!

Image by bpsusf

May 25 2012

Write a Manual

Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 8 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

Writing a manual

Think of all the tasks you have to accomplish throughout the day. Some are quick and easy, while others are longer and more involved.

And when it’s time to start, do you ever stop for a second to regroup and make sure you’re going in the right order?That you remember all the steps?

When I left my job in publishing four years ago, I gave two weeks notice like everyone else. But I also wanted to make sure whoever was hired in my place could contribute as soon as possible. I wanted to make life easy on my boss and my coworkers because I liked them and because I’m so goodhearted.

So I started writing down every single task that came with my job, along with detailed instructions about how to do each one.

All the little tips and tricks I had picked up over the years went into this “manual.”

That awesome checklist I made during my Google 20% time? You better believe that was in there.

By the time my two weeks were up, I realized that this manual summed up my entire job, along with every task that came with it.

And I wished I had it while I was working because it was very clear and organized. I realized that having that manual around would’ve made my days a little smoother and less chaotic.

Imagine you have a manual that has 30 checklists in it. And every time you have to get something done, you just bring up the checklist, put it next to you, and make sure you go through each step.

This does a few things:

  • It lets you focus on the quality of each task so you’re not thinking in the back of your head, “Am I forgetting something? What do I do next?”
  • You avoid distractions. Instead of hunting through emails or documents for answers to whatever questions you have, the checklist has it all. You’ve basically created a nice, simple flow:

Task is assigned -> Follow checklist instructions

If you don’t believe in the power of lists, you’re missing out.

It may seem tedious to do this and some of you might be frightened that a manual like this can make you expendable, but don’t worry about that. You don’t have to share it. You don’t have to show it off.

Just do what’s in the manual and keep it to yourself.

Image by quacktaculous

May 24 2012

Find a Problem, Solve It

Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 7 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

Finding a problem and solving it shouldn’t be hard, right?

I know the finding a problem part will be a little too easy for most of us, but your true test will come in finding a solution that helps make that problem smaller.

Types of Problems

What we’re looking for is anything that affects the bottom line. Things like:

  • Paying too much for something
  • Paying for something at all (can you get for free?)
  • Spending too much time on a task
  • Using something solely because you paid for it
  • Having an inefficient process

The list could go on and on, but what you’re trying to solve for is something that takes up too much time or requires more money than it has to. If you can save money or time, you’re going to be a hero.

Power of Checklists

I used Google’s 20% rule to make my job easier by tackling a problem that nobody really cared about except for me and some of my coworkers. It was annoying that our two software systems weren’t totally in sync and we had to manually make a bunch of changes, but what else were you going to do?

Spend some time trying to figure out and spin your wheels when the damn things are sitting there waiting to get done?

That was the risk I took: I spent time doing something that wasn’t my job—working on an alternate solution to an unspoken problem—to try to make my own job easier.

I wound up creating a checklist that turned a three hour task into a 10 minute task.

Excel is Your Friend

I’ve long touted the power of Excel as a way to become more efficient, so I would recommend you learn some of the cool things Excel can do.

Disobeying your boss is rarely recommended, but that’s what I did when I was tasked with a tedious, boring project: pasting a bunch of emails into Excel.

I found a workaround that included Outlook, Access, and Excel that took a 4 hour process and squeezed it down to about 6 minutes. I wrote up a manual on how everyone could do it and told my boss the good news.

Hero? Me.

Check out Chandoo.org for help on mastering Excel. And make sure you keep up with the different software that’s available out there in case you ever need to lean on a program to hack your way through a problem.

Work Gloves

I’m reading a great book right now called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, and one of the stories is about Jon Stegner. He discovered that his company was buying 424 different kinds of work gloves at varying prices (from $5-$17, even though they were essentially the same glove).

He was able to make the change and the company saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over time thanks to this tiny fix.

You can read more about Jon Stegner here.

Share, Obviously

If you are able to solve a problem, small as it might be, you have to tell people about it. Start with a coworker to make sure your solution is as great as you think it is. Double check it again.

When you’re ready, share it with your boss and recommend the best places it should be adopted. Again, if you can put numbers on it, that’s even better.

People respond better to “This will save us three hours every week and $15,000″ instead of “We’ll save time!”


May 23 2012

Personal Status Report

Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 6 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

girl writes in notebook

The day-to-day stuff tends to bog us down at work, especially when things get crazy busy. When we’re trying to dig out of our inbox as fast as we can, we tend to lose track of the big picture.

We forget about our long-term plans, how and why we feel, and which direction we want our career to go.

The big picture is important.

So I recommend you put this task on your calendar once a quarter (or once a month if you can): write up a quick status report about where you’re at with your job, how you feel, and what you want from the future.

I’ll be honest: I try to do these every couple of months and sometimes it just has to get pushed back. But lately I realized it doesn’t have to be very long to be effective.

Even five minutes of typing up how you feel can make a world of difference. The goal is to take a snapshot of how you’re feeling and what you’d like to do in the future and keep it for future reference.

I like to fill in the blanks to these kinds of thoughts:

  • Today I feel like___ , mainly because of ___
  • Right now I’m working on___
  • The most stressful part of my job right now is___
  • My favorite part is___
  •  I can see myself working here for___ more years and then I’d like to___
  • I’m learning this skill right now___, but eventually I’d like to learn how to ___ so I can ___

That’s just to get you started: I usually just free write whenever I’m feeling like I have a lot on my mind and then email it to myself wherever I am.

How it Helps

It’s the same basic concept of keeping a journal, but just focusing on work-specific feelings, plans, and thoughts. When I read some of my old journal entries, I’m often surprised at the things I was feeling and the things going through my head.

With work, it’s crucial to make sure you don’t forget these thoughts.

It’ll make it easier for you to learn from your mistakes and get better and more efficient at work. When you move to a new job or are even thinking about moving on, reading these status reports can help give you guidance about what you really want to do and which direction you should go in.

It’s almost like having a counselor helping you out, giving you some reasonable advice and insight on your situation. Only instead of a counselor trying to give insight into your situation, you have a first-person account from someone who was there the whole time.

Image by ErinKphoto