Homework for Sale?

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

As a college instructor, certified academic coach, and tutor, I know students don’t always do their own work.  While some copy from others’ work, others have the money to buy their assignments. Students use online homework services for several reasons: 1) they are under-prepared to do the level of work required and get the grade they need; 2) they are attempting to work too many hours while taking classes and lack the time to complete their assignments themselves; 3) they don’t see the relevance of the course and/or assignment, so they mistakenly feel it won’t matter to them if they pay for someone else to do the work for them; or 4) they lack the organizational, self-discipline, or time management skills needed to complete their assignments on time.

Buying homework is harmful to the students themselves, their schools, and our economy, because the students risk graduating without the skills and knowledge someone with their degree should have.  The students fail to realize that with every assignment they complete they are building their ability to think, research, write, and speak as a college graduate, whether the content directly relates to their chosen career or not.  What’s more, submitting someone else’s work as their own is plagiarism, which if discovered can result in expulsion from the school. 

Thankfully, there are many services available to students to be successful.  Most colleges offer free tutoring, and instructors are also available for assistance.  In addition, many colleges provide free counseling for students where they can get help developing organizational skills and effective study habits, learn time management techniques, and overcome test anxiety.  A small, but growing number of colleges hire coaches like me to assist students in all of these areas. If you know a student who needs help, talk with them about accessing one of these means of help.

 Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Informational Interview

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

We’ve all been on job interviews, and many of you have interviewed others for a job. Are you familiar with an informational interview?  With this powerful research and job search tool, the roles are reversed.  The job seeker is the one conducting the interview, with several goals in mind.  First is to learn about new fields and careers and how the job seeker’s skills and experiences can be used in new ways.  The second is to develop the candidate’s professional network, and third is to ultimately land a job.  If you feel ready for a change, but are unsure what direction to take, informational interviews could give you the answer.

Begin by making a list of people you know who could give you information on a potential new field.  In addition, include individuals who know you well and have a network, even if you don’t think they’ll have the information you need.  They can always refer you on to someone who may.  Contact the individuals and request a few minutes of their time. Informational interviews are short, under 30 minutes.  They’re best done in person, so a stronger connection can be made, but a telephone interview can be effective, especially when you know the person.  Make it clear that you are not asking for a job, just their expert opinion and ideas.  Most people are eager to help if they know they won’t be put on the spot with a plea for a job.

When you meet, you will direct the interview, so have your questions ready.  Ask the subject matter expert (SME) about their job, company, and industry; trends and developments in their field; possible jobs you could explore; and so forth.  Get their card and ask for referrals of other people they could contact.  If there is a specific company you’d like to learn about, ask them if they know anyone there.  Be sure to ask the SME if you could use their name when you make the contact, as doing so will usually open the door for you. 

If you want the person to see your resume, here’s how to present it.  At the end of your time together, mention that you just revised your resume and would like their opinion on it. Over ninety percent of the time when I’ve done this, the individual asked me if they could keep it. It wasn’t unusual for them to pass it along to someone with a job opening. 

After the interview, follow any advice they gave you and send a thank you note, letting them know how you made out.  Keep the communication open and look for an opportunity to do something for them. It’s a kind thing to do, and it will help solidify the relationship and keep you in their mind.

I’ve used informational interviews a number of times, and I frequently recommend them to my clients and students.  Give the process a try, and let me know if you have any questions.  I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

Mental Rehearsal is Easy and Effective

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

A favorite inspirational Olympic story I love to share with clients is that of Laura Wilkinson’s 2000 Olympic diving gold medal.  Laura had been injured and unable to dive for three months earlier in 2000.  I remember watching the competition with my daughters and telling them she didn’t have a chance when she was in eighth place at the start of the finals.  Little did I know! Wilkinson was able to come from eighth position in the standings to blow past the competition and win the gold medal.  How did she do it?

After her injury and knowing she had to face the Olympic games in just a few months, Laura used the mind technique of mental rehearsal to conduct her training every day, just as if she was actually going into the pool.  During the hours she would have spent in the pool, she would “practice” the dives in her mind, seeing herself walk to the ladder, climb up, walk to the edge, look into the water, and take her dive.  She imagined every detail and saw herself completing each dive perfectly, over and over again – for three months.  When she got back into the pool just two weeks before the games, she didn’t miss a beat.  At the games, she was prepared to repeat what she had done hundreds times before in her mind.

There are so many ways we can use mental rehearsal in nurturing ourselves professionally and personally. As a Leader for Weight Watchers ten years ago, I used to promote the technique to my members, and I used it myself before parties, vacations, and other occasions where overeating was quite possible. Mental rehearsal is also effective before interviews, exams, presentations, and dates.

Whether it’s getting out of bed early to exercise or having that difficult but necessary conversation with a boss or peer at work, the process is the same.  Imagine exactly how you would like the scene to go, be as detailed as possible, and see yourself performing perfectly.  After all the times we’ve imagined the worst, it’s fun to visualize success for ourselves.

Be sure to feel good about the experience as you see it in your mind. This will fuel you even more, as certain parts of the brain do not distinguish what’s real from what’s imagined.  Those good feelings repeated over and over will actually help you get out of bed or face your boss. 

The Power of Recognition

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

OAF Awards Group Photo.10_05_10Twice I’ve been recognized by Rio Salado College as one of its Outstanding Adjunct Faculty members in the Business Department.  Fewer than 5% of the 1100 adjunct faculty are awarded this honor, so I am proud and excited about this accomplishment.  I work very hard to help my students in every aspect of their learning, including reading comprehension; study and test taking skills; college essay writing; case study analysis; and basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It’s not an easy job, because not every student wants the level of feedback and attention I provide.  That’s what makes the award so fulfilling, to learn that my efforts really are appreciated.  But I was surprised by another reaction I had to this, besides appreciation: I found myself wanting to do even more.  It felt like now I really had to (and wanted to) live up to this title of outstanding adjunct faculty member, and that was a good thing.

What’s the take away for anyone in a leadership role?  It’s to remember the power of recognition.  You may have heard the expression, “Catch ‘em doing something right!”  How wise that advice is.  When we tell employees that they did something well and give them specifics, a few things happen.  First, they realize someone is actually paying attention to what they do.  They understand that it really does matter whether they show up or not.  Second, they learn exactly what they did well so they can do it again.  And finally, they feel proud and may respond as I did, wanting to do even more.  The best part of all for those in leadership is that there is no cost to gain this performance and morale boost.  All it takes is awareness on your part and a little bit of time. 

As I’ve stated in previous articles, how recognition is given is critical to its effectiveness.  Be sure to ASSESS your praise as follows:

  • Achievement – Are you acknowledging the employee for the value of what they achieved, not just for taking part in something?
  • Specific – Will you recognize a specific accomplishment, avoiding general statements that could apply to anyone?
  • Sincere – Have you tested your motives to be sure that you are sincere in your remarks?
  • Effort – Are you attributing the outcome to the individual’s effort and competence?
  • Spontaneous – Will your recognition be seen natural rather than a routine occurrence (such as an Employee of the Month program where someone has to be chosen)?
  • Steady – Can you suggest that the positive results can be maintained by the employee’s steady effort?

Recognition is a manager’s secret weapon, in the best sense.  Give it a try today, and see what happens.

Demonstrate Your Readiness to Lead

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

You’ve put your time in, you’ve been paying attention, and you’re ready for something bigger.  You’ve noticed which managers keep you growing and motivated and which ones no one cares to follow, including you.  Maybe you’ve caught yourself thinking, “If only I ran this department…”  Perhaps you’ve applied for a promotion and been turned down.  You suspect it’s not that you lack the ability, but that the higher ups don’t see you as a leader.  Or maybe it’s just that promotional opportunities are not regularly posted in your organization.  Just how do you move into a leadership role?  Kathleen Hawkins

Begin by recognizing that you are not powerless.  Avoid slipping into the “poor me,” victim mindset.  There are several ways as an individual contributor you can show you are ready for a formal leadership position.  Start immediately to dress, speak, and behave the way successful leaders in your organization do. If your peers notice and give you hard time, count it as a positive.  If they’re seeing a difference in you, management is likely to, as well.  It sounds too easy to be effective, but it works.  Presenting a visual image of yourself as a leader and backing it up with similar speech and behavior will make it easier for others to accept you as a member of the management team.

In addition, as an aspiring manager be on the alert for any relevant training being offered by the organization in the area of leadership, communication, team building, and so forth.  Don’t wait to be asked.  There’s no harm in requesting to be included, even if it’s geared to leaders only.  If you’re told there’s no room, asked to be put on a waiting list.  Managers often bail out on training at the last minute due to unanticipated travel or other unforeseen work demands.  You could take their place and avoid having the company forfeit the cost of the training.

Say “yes” to your manager’s requests as often as you can.  Filling in for co-workers or stepping up when a volunteer is needed sends a strong signal to upper management that you care about the organization.  Leadership positions typically involve extended hours, so strive to arrive early.  Avoid watching the clock or being the first one out the door.  On the other hand, don’t work excessive hours, as that can create an impression of inefficiency and that you’re not capable of getting the job done in the hours allotted.

Toastmasters ACB AwardJoining Toastmasters (at work or outside) is another effective and affordable way to acquire both communication and leadership skills.  Most people think of public speaking when they hear Toastmasters, but that’s only half of the program. Toastmasters has two professional development tracks: speaking and leadership.  You can work either or both; the training materials are top notch for each track.  In addition, meeting management skills are practiced at each Toastmasters meeting.  This benefit alone is a strong selling point to most organizations.  Another valuable aspect of Toastmasters is the award program which recognizes members’ progress and achievement.  Each time you earn an award or complete a training program, submit it to your supervisor and the Human Resources department for inclusion in your employee file.

Another visible way to demonstrate management readiness is to seek out opportunities to function in a leadership capacity, such as heading up the annual United Way campaign or a blood drive.  Managers are typically thought of for these roles, but they are often too busy to devote the time needed.  If no such opportunity exists, look for a need and capitalize on the fact that you have a perspective management may not have.  Is employee morale low?  Are your co-workers unhappy with conditions that could be addressed?  Offer to head up a cross-functional team to explore the issues and alternatives.  This will give you the chance to learn about operations outside of your department and broaden your network within the organization while acquiring leadership skills.

Finally, be sure to let your boss know about your desire to advance.  Gaining their support is likely to make your move easier and quicker.  However, if you sense resistance, possibly because they’re threatened by your ambition, don’t be deterred.  Continue to be loyal and conscientious while building alliances outside of your department or office.  Keep your network outside of the organization growing as well.  Taking the actions I’ve described will be advantageous wherever your next step turns out to be.

To Err is Human

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

We’ve all heard it said: to err is human; to forgive is divine, but just how often is this platitude practiced in the workplace?  What if you’re new in your job?  Just how does one recover from a mistake, especially when it involves others?

MeetingI faced this very question myself years ago when I made an error with less than a month on the job.  I was coordinating a training seminar for the managers in our manufacturing plant, and I communicated the wrong date.  I had several people enrolled in a session that I thought was to be held in three weeks, and instead I learned that it was being presented in two days. It’s hard enough for leaders to clear their calendars for a whole day with three weeks’ notice, but with just 48 hours?

Many thoughts went through my mind when I realized I had misread the announcement and miscommunicated the date.  I knew I had to own my mistake and take immediate action, but what impression would I be making?  No one knew me there; I had no history.  Would my supervisor take some grief for my misstep?  How many managers would miss out on the seminar altogether because they couldn’t make it with just two days’ notice?  And what effect would this error have on my relationship with my new boss?

Thankfully, I had excellent training from my parents, who taught me honesty is the best policy.  I called each leader affected, took responsibility for the situation, apologized, and presented the options.  A couple folks actually managed to attend and the others were good-natured about it.  My supervisor appreciated my prompt action and forthright approach.  Of course, I was also very fortunate that my boss was highly regarded and the company culture was forgiving.

I advise my clients to take these steps when they discover they’ve made a mistake:

  1. Investigate what you can do to rectify the situation. If there is more than one possible option, consider the pros and cons of each course of action.
  2. If you have the authority to decide on a solution and can address the situation on your own, take steps to resolve the problem as quickly as you can. Take responsibility and offer an appropriate and sincere apology. 
  3. Do not over-apologize, even if you’re being sincere.  It will call more attention to the situation and damage your credibility further.  We’ve all made mistakes.  It’s part of the human condition.
  4. Tell your supervisor what happened and what you did to fix it.  If the corrective action is beyond your authority level or requires the involvement of other people, discuss with your boss the options you’ve come up with and what you recommend be done. Again, own your actions and express regret, but don’t overdo it.  You will be seen more positively by displaying grace under fire with clear-headed thinking and a practical action plan.
  5. Identify what steps you can take going forward to avoid similar mistakes.  Most successful people will tell you they learn more from their mistakes than their victories.
  6. Follow up on the actions you took to resolve the problem.  It’s natural to want to put it behind you as quickly as possible, and you’ll be better able to do that if all the affected parties and issues are taken care of. 
  7. Update your supervisor on the final outcome and what actions you’ll take to prevent a reoccurrence.
  8. Let go of the mistake and move on.  Ideally your manager and others in the organization will do so, as well.  Don’t remind them of the event by dwelling on it.

While we all dread making a mistake, a circumstance like this can be constructive.  If you handle it well, you can actually create a positive impression as being a person with character and integrity.  Your boss will learn that you’re trustworthy, and you’ll learn whether the organization is one you can see yourself staying with in the long run.

Finding the Right Fit

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

Someone recently made the observation that companies are now ranking how well candidates fit with their organizational culture above how strong their skillsets are and asked me why I thought this was so. I replied that hiring based on fit with the organization’s culture makes sense because a company’s brand is closely associated with its culture. As business culture and branding expert Ekaterina Walter explains, “The culture you will create internally will have a direct impact on your company’s reputation externally… And it is very visible when employees are not passionate about the brand they work for.” 

Puzzle (2)So it’s essential that employees don’t just understand the culture, but that they exemplify it.  In terms of employee fit, culture relates to employee behaviors, values, attitudes, decision-making styles, and the like. These are not learned, for the most part, whereas skills can be acquired and developed.  I remember my early human resource mentors advising me to try to assess applicants’ personalities and values, as we could teach them the knowledge and skills they needed to succeed much more readily than we could fix their personality flaws or dysfunctional behavior. Similarly, it’s easier to recover from the mistakes of an under-skilled employee than it is from one with a bad attitude.

The significance of employee fit with culture is relevant to both hiring managers and job applicants.  On the organization’s end, it must first articulate its culture and define the behaviors and personality characteristics it associates with that culture.  Is creativity more important than meeting tight timeframes?  What’s more important: low error rates or the ability to laugh at oneself?  Having completed this exercise, managers would then develop interview questions that serve to reveal the candidates’ behaviors and personalities, asking about situations that are relevant to the workplace.   Behaviorally-based questions using “what if” scenarios and “tell me a time when” phrasing work well for this purpose.  Job candidates should be enthused, not intimated, by this approach, because it gives them a glimpse of the work environment, allowing them to assess the business and self-select out if they don’t see a fit for themselves. 

Just as employers need to be able to describe their cultures, job seekers must be clear on their values, work styles, needs, and preferences.  A unique and superior tool I have found to clarify these priorities for individuals is the Birkman Preview Report.  Although it’s not as widely known as the Myers-Briggs or DiSC Profile, over 2.5 million people have used the Birkman when undergoing job changes or contemplating career transitions.  This online assessment helps individuals:

  • define their workplace strengths so they can clearly articulate them during a job interview.
  • identify what they need (not want) from a job, their manager, and the work environment in order for them to comfortably demonstrate their strengths at work.
  • know what to look for and the questions to ask during an interview.
  • achieve greater overall satisfaction in their life.

The Birkman Preview Report also assists new grads and more experienced re-careering adults with career exploration by 1) comparing the similarity of job seekers’ answers on the Birkman to those of other professionals in various career fields, and 2) providing direct links by job title to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, enabling them determine a job’s requirements, occupational forecast, and average pay. 

Employers also find the Birkman assessment of value.  Some use it to help employees and leaders be more successful in demonstrating their strengths.  According to Birkman, when someone’s needs aren’t met, it’s impossible for them to exhibit their strengths on an ongoing basis.  With the Birkman, the individual’s needs are identified so they can be met and positive behavior enhanced.  Others administer the Birkman Preview Report to final job candidates, to give hiring managers a deeper understanding of how the person will fit in the work environment.

Taking the Birkman is such a positive experience, as people come away equipped with a much clearer understanding of their strengths, needs, and behavior.  If you know someone who is in the job market or considering a new career, please refer them to me to learn more.  Companies are indeed looking closely at candidates’ alignment with their corporate culture.  It’s much easier today than ever before for employers and employees to find the right fit with corporate culture.

Networking Tips for New Grads

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

Networking is the most effective way for college graduates to begin their career, not only to secure that first position after college, but also to start building their professional network.  It’s essential that they think of the long term and start establishing relationships that will carry them forward.  They’ll want to remember that as a new graduate, they’ve been exposed to the latest research and methods in their field, so they have something to offer the professionals they’ll be networking with.

CrowdCollege grads should not be shy about approaching their own bank of connections such as family and friends, former employers, religious organizations, and advisors and instructors from college and even high school.  Grads can build their network through their college alumni association, LinkedIn, Facebook, local networking groups, Chambers of Commerce, and Toastmasters.  They can search the Internet or use Meetup to find local networking opportunities.  Professional associations in many areas of specialty (Society for Human Resource Management, American Society of Training and Development, AICPA, etc.) typically have chapters around the country. 

Most organizations allow guests to attend meetings or mixers at little to no cost.  I’ve found that many young people today have over-relied on electronic communication and lack the social skills needed to successfully network face to face.  I recommend Susan Roane’s classic, How to Work a Room, which is an invaluable guide to the techniques they’ll need to mingle at such events. 

There are some pitfalls networking newbies will want to avoid.  The first is seeing an event as an opportunity to distribute as many business cards as possible.  It would be wise to take a cue from the Chinese who treat business cards with reverence.  They hold their business cards in two hands when presenting them.  In a similarly respectful fashion, they make it a point to read a business card they receive before putting it down or away. It’s much more effective to give a business card more selectively, ideally when it’s been requested.

Another common misstep with business cards is to do nothing with them.  When I first started my business, I used to collect business cards and then never use them.  I went to too many events, gathered too many cards, and neglected to note anything on the card.  I didn’t have time to follow up right away, and I’d forget what each person’s story was.  I had stacks of business cards on my desk before I finally learned that it was better to attend fewer events and collect fewer cards.  This way I could add each one to my database and follow up as appropriate.  This approach has been much more effective than the mass marketing approach I began with.

Using this method leads naturally to another critical aspect of building a network: cultivating relationships.  When grads start with just a few contacts, it’s easier to follow up and keep in touch with them. They can connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other appropriate social media.  If the contact has given them any advice, the grad would do well do follow the guidance and then report back to the individual how things went.  Ideally they will in turn find a way to be of help to the new contact, such as by sharing an article, a marketing lead, or a relevant event announcement. If the person invites the grad to an event, they should make an effort to attend or at least reply to the invitation.  This may seem obvious, but I’ve found that it’s not. 

Communication is most effective when it’s personal and specific.  Grads shouldn’t be afraid to note details about their new contact so they can easily be specific in their conversations.  They can put a reminder on their calendar to follow up re: the contact’s wife’s surgery, the release of his new book, his father’s move to assisted living, etc.  Taking the time to comment on the individual’s Facebook posts or LinkedIn announcements also makes a difference. 

Networking means relationship building, and that takes time and effort.  The good news for recent graduates is that it’s inexpensive and effective and can be lots of fun.

Giving Effective Praise

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

While it’s great to shower employees with cash bonuses, gifts, and other tangible rewards, there are many ways to let people know we appreciate their efforts.  Employees often long to be recognized and praised.  To illustrate this point, motivator and speaker, Roger Crawford, describes a scene of a child on a diving board calling out “Watch me!” to his mother to get her attention as he dives in.  Crawford says that most employees are just like this and have an invisible sign on them that reads “Watch me!”

It’s unfortunate that more managers don’t realize how effective praise can be to motivate employees.  Praise doesn’t cost anything other than knowing how to deliver it well.  Just what does it take? Here are some critical steps to follow to make the praise most meaningful to employees (Titsworth, 1998):

  • Relate the praise to a specific accomplishment.  Avoid making vague, general statements that could apply to anyone.
  • Speak sincerely and naturally, being spontaneous rather than routine.
  • Let the employee know how valuable their contribution is, praising an achievement and not simple participation.
  • Attribute the employee’s success to their effort, not to chance.
  • Suggest that employee can maintain the positive outcome through continued effort.

It’s also best to make the praise relevant to the individual, not based on a comparison to others.  In addition, research shows that praise is most effective when it encourages effort for personal gratification rather than external rewards (Brophy, 1981).  Finally, praise needs to be conveyed on a timely basis.

As long as praise is sincere and aligned with the above guidelines, it’s almost impossible to give too much praise.  Recognition can be made publicly or privately, although I’ve learned that not everyone appreciates public praise.  It’s critical to know the employee’s preference or the intended morale-booster could have the opposite effect.  I learned this the hard way years ago when at a lunchtime employee assembly I read aloud the names of employees who had donated to our United Way campaign (not the amount, just their names).  One employee who was absent but heard that her name was read stormed into the Human Resources Department and chewed out my poor administrative assistant.  I had some damage control to do that day on more than one front.

Praise can also be delivered verbally or in writing.  Verbal praise has the benefit of possibly appearing to be spontaneous, which can be seen as a sign of sincerity.  It’s also quick and timely.  There is no lasting record, however, a distinct advantage of written praise which can take a variety of forms, such as a letter for the employee’s file, a memo to the employee’s supervisor, or an article in the company newspaper.  Some companies use electronic headlines or bulletin boards to recognize accomplishments.  Another approach that is appreciated because it is distinctive today is the hand-written note.  With the proliferation of electronic communication, most people don’t expect a physical letter, much less one that is hand-written.  It’s essential with any written communication that the details be presented accurately.  Here again, if the dissemination is to be public, the manager should be sure that the employee is comfortable with the attention that may ensue.

For all its potential, praise handled poorly can backfire.  In many situations, employees will overlook managers’ failed attempts if the managers’ efforts seem sincere.  This is not necessarily the case with praise, however.  An employee can be demoralized by praise that is not timely or seems insincere.  Recognition that is non-specific or is inaccurate damages the manager’s credibility, leaving the employee feeling unappreciated.

Managers are wise to reflect on their own experiences of being praised.  (Hopefully they have some to recall!) Learning from those experiences, they should plan their first few attempts at using praise, taking care to get the details straight and the timing right.  Most of all, managers need to be genuine when giving accolades, as sincerity is the most important element.

Overcoming Staff Reluctance (Or Our Own)

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

ComputerHow do we help reluctant staff learn new technology?  What if it’s we who resist embracing new ways?  How can we “get with the program”?  The first thing to consider is that emotions affect the brain’s ability to learn, think, and remember.  Self-doubt, fear, and resistance prevent the brain from doing these things, whereas confidence and interest facilitate learning, thinking, and remembering.  Just accepting Henry Ford’s maxim, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right,” is encouraging.  Once we realize we can master new ways, we’ll begin facilitating our own learning.

Whether the reluctance is from you or a staff member, determine what the issue is. Help the individual see what’s in it for them when they stay current with technology.  Meet them on their terms.  For example, don’t talk the potential for promotion unless that’s their motivator.  Once the motivation is established, ask the person what helps them learn best.  Is it taking it slowly, personalized training, watching someone else, reading about the process first, or another approach altogether? 

Structure the learning around their needs.  Create an environment that is stress-free, allows for lots of practice, and tolerates errors.  Research shows that most people learn best through trial and error, feedback, and repeated practice.  Please don’t compare this person to others on the team, and discourage them from making such comparisons.  Otherwise you’ll be right back where you began, with fear and self-doubt.  Finally, look for progress and offer genuine, specific praise and encouragement—and don’t forget to do this with yourself if it’s you who is the student.