Work It

Employers: the fine print

My ears perked up when I heard that the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing a case that dealt with individual rights to privacy at work. Specifically, the case is addressing the use of company communication channels and personal texts.

One thing that always surprises me is how little most people know about the “terms and conditions” at their workplace. Sure, the legal department spent a lot of time putting that nifty document together, but most of us never read the fine print. We assume that everything will be fine, sign and date the acknowledgment, and then forget that any such document exists.

Depending on what you do – and what, if anything, you create – that document is far more than an appendix to your company’s employee handbook.

What should you be looking for?

INTERNET USE POLICIES: At least a half-dozen people I know have lost their jobs because they didn’t meet the guidelines of their company’s Internet usage policy. Make sure you’ve read yours.

A good rule of thumb: Minimize your access to a few minutes, a few times a day. Don’t access personal, Web-based email at work (many workplaces block those programs). And if it’s something you wouldn’t check out around a spouse at home – gambling, message boards, or porn – it follows that you shouldn’t check it out at work.

Sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised how many people think they won’t get caught. (And no, clearing your cookies doesn’t make it all go away.)

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: If you have a legal agreement with your company about something you’re creating as a member of their team, it’s important to read it very, VERY carefully and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you own any part of what you create?
  • Will you receive any payment beyond your salary (or the initial payment) if your creation is used multiple times or generates a steady stream of profits?
  • Will your name always be clearly and prominently attached to what you’ve created?

In most cases, your employer has outlined very restrictive terms about what their rights are and what you can lay claim to. Most companies have intellectual property clauses that are designed to give them full rights to what you create while under their umbrella.

What you should negotiate for: clear credit as the creator of the work.

I learned this the hard way after a former employer removed my name from everything I’d ever written for them (after they’d laid me off, naturally). To add insult to injury, they’ve also been re-posting the work in recent months as new content.

I don’t have any issues with them re-posting the articles and blog entries, and I don’t expect any additional compensation for what I created. But I’m at a loss to understand why my byline was removed. For a writer, bylines are EVERYTHING. The lack of a byline on my written work (especially the work posted online) severely impacted my ability to highlight my experience when I was looking for a new job.

Lesson learned: Make sure you know where the boundaries are, and what might happen if those boundaries shift – or give way.


Paying it forward

I’m hoping that the readers of this blog will help me find a job.

Not for me, though – I’m really hoping to help someone else. In this economy, there are plenty of deserving candidates. But I believe this person is really, REALLY deserving of all the job opportunities he can manage.

His name is Omar Gutierrez. You can read more about him in this Chicago Tribune story.  I don’t mean to put Omar on a pedestal, but his reaction to a bad situation that he witnessed is made completely of win and awesome.

When he saw a pizza delivery man (Steven Walker) get robbed in his neighborhood, he helped the victim. He provided details to the police.

Many people would have stopped right there (if they’d had the decency to be involved at all), but Omar went on to raise over $16,000 to buy the pizza delivery guy a new car (his car had been stolen and totaled in the robbery). SIXTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS, people. That was enough to buy Mr. Walker a new car.

This was such an inspiring story to me on a personal level. We often feel that in such a big city, we’re all little satellites who orbit each other, but never interact. It seems so sad to say, but it’s true: Omar’s actions were unusual and out of the ordinary.

People have been thanking Omar (I’m sure it will be a looooooong time before he has to pay for a pizza) but here’s the thing: Omar was laid off at about the same time I was. He was just at the precipice of entering the field of architecture. Though he’s been working part-time at other gigs, I’m hoping that I can help Omar get a job as an architect or a related field. Or, at least get his foot in the door for an interview (God knows, that’s challenging enough in this economy).

If you’re in the career or human resources field and have some ideas for Omar, or if you work with an architect (or know a great company that could use Omar on its team), please contact Omar. As he said in a message to me, he’d be a great fit for “any potential jobs in graphic design, architecture or property management.”  He’s done so much for other people, and he deserves a chance to make his own dreams come true, too.

You can contact Omar on Twitter at “ogaguse” or at Gmail (using his Twitter handle You can also see Omar’s LinkedIn profile here.

Career building

Last Saturday was a year, to the day, since I was laid off. I’ve already tested my readers’ patience talking about my journey into joblessness and back, so I’ll try not to tempt fate any farther.

But the last two years have given me a very interesting, unique – and valuable – education about steering one’s career, finding a job, and what having a job means today. On the way up, I learned a great deal about how to steer and maneuver my career. I learned a lot about office politics (partly because I wrote about it, and partly because I lived it).

And when I was laid off, I learned the real, barebones, practical ways to find a job. I learned that finding a job is a full-time job, and networking is everything.

We’re still hearing of companies implementing layoffs. I know of a few people who have had The Grinch steal their Christmas – and their job description. That 10% unemployment rate that’s quoted in the media? Is almost double that, because it’s only really counting people who are claiming unemployment benefits. Hundreds of thousands of people, like me, ran out of benefits and simply no longer count.

I am really grateful for my education, though. Before I started on this journey, I was like many folks in the workforce. “Managing” my career was a bit of a mystery to me. Dealing with performance reviews or a trip to HR was about as fun as going to the dentist. I just kept my head down, did my job and prayed for the best.

I didn’t know much about negotiating. I made stupid, stupid mistakes. Because I didn’t push back on a start date on the job that I would eventually be laid off from, I had to walk away from a pension that was two weeks away from vesting. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

As a Gen X’er, I’m halfway between my father’s generation (punch-the-clock Joe) and the Gen Y’ers who are working in ROWE environments and taking afternoons to windsurf. I think of the guys in their 60s and 70s a lot these days; these guys worked their whole lives thinking that the company would be there for them. I have a relative who just lost his retiree benefits because the steel company he used to work for simply no longer exists. Similar situations are happening in dozens of GM towns across the country.

It’s hard to change old habits. But we need to learn to be ready for change and willing to embrace it in our careers.

There are billions of words of career advice floating around out there. Some of it is great, some of it is contradictory, and most of it is subjective. But I’m grateful to have learned those crucial basics:

Be flexible.

Be agile. Adapt to change (or die).

Ask questions. Push back.

Refuse abuse.

Define boundaries.

No more head down and praying for the best from this worker. I’ll work hard, but I have clear expectations of where I want to go, too.

The mysteries of LinkedIn

facebook_v_linkedinThere are hundreds (if not thousands) of social networking sites, but the category leaders are well defined. I have a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Facebook has a strong business component, but the site is, at this point, primarily driven by individual users who are focused on personal communication and networking. (MySpace has some users, though its biggest strength these days seems to be as a site for musicians.)

And LinkedIn is head of class in professional networking.

Most people “get” Facebook after using it for a while. But I’m always incredibly surprised at how many people aren’t on LinkedIn – and how many people who are and have NO idea how to capitalize on their membership.


Epic fail for the win!

Failure never felt so goodIf you’re a job seeker or a cubicle dweller who’s been beaten down by those books, Webcasts and meetings about success, there’s a place for you.

And it’s NOT in hell, either. It’s in Chicago. (Yes, I know – sometimes they can be difficult to tell apart.) Next week (Wednesday, 11/4) is the Fail Spectacularly event.

What’s it all about? Well, it’s going to be a lot of folks like you and I standing in front of an open mic, venting about the non-Hallmark moments of our careers.  As the invite says, it’s for anyone who’s “surrounded by suck and who suspects meets expectations is nothing more than code for management doesn’t want to pay bonuses.”

online_jps2It’s hosted in part by Jason Seiden, who’s from Chicago and who’s an author, coach and consultant. He wrote How to Self-Destruct: Making the Least of What’s Left of Your Career, which takes those by-the-numbers career guides and blows them into smithereens.

His co-host is Laurie Ruettimann, the author of the awesome Punk Rock HR blog. I’m not a recruiter, but I love Laurie’s blog. Reading her blog is like….it’s like leaning against the HR office door and hearing how it all goes down. But better.

laurI want to take this public opportunity to tell everyone how amazing Laurie’s work is, and to personally thank her for being supportive during my very, veeeerrrrryyyyy long layoff. She gave me good advice, great ideas, wonderful connections, and kicked my ass a time or two.

So go read her blog. Laurie’s writing is exciting and engaging and completely bullshit-free. And if you’re bored by recruiting and business, go read her cat’s blog.

To be more specific: one of her cats has a blog. Laurie has five cats, and is an advocate for animals, which is truly awesome. That awesomeness and altruism is also why I never mention to her that six cats officially puts one in Crazy Cat Lady territory.

It’s pretty damn smart to have your cat working as your brand ambassador. I suspect a lot of smart folks will be at this event. (And a few lushes, just to make it fun!)

It’s going to be a fun night – a lot of failure, a little boozeahol, and a whole lot of networking.

(I’ll be there – not so sure about rockin’ the mic just yet!)

Career and identity

After three seasons, 10 months, over 500 resumes and one unexpected layoff, I went back to work this week.

I won’t say much about the new job (to avoid any conflict of interest or issues), but I can tell you that it’s in Chicago, it seems like a very nice place to work, and I’m grateful to be back.

Looking back, I was shocked at how forcefully my job loss hit me.


The value of no

426-kanye-taylor--125292517719288600I was one of millions of people who were surfing the Web when the latest news about Kayne West exploded within the Twitterverse this weekend.

This wasn’t exactly a surprise, given Kanye’s penchant for causing a scene and for disagreements.

(In fact, Saturday Night Live famously did a sketch a few years back that ran throughout the course of a whole show. It was based on another award show he’d interrupted. On SNL, he kept storming the mic in different skits and saying “Aw, hell no!” at various intervals.)

It struck me that Kanye may be an extreme example of an issue that faces a lot of people today – an issue that comes to the forefront in the professional world and on the career track.

Many people can’t deal with “no,” and they cannot process constructive criticism.

But as one of my co-workers used to say, “No is an answer.”


Turbo job search

job_searchAfter nine months of searching, I have some encouraging news in my job search. I don’t want to jinx it by talking about details before the ink is dry, so to speak, but let’s just say that it appears there is light at the end of the unemployment tunnel!

It was a long, hard, emotionally draining search over those months. I thought I was an expert; after all, I’d just spent a few months in early 2008 learning best practices when I was searching for a job that would bring me to Chicago.

And then I was hired for my dream job – where I actually wrote about careers and job searching. I was devastated to lose that job, but I’d figured I had just had a master course in how to look for work. I’d only be out of work for a month or two, tops. Right? Well, not quite.

2009 was an entirely different ballgame. What I can tell other people is this: Your search today must be unlike any other search you’ve ever conducted. You have to be in a lot of places, all at the same time. You can’t just use one or two tools to land a job – you have to use the whole damn toolbox.

You can’t glide through a standard-issue job search. You have to kick it up to TURBO.


Be prepared

With today marking the eighth anniversary of 9/11, there’s been a great deal of news coverage about that day. MSNBC rebroadcast its 2001 coverage in an “as it happened” style this morning. And amid remembering all of the shocking events of that day, an idea came to me.

Wouldn’t it be great if all companies and businesses adapted September 11th – or the week of September 11th – as a time to test their evacuation plans and business continuity plans?

Of course, many companies have drills quarterly or biannually, and they’re constantly updating those plans and testing different scenarios. But it would be great to have a date, or a time frame, where companies focus on disseminating that information and testing it.

I’ve worked on disaster recovery/business continuity plans, and companies will usually do a great job of developing a plan…..which then sits in a corner and gathers dust. No one does a test run, names and contact information don’t get updated, and it becomes an obsolete pile of papers, yellowing away in a binder.

If workers need a reminder that underscores how important it is to know what to do in the event of an emergency, 9/11 is clearly it.

It would be an easy trigger for people to remember something that might otherwise be easy to forget or overlook. Firefighters and safety experts wisely tied changing the batteries in your smoke alarms to changing the clock for Daylight Savings Time, and thousands of lives have probably been saved by functional smoke alarms as a result.

We could probably prevent injuries and save lives at work if companies across the country would adopt this idea.

Grading your own performance

report-cardGini Dietrich, the CEO and leader at Arment Dietrich, creates content for a blog called Spin Sucks: The Fight Against Destructive Spin (F.A.D.S.).

Like most of my favorite blogs, it’s engaging, completely no-nonsense, and when I read it, I either learn something new or look at something from a new point of view. Good stuff.

Today, the post was a challenge: what are the three things that hold you back from success? I thought it was a great question (and replied on the F.A.D.S. site).

It’s hard to be your own critic – or at least, to be objective about it. It’s counterintuitive, especially when we’re all conditioned to package ourselves and present our best face and best foot forward. But pointing that light at yourself, and acknowledging your weaknesses, can be very freeing and very empowering; after all, you’ve mapped out where you are and where you need to go.

A few months ago, in the midst of my job search, I took a hard look at the reasons why I was laid off and wrote them down. Here’s that list. (Note: some of this content was originally featured, in an alternate version, on