4 Tips for Becoming a Great Remote Employee

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Curious about taking a remote role? Already working virtually but want to improve your success? Check out my latest blog on VentureFizz for some tips!

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2014 at a Glance

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Wow. We’ve made it through another whole year and it seems like they’re flying by faster and faster. As I take a moment to reflect on my personal and professional highlights of 2014, I’m reminded of how much can change in a year. It’s a nice reminder of what can be accomplished, but also that there is still so much more to do.

From a personal standpoint, I moved from Charleston, SC, to Boston, MA. After over a decade of dreaming about travel, I finally took my first European trip to Paris and Rome. I took the leap and became a puppy parent. And I made plans to finally tie the knot with my long-term fiancé in 2015.

From a professional perspective, I continued to build my strategic skills for the talent acquisition space, specifically in recruitment planning and employment branding. I finally had an opportunity to attend a human capital conference, which I absolutely loved. I was even able to meet professional contacts I connected with via social media over the years. Currently, I’m in the process of switching my employer/career, but that will come in due time.

As for blogging, here are the most viewed blogs posted in 2014:

 

Overall, I was both surprised and happy to see that my top post of all time was one of the first ones I wrote on this blog back in 2012: Basic requirements: A candidate’s search for a qualified employer. Since writing this post, my professional career has changed so much. I’ve learned more than I could imagine, gained so many new skills and really saw my potential. I was challenged often and always found a way to rise to the occasion, no matter how impossible it may have seemed.

As I restart my job search in 2015 and finally have a moment to reflect, I reviewed this specific blog post from 2012 and realized that even years later, the things I want from an employer still ring true today. I’ve had a great opportunity to work for a company that hit most of these points for the last 2+ years, letting me know that these companies really do exist. I’m hopeful and looking forward to seeing what 2015 has in store for me.

Happy New Year!

Overcoming Professional Failures

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to host a career-based chat for soon-to-be college graduates. Overall, it was a positive conversation and I was excited to provide suggestions to help these students prepare for their future in the working world. As always, I welcomed fellow chatters to connect with me if they ever need to network, brainstorm or just need general advice. Needless to say, I was happy to see that someone took me up on my offer and the discussion got me thinking.

One student brought up her concerns about her future and asked me how I overcame professional failure. It was an interesting thing to revisit, especially because only a few short years ago, I was struggling with my own disappointments and downfalls. As an introvert, it’s not always easy for me to get out of my own head, particularly with less-than-favorable scenarios. But, as always, I find a way to dig myself out and move forward. In the end, those situations were what helped me provide the advice I was able to for this specific individual and hopefully it will allow her to look beyond her own setbacks and know that things do get better if you let them.

Professional failure can come in a lot of different forms and for a lot of different reasons. It doesn’t simply stop at getting terminated. As I considered my own ups and downs, as well as my peers’, I realized that there are many things that people can deem a failure. Aside from being fired, being laid-off is also one that people consider a downfall. Even if it was for reasons beyond them, it’s a terrible feeling knowing that your livelihood is suddenly stripped from you. Counting pennies is never fun, nor is the constant stress from wondering when you’ll get back on your feet. But, failure still doesn’t just stop there.

You don’t need to be jobless to feel the sting of failure. For example, perhaps you were counting on a promotion or working hard to move laterally or upwards within your current company. When you finally put yourself out there, you are shot down. It’s heartbreaking to know that you’re working so hard only to find out that your peers don’t believe in you. It can feel the same way when it comes to performance review-based or annual raises. As long as you’re meeting expectations, it could be expected to get some kind of bump in pay, even if it’s just to manage any cost-of-living inflations. Maybe you are just doing your job or maybe you’re exceeding expectations, even performing duties outside of your role. If you’re denied that raise, it’s hard to stop wondering why you weren’t deserving of it.

A lot of other things can be considered failures aside from the ones mentioned. It all depends on what a person values, needs and expects from their employer. It’s ok to fail and to experience the emotions that go along with it. It’s ok to ride out the sadness, disappointment and pain. The key is to know when and how to move on from it, which some people find it hard to do.

I’m a big believer in letting yourself feel what your body naturally wants to feel. If you are angry or sad or lost, feel that. Let it all out, even if it’s a few hours, days or even weeks. Repressing it isn’t going to help, but neither is drowning in it. After you succumb to whatever you’re feeling, you eventually have to come to a point where you’re like, “Ok, enough is enough.” And that’s the point where you can put it behind you and move on. If you’re struggling to get to that point or if you’re at the point but have no idea where to go from there, you need to remember that your failures don’t define you. That one little moment or one thing will not negate all the progress and success you’ve had throughout your working life. It’s important to embrace that and go with it.

Am I saying to pretend that the failures didn’t exist? Of course not. Sometimes people truly do fail because of something they did. Learn from it. Sometimes people fail for things that were out of their hands. Also learn from it. The important thing is to take those lessons to help you be better prepared for your future. But even so, this shouldn’t be your sole driving force and this shouldn’t be on the forefront of your mind as you try to propel forward. The good you’ve done in the past matters and those are the things that are going to matter in the future. When you are speaking to your next potential employer or your next potential manager (if you’re going for a promotion), you need to think about that. Let that build your confidence and let that provide you with that steely resolve that, yes, you are the right person for this job. Don’t let that little sense of doubt make your conviction wane.

Failure happens to everyone. You’re not the only one, so don’t think that you’re singled out with a big sign on your back that says, “I messed up,” or “I’m not worthy”. You’re not the odd man out and, chances are, you will continue to face these challenges throughout your career. It’s just the way things are. The important thing is to learn how to move forward without letting any of these roadblocks put a hold on your progress.

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How I Changed My Failure into a Win

About a year and a half ago, my confidence took a solid beating. I had lost a job that I thought I was going to have a future with. Then, I got sucked into the tiresome cycle of temporary assignments that just generally wore on me. I was tired of starting over. I was tired of being underutilized. I was tired of having to go through the stressful cycle of job hunting each time the assignments ended. My resume was lost in the ATS black hole and being rejected interview after interview was not helping whatever little faith I had left in myself. I let questions like “what did I do wrong?” or “why am I not good enough?” or “why doesn’t anyone want to hire me?” torture me on the many nights that insomnia took over. Staring at the four walls of my apartment with the feelings of fading hope for the future put me in a dark place. I was defeated.

The negativity I felt about myself was the reason why I couldn’t move forward. Whether the failures or shortcomings were true or not, I let them waste valuable time I could have spent building myself up. Eventually, I let my “like-a-phoenix” mentality take over and I rose from those ashes. This time I was going to be the one telling people who I was and what I could do, not the other way around. I would be the one defining myself. I didn’t want to settle for something that didn’t feel right just so I could be employed on a permanent basis. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation that completely buried whatever little spark I had left. I was meant for more.

My newly found motivation caused me to reevaluate myself. I took the time to remember what I loved about working, my industry, and business as a whole. I considered what I wanted to be known for in the industry (at the time, I didn’t realize I was branding myself). Instead of trying so hard to fit neatly in the box that job descriptions put candidates in, I decided to go rogue. I brought my knowledge and experience to life. I gave it a voice and a purpose.

At first I gained momentum by sharing thought-provoking questions in relevant online groups. I was consistent and kept the conversation going. I made myself available to network with people further. Eventually, these conversations sparked my need to share my learnings. From there, my blog was born and I dedicated time to write to it regularly, sometimes even up to five times a week. I realized that the blog was a good portfolio builder but how was I going to get the word out? Social media was the answer and I ended up coming across a whole new world of business and social learning because of it. Discovering this social side of business changed the way I saw business overall. I was entranced.

The right person saw what I was doing and a few weeks later I landed a job. After achieving the ultimate goal I was aiming for (employment), I would have thought all of the effort I was putting in would eventually die down. Little did I know, all of these things became a part of who I am. What I did while I was trying to regain footing after my failure ended up changing my work ethic. It created my personal brand. It gave me something to be accountable for. More importantly, it allowed me to add value to my employer on a consistent basis.

Doing this has afforded me so many opportunities, personally and professionally, that gives me a sense of pride. I stopped waiting for people to tell me whether they thought I was ready or not and consistently made myself a better person on my own. I’m impressed with how much I grew once I broke through the barriers. I’m ecstatic that an employer not only saw this in me, but I’m also glad that they help keep that fire burning within myself. I’m grateful for my failure because it’s the reason why I am who I am today.

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Looking Back: The Time I Wished I Hadn’t Wasted

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When I was in college, I thought I knew it all. Then again, maybe most of us have a false sense of confidence at that time in our lives. I thought that I was going to be ahead of the game because I was working full-time while obtaining my bachelor’s degree. Not only was I making enough money to have financial independence, but I was also allowing myself to get some real-world experience so I would be a more attractive candidate than the others who only had their diploma. Oh yeah, I had it all figured out back then… but I was wrong.

Having a full-time job was definitely great but it didn’t help me get where I needed to be. When I was going to college, no one told me about the importance of honing in on a specific job function to ensure a smooth transition into my field upon graduation. I mean, surely having experience as an administrative assistant would be transferable to a role in human resources, right? After applying to jobs and interviewing, I learned that this was a big no.

I remember sitting in an interview for an entry-level HR assistant role and the recruiter asked me about my HR experience. “Um, well, I have my bachelor’s that focused on HR and I took plenty of classes that were HR related.” I thought that was a decent answer. After all, this was an entry-level position that would take recent grads. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

I called my brother that night to complain about the fact that no one would hire me for HR jobs. I just couldn’t understand how entry-level positions would say they were open to zero years of experience, but then would reject candidates for not having experience. Was this some sort of sick trick? How could anyone expect me to get experience if no one would give me a chance? “Why don’t you do an internship?” my brother asked me. At that point, I had absolutely no time to squeeze in an internship on top of a job. Also, I was living on my own, states away from home, and couldn’t afford to quit my job (and income) to take a non-paid internship.

I wished I knew what the hiring criteria was before I graduated school and before I made the move out of my parent’s house. I wished I would have taken advantage of my live-at-home situation to help me properly get relevant experience in my field while I had the time and option to do it. Instead, I wasted time thinking I was “growing up” faster and gaining “professional experience”, when in reality I was only gaining experience that wouldn’t actually get me where I needed to go. I eventually landed a job in HR down the line but I often wonder if I would have been further along in my career if I didn’t waste that time in college.

If you are in college, please take note of my career blunder and don’t waste your time. If you have a career focus, make sure you take the time to learn about the hiring criteria before you get to the point where you need to start applying. Learn what employers look for in candidates and take the time to somehow build those skills before you need to actually get a full-time job. You’ll be glad that you put in the extra effort during college, trust me.

For internship advice, check out YouTern – great resource.

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Early Career Lesson: The Thing I Wish I Knew

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More often than not, my friends like to joke around saying that I have a tendency to interview everyone I meet (I guess it’s naturally in my blood). I suppose that could be true but it’s mainly because I’m generally intrigued by people. It’s a common occurrence for me to ask probing questions to someone I’ve just met. Where are they from? Why are they here? What do they do for a living? Is it something they love? How did they fall into that? A simple story of someone’s life, no matter how boring it might seem to them, is actually one of the most interesting things I can come across. After one of these conversations over the weekend, I finally had the chance for someone else to turn the tables and ask me some thought-provoking questions. The one that stuck out the most to me was: what do you wish you knew getting into your career?

I met a younger woman this weekend who was just starting out in the full time, professional working world. She was smart, hopeful, ambitious, and driven, which just impressed me. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when she asked me about a life lesson I wish I knew when I was first starting out. I know all those sayings: hindsight is 20-20; the lesson is in the journey; and so on and so forth. Yes, I agree that sometimes you need to stumble and fall in order to learn what you can do better. But if I had a chance to pass on some life lessons to someone that was eager to learn, I definitely wasn’t going to waste that opportunity.

I remember being extremely frustrated early on in my career. Just like the young woman I met, I was hopeful, ambitious, and driven. I wanted to do great things and I wanted to be given the opportunity to contribute something to the company that I worked for. I wanted to leave something behind if I ever felt the need to move on. Those feelings and dreams were soon crushed after a little while of working at my former employers. I waited…and waited…and waited. And finally, I was so disengaged and disheartened by my employers’ lack of opportunity, that I would find myself leaving places to see if I had better luck elsewhere.

After years of this, I quickly realized that I shouldn’t be so dependent on my employer. It wasn’t up to them to offer me projects, education, or promotions. I shouldn’t have believed that they were the only way I could progress in my career or expand my learnings. My lack of growth wasn’t their issue, it was mine. My employer isn’t my only resource for career development and knowledge building. If I truly cared about my progression, it was my job to make that happen.

If the opportunities to partake in conferences, take classes, or network with industry professionals weren’t an option at my company, I needed to make the effort to do that on my own. If there wasn’t a stretch project that I could do that would enhance my career, I needed to pitch it to my employer and make it happen. Sometimes, you need to go outside of your immediate circle (aka organization) to grow and then bring back that value. You need to take initiative to take control of your own future and position yourself within your company. You need to find your worth and not wait for someone to hand it to you. Define yourself.

When I finally realized this, I found that my confidence had skyrocketed. I found a voice, I began to offer opinions, and I felt like they mattered. I’ve learned so much that it makes my head hurt some days. It’s indescribable when my managers now come to me for suggestions or advice. I felt like I did myself a favor.

Some days I wonder what would have happened if I realized I was in control of my development sooner. Would I have progressed further than where I am now? Would I be an industry expert or consultant? I’m not really sure but I am glad that I figured this out early enough to make a decent impact throughout my professional career so far. So, if there was one thing I could teach early careerists (or really anyone), it would be that you need to take initiative to develop your own career. We live in a time where resources are infinite and possibilities to do this are endless. Do yourself a favor and make the effort as soon as possible. You’ll be happy that you did.

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Stretch Projects to Increase Development and Engagement

Recently, I came across something pretty inspiring. I learned that a department manager has taken the time to learn the individual needs and passions of each of her subordinates, regardless of how insanely busy she was in her own role. She regularly takes the time to speak to them one on one to learn what their career goals are, what skills they want to develop, and address any concerns. Although that is impressive in itself, she doesn’t stop there. She takes the time to find opportunities for her employees to develop the skills in order to work their way toward their personal and professional goals. Since she started doing this, the increase in engagement has been phenomenal.

If you are a manager that’s looking to increase engagement in your workplace, consider trying this:

  • Regularly schedule one-on-one talks with your employees in an open atmosphere.
  • Make sure you talk about your employees’ career goals so you can get a feel for what they’re looking to accomplish.
  • Discuss some of the tasks and skills they would like to develop.
  • Talk to other managers in your organization to learn of different tasks or projects they’d need assistance on.
  • Discuss these opportunities with your employee to see what they’d be interested in pursuing and what would be feasible for them to do on top of their current workload.

The extra work involved in this might seem overwhelming but the benefits are worth it:

  • Employees will feel more accountable and appreciative to have a chance to develop themselves.
  • Engagement and morale will increase.
  • Turnover may decrease because employees will feel like they have professional and career growth opportunities within the organization.
  • Employees will develop skills that can help them become more of an asset to your company.
  • Departments using the employees for their projects may be more efficient with the extra help.
  • Opportunities like this can allow departments to build a stronger bond and work better, cross-departmentally.
  • Employees can gradually work their way into a role or even determine if the role or career path fulfills their passions as much as their originally had assumed.
  • It can bring in new perspective and fresh ideas.

Sometimes extra training or promotion might not be feasible in your organization due to budget, financial, and hiring issues. But, in the interim, this could be a great way to keep your employees engaged and happy while working there. It promotes continuous learning and in a way they are truly passionate about. This can create a stronger and better workforce.

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