Friday, October 31, 2014

Let it go

Today was not an awesome day. I am struggling with feeling behind in most realms of my life, and stressed as a consequence. I have a cold that has migrated into my chest, so I had difficulty falling asleep last night and am overall feeling sluggish. I lost my temper with Lu this morning after asking her the same question 4 times with no answer, and then raised my voice and got frustrated, which I try to avoid. I just had this utter feeling of everyone needing me to do more for them. All giving, all the time, no getting. We misplaced her Elsa wig (Halloween costume), which I have been frantically searching for, and I spent the morning volunteering in her kindergarten class reading a book then stuffing folders. It was lovely to catch up with another parent and accomplish something for my daughter's school, but I will have to make up for the morning's lack of productivity tonight or over the weekend. While I feel very fortunate to have a job that allows me to get everything done on my own time, I am still battling the feeling that I am not enough in any part of my life. On the way out of school, Lu begged me to stay with her and eat lunch. "I can't, I have a conference call," I told her. "Next time." So despite investing a few hours this morning in her education, I left feeling inadequate and pulled in all directions. When I got to my home office and worked for a few hours, I got a phone call from my husband, and realized I was losing my voice. Now it's completely gone, which made for an interesting trick or treat experience. Lots of waving. On the plus side, I did locate some pink hair chalk, which in my opinion is way better than an Elsa wig.

I debated publically sharing my less-than-ideal day, but decided to because there is far more positivity and pretending on the internet than any true representation of what life is actually like. Let's embrace some honesty. This is my life. It is not perfect. This is the real side of trying to keep it all together. Because sometimes, it's not together. It's a fragile balancing act, and sometimes one little snafu -- a forgotten homework assignment, an illness, or a car that won't start -- brings it all crashing down.

So what can you do? Take a deep breath or 5, and regroup. Lower your expectations a little more. Admit that you're human, and fallible. Ask for help. And dwell on the positive, because even on my worst days I realize that I am so very lucky. So Lu was Aurora for trick or treat tonight, because I found a pink dress among her dress-up gear and that damn Elsa wig has still not turned up. Maybe the world needs a little less ice queen anyway. In the meantime, I'm going to focus on Elsa's motto. If that doesn't work for you as a motto, try one I picked up at work: suck less. My take away for today is that pink hair chalk can always improve your day.

Edited to add a photo of Lu as Aurora. And to mention that the Elsa wig appeared as if by magic on her toy shelf this morning.

Friday, October 24, 2014

8 tips to feel confident, articulate, and in control at your next interview

Today I am guest blogging over at The Works, the Northeastern University Career Development Blog. You can read all about my best advice for landing your dream job at The Works.

Growing my career in the male-dominated high tech industry has prepared me for one of the more stressful aspects of the job lifecycle: interviewing. Although I've certainly suffered from my own bouts of impostor syndrome, especially since I entered the technical field from a non-traditional background of English and publishing, I have been able to overcome this and hone my interviewing persona thanks to a lot of helpful advice. I've also gleaned tips about confidence, posture, and presentation from role models like Sheryl Sandberg, Grace Hopper, and Duy-Loan Le (who delivered the best keynote I've ever seen at the Grace Hopper 2010 conference). I enjoy sharing what works for me by coaching my friends and colleagues in the hopes that it can help them in their next interview or stressful job situation. Anecdotally, these tips seem to Anecdotally, these tips seem to work well for all industries, not just technology. I hope that you will find them useful, too!

  1. Be engaged. Let your personality and enthusiasm for the job shine through. Make sure that you take a couple of notes so that you can put an impressive detail or two in your thank you note, but don’t take so many that you are not making as much eye contact as you need.
  1. Prepare. To borrow a phrase from the 90s, “duh,” but hear me out. If a recruiter or potential manager calls to discuss business, and you’re in the car or otherwise engaged, ask to call back at a more convenient time. You don’t want to be responding to detailed salary or other questions without your head completely in the game, or you run the risk of making a costly mistake. Being prepared also means that you know to ask if the job title is negotiable, and that you fully understand the level at which you are entering the organization. Confusing and varying titles mean different things at different companies. If you don’t have this discussion, then you run the risk of entering an organization at a lower title and pay scale than you realize.
  1. Be ready to formulate articulate answers. I value the advice I received from my online moms’ forum about the right way to answer a question: Stop, listen, breathe, then speak. This has the two-fold benefit of giving yourself a chance to collect your thoughts and prepare a reply while minimizing the number of times you use “like” or “um.” This allows you to present the best, most polished version of yourself.
  1. Ask intelligent, relevant questions. A job interview is a two-way street, and you need to ensure that the company and role are as good a fit for you as you are for them. Transcend the hackneyed “what’s a typical day like?” and really dig deep for questions that will help you better understand the role and company culture. Feel free to ask what the interviewer likes and dislikes about the group, or what advice an outside consultant might give the company.
  1. Be aware of your body language. If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s touching TED Talk, do it now. Confident body posture is an outstanding way to show your potential employers that you are professional and prepared. Before an interview, I practice a power pose for about 2 minutes by raising my arms overhead, and breathing deeply. This is best done in a bathroom stall for privacy’s sake.
  1. Take time to visualize. My friend, who just used this tip to get her new job as a professor, calls this my Jedi mind trick. I got this tip from a couple of guys on the sales team at my publishing company. It’s so simple, yet so powerful. Just before your interview, make eye contact with yourself in the mirror and give yourself a pep talk. Mine goes something like: “You deserve to be here. You are articulate, intelligent, and confident. You are going to [fill in the blank with desired outcome: get a second interview, run a successful meeting, get offered the job].” To accomplish this, I arrive at an interview at least 15 minutes early and wait for the bathroom to clear out, or do the technique in my car’s sunshade mirror. I combine this with tip #5 for maximum impact. I realize that this idea sounds so corny, but just try it. Everything in me changes after I give this little talk. I stand up straighter, act with more conviction, and feel professional and together. You can put on this “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude in almost any situation: a big meeting, a first date, or any other potentially stressful encounter. This success vizualization also works wonders:
  1. Close the deal. I always end my interview with this question or a variation on it. “I really want this job. If you have any concerns or questions about my candidacy, I would very much appreciate an opportunity to address them with you before you make your final decision.” This is effective in two ways: you express your willingness to accept the role given the right offer, plus you have a chance to counter any potential roadblocks to getting that offer.
  1. Negotiate. Once you have an offer for a job, be sure not to neglect the last, critical step. Think creatively about what is important to you: salary, benefits, vacation time, flexibility, stock options, travel and training opportunities, tuition reimbursement, anything else that has value for you. Realize that the way you prioritize these criteria in your 20s may be very different from the items that you value in your 40s. It’s normal that you would seek out travel opportunities in your 20s, for example, but might not welcome frequent travel later in your career.
Getting to Yes, Never Split the Difference, and Difficult Conversations are  excellent books that can help you to maximize your next job offer. For a bulletproof way to approach your next salary negotiation, check out the Get a Raise Prep School program and its sister site Work Options, which offers several templates for negotiating telecommuting, a higher salary, and other flexible options. Founder Pat Katepoo’s professional writing and solid research will enable you to effectively prepare and confidently negotiate the aspects of your job that you value the most.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Cast off the friction!

I recently went out for a walk in an area of Boston that I don't visit very often, the North End. I enjoyed an amazing Italian-inspired lunch, a nice glass of wine, read my book club book, and generally relaxed. The only bummer was that, on the way to the restaurant, I started to feel an unpleasant sensation on the inside of my heel. Despite wearing some casual, sneaker-like shoes that I thought would be comfortable, they were starting to really rub my feet the wrong way. Fortunately, I had driven my car to the area, and I had a spare pair of sneakers in the trunk. After lunch, I slowly made my way back to my car, opened the trunk, and changed into new socks and comfortable sneakers.

Instantly, I felt relieved. The pain was gone! Unfortunately, I had a nickel size blister on the inside of my left foot. My other foot in the same spot was worn pretty red, but did not blister.

Walking to my next destination, I felt as light as air. The friction had been removed! It made me feel as if this blister can be seen as a metaphor. Are there areas of your life where some unneeded friction is getting in your way and interfering with your life? Like the princess and the pea, is there a small obstacle you can remove to make things go more smoothly? Think about if there's a simple step that you can take to address this impediment. Although that may be a difficult, or unpleasant situation to resolve, keep the end game in your mind. Too, too, will feel as light as air, and walk as if you could run for miles, once this problem is out of the way.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Midnight musings on writing and technology

This week was the first curriculum night at Lu's school, where she is attending kindergarten. Her teacher talked a lot about how she is teaching the students to read through small group instruction. I am so excited for Lu to learn how to read, because I know what an exciting new world this will open up for her. I have dreams of our whole family lazing around the house on a Sunday afternoon, each engrossed in our respective books.

People are often surprised when I tell them about my background as an English major and first job as an editor. I moved my career to technology because I was interested in the subject matter. My career path has not surprised me, because I feel that strong writing and communication skills are a fundamental component of any employment. This is especially true when it comes to technology, with complex architectures and detailed project plans. Even though I'm rarely the most technical person in the room, my ability to translate complex technological ideas into laymen's terms makes me a valued asset to the businesspeople present.

Despite leaving my English major and editing roots, I have never lost my love of reading and communication. I am an avid reader and have written on this blog about how I love to read and adore my local library.

In my blog post today, I am blogging to raise money for the literacy charity Reading is Fundamental. Low literacy is more of a problem than you might think! It's correlated with poverty and incarceration, and affects 22% of the US population. For more facts on low literacy and what you can do about it, please visit Grammarly's blog post, which inspired tonight's ramblings.