Why It Does Not Pay to Be a Professional Flake

I was recently commiserating with a friend who had ordered customized work from someone who appeared to be professional and who had exceptional examples of her work to show. This particular artist ended up flaking out on the job: lying about the job being completed, procrastinating on delivery, asking for more more materials, more time, more money. This person was a really good artist, but compromised her reputation by her bad behavior. Don’t let this happen to you. Here are a few things to consider to keep your professional reputation intact:

*Do not promise what you KNOW you cannot deliver. Sometimes factors change and what you thought you could accomplish changes. Make your customer or supervisor aware from the get-go that what you want to deliver is contingent upon those very factors that might change. For example, material costs may go up during the project, or you may need more personnel hours to accomplish the job. Saying that you can do a job and hoping you can figure it out later just does not work either in a business or any other work setting.

*Get your facts straight. Plan your project from the beginning by projecting costs, personnel hours, delivery times, etc. In other words, have a plan to accomplish what you promised and be able to articulate it.

*Do your research. Make sure you have all the tools you need to deliver what you promised. Retrench and assess during the project to ensure you still have what you need to bring the project to completion.

*Stay in touch. Good communication skills, both oral and written, are essential to keeping your professional reputation intact. Do not surprise your customer or supervisor with doubled costs, delayed or missed deadlines. Being up front is the best way to keep your project on track and get the necessary materials and support you need as factors change.

*Evaluate your own performance and get the customer’s or supervisor’s assessment as well. Feedback gives you an opportunity to improve your services or work.

Online Degrees: What You Need to Know

College tuition costs are heading sky-high, and not every college student wannabe has the money or the time for expensive, traditional higher education options. An alternative can be an online degree that you can pursue at your own pace to achieve your career goals. Here’s what you need to know:

*Accreditation makes the difference between a legitimate program and a diploma mill, and more employers are considering online degrees because they are accredited and show discipline in a potential employee. Look for an accreditation statement before you buy. Accrediting bodies like Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities or the Western Commission on Colleges and Universities are recognized by the US Department of Education and ensure that you are getting a quality education. In addition, your area of study may also have an accrediting body. For example, if you are studying nursing, look for accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Accreditation also helps you secure students loans and a job when your degree is complete.

*Understand the cost of tuition. Some online degrees are not cheap, and some may require you to be on campus for certain classes. This means that travel and housing while you are on campus can add to your cost.

*Know what you need and make sure the program you choose offers it. Many online schools offer a combination of degrees, certificates and licensing courses. Don’t make the mistake of signing up for a certificate course, thinking you are going to get an Associates degree.

*Read online college reviews with a grain of salt. An online degree seems like an easy way to get a degree, but it takes discipline from the get-go. People get excited about the program and sign up without having a good understanding of the program commitments and then are disappointed in the results. 

*Stay motivated. Have a plan as to how you will arrange your life around studying. Not everyone who pursues this type of education finishes the program and are then dismayed when they realize they still have to pay back the student loans.

*Do not be shocked if your previous class credits do not transfer from a traditional college. Online classes have very specific objectives, and if your previous classes did not fully meet those objectives, you will have to take the required courses for your degree/certificate.

*Keep track of your classes. Although you may be assigned a mentor or an advisor, it is up to you to make sure you understand the degree or certificate requirements and that you are on track to graduate. Check in frequently with your school to make sure that the program and graduation requirements have not changed. It is very easy to miss a crucial email announcement when you study online.

*Realize that online learning is only one part of the continuous process of life-long learning. Many employers will still require you to attend workshops, get continuing education credits or units, and renew licenses to stay current in your field.

Trolls in the Workplace

The best lines, hands down, that Professor Quirinus Quirrell ever had in Harry Potter were: Troll! There’s a troll in the dungeon. Thought you ought to know.” Shame he then fainted. Yes, there’s a troll in the dungeon, there are trolls online and there are trolls in the workplace. While trolls online can be very vicious, spouting horrible comments on blogs, articles, etc., they can also be vicious and hard to tolerate at work. They are the co-workers and bosses who damn you with faint praise, who back-stab you, who are the naysayers. They undermine your work, or claim it as their own. They cast doubt on your abilities to do your work just to see your confidence falter. These work trolls constantly find fault with your work even when there is none. Why do they do this? To take the scrutiny off themselves and their own poor work.

A recent famous example of trolls at work took place during a Cecilia Bartoli concert at La Scala last December. La Scala audiences have a longstanding tradition of  being the harshest critics of their beloved opera singers. However, just because it is tradition does not make it right. There is a group of opera “buffs” (I’d like to say buffoons) calling themselves “Grisi” after a famous opera singer. They organize and take it upon themselves to catcall and boo opera singers off the La Scala stage. However, when they booed La Ceci, she returned to the stage for an encore that bowled them over. Read more about it here. (Thanks, Gramilano!)

How did La Ceci triumph over these trolls? She has worked hard during her long career to “brand” herself as a talented coloratura mezzo-soprano. She is professional and prepared to perform onstage. She is known as a hard worker with a sunny personality. Cecilia has patiently developed a rapport with audiences through her sense of humor and facial expressions, by engaging them, pulling them into the performance and then not letting go. This is what carried her through a less than optimal experience at La Scala and left her career unscathed. This is what keeps audiences demanding encore after encore from the great La Ceci.

You can deal with the trolls at your workplace by defining your “brand,” who your work persona is. Who are you going to be? Are you that guy who ALWAYS comes in early, develops engaging presentations which are ready days beforehand, who knows the birthdays of every co-worker in the place? If that is going to be you, then you have to deliver. Every time. Be consistent. Be a true, professional diva, rather than a fainting Quirrell. That is the way to get those trolls to shut up and go away.

Being a Helper…Again

My cousin and his young son are headed back home after running in the Boston Marathon. It is less than one day later after the Boston Marathon bombings, and there is still so much to do. Find the murderers, comfort the injured and traumatized, and once again, help this country heal. There is a Mr. Rogers meme circulating on Facebook right now. It goes like this: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” — Fred Rogers

Once again, our job is to be the helpers, to show that there are many more good people in this world, to offset the evil ones. I am encouraging you to once again embrace Anne Curry’s #26Acts2. No act of kindness is too small or insignificant. We cannot bring back the people who died in the Boston Marathon attack, but we can show these evildoers that the kindness of the American spirit will not be quenched by their horrible acts.

Telecommuting — Making the Case

Several companies such as Yahoo! and Best Buy have pulled their telecommuters back in-house in the last few weeks, causing a stir on the Web. While you may think now is not a good time to approach your supervisor about working from home, there are a few things to consider that can strengthen your case.

*Examine your job. Not just your job description, but what you actually do. List everything that you can do from home: phone calls, generating reports, database searches, etc. List the tasks that require face-to-face contact and how you plan to meet those needs. Make sure you understand the technology that allows you to do this.

*How will telecommuting benefit your company? Does it free up an office and computer for someone else? Are you willing to work at home outside normal (8-5) hours?

*Show your boss how your work can be monitored. This can include posting a report in process on a shared network, teleconference or Skype calling or, if you are willing, traveling to the office or to a cafe for meetings.

*Plan for emergencies. What will you do if your Internet goes down or the company network crashes? Have a contingency plan of tasks that you can still work on.

*Take a test run. Try taking a personal day and telecommuting from home before you approach your supervisor with your request. Work out the kinks in your telecommuting plan in advance.

*If your plan meets with resistance, suggest working from home one day or two per week at first. If this works out, you may be able to increase the number of days working from home.

*Keep track of your time. It is easy to take more time out of the day to run errands. After all, there are fewer people to contend with because most people are at work. However, you still need to put the time in to complete your work and meet your deadlines.

Be a Helper

A certain little boy received this advice from his mother when he saw really bad things happen: Look for the helpers in a bad situation. They always seem to show up and are ready to help. That little boy was Mr. Rogers, a PBS mainstay who knew how to comfort and soothe kids of many generations. The holiday season seems to turn many of us into helpers, bringing food and gifts to those who need help. This season, we need those helpers more than ever. It has been one week since the Newtown, CT tragedy, and hearts are still heavy from this sad news.

While many people have pledged to Ann Curry’s #26Acts, I would encourage anyone to be one of those helpers, helping all year long. It does not need to take a tragedy to make the world a kinder place. You can help at any age, whether it is a kindergartner helping by listening at home or at school, kids collecting toys for other Hurricane Sandy kids, making snowflakes for the Sandy Hook Elementary School’s new location, sending cards to first responders or adults donating services, goods or money.

Want to get started now? Check out this article: Small Acts… My favorite is making snowflakes for the Sandy Hook Elementary School’s new location. Too busy to make some right now? No worries. They need the decorations by January 12 to decorate over the holiday break. So why not have a post-holiday party and make a few? Happy Holidays!

We Are All New Yorkers

Three weeks ago, standing in Greenwich Village and looking around while waiting to do some interviews in NYC, I could not even imagine the devastation that was to come. Fast forward to now: there has been a hurricane, downgraded to a superstorm, flash flooding, fires, a blizzard and tornado threats, all courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. As I coped with a broken boiler today, here at home in upstate NY, I blessed my mom’s foresight in getting a “Gold” coverage contract from the local heating contractor. Boiler was fixed in less than an hour. I cannot even imagine what people are going through in NYC, NJ and other severely affected states. While this brings home the fact that we are all New Yorkers, whether upstate or down, somehow, I do not think there is a “Gold” contract large enough to fix this devastation. I hope Obama is right, and that there will be no red tape or bureaucracy for those who are seeking help in the weeks to come. I am not worried now whether I will get the job in NYC or whether I can find affordable housing if I do get the job. I am worried about a prolonged recovery. However, maybe this awful storm is the catalyst we need to get the political machine working as a bipartisanship again.

See also my posts,

Emergency Response 

“The City” and the Job Hunt

Internet is Down: Weird Ways to Make Money

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Blog…