Office Hygiene

January 12, 2010

Whenever I enter a new work environment, I’m always given someone’s old desk. In most instances, I have no idea who the person was or what they were like, but remnants of their former life remain. There are usually stacks of papers and various knick-knacks that piled up over their tenure. Old sticky notes and phone numbers leave hints as to the previous employee’s day-to-day operations. But it’s the things I can’t see that bother me the most.

My first instinct is to sanitize every surface: the phone, the mouse, the buttons on the computer. I have to toss all of the pens and highlighters with caps that look like they were once an appetizer to someone’s lunch. I have to clean the dust bunnies from beneath the computer tower, and spray the crumbs out from the keyboard.

Sometimes I feel like I might be going overboard, but I have no idea what my previous desk-mates hygiene was like. In an office environment, one dirty person can pollute the spaces of even the cleanliest of people. If one person doesn’t wash their hands after using the restroom, the rest of the office suffers.

I often find my hands cracked and dry in the winter, not from the frigid temperature, but from the excessive hand washing. However, I am responsible for my own health and, in a way, the health of my colleagues’ as well. I would rather keep a bottle of hand lotion on my desk to alleviate cracked hands, than forgo soap and water and risk the sniffles or the heaves.

-Missy Schwartz


Grammar

January 7, 2010

There are few things worse than bad grammar. Some people might not feel the same way, but I consider myself a bit of a grammar fiend. Although it’s nice to know how to use words and phrases correctly, sometimes I wish I didn’t.

There are some obscure grammar rules that even I occasionally let slide, but there are others I come across on a daily basis that have a nails-on-a-chalkboard effect on me.

Nauseous: If you say you are “nauseous,” it means you are nauseating, i.e. you make people sick. If you feel like you’re going to vomit, you are “nauseated.”

You’re / Your:
“Your” is possessive, meaning something that belongs to a subject. For example: your hair, your car, your bad grammar. “You’re” is a contraction meaning “you are.” You’re going to the store; you’re losing money; you’re using bad grammar.

Compliment / Complement: If you give someone a compliment, “Your hair looks nice,” it’s spelled with an “i.” If things work well together, they complement one another with an “e.” There is also the case of something being free, and then it’s “complimentary,” with an “i.”

I / Me: Most people I know were taught in elementary school to use “I” in place of “me,” but that doesn’t always work.

For instance:
He and I went to the store.
She came to the store with Jack and I.

The first instance of this is correct, however, in the second example, “I” should be “me.” You would never say, “she came to the store with I,” which is essentially what the second phrase says. A simple way to decide which to use is by taking everyone else out of the equation. Then decide whether you would use “I” or “me” in each situation.

And finally, spellcheck isn’t foolproof. Just because all of the words in your document are spelled correctly, that doesn’t mean you’ve used the correct words. From is commonly typed as form, manager as manger, and being as begin. Always reread documents, and if the document is important, have someone else read it, too.

– Missy Schwartz


Smoking Ban

January 4, 2010

When I was an undergrad, I worked at a bar. The pay was good, the hours weren’t too bad, and my friends frequently stopped in to keep me company.

But arriving home at 3 a.m. and smelling like I’d rolled in a field of cigarette butts wasn’t pleasant. And waking up in the morning feeling like I’d swallowed a piece of insulation wasn’t great either.

People were allowed to smoke in bars then. I accepted it because there wasn’t an alternative, but I didn’t enjoy it. As a nonsmoker the idea of smoke-free establishments only seems fair. Why should I have to smell like your cigarette?

The pleasure of coming home after a night out and not having my hair and clothing carry the odor of sulfur is exhilarating. I don’t have to shower before bed for fear the ingrained smokiness will seep into my pillows. I can wear the same jeans the next day without getting a whiff of stale smoke every time I take a step.

I have friends who smoke, and though it might be an inconvenience for them, they have no problem leaving a bar or restaurant when they need a few drags. Banning smoking in public establishments is in the same realm as banning cell phone use while driving; it’s about the safety and consideration of others.

The smoking ban in Michigan is set to take effect May 1, 2010. Although most major cities already have a ban in place (even isolated Columbia, Mo.), it’s been a rocky road for Michigan legislators. And if you ask me, it’s been a long time coming.

– Missy Schwartz


Caffeine

December 28, 2009

In my previous life, I had a job at a wire service distributing press releases. By some stroke of luck, I was the person in charge of opening the office every morning … at 5:30.

The tiny coffee shop in the lobby didn’t open until 6, and upon seeing my listless figure round the corner, the little man who owned it would start preparing my usual: a triple-shot latte and a toasted bagel. I’d pay the nice man, attempt to form a smile and retreat to my office.

The ritual seemed harmless; the coffee was good, and the bagels were delicious. But a few months into my habit, I woke up on a Saturday morning and felt like someone had taken a pickax to my forehead. I took some Advil, sat on the couch and waited for the pain to dissipate, but it didn’t.

My mom has always woken up at the crack of dawn to a cup (or two) of black coffee. When I got my first apartment, she bought me a shiny Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, but only so that she didn’t have to forgo her morning fix when she came to visit; the splitting headaches of caffeine withdrawal are no fun.

I was forced to quit my caffeine habit cold turkey in an effort to bypass the weekend headaches. Even now I fear drinking caffeine several days in a row.

With today’s on-the-go mentality, caffeine has become a staple in many lives. For most, the benefits outweigh the dangers, but do we really know what we’re getting ourselves into? Perhaps we’re taking on too much.

Think about that the next time you reach for your morning cup. A good night’s sleep might be a better alternative.

– Missy Schwartz


Preparation

December 21, 2009

Preparation is the key to success. When you blindly approach a task, you never know how you’ll fare. But if you’re well rehearsed, you can be pretty certain of the outcome.

An Olympic athlete would never have gotten anywhere without practice. They’re in their position because they’ve dedicated their lives to their craft. A gymnast knows they can land a triple somersault because they’ve done it hundreds of times, and they know exactly how much power and planning it requires.

When writing a term paper, the longer you spend on it, the better chance you have of earning a good grade. If you’re giving a speech, the more you rehearse, the easier it will be to remember.

It’s the same in all areas of life. Most people wouldn’t go on a vacation without due preparation: researching the area, booking a flight and hotel, and packing accordingly. Why would you approach a business deal without going over the numbers? Or why walk into an interview without researching the company, learning about your interviewers and noting how your skills would be perfect for the position?

If you’re serious about your performance, being prepared makes all the difference. You’ll be less nervous, because you’ll be that much more confident in your abilities. And you can be sure that no matter the outcome, you’ve given it your all.

– Missy Schwartz


Relationships

December 17, 2009

Relationships are everything. Whether you’re a doctor hoping to open your own practice, or a journalist looking for freelance work, it’s all about who you know.

Building relationships requires that you get out there and meet people. Attending industry and alumni functions, writing letters or scheduling face-to-face meetings are all ways that you can reach out prospective contacts.

Once you’ve formed a relationship with someone, you need to maintain that relationship. Maintaining relationships not only means you’ll have a bevy of contacts at your fingertips, but it also means that you’re in a position to grant favors. People will call on you for things just as you might them, and in order to maintain a relationship, you’ll want to go out of your way to help. You never know when you might need something from someone, and if you’ve declined to help that person in the past, how apt are they to help you?

That being said, it’s easy to damage a relationship. Even though your chosen field might seem large, it’s probably smaller than you think. If you cheat someone or make false promises, other people in your profession will find out (people outside of the profession probably will, too). And who will want to work with you then?

As silly as it might sound, the age-old saying, “Treat others as you wish to be treated,” holds firm in business relationships as well. Work as hard for others as you would for yourself, and you’ll be justly rewarded.

– Missy Schwartz


Service and Perceived Value

December 14, 2009

The search for a good apartment can be much like the search for a good restaurant. Do you like the area? Is it comfortable? Are the amenities worth the price? And then once you’ve found the perfect one, what keeps you going back for more?

First and foremost, the product has to be good. I’ve been disappointed in the past by restaurants that friends have recommended as being “great” or “delicious.” If I don’t like the food, I’m not going back. A bare apartment needs to be clean and welcoming; it doesn’t need a ton of bells and whistles, it just needs to be hospitable.

Moving on, the price needs to match the goods. If a restaurant charged me $50 for a salad, I’d have a hard time going back—even if the salad were delicious. The same goes for apartments; I’m not going to spend a fortune for a noisy apartment with leaky plumbing and stinky neighbors.

Service, service, service. Inattentive or rude staff members can ruin even the best meal. I once ate at a Chicago restaurant that is rated one of the best in the nation; the servers were flighty, there was too much time between courses, the bill was ridiculously expensive, and I didn’t enjoy the food. I’ve often thought that my substandard experience ruined the taste of my meal. In an apartment, the building’s staff can have much the same affect on a resident. If management is flighty, rude or unresponsive to resident requests, count on having a vacant apartment at the end of a resident’s lease.

Finally, restaurants and apartments need to maintain the standard that initially got people coming in. Too often restaurants and apartments change hands, and the quality begins to suffer. Smaller plates are offered for more money, or buildings begin to deteriorate before your eyes. Customers are smart; they know what they like and what they don’t, and they remember everything.

Pay attention to what you’re serving. It can be the difference between improving or retracting from your bottom line.

– Missy Schwartz


Leadership

December 10, 2009

There have been so many books written about leadership. For me, leadership has always been too broadly defined. Some people confuse strong management skills with being an effective leader. I think you can be a strong manager without being a strong leader. I always describe two managers, both very proficient in their work, but one has a positive sphere of influence and not only makes people around them better but creates future leaders. In sports, you could look to Bill Walsh, Tom Landry or Dean Smith. In business, Jack Welch comes to mind.

Politics is another story. Is someone a good leader because many people follow? Does a so-called political leader make those around better at what they do? I do not know a political leader who has helped me grow my business, become more innovative or shown me a different way of operating. Politicians aren’t leaders in the true sense of the word, because as public servants their role is to serve all of us. Politicians have it easy. They use other people’s money to make decisions that have very little impact on their own lives. The day a politician puts up their own money and risks losing their entire net worth over a critical decision or vote then maybe we can place them in the same realm as real leaders.

Remember Jim Jones, the founder and leader of the People’s Temple, who lead his followers into committing suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid. Nine Hundred and Twelve of Jones’ followers died. So when you hear the expression: “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” remember where it emanated. Just because people follow you doesn’t make you a good leader.

In conclusion, a real leader puts it all on the line, has no place to hide and doesn’t have spin doctors to make a bad decision look good.

– Terry Schwartz


Overqualified

December 7, 2009

For the longest time, I’ve been hearing that a master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree. To be competitive in today’s market, you need to stand out; you need to appear better than the competition. And in order to be considered for many positions, a master’s degree is essential.

I graduated with my master’s degree in May. Despite the ridiculous economy, I was confident in the fact that I would find a good job. I had a few interviews right out of the gate, and I was even offered a position, which I had to turn down.

Recently, I’ve hit a wall. From the few responses that I’ve received, it would appear that I am “overqualified.” Although every person has their own way of wording it, it’s what they’ve all been saying:

“I think that you have obtained a more senior professional level than we are sourcing for this position.”

“We cannot currently identify a position which would fully utilize your talents.”

What does it even mean to be overqualified? If a position requires certain qualifications, and I meet every single one, then by my assessment I am qualified; I have met the qualifications.

If a company can hire someone for a lesser position than they are qualified (which probably means paying them less, too), then they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck. They now have a person on staff who can perform above and beyond the position’s needs. Instead of taking on a hire who is just capable of getting by, why not hire someone who has a proven track record of exceeding expectations?

With the economy being what it is, companies are afraid to hire the overqualified; they’re scared that once they bring someone on board that person will soon leave for something better. But I think that’s a risk companies should be willing to take.

Hire the overqualified person, or hire the average person? The answer seems simple.

– Missy Schwartz


IMAGE – PART II: INTERVIEW

December 3, 2009

If you are fortunate enough to receive a request for a telephone interview, be prepared for the interview. Research the organization, and have some notes that describe your qualifications and how they relate to the job. Have a list of questions available in the event you are given the opportunity to ask questions. A phone interview can be very challenging. You need to be in a quiet place where a barking dog or a crying baby cannot interrupt you. Smile, even though you are on the phone; sound upbeat and motivated. If you have gaps in your resume, be prepared to explain them. Remember, the purpose of the telephone interview is to get you an in person interview.

The personal interview day arrives: You got this far. Don’t blow it because you decided to roll out of bed in your clothes from the night before. I had a candidate who appeared so disheveled it detracted from a pretty good interview. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hire someone who had such a poor image. I’ve had candidates who smelled, had a significant amount of hair protruding from their nostrils and hadn’t brushed their teeth. Pretty disgusting? Look in the mirror before you leave for your interview. You don’t need a designer wardrobe, but make sure your clothes fit properly and are cleaned and pressed. Shoes should be polished. And for the smokers out there, you can’t arrive at an interview smelling like you just bathed in an ashtray. Most people are non-smokers, and you are bound to offend.

Your image is an integral part of landing an interview, and what’s between your ears is the part that helps you land the job.

– Terry Schwartz