The Best Careers for Your Brain

Posted in: staffing- Nov 24, 2014 Comments Off

By Rachel Feintzeig

Work might help keep your brain sharp well into old age—depending on your profession.

A new study in the journal Neurology finds that intellectually complex jobs, such as social worker, graphic designer or architect, are associated with better thinking skills later in life.

The research, from Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, tested 1,066 individuals, all born in 1936 and mostly retired, on memory, processing speed and general cognitive ability. Researchers gave the participants, all around 70 years old at the time, a variety of tests. To assess memory, for example, individuals were asked to repeat information after a delay, according to Alan Gow, one of the study’s authors. To gauge general cognitive ability, they completed patterns.

Individuals whose jobs involved analyzing or synthesizing data, such as architects and civil engineers, tended to have better cognitive performance. The same went for those who did complicated work involving people — instructing, negotiating with or mentoring others. Lawyers, social workers, surgeons and probation officers are all considered complex roles.

In less complex jobs, individuals spend more of their time following instructions from others or copying data instead of manipulating it.

The findings are in line with the “use it or lose it” theory, according to Gow, an assistant professor of psychology at Heriot-Watt University who began the research at the University of Edinburgh. The more you tackle tough problems, the less likely it is that cognitive muscle will decline over time.

It’s not clear what mechanisms might be behind the impact of complex work.

“More mentally stimulating jobs might have allowed people to accrue either some structural or functional changes in the brain,” such as better and faster neural connections, Gow said. Or, these individuals might simply have developed a larger arsenal of skills and abilities they can always return to.

The researchers were able to factor in the individuals’ IQ at age 11, a variable that explained about 50% of the difference in the sample’s thinking abilities later in life. So participants with higher IQs tended to have more complex jobs, but they also seemed to gain an extra boost in thinking skills from those roles.

That increase was small, the researchers note; occupational complexity explained about 1% to 2% of the difference in cognitive functioning identified in the group. But it was statistically significant – and rang true to Andy Herrmann, a former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“We’ve been trained to solve problems and think analytically,” he said. “We keep our minds very active.”

In future research, Gow hopes to explore the relationship between jobs and cognitive functioning in 73- and 76-year olds to see if and how the effect changes over time. He also sees room to dig deeper into the world of work to see if factors like the support of coworkers or managers, the demands of a job or how much control employees have over their work might influence cognitive functioning.

“There are a lot of other aspects of people’s occupations that are interesting and important,” Gow said.

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Article Source: Feintzeig, R. (2014). The best careers for your brain. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

What I learned from my son’s first recruitment experience

Posted in: staffing- Nov 21, 2014 Comments Off

By Ross Clennett

Last week was a momentous one in my life: My eldest son, Guy, was offered his first job. Then twenty four hours later he was offered another job.

Given what I have dedicated my working life to, it has been a fascinating experience to observe the process of my own child attempting to enter the workforce for the first time.

Guy turned fifteen in August and immediately announced that he wanted to get a job. I encouraged him to do so as I had started a casual retail job at the same age and apart from earning my own money, I learned many valuable things about working with, and relating to adults in a formal environment.

As both his mother and stepmother had successful and enjoyable times working at McDonald’s, and there being a local McDonald’s within walking distance of his mother’s house, Guy decided to apply to work at McDonald’s. He successfully completed an online application and was invited to the local store to be interviewed by the store manager.

I deliberately stayed in the background while all this was going on, based on my (mostly-but-not-always-followed) parenting principle of ‘if my son/daughter wants my advice then he/she will ask for it’. I resisted giving Guy any interview advice with the belief that he’s a smart kid who is capable of looking after himself.

He returned from the interview.

‘How did it go?’, I asked.

‘Pretty well, I think.’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘Well, at the end of the interview I asked him how I had done, and he said I was the best person he had interviewed today.’

There you go, I thought to myself. You don’t need to give your son advice, he is confident enough to ask the right question at the right time.

Guy was advised by the McDonald’s store manager that he should check online for notification about his application’s progress. Some weeks went by without word. Again, I resisted the temptation to tell him what he should do. If he wants the job desperately enough, he will follow up, I thought.

While he was waiting to hear back from McDonald’s, Guy applied for another job, at his local Subway. After his online application was accepted, he was scheduled for an interview at the store.

The day before the Subway interview, Guy decided to follow up directly with his McDonald’s interviewer and found out that he was meant to have been advised some weeks before that he was successful.

About an hour before the Subway interview, Guy was offered the McDonald’s job, subject to successfully completing some online training. Guy went to the Subway interview anyway, and was also offered the Subway job.

Guy now wants to try and do both jobs. He reasons that he is not guaranteed any amount of shifts at either McDonald’s or Subway.

This is not what I would advise, but he hasn’t asked me for my advice and given my successful track record of keeping my mouth shut with respect to my son’s work-related decisions, why should I tempt fate now?

I was discussing this series of events with a long-term friend who is the respected CEO of a highly successful recruitment agency and father of two teenage children. We were discussing the issue of parental intervention in the lives of our respective children – where is the line between encouragement, suggesting, telling or simply trusting your child to work it out for themselves?

It’s not clear, nor will it ever be clear, I don’t think.

In the conversation, I said I couldn’t recall my parents ever telling me what I should do with respect to my choices about education, friends, sport or career.

The only exception to that was one night my father waited up for me to get home from a late night. I was playing cricket the next day. I was a top order batsman who had some talent. My father gave me a big serve, the gist of it being that if I was committed to doing something then I should give it my best shot and not compromise my chances of doing well by ‘burning the candle at both ends’. I proved my father right by being dismissed in a forgettable way for a low score the next day.

Needless to say, I ignored my father’s very wise advice and my cricket ‘career’ finished up being a tale of unfulfilled promise.

This was the exception; overall my parents trusted that they had brought their son up with a set of values that enabled him to work stuff out for himself in his own time.

I started an economics degree without any real idea of where it might take me. I completed that degree four years later at the age of twenty-two, no further enlightened as to what career I might choose. I don’t recall this lack of planning and rather haphazard approach of mine leading to any serious conversations, initiated by my parents, about ‘my future’.

As Guy commences his work life I hope I am wise enough to continue to learn from the example set by my parents. Trust that each of my three children will be guided by the values that enable them to work things out for themselves and learn something from each of the choices that they make.

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Article Source: Clennett, R. (2014). What I learned from my son’s first recruitment experience. Linkedin. Retrieved from

5 Ways to Promote Yourself at Work – Without “Bragging”

Posted in: staffing- Nov 20, 2014 Comments Off

By Linda Descano

According to new research from Citi and LinkedIn (see below), men are less likely than women to share news of professional accomplishments at work. Further, men also more likely to view self-promotion as being in poor taste – which is perhaps why many of the women respondents expressed concern that their efforts to self-promote, which myself and many others encourage, will backfire on them. So, how can an aspiring leader navigate this territory with her brand and reputation intact? Here’s what my go-to team of executive coaches suggest:

  • Henna Inam of Transformational Leadership: “As a leader facing double standards, you have to decide who you are going to be that best inspires yourself and serves the greater good. Act from your sense of values and purpose and let go of other people’s opinions.”
  • Raleigh Mayer aka The Gravitas Guru of Raleigh Mayer Consulting: “A woman needs to remember three things: (1) Demonstrate the three “Hs” – heart, humanity, and humor. (2) Get more comfortable managing and recovering from conflict, controversy, and criticism. (3) You will never suit everyone’s taste, but keep in mind that while men may be threatened by powerful females (because we compete with them), women are more likely to be jealous (because we overshadow them).”
  • Bonnie Marcus of Women’s Success Coaching: “I have found in my years of coaching women on how to promote themselves that the most effective way to establish the credibility and visibility they desire without the backlash is to focus on their value proposition (the unique way they do their work that adds value to the business). Once they understand this, they can offer to help others achieve their business goals based on what value they know they can add. Instead of talking about past accomplishments – which might be interpreted as bragging – if they position themselves as having the potential to solve ongoing challenges in the business, it establishes them as a leader who is willing to work for the benefit of the organization and not for self-gain.”
  • Diane Baranello of Coaching for Distinction: “There are three words leaders should keep in mind when it comes to advancing their career … communicate, communicate, communicate. Do it clearly, articulating the difference you make and why it is important to the business. Do it consistently. Do it confidently. In other words, don’t apologize for speaking up, speaking out or speaking truth.”
  • Nancy Joyce of Joyce Advisors: “Include an ‘I’ and ‘We’ mention. Many women are uncomfortable using ‘I’ when self-promoting. Research shows that if you only use ‘we,’ you may not get personal credit. On the other hand, if you use ‘I’ you may get a reputation as someone who’s not a team player. For example, ‘The brand positioning strategy exercise I took the team through has really paid off. We have developed some innovative ideas and the team has fully embraced the effort.'”

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Article Source: Descano, L. (2014). 5 ways to promote yourself at work – without “bragging”. Linkedin. Retrieved from

Should You Join a Startup or a Big Company?

Posted in: staffing- Nov 19, 2014 Comments Off

By Joel Peterson

I teach courses on leadership and entrepreneurship to second-year Stanford MBA students. Many of them end up going into investment banking, private equity or consulting, or they join a larger firm in a functional area like finance, marketing or IT. Others are drawn to the idea of starting or buying a business, or of joining a small, growing enterprise. All are great choices.

So, how do you know which path is right for you?

Larger companies have resources, longer time frames for decision-making, codified processes and procedures – and a certain level of office politics. Big firms provide clarity around career path and years of “best practice” experience embedded in policy manuals, as well as access to specialized outside service providers. They’re generally led by experienced senior management and governed by long-time investors. Many provide great on-the-job training, allowing young leaders and executives to make career treks with seasoned guides at their sides. And the pay and benefits are generally higher. But large firms can be protective of traditions, slow to move and can feel stifling to some.

This is where small companies come in. They don’t have a vested interest in how things have always been done, so their raison d’etre is generally to disrupt the status quo. They often have younger, greener leaders who simply don’t know what can’t be done. This can be exhilarating; but if you join, buy or start one of these enterprises, you’ll have to get good at lots of things – and quickly. You might not receive much training, and you’re likely to experience resource constraints.

The odds are also good that you’ll have to find capital, do your own reference checks for every hire, and get good at hiring (and firing). You’ll have to set priorities, allocate scarce resources, and cut out lots of things you’d do in a large company. For example, you’ll personally orient new employees, manage third-party providers of goods and services, give real-time feedback, manage a board, become a hands-on salesman, and negotiate leases or financings. This list is not exhaustive; only exhausting.

For my first real job after receiving an MBA from Harvard Business School, I moved to Paris, France. I figured I’d be doing high finance, meeting with important people and making deals on my way to building and leasing office buildings in the City of Lights. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’d landed at a small firm where I trained myself to send and receive telexes, picked visitors up at Charles de Gaulle Airport, typed up notes on construction meetings, hired administrative staff and found office space. This was all in addition to reading loan documents and doing the precursor to today’s spreadsheet. My “To Do” list seemed endless – and there was no one to whom I could delegate tasks.

It was a stressful time, but I’ve since come to appreciate it as a valuable rite of passage. Many entrepreneurs and small company executives tell of similar moments in the development of their firms and their mindsets for dealing with setbacks and uncertainty.

All of these tasks matter, of course, in larger organizations. The difference? In a larger organization, you may never be involved in some of them, and you can draft behind outside specialists. But in a smaller enterprise, you may personally touch all of them in the course of a month.

To many, the distinguishing characteristic of small and entrepreneurial businesses is that they’re led by generalists dealing with shorter time frames, fewer resources and more uncertainty. Beware, however, of being tempted by the generalist-only approach. For those good at juggling, it can be easy to think that it’s the primary job of the entrepreneur or small company executive. But really, it’s only a part of the job. You also need a clear “domain expertise,” a real passion around the product or service you’re providing, and an ability to bounce back from almost certain setbacks on the way to the summit.

In the end, it’s less about large or small than it is about meaning, respect, learning and people. If you are a respected member of a winning team doing something meaningful, you’re likely to thrive – in a large or a small company. If not – whether you’re with a huge organization with terrific executive development opportunities or a small one living hand-to-mouth as it figures out the way to disrupt the former – you’ll thrive as long as you’re growing, profitable and doing something you care about with people you like and respect.

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Article Source: Peterson, J. (2014). Should you join a startup or a big company? Linkedin. Retrieved from

5 Ways to be Indispensable at Work

Posted in: Staffing Factoring Articles- Nov 18, 2014 Comments Off

By Jason Bettinger

In today’s turbulent economic environment, it is no surprise that many companies are restructuring, once in a while. Jobs are being outsourced to places where doing business and getting work done is cheaper. Having said that, those who are in the employment line never have a safe job- because they can be replaced at any moment.

But is this really the case? Well, at least, not for everyone! Have you ever noticed that some people are just irreplaceable? They don’t fear of being demoted, fired, or replaced because they know just how valuable they are. These people become restructure-proof for a reason. But what makes them indispensible? Are there ways in which you can make yourself an important asset to your company? Ways in which you can ensure that you remain in the company no matter what happens? Here are ways through which you can make yourself indispensable at work!

Build good relationships.

One of the secrets of the most successful people is building good relationships. Having people who share your interest, hobbies, or profession is a great deal to expand your knowledge and learn new things. You will meet different kinds of people, negative and positive ones, but both are ok. Connecting with different types of people can take you a long way- you can learn to adjust to different personalities, you’ll be more flexible, and you can acquire skills that are necessary to survive any types of social environment. Let the negative people motivate you into becoming better and let them be a reminder of the person you don’t want to be. And, let the positive ones inspire you to become the best person that you can be!

Focus on developing your skills, instead of promotion.

You got your job right now because you have the necessary skills needed to perform the job. But do you have the skills to deserve a promotion? When things go wrong, are you skillful enough to retain your position in the company? If you are already good at something, don’t stop learning! There is still always something to improve about yourself. Be open to criticisms, new ideas, and new opportunities. Instead of focusing on getting a promotion, focus on developing the skills needed for that promotion. So, if you want to be a Manager, get all the trainings and seminars needed for the position, act like a manager, speak like a manager, dress like a manager, and when you finally gathered everything that is needed, you will be highly recommended for the promotion!

Master the art of optimism.

As what I have mentioned from one of the articles I have written 5 Smart Ways to Live a Kick-Ass Life, possessing a positive attitude is a choice! Some people blame their negativity on bad experiences in the past or in other people, and while this is the easiest way to justify their pessimism, they fail to see that bad experiences are opportunities to grow, and improve one’s self. Train yourself to be more positive by always choosing to see opportunity in every difficulty. Your social activities and thoughts contribute the biggest factor on how you live your life. The more you think positively, the more proactively you will set and reach your goals. This positive attitude will then emanate to everyone you connect with, which will help build good relationships and a good working environment.

Go the extra mile.

Bite off more than you can chew, then chew like mad! In other words, if you are given a task you don’t know how to do, say YES, and learn how to do it later. Do not be afraid to learn or try something new, because it is through change that we learn best! Exhibiting the habit of getting stuff done is good, but to be able to provide excellent output for your tasks is even better. Regular employees get things done, but superstars do a little more than what’s expected of them. Have the initiative to go above your job description, and believe that you can do better than what you are currently doing.

To earn respect you must show respect.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!

As the golden rule states, and I couldn’t agree more! Some keys to success when it comes to building strong work relationships include listening to people, giving them your time, being a good communicator, giving and taking feedback, and finally, being trusting and more empathetic towards people. Treat everyone with genuine respect. Look out for the people around you, be there when they need help, and be their confidante when they need to confide something or need some advice. This will put you in a good place especially when things take a turn for the worse. When you have build strong relationships based on trust and respect, it will increase your chance of not getting left behind.

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Article Source: Bettinger, J. (2014). 5 ways to be indispensable at work. Linkedin. Retrieved from

How to Prioritize When Everything Is a Priority

Posted in: Staffing Factoring Articles- Nov 17, 2014 Comments Off

By Greg McKeown

I recently was the keynote speaker at an event where the CEO had recently announced he had 107 goals or priorities for the year! I was not surprised to learn the company also has 700 products: so many that nobody in the audience knew what all of the products even were!

What about you? Have you ever felt the stress of everything-is-important-so-everything-has-to-be-done-but-I-can’t-do-it-all? I have. It can grow out of the “good” problem of abundance (too many opportunities and options) or out of scarcity (so many challenges to address) but in both cases it can lead to the same challenge of overwhelm.

Visually, it looks something like the figure below. Requests come at us from all angles and we are unprepared to discern between them. As a result, we start saying yes to them without really thinking. This fuels a busyness cycle where the more we take on the less time we have to discern what we should take on. Our discernment forcefield becomes weak and our choices become a function of other people’s agendas.

Image Source: Greg McKeown

The solution is to create space to discern the vital few from the trivial many. When we do that we can find the internal clarity with which to navigate the external pressures of our hyper connected world. Our discernment forcefield becomes strong and we can more wisely pursue the things which really matter most.

Image Source: Greg McKeown

Here are a few ways to start discerning the priority amid so many competing activities.

Hold a personal quarterly offsite. We all know the basic arguments for executives to hold quarterly offsites: it gives them a chance to look at the big picture, ask the hard questions and explore where things are, where they need to be and how to get there. It is a chance to get away from the reactive, meeting-to-meeting pulse that can lead to otherwise intelligent people to be tricked by the trivial. For these same reasons, I recommend every 90 days you take a day to go somewhere away from the deafening digital noise and usual routine of your busy life and reflect on what really matters.

Pretend you have half the time you really have. Recently, I spent two weeks looking after our three children while my amazing wife, Anna, spent time with our eldest daughter in New York. It left me with far less time than I typically have to work professionally. About half the time. This led me to apply extreme prioritization to my work: if I can only work two hours today, what should I get done? This was helpful because the Planning Fallacy is a heuristic that tricks our brains into thinking tasks will take less time than they really take. As a result we can con ourselves into thinking we can do more than we really can do. Instead of trying to cram eight hours of work into four hours, I tried to force myself to think what I would do if I only had two hours. This revealed the things that really mattered.

Use a life line. Often we can’t discern between the good and the great, the important and the essential because we are too close to the issues at hand. When I get into this type of pain I turn to my wife and ask her to look at my list. She can often almost effortlessly help me to do this. And the same happens when she asks my views on the matter.

Stop letting your desktop bully you. There is enormous freedom and bursts of clarity that come when we declutter our environment. Physical things in our lives prompt us and even bully us to pay attention to them. And the same is true for digital things. When our desktop is fenzied, when we have 10 windows open, when we are looking to our inbox as our to-do list (when really our email mostly consists of other people’s agenda) then we will find it tough to discern what the priority really is.

As I have written before, the word “priority” came into the English language in the 1400s and it was singular. It meant the very first thing. It stayed singular, very sensibly, for the next 500 years! Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start speaking of “priorities.” So while we can find ourselves feeling that everything is a priority, literally by definition, it can’t be.

By creating the space to think and listen we can discern the first or prior thing among many other good and worthy tasks.

Article Source: McKeown, G. (2014). How to prioritize when everything is a priority. Linkedin. Retrieved from

I Will Hire You for Your “Useless” Degree, If…

Posted in: Staffing Factoring Articles- Nov 13, 2014 Comments Off

By Dustin McKissen

My friend has a son who is an exceptional musician, and was recently accepted to one of the most prestigious college music programs in the country. The other weekend my friend went to visit his son, who took him to the music lab to show his dad what he was learning about the science of harmonization, and how music that sounds spontaneous is actually the result of complex scientific principles.

Like any parent would be, my friend is immensely proud of his son. And, like any good parent would be, he wonders how his son will take what he learns in school and translate that to a lucrative career—or at least one that pays the bills, and opens even the possibility of supporting my friend’s hoped-for future grandchildren.

It’s a scary thing if you’ve invested a significant amount of money in an education other people label “useless”. But as someone who has hired people for a long time now, I don’t believe any degree is “useless”.

If I can’t see the value of someone who understands the science of harmonization could bring to my organization, then I am doing a poor job as a hiring manager. And I’m missing the chance to bring some outside of the box thinking and potential for innovation into my business.

That said, it’s still the job candidate’s responsibility to find a way to demonstrate how their education has increased their ability to think critically and bring a fresh perspective.

Job Training vs. Education

The infamous “underwater basket weaving degree” doesn’t exist. Next to that, art history might be the most dismissed major, at least in pop culture. However, art history is defined as “the study of art in its historical development and context”. Remove the word art, and think of that sentence in a different way. If someone can understand historical development and context, they can surely be taught the more practical aspects of most jobs.

Our tendency to conflate job training and education is a mistake. If we really believe in the power of the free market and creative destruction, than by definition most jobs people get trained for are in the process of becoming obsolete.

People do need to be trained to do whatever it is they are going to do for a living, but they also need to know how to think critically, observe and understand patterns, and be forward thinking – among many other things. If they don’t know how to do those things not only will the workforce leave them behind, but the companies that hire them will eventually be left behind as well.

Those qualities can be developed in a variety of places, but a liberal arts degree is one of those places. And, as Walter Isaacson said in this post, we do need engineers and computer scientists, but we also need people who understand what it means to be human.

Uphill Climb

All of that aside, if you are someone with a degree that others may dismiss, and you aren’t becoming a curator or a musician, you face an uphill climb. Hiring managers are short on time and long on candidates, and it’s on you to show how your education impacted the way you think, not just what you know–because, for the vast majority of professions, how you think is more important than what you know.

That’s true for any recent college grad, but it’s especially true if you just spent a significant amount of money on a degree that others don’t always view favorably. Finding ways to demonstrate your value, critical thinking skills, and entrepreneurial drive is not easy, but it is easier than it used to be. Write a blog, design an app, start a nonprofit—do something that shows you are more than just a piece of paper and that what you learned actually gave you a skill set that others may find valuable.

The only thing useless is accepting a paradigm that doesn’t have to be true.

Article Source: McKissen, D. (2014). I will hire you for your “useless” degree, if. Linkedin. Retrieved from

If You Lose Your Job, Avoid These 3 Things

Posted in: resume, social media, staffing- Nov 12, 2014 Comments Off

By Paul Elsass

Back in 2008, right at the exact time the economy collapsed, my career collapsed. I found myself without a job…no warning, no severance, and quite frankly, no good reason.

As clearly as if it happened 5 minutes ago, I remember sitting there with my mouth gaping open, staring at the messenger of this news, not knowing what to do…I was literally paralyzed while my life flashed before my eyes.

This was the first time in my professional career anything like this had ever happened to me. It was so startling to me! What made it even more bizarre was that I was actually crushing all the goals that had been given to me in the job. How could this happen to me?!?!

Over the next few weeks, after telling my wife and kids what happened and realizing how bad our financial situation was about to get, I went through a rollercoaster of emotions. From shock, terror and sadness, to just downright pissed off! Not only was this a terrible thing, but it was at a time in our economy when no jobs were even available.

If you are, or ever have been in this position, your anger is totally normal. If you haven’t ever been through this, be prepared for it anyway.

Here are 3 things you need to avoid after you are fired or “laid off”:

  • Never Let Them See You Sweat (or even turn red) – Each day I would wake up at 5am and start scouring the internet for jobs. I applied for everything that could possibly work and then some. My goal was to get at least get 3 interviews per week, but some weeks I was lucky to have any. The prime window after you lose your job is the first 2 months. You will have many jobs you can apply for, and thus a greater chance for interviews. After several weeks of applying and interviewing, I still didn’t have a job offer and I found out why. I was on the phone with a recruiter one day. She was talking with me about a position with a company she represented. After speaking with me for about 30 minutes she said, “Paul, let me tell you something. First, I want you to know that although I am a recruiter, I do not work on behalf of the candidates…rather, I work for the employer. Thus, I have to protect the employer from bad candidates. While I like you and see a very solid resume here, I can’t recommend that they talk with you. The reason is that when you told me about this last position you were in, I could hear all kinds of anger in your voice. My advice to you, Paul, is that if you want a job, you had better deal with that anger and get past it. No one will hire you if you cannot let it go.” This advice from her was solid and she was right. Employers do not want angry employees and they can smell anger a mile away. When you badly need a job, you have to consider that each time you get an interview, you are being granted a chance to get your life back on track. Do not blow any of those chances, by talking about how you were wronged. Instead, talk about how you learned from the experiences you had there and how it made you grow (while smiling the entire time). It’s not easy, but it will make a world of a difference. Yes, you were wronged! Yes, it is horribly painful. No, you cannot show it at all if you want a job. Life goes on, C’est la vie…let it go, my friend.
  • Don’t Try to Control The Weather – There are things in this world that you can control, such as what time you get up, how many phone calls you make or job applications you fill out, and even which outfit you wear to an interview. On the other hand, there are many things you cannot control and you have to stop trying to do it anyway. Years ago I figured this stress reduction trick out. You see, I was walking around in a world of complete and total anxiety. I was a walking bundle of nerves. My brain wouldn’t stop thinking about all of these things I wanted to have happen in a specific way and at a specific time. One day, after feeling extremely worn out, it dawned on me…I said to myself, “Paul, you are going to die a young man if you keep thinking about so many stressful things…focus on those things that you have direct control over and let the rest go!”. Yes, it would be awesome if the employer you just interviewed with yesterday would make you a job offer today. It’s likely not going to happen and more importantly, it’s outside your powers. Sure, it would be best if the lady with 50 items in her grocery basket wasn’t checking out in the “10 Items or Less” line, but it’s too late, she is. Dwelling on things that you cannot control in this world will make your hair fall out five times faster (trust me, I have a receding hairline to prove it) and it will do you no good. Put your energy and mental focus only into those things which you can directly impact. That should be enough to worry about.
  • Don’t Judge Yourself by Your Job! (aka,Your Career Is Not What’s in the Mirror) – Many years ago there was a great skit on Saturday Night Live, that I still use for therapy to this day. Al Franken played the part of Stuart Smalley. His character was the main character in a fake TV show called “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley”. In his self-help show, and he was always starting the show by looking in the mirror and saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me”. After losing your job, you will go through many times where you feel alone and small. If you have go and stand in the unemployment line, it will be a very humbling experience, to say the least. There will likely be many jobs that you are not offered. With all of this in play, it is quite common to feel like you have lost your mojo. You really are good enough and smart enough! You need to make sure that you never mix who you are with what you do for a living. When you think of yourself, taking your career out of the mix completely, you will see that you are a good person who is very talented and capable. Losing your job never changed that. Take a minute to remind yourself of all that you have accomplished and all that you can do, each and every day. If you smile and give yourself this pep talk each day, you will find that your interviews will go better and that job you are looking for will be right around the corner. By the way, when you are feeling low, you should sing a little song I wrote, called “Focus on the Finish Line”.

NOTE: In a previous article I wrote, “Empathize With the Unemployed”, I spoke about some of these emotions and stressors that the unemployed folks go through. It’s so important for us all to be aware of how to cope with things like this, which can be so debilitating. If you know anyone who is unemployed, I hope this article gave you some perspective and that you will offer a pat on the back and maybe an opportunity to help them get back on their feet.

Article Source: Elsass, P. (2014). If you lose your job, avoid these 3 things. Linkedin. Retrieved from

How One Man Went From Homeless to CEO

Posted in: resume, small business, staffing- Nov 11, 2014 Comments Off

Image Source:

By Burt Helm

“What do you mean, a 50 percent refund?” says the voice on the other end of the line. “Are you serious? When the account has already been suspended? That’s not fair!”

Blood rushes to my cheeks. I desperately want my next sentence to calm her down, to sound confident, sympathetic. I want this customer–my customer–to feel assuaged. Satisfied.

But as the little timer on my computer screen ticks into the call’s ninth minute, I have other worries: I have to say “please” and “thank you” at least twice. I have to keep my refunds-per-call metric low. I don’t realize it at the time, but also I have an audience: The call center’s president and CEO, Gabriel Bristol, is secretly monitoring my calls from his office. He, I am learning, is something of an obsessive.

“You say ‘um’ too much,” he cheerfully tells me the next morning, minutes into breakfast. I’ve joined him, his life partner, and his adopted daughter and son, both 11, at a Las Vegas brunch place a few miles from the Strip. They’re all dressed preppily, in woolens and saddle shoes. It’s Sunday, family day. But Bristol can’t yet put me and my ums behind him.

Never say “um,” he tells me. In the customer service jungle, this signals weakness, uncertainty. Instead, I should pause. Speak slowly. Let the caller hang … on my every word. “It makes you authoritative,” he says. Customer service, a business of micro human interactions, is full of these tricks, ways to keep a caller calm–and keep her money–all while making her think it was her idea. Bristol knows this. He’s spent 10 years working the phones himself.

I’ve flown out to his offices to learn about call centers. Bristol, who took over a phone room of about 40 people two years ago, has big plans for his–so far, he’s grown the business into a 300-plus-employee company called Intelicare Direct, with locations in San Diego and Las Vegas. Bristol is consumed with thoughts about the industry. He wants to fix it, to make call center jobs–widely regarded as the scutwork of the white-collar world–into valued, rewarding careers. For him, it’s deeply personal. Call centers brought him up from nothing. On the telephone, he’s something of a virtuoso.

I’ll bet you didn’t know call centers had virtuosos. Bristol didn’t either. At least, not until the day he found out he was one. It was 1989. He was 19, freezing on the streets of Lansing, Michigan, giving blood for money. A runaway. Homeless.

Bristol grew up in Spring Lake, Michigan, a village of 2,500 people on the shores of Lake Michigan, the fourth in a family of five adopted children. Child services took him away from his birth mother when he was 5. His earliest memory is of waiting for her at the police station as she was being booked on prostitution and heroin charges.

Bristol’s adoptive parents, a cement-truck driver and a stay-at-home mom, were devoutly Christian. But Gabriel and his biological half-sister, Joanna Bristol, who was adopted along with him, say the couple used their religious beliefs as a pretense to control and abuse them. “After every meal, we would have to read the Bible,” recalls Joanna, “and we’d all have to recite a sentence from the passage from memory. And if you couldn’t get it, they would beat you for it. It was so scary.” The siblings say they had to ask permission to bathe, to brush their teeth, and even to have a drink of water–or else have their ears pulled or their faces slapped. Gabriel received the worst of it, he says. “I was hit every day,” he says. “Every day. Some days, I couldn’t go to school because–I didn’t get this at the time–my mom knew if I went to school looking like that, she’d get in trouble.”

“Gabriel really suffered a lot,” says Joanna, “because the dad knew he was feminine, or gay or whatever you call it. He would beat Gabriel constantly. I don’t know if it was because he enjoyed seeing Gabriel in pain, or because he was trying to make Gabriel more manly. But it was horrible.” (Their father is now deceased. Their mother, who hasn’t spoken to Gabriel in 27 years, denies he was ever beaten. “How could you make him more manly by hitting him?” she says. “There was nothing like that. Nobody hit anybody. I don’t understand where all this is coming from.”)

At school, Gabriel struggled to fit in. He had few friends. “A lot of times he would go outside by himself and role-play, kind of like an escape,” says Joanna. “Just making believe, talking to himself in different voices.” Puberty isolated Gabriel further, when he realized he was attracted to other boys. He kept those feelings secret, hoping no one would notice.

Still, people knew. “Other kids would come up to me and say, ‘Is Gabe a fag?’ ” recalls Lara Harris David, his high school friend and prom date. “He and I were both rejects. We really bonded over that.” For the prom, Harris David and Bristol had fun designing their own outlandish outfits–Bristol’s bolero jacket, top hat, and big leather boots got a lot of attention. A popular girl invited them to a bonfire party after the dance. But around the bonfire, as Bristol tried to enjoy himself, it soon became clear he’d been invited as a joke.

“Throw the faggot in the river!” shouted one boy. Several other kids chimed in, and two boys grabbed Bristol. Before they could finish the job, he struggled free. Traumatized by the episode, Bristol stopped going to school shortly thereafter. Following a particularly bad fight with his parents, he got on a Greyhound bus to the first big city he could think of: Lansing.

For the first time, Bristol was running the show. He’d build call centers the way he thought his people deserved.

Bristol drifted around Lansing for a while, eventually falling in with a group of goth kids who let him crash on their couches. He started dating another guy who’d been kicked out of his parents’ house and who worked at a call center. He got Bristol a job there. As it turned out, Bristol was a natural–he had a talent for sensing people’s emotions, detecting hints of agitation, saying things that kept them relaxed.

When I ask Bristol where he thinks those talents came from, he points to frightening moments from his childhood. “If you knew that if you raised your voice a tiny little bit, or if you looked at me in a certain way, that I would haul off and smack you?” he says. “You would start to read me, figure out how to keep me in a good place. That’s a skill I learned. To give everybody what they need.”

Before he knew it, Bristol was collecting one performance bonus after another. It was a strange feeling. After struggling in school, at home, and with friends, he’d found something he was good at. But it was a skill pretty much no one admired.

Bristol worked more call center gigs and pulled together enough money to buy a Greyhound ticket to Los Angeles. He had no place to stay at first, but eventually he was able to rent a studio apartment. He dreamed of doing something else–acting, modeling, working at a clothing boutique–but call centers paid. After a while, he’d gotten enough experience to manage one himself. In 1999, he got a job at MetLife, running a 30-person phone room in a department that sold annuities.

When Bristol arrived, the staff was a mix of slackers and oddballs, the eccentric and the surly. One prospective rep came in for an interview wearing three pairs of sunglasses (head, neck, and face), and when Bristol asked him about it, the guy snapped, “What’s your problem?” Another day, a new hire in her 50s interrupted training when she scrunched up her face and groaned. Bristol was confused–until he got hit with the smell. “Don’t worry,” the woman said. “I’m wearing a diaper.”

“You’ve got these people with a lot of challenges, a lot of baggage,” he says. Still, he knew there must be good people there. After all, he’d been one.

Bristol restructured pay, cutting hourly wages and increasing bonuses. He fired diaper lady and people like the glasses guy. Performance improved. In three years, sales increased from $8 million to $22 million. Then Bristol got a call from JCPenney’s direct marketing subsidiary, offering to hire him for $90,000 plus bonuses–twice his annual salary. Bristol told his boss he was leaving.

“Hang on,” his boss replied. “Let me make a call first.” Ninety minutes later, Bristol’s boss called back and told him the company would match JCPenney’s offer–and give him a $10,000 cash bonus. Bristol was shocked. He’d been working there for three years, and in 90 stupid minutes, they’d doubled his salary. Just like that.

The lesson didn’t hit home until later, at a MetLife sales conference in Las Vegas. There, he was invited to attend a company-sponsored dinner at Spago, a four-star restaurant at Caesars Palace casino. Feeling self-conscious about MetLife’s generosity and intimidated by the men around him–several of the salesmen wore Rolexes–Bristol ordered the cheapest entrée on the menu.

But at dinner, the men he thought were so impressive just complained: MetLife didn’t give them good enough leads, it had taken too long for them to reach their $200,000 annual salaries, and so on. Bristol was shocked. These guys made twice what he did, and they didn’t seem all that smart or hardworking. There was just one stark difference: They were the swaggering sales guys. He was the chump on the phone.

“We’re those people you shove in the corner, that you put on a floor nobody goes to, or outsource to some part of the world that nobody ever sees,” he says. “We don’t know our own power. We don’t know how amazing we are.”

After MetLife and a couple of other jobs, Bristol finally tried leaving call centers. He yearned for people to see the value of his profession. But he also just wanted some more money and respect. He and his partner at the time had just adopted two small children. He bought and flipped property during the real estate boom, and got a job running HR for a Los Angeles-based startup. But the housing bust quashed those dreams.

In 2012, he replied to a listing for a call center manager job at Instant Checkmate, a background-check website that, for a monthly subscription fee, lets users perform public records searches. The site, created by San Diego entrepreneurs Joey Rocco and Kris Kibak, already had a call center, but “it was poorly managed,” says Kibak. “The quality control was not there.”

Bristol came into the interview and promised to fix those problems. “He was very much a salesman,” says Rocco. “I remember smirking in the interview, like, wow, he’s good.” They all agreed that he should run the customer service department as a standalone company and bring in his own clients and revenue.

And so, for the first time, Bristol was running the show. He leased new office space in Las Vegas and built another location in San Diego. He’d build call centers the way he thought his people deserved.

To get a sense of Bristol’s dream, I start my corporate training in the company’s low-slung San Diego office, bright and early on a Thursday morning. As I walk past the reception desk, I hear the low din of phone conversations filtering up from row after row of the sleek, minimal desks. The voice nearest me is explaining to someone that, yes, she did agree to the terms, and asking that she not be so hard on him. I pass by lounge spaces, where employees gather for informal meetings, and a “fun room,” where people can kick back and play video games, watch TV, or mess around on iPads. On the floor near one rep’s feet, a big yellow Labrador retriever lolls, watching passersby. (Employees are allowed to bring their children and their dogs to work.)

I find a place in the conference room next to four new recruits. Up front, Jasmine Cook, a primly coiffed HR woman, reviews the basics for us: All employees work 40 hours a week for health benefits and a base rate of about $11 an hour, plus a $1 hourly bonus for keeping refunds per call below $7. Each shift includes a paid “wellness” walk. A personal trainer leads fitness classes twice a week.

Throughout the day, different managers come in to speak to us, and since each one asks us about ourselves, I hear the other trainees’ short bios again and again: The baby-faced guy with the bouffant hair is Javier Marquez, 21. He has recently moved from Arizona and wants to be a dermatologist. The guy in the suit is Chris Podaca, 26. He has worked as a busboy and dreams of going to nursing school.

The managers smile encouragingly. It seems assumed that nobody actually wants to work at a call center.

A few days later, I shadow a rep named Ava Albanese. We sit elbow-to-elbow in her cubicle, as I watch her work. You wouldn’t know by talking to her that she’s one of the top reps at Intelicare: She’s 21 years old, shy and sweet, with braces, chunky plastic glasses, and a high, almost squeaky, voice. She hands me a headset. Soon enough, her computer demands our attention with an alert window and a loud ring. She clicks Accept and answers with the scripted greeting.

“Thank you for calling Instant Checkmate Member Services. This is Ava. How may I provide you with excellent customer care today?”

The caller had gotten the five-day trial, and he wants to cancel. Most callers, it turns out, want to cancel. Instant Checkmate tantalizes Web surfers with the prospect of uncovering dark secrets about their neighbors and loved ones. (“Warning! This background report may be graphic!” reads one pop-up window. “We have millions of records that could expose your subject for who they really are!” reads another.) In reality, the site performs basic public records searches that generally turn up a few old home addresses or maybe a parking ticket. The service then automatically bills customers’ credit cards close to $30 a month. Perversely, that makes for good business at Intelicare: As many as 7,000 people call every day about Instant Checkmate. (Intelicare also has two other clients.) In a typical shift, Albanese handles about 40 calls.

The challenge of her work is maintaining a smooth perkiness during this daily parade of vexed souls–all while clicking boxes and typing notes. She’s like an assembly-line worker who processes human irritation into docile acceptance. Albanese doesn’t have an opinion about the Instant Checkmate service itself. She just likes keeping folks happy and her refunds-per-call rate low. (Refund negotiations follow a script, too: First, reps offer a simple cancellation with no money back. Then, a 50 percent “courtesy” refund. And finally–and only if the customer is boiling over with rage–or mentions the attorney general or the Better Business Bureau–a full refund. Between each step, reps put the caller on hold to “speak to a supervisor.” But we actually speak to Albanese’s supervisor only once, between calls, about the best place to get tacos nearby.)

As many as 7,000 people call every day about Bristol’s client Instant Checkmate.

After a while, Albanese lets me take over. It’s a lot harder than it looks, all that simultaneous clicking and typing and happy talking. And it becomes near impossible when I have customers who are truly pissed. The harder I try to sound calm and soothing, the more my voice quavers. And though my responses get more polished after a few calls (someday, I might even stop saying “um”), I can’t stop feeling their anger. I know it’s illogical to feel bothered by these random voices in this tinny headset. But I can’t help it.

Later, I’m sitting in on a senior staff meeting when a manager announces the top reps of the month. Bristol asks someone to fetch the winner so they can congratulate her.

In walks Aleksandra Micaiah, a 26-year-old with–at the time–bright pink hair. Jolinda Fields, the San Diego manager, tells Micaiah she has won. The room applauds.

“Really?” Micaiah asks. She looks around, smiling, and then starts to cry. “I’m so honored,” she says, “because, I’m not even from here.”

Micaiah moved to the U.S. from Poland four years ago, and she still has an accent. That makes her easy bait on the phone. She explains she never thought she’d be any good; customers had always ripped into her for being foreign. Bristol embraces her. So do the others. As if on cue, a friendly bulldog trots in from the main room and jumps up onto the group hug.

Micaiah thanks them and leaves. Afterward, the managers commiserate. Nearly all of them have worked the phones–Bristol staffs his management team with former entry-level reps. (“See those two empty rows of desks?” a team leader had said during training. “There will be new teams there. They’ll need team leaders. They could be you.”) And all have had calls that still haunt them. Bristol recalls a guy from years ago who’d hurled homophobic slurs and threats, getting more and more vicious and explicit until Bristol couldn’t take it anymore.

“Finally, I just said, ‘You’re not even going to buy me a drink first?’ ”

They all laugh. They seem unified by their shared hurt. Like Bristol, many of his staffers were in tough spots when they found call center work–manager Kevin Simpson had lost his construction job and been sleeping on a friend’s porch when Bristol hired him. These are the people Bristol wants. Smart people who just need a shot, but don’t know they deserve one. And, besides, it’s not like the people with the flashy résumés come looking for work here.

That afternoon, Bristol and I are driving back from lunch when I ask him whether, if economics allowed, he’d hire every person in trouble and pay all his reps six-figure salaries. He says no. “The work doesn’t merit that,” says Bristol. Plus, many of the employees he has hired “weren’t capable” or “weren’t ready” for the job. In his view, there are diamonds in the rough, but there’s also a lot of rough. To chisel it all away, he uses some blunt tools. The attendance policy is strict: Employees are fired for being tardy or absent five times in a 90-day period. There’s also the set of quality assurance requirements, the mandatory “pleases” and “thank yous” and so forth. Mistakes lead to written warnings, and eventually termination. As a result, Intelicare fires a lot of people. Bristol concedes that’s probably led to the departures of some good people along with the bad. (Since my visit, Marquez, Podaca, and a few others have left the company.) For better or worse, all that churn helps Bristol find gems that others have overlooked.

That includes people like Joie Andre, a 38-year-old in the San Diego office. Before Intelicare, she worked at a call center that sent workers home when business was slow–she was lucky to get more than 10 hours a week. “I made more money on unemployment,” she tells me. When, after a year at her old job, she asked for a $1 raise to her $8 hourly wage–and whether she could apply for a supervisor job–the HR person turned her down flat.

But Andre is a natural manager, someone who loves figuring out ways to mentor and motivate people. Less than two months into working at Intelicare, a supervisor noticed that Andre had a knack for teaching her co-workers, and promoted her to team leader.

At one point, I watch Andre coach a young rep named Angelina Olson through a sticky negotiation. (An irate customer had been charged $59 for a six-month membership, but he believed he’d signed up for only a couple of days.) Andre shows Olson how to reframe the conversation by giving the caller a 50 percent refund but also leaving the account open for the remainder of the six months. (“That equals out to just $4.90 a month!”) It works. Afterward, Olson beams at Andre. “I love you,” she says. Andre laughs and smiles back. “I love you, too.”

At that moment, Andre’s 8-year-old son, Michael, runs over from the fun room. San Diego schools are on spring break this week and some kids have been watching the movie Frozen.

“Michael, tell this man what Mom does for a living,” she says.

The fidgety little boy looks at his mom, then at me. “She supervises and helps others,” he says. Andre swells with pride. She’s never before had a job she felt proud of, she tells me.

In the months since I visited, Intelicare has promoted Andre again, to assistant manager of the Las Vegas call center. With the money from her raise, she rented a three-bedroom house with a yard and a garage–the first time Michael has ever had his own bedroom, she says.

Meanwhile, Intelicare continues to grow. Sales are on track to exceed $11 million in 2014, a 120 percent increase from last year. And Bristol is planning to open a new location, in San Jose, California. He has ambitious plans. He wants to build a call center without cubicles–replacing them with mobile tablets and wireless headsets and comfy chairs. He imagines that someday his reps will provide his clients with strategic advice, insights they’d glean from their daily calls. It’s unclear what he’ll achieve–he may never build a cubicle-free call center. But what he has done is given his employees some hope. That they are valuable. That they are respected. That they, like him, can achieve something.

In our time together, I notice that Bristol has a strange habit. He likes to call his own customer service line–sometimes twice, three times a day, or more–to be the customer. I see him do it a few times, almost as if he were on a script. He’ll call, and the rep will reply with the verbatim opener. He’ll pipe up:

“Hi, this is Gabriel. How are you?”

An uncomfortable pause. “Good, how are you?”

“Do you know who I am?”

Another pause, and maybe a nervous laugh. “Yes.”

“OK, I wanted to tell you your introduction sounds very good. Thank you.” Having checked on them, Bristol will hang up. He knows everything’s all right at the call center. They know what’s possible on the other end of the line.

Article Source: Helm, B. (2014). How One Man Went From Homeless to CEO. Retrieved from

How to Fill Up the White Board of Your Mind

Posted in: small business news, staffing- Nov 10, 2014 Comments Off

By David Sable

One of the most famous of the ancient Greek mathematicians, Archimedes, is known best for popularizing the word Eureka — literally “I have found it” — at a moment of inspired intellectual discovery.

For Archimedes, the Eureka moment came in the bath…a Greek Bath. As he lowered his body into the water, he watched it trickle over the side and his mind made an incongruent but relevant leap — that the water that was being displaced was proportionate to the part of his body that was under water.

As legend has it, he went running naked and dripping down the streets of Greek Syracuse, wildly sharing his new understanding of how to measure the volume of irregular shapes. EUREKA!!

In our digital world, where you’d think we have infinite possibilities to make enormous spatial leaps, I find it astounding that we often limit ourselves with linear thinking.

Now, I’m not saying that linear thinking is bad, useless or even passé.

But so much of what you hear at conferences, and so much of what analysts report and so much of the news is predictable and, in my opinion, uninspiring. And so many of the latest greatest never been-seen before are actually none of the above. In fact, take away the name of the company, or service or technology at the core and it all starts to sound the same. Often so much digibabble.

But let’s get back to conferences. You know the drill: One presentation after another. Panels upon panels. Opening remarks, keynotes, highlights, news reports, closing remarks, afterthoughts, parties, swag…

The best part of these conferences, in my view, are the interstitial moments — the conversations you have in between speakers, traveling from room to room. Or the people you meet through people you know or because you’re sitting on the same panel, or you’ve both walked up to someone to introduce yourselves or you strike up a conversation at the coffee line.

That’s why I am a huge proponent of the unconference movement. For those of you who don’t know what an unconference is, it is a conference that eschews the linear order of the conference-convention cycle to create something jarringly different and decidedly non-linear.

Unconferences are driven by the participants. There is little set agenda. No formal presentations. No endless powerpoints or speeches you’ve heard in some form or another at one event or another.

The idea is that if you get an interesting mix of people in a room and let them decide what they want to talk about, how they want to talk, even when and where they want to, it is likely that interesting things will happen.

Full disclosure: I just came back from WPP’s stream, the poster child of the Unconference Movement, which is held in Greece and other places around the world several times a year. There, when you arrive, if you have something you want to talk about, you put it down on a white board, where the conference agenda organically builds hour by hour.

While there, I participated in discussions that ranged from best practices in social media to the future of TV, to digital art, to what content does and doesn’t do, to the maker economy, to what ever happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. There was a demo of drones and a lively discussion about their potential use. I played video games, used my powers of concentration to move a ball along a track, and tried Oculus-based interactive programs. I also served drinks at an event called Midnight Cooking Madness, listened to people play musical instruments, perform and share their talents. And helped a number of different groups brainstorm to come up with ideas to help combat Ebola, from which a website and app materialized overnight.

Every bit of it was non-linear — and the Eureka moments built one after the other. However, it could be argued that the biggest Eurkea moment is that eclecticism enriches experience. Disparate elements drive discovery.

There’s a richness in pairing the digital with the analog.

Randomness actually helps create focus.

Informality drives a different kind of order.

Openness accelerates clarity.

An active experience always trumps a passive one. We’ve said that about education for years, but we paint by the same old numbers when it comes to learning in the business world.

There’s so much out there for us to yet discover.

But to fill up the white board of your mind, you first need to jump in the bath and not worry about the towel.

Article Source: Sable, D. (2014). How to fill up the white board of your mind. Linkedin. Retieved from