Choosing your first job can be daunting, especially in an uncertain economy. Should you aim for a job that’s safe, say at a superstar firm, or one that’s a bit more risky with greater upside, say at a promising start-up? It’s important to weigh the risks. Working at a superstar firm may feel more stable, but you often have to navigate bureaucracy and politics. It can also be harder to gain recognition, be entrepreneurial, and move forward within the firm. Going to a start-up offers upsides if it’s the next Google, but most start-ups fail. Still, in a smaller firm you are likely to be less boxed into a certain role, have more responsibility, and learn new skills. Another option is a middle-of-the-pack company that is more likely to give opportunities to a young, ambitious person short on credentials. What’s right for you depends on your risk tolerance, your income needs, and what you can get. And remember, odds are this first job won’t be your last.
There’s nothing worse than getting a group of smart people together to solve a problem and having the discussion devolve into chaos. This usually happens when people are at different stages of the problem-solving process. To get everyone on the same page, take a methodical approach and conquer one step at a time. First, ask: Does the team genuinely understand the problem it’s trying to solve? If you can’t clearly articulate it, draft a succinct problem statement. If the group understands the problem, but hasn’t yet produced a set of potential solutions, concentrate on generating as many quality options as possible. If you already have solutions, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and develop a list of pros and cons. Then you can use your time together to do the often difficult work of choosing a solution — and make sure that the final decision is in writing. The last stage, once you’ve selected the solution, is to develop an implementation plan. While conquering just one problem-solving stage at a time may feel a bit underwhelming at first, this methodical approach will often help the group leapfrog ahead, sometimes to the end of the problem-solving cycle.
What do you do when you’re ready for a new challenge, but you’re not getting the opportunities you want — and you don’t want to go over your boss’s head? Your first move should be to demonstrate your commitment to the company. Tell your boss that you’re interested in taking on special projects, ones that will both help the company reach its goals and provide you with an opportunity to stretch yourself. Another option is to look for opportunities to collaborate across the organization. When you build connections, you expand your network of allies and increase your visibility and influence. And don’t be afraid to ask directly for opportunities. While you don’t want to push too hard, showing initiative is usually seen as a good thing. Explain why you believe you can make a valuable contribution, as well as what you will gain from the opportunity. Ultimately management will want to put you in a spot where you can do the most. Sometimes you’ve got to identify where that is and ask for it.
Every good manager wants team members who are smart, skilled, and ambitious. But what if one of your employees spends too much time marketing themselves to senior leaders or takes sole credit for your team’s work? You don’t want to look insecure, but you need them to put the team before their own agenda. First, be objective. Is their self-promotion hindering their performance? If they are distracted from their day job, remind them of their responsibilities. Second, manage your own self-doubt. Don’t be vengeful or self-critical. Third, be consistent in your feedback. Make clear what self-promotional activities are acceptable, and don’t make exceptions or treat employees differently. Fourth, don’t fall into the trap of competing with your employee. Competition that stems from positive, shared intent can be constructive, but when it’s based on anxiety, you might end up sabotaging your employee and yourself. And finally, consider whether there is anything you can learn from your employee. Asking them to share their secrets may feel uncomfortable, but it could also build trust and help you maintain your leadership.
It’s common to get your hopes up about a job that seems perfect — and to feel defeated if it doesn’t come through. Taking a moment to wallow is natural. But one of the best ways to overcome the disappointment is to take action. Start by putting your rejection into context. Look back on some of your past disappointments — we’ve all got them — and reflect on how they made other things possible for you. Then, channel your frustration into motivation. For example, if you were turned down because you lacked certain skills or experience, learn that computer language or get the certification. You can also think about alternate ways to achieve your goal. Is there a competitor who recruits for similar positions? Are there adjacent roles that might still be a fit? Also, make sure to stay on the company’s radar. Join their mailing lists or set up a news alert so you know about company events or other job openings. And make it clear to your contact that you remain interested in the company. You never know when a different role might open up.
Many of us feel anxious when we’re speaking or presenting at a big meeting, but there’s lots of research on what you can do to look confident and competent in front of an audience. The key is to pay special attention to your body language. Make eye contact and avoid looking at your slides. A few glances are OK, but not at the beginning of your presentation. Also, keep an open posture with your arms uncrossed and your palms turned up. Remove any barriers — such as a lectern or a laptop — between you and the audience. And find areas of your presentation where gestures would help highlight key points or emphasize a concept. For example, if you’re listing a number of items, use your fingers to count them off. The last step? Practice until you get it right. Don’t be hard on yourself if it takes more time than you expect. There’s nothing more influential than the power of your presence matching the power of your ideas.
Negotiations can get emotional, to say the least. Whether you’re asking for a raise, more resources for your team, or to restructure your position, you might feel anxious, reluctant, or worried. But you won’t be successful if you’re worked up, so take steps to handle your emotions. Before the negotiation, ask yourself how your counterpart might respond — and why. Doing so will help you identify potential setbacks and gather additional information to respond to their challenges. The more you prepare, the less anxious you will feel. During the negotiation, if you find yourself getting upset or nervous, pause and reflect on the underlying reasons and formulate a strategy to address them. After the negotiation, try to avoid carrying negative emotions. Reflect instead on the moments you were most proud of during your interaction, and focus on how you will use your experience to get the result you want in the future.
When you’re trying to tackle an important project that requires concentrated attention, it’s easy to be overly optimistic about your time and to think you’ve got all day — or even several hours — to get it done. But when you consider all of the meetings, emails, Slack messages, calls, and “quick questions” that take up your day, you probably have less time than you think. So when you do get a 60- to 90-minute block, focus exclusively on your highest priority project and ruthlessly protect yourself from distractions. Complex and important projects usually have some administrative tasks associated with them that don’t require as much focus or creativity. Slot those to-dos into other times (say, in between meetings) so they don’t distract from your focus. It can also help to know what you need to do next on your project, so that you can dive right in. You don’t want to spend precious focused time trying to find the source materials for your presentation or hunting down a room to sequester yourself. Remove any barriers so you are ready to go.
When it comes to eliminating workplace discrimination, we often focus on the big decisions — who gets promoted or who gets the biggest bonus — while overlooking the smaller ones. To create an equitable workplace, identify moments that you might not have thought of as decision points. Work backwards from pay, promotion, and performance criteria. What skills, knowledge, and experience do employees need? Then assess whether all employees have equal access. Pay attention to career paths, especially those roles where early judgments about performance determine access to future opportunities. Also, help employees take charge of their careers. Sometimes, disparities arise — or are exacerbated — because employees don’t know which opportunities are important. For example, a new investment banker who is a first-generation college graduate will need more guidance than someone whose parents were bankers. Don’t expect employees to figure it out on their own, advise them on what specifically they’ll need to accomplish in five or ten years.
When you’re caught off guard in a negotiation, it’s normal to freeze up. After all, you weren’t prepared for your counterpart to change the deadline, take back a promise, or deliver an ultimatum. If this happens to you, try to avoid immediately jumping to a conclusion. Instead, suspend judgement, consider “I wonder what led them to say that,” and then ask at least one question. For example, if an employee unexpectedly demands a raise by saying, “I’ve been undervalued for too long,” try not to shut down the request, even if you think it’s off base. Ask something like: “Can you walk me through your thinking? What would getting a raise mean to you personally?” This kind of questioning might surface the employee’s real need — perhaps, to be seen as an important contributor — and then you could negotiate an adjustment around the employee’s visibility rather than their pay.
Lots of advice for working parents focuses on when children are small, but there are new challenges that arise as they grow up. For example, when your kid enters school, the childcare arrangements you’ve come to rely on often get upended. Prepare for this transition by thinking ahead to (and budgeting for) the new arrangements you’ll need. For example, you may have to secure after-school and summer care months in advance. There will be situations you haven’t had to deal with yet — snow days, early school dismissals, parent-teacher conferences — so have some backup options, whether it’s nearby family members or a reliable babysitter. You should also cultivate networks of support by getting to know fellow working parents who can share carpool or childcare duties. And develop allies in the office who support your efforts to integrate work and family. Without an effective support network, balancing the two is unlikely to get easier over time.
Instilling purpose in your employees takes more than motivational talks, lofty speeches, or mission statements. In fact, if overblown or insincere, those methods can backfire, triggering cynicism rather than commitment. To inspire and engage your employees, keep two things in mind. First, purpose is a feeling. You could tell your team that their work is important, but how can you help individuals feel it firsthand? Think about ways to show people the impact of their jobs. Perhaps you could bring a customer in to share a testimonial, or send a small team into the field to experience the client’s needs for themselves. Second, authenticity matters — a lot. If your attempts at creating purpose do not align with how you’ve acted in the past, employees will likely be skeptical, and they might be left feeling more manipulated than inspired. Making the pursuit of purpose a routine, rather than a one-off initiative, will show employees that you’re serious about it.
Being able to think strategically is important, but in order to get ahead, you have to show your boss and other senior leaders that you can do it. One of the best ways to showcase your skill is to bring a point of view to an important conversation. During a meeting where strategy is being discussed, for example, ask yourself whether those present know where you stand. If they don’t, speak up and share your perspective. Higher-ups want to see that you don’t make decisions in a vacuum, so be sure that your point of view considers how other departments might be affected or how the outside world will respond. Also, show that you can use your knowledge to put new ideas into action. No matter your level in the organization, you can execute a project that demonstrates that your understanding of the business extends beyond your current role. Leaders will know you’re ready to be promoted when they know you can make decisions that position the company for the future.
Many executives worry about how to retain younger workers, get fresh perspectives on strategic issues, and stay current on new technologies. Reverse-mentoring programs, where junior staffers “coach” senior leaders, can help. But for these relationships to work, finding the right match is crucial. Pair people across regions, departments, and locations, both to avoid conflicts of interest and to emphasize diversity of backgrounds. Also try to match different personalities, such as pairing an introvert with an extrovert; it’s more effective than matching two extroverts, for example. Be sure to consult mentees before making the pairing formal, since senior leaders are selective about who they’ll be coached by. And make sure they have enough time (and enthusiasm) for the relationship to thrive. The top reason that reverse-mentoring programs fail is that executives don’t prioritize them. If a couple of sessions are canceled, the momentum quickly dwindles. Train younger employees in how to structure sessions well — the more executives benefit, the more they’ll want to keep the commitment.
Looking for a job can feel like a roller coaster ride. One week you have interviews and you’re feeling hopeful — and then a month passes without any news. To make it through the process, you need to manage your emotions. Start by acknowledging that there will be ups and downs. Remind yourself that long waits, and the emotions they cause, are normal. Activities like mindful meditation and journaling can help you experience and sort through your feelings in a positive way. You may also want to enlist the help of a coach, therapist, or work group for support. If you’re unemployed, be sure to do activities that energize you, such as exercising or having lunch with a friend. And don’t take delays personally. If a contact hasn’t made the introduction that they promised, send a friendly reminder, but also think about their other priorities. Chances are, the person wants to help you — they’re just busy. This kind of perspective can mitigate negative emotions during your search.
Many managers sugarcoat tough feedback, either to avoid retaliation or to protect employees’ feelings. But research shows that managers tend to overestimate how well employees understand “nice” criticism. To make sure your team members have the clear, actionable feedback they need to grow, do a few things. First, give feedback more often. In addition to annual appraisals, use weekly or monthly check-ins, regular trainings, and in-the-moment comments to talk about employees’ work. The repetition will reinforce your message. Second, avoid language that could obscure your meaning. For example, “likely” and “a real possibility” are phrases that don’t mean the same thing to everyone. Be specific in what you say. Third, after you give feedback, ask employees to paraphrase what they heard, to ensure they understand it. Ideally, they’ll be proactive about asking questions when needed — but if they aren’t, neither of you gets what you need out of the conversation.
One important aspect of critical thinking is the ability to compare ideas clearly and succinctly. It’s a skill that, like any other, grows with practice. To help your employees get better at sorting through a range of information, give them informal opportunities to try. For example, after a client call, you could ask someone to tell you, in a few short sentences, what the takeaways were. Or, after a strategic planning meeting, you could ask someone for the pros and cons of the initiatives that were discussed. If the employee struggles to identify what’s important, try using a resource-constrained thought experiment: “If you could share only one insight with the CEO, what would it be?” or “If we had only $1,000 for this project, how should we allocate it?” You’ll know the person has mastered this skill when they can, on the spot, summarize a project’s key points and their implications for future work.
When making an important decision, should you trust your gut, or gather more information before deciding? There are two factors to consider. The first is whether more data could actually help you pick the right option. If your company is considering a new product idea, for example, you can do market research and assess your competitor’s offerings — but that information won’t guarantee that people will buy your product. In a situation like this one, you may consider the data at hand and then rely on your gut. The second factor is the context of the problem you’re facing. If successful mental models and schemas exist for this kind of decision, it’s probably a good idea to use them. On the other hand, if you’re trying to differentiate yourself from competitors who have followed those models, gut instinct may be the way to go. And remember: Intuition draws on the objective and subjective information you already know — so your gut feel is, to some extent, data-driven.