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The Boston Globe

Magazine

The Learning & Earning Issue

Miss Conduct’s all-in-one career fix-it guide

From negotiating your salary to delivering an unforgetable retirement speech, our advice columnist shows you the way.

michael klein

HOW SHOULD I CONDUCT MYSELF AT THE JOB INTERVIEW?

Do your homework on the company and its position in the industry, then show your preparation through insightful questions, not a lot of statements about yourself and what you want out of the job. The most common mistake interviewees make is talking about themselves too much.

HOW ABOUT THANK YOU NOTES?

Send a handwritten one, on businesslike stationery or notecards, within 24 hours to each person with whom you interviewed. Keep it short and focused on intelligent appreciation of the individual’s time and the company’s various excellences, not on your own awesomeness. Follow up on any notable conversational leads from the interview (“Here is a copy of the Harvard Business Review article we talked about — I hope you find it interesting!”)

WHAT DO I WEAR?

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Even if the business isn’t very formal, stick with “business formal” (suits, tailored dresses, ties, pantyhose — not all in the same outfit, mind you). The interviewers will still want to know that, if necessary, you could be cleaned up and taken out of the office.

GO AHEAD, MAKE A MESS

Years ago, social psychologist Elliot Aronson ran an experiment that screened video of people reputedly auditioning for a quiz show. Among the “contestants” were equally well-dressed, well-spoken men — one of whom spilled coffee on himself and one who didn’t. Guess who was rated the most attractive? The well-dressed, well-spoken coffee spiller. Moral of the story: Don’t try to be perfect; perfect is off-putting.

NETWORKING FEELS GROSS. DO I HAVE TO?

Get over it. Everyone networks. Your worry is like being embarrassed about being naked while you’re having sex. So keep these three things in mind:

Be honest If you are after something specific — a job, a reference — ask for it straightforwardly. If it’s a favor, let the person know that “no” is an acceptable answer, using a face-saving clause such as “If this isn’t a good time, I understand.”

Be generous Listen to other people before addressing your own agenda. Be open to talking about topics that initially may seem tangential. Bring your whole self to events and be willing to share.

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Be surprising Censor your snarky inner voice and have the courage to ask seemingly obvious questions or draw offbeat analogies. Networking is about creating possibilities. Giving people a safe space to explore and connect ideas is a great way to persuade them you are a uniquely insightful genius.

DOES THAT MEAN I HAVE TO JOIN LINKEDIN, TOO?

Yes, that’s exactly what it means. “If you want anything to happen to you — like get hired, have people find your business, get recruited — you have to have a LinkedIn profile,” says Alisa Cohn, an executive coach based in New York with clients in Boston and around the world. Here’s Cohn’s step-by-step guide to getting started:

1) View profiles of people in similar positions to yours to get good ideas.

2) Brainstorm a list of keywords from those profiles that describe your professional skills and strengths.

3) Write a four-sentence draft of an opening description.

4) Fill in the resume section.

5) Send your profile to six trusted people for feedback.

6) Get a professional photo taken, or at least make sure to shoot one outside in good light.

7) Revise, refine, repeat! The only thing worse than no LinkedIn account is a little-used one.

 I’VE BEEN OFFERED THE JOB. CAN I NEGOTIATE SALARY AND BENEFITS?

The job market is still tight, but that doesn’t mean you should accept the first offer. “Employers typically go into an offer anticipating the candidate will come back asking for more, so I would encourage people to negotiate if they have received an offer that is below their expectations,” says Tracy Burns, chief executive officer of the Concord-based Northeast Human Resources Association. “Realistically, everything is up for negotiation, but you can’t be obnoxious about it — ‘You just gave me a job, and now I’m asking for 10 other things.’ ” It’s important to know what you want upfront, Burns says, and be sure to research realistic salary ranges on websites such as PayScale.com. If the employer won’t budge on salary, ask for other benefits, such as a flexible schedule.

To set yourself up for success, ask for a list of goals your employer would like you to accomplish in, say, the next year. Accomplishing agreed-upon goals puts you in a good position to negotiate for things you want (a raise, a spot on a hot new project) later.

LAUGH ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK

A study from the University of Idaho suggests that making a joke about wanting a million-dollar salary at the outset of negotiations actually increases the employer’s early bid by 10 percent.

I’M HAVING A BAD DAY.

Wait, is that even a question? Well, let me share a magical solution anyway: Clean the office fridge. It’s a concrete task that will reward you with visible results while your colleagues will feel ever-so-slightly guilty and indebted toward you for up to 10 business days. Use this knowledge wisely.

I THINK I’M BEING HARASSED — NOW WHAT?

Unfortunately, rushing to the legal system isn’t the cure-all some people assume. “You can’t just prove you’ve been treated badly,” says my friend Michael Anderson, a partner with Boston law firm Murphy Anderson. “You have to prove you would not have been treated badly in that way if you were a different sex or race or so on.”

So go have a confidential talk with your human resources department. “The HR person should be skilled enough to know if the examples being given are actually harassment,” says Burns. “Often people are afraid to go to HR because it seems like escalating the issue, but, in fact, it can be a way of containing a situation before it becomes explosive.” No HR department? Talk to an objective friend for a gut check before deciding what to do. These situations have a way of creating an emotional fog that requires another person’s help to cut through. 

michael klein

CAN I DRINK AT THE COMPANY PARTY?

The secret to enjoying a company party is to give up any expectations attached to the word “party,” like spontaneity and pleasure. Instead, pretend you’re playing the role of Serious Businessperson on the Rise (while juggling bacon-wrapped scallops). You can have one drink — one! Eat and drink only that which will not disagree with you intestinally and which can be consumed gracefully.

SHOULD I BE A REFERENCE FOR A FRIEND WHO ISN’T QUALIFIED?

Don’t do it. It won’t be good for you, your friend, or anyone else, up to and possibly including the company’s stockholders. If a friend’s qualifications are empirically wrong, be upfront: “They want someone with a master’s for the job, and they won’t budge.” If it’s a more subjective thing, talk about “fit” and “expectations” until your buddy moves on.

HOW SHOULD I APOLOGIZE FOR A MISTAKE?

For a plan of action, I spoke to Shelly O’Neill, chief operating officer at O’Neill and Associates, a Boston public relations firm. Here’s her four-step guide:

1) It’s important to accept responsibility for the mistake and immediately address the situation with your boss. Don’t wait days or hope she won’t find out — trust is a key factor at work. Apologies should be face to face.

2) Explain what happened, that you’ve learned from the situation, and that you’ve taken steps to ensure that this type of mistake will not happen again. 

3) Don’t make up excuses. O’Neill always finds it refreshing when someone says “I’m sorry I’m late” instead of “The dog ran off” or “Someone had my keys.”

4) Keep it simple, honest, and sincere. Then move on.

michael klein

THIS ALL SOUNDS SO SERIOUS. CAN’T I JOKE AROUND AT WORK, TOO?

Humor can advance your career or stop it dead in its tracks, trust a former stand-up comic on that one. No insulting any group or individual, of course. The best jokes break tension at the right moment or use a clever analogy or turn of phrase to encapsulate a relevant idea. But limit yourself. Your humor should not type you as the Boy Who Cried “That’s What SHE Said.”

HOW DO I KEEP WORKING WITH SOMEONE I DON’T PARTICULARLY LIKE?

Bullies and saboteurs are one thing, but what about plain old Annoying Bob? Coping with the people who aren’t harmful, merely dislikable, requires keeping your emotional investment in check. Learn to witness Bob from a place of serene, ironic detachment. Observe Bob. Does Bob always shake his umbrella three times after coming in from the rain? What happens if you say “Good morning!” during the second shake?

HOW ABOUT SOMEONE I DO PARTICULARLY LIKE?

Romance in the workplace is common, says Devin Ryder, a longtime Boston-area career coach. Yet Ryder has also seen it ruin good careers — especially when folks try to hide it and inevitably get caught. “There can be damage to both people’s reputations that can last for quite a while,” she says. “You can build a whole career and then become ‘the guy who had an affair.’ ”

So does that mean love and work can never mix? “It’s usually not an issue if people don’t have a supervisory relationship or are in different functions — as long as there is absolutely no way that one person could have influence over the other’s career progress or salary.”

If you do work closely together and one person in the relationship is in a supervisory position over the other, however, the hard truth is that one of you might have to find a new job. “If a relationship becomes serious and then breaks up, it’s likely someone will have to move on,” Ryder says. “And if it works out and becomes permanent, it’s likely that someone will have to move on — usually the person with the least seniority.”

LOVE IN THE ELEVATOR

Think office trysts are uncommon? Think again. Thirty-nine percent of workers said they have dated a co-worker at least once, according to a recent survey from CareerBuilder.com. Thirty percent of those lovebirds ended up at the altar.

HOW DO I STAY ON THE RADAR DURING MATERNITY LEAVE?

Weren’t you just asking about workplace romance? You move fast. 

This advice applies to maternity and paternity time, as well as sick leave: Tend to your health and family first. Better to drop off the radar for a bit than to neglect the reason that you took the leave in the first place. If that’s under control, keep in touch with co-workers electronically. Set up a Google alert for your company, your boss’s name, and any other relevant terms so that you’ll be kept in the loop automatically. If you come across a study or news story that applies to your job, don’t hesitate to send it along to your colleagues — it shows you’re staying abreast of your industry.          

I LIKE MY JOB. SHOULD I STILL BE UPDATING MY RESUME?

No matter how happily employed you are, good resume management should be one of your priorities.

1) Keep a master resume with everything in it, from your school days to yesterday, updated every time you get an award, beat a sales quota, or learn a new program. Edit as necessary when applying for jobs.

2) What stands out are concrete accomplishments, qualifications, and recognizable names of organizations or institutions.

3) Avoid words ending in “ –ion” or  “–ize.”

4) Instead of an objective stating what you want, consider a “Core Competencies” section. List three or four bullet points explaining skills you have to offer. The section should tell the reader what conclusions to draw from your list of jobs and accomplishments.

5) Always, always have a smart friend proofraed. (See what I did there?)

michael klein

I’M GETTING LAID OFF. NOW WHAT?

“People’s first instinct is to immediately rush out and try to get another job,” Devin Ryder says. “But if they’re devastated and hopelessly confused while rushing around trying to network, they’re going to come off as desperate and angry.” Instead, while you are in the “emotional wreck” phase, you can still safely do important mechanical job-search tasks: Polish your resume and LinkedIn page and develop a list of contacts (but don’t yet get in touch). “Get yourself calm, forward-facing; get your job-search story together,” Ryder says. Only then should you network to find something new.

I HATE MY JOB. HELP!

One of the worst mistakes a person can make is taking the first escape hatch from a job he or she hates. That’s a good way to wind up in another job you hate . . . and this time without any seniority or accumulated sick days to make it more bearable. If your boss is the problem, can you transfer to a different department? If it’s the work, take on side projects or responsibilities until you’re able to segue into a better position. If, however, you just need to get out, keep your job search on the down low. Remember: Never air grievances on social media.

HOW DO I QUIT WITHOUT BURNING ANY BRIDGES?

Don’t be defensive or apologetic. That attitude will make your boss and co-workers feel that they have to reassure you, which is an emotional task that will righteously annoy them when they are already trying to parcel out your workload. Plan so that your handoff is as smooth as possible, and be realistic about what you can get done — leaving a good last impression is as important as making a good first one. Promise to stay in touch with the people you most liked and respected, and do it. Most professions have plenty of churn: Yesterday’s employer could be tomorrow’s client, today’s intern could be tomorrow’s president.

 I’M SUPPOSED TO SAY A FEW WORDS AT MY GOODBYE PARTY. ANY ADVICE?

Sum up what you’ve learned from your work together, thus priming your colleagues with the way you want them to remember you. Address each team member’s accomplishments or talents individually. Be yourself! If you’re the heartfelt “emo” type, a few tears are OK. So is inspirational speech or a mild roast — whatever most comfortably fits into the intersection of your style and the corporate culture. 

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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