Manners Really Do Matter

Often the job search process involves an interview over lunch or dinner or networking at a reception.  Candidates do not want to be remembered for displaying poor etiquette in a business dining situation.  To help our students succeed, the Graduate Career Center at Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business requires all full-time MBA students to participate in a business dining etiquette event.  Your professional etiquette becomes an important component of your professional brand.

The Basics and Beyond – Some of the basics are things you learned from Mom and Dad or maybe Grandma.  Don’t speak with food in your mouth.  Don’t put your elbows on the table.  Don’t pass food across the table.  While the event includes fun reminders about these basics, it goes much further.  We talk about how to hold your drink during the cocktail reception to avoid a clammy handshake.  We explore how to pass items around the table, how to identify which bread plate and water glass are yours and we tackle the daunting issue of which piece of silverware to use when.  Students have an opportunity to practice throughout the session and are able to ask specific questions as well.  Special thanks to Harvard Pilgrim Health Care who sponsored the etiquette event for our MBA students last week.

Professionalism – What to order from the menu at a business meeting is discussed as well as how to handle the check.  Students learn how to make a toast and when it is appropriate to reciprocate.  Proper manners are a demonstration of your personal brand so building a solid understanding of professional behavior serves you well in your job search and throughout your career.

To be remembered for positive reasons after an interview or business meeting, be sure your professional etiquette is on target.

Eliminate These Phrases for Success on the Job

While one expects that all employees want to be successful in the jobs, with negative thinking, they often act as their own worst enemies and sabotage their own success.  Some key thinking patterns that can derail a career include:

 “It’s Not My Job” – Employees who stick to the limits of their job description often find themselves stuck in that job.  Those who are willing and eager to take on an additional assignment, special project or help out a colleague who is in a bind are often rewarded for their efforts.  Managers may be testing capabilities for a new role or assessing talent on the team.  It is far better to be seen as the “go to” person when something needs to be done.  Become the person they turn to when something really needs to be done well.

“Just let me do my job” – those who want to hide behind their computers and not interact with others also don’t typically advance.  Share your ideas with others and learn from those around you.  Sometimes the best ideas come from collaboration and working in teams is more critical than ever to employers.  Be the person everyone wants to have on their team.  Demonstrate the value you bring to a team.  You spend every workday with the same people, try to enjoy their company and respect them as individuals.

“I don’t get paid to do that” – Often the reward for the performance comes after the fact.  Invest the time and effort in learning something new or stepping outside your comfort zone.  Often the reward (which could be a raise or even a promotion) comes after they have seen what you are capable of doing when given increased responsibility.

 “I’ll never be good enough so why try?” – Careers don’t advance from entry level to corner office directly.  Take incremental steps in your career. Always look for a new project, a training class or other learning opportunity so you continue to grow your skills and add value to the organization.  Strive to become more valuable every year.  Invest time and energy in your own career.  Negative thinking will never lead to success.

Help yourself succeed by eliminating the negative self-talk.  Seek the opportunities to differentiate yourself and succeed in your career.



Bored or Stressed?

I was asked recently whether it is better to be bored or stressed at work?  Really?  Given a choice I’d certainly prefer not to be either but it certainly got me thinking.


Being Bored


The first question you should be asking yourself is why are you bored?  Is there truly not enough work to be done?  Are you stuck doing mindless, repetitive work?  Are they just too busy to train you? Is this a temporary situation or on-going?   Are they not giving you projects because you lack the skill set to do what is needed?  The cause of the boredom can impact your response.


When you are bored at work your interest and motivation wanes.  Often the quality of your work goes down because you are not paying enough attention to the details.


Proactively seek opportunities to help others with their work.  Offer your services and be specific about the ways you can add value.  Hopefully someone will take you up on your offer.  Identify training opportunities.  Are their online training modules you can complete?  Is there relevant industry research you can review?  What projects does the boss have on the back burner and how can you help at least get those started.  Find something of value to fill your days.


For me, the most challenging situation in my career was a time very early in my career when I was bored and I only lasted with the company six months.  When there is not enough work to do, you develop bad work habits as you try to stretch the existing work to fill the time.  You become easily distracted and they day seems eternally long.  There is little to motivate you or to make you feel loyal to the company.  After begging for work and demonstrating a willingness to do whatever was needed, I made the decision to leave and never regretted it.


Most companies have limited resources these days to get the job done.  If they have a resource they are not utilizing, shame on them!  If you can’t convince them to give you more work, it could be a clear signal that it is time to seek another opportunity.


Being Stressed


Working under stress has become much more common in the American workplace.  It is unfortunate because stress has significant medical consequences.  Employees working under significant stress for a period of time are putting their health at risk.  Again, ask yourself some questions.  Is the stress due to a specific event or deadline so there is an end in sight?  Is management causing the stress by making unrealistic demands on your time or are you setting unrealistic expectations of yourself?


Workers under stress are not likely to do their best work.  They don’t have the luxury of taking time to think about an issue or to gather input.  Rushing to meet a deadline often results in careless errors which drive more stress trying to rework the data in a timely manner.  Stress often drives employees to just work more hours.  At some point the law of diminishing returns kicks in.  You cannot deliver quality work if you are exhausted.  You are not even able to think clearly.  It is important to sleep well, eat well, get some exercise to manage the stress and to spend time with family and/or friends.  Working all the time is not healthy.


The work culture has become much more 24/7 with instant communications.  This inability to effectively turn work off for a few hours can be very draining to employees and takes a toll on their morale and their productivity.  Highly stressed workers are typically not happy workers and are much more likely to seek other opportunities – if they can handle the added stress of a job search!


Ideally, the workplace should not create a steady environment of either stress or boredom.  Employees feeling constant pressure from either should have a conversation with their managers to address the issues and to implement a plan to minimize the issues going forward.


Personally, while I would strive to minimize either boredom or stress in any role, I’d take stress over boredom any day.  At least with stress, I am doing something that matters and I care about doing it well.  I’d choose that any day over being bored.  Maybe a boring day every once in a while would help with the stress, but that is not likely to happen!



Soft Skills Critical for Success

Employers clearly want candidates with the appropriate technical skills to do the job but what differentiates a great candidate from a pool of good candidates is typically the soft skills.  What soft skills are critical for success?

Communications Skills

Communication is critical to success is almost all jobs these days.  The ability to communicate effectively via email has become a key component of success in business.  Can you present your ideas succinctly and clearly?  Can you prepare a PowerPoint to present the problem and your recommended solutions?  Can you present to a team or managers or executives and clearly and succinctly present your case?  Are you able to effectively listen and capture the key points?   Success on the job is often highly dependent on the employee’s communications skills.

Interpersonal Skills

Most jobs don’t exist in a vacuum.  In order to get your job done you have to work with other people.  Can you effectively lead a team?  Can you be a valuable team member?  Can you motivate others to provide the input you require to do your job even when you have no authority over them?  To be successful on the job, you need to work well with your peers, your managers, and everyone you come in contact with at the workplace.  You don’t have to be best friends but you need to build mutually effective relationships across the organization to be successful.  You need to build your reputation as someone they want to work with because you get things done, bring good ideas to the table and respect your colleagues.

Work Ethic

It is critical that you build the necessary skills to meet or beat your deadlines with quality work.  You want to establish a reputation as someone who does what they say they will do.  When possible you want to strive to exceed expectations – do more than the minimum, anticipate the follow-up questions and next steps.  Demonstrating a strong work ethic is critical to success.

Time Management

Conflicting priorities often arise.  The day isn’t always long enough to get everything done.  Can you effectively keep your projects on track, keep your manager informed and ensure that you are meeting the high priority deadlines?  Time management skills are critical to building your professional reputation.


You want to earn the trust of your manager and colleagues.  Be someone who does what they say they will do.  Be willing to learn.  Be confident without being cocky.

Ability to Take Feedback and Act Upon It

In order to learn and grow professionally, you must be able to take feedback and act upon it.  Seek out feedback if it is not readily given.  Don’t wait for the annual review process, seek feedback regularly to ensure that you are constantly improving.  Seek opportunities for professional development or new projects.

Attention to Detail

Accuracy matters.  Being quick accomplishes nothing if your work can’t be trusted.  Always double check your work.  Step back and think about whether the data really makes sense and anticipate the questions other would ask so you are prepared in advance to address them.  To become a trusted resource in the workplace you must build a reputation for doing quality work.  And if you do make a mistake, own it!  Admit the mistake and build a process to ensure you never make that mistake again.  We are all human and make errors but you differentiate yourself when you own it and take action.


Paying attention to the soft skills will make you more successful in your current job and makes you more marketable for whatever opportunities lie ahead.


Millennials in the Workplace

The millennials are a growing presence in the workplace today and they represent a critical component of the company’s future success.  While it is important for managers to maximize the talents of this bright, capable generation, effectively motivating them will be critical to success.  Working with students to achieve their career goals, there are clearly some common themes in their expectations.

Let them Lead

They strive to be considered the leaders of the future and crave that leadership experience while acknowledging that they are likely not ready to manage people.  Put them in charge of projects.  They will reward you with their best efforts when they have an opportunity to lead.  They are energized by the opportunity to make a difference.  Start with smaller projects and as their success builds, increase the scope and complexity of the projects.  Challenge them by giving them these leadership opportunities.

Recognition Matters

The old “no news is good news” does not meet their needs.  The absence of feedback is not perceived as positive.  They crave regular feedback.  They truly want to do well but often need to understand just what that looks like in the workplace.  Regular meetings with their manager go a long way if regular feedback is included.  While they don’t all need trophies, they highly value public recognition for a job well done, extra time off, professional development or even more responsibility.  Professional development is very important – they crave opportunities to keep learning and improving.  Lack of opportunity to grow is commonly cited as the reason for leaving a company.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

They often grow frustrated if their focus is limited to the specific steps they need to do to accomplish their assignments.  They need to understand how what they are working on fits in the bigger picture.  Sometimes it is inviting them to observe a meeting or two to see where it all comes together.  Sometimes it is an intentional conversation with their manager to understand the full end to end process and how what they are working on makes a difference for the company.  They will still do the same work but they will be much more motivated and engaged if they understand how their work impacts the bigger picture.

Collaboration is Valued

They have worked in teams at school and are energized by the process of group think.  They are accustomed to working together to accomplish a shared goal.  Giving them opportunities to collaborate increases their satisfaction with the work they are doing.

Work Life Balance Matters

Most of them don’t have families yet but they do have lives outside of work and maintaining a healthy balance between work and life is very important.  Many of them were strongly influenced by parents who worked long hours and made significant sacrifices for their careers.  They highly value flexibility in their schedules, time off, the opportunity to telecommute occasionally, etc.  They expect to leverage the technology to get the work done without a rigid schedule about time or place.

This is a talented generation of workers and they represent the future leadership of business.  Helping to effectively motivate them early in their careers will build loyalty to their employers.  But, they do not have an abundance of patience.  They want to be successful but if they fail to see the opportunities for growth, they are not hesitant to move on to find those opportunities.

Questions NOT to Ask in an Interview

During the process of interviewing for a new job, it is critical that you ask questions during the process to demonstrate your interest and engagement.  However, there are certain questions that should NOT be asked in an interview.

  • What is the salary? It is critical that you sell the hiring manager and team on the value you bring to the position.  Asking about salary early in the process can negatively impact your advancement in the process.  Focus on earning their interest first.  They will bring up salary at an appropriate time during the process.
  • What are the benefits? For the same reasons as with the salary question, don’t get ahead of yourself.  You need to sell yourself for the position before you worry about benefits.
  • When will I be promoted? Once you have successfully sold the value you could bring to the position you may want to ask what the manager would consider success in that role after the first year.  You may ask about possible career progression.  Do not specifically ask about being promoted.  It comes across as arrogant to assume that you will be promoted.  Promotions are based on merit but may also be dependent on business needs and budgets.
  • Can I work from home? Can I work flexible hours?  Unless the job states that it is a virtual position or flexible hours, assume that it is in the office during regular business hours.  In many companies you have to prove yourself before you can be considered for working from home or with flexible hours.  Get the job first and show them what you can do.
  • What does your Company do? This question or any other question that could be answered by a five minute review of their website clearly demonstrates that you were not interested enough to do even a basic amount of preparation.  If you are not taking the opportunity seriously, why should they seriously consider you?  Any question that shows you didn’t prepare or that you weren’t listening is not going to land you the job.

Use the interview to demonstrate your transferable skills, the value you bring to the position and your passion for the opportunity.  Sell yourself first before you worry about salary, benefits and flexibility.  This will help you increase your success on interviews.



Beginnings and Endings Fall 2016

This is an exciting and busy time on campus in the MBA Career Center at Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of business.  We just celebrated honor society induction and graduation with our Class of 2016 and welcomed the Class of 2018.

Welcome Class of 2018

It is exciting to welcome the MBA Class of 2018.  We are delighted that they have chosen Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim Graduate School of Business.  They have made a major decision to invest the next two years of their lives in our full-time MBA program.  They are seeking a significant return on that investment in terms of their careers.  They will take many exams, write papers, prepare case analysis and complete group projects over the next two years.  While developing their knowledge of business disciplines, they will also be learning how to advance their careers and prepare for their job searches.

The new class will be busy this fall preparing for their corporate residency job searches next year.  Through both their weekly career management classes and their work with their career advisors, they will develop professional resumes and cover letters, enhance their elevator pitches and their networking skills and they will practice interviewing.  In addition, they will hear from professionals in a variety of companies to help them learn about a wide range of career opportunities.

Experiential learning in not just about the six month residency.  We will also give students valuable opportunities to practice and enhance their networking skills in executive luncheons, Insider Insights sessions, networking events and mock interviews.  They will be expanding their professional networks while they prepare for residency recruiting.

Class of 2017

Our MBA Class of 2017 students are not on campus right now because they are out working on their six month residency assignments.  I’ve been conducting residency check in visits the last several weeks and continue to be impressed by the work our students are doing.  Their managers are sharing very positive feedback about the value they are bringing to their organizations.  Students are gaining valuable work experience while applying what they learned in the classroom.  Employers gain a six month resource for critical projects and they value to fresh perspectives the students bring in addition to their strong work ethic.

Congratulations Class of 2016

What could be more exciting than watching our students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas at graduation?  They have successfully completed all their requirements for an MBA.  Studying is over.  It is rewarding to watch them take the next step in their careers moving on to leadership development programs and other exciting new roles.  Their hard work has led them to an important next step in their careers.  We enjoy celebrating their success with them and their families.  We now have the opportunity to work with them throughout their careers as alumni.  I look forward to seeing many of them back on campus in the future hiring students for their organizations.

I was particularly proud of the students inducted into the Beta Gamma Sigma honor society for their outstanding academic achievements.

In the circle of life we celebrate both the beginning and the endings and wish the students all the best throughout life’s journeys.