Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Learning from a job that you hate

One of my very first jobs after college was working for a travel company.  On paper, it seemed pretty good.  Great work experience, decent vacation time, free lunches, and travel discounts.  The pay wasn't great, but I needed the experience and I figured better money would come later.

I had my doubts on day one.  There was all this talk about weekend work.  I was confused, no one had mentioned working on weekends?  It also seemed really strict, for example somebody apologized profusely for being 10 minutes late, there wasn't a lot of chit chat going on, and I actually shared a desk with two other people, there barely enough room to breathe.

The work itself wasn't bad, but I had tried to make suggestions and asked questions on why certain things were done in a particular way and could tell no one was interested in making improvements.  Then I was scolded for sending too many external emails (I assumed they were reading every word as well) and for not apologizing for being 20 minutes late one morning when being caught in the rain.

After five months, I just couldn't take it anymore.  I was miserable and handed in my notice.  Thinking back on this period, although I didn't realize it at the time,  I did learn a tremendous amount about the workplace and would have never gotten my subsequent job if it weren't for this experience.  Here is what I really learned.

  1. Get all the facts.  This job required working half a day on a Saturday once per month and I didn't discover this until after I had started.  I could blame the company, saying that no one ever told me, but I never asked either.  This was my job and my life, the responsibility is all on me.
  2. Know the rules.  My boss had a thing for always being on time and not sending personal emails at work.  However, some people would often take 15 minutes twice a day to go for a coffee, which never seemed to bother her.  I continued to do the things that annoyed her rather than adjusting to the work environment.  Until you are in a position to set your own rules, you need to avoid doing the things that give your boss heartburn.
  3. Never burn your bridges.  Even when I handed in my notice, I thanked everyone for their help and said I was grateful for the opportunity. I wasn't lying, I was truly grateful, this job just wasn't for me.
It's important to remember that even when you are in a position you don't like, that you try and learn what you can (even if it is what not to do!).  Use this experience to land an even better job!

Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Now or Later? When to Reply to Weekend Emails

We all live and work in a 24 hour society.  Everyone is connected all the time and we expect to receive answers to questions within minutes, not hours.  Although us GenY working girls really appreciate flexibility in our lives, we also need time to unwind and to mentally take a break.

Although you may feel compelled to be tethered to your smart phone, continuously replying to emails out of hours sets a precedent and a certain level of expectation in your responsiveness.  Here are some tips on when you should reply and what you should let sit in your inbox until Monday.

  1. It's urgent. Really.  There is a true operational emergency.  The business has stopped and no revenue is coming in and it's imperative the issue is resolved immediately to alleviate any additional loss in sales.  Here you should reply immediately, without hesitation.  
  2. Someone else is cleaning out their inbox.  Some people have no time to manage their inbox effectively during the week as they spend much of their day in meetings (sigh).  In order to catch-up, they must take some time over the weekend to crank out a few responses.  Don't feel compelled to respond, this person just wants to start fresh on Monday.
  3. It depends.  Depending on your mood, you might be inclined to reply immediately.  If you are ready to engage in email ping pong, go for it.  If you are zoning out for the weekend, opt to catch up on Monday.  
Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl

Thursday, March 22, 2012

#DestinationFridays: The Ferris Bueller and More Tour of Chicago

We all can relate to the teen focused, John Hughes movies of the 80's and 90's. Some of Hughes' great films include Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Home Alone. Seeing the latest Honda commercial with Matthew Broderick on Superbowl Sunday this year reminded me of all the great Chicago locations where these movies took place.

Brett DiDonato, creator of the stock broker review site Online Broker Review, first had the idea to locate some of these famous filming locations, when he was planning a visit to Chicago back in 2009. "I started to do some research and I realized many of the most recognizable sites from my favorite John Hughes films were scattered around the city and nearby suburbs. With a little internet digging, I was able to locate many of the sites and reenact some of the most memorable scenes "

Armed with a google map, local addresses, and approximate locations, DiDonato was able to turn his photos into this amazing compilation. Here are some of his favorite sites, all of which can be visited in one day, by yourself or with a group of friends. You'll need a car (Cameron's Dad's Ferrari is optional) once you leave the city, so plan on renting one for the day even if you don't need it for the rest of your visit. Also, be sure to bring print outs or have the links easily accessible on your phone so that you can compare the then and now.

Downtown Chicago

Starting in the heart of the city, you can cover some of the major sites from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. These are all within walking distance or a short taxi ride away.

1. Sears Tower - 233 S. Wacker Drive. From the movie.
Now called the Willis Tower, if your nerves allow, go out on a ledge! The Sky Deck is located at 1,353 above the city.

2. The Art Institute of Chicago - 111 S. Michigan Avenue.
Be sure to see all of these great works of art starting with the Lion Statues out front, The Red Armchair by Pablo Picasso, Georges Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon, and Chegall's America Windows. Some of the paintings may have been relocated, so don't hesitate to ask if you can't find a particular piece.

3. The Flamingo Sculpture - Corner of Dearborn and Adams. From the movie.
Not a lot more to see, snap a quick picture and let's keep it moving!

The North Shore - Wrigleyville, Winnetka, and Glencoe
Although you can take the Red Line up to Clark and Division and Wrigleyville, it is easiest to pick up a car now so you can easily continue further north up to Winnetka and Glencoe immediately afterwards. Here we'll see sites from Home Alone, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Sixteen Candles.

4. "Chez Quis" and Wrigley Field - 22 W. Schiller Street and 1060 W. Addison Street. From the movie.
Don't plan on stopping for lunch at Chez Quis, as this was always a private residence. Even if the Cubs aren't playing, it's worth a few minutes to stop and have a look around Wrigley Field.

5. The Home Alone House and Downtown Winnetka. 671 Lincoln Avenue, Winnetka and Corner of Chestnut and Elm, Winnetka
Recently sold for just over $1.5M, the iconic Home Alone house is one of the major tour highlights for me. You just can't resist taking a quick picture! Two minutes across the street is downtown Winnetka, which is the location of Mrs. Bueller's Real Estate Office, which is still there and a real life real estate office.

6. Glencoe Beach and Glencoe Union Church. Glencoe Beach at Park Avenue, Glencoe and 263 Park Ave, Glencoe
A worthy site in its own right, Glencoe Beach is the spot where Cameron went catatonic in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Just up the street is Glencoe Union Church, where Sam and Jake had that first real moment in Sixteen Candles.

Shermer aka Northbrook
Our third and final area location is the fictitious Shermer which is based on Hughes' hometown of Northbrook, located in the northern suburbs of the city. Shermer is an actual road name used throughout Northbrook.

7. Formerly Main North High School 9511 Harrison Street, Des Plaines
Our first location from The Breakfast Club, Shermer High School was seen in the very beginning of the movie. Today it is a police station and looking eerily run down.

8. Glenbrook North High School 2300 Shermer Road, Northbrook
Two great scenes were shot at Gleenbrook North High School. The first is from Ferris Bueller's Day Off where

Mr. Rooney and Sloane are waiting for Ferris and Cameron as seen here which is actually the entrance to the Performing Arts Center. Further behind, is the football field from the final scene in The Breakfast Club fists high! The scorebox on the bleachers has been built up, but otherwise remains the same.

The next time you visit Chicago, looking for an alternative to the typical tourist attractions and love these classic films, the John Hughes Tour of Chicago is for you.

Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Telecommuting: 5 tips for a productive day

High speed internet, smart phones, increasing gas prices, and our 24/7 society has lead to a gain in popularity in telecommuting over the last few years.   Employees can now do everything at home that used to be required to be done in the office and some corporations have implemented an official telecommuting policy.

Telecommuting is a huge benefit to many people.  Here are five tips to ensure you have a productive day.
  1. It's a work day.  If you haven't done a lot of telecommuting before, it can be very tempting to catch up on daytime tv, housework, or run errants while you should be working.  While it is perfectly acceptable to throw in a load of laundry, resist the urge to begin spring cleaning.    
  2. Settling in.  Ensure you have a good place to setup shop.  It can be in a home office, at the kitchen table, or on your couch.  Just make sure you have an environment that is conducive to work.
  3. Take a break.  Working from home can often be a constant barrage of emails and conference calls.  Ensure you leave time for a break for lunch, a walk, or squeeze in a workout. 
  4. Staying connected.  When you aren't in the office, it is even more important that you remain in contact with those whom you work closely.  Don't be afraid to pick up the phone to clarify a question.  It's easy to hide behind email, but make an effort and remain engaged where it makes sense.
  5. Don't ruin it for the rest of us.  Your company and your boss is entrusting you to be productive and almost have higher expectations of you to get more work done than if you were in the office.  Don't take advantage.
Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl

Thursday, March 15, 2012

#DestinationFridays: Extreme Day Trips

I love travel.  And I love the excuse to travel somewhere far, for a short period of time, even just a day.  I have been fortunate enough to work for an airline for the majority of my career and eligible for flight benefits, which allow airline employees to travel for drastically reduced prices.

Having access to the world at my finger tips, I have taken some pretty long day trips (24 hours or less).  Here are my top 3 day trips I have taken over the last 10 years.

Chicago to London
Departing Chicago on an early evening, overnight flight, puts you into London early morning the next day.  Hop on the Heathrow Express (it's expensive, but time is of the essence) and head into the city.  Stop by the National Gallery, do some shopping on Oxford Street, and stroll through Hyde Park before circling back to Buckingham Palace.   You have just enough time to for a quick lunch, a tacky souvenir, and head back to Heathrow for a mid afternoon departure.  You arrive back to Chicago late the same night.  Cheers!

Los Angles to Honolulu
Leaving LA early morning, you arrive in Hawaii mid morning and head straight to Waikiki.  Chill out on the beach and then stroll along Kalakaua Avenue and grab some lunch.  Get some shopping in at the International Market Place and then it's onto the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for a Mai Tai and to watch the sunset.  Have another Mai Tai along with a light dinner before heading back to the airport for your overnight flight back to LA.  Aloha!

Manchester to Rome
Time for an early morning departure from Manchester (or any Northern European city), arriving into Rome late morning.  Head to center of Rome, making stops at the Spanish Steps, Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain.  Stop for lunch at a cafe at one of Rome's many piazzas before hoping over to Vatican City.   Take in St. Peter's Square and marvel at the artistry inside the Basilica.  You have just enough time to grab a slice of pizza and head back to the airport before you evening departure back north.  Ciao!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When you should say "No" to a job offer

Well girlfriend, you made it.  You wrote a killer resume, dressed for success, and nailed your job interview.  Now it's the moment of truth: the offer.

I hope the offer you received is everything you ever wanted and more.  But in reality, it's probably far from life changing.  I have yet to receive an offer that knocked my socks off, but hopefully what you received is a starting point.  If however, the offer is just not hitting the mark and after trying your hand at negotiation, you aren't getting anywhere, when do you consider walking away?

  1. You have a job.   It's so much easier to find a job when you have a job.  So if the offer you received is just not hitting the mark, no worries, you are already employed and are under no pressure to accept something you aren't 100% sure about.
  2. Salary is missing the mark.  Assuming that you already have a job, and the salary on offer is still less than you were hoping for (10% or so), consider that this may not be the right opportunity for you.  Know what you want and what you are worth.  Of course if you don't have a job, you don't have the benefit of being so selective.  
  3. The benefits aren't bountiful.  What are the non salary benefits like?  Flexible hours, working from home, 401k match, health insurance premiums, vacation/sick time?  These all play a part in the overall package.  Sometimes these can be enough to compensate when the salary is less than you expected, but other times not.  
In short, you want to head into your new job happy and content.  As this is usually the happiest you will be in the workplace, you might as well start off on the right foot.

Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Supporting Charities at Work Without Going Broke

No matter where you work, it seems that there is always some sort of collection or fundraising taking place.  It could be a company wide initiative, employees banding together for a common goal, or an individual collecting funds for their kid's sports team.

The number of charity requests can become overwhelming.  However, with just a little bit of organization, you can contribute and make a real difference without leaving yourself short before payday.  Here's how.

Give what you can.  If you can afford to give a cash donation, do it.  Your co-worker who is fundraising will truly appreciate it and it may even enhance your relationship with your colleagues.

Donate your time.  One of the easiest ways to help contribute is by donating your time.  A bake sale is a low cost way to participate.  For a few dollars, you can make brownies or cupcakes, which in turn can be sold for 10 times your cost and used for donations.  Keep your eye out for when the ingredients go on sale at the supermarket, then you can have them on hand when needed.

Give items.  Another great way to contribute is through a food or clothing drive.  Often all that is required is to bring in some food from your cupboard (ensure it hasn't expired!) or some gently used coats or clothing.  It's a good way to clean out your closet without having to part with any cash.

Help organize.  It takes a lot of time and energy to fund raise.  Volunteer to help your colleagues with existing charity drives or find a cause that you are passionate about and start your own fundraiser.  Giving your time can often do more good than a cash donation.

Say no.  Just like in the 80s, it's ok to just say no.  When I was working my first job immediately after college, I had a lot of bills and not a lot of money.  I would have loved to donate to the variety of causes my co-workers were collecting for, but I really did not have the money.  I promised myself that once my situation improved, I would indeed begin to contribute once again.  I am fortunate that I am now in a position to help others.

Bottom line, if you can afford a small donation, do it.  But just because you don't have the cash, doesn't mean you can't contribute in other ways.

Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl

Thursday, March 8, 2012

#DestinationFridays: Booking a package vacation

This week on #DestinationFridays we'll discuss the pros and cons of booking that fabulous, hard earned #workinggirl vacation as part of a package versus booking the components individually.  

Booking a package vacation can often have many benefits, especially as to the price.  Depending on your preference, you could go with a destination specialist such as Apple Vacations for the Caribbean or Pleasant Holidays for Hawaii. Or you could book with one of the larger online travel agencies such as Expedia or Orbitz, which have a huge number of destination choices. 

Let's Get Booking

Money. Money. Money.  The main benefit of booking a package vacation is the travel company you book through will negotiate preferred rates for all components of the vacation.  Also, they are able to combine these pieces together and offer them to you for a lower price than you would have been able to get yourself if you booked each component individually.  You can often save anywhere between 10% to 30% or more depending on when you book your vacation.

This is not what I paid for.  Another benefit to booking a package vacation is protection.  I recently booked a vacation through Travelocity and when we arrived at the hotel, we discovered the property was overbooked.  After a few hours of waiting and shuffling around, they were able to find us a room that was scheduled for refurbishment.  It was far from ideal, but it was a holiday weekend, and we didn't have much choice.  On our return, I contacted Travelocity and they were able to help intervene with the hotel and provide some compensation.  Had we booked directly with the hotel, I know my request for a credit would have gone ignored.

Not so Fast...

Prepayment required. When you book a package vacation, you will need to pay for most or all of the associated costs in advance.  When you book directly on a hotel's website, you have the benefit of not paying until check-out. However, in order to take advantage of the lowest available rates, most hotels in popular vacation destinations are now requiring full prepayment.  

Being walked.  In the hotel business, being walked means a hotel will overbook and then walk you to a nearby hotel as they do not have any available rooms. The hotel will usually select those guests that paid the least amount (remember those preferred rates that your travel company was able to offer you as part of that great package?) to move to the new hotel.  Even if you book directly with the hotel, being walked is still a possibility but a lot less likely.

No points for you.  Finally, if you love to collect hotel points, you can forget topping up your balance if you book your branded hotel as part of a package.  You will earn points based on any miscellaneous charges spent once you arrive and, depending on your loyalty program, will get a night or stay credit but you won't receive points for the daily room rate.  

Ultimately, you need to decide what is most important to you.  If you are traveling to a destination that has a lot of independent hotels in a very traditional beach destination such as Mexico or the Caribbean, a package vacation is often the way to go.  If you are going somewhere in the US or to a city in Europe, consider booking direct.

Enjoy the sun girlfriend!

Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Don't just survive...excel at any business lunch

A business lunch can be an odd situation for any #workinggirl.  Not quite a business meeting and certainly not a  leisurely meal with your co-workers, proper etiquette can often be a mystery at this type of meeting.  Here are a few tips, not just to survive, but to excel.

What to order.  This is not the time to experiment with a new dish.  Stick to what you know you like and unless you are at a fastfood restaurant, order something that you do not have to eat with your hands.  It makes conversation awkward and can get messy.  Go with a salad, soup, or a lunch size entree.  Avoid the fish tacos, burger, or sandwiches.

Know your objective.  Whether you are leading the business conversation or on the receiving end, it's important to know your purpose.  If you are making a pitch, you really aren't at lunch to eat, you are there to sell your idea, so put the fork down and focus on the conversation.  However, don't overwhelm the others where they feel they cannot eat while you talk.  You need to find the right balance.

Making it personal.  If this meeting was just all business, you probably would've met somewhere else.  So take the time to get to know or catch up with associates.  Ask them about their personal interests, their family (especially if they have kids, people love to talk about their kids), and what's going on with their company.

To drink or not to drink.  Having an alcoholic drink during the day can be a tricky one.  If you are leading the conversation, it's important to follow their lead.  The last thing you want to do is to make anyone feel uncomfortable, one way or the other.  When in doubt, skip the alcohol, but realize that if you are dining with those where culturally drinking during a business meeting is expected, not having a drink might also be offensive.  Of course if you do not drink at all, for whatever reason, you should absolutely refrain from any group pressure.

Thanks for the free lunch.  Like the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  If someone offers to take you to lunch to discuss their product or service and you have zero interest, do not take the lunch. Leading someone on doesn't just apply in a personal relationship, it happens in a professional relationship too.

Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Voice of the (Sophisticated) Customer - United and FlyerTalk

On March 3rd, the new United Airlines (combined as United and Continental) migrated all flight bookings stored in the old United Apollo reservation system to the Continental reservation system called SHARES.  This type of system 'cutover' is often described as performing a heart and lung transplant while the patient is running a marathon.  Having recently experienced this similar event late last year at another airline, I watched with interest over this past weekend how the cutover was progressing.

There were the usual expected issues associated with such a transition: long check-in lines, slightly delayed flights, and some people losing their seat assignments.  What I found particularly interesting was United's presence and interaction with customers on FlyerTalk, a website dedicated to the exchanging of information  by frequent travelers.

thread was dedicated specifically to the system cutover where "UA Insider" answered customer questions and provided detailed updates on issues.  In addition, this was a place where sophisticated, qualified customers provided detailed feedback on items that were and were not working.  Here, you had a highly engaged and knowledgeable audience helping to identify issues so they could be resolved, because they cared about the company.  Incredible!

Here is a screenshot with a list of issues and updates provided by United within the forum.

This feedback from the FlyerTalk community is invaluable and much more focused on specific issues than the generic, non specific comments which appeared on United's facebook and twitter feeds.  

Here is a screenshot from FlyerTalk on test feedback provided by loyal customers.
I would've liked to have seen more communication on United's own website on what was or wasn't working, rather than just the generic information.  Below was the update provided.

The vast majority of this work is going well, and we are resolving technical issues that we are identifying during this process.

However, I do appreciate this can be a PR tightrope and the more updates that are provided, the more negative attention may be drawn.  Using FlyerTalk was a way to remain engaged with their most loyal customers through a dedicated, targeted channel.  Thumbs up.

Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Interview Aftermath

Last week we talked about how to Nail your Job Interview.  But what happens now?  The wait can be agonizing but don't sit around and fret.

If the interview went well…

You loved the job even more and want it.  Good news girlfriend!  Hopefully it is a match made in heaven.  Use this time to think more about the position for any additional follow up questions you may have before committing, continue to research similar roles online to ensure your expectations are accurate, and think more specifically about your salary requirements if you haven’t discussed these already.    If you are without a job currently, DO NOT STOP YOUR JOB SEARCH.  Even the best interviews don’t always materialize, KEEP LOOKING. 

You aren’t sure if you really want it or if it is the right fit for you.   Don’t rush to judgment just yet.  If you have questions or concerns, make sure you note them.  If the company is prepared to make you an offer, make sure you get all of these answered before you accept or decline.  If you are without a job, you may not have a choice but to seriously consider the position.  Remember, everything is negotiable.    

If the interview didn’t go so well…

Keep your head up girlfriend.  Hopefully you remained composed throughout the whole process and did your absolute best.  Even if at the end of the discussion, it was pretty clear you would not be successful, you met some good contacts and a little interview practice never hurt anyone.  If the position is truly not the right fit for you, better to know now than a month from now when you are ready to quit. 

In all cases…

ALWAYS send a thank you email regardless of how the interview went.  You never know where you might cross paths with the interviewer again or they may have an additional opening in the future that would be a good fit for you.  Stay positive girlfriend!

Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl