Thursday, October 11, 2007

Office Politics

Office politics is just like the lottery. Dreaming about winning doesn't get you anywhere - there's no payoff if you don't buy a ticket. You have to play if you want to win. But unlike the lottery, there are consequences if you decide not to play. Game PlanAt its core, nearly all IT work is binary - ones or zeros, on or off. To solve problems, we drill down until we get to this point of logical decision. Unfortunately, office politics can't be reduced to this level of simplicity. Techies tend to be (gross generalization alert) better at complex logic than complex human behavior. Debug messy code? Sure, I can do that. Decode messy office dynamics? Uh, I'll be heads down in my cube. Gotta go. Office politics is a complex stew of power, ambition, control and ego. Winning, if there is such a thing, requires continuous attention to who's important/not important at any given moment and strategically aligning with the right faction(s). Mistakes can be fatal to a career. It's easy to see how many people decide it's smarter to sit on the sidelines. Swim with these sharks? No thanks, it's much safer not to get involved. Or so you'd think ... but you'd be wrong. Opt out, and the best you can hope for is to be completely ignored. This might be good for your psyche, but it's tough on your career. Promotions or good assignments won't be coming your way, but a layoff might, if one's in the offing. All too often, quiet = expendable. If you choose not to play, be sure you don't criticize those who do, or the game itself. You'll be labeled a loose cannon or a troublemaker. You'll also be a target for skilled political players who may decide to use you to further their own agendas. It's easy to identify the person who doesn't want to join in as the malcontent who's responsible for badmouthing unpopular decisions. Well, says you, I'm not being negative, I'm just saying that things should be based on merit - the quality of your work, not who you kiss up to. I agree - in principal. It sounds great, but I've never seen a company where there wasn't some element of politics at work. This is UnfairRight. What's your point? The culture of each workplace evolves over time, largely in reaction to the example that's set at the top. Unless you're the new CEO, your ability to unilaterally create change is very, very limited. You can continue to resist, but it's going to be a lot less painful if you adapt. You'll be most effective if you can deal with things the way they are, not the way you think they should be. No one can take your principles away from you, but they can take away your position. It's really your choice, and I hope it never comes to that. The best strategy is to modify your view of office politics. Rather than seeing it as a hotbed of useless gossip, intrigue, brown-nosing, or backstabbing, try to recast it in a positive light. Think of the political game as a means for you to spread your own gospel through positive example. One of the few absolute rules of office culture is that it's not enough just to do a great job. You've also got to communicate your abilities and successes to the right people, and you've got to do it via the "right way", which is going to be dictated by the company's cultural norms. Observation is the key. Open Your Eyes and Ears; Keep Your Mouth ShutA key mistake in office politics is accepting information without independent verification. There are a couple of ways this happens. One is that people look at an org chart and take it at face value. In the work environment, there's both a formal and informal hierarchy. There are people on the chart with position and authority who are incapable of exercising it, and conversely, there are people that may not even appear on the chart who manage to run everything. Your job is to figure out who's who, and cultivate good relationships accordingly. That won't happen if you step away from your desk only to use the bathroom. The second mistake people often make is to align themselves with one faction too early, or too closely. When you start a new job, it's tempting to latch onto a person or small group fast. Understandable - it gets you over being green and helps acclimate you to the new environment. The danger is that you may inadvertently align with the wrong group, and you won't know until it's too late. Better to be friendly towards everybody and get the full range of opinions. If you don't favor one faction over another, you'll be able to array all of the different points of view and validate their legitimacy against your own observations. Spend less time talking, and more time listening. This is a wonderful technique that has several distinct benefits. First, you minimize the opportunity to say anything stupid or ill-advised that can come back and haunt you later. Second, people who like to talk think highly of people who listen. They project competence onto you because you let them do what they need to do. They'll speak well of you later, even though your view of these conversations is that they're a good opportunity to plan what you're going to do for lunch. The third benefit of doing more listening than talking is that your silence, especially your continued silence, is liable to make other people a bit uneasy. People who are edgy tend to chatter more than they should. (Think how job candidates might babble to fill up a silence during an interview.) Sometimes, that chatter includes information that wasn't intended to be revealed. All the better for you. Rules of the GameThere's one rule in office politics that can trump all the other rules: never make your boss look bad. Most bad bosses are capable of accomplishing this all on their own. They don't need your help and you don't need to get dragged down with them. Create a situation where your boss is seen in a negative light and you'll be the one who pays the price in the short run. The other rules of office politics are less about the politics and more about you and your behavior. This list isn't all-inclusive, and strict adherence doesn't guarantee success. But, it's better than nothing: Figure out what you want and plot your strategy accordingly. Be a part of multiple networks, not just one. Communicate with your networks often, and in the ways that work best. Judge behavior in the organizational context, not against some idealized standard. Watch other people at work and identify successful behaviors that you can model Don't pass along questionable judgments or spread rumors Look for win/win ways to resolve conflicts, but never leave them unresolved.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Interview tips

1. Be on time! Practise getting to the venue to see how long it will take. Public transport may be useless, the traffic may have been heavy, but however reasonable it won't affect the fact that your chances are reduced if you are late. Always remember - You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Aim to be early - you can always find a nearby resturant to wait in.
2. Be Prepared!Look at the employers' website and learn something about the company before you attend your interview. Feed them the opportunity to talk proudly about something positive you have found.
3 Use the third person when talking about the job. Avoid sounding as though you assume the job is yours. It is fine to ask about the package on offer and accommodation - living in and living out are particularly relevant. You could also try a fewer more testing questions such as how they differentiate themselves from their competitors or what they think the toughest/hardest part of the job is.
4. What are your weaknesses? Don't be SAY ! 'None…ah well, ah'm a bit of a perfectionist actually!'
Try to find an area of your experience/skill that is currently lacking. An interviewer will appreciate your candour - as long as whatever you disclose can be easily remedied.
5. You never get a second chance to make a first impression! SMILE! Dress professionally in simple business attire. And don't forget that firm handshake and to maintain eye contact - without glaring!
6. Be honest! There really is no point lying about your background and/or skills. If you get caught, or even manage to get the job and it is found out, you can be sure you won't be around for long! Job interviews are about matching needs - if there isn't a good match, then chances are that the job won't work out.
7. Check your CV for possible gaps! Make sure you know how you are going to explain time gaps on your CV.
8. Talk about specific achievements! Interviewers like to know how you felt about about a particular success. Some will ask for specific examples of things you've done that you're particularly proud of; how you solved problems; how you learned - and improved - from difficult situations.
9. Don't talk too much! - Communication is a two-way thing so give them a chance
10. Take a spare photo & CV with you! Your interviewer won't be expecting it so you will impress them. It also helps them remember you after the interview.
11. Be enthusiastic and positive!Don't criticize previous employers, particularly within the industry. Focus on positive achievements and views.
12. Be on time!
And finally, Don't give up! The fact is that you will not be offered every job however perfect you think you may be for it. Usually it's because the interviewer was completely blind to the talent that stood before them. However, just on the off chance that it was not, feedback from interviews where you have been turned down can be invaluable for improving future results.
Ask politely if they can give you any feedback for the future - there's a job out there for you somewhere.


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