Today, I spoke with Mary Ellen Slayter, who is the senior editor for SmartBrief on Workforce. Our focus for this interview was on economic survival tactics for both the employed and unemployed. Mary gives great advice about how to ask for a promotion, even when budgets are tight and people are getting laid off. She also touches on interview tips, how to cope with bosses you might not get along with, and how to find the job of best fit.
In a bad economy, what would you recommend to workers who want to get a raise, promotion or ask to work from home?
If you want to pursue a raise right now, your argument better be airtight. Employers are hanging on to their cash right now — but they also need to hang on to their most productive workers. The only way to get more money out of your employer now is to prove that it would cost them more to see you leave. A promotion is easier to get — as long as you don’t expect more money.
Indeed, layoffs are leaving a lot of people with “promotions” they never asked for. Finally, no-cost perks such as permission to work from home are an easier case to make. You just have to explain how it will benefit both you and the organization. And many people find that the money they save by not commuting one or two days a week is better than a raise.
What should you do if your employer gives you a salary cut?
After you check your bank account balance? Start looking closely at your employer’s medium and long-term prospects. Is this a short-term solution for a short-term problem? Or a precursor to a layoff? How do things look in the rest of your industry? A pay cut can either be a sign of impending doom — or one of a smart leader brave enough to make the moves needed to save her company. It’s all about the context.
What is the best way to match employers to candidates? Can you relate this to online dating websites?
A good match starts with knowing who you are and what you’re looking for. It doesn’t serve either party well to try to be all things to all people. For the employer, that means understanding your needs and your culture, successfully communicating that to potential employees, and passing on people that don’t fit, no matter how smart they are or how well-recommended they come. Workers have to do the same thing.
There is no perfect job — only the perfect one for you. If there’s an analogy to dating Web sites, it’s that you want to make sure you are looking for each other in the right places. An ad on a niche site seen by only a handful of people (the right people) is often much more successful — and efficient — than one on a big job board seen by millions of people.
How does someone successfully prepare for an interview?
By knowing everything you can about the organization you’re interviewing with and the people you’re meeting. Use whatever means are available to you (the organization’s Web site, SEC filings, acquaintances who work there) to find out the potential employer’s goals and how how your skill set can help contribute toward reaching them.
What should you do if you hate your boss?
Hate is a strong word, as moms are fond of saying. It’s normal to not get along with some people as well as others. Your response to a bad boss depends on the root cause of the conflict and context of your workplace. If it’s just a personality clash, you need to take some responsibility for getting along better. If the person mistreats you or behaves in an unethical or dangerous manner, you either report them to their manager or HR (if it’s a big enough organization to have such layers of management), or you vote with your feet and find another job.
But before you do anything dramatic, make sure your expectations are reasonable. You don’t need to be best friends with your supervisor to succeed at work. But nor should you put up with behavior that makes you physically ill with stress. And keep in mind that bosses have turnover, too. You wouldn’t want to leave an employer you otherwise love to escape a boss you didn’t like, only to hear two months later that the person you found so unbearable had moved on himself.
Mary Ellen Slayter is the senior editor for SmartBrief on Workforce. Previously, she wrote the Washington Post’s Career Tracks column. She spent six years editing stories, writing headlines, writing biwekly career advice for young professionals and hosted Career Track Live, which was a biweekly live chat on Washingtonpost.com. She also wrote Off the Beaten Career Path, which was a monthly feature on unusual jobs. Before both of these positions she worked for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail and The Montgomery Journal.