How to Plan Your Exit and Not “Just Quit”

 If you feel trapped in a job you can’t stand, you may be tempted to just quit. As understandable as this may be, it’s the last thing you want to do as this will haunt you when you need a reference. There are formal references which usually have to adhere to a company’s policy and then there are the “off the record” types that are not given in an official capacity. The bottom line is it’s too risky.

So, how do you deal with a job that you can barely tolerate?

Think strategically about the issues: When you think about your job the issues may seem like a big black cloud hovering over your head. You know what the issues are but if you’re like most people, you haven’t evaluated them dispassionately, because emotions get in the way. Just as you would address any business problem, think about the issues strategically and organize them on paper. What are the main sources of frustration? It could be a number of things from a boss that drives you crazy to an irritating co-worker or a workload that’s too heavy. Or maybe you just hate the work. Make a list of what the major issues are.

Fix what you can: Step back and take an objective look at the situation and see how you can address it differently. For example, if you have a boss that drives you crazy, what does that specifically mean? Does it mean that your boss gives you unrealistic times lines, or sets an impossible bar to reach? Is s/he incompetent, hypercritical or incredibly rude? Once you’ve identified what the specifics are then you can start developing a plan to address them.
Here’s help on dealing with a difficult boss, irritating co-workers or delegating if you’re overworked.

Cope with what you can’t fix: If the situation can’t be improved then look for ways to make it more tolerable. On a day-to-day basis you have to figure out some mechanisms to help you maintain your level of performance while reducing your stress level. Think of something you can change about yourself. For example, if you typically go into defensive mode with your boss, changing that can lower your stress level. Are you reacting negatively to an action just because of the person who’s doing it? In this case, separate the action from the person and focus on what the request is, not who’s delivering it.

One of the best things you can do is to remind yourself that you do have control. You have options outside of this position (some may be internal). If you know you can only hold on for a short period then you need to start looking for a job right away. Think of your current position as a project with an end date. This will help, knowing relief is in sight.

Look for another job: Make it a priority after work to put energy against finding a new job. Even if you can only dedicate an hour a day, you’ll be making progress. Start by updating your resume and then identifying companies you want to work for. Here’s a plan to help you find a job. Just looking for a job will give you a sense of greater control and reduce your stress.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to leave your job. While you can’t control all the circumstances that are making you unhappy, you can control how you manage your exit.
Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success

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Executive MBA — Is It Worth It?

Executive MBA programs continue to rise in popularity. With so much to consider in terms of the investment of time and dollars, you want to make sure it’s right for you.

For those who don’t know, an Executive MBA (EMBA) is a program similar to an MBA, however you can work full time while earning your degree. Most programs are about two years with classes usually held on alternating Fridays and Saturdays. There are even more flexible alternatives like Columbia Business School’s EMBA program which just introduced a Saturday only class.

The cost of the degree ranges from $70,000 to $170,000 depending on where you go. Fortunately many companies sponsor their employees (i.e., pay some or all of the tuition.) Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona indicated that 15% of their students are fully sponsored while the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School said that number is 30%.

Most programs require at least 7 years of work experience, but don’t worry if you don’t have an undergraduate degree in business. According to Bernadette Birt, COO and Executive Director at Wharton San Francisco, their students have undergraduate degrees that run the gamut from liberal arts to pre-med and from pre-law to performing arts. Less than one-third have an undergraduate degree in business.

The reasons why so many people are enrolling in these programs also vary. It turns out 20% do so to broaden their reach within an organization. For example, they may have taken an engineering track and have reached a point where they now have to deal more strategically with areas like finance and marketing. A surprising 15% enter the program with the intent on starting a business. The rest want to enhance their global perspective, make a career transition and strengthen their foundation in business.

A small percentage of people get their EMBA many years after receiving their MBA. Don Skeoch, Chief Operations Officer of the California Academy of Sciences, went this route. Fifteen years after getting an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management , Skeoch went back to school and got an EMBA from Wharton. The drivers for him were, “A tremendous opportunity to network with other executives from other industries with comparable work experience.” In addition, business practices had changed dramatically since he had obtained his MBA. He cited the advent of new media and technology as one example. A truly global perspective was another.

According to The Wall Street Journal‘s 2008 survey of corporate human-resources and executive-development executives, 64% of companies saw sponsoring employees as a way of retaining talent. One quarter of the companies witnessed an immediate benefit as EMBA graduates are stronger managers and leaders. Another quarter received the same benefit within a year.

For students the benefits are realized shortly after returning to their companies, with many receiving notable increases right after completing the program. In addition, one third earned promotions which they attributed directly to their EMBA degree.

One of the overarching benefits to students is the creation of a network of high potential people, many whom were “hand picked” by their companies to attend the program. Kathy O’Shaughnessy, an EMBA graduate of Columbia University echoed this, “You have an instant network of supercharged, over achieving friends.” O’Shaughnessy enrolled in the program because, having been an English major, the language of business was foreign to her, “One semester solved that.” She credits the program for giving her the confidence to start her own business. O’Shaughnessy is co-founder of Yellow Brick Systems and an enthusiastic endorser of the program, “It was the most painful experience I have ever loved.”

One of the most common drawbacks is the time commitment that the program requires. EMBA program directors urge their students to get buy-in, especially from their spouses, early on. This effort is sustained over two years and can have an impact on family, friends, and social life. Students have to have a laser focus to balance it all.

If you are seriously considering this undertaking, you’ll have many options to choose from. When selecting an EMBA program it’s important to consider the reputation of the school, quality of the education (faculty and classmates) and where it can take you in your career. Here is a ranking of the top 25 programs.

If you want to continue learning, expand your network and optimize your career — without interrupting it — an EMBA program may be the way to go. Especially, if your company is willing to sponsor you.

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success

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Salary – Chicken and the Egg

Pete was laid off from a position he had been in for 15 years. The good news was he had an interview next week and just needed a little advice on interviewing. We scheduled him in and put him through a mock interview.

At the end of the mock interview we asked him what he was making at his last job. He said, “I’m so glad you asked that because I want to know how to handle that question.”
How to “handle it?” We told him to just answer the question – tell them what your base and bonus were at your last job. He was adamant, “I have no problems telling you, but I’m not going to tell them. Not before I know what the range is.”

This conjured up a picture in our heads of him sitting across from the interviewer holding playing cards and saying, “Go Fish!”.

We explained to Pete this is not a game you can win with the strategy of – show me yours then I’ll show you mine. Revealing your salary doesn’t change what the range is and doesn’t give you less bargaining power. Then he argued, “If I don’t know what the range is they can offer me a salary below it.” Not likely. Companies go to great lengths to establish competitive salary ranges, often hiring consulting firms who research the marketplace and then design a compensation structure for them. A company wouldn’t make a salary offer below the range because it would throw off parity within the organization and marketplace.

Pete countered with, “But if I don’t know the top of the range, then I’m selling myself short – leaving money on the table”. Possibly, however, companies typically don’t offer the top of the range because they like to leave room for future raises. We told Pete if it made him feel more comfortable, that after disclosing his salary, he could ask what the range is, understanding that they are under no obligation to tell him. Pete felt at a real disadvantage.

We reminded him that what a company offers is not necessarily their last offer and that there may be room to negotiate. And it’s always easier to negotiate when you have established that you are upfront and easy to work with. During the initial interview is not the time to negotiate salary. If after mentioning your salary no discussion about it emerges, you can assume you’re in the range.

Pete was still not convinced. We were clear – companies expect you to tell them what your salary was and being hesitant about that may raise a red flag. It may indicate to them that you will be difficult to work with or that you don’t have the self confidence to negotiate. Or worse, that you believe people are trying to take advantage of you.

So, what did Pete do? During the interview he elected not to answer the salary question. He received a follow-up call from human resources about this and he explained his rationale for not telling them. The HR person said, “I’m sorry you feel this way. We’ll be in touch.” Pete knew he had blown it. When he called to tell us this, he said “Lesson learned.” Unfortunately, especially in this marketplace, it was an expensive lesson. If companies have to struggle to get information from you, they may not bother.

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success

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Condoleezza Rice – What a Procrastinator!

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reveals in her new book, “A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me” that she has battled with procrastination for most of her life. She says in her book, “Procrastination remains a problem for me to this day.” The obvious question is: How can someone so successful be a procrastinator?

Successful people aren’t perfect; they almost always have some part of their makeup that needs work. Some people are charismatic in front of a live audience, yet struggle with speech writing. Others are amazingly productive despite their lack of organization.

What many of these people do is find ways to compensate for the areas where they are weakest. For example, CEO’s who are habitually late and who counteract this by setting their watches ahead.

Procrastination is another area that plagues a lot of accomplished people, yet they are able to pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat and complete the project every time. They do this by building in an adequate buffer to meet the deadline. Similar to “cramming” the night before a big exam, except they don’t cut it that close. There’s the “should due-date” and the “gotta due-date” and they don’t go beyond the latter. Their crunch time doesn’t ever put them in jeopardy of missing the deadline.

Charles Schwab, John Chambers and Richard Branson all have dyslexia. None of them have let this hold them back evidenced by the fact that each has been a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. Prominent attorney, David Boies, known for being a star litigator (represented the Government in Microsoft anti-trust case) also has dyslexia. Because of this, he has to commit more to memory than most lawyers because his dyslexia hinders him for glancing at note cards in the courtroom.

The comedian and star of “Deal or No Deal,” Howie Mandel, has obsessive compulsive disorder and avoids at all costs shaking hands for fear of picking up germs. On his TV show he compensates for this by doing a fist bump with the contestants.

David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Unfortunately, ADHD prevents him from being detail-oriented and completing daily tasks, “I have an easier time planning a 20-aircraft fleet than I do paying the light bill.” Neeleman looks at the glass as “half-full”, saying that with his disorder comes greater creativity and he credits the success of his airline with his ability to think outside the box.

Whatever you are personally struggling with in your life and career, there are ways to overcome it by working around it. Some people make the mistake of using these issues as a crutch, “I’ve never been a good writer” or “My organizational skills are bad,” or “I have don’t have the ability to focus,” and give themselves permission to be held back.

Successful people have a mindset geared towards getting the results they want despite the obstacles. We look up to them and appreciate what they have achieved without realizing what they have to overcome on a daily basis. These people can give us the motivation to deal with whatever is currently holding us back and unleash our full potential.

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success

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Rejected Outright for the Job Because of Their Online Image

Business strategist and Webby Award winner David Allen Ibsen (runs business consultancy 5 Meetings Before Lunch) was helping one of his start-up clients with their organizational needs. Specifically, they were looking to make a couple of key hires. Ibsen tapped into his business/social network on LinkedIn to search and identify potential candidates. “LinkedIn is great because you have the person’s resume right in front of you.” He then gave the short list of candidates to his client who “Googled” each person’s name to do a background check.

The client put the names into two buckets: “People with a positive web presence” and “Not”. The positives were called in for interviews, the rest were rejected outright. While these people had professional LinkedIn profiles, they were dinged because of what they had on other social networking sites. A professional profile is great but it doesn’t mean you’ll get a pass on them checking Facebook, Twitter or blogs you may have written.


According to Ibsen, these people should consider taking a look at their personal brand. “Just like my corporate clients who covet their brand reputation, individuals need to look at what type of story is being told about them online and make sure it matches who they are and how they want to be perceived.”

So, where should you start if you have a less than favorable web presence?

Facebook – Look at your profile photo. Is this how you would want to be judged by a potential employer? We know it’s supposed to be just for friends, but the reality is that your photo along with your profile’s “likes” and “dislikes” are open to public review. Give your likes and dislikes the same scrutiny. If you happened to be “tagged” in a photo, that picture could also make its way to a hiring manager or recruiter. Let your friends know that you would rather not be tagged.

Twitter – Whatever you tweet can get retweeted, on and on. It’s like the old Faberge shampoo commercials, “I told two friends, who told two friends” and before you know it, it’s out there in a big way. Tweets do fall off Google searches rather quickly, which is the good news. If you need to do some damage control on something you’ve tweeted, then tweet a number of positive things.

LinkedIn – A way to rebrand yourself here would be to raise your profile by answering questions in your area of expertise. Also, review your profile for keywords and positioning. That can make a difference in how people find you and perceive you. We coached a woman who was a professor, author and speaker. Her profile emphasized her academic background, when she really wanted to focus on her writing and speaking engagements. This was an easy fix and got her more attention in the areas she wanted.

David Allen Ibsen: “The Internet and the rise of social media have changed the rules in terms of how prospective employers do background checks. Even though the rules have changed, one thing still holds true – building a good reputation is invaluable.”

People make the mistake of viewing LinkedIn as their professional image and consider Facebook and Twitter as their personal ones. While you might make this distinction, hiring managers don’t.

Ibsen: “Never post anything on the Internet you wouldn’t want your mother – or boss – to see.”

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success

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Didn’t Get the Promotion? Get Over It Or Keep Losing

Getting passed over for a promotion can be painful. It certainly was in Cindy’s case. She had been working on a project for several years and every indication was that she was doing a great job. As the project scaled the company decided they needed another layer of management. Cindy believed she would be the logical choice for this promotion. She was stunned when the job went to someone from the outside.

Cindy met with her boss to find out why she wasn’t given a shot at the position. Her boss simply said it wasn’t up to him and the decision had already been made. She was extremely disappointed and this was heightened by the fact that she never got a clear answer as to what she was lacking.
As months went by, she continued to seethe and her resentment played out in many ways. One example was when her original boss approached her with questions on the project, she replied, “Why don’t you ask the person you hired instead of me?” This probably confirmed in her boss’s mind that he had made the right decision.

Months later, after a restructuring, Cindy was part of a company-wide layoff. This company, and many others like it, frequently offers laid-off employees the opportunity to interview for another position within the organization.

Cindy was actively pursuing a job and things were going well. She made it all the way to the final round and was getting feedback along the way that she was a good fit. However, things changed in the final round when the hiring manager went to Cindy’s old boss for a reference. Her old boss said she didn’t handle frustration well. This was a concern to the hiring manager, who brought it up to Cindy.

Cindy explained her plight and the hiring manager nodded in what appeared to be understanding. In addition, the hiring manager acknowledged that Cindy’s former boss was a difficult person to work for. Whew. Cindy thought she had dodged a bullet.

Unfortunately, she didn’t get the job and was surprised to learn that they were continuing to interview new candidates. Since she was well qualified for this job and hadn’t lost it to someone else already in the mix, it was obvious to her that the negative feedback from her old boss ruined her chances.

Frustration in the workplace is a natural part of business. How you handle it separates leaders from the rest of the pack. We can all sympathize with Cindy’s situation. Anyone would have felt slighted. What she could have done at the time to make the situation better was acknowledge to her boss that she hadn’t handled things well and that she was now ready to accept the decision and support the new person. This would have shown the level of maturity companies seek in people they are considering for promotion.

In addition, she had another opportunity to diffuse the situation with the hiring manager during the interview. Instead of complaining about what had happened, she could have explained what she learned and how going forward she would better handle similar situations.

Even if your boss has a reputation of being difficult to work for, their opinion of you carries weight. Stewing in frustration won’t improve your situation and can make it worse.

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success

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How to Find Out If the Company’s Culture Is Right for You

You’re looking for your next career opportunity and have made a list of the “must haves”. One thing you know for sure is that you don’t want to work in a bureaucratic or political environment. Been there and done that.

The problem is how are you going to find out in an interview whether the culture is right for you or not?

One of the mistakes candidates often make is to ask general questions about the company, job, people, etc. They may ask, “Is this a bureaucratic environment?” and get relieved to hear that it’s not. Only to take the job and find out it is! They asked the question but wonder why they didn’t get the real picture.

The key is to ask specific questions that will give you the details. Asking broad questions leads to subjective answers.

Here’s what to ask to find out if the culture is right for you:

What kinds of people (personality traits, working style, etc.) typically succeed at your company? Listen carefully to the responses that are given. If the person tells you that people who “burn the midnight oil” are successful, or that they like to joke that “if you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Monday”, you’ll know that this environment is one in which putting in a lot of hours is the norm and expected. If you are trying to find balance in your life between work and personal, this should be a red flag for you. Some organizations value people who win at all costs. As long as the deal gets done, they don’t care about the process or if people were alienated along the way. Ideally, the types of people who succeed are those who develop their teams, deliver results and work collaboratively.

Which department is the most influential? This will tell you what drives the company. If you’re in marketing and you hear engineering, you might find this a frustrating environment. Dig a little deeper and ask from what department the CEO came from. If s/he came from the finance department, that may be a clue as to where the emphasis is for the company. Similarly, if the CEO came from marketing or manufacturing, that may be an indication of the perspective they would take on growing the company.

How are conflicts resolved? This is a very important question to ask, because it gets at the heart of how a company runs and the culture it fosters. Preferably things are resolved between parties and then escalated if needed. If, however, the response you are given indicates that there are ongoing powers struggles between departments and that the battles are fought with the intent of determining which department is stronger (versus doing what is best for the company), be aware that you may be stepping into a volatile environment. And if you don’t like frequent conflict, better stay away from this company!

How are ideas presented? Companies are always looking for good ideas. Is there a forum for presenting ideas, or is it less formal? How do ideas from all levels get funneled through the organization? In some companies formal written recommendations/ideas are channeled up through the organization, with modifications and changes being made by various people in senior management as the document works its way to the CEO. Ultimately, that recommendation may be presented to the CEO by the EVP, even though the idea came from a lower level management (or non-management) person. In other companies, an idea may be presented directly to the CEO from whoever came up with the idea, and it may be presented verbally without all the analysis having been completed. Which format are you more comfortable with?

How are decisions made? Some companies are command and control. All decisions are made at the top and get pushed down to middle management. Other companies are consensus driven, which means decisions can drag out in the process of getting everyone to agree. Other companies empower people at multiple levels to make decisions that affect their area. During the course of your interviews, ferret out how decisions are made and ask about how the smaller decisions are made versus the larger, more strategic ones. This will be an indication of whether top management sets the strategy and then lets lower level management make the tactical decisions or whether all decisions are made through top management. Be honest with yourself about the type and style of company management you are most comfortable working in.

How does the company deal with people who are not performing? Do they try to work with that individual to help them raise their performance to an acceptable level or do they very quickly attempt to weed out the underperformers and transition them out of the company? Or, do they try and determine what skills the person has and then find another place for them in the organization? This is an important element of a company’s culture, as it gets at the heart of how they view the individual and the success of the company. Are you the type of manager who wants to work with an underperforming employee and try to bring them “up to speed” or are you more comfortable cutting your losses more quickly and transitioning that person out of the company? How your interviewers respond to this question will provide excellent insight into the culture of the company.
As recruiters, we know that the cultural fit for a candidate with a company is critical to long term success. Candidates and companies owe it to themselves to do their due diligence on the issue of cultural compatibility during the interview process. It’s worth the effort!

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success

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