Wednesday, December 17, 2014

7 Ways to Kill Your Career at Your Office Holiday Party

7 Ways to Kill Your Career at Your Office Holiday Party

Whatever your opinion of the office holiday party… love it or hate it… if you are planning on attending your own, (or your significant other’s) you might want to check out this list of ‘don’ts’.

Office holiday parties, grand and modest, are a great chance to get to know co-workers outside of the work environment, and enjoy some swanky food and free booze at the same time.  Handled with some common sense and grace, they can not only be fun, but provide a social platform to launch you in your next career move.  Handle the event poorly, and you can kiss that career trajectory goodbye.  People do it every year.

Here are seven things you DO NOT want to do at that office party!

1 . Drink Too Much

This one could be number 1, 2 and 3, it is such a big no-no at any office event.  Here’s what you need to know:  This is a business event.  Behave as if you were in the office, just dressed better and with better food.
Out of concern for ill-mannered behavior, as well as the safety of employees driving home, many companies are limiting how much alcohol is served at company functions, or limiting open bars to just beer and wine.
But no matter what is being served or how much of it is flowing, drinking too much is the number one sure-fire way to do damage to your career.  Whether it’s just the embarrassment of becoming the wrong kind of legend at the office, or the more serious loss of a promotion opportunity, over-indulging is not worth the risk.

Do enjoy yourself!  But here are some tips to help you party, and still be welcomed back at work:
  • Limit drinks with alcohol to a maximum of two.
  • Don’t mix alcoholic drinks.
  • Drink coffee, tea, soft drinks and lots of water.
  • Unusual idea: Try ordering a drink you don’t really like.  You’ll drink it a lot slower than something you love.
2 . Over Eat.

Free food is good.  Swanky free food is better.  But don’t try to eat the equivalent of an extra paycheck at a holiday party.
Most important here is to just be considerate of other people, and remember why you are there (Hint: to socialize!).  Try to keep your hands free for shaking, and your chin clean of foodstuffs.
  • Do not walk around with an overflowing plate of cheese and fruit; you can go back.
  • Do not double dip.  Ever.
  • Discard napkins, toothpicks, etc. where they ought to go. 
3 . Over Talk.

Don’t spend the evening talking to the same two people you work with every day.  The office party is an opportunity to get acquainted with people you don’t know that well.  And don’t forget the boss and his/her spouse/SO. 
Holiday Party Conversation Tips:
  • Keep conversations to 5 minutes or less.  Then move on.
  • DO talk about things other than business.  DON’T talk business at all if you can help it.
  • Always thank party hosts and organizers before you leave.

4.      Ignore the Dress Code.

Dress is important no matter where the party is being held. You don't want people talking about what you wore the day or night after the party.   If the party is being run by someone at the company, ask them.  If the party is at someone's home, call ahead and ask about the dress code.

Remember: you are not going to a nightclub.  Dress nicely, but not seductively.  This is not the place to max out on cleavage.  When in doubt, go with the more conservative option. 

5.  Go on an Empty Stomach.

It’s a good idea to have some light snacks or small meal before going to a business party.  This way you won’t be as tempted to rush the buffet, and if the food is slow coming, your stomach won’t be growling.

6.  Don’t Show Up.

Yes, you should go.  Absolutely. 

Staying home is not your best option… no matter how appealing the thought.  You can be ‘conspicuous by your absence’ at office parties.   And you will be out of the loop when everyone else is talking about the event over the water cooler.

And don’t forget the networking benefits you can realize.  You might develop a nice relationship with the person who turns out to be your next boss.

7.  Spend the Evening Texting or Posting Photos.

Don’t just show up.  Get in the spirit of the event and mingle.  Introduce yourself to people you don’t ordinarily work with.  This is a way to be seen as a team player, not stand-offish.  If you are uncomfortable with small-talk, prepare ahead with some topics like new movies, vacation plans, etc.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Follow Up on a Job App Without Looking Like a Stalker

(Note: this was written for, to publish in the next few weeks.  Here's a sneak peek! -Ed)

When you are job-searching, it can be a lonely road.  One of the biggest complaints of all job seekers is the frustration of sending in resumes to jobs you’re apparently qualified for, only to hear… nothing.  For many, this is more than annoying; it can cause real anxiety.  If you’ve experienced this pain, you’re not alone.  Here are some practical ways to improve your effectiveness and stay healthy in the process.
I recommend a three-step planning approach.   Start with clarifying what you’re trying to accomplish, and choosing exactly what you want to say.  Then decide on the medium you’ll use.  Finally, have a clear action plan which includes: timing your follow up, how many times you’ll keep trying, and when enough is enough.

Content of the Follow-Up Email/Phone Call

There are two useful objectives to a follow-up effort:

  • To separate you from the pack (if even a little).
  • To gain information by asking questions.  Specifically, we want info which will help you compete more effectively later, in the interview process.

You can make yourself a more (or less) desirable candidate by your approach.  Whether you are emailing or phoning, keep your introduction friendly and pleasant… and confident.  Being nice and courteous counts.   Don’t cut and paste some long-winded formal follow up letter.  Keep it brief and friendly. 


My least favorite follow-up question is “Did you get my resume?”.   The answer to that question doesn’t really help you compete.  I prefer asking a few direct, but more assertive questions.  For example:

“Hi.  I’m a candidate for the XXXX position.  I sent in my resume and other materials a week ago.  I am sincerely interested in the position, and would like to ask you about the status of the hiring process.  Can you please share with me what the next steps will be, and when I might expect to hear about interviews? 

Good start.  But don’t stop just yet.  This is also an opportunity to ask a few richer questions.  For example:

“I also have two questions for you regarding the position.   First, what will be most important to you, in choosing a candidate to hire for this position?  And second, what are the most critical contributions you hope to realize from this position, a year from hiring?”

Finally, if you’re feeling brave, why not ask for an interview?

“I would be happy to set up a time to meet to discuss these questions with you in person, if you would be willing to do so.”

Choose Your Method

Most hiring pros prefer to be contacted by email.  Phone is also ok if you happen to have the name of the person doing the hiring.

Some career professionals still recommend snail mail follow ups (hand-written notes, thank you cards) as a way to separate you from the pack.  But snail mail is hard to forward to other people unless you scan it in (making work) and is not a great choice if you want to ask questions.  I recommend sticking with email and phone.

And those “creative” follow up tricks?  LinkedIn invitation to the HR Manager?  Sending a birthday card?  Food? Gifts? Pizza with your resume on top?  If you are looking to get into sales in an aggressively competitive industry, or find a creative job in advertising… maybe.  But for most job-seekers, these tricks will more likely be seen as creepy.  Don’t bother.     

What about networking?  If you already know someone (or can be referred to someone) inside the company who has some clout, it’s fine to ask them to walk your resume over to the decision-maker and put in a good word for you.  But if you don’t have this connection already, it’s unlikely you will be able to develop such a contact in the short run.  Effective networking is “relationship-first/favors-later”.  Much as you would like to, you generally can’t rush this effect.                                                                                                                                                          


I recommend the following pace:

  • Email and/or phone your follow-up one week after you have submitted your resume
  • If you don’t get a reply, follow up again 3 days later.
  • And if you don’t get a reply, STOP.  That’s it; you have done all you can do without becoming annoying to the employer, and stressing yourself out.

Keep in mind, the fact that they are not communicating with you now doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested.  I know of candidates who got a phone call six months after applying!  It’s ok (and healthy) to let go of the anxiety about this one, and move on to other job-seeking activities.
Ed Hunter is a Career and Executive Coach, and principal of Life in Progress Coaching.  Contact him at, or at

Friday, August 15, 2014

How can a recent grad without work experience make their resume more effective?

(Note from Ed: This was an “Ask the Career Coach” reply I wrote for a reader of
A reader submitted this question:

My son does not have work experience, but does have a Bachelor’s degree. How can he use his education to make his resume more appealing?

Your son is facing a classic problem for new grads.  The good news is this:  while employers value experience, sometimes they also like (and even prefer) to hire young talent who they can mold, train and develop in “our way”.   To get the attention of employers, the trick is to focus on skills.
Where to Start: Give Yourself a Title
Right at the top of your resume, give yourself a title.  Even though you are just beginning, you can still go with something like “Finance Grad with Focus on Capital Budgeting” or “Biology Graduate with Interest in Botany”.   Very important: the title MUST be in line with the job you are applying for!
Include a Summary

I recommend including a Summary section at the top of the resume.  This section should answer the question (briefly): “So, what can you do for me?!”  Include no more than 3 or 4 sentences.  Focus on your skills and education, and any accomplishments that are related to either.  You can also include one or two personal attributes (like team-oriented, articulate, high-achieving, for example) but don’t go overboard on those.
Here's an example:
Recent graduate with BA in economics.  Notable success in application of complex research methods and business writing.  Excellent time management and problem solving skills. Highly organized with the ability to manage multiple projects and consistently meet deadlines.
How to Choose What to Include in Summary
Easy.  If you’re applying to a specific job, just look at the job ad itself.  It will tell you what the employer is looking for, and even suggest the priority of those needs.   Target your skills statements to echo those the employer is seeking. 
If you're not responding to a specific ad, do some research and find some typical jobs on or another job board.  Look for patterns of skills that appear over and over, and choose your skill statements to suit those.   And only include skills that you can claim legitimately.  Don’t even think about fibbing on a resume.
Skills Highlights/Key Qualifications
The next section should focus in more detail on your SKILLS, or KEY QUALIFICATIONS.  Again, use the job ad, or a sampling of typical job ads for your position of interest, and include as many skills or qualification statements as you can.  This is a place on the resume where you can really do some selling.  Remember: the employer wants to know what, exactly, you can do for them, and they give you clues in job ads.   This section is where you can let them know you have all (or most) of what they are looking for!
The approach that most experts recommend for candidates that lack experience is to, again, Refer to the job description or emphasize the same skills that you mention in your Summary. Then, group your experience under some major headings.
Here's an example:
Research Skills
  • Developed and conducted surveys to measure current attitudes towards personal financial planning.
  • Evaluated reliability of online and offline information sources for inclusion in research study.
Time Management Skills
  • Met weekly editorial deadlines as Sports Editor for university newspaper.
  • Managed detailed project plan to coordinate activities among team members for final group presentations.
As a recent grad, your recently completed degree is one of your most relevant selling points.  But it’s more than just a diploma.  Add some bullet-items under your degree which this employer would find enticing.  Some examples might include:
·         GPA (if it’s over 3.0.  If not, leave it off.)
·         Leadership of clubs or organizations related to the profession
·         Sports participation (shows vibrant health and good time management skills)
·         Awards, scholarships, recognition
·         Concentration of coursework (even if not technically a Minor, you may want to add this to show where you have depth of knowledge)
·         Software or technical skills used (if appropriate)
 And then… the Work History Section
It is acceptable to include volunteer or other unpaid work in this section.  What you were paid (or not) is your business.  Examples might include coursework, class projects, volunteer work or extracurricular activities that are related to your target job.
Keep it simple.  Since employers inevitably want to see dates and positions, include this information in the Work History section. You've already described your experience, so you don't need to describe what you did in each position.
Finally, if you absolutely do not have any work, volunteer or extracurricular experience at all, then leave this section off.  Remember, employers are more interested in what you can do for them now (as a college grad) than in what you have done already.  Sell those skills!