Slowing Down

September 25, 2006

I love the fact that people seem to like what I’m writing, and I hope that in the future I’ll be able to churn out more useful pieces. But for now, I’m being forced to slow down a bit.

I’m a bit sad to have to start spending less time on my blog, so soon in its life. But a variety of factors have led to this.

First off, personal reasons: I’m planning to move to a different country early next year, and pursue Postgrad studies in finance, a subject in which I am truly terrible. So, I’m having to go through all the processes, and I think I’ll try to brush up on what I know, just a bit.

More importantly, I’ll have to switch over to a wordpress.org blog soon. This blog has a lot of limitations, including the inability to use javascript, which means that I can’t put up bookmarking icons and so forth. So, I’m being a bit worried about how the switch will go, etc. And I’ll be waiting till next year, before I switch.

Of course, I’m not going to stop blogging. And I’m hoping that my blog doesn’t turn into a perpetual linkdump.

But I guess the future will be a little bit different.

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How to ask for a higher starting salary

September 22, 2006

Over the course of your working life, you’ll receive a few raises.salary-negotiation.JPG

However, your annual raises will be pitiful, at just slightly over the inflation rate. Your major salary increases will only occur when you receive that rare promotion.

That’s why it’s so important to ask for a higher salary when you first begin working.

Few candidates actually ask for a higher salary, and I suppose shyness, and fear of appearing greedy, are the major reasons for this. However, you should definitely try to negotiate as high a salary as you can, when you first join your job. This is your most significant chance to try to earn more, and here are some tips for asking for higher starting pay:

  • Do your homework: Before asking for any sort of salary, know what you’re worth, in terms of your education, experience and work potential. What are people similar to you (in terms of career and accomplishments) earning? And what are your hiring company’s pay scales like? Research the company to find out how much it’s possible for them to pay. One of my friends wanted to work for a salary which was only offered to senior executives (entry level was the executive post), so he boldly claimed to be interested only in the senior exec position.
  • Delay a detailed salary discussion: Until your employers know more about you, they won’t be able to judge just how much you’re worth. Focus on getting hired first, and then on how much you’ll get. If you mention your desired salary in too much detail too early, that’s when you’ll come off as being either desperate or greedy. If you’re asked early on about how much you’d like, say something along the lines of “according to the salary scale”, “according to the industry rate” or “as much as you decide i’m worth”. Mention that salary is not the only thing that’s important: you’re also interested in how much you can contribute, how challenging the work will be, how fast you’ll be able to rise within the ranks, etc.
  • Take your time to accept a salary offer: Never accept something at a moment’s notice. No matter how tempting it is to say “yes”, always thank the recruiter, restate how much you’d love to work in that company, and ask for time to consider the offer. Later on, think about the offer calmly. Consider your other offers, what the industry typically pays, how much and how often the increments will be, how fast you’re likely to get promoted, and what other benefits this job will provide.
  • Ask for more: As long as you’re polite and respectful, no one will think that you’re greedy if you ask for a higher salary. In many cases, hiring officers have the discretion to offer upto 20% more, to get the right candidate. And often, the first salary offered is intentionally low, in order to keep the flexibility of possible increases.
  • Go step by step: When asking for more, first ask for a higher base pay. Since other forms of payment are usually linked to the base salary, this is the one you really want to increase. If this isn’t possible, ask for increases in other benefits, such as transport allowances, etc. You can try to ask for a signing bonus, and stock options or other incentives. Finally, you can ask for tuition reimbursement, more holidays and sick leaves, etc.
  • Always be honest: Never state something like “I won’t work for less than 30K”, unless you really, really mean it.
  • Know when to stop: Most hiring officers are flexible to some degree, and will offer you some concessions. However, in some companies, their first offer is really the only one that they’re allowed to make. And sometimes, you’ll see that concessions aren’t coming any more. That’s when you’ll know, it’s time to stop.

Good luck, and happy negotiating!


Changing the look of my blog

September 22, 2006

Phew.

That was a lot of hard work I just did in the last few hours.

I had to completely change the look of my blog, so that “top posts” would appear, and a list of recent blogs, even if someone was viewing an individual post. This meant some html editing, and I am a person who knows zero html. ugh.

But at least now it’s all done. Hopefully, the site will now be more reader-friendly.

And now to get to work on my new post, about women in the workplace.


How to “buy” happiness

September 20, 2006

Yes, you can buy happiness.

According to a 2004 poll by Associated Press, 56% of people earning more than $75,000 a year say they are “very satisfied” with life, while only 24% of people earning $25,000 or less a year say the say thing about their lives. However money can’t guarantee happiness.

After all, according to those numbers, 44% pf people who earned more than $75,000 a year didn’t claim to be “very satisfied” with life.

There are certain things in life which are more important to happiness, than money: good health, a happy family life, good relationships, friends, a stress-free (or less stressful) life. Money can help to improve many of these factors, but first, a brief mention of the two most important things that money can’t buy:

  1. Hearts: Just like the song, you “can’t buy me love”. Getting someone to love you takes a lot of things, including plain dumb luck. Never try to spend your way into someone’s heart.
  2. Respect and Admiration: Your new luxury car or huge plasma TV will not make people admire you. Yes, they will think you are trying to impress. And of course they will wonder about just how insecure you are. But if you want someone to look up to you, you’ll have to make use of what you have inside yourself, not what you have inside your garage.

Despite the fact that money can’t guarantee happiness, there are some ways in which money will make you happier:

  1. Comfort: Money can buy you a sense of security. Not having to worry about the details of survival is a wonderful things. Insurance and health cover remove some of the uncertainties that would plague us otherwise.
  2. Education: We’re happier when faced with a challenge, and we have an immense capacity to grow. Whether it’s learning about art history or taking cooking classes, most of us have interests which we’d be happier pursuing.
  3. Travel: Travel broadens our horizons and lets us experience the wonder of something new. The funny thing is, even if a trip is bad, we tend to remember a lot of great things about it, later on.
  4. A life full of experiences: I am definitely a person who’d prefer to save the money than to splurge on Starbucks, but small daily pleasures do add up, whether it’s gourmet coffee, great home-cooked food, or a glass of nice wine. For some people, life is better when it’s enriched with the arts: reading a daily poem, or visiting the museum, might be your cup of tea.
  5. Memories: Life is better when you have something to remind yourself of your wonderful past. Take pictures, buy silly souvenirs, and leave things that remind you of where you’ve been, nearby.
  6. Beautiful surroundings: Money can buy you a nice home, nice interior decoration, and expensive flowers. As humans, we tend to appreciate the beautiful things in life, so it’s worthwhile spending to make our living spaces a joy to look at.
  7. Beauty: We may be fickle, but study after study shows that attractive people are happier. I’m completely against obsessing with looks, but spending a bit for a good haircut, comfortable and stylish clothes, and mood-enhancing perfume, certainly pays off. And any woman will tell you that shoes are a girl’s second-best friend 🙂
  8. Nearness to work: I can’t remember the exact studies right now, but I once read about how the daily commute adds to our stress. And I don’t think that anyone loves their commute. So, live near your office, or work at home. If you can’t do those, try to make the commute less horrible, be it with an i-Pod, or a chauffeur-driven car.
  9. Health: Money can’t buy you health, but you can certainly spend on healthy things that will make you feel better, including organic food, a swimming pool and gym membership. It’s up to you to put the healthy things you buy, to good use. Of course, money can also buy treatment options, but a good health plan should cover those.
  10. Relaxation: Soothing music, yoga classes and massages: don’t dismiss them before you’ve tried them.
  11. Friends: In no way can money buy you friends. But we’re happy when we’re social, and money spent on friends and being friendly, makes us happier in the long run. So, that Sunday brunch, your best friend’s birthday gift, and the dinner party you were planning to host, are all worth the time and effort. And money.
  12. Kids: Obviously, I’m not suggesting you buy kids, or even attempt to buy their affection. But they’re expensive brats, and spending on them goes a long way (as any parent will attest). I feel like this is a self-explanatory point, but whether it’s spending to get the kids out of the way (baby sitting) or to make them more tolerable to be around (education, entertainment, food, etc) kids tend to make us happier.
  13. Pets: Furry friends make our lives fun, and studies show that they lead to lower stress. Unfortunately, just like kids, pets tend to be expensive: apparently, they’re worth that expense.
  14. Romance: Your relationship with your s.o. is the most important one in your life, so spend what you need to, to make it work: from flowers to diamonds to a second honeymoon.
  15. Time: This, in my opinion, is the single most important thing that money can buy. None of us have more than 24 hours in a day. Trying to extract the most out of each of those precious hours is one of the most difficult things to do. Money can help you to do it, be it through gadgets, a chauffeur or a private jet.

I’m a very anti-consumer-debt person, so I don’t think any of the above is worth buying on credit. Although buying something on credit might make you happy temporarily, in the long run, you’re likely to have to cut back on your lifestyle in order to repay those loans.

Many of these items are not applicable to people trying to live on a stringent budget, for whatever reason. However, if you’ve got the cash and are considering whether to buy a yatch or a luxury sedan, don’t. Spend the money on a chauffeur instead, or use it to visit your local cafe each day, where you can enjoy gourmet coffee and meet new friends.

This post is part of the group blogging project at Problogger. It’s also a continuation of my series on how to be happy, the first of which was on happiness and health.

I’ve added this post to my new blog, Happiness Creator. Please visit it 🙂


5 things you’ll need when you join a new job

September 18, 2006

After my posts about how to get a job, and what to do once you’ve gotten the job, I though I’d write another post about new job issues.

When I was first looking for a job, I got myself a set of interview clothes. I think we all do that. But what I really wanted was five new outfits to wear to office. I put off buying them because I was broke, and I was glad I waited: the work culture at my office is really laid back, and no-one bothers to dress up.

I’m not very materialistic, but we all want stuff. And when we join a new job, it’s easy to justify purchases in the name of “investments in our future” 😉

There are some things that you really need when you join a new job, and they are:

  1. Clothes: Wait till you join your new organization before you go out and get all the new outfits that you’re planning to buy. You should already own some decent clothes that you can wear to work. If you feel you absolutely must get something new, limit yourself to buying a maximum of one or two outfits before you join. During the interview process, you might have noted how the other people dressed (I didn’t) but that might still not be any indication. Even if attire guidelines are mentioned in a booklet, it might be the norm to not follow them strictly, or to dress even more conservatively than is implied. Wait till you’ve joined, and know the work culture, and the way people dress, before you buy new clothes. And when you do, a good rule is to try to dress a bit like someone in top management whose position you’d like to have, someday.
  2. Shoes: Shoes are part of your outfit, so I should’ve lumped them with clothes. But clothes are something you will really, really need. It may just be worth-while to purchase a pair, if you don’t have anything sufficiently formal and appropriate.
  3. Bag: If you’re a fresh graduate, it’s perfectly acceptable to carry a messenger or book bag to office for the first week. That’s the amount of time you should take to notice how much stuff you’ll need to take with you to office each day, what types of bags other people use, and what types of bags you like and can afford. Of course, needs and fashions change, so it might not be too wise to spend a lot on a bag. Perhaps, this is the time when you could try out those “rent a bag” type services that I’ve heard are available?

Of course, those are the things you’ll need if you’re a broke graduate. If you’re not, and you’re not the anti-materialistic type, you might like to have:

  1. Flashy accessories: Diamond jewelry and the latest cell phones might help if you’d like to create the impression that you’re not in it for the money 🙂
  2. Cool car: It’ll help you imagine that you’re giving your bosses an inferiority complex. And if you have a chauffeur, you’ll never even have to dislike a commute!

That’s all I could think of for now.


8 things that recruiters should let a candidate know

September 18, 2006

Over at recruiting.com they were nice enough to mention my post on 10 questions to ask before you join a new job!

The interesting thing is, they mentioned that the 10 questions that everyone should ask before they join a job, can easily be flipped to become the 10 things that a recruiter should let a candidate know. Or, they could be used to become the bare bones of a job description.

I think that’s an interesting concept. It would give recruiters a chance to assess the attractiveness of a job from a candidate’s perspective, and it would help in attracting the right candidates. After all, a job is so much more than just a source of salary (or at least, it should be). The fact that a really talented person is on the team might make the job more attractive for an ambitious person who’s looking for a mentor, maybe more so than a few dollars more in salary terms.

So, if I turn these questions around, here are… (drum roll…) 10 things that recruiters should let a candidate know:

  1. The type of work they will be doing. (Without great “exaggerations”, preferably.)
  2. If anyone special is on the team, or if the candidate would become the team’s “superstar”.
  3.  How will the candidate be able to contribute to the organization?
  4. What are the opportunities for the team that the candidate will be joining?
  5. What are the pay, benefits, etc?
  6. Will the candidate be expected to work long hours, travel, etc?  It’s better to establish this upfront, so that the candidate knows what he/she is entering into.
  7. What would be the future career path of someone entering into this position? (e.g. “Ms X joined this organization as a Media Executive 7 yrs ago, and now she is our current Head of Marketing.” And you’re sure that, with hard work, Candidate Y could do the same thing.)
  8. What type of experience will the candidate gain? Different from the kind of work he/she will be doing, in that you should stress on the skills that he/she will learn, e.g. “you will learn time management and organizational skills, and you’ll gain the ability to delegate effectively, since you will have to coordinate the various activities across the department”, etc.

You’ll notice that the original ten questions have been pared down to eight facts. That’s because I left out the unpleasant issues of whether the company will change ownership in the near future, or whether there are any issues facing the team.

I hope this is helpful for the recruiters out there 🙂


Advice on starting a new job

September 14, 2006

So, you’ve finally gotten the job you want. Now what?

A new job is a bit of a challenge. Here’s some advice to get you started…

The first day:

  • Don’t expect anyone to pay you too much attention. Unless you’ve joined an incredibly small organization, most people will be too busy to care that you’ve joined, much less welcome you. In fact, you might find many people who are too busy to even say hi to you, until a few days later.
  • No one will really expect you to do any work on the first day. Most likely, you will be running around for an ID card, internet and intranet access, a PABX, a PC, and filling out hundreds of forms.
  • Get your bearings. Find out where the washroom is, where the doors, various rooms, and emergency exits are.

Despite the apparant uselessness of the first day (and yes, it will seem useless compared to grand expectations of meeting the CEO and starting work on a top-level project), there are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Try to arrive a bit early, or at least be on time. Don’t be too early, since that would raise a few eyebrows, but make sure you’ve factored in your commute and any likely problems.
  • Lay out your clothes the night before, right down to shoes and accessories. Pack your bag, make sure nothing is missing. Choose an outfit that you look great in.
  • Start being nice to everyone, everywhere. You never know if your future boss will see you being rude to a salesperson or bad driver. Be friendly and polite to everyone in the office. Introduce yourself if you need to; most people will not ask you who are.
  • A day or two into your new job, you may be taken out to lunch or coffee by the CEO or someone from top management. Don’t think that this common practice. Take this rare opportunity to bond (at least try to). Be respectful and interested in him/her, don’t grovel, and try to act intelligent and funny. Impossible advice to follow when you’re nervous, but try your best anyway 🙂
  • If your company offers an orientation or introductory training program, try to pay attention and to not sleep through the entirety. (True confession: during my orientation programme, I spent my entire time reading a novel, playing games on my cell phone, and stealing all the chocolates displayed in the pretty bowl in front of me. All was not wasted. My friends got a lot of chocolates that day ;))

A few days into your new job:

  • Try to get a hang of the rules. Not just the ones written in the manual (though you should definitely know those ones too.) Observe what people wear, especially on casual Fridays, and to important meetings (in the hope that one day you, too, will attend such important meetings). How do people work? Is it common practice to take work home? During your first week, come to office a bit early, and leave late: how many people do the same thing? Is it acceptable practice to take long tea or lunch breaks? Where do most people have their lunch? How do people treat each other? Is there a lot of joking around, or is everyone very serious?
  • Get to know the people you’ll work with. Go to lunch with them, or to drinks after work (and don’t get drunk). Be careful in your interactions: be friendly and interested, but don’t offer any gossip or negative opinions. You won’t know immediately what the political undercurrents are.
  • Try to find out what the political undercurrents are. Who hates who? Which department is trying to outdo which other department? You get the idea…
  • Become friendly with strategically important people. This includes secretaries, especially, who have access to otherwise secret information.
  • Find out who the high-flyers in your company are. They are not necessarily people already in the top. There may be someone rising very fast. Try to pick these people’s brains. Hang out with them as often as you can.
  • Just so that people don’t think you’re cold-hearted, manipulative and ambitious, be friendly with everyone. An excellent way is to bring food to share. I found this out quite by accident: I’m always eating, and I don’t enjoy eating alone, so I used to bring snacks that could be shared by many. This won’t work with all food. But just try bringing freshly baked brownies or cookies one day 😉
  • Get to know your bosses. You should have been introduced to your immediate supervisor by know. Find out who you will be reporting to.
  • If you don’t have much work during the first few days, use your spare time to go through old company documents that you have access to. Marketing plans, business plans, competitor analysis, and such things may be very helpful information. Decide what things you’d like to find out, and search for them on your PC and intranet.
  • Find out your work priorities from your supervisor. Get some work to do. Do it. Get feedback. Initially, you should try to get feedback ASAP, so that you can make changes as needed.
  • If you’re not being given much work, ask for something to do. If you still don’t have much to do, ask your new colleagues if you can help them in any way. But don’t get sucked into the “I’d really appreciate it if you’d get me some coffee” trap. Unless it’s your boss that’s asking you to do that. (Which he shouldn’t, but still. Play along.)
  • Never refuse offers of  help.
  • During the first few days, try to never turn down an invite to an office party, or just an invite to “hang out with the guys”.
  • Never negatively compare your new job with your old job. If you do, people might think that you want your old job back, and that you don’t like your new one.

And finally:

  • Never interrupt someone who’s giving you advice. Nod along, and decide by yourself if you’ll take it or not 😉