The Brand Called You – Growing Professionally

Back in 1997, Tom Peters authored an article titled The Brand Called You for Fast Company magazine. I first read the article in 2005, and while I didn’t (and still don’t) agree with everything in it, it contains plenty of valuable career advice to consider. I recently re-read it and humbly suggest a few more strategies:

Grow Your Web Identity

The place most people will go to find more information about you will be the web, especially if you’re in the IT field. Set-up a LinkedIn profile and get connected to people who you befriended during school and your career. Don’t go overboard filling in every professional detail (that’s what your resume is for), or spamming requests to everyone you’ve ever met. I like to think of my LinkedIn contacts as people who would know who I am if my name came up in conversation.

Use Twitter as a way to keep a pulse check on the professionals that you may or may not know, projects or groups of interest, and local events related to your field. Feel free to use it as a way to broadcast things you’re currently up to — blog posts you’ve written, things you’re working on, events you’re attending, etc. I recommend adding a touch of personality to your tweets. Don’t be unprofessional, but don’t be boring either. Be sure to voice your opinion on current topics and trends that you care about.

Be a “Something” Expert

What’s your competitive advantage? Find something that interests you, and become a knowledge expert on it. Maybe it’s integrated marketing, database performance tuning, quality assurance, or Salesforce. Immerse yourself in it. Know the options, and be able to list the pros and cons for each of them. Get involved in conversations and share your knowledge. Ideally you’ll be able to apply your expertise in your current organization, but if not, that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions on ways to improve current processes or procedures related to your knowledge area, and don’t be discouraged if you encounter resistance either. If you present your ideas in a clear manner and validate your claims with good evidence, you’ve done your part.

Be a “People Person”

I feel like people skills are becoming a lost art these days. Our society has become accustomed to communication through text message, email, or instant chat conversations. When trying to validate a claim, keep a project on track, or get the nitty-gritty details ironed out on something, I still believe the best way to do it is in person. If that’s not an option, you should at least pick up the phone and hash out the details with a conference call. And even though everyone’s busy these days, carve out some time to drop a “Hi, how is everything going?” now and then. Don’t limit this to clients — your co-workers and contacts matter too. Human interaction will always be more meaningful than digital communication.

Stay Current

Things change–quickly. You should do your best to stay current in your field. It’s not reasonable to expect to be an expert on every new topic or trend, but you should at least be aware of them. In addition to the updates I find on Twitter, I devote time daily to scanning through information technology articles and blog posts just to keep abreast of new tools and trends. My goal isn’t to know everything about everything, it’s to know where I can find more information about something should I need to. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dive into something new every once-in-a-while, too.

Remember…

Ultimately, your growth as a professional in your field is your responsibility. Make the best of your opportunities, and continue to nurture your career by embracing change and improving your skill sets. Make yourself more valuable by strengthening what makes you unique compared to your peers.

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How To Train Your Newbie

I’m sure that most managers can agree that giving thorough training to new employees is critical but where they might differ is in the methodology used to implement that training. While some companies prefer to implement rigorous training programs, others have new hires simply shadow existing employees (unfortunately, a Rocky-style training montage isn’t an option for most organizations). But, regardless of the methods employed, training for a technical position requires a great deal of learning over a long time period. There are several things I believe can help improve the learning process, so I’ve compiled a short list of the things that especially benefited me during my ramp-up period at Algonquin Studios. Take a look to see if they can help you get the most out of the time training your new employees, as well:

Encourage The Writing And Use Of Documentation

Most companies have a detailed knowledge base available. Not only are these articles great for assisting customers with issues, they also provide a great tool to beginners.  Seeking answers to their questions from other employees is a good thing, but finding the answer themselves by doing some knowledge base research might be even better. New employees should also be encouraged to write their own articles, as the things they write will stick with them better than things they simply read through. If they have a question that isn’t explained in any existing documentation, it’s probably a good idea for them to write it up!

Teach In The Way That Works Best For The Employee

Some people, myself included, are visual learners. It’s much easier for me to grasp a new concept by viewing diagrams and reading instructions than it is for me to absorb verbal directions from a teacher. Talk to your new employee and find out how they prefer to learn;  while it’s important to be flexible and able to learn in multiple ways, it’s also important to provide people with an efficient and effective way to teach learn new concepts.

Offer Help, Even If They Haven’t Asked For It

Being the new person at a job can be stressful and stress might cause them to be hesitant to ask for help when they need it. Regularly check in and offer to help them, either by explaining something they don’t understand or reinforcing their training with some helpful examples or advice. The voice of experience from a willing and generous teacher can foster increased confidence in newbies.

Make Sure They Don’t Get “Too Comfortable”

This can sound a bit harsh but people learn new skills the fastest when they don’t become complacent. While it’s never good to completely overwhelm someone and cause them to break down from the stress, a little fire under them will keep them moving in the right direction. Gauge their progress, making sure that when they become familiar with basic tasks they’re assigned more advanced ones quickly.

Give Criticism When Warranted

It can definitely be tough to hand out criticism but it’s crucial to making sure first-time mistakes don’t become permanent habits. Remember that the point of constructive criticism isn’t to demean and punish, so it should always be done with respect. While it was never fun for me to be told where my work could use improvement, it gave me a clear goal of what was expected of me and I am better today for it.

And on the opposite side of that…

Recognize When They’re Doing a Great Job

Everyone wants to feel as if they are succeeding; positive reinforcement can go a long way towards motivating people to continue learning. Not only does this keep spirits high, it helps create a comfortable working environment and friendly company culture. Make sure your new employees know when they’re getting it right!

How does the on-boarding/training process work at your company? What are the similarities between my list and yours? Feel free to leave a comment below with any great new employee training ideas you use!

Training Disguised…

When I interviewed for my position at Algonquin Studios, I remember asking what my interviewers particularly enjoyed about working here.  The things they both immediately mentioned were “Meet & Eats” and “F.E.A.S.T.”  It was the first time I’d gotten a food-related response to that question and it definitely got me thinking.

After I started here and I got my calendar request for Meet & Eat, my curiousity about what the event would involve continued to grow and I really started looking forward to my first experience.  Sadly, it was canceled for a reason I don’t remember so I waited impatiently for the next one.

Meet & Eats are training sessions, with an Algonquin Studios twist. These aren’t your “normal” training sessions, where you sit in a too-brightly lit conference room and listen to some guy who says he’s an expert drone on for an hour or two in a monotone voice. These are sessions taught in an informal setting, by peers who share their knowledge with their coworkers in an effort to make everyone better at what we do here at Algonquin.

Presenters are notified a day in advance that they’ll be presenting to the group and projects are picked because a Development Manager believes there’s something particulalry interesting or informative to be shared. On the day of a Meet & Eat, the rest of the Development team pulls up a chair or bean bag in the common area of the office as the presenter covers all aspects of their project and discusses how they overcame any hurdles they experienced. The informal nature of the sessions means everyone is able to ask questions at any point and people can jump in if they have something to add. During almost every session, you hear somebody say “I didn’t know you could do that!” or “Wow, that way is so much easier!” No matter what their title or role is at Algonquin, everyone stands to learn something from each Meet & Eat.

Continuing our theme of food as a uniting factor in our corporate culture here at Algonquin, after the presentation is finished we all head over to the kitchen to experience the “Eat” part of the session. “Eat” allows our whole team to get together and continue discussing what was reviewed during “Meet” over a variety of local foods-specialty pizzas, chicken wings, even a taco bar set up by a Mexican restaurant!

When I think about the benefits our Meet & Eats bring to Algonquin Studios and the employees here, I have to think about them as being more than just “educational” in nature. An event like this goes beyond what you see on the surface, it’s also about everything you can’t see-the relationships formed between the people who have to develop a presentation in one short business day, the confidence and experience the presenters gain as the discuss their projects and gather feedback from fellow employees and managers, and the relationships formed between employees munching away during the “Eat” portion of the day.

Does your organization have any informal educational events or session similar to our Meet & Eats? What sort of value do you think sessions like these can bring to the organization as a whole and employees as individuals?

I, personally, can’t wait till next month’s Meet & Eat to see who the lucky presenter will be and what delicious spread we will be indulging in!