Friday, June 27, 2008

Hazy, Hot & Humid Temps Are Here -- How Much Should You Show At Work?

With the long July 4th holiday weekend just around the corner, and more companies holding barbecues, picnics and other social outings, the topic of conversation this time of year usually turns to what is acceptable – and not – to wear in a work-related setting.

In many offices around the country, short sleeves, short skirts, bare legs and flip-flops have been visible since Memorial Day.

What are you wearing right now as you read this blog? Would you say it’s appropriate for an office setting or to meet an important client or prospect on a sales call?

This time of year causes many professionals confusion – not being sure what is acceptable to wear at work or in other business settings – and also make serious fashion faux pas.

If you’re unsure how to answer the two questions I asked above, it’s time to think about your "package,” and what it may be saying about you. If your managers are upset with the choice of clothing you have on, but are hesitant to tell you, your summer outfit could, ultimately cost you a job or desired promotion.

Here’s my list (in no particular order) of most certainly do NOTs for warm weather professional attire – what I like to call “Things Your Boss Does Not Want to See This Summer:

- T-shirts with writing on them (except company logos)
- Tank tops
- Sweat stains
- Ball caps
- Stinky shoes
- Cargo shorts
- Jeans
- Chest hair
- Flip flops
- Braless outfits (it doesn’t matter what your size is)
- Tan lines
- Loafers with no socks
- Sunglasses on your head
- Beachwear
- Patched/safety-pinned clothes
- Belly rings
- Tattoos that show
- Underwear lines
- Low rise pants (thongs sticking out)
- Colored underwear
- Athletic shorts
- Yoga pants
- Sleeveless shirts
- Athletic sandals
- Sneakers
- Backless shirts
- Short, short skirts
- Buttons/zippers undone
- Cleavage
- Anything that is too tight
- See-through skirts
- Loud, flashy patterns

Now, for some acceptable “Classic Casual” and “Smart Casual” summer wardrobe options for professionals ...

Women have the following options for “business casual”

• Casual skirts, slacks or “skorts”
• Cotton shirts in solids, prints, or muted plaids
• Sweaters (not too tight)
• Blazers look good over slacks or casual skirt

Men can wear the following as acceptable “business casual”
• Chinos or “Dockers”-type trousers
• Sport shirts with collars or banded necks
• Polo shirts (with collars)
• Sweater or sport jacket
• Casual loafers or lace-up shoes

The image presented to clients, whether in their office or yours, is of utmost importance. If you are in doubt about whether an outfit is appropriate this summer, it’s probably not.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Your Handshake Can Make or Break a 1st Impression

“National Handshake Day” is this Thursday, June 26, 2008.

You may read this and laugh or think, “What will they think of next?

So, why did I create this "holiday?" Despite what many may think, handshaking is a serious topic ... since a person’s handshake can make or break a business deal -- not to mention create a horrible first impression.

Unless you’re major “germaphobes” like Howard Stern, Howie Mandel, or Donald Trump, who avoid touching anyone’s hands whenever possible, start practicing your handshake now!

Here's some general information about the handshake:

1) Handshakes have been around practically since the birth of civilization, and were originally a way to prove that you had no weapons in your hand when meeting someone new.

2) A study by the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, to be published in September 2008, marked the first time researchers quantified the importance of a good handshake in job interviews. The study found that students who scored high with five trained handshake raters were also considered to be the most hireable by job interviewers from Iowa City-area businesses. The professor who coordinated the study said, “We found that the first impression begins with a handshake that sets the tone for the rest of the interview.”

3) One survey of HR professionals indicates that potential employers are MORE likely to overlook visible body piercings or tattoos than an ineffective handshake. They said they’d turn down an applicant who has a weak handshake than one with obvious body piercings or tattoos!

Let's hope you don't recognize your own handshake in this list of 10 Nightmarish Handshakes to Avoid:

1) The “macho cowboy” ... the way many businessmen like to shake hands, with men and women alike, with an almost bone-crunching clasp – what are they trying to prove, anyway? There’s no need to demonstrate your physical strength when shaking another person’s hand.

2) The wimp -- usually delivered by men afraid to “hurt the little lady” when shaking women’s hands. Modern female professionals expect their male counterparts to convey the same respect they’d show their male colleagues.

3) The “dead fish” – delivered by men and women alike, and conveys no power. While no need to revert to the #1 macho death grip, a firm clasp is more powerful than one that barely grabs the hand.

4) The “four finger” – when the person’s hand never meets your palm, and instead clasps all four fingers, crushing them together

5) The cold & clammy – when it feels like you’re shaking hands with a snake. Warm up your hand first BEFORE grabbing someone else’s.

6) The sweaty palm – what else needs to be said except “yuck!” Talcum powder to the rescue!

7) The “I’ve got you covered” grip – when the other person covers your handshake with his or her left hand as if the shake itself is secretive.

8) The “I won’t let go” – when a shake seems to go on for eternity, because the other person won’t drop his or her hand. After two or three times pumps, it’s time to let go.

9) The “southpaw”– when the person uses a left hand to shake, because he or she has a drink or food in the right hand. My advice – at cocktail parties or any social event, always carry your drink and plate with your left hand ... keeping your right one free for meet and greets.

10) The “ringed torture” – when the person’s rings hurt your hand. Try to limit the rings you wear on the right hand to only one or two, and be mindful of any rings you wear that have large stones.

Here are effective handshake guidelines, from my book Professional Impressions … Etiquette for Everyone, Every Day:

1) As you approach someone, when you are about three feet away, extend your right arm out, at a slight angle across the chest, with your thumb pointing upward.

2) Lock hands, thumb joint to thumb joint. Then, firmly clasp the other person’s hand – without any bone crushing or macho posturing.

3) Pump the other person’s hand two to three times and let go. The handshake is a lot like a kiss -- you know when it’s over!

4) Six steps for an effective meet-and-greet involving a handshake:
• Stand (men and women)
• Step or lean forward,
• Look at the eyes of the other person
• Have a pleasant or animated face
• Shake hands
• Greet the other person and repeat his or her name

Monday, June 16, 2008

A“Business” Look At Why Hillary’s Quest for the Presidential Nomination Failed

I believe there are five reasons that likely contributed to Senator Hillary Clinton’s failure to become the Democratic nominee for President, some of which she could have controlled. Professional businesswomen can make a mental note to avoid similar scenarios in their own careers.

1) Senator Clinton cried on more than one occasion. Pollsters last winter had a field day pointing to the fact that Senator Clinton’s tears during a campaign appearance before the New Hampshire primary helped garner further support with women, and, ultimately, the edge over Senator Obama in that state. But, I don't think it helped how many others viewed her. Unfortunately, women are still held to a different standard when it comes to showing emotion in their careers – if a woman cries at work, she is seen as losing control or being weak. If a man gets emotional with outbursts of anger, however, it’s viewed as a sign of his strength of character and passion for the issue. Still, it’s a point best remembered.

2) Her outward physical appearance was more a topic of conversation at times than her actual message. Think about it … how many times were her hair, outfits and accessories mentioned, critiqued and/or analyzed? I can’t think of one time when Senators McCain or Obama’s suits or ties were cited. Unfortunately, there’s not much that Senator Clinton could have done here, short of calling this to the media’s attention and crying “foul” -- as once some of her campaign personnel did.

3) There were several aspects of her presentation skills and delivery that hurt Senator Clinton.
First, her visual signals – her body seemed very tense as she spoke, and her smile often seemed forced. She could have benefitted from some body warm-up exercises and stretching. Some aspects of her vocal delivery also needed help – her voice would seem shrill at times, which could have been better controlled by breathing from the diaphragm. Senator Clinton also needed to better allow for the audience reaction – frequently, she jumped her own laugh lines or applause, not allowing the audience reaction to finish before she moved on. This also may have prevented Hillary from making a better connection with both her live and TV audiences.

4) Whether intentional or not, she let a prominent man in her campaign – her husband, former President Bill Clinton – take over the spotlight, and do a lot of her “pitbull” attacks when it came to defending policy views and issues that arose during the campaign. This led to the appearance that she was not powerful or confident enough to fight her own battles, taking ownership for her own opinions, and being confident in them. I’ve seen this happen frequently in business. It’s bad enough that she had the husband/wife dynamic to overcome … but allowing former President Clinton to have such a prominent role ultimately hurt Hillary.

5) Related to #4, Hillary had the power -- as Senator of New York State – yet, at times she seemed to equivocate; she didn’t always “own” her power. All professional women in positions of authority are constantly aware of the need to strike a delicate balance – excelling at their chosen fields, yet not appearing aggressive in interactions with male peers or subordinates. The “bitch” label is something never far behind.

As I watched many of the debates, heard the commentary, and read the news stories, I kept thinking how remarkably similar it all sounded to what goes on in the world of business.

It seems that women still need to justify their actions, and watch their behaviors much more than their male peers. For every step forward that professional women achieve, and raise themselves to the ranks of CEO, there are still thousands of others still struggling for equality – let alone a seat in the boardroom.

Yes, there are more working women in corporate America than ever before, but are they still on equal footing as their male counterparts? We know they still aren’t from a salary perspective – many statistics bear that out.

What about from behavioral or attitudinal perspectives? Professional women still have a hard time speaking up at meetings, taking credit for their achievements, and otherwise using self-marketing strategies.

Until women take ownership for their success and never let others define their potential, this will continue to be the case – and the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling that Hillary spoke about won’t go any further toward shattering it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Key to Networking is Follow Up

You may do a great job of meeting and greeting people at networking events, and distributing your business cards, but what do you do when you return to work?

Proper follow up after a networking event/opportunity is critical.

Always follow up the initial contact with a brief note.

Be sure to express your appreciation if the person provided you with any information or other assistance. If not, just let the person know that you are grateful for the time he or she spent talking to you.

Once you have established a connection, find ways to keep it alive.

For example, if you see a magazine or newspaper article that might be of interest, it would be a thoughtful gesture to forward it along with a brief note. Acknowledge any awards, promotions, or positive publicity your contact receives with a congratulatory note. Call to say hello or to meet for lunch. Always look for ways to help the other person.

Remember, it is people who constitute a network. Business cards sitting in a Rolodex or names in a database can’t do anything to help you. They are just pieces of paper or words on a screen -- unless you put in the time and effort to keep the personal connection going.

If you do, the results will be more than worth it. Too often people wait until they need help before making connections. Do it when you need nothing; be willing to help others – they will definitely be there for you.

Effective networking can only enhance your career – adding new clients and, with follow up, building valuable and lasting business relationships.

Please post a comment and share a networking strategy that has worked for you. Then e-mail me -- so I know where to send your free e-book, 21st Century Pocket Guide to Proper Business Protocol.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Work a Room With Confidence

Last week I discussed how to effectively use your business card as a networking tool.

But, what if you are unsure about initiating conversations?

“Working a room” or “schmoozing” can be intimidating for many people.

“Working a room” doesn’t mean flitting from person to person, pumping hands, and aggressively handing out your business card.

It also doesn’t mean scanning the room for bigger and better opportunities when you are already in the middle of a conversation.

It simply means being alert for networking opportunities. It means keeping your eyes--and your mind -- open.

Take advantage of any offers to introduce you to people you don’t know. If you don’t receive such offers, or if there is a particular person or group of people you would like to meet, it is perfectly appropriate to ask the host for an introduction or introduce yourself.

What if you walk into a party or event and find that you don’t know anyone? First, don’t panic.

You basically have four options:

•Find the farthest out-of-the-way corner and hide there for the duration of the event. This practically guarantees you a miserable time, and no contacts.

•Stand there and hope someone comes up to you. Of course, if you choose this option, chances are you will find yourself standing alone and feeling awkward for quite a while.

•Find someone else who is alone, approach that person with a friendly smile, and introduce yourself. This is an effective strategy.

•Or, in a large group, approach a person that is in a gathering of three or more people. Two people might be engrossed in a real conversation and wouldn’t want to be disrupted.

Initiating a conversation can be relatively simple and painless -- if you prepare ahead.

Have your professional handshake and 10 second self-introduction ready. Look the person in the eye, and use one of these suggestions for opening lines: make an upbeat observation, share a pleasant self-revelation, or ask an open-ended question.

If you want to move from contact to connection, make sure you exchange business cards. Later, when you return to your home or office, note right on the card where you met the person and any pertinent information you recall about him or her.

You shouldn’t worry if your networking attempts don’t meet with success every time.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we are going to run into people we genuinely dislike or don’t wish to see again. When this happens, the best thing to do is to cut the conversation short in a polite but firm way.

“Sorry. Gotta run” won’t cut it.

Instead, try, “It was nice meeting you, but I must be going now” or “Let me introduce you to …” or, “I promised ___ that I would talk to him ...” -- all perfectly acceptable ways to bow out.

No matter how you feel about the person, don’t forget to smile and say goodbye. Never “burn a bridge.”

Besides, the other person may be happy to make an exit, too!