Being Ready to Take the Opportunity

I’ve been thinking about career trajectories a lot recently, and memories of my college jobs re-surfaced. The most random job interview popped into my head, and inspired my post about being ready to take an opportunity. I had just moved back to Texas, and I was working as a waitress. I was getting pretty sick of the waitress gig, and I’d told my parents that I was ready to start job hunting again. Then, I started apartment hunting, and my mom joined me for some Saturday tours. While viewing the apartment that I ultimately rented, my mom says, “You know, Ashley, you could do this job. You could be a leasing agent. You should ask her (the leasing agent) about it.” I was not dressed for an interview, and I thought it might be a little awkward to ask the leasing agent if I could interview for her job. After some whispering to my mom about these thoughts, my mom just asked the leasing agent, “You don’t happen to be hiring do you? My daughter would be great at this job.” Surprisingly, the leasing agent replied, “Actually, YES, we really need someone right now. I would LOVE to have someone else in the office, we’re slammed. The manager is downstairs, I’ll tell her you want to talk to her about a job.” Wait a minute, I’m not dressed properly! Wait a minute, I don’t have a copy of my resume! Wait a minute, my mom is here, you can’t go to a job interview and bring your mom! Wait…

The leasing agent told the manager that I was looking for both an apartment and a job, and sent me in to speak with her about 5 minutes later. After apologizing for my lack of professional clothes and resume, I ended up having a great interview with the manager. She suggested that I return the following day with a resume, and ended up hiring me the next day! To this day, she’s a great reference and mentor, and she still laughs about how she took a chance on the girl with no leasing experience, who interviewed in shorts and a tank top.

I tell this story to say that you should always be ready to take the opportunity. Maybe you’re not in your best interview suit, with a nice resume ready to hand out. But, maybe you’ve got the right skills at the right time. Maybe you’re exactly the kind of person they’re looking for, the kind of person who can make a good impression on someone without the mask we all wear during a “formal” interview. Do you have your elevator pitch down, so that when you happen to run into someone with connections, you can speak to your abilities? Do you have a professional email address and your personal voicemail set up in a way that conveys your professional abilities? As career-oriented people, I think we need to make sure that we’re “ready” at all times. This doesn’t mean going to the gym in a three-piece suit, just in case your boss’ boss shows up, and you don’t have to whip out a current copy of your resume every time you step into Starbucks. Being ready is about your attitude, and your willingness to pursue an opportunity when it arises… even if it arises outside your “business hours.” I’ve had several opportunities presented at a time when it wasn’t convenient for me, but I took action and had success.

Friday For All!

This week has gone by fast, and I’m excited to enjoy my first weekend on summer break! Here’s what I’m reading to kick-off the weekend:

 

For the note-takers, via CNN: Handwriting and Learning

For the creative and those seeking to be more creative, via Forbes: Creativity and Craziness

For those who received a less-than-stellar performance review, via The Daily Muse: Hit Me With Your Best Shot  – Handling Criticism

For those wondering if the career is really worth it, via ERE Blog: In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

 

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Phone Voice

I received a voicemail from a representative at another company, and it prompted this post on some tips for voicemails and “phone voice”. I’m not sure if you all know about phone voice, but my mom, sister, and I joke about it, since it’s difficult for people to tell which of us they’re speaking to. Particularly when my sister and I both lived at home, even my dad would sometimes say, “Hi….[awkward pause as he tries to guess who answered]…. Ashley?” Most people sound a little different when speaking on the phone, but that doesn’t change the “rules” from a face-to-face conversation.

Speak slowly! The person who left the voicemail talked so FAST! Now, I can fast-talk with the best of them, and I’m generally a pretty fast listener. But, my goodness, this person gave me a run for my money. It’s imperative to speak slower for voicemails and phone conversations, since cell reception and background noise are much more prevalent during a phone conversation. I know I’m guilty of just tuning out of a voicemail if I have to strain to understand it, so don’t make your recipient work so hard. Also, when leaving the phone number, make sure to pause between the area code and the number, to give your recipient time to write it down. I generally say numbers as follows: (123) PAUSE 456 PAUSE 7890.

Leave contact info. It sounds silly, but there are plenty of people who don’t properly identify themselves or leave their contact information. I’ve gotten messages that state, “Please give me a call. Thanks”. But… wait, how do I call you? These days, people could have a different extension than what the caller ID shows, or their cell phone number might show up as “unavailable” or “unknown”. Don’t assume the caller ID will be sufficient, leave the best number to call, and make sure you state your name and company clearly.

Professional voicemail. If you’re calling on behalf of your company, make sure that your voicemail box is set up and accepting messages for the return phone call from your recipient. Your company voicemail should clearly state your name, and if necessary, give your cell phone number or an alternate contact in case of emergency. I also recommend a professional tone on your personal voicemail, just in case. Similar to the issues with a professional email address, you don’t want clients, customers, or potential employers to think you’re immature or unprofessional due to your voicemail.

After a few listens too many, I managed to write down my contact’s name, number, and company, but I had to work to get it. Make it easy on people, and speak slowly, clearly, and professionally when calling and leaving voicemails.

Game Theory

I’m taking my Economics final tonight, and there will probably be a lot of questions on game theory, as my Professor really seems to like that subject. In the lecture notes, he’s got a hypothetical game involving studying for the exam. It’s a little ironic to be studying for the final while doing a practice problem that discusses the outcomes of NOT studying for the final. He sets up the example as follows:

– students are graded on a curve against the class, so they can collude and not study, thus the entire class will do poorly on the exam, and the curve is higher

– one student could “cheat” by studying, and therefore score well on the exam, thus hurting the curve for the rest of the class

– there’s different payoffs for studying or not studying, and if you’re the one student that opts not to follow the agreement to skip the study session and score poorly on the exam to boost the curve, you stand to profit nicely by making a high score after studying for the exam

Basically, when you play the game, you find out that even when all the students collude not to study and boost the curve, it’s actually in someone’s best interest to study, score well, and throw the curve. Thus, if we all assume that one person will study and mess with the curve, we should make sure that we’re the one. Effectively, everyone ends up studying for the exam, since we all think we’re going to be the exception. It’s a great theory to show students why they should study for the exam 🙂 It’s similar to the prisoner’s dilemma, where police tell each suspect their options for confessing, and they end up both confessing because they have an incentive to deviate from their original agreement to both refuse to confess.

Game theory is much more fun that the regular supply and demand curves, but it gets a little complicated. Maybe I’ll post more games after the final… fun brain teasers for all my readers!

Running in the Background

When you’re passionate about a subject, you’ve always got topics related to that subject running in the background of your mind. I’m not sure if this is the best way to explain it, but that’s how I feel when I’ve got something on my mind constantly, even if it’s not at the forefront of my thinking. I personally feel like the “background” is often the most productive place for a problem to reside in my brain, as everything that touches my brain also touches the background topic. I think the background provides the “aha” moments in the shower, or the random connection that something provides. Some examples of how I let things run in the background? Let’s take a look into how my brain works.

I received a proposal from one of my colleagues for a TV show titled, “The World’s Greatest”. I’m pretty biased against using mass media to promote our services, as we’re in a very niche industry. I gave my gut reaction as, “This doesn’t seem like a good fit, but I’ll do more research.” For some reason, this proposal was running in the background of my mind, and every so often, something would trigger the, “nope, still not a good fit” reaction. Here’s where the connections get a little funny, but totally useful: last night’s dinner recipe called for vidalia onions… vidalia chop wizard…. “as seen on TV” store…. neon green boxes on packaging stating, “as seen on TV”…. suddenly our products are going out with these little neon boxes promoting our TV status, and our print ads are over-taken by cheesy headlines proclaiming, “We’re the world’s greatest, are you?” The colleague’s main point in sending the proposal to me, was that we might be able to build a whole marketing campaign around the fact that we were on the show, and we’d have more exposure than we’d have via print ads. The above connection ramblings showed me that I didn’t like the idea because it seemed cheesy, and hard to market without our current forms of advertising. And, our current forms of advertising are much more targeted than the mass media show. In an industry that requires rifles, this shotgun approach just wasn’t a fit.

The whole premise of running in the background, is letting our minds make connections at will, versus trying to force the greatest idea out of ourselves immediately. I’ve talked before about making random connections in my discussion of the book, “The Medici Effect”, and I’ve determined that for me, this works best when I let things run in the background. I’ve been analyzing my good ideas recently, and noticing that letting my mind traipse around the subject has been much more beneficial than staring at my computer screen until the idea “pops” into my head. Also, it makes perfect, logical sense, but clearly, the things I’m most passionate about get the most time to wander around my brain. Thus, I think passion is a strong component of a successful employee. I remember a colleague at a former company telling me that he used to intentionally shut down any thoughts related to work outside of business hours, because he didn’t want to devote any more mental space, time, or energy to helping the company succeed, since he was miserable and under-paid. What a sad (and in this case, unfortunately true) sentiment! Some of my best work happens outside of business hours, as my mind just naturally courses over topics that run in the background. This blog and my pursuit of the MBA have been excellent facilitators in creating more topics for my mind to consider, and I’m excited to keep exploring everything that is running in the background.

Are you using your background effectively? Are you passionate enough that your brain just runs through ideas in the idle times?

It’s Friday!

After a great week of presentations and training sessions, it’s finally Friday! I’ve got a super fun weekend of Economics final exam prep (note the sarcasm!), so here’s what I’ll be reading during my breaks:

 

For those following the fake Apple stores saga, via Bird Abroad: Kunming Fake Apple Stores Shut Down

For the bloggers, via Exile Lifestyle: Friends with Fans

For the techies, via Forbes: Microsoft’s Cynical Response to Google’s Patent Post

For the job seekers, via Corporette: Greek Affiliations and Your Resume

For those in need of sales training: Symmetrics Group

 

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Shotgun vs. Rifle

I don’t know much about guns, but I know this: shotguns use bullets that explode everywhere, and rifles use bullets that go precisely into a single target. Marketers use these tactics as well. The shotgun marketer throws a ton of strategies, commercials, and messages to every customer in every market. The rifle marketer takes careful aim, and takes one single, pivotal shot at one single, pivotal customer. Neither tactic is better or worse in general, but they should be used in different situations.

The shotgun approach works well when you have a product that most people use. “Most people” could be included in a certain industry or demographic. For example, most people across all age groups and industries use some type of computer, with some type of browser and software. I’ve really enjoyed the last few campaigns by Microsoft to sell their different products and services to the market. Their “I’m a PC” campaign and “Make It Great” campaign showcase customers of all ages, from all walks of life, from business owners, to students, and everything in between. Their “Bing and Decide” campaign touches on all the different subjects and information people are searching for, and offers a variety of ways that their search engine, Bing, can help them make better decisions. Since most of the population can use at least one of Microsoft’s products, the shotgun approach makes sense. Their campaigns don’t focus on single features or single user characteristics, but rather the overall picture of a great product to meet everyone’s needs.

The rifle approach works well when you are in a very niche market. I’m currently working in the aviation industry, and the rifle approach is our best bet. We do have some subtle differences between customers, but our niche is pretty defined, with a certain type, size, value, and use of an aircraft. It makes no sense for us to put out a radio ad promoting our services, as a majority of radio listeners don’t need our services. Instead, we focus on industry trade shows that cater to our market, and industry magazines that cater to our demographic. Sure, some of these publications only have 10,000 readers, vs. mainstream publications with hundreds of thousands, or even millions of subscribers. But if the 10,000 readers are actually viable customers, we get more bang for the buck by targeting them with a specific message. We go to our customers, instead of making the customer come to us, or adding to the clutter and noise of the advertisements they see every day.

These are simplified examples, but the sentiment is the same: do you use the shotgun or the rifle? Once you pick the type of strategy, you can make your message much more effective.

5 Love Languages… Business Edition

I’m enjoying the sales training session, and an idea struck me while we took a break. There’s a great book on relationships called “The Five Love Languages”, which talks about how people give and receive love. These days, business often feels like a marriage, and I think some of the tips in the relationship guide are transferable to the business setting. So, how can you make your partner in business feel loved?

Quality Time. “The Five Love Languages” mentions that some people feel “loved” when you spend quality time with them. I think we can all agree that some customers need quality time to feel comfortable moving forward with a business relationship. This may be taking them out for coffee or dinner, stopping by their office for a meeting, or finding a way to give them some face time on a regular basis.

Gifts. Just like a husband brings his wife a bouquet of flowers, a sales person might need to woo a customer with a gift. Gifts don’t have to be large or expensive, but a little trinket to show appreciation, remind them of your name, or keep the relationship moving forward might be the key to success.

Words of Affirmation. Most couples exchange encouraging words, and business relationships are no different. Maybe your customer likes recognition, and a simple phone call to say, “I appreciate your business” is the key to keeping the relationship strong. These types of customers also appreciate plaques or certificates to show their relationship with a company, thank you notes after a meeting or a purchase order, and generally bragging on your relationship and praising them for choosing to work with you.

Acts of Service. Some people feel most loved when you do the dishes, take out the trash, or get the oil changed in the car. Similarly, some customers respond best to an extra level of service. This customer might appreciate “the little things”, like hand delivery, discounts on fees, or saving them time by making all their travel arrangements.

We’ll skip the fifth love language mentioned in the book about romantic relationships, and focus on why the four types of “love” work for businesses. The key is finding which language your customer speaks, and giving them the type of attention that makes them feel most valued. Some customers could care less whether you show up to take them out to dinner every quarter, but they go wild when you send them pens or hats with the company logo. Other customers may feel slighted if you don’t send a thank-you note after they send in a purchase order, but don’t even notice if you haven’t passed out giveaways in several months. A good sales person will figure out what makes their customer tick; what language they speak, and find a way to improve the business relationship by delivering the appreciation that makes the customer feel most valued. So, are you a good partner?

Noticing and Immersion

Hello from Atlanta, GA! I’ll be here the next few days for a presentation and training session with our sales team, and I’m excited to kick off the week with the first presentation about our new Customer Relationship Management system. On the plane ride here, I noticed three little letters etched into the interior glass, “PMA”. “PMA” doesn’t mean much to those outside the industry, but it’s a pivotal point in our value proposition. Essentially, we offer “generics” for a lower cost in the aviation industry, similar to generic drugs. Sometimes we get push-back that generic parts aren’t up to the same standards as their branded counterparts, so it’s a little humorous to see, first-hand, that the commercial jets are displaying their use of generics. I never would’ve noticed that or thought any of it if I wasn’t in the industry. I’m finding that I start noticing planes and engines much more now that I work in aviation.

This happened with solar panels and electricity bills when I was doing marketing for a solar company. Suddenly, a lot of houses in our neighborhood had solar, and our electric bills were much more interesting. I’d end up in random conversations explaining the tiered billing system in different states, and talking about the differences between solar arrays.

I really enjoy this stage of knowledge, where I start to notice connections to my day job in everyday life. I think it’s kind of fun to be immersed in a subject, and randomly discuss the subject with non-industry people. When I realize I’m noticing things, it’s a clue that I’m getting some fluency in the area. As I don’t have formal training in either solar or aviation, the learning curve feels pretty steep, and sometimes, endless. Seeing those three letters on the interior glass made me a little happy to know that I’ve got a piece of knowledge that most of the passengers don’t have. And, I can explain the importance of this knowledge if asked. I’m excited about the meetings this week, and I think noticing something related to our value proposition was a perfect start!