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How to Help Your Team When They Stress About the Holidays

December 18th, 2020

Holiday stress is real. It’s a yearly phenomenon that doesn’t seem to change with time, and it’s likely to make a strong appearance this year, given our climate of uncertainty, political upheaval and social distancing. In fact, if anything, the holidays this year will bring even more stress than they have in the past, and all this stress will probably bring some inevitable results: low productivity, increased illness, turnover, and interpersonal friction.

What can you do to help? Here are a few simple tips.

Don’t make it worse.

First, don’t add fuel to the fire. Don’t expect or encourage your employees to buy gifts for each other and don’t place new burdens and responsibilities on their plates, like attendance at holiday-themed parties and events. Offer these opportunities for fun and relaxation if you like, but don’t suggest or imply that participation is mandatory or will be tracked. Let your employees join or abstain without judgment. Remember the unwritten rule about holiday gifting in the workplace: bosses can give gifts to underlings, but underlings are under no obligation to reciprocate.

Don’t maintain standard constraints on employee time.

When an employee has a personal issue to attend to and needs to clock out early, be more flexible during the holidays than you are during the rest of the year. Whatever your current constraints may be, relax them during the period from November 1st to January 3rd.

Acknowledge ALL the holidays or none of them.

Don’t engage in the “holiday wars”. There’s no place for such nonsense in a professional workplace. If you decide to put up a traditional Christmas tree, make sure you also give pride of place to a menorah and symbols of every faith and tradition represented by your team. If you don’t plan to do this, decorate with a winter theme instead—or don’t decorate at all. Don’t offend your employees or make them feel unseen during a period marked by both grace and stress.

Interview Time: What Are your Goals?

December 4th, 2020

When you sit down across from your potential employer at the interview table, you can expect to be asked about your abilities and qualifications. Above all else, your employer will want to know if you’re capable of taking on the job and doing it well. But that’s probably not all your employer will want to know. Hiring is expensive and complicated (more than you might realize) and the employer isn’t interested in taking on someone who will leave as soon as she finds out the job isn’t a fit for her preferences and goals.

So chances are, your interviewer will ask you about those goals. Specifically, what are your career plans and how well do those plans align with the needs of the company over the next two to five years?

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you respond.

First, be honest with your interviewer… and with yourself.

It won’t do to frame your goals or plans inaccurately just to tell the interviewer what you think she wants to hear. This benefits no one. Before the interview session is scheduled, do an honest self-examination and determine your most optimistic, middle-of-the-road, and baseline expectations for the three years ahead. Where do want to go, and how do you hope this job will get you there? When the interviewer asks the question, tell the truth with as much or as little detail as you choose to share.

Do you view this job as a stepping-stone to another job with another company?

If so, share this diplomatically (or not at all). You may plan to step into a management role in three years, and if this company can’t offer that to you, you’ll seek it elsewhere. Choose your words carefully as you say this. Simply explain that your sites are set on management, and you hope to find relevant opportunities and openings here when the time comes to climb the ladder. Listen to the answer and keep an open mind.

Share your deal-breakers if asked about them specially.

If your interviewer states clearly that the company can’t help you reach your goals (it can’t provide the mentoring, exposure, or advancement that you’re looking for), don’t end the interview early, but do stand your ground. There may be a way for the company to make changes in order to keep you on the list. If these changes are simply not possible, accept that the job isn’t for you and thank the employer sincerely for their consideration. Don’t waste any time as you shift your attention the next opportunity.

For more on how to find the job you’re looking for—and turn away from potential mismatches—consult the experts at Merritt.

Preparing a Resume When You Have Limited Experience

November 20th, 2020

You’re launching your job search, and you’re ready to create and edit a winning resume. You plan to shine a bright spotlight on everything you can do and all the ways to you plan to make your potential employer proud. But there’s just one problem. As you build your resume and make your case, you’ll have to do so without mentioning your past jobs and professional accomplishments…because you don’t have any. You’re fresh out of the gate, full of ambition, and ready to work! But while your future is bright, you can’t say very much about your past.

What should you do?

Highlight your education

You may have a high school diploma, a college degree, or a post-graduate education of any length. Place this information in the “education” section of your resume and position this section close to the top of the page. In addition to the hard facts, like where you took courses and how well you performed academically, add some additional bullet points related to your awards, scholarships, interesting and relevant projects, theses and dissertations, and leadership roles. These will step in to paint a picture of your potential if your actual work experience falls short.

Highlight special projects and volunteer work

Under the “education” section, create a section for work experiences that don’t necessarily qualify as jobs. Were you an eagle scout or girl scout gold award winner? Did you join the toastmasters? Did you help out with your family’s business? Most important: did you volunteer in any capacity with charity groups, non-profits, neighborhood initiatives, blood drives, or anything else? Have you tutored young children? Have you been a babysitter? Have you helped out with a firehouse fundraiser or sports team carwash? Even if you weren’t paid a dime for these experiences, your employers will want to know about them.

Highlight non-work recognition and achievements

Did you win a county fair prize for your garden cucumbers? Did you win an award for your science fair project? Did you run a five-K to support disease research? All of these are interesting, noteworthy accomplishments that demonstrate your willingness to commit yourself to something. And they have little or nothing to do with past jobs and workplaces.

Recognize that employers are reasonable.

Most employers and hiring managers recognize that young people have not accumulated a long work history—and neither have those who are entering the workforce for the first time regardless of their age. Smart employers also understand that some people hold a single job for a single company for a very long time. This should not be counted against you, and in fact, should be considered a sign of your loyalty and reliability. If your employer judges you harshly for any of these three things (being young, being new to the business, or having forgone a wide range of experiences in exchange for one long, steady tenure) they may not be the right employer for you. Keep looking.

For more on how to find the perfect job for the perfect company, contact the job search experts at Merritt.

How Many interviews is Too Many?

November 6th, 2020

As you begin your job search, you’ll probably be excited to score your first interview. And you should be! An interview invitation is a sign of success; it means you made it past the first hurdle and used your resume or networking efforts to gain a hiring manager’s attention. But after you schedule your second, fifth, and tenth interviews, should you still be excited? Or does this mean something isn’t working? Should you still be proud, or does this indicate a job search misstep?

Here are a few quick answers.

Compare your search to the dating process.

People go on dates for a wide variety of reasons, but if you’re scheduling date after date with the primary goal of eventually getting married, too many dates can start to feel like a diversion from that goal. It may start to feel like you’re working so hard to keep your options open that you’re not giving a full and fair review to each individual candidate. The same applies to jobs. If you request an hour of an interviewer’s time, know that you’re asking for something of value, and respect the interviewer by taking the session seriously. If you don’t plan to listen, practice your interview skills in good faith, or truly consider the job, just cancel the session.

Show respect for your own time.

Attending an interview takes time, preparation, attention, and sometimes even money (it may cost something to travel or dry clean your suit). You could be spending this time on other aspects of your job search or the needs of your personal life. So if you don’t want to go, don’t go. Don’t feel obligated to attend simply because you’ve been asked.

Too many job interviews can actually lead to too many options.

It’s what’s called a “good problem”, but even a good problem like too many job offers can still be a problem. If we have two options in front of us, most of us weigh the pros and cons of each and eventually make an intelligent, informed decision that meets the needs of our life and circumstances. But when faced with ten options, most people become overwhelmed and make the decision more or

less at random. Don’t move through life like an overwhelmed pinball, bounced haplessly from here to there. To control your progress, start by controlling your path.

“Interviews” are not always real.

Sometimes an interview is not what it seems. Often the job has been informally filled already, but the employer needs to demonstrate that they gave several candidates a chance. And sometimes the “job” has yet to be formalized, the projects the new employee will tackle are not yet funded, the position isn’t technically available or the company isn’t even technically off the ground. If you suspect the job you’re chasing is an illusion, it’s okay to tactfully ask for more details before you commit to an interview. Reach out to the experts at Merritt for help with your specific situation.

Interview Time: Why Do you Want to Work Here?

October 23rd, 2020

There’s a strong chance that at some point during your job interview, your interviewer will probe to find out how much you already know about the company and the role, and he or she will try to assess your level of personal interest in a partnership. Like almost every job candidate everywhere, you’re probably pursuing the role because you need to make a living and this opportunity revealed itself to you at the right place and time. But that’s not what your interviewer needs to hear (she already knows this). Instead, answer the question “Why do you want to work here?” by explaining why this specific company appeals to you.

Here’s how.

Don’t fawn or lie about your level of prior knowledge.

You don’t have to tell your interviewer that it’s always been your lifelong dream to work here. If you did not know the company existed before you saw the job posting, that’s okay. There’s no shame in not instantly recognizing the name of a random local business two counties away from your home. In fact, it’s best to be honest and say something like, “I didn’t know anything at all about the company, but when I saw the job post, I looked you up and learned more about your history and business model. I was impressed with (fill in the blank) and I feel like we are a good match because (fill in the blank).” Of course, you should never attend a job interview without briefly researching the company beforehand.

Anticipate being asked for more detail.

A common follow-up to “Why do you want to work here?” is “Please explain more about why you like us.” At this point, you can stop reciting the facts you learned from the website. Be introspective and look for connections between your personal long-term career plans and what this company may have to offer you. Find links between the product or service they provide and some aspects of your own personality. Since this may require thought, do your thinking beforehand, so you’re ready when the question comes your way.

Have answers ready if you hear an objection.

Your interviewer may put obstacles in your path to see how you respond. For example, she may say something like, “You seem friendly and outgoing. This job will require a lot of alone time and self-direction. Will you be okay with that?” Another example: “We provide products or services that some people object to morally. Will that be a problem for you?” Or yet another: “Your home address seems quite far from here. Will you be comfortable with a long commute?” Answer by explaining why you believe your sacrifice or compromise will be worthwhile. You may also want to explain why you’ve overlooked similar companies that presented you with fewer obstacles. Again, this may take some thought.

There’s no wrong answer to this question if you speak with honesty and self-knowledge. Focus on what you can offer the company, but also emphasize what you believe the company can offer to you. For more guidance, turn to the job search experts at Merritt.

7 Tips for Managing Millennials

October 9th, 2020

Managing millennials means guiding and directing a team of workers (or specific individuals) who occupy an age range between the late 20s and early 40s. These workers are not new to the workforce or to life—they graduated years ago and are prepared for whatever adventures their careers may bring. But in many ways, they’re still finding their footing. And of course, none of us have the confidence, grace or leadership abilities in our 30s that we’re likely to have later on.

Here are seven tips that can help you make the most of these workers and their strengths while shoring up their potential weak areas.

1. Millennials have families now.

They’re no longer the freewheeling, unattached teenagers in adult bodies that they when the term “millennial” was coined. At this point, many in this age cohort are married, and many have children, pets, mortgages and aging parents who need help and care. Work is no longer their only priority, nor should it be. Respect that their lives outside of work are complex and often demanding.

2. They don’t trust or appreciate easy answers.

Maybe they did once, and maybe they will again someday, but right now their lives and challenges feel very unique. Nobody else has quite the same schedule, the same health and medical needs, the same professional ambitions, and the same priorities. If you ignore this fact, you may be tuned out.

3. Remind them that they’re part of a team.

Millennials may not always trust your leadership and they may be tempted to use their growing knowledge and confidence to make decisions that go against yours. Remind them that these decisions don’t just affect you, or a faceless CEO in a tower somewhere—they impact the team.

4. Millennials still speak their own language.

Gen Z may now be taking over the cutting edge when it comes to pop music and internet memes, but millennials are still millennials, and they do it as much and as consistently as ever. Let them go. They have a unique way of bonding with each other, just like the members of every other cohort.

5. Pay them more.

If you still think millennials are young greenhorns who will accept poor treatment in exchange for low pay, be prepared for a surprise. As they gain seniority and a clear understanding of their own worth, it will be harder to brush them off when they ask for a raise. So don’t do that. Retain them by helping them get where they need to be.

6. Millennials value fairness and diversity.

They don’t just want fair treatment for themselves; they never have. Millennials stand up for each other and also for justice and workplace values. If you mistreat a worker who occupies a marginalized demographic, be prepared to alienate and lose those who don’t.

7. Be better, at everything.

Millennials want justice and diversity, but they also want honest business practices, transparency, and an employer they can be proud of. Respect this and they will respect you. For more on how to manage and retain this age group, contact the staffing team at Merritt.

Closing the Gap Between Older and Younger Employees

September 18th, 2020

You have a team to manage, and because your company values diversity—as it should—your team is by no means monochromatic in race, gender, background, or specifically, age. Some of your employees are recent graduates in their 20s and some are in their 50s or approaching retirement. You’re proud of this wide range and the way it brings fresh air into the room. But you sometimes observe conflict and miscommunication between one generational cohort and another.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you work to turn age differences into opportunities for growth.

Encourage friendliness without forcing friendships.

It’s okay if your younger workers want to meet up on the weekends without inviting their baby boomer coworkers, and vice versa. If hurt feelings arise as a result of age groups seeking their own, try to bridge the gap without micromanaging social encounters outside of the professional sphere. Your employees are all adults; they can handle their affairs without your help. Instead, ask them to work harder at inclusivity within the walls of the workplace. Lunch, group projects, and coffee breaks are all opportunities to gently encourage efforts at comingling.

Help with the language barrier.

Slang and internet references that vary by age group can be a source of comedy and levity…or they can be a source of genuine stress and confusion. Steer your teams toward the first and away from the second. We all know that baby boomers and generation Z use different argot and respond to different kinds of jokes and metaphors. Keep differences fun, not infuriating, misleading, or divisive.

Respect paths already laid by the culture.

It’s not easy for a 50-year-old employee with decades of experience to be corrected and overruled by a 26-year-old boss. Sometimes this happens, but obtuseness or arrogance from the younger employee can grind the gears, and so can excessive insolence or passive aggression from the older employee. Encourage both to acknowledge the inherent difficulties of the situation and ask them to be flexible—both of them. The same applies to promotion decisions and leadership assignments that go against unspoken rules about the value of seniority, or the unspoken age implications inherent in mentoring relationships or assistance with new technology.

Don’t take age-specific management advice too seriously.

We’re often told that millennials respond well to this type of guidance and poorly to that one. We’re also told that you must never manage a baby boomer with this strategy or that one and you must always treat members of Generation Z in a very specific way…If you make a mistake, the consequences can be dire. This is rarely true. Your employees are unlikely to rebel, quit, spit in your eye, or make expensive mistakes because you accidentally addressed them the way you might speak to someone of a different age. Speak to the person, not the age cohort, and observe and learn from the response you receive. For more guidance, turn to the management experts at Merritt.

Six Warehouse Skills Staffing Agencies Look For

September 11th, 2020

What kinds of warehouse skill sets can grab the attention of a staffing agency? If you can impress your staffing agency with your resume, you’ll gain the support from the staffing team and they can better connect you with a wide range of potential employers. If your list of skills seems a little too short or not quite relevant, you’ll be more likely to wait a bit longer for the job you need. So which skills areas should you place in the spotlight?

Here are a few guidelines that can help.

Listen closely and remember that nothing is personal.

Keep in mind that the staffing agency makes decisions based on what employers say they need. So if there’s a current strong demand for forklift operators, that’s what agencies will look for. Later, if employers need shifts elsewhere, your forklift skills may not shine as brightly. If your agency asks you to show off something specific—like your software skills, leadership abilities, or flexible schedule, just listen and comply as well as you can.

Inventory management

Warehouse managers appreciate an applicant who’s familiar with their current inventory software. But as a close second, they like candidates who can quickly gain expertise with ANY inventory software, whether they’ve worked with it in the past or not. Many companies use their own proprietary systems anyway; they need a candidate who can look at an unfamiliar menu and learn to navigate it in just a few days if possible.

Problem-solving skills

Materials management is an art and a science, and strong warehouse workers have the patience and the resourcefulness to solve common problems. For example, when you need to move bulky, perishable, or odd-shaped units into an area already occupied by something else. If you can follow your manager’s instructions, that’s great. If you can solve the problem yourself, that’s even better.

Safety and common sense

In most modern workplaces, employers prevent expensive workers’ compensation claims (not to mention pain, illness and injury) by posting clear signs and clear instructions everywhere they’re needed. But sometimes there’s no sign, and the difference between safe productivity and an expensive disaster can depend on the cool-headed common sense of a given employee—That’s you. Not sure if you’re standing in a hard hat zone? Not sure if that tank should be leaking the way it is? Not sure how to navigate a pallet lifter over a wet floor or during a power outage? If you can provide the safest answer to these questions, you’ll be hired sooner rather than later.

Teamwork

You can’t handle every task in a warehouse by yourself. A warehouse is complex place with lots going on and lots of moving parts operating on tight schedules. Can you trust your teammates? Can they trust you to be there when they need you?

Responsiveness

If you hear an instruction shouted from a distance, are you likely to hear it? If you do, will you nod briefly or will you turn to the speaker, acknowledge them, and respond? Again, warehouse work depends on communication and teamwork, so a natural ability to connect with others can go a long way. For more on how to impress your agency and your potential employers, turn to the team at Merritt.

Interview Time: How Would You Describe Yourself?

August 21st, 2020

At some point during your job interview—likely at the beginning—your interviewer may simply hand the conversation over to you by asking an open-ended question with no wrong answer, something like “Tell me about yourself.” If you’re asked to describe yourself, how should you answer?

Here are a few tips that can help.

Stay relevant.

Instead of telling your life story (“I was born in the town of X and my parents worked at X and X…”), simply relay the events of your career that brought you to this particular interview at this particular time. “Tell me about yourself” really just means “Tell me what you’re looking for from your professional life right now, and why you think this job and company may be your next destination.” You can explain your long and short-term goals, your proudest skill sets, and what your current or last job couldn’t quite do for you. Not only does this provide an answer to the real question, but it also provides a jumping-off point for the rest of the conversation.

If asked for more, share something personal.

If you reach the end of your answer and your interviewer still wants you to hold the spotlight and say more, you can share your hobbies and interests and maybe a few of the broad strokes that summarize your personality. For example, “I’m an active person who loves the outdoors. I like to go camping up in the local mountains and I like to ski.” Of course, you both know that skiing won’t be required at this job, but this simple statement can offer some information about what it might be like to work with you.

Never talk about your family, religion, ethnic background, or health status.

These are protected categories of information, and your employer has neither the need—nor the right—to know about them. Avoid the temptation to share your marital status or whether you do or don’t have children. And even if it seems harmless, share nothing about any disabilities (even allergies), and don’t offer a word about any area that may subject you to bias. These things may come up naturally later on, but they should not be discussed or revealed at this stage of the relationship.

Read the room as you speak.

You know you’ve said enough when the interviewer starts to get restless and look away, and you know you’ve answered the question satisfactorily if the interviewer breaks in and asks for specifics or answers on a different subject. Listen as you speak. You’ll know which parts of your story spark interest and which parts spark boredom or concern. Use this information as you move forward with the interview. For more on how to make a strong impression and land the job you need, turn to the team at Merritt.

Building a Strong Team Culture: What you Need to Know

August 14th, 2020

Every workplace operates with its own culture and its own social ecosystem. This ecosystem can be stronger than the sum of its parts; in some cases, that means that the group maintains values, habits, worldviews, and moods that the individuals within it may not hold at all. In subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways, each person who joins the group begins to change when they enter the workspace or the team space, and these changes may be unrecognized or even involuntary. If the culture of the team is weak, each person becomes a little weaker when they step into the group space. And if the culture is strong, each person becomes a little stronger and their best qualities shine a little brighter when they’re in the company of the team.

A culture of viciousness, pointless competition, brutality, sarcasm, or veniality can infect those who are part of it—even honest and hardworking individuals. And the opposite is also true.

So how can you boost the productivity and overall excellence of your culture, and boost each member of the team by association?

Focus on trust.

People are stronger when they work together. It’s a known fact. Many hands and many minds are almost always better than just one, and solving problems and resolving conflicts are easier when we stand together and commit to the task. But to do that, we have to start with the first building block: trust. If team members are competing against each other instead of an outside force, that’s no good. If team members can’t be open or honest with each other, that’s also a bad sign. To build a culture of trust, start by encouraging (or even requiring) your team to cheer each other on and celebrate each other’s small accomplishments. This may feel fake or forced at the beginning, but in time, it will become as natural as breathing.

Drop the negativity.

While you’re building each other up, work to stop tearing each other down. Distribute resources and attention fairly, give credit where its due, and ask your employees to speak OF and TO each other respectfully, even when they can’t be overheard. praise those who move away from gossip and backstabbing and those who decline rewards that have been handed to them unfairly.

Encourage listening.

Most problems can be solved easily when we seek to understand, not to be understood. This is harder to do than it seems, of course, but with constant encouragement and a little training, you can make progress as a group.

Fun can be more than just fun.

Small celebrations like happy hours and breaks for birthday cake can seem inconsequential, but these unscripted moments are the times when real relationships begin to take root and grow. Make space for them; don’t consider them wasteful. Over time, they can boost productivity far more than any expensive seminar. For more on how to actively change your company or team culture, consult with the experts at Merritt.

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