Job Performance

Ignoring your performance goals hurt your rating (I am guilty of this)

How many of you create your goals with your manager? Yes, everyone.

How many of you create your goals and then ignore them until it is time to do your mid-year and year-end performance review?

I raise my hand to that one this year (not every year). I'm paying (literally) for it, too.

At a minimum -- put it on your calendar as an event! -- you should review your goals once a quarter. Once a quarter is a good time frame -- you should have made progress on your goals and you can ensure your focus is correct on what to do for the next 12-weeks

There are other reasons to review your goals quarterly.

Your goal no longer applies to your work

Business changes -- sometimes, quickly. I've had my work direction change over the years quite often. What seemed like a logical goal at the beginning of the year becomes this hanging chad at the end of the year.

You might think that doesn't have an impact. You might be right.

What it does do is force you to put faith in your manager that the goal won't matter in your review -- that the little work you did before directions changed won't become an issue.

But that depends on your manager. And, if you read this site, you know I don't want to depend on my manager for something I could have addressed.

By reviewing your goals quarterly, you can spot these irrelevant goals and work with your manager to update or change them. Doing so will give you more accomplishments on your performance review -- and show that you are working with management as the business changes.

The weighting of your goal materially changes

Going into the year, a goal might only be, say, 15% of your total weighting. Looks good to start with. 

But now, the goal has become the main part of the work you are doing -- way more than the 15% weighting provided.

What happens here is that if your manager goes through and gives you an Outstanding (not likely in today's corporate environment), you only get that awesome rating count for 15% of your total rating. 

When it should have been, say, 50% because of the direction of your work. 

Your development focus changes

This one kicked me. At the beginning of the year, I thought a couple of development areas to improve my job skills would come into play. But they didn't. 

Instead, each of them got blown out of the water for different reasons. The net, though, is I didn't really have any development opportunities this year -- because I didn't review my goals and change to a different development goal. 

Will it hurt my performance review rating? Probably not.

What I did lose out on, though, was the ability to develop my job skills in a different area than what I had projected when the year started.

When you take the approach that your current job should help you expand your job skills to get you ready for the next job, I missed out.

Goals review is about change

Your goals should change over the course of the year because business direction changes. Without reviewing your goals quarterly, you miss opportunities, risk your performance review rating, and put your rating more in the hands of your manager.

Now, if you do all of these reviews, work with your manager on changes, and be mindful about your development, will it change your rating?

It could. But maybe it won't. 

The big difference is that by quarterly reviewing your goals and working with your manager, you significantly reduce the risk of getting a lower rating than you otherwise would have. You don't put your manager in the position of ignoring your goals to make the right decision on your performance rating.

For as little time it takes to put quarterly reviews on your calendar and take a half hour a quarter to update goals with your manager, it's well worth the risk reduction.

After all, it's just your salary increase and bonus at stake.

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Job Performance

How certain goals force an average performance rating

Here are the goals that are easy to check off:

  • Completed all mandatory training on time
  • Responded to all risks and issues assigned to you 
  • Supported department initiatives for improvement

Pretty awesome, right? You get to answer with a big, affirmative YES I DID!

And with each one you answered with that big, affirmative YES, you drove your performance review rating down to average -- Meets.

What's the problem with checking off easy goals?

The short answer is this: There is no way that your performance was any better than average. 

Sure, you could be below average and need improvement -- if you didn't complete your training on time, take care of your risks or support department initiatives.

But there is no way you can be better than average. You either meet the goal or you don't.

So the very best you can do is meet your objective. Not exceed it.

I can feel the salary increase slipping away already.

Easy goals present big risks to your rating

When you have goals that can't be more than just met, you have more than a lost opportunity cost because you can't exceed them: you risk lowering your performance review rating even more because if you don't meet the goal, you get a "needs improvement" for it.

And that opens up more possibilities: 

  • A lowered performance rating where you now have no margin of error to achieve a Meets rating.
  • Or getting on a program of some sort because you didn't meet baseline goals (because you were late completing an online training course because you were swamped!).
  • Or creating a perception that you don't get stuff done on time on something that's easy.

So not only can't you exceed these types of goals to improve your rating, you also risk dollars and reputation if you don't meet these goals.

It's a binary goal: you make it or you don't. Not "you knocked it out of the park," but you made it. 

There's only one thing you can do with these goals

Since you couldn't negotiate them out of your performance review, there is only one thing you can do when these types of goals are there: Review your goals often and make sure you complete every one of these "meets only" type goals on time and in a way that's acceptable.

At least you meet your goal and don't get a "needs improvement" for them. 

And accept the fact that there is no way you can Exceed on these goals. 

Yes, it sucks.

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Job Performance

Why multiple sub-goals drive your performance rating to average

Your performance review and rating is important — it drives your salary and bonus, if you have the ability to get one. When it comes to performance, then, one strives to not be average — meets your goals — but to exceed so as to get a better salary increase and better bonus.

When you sit down and look at your goals, you’ll typically see 4-6 goals to meet. Pretty straightforward, right?

Not really.

When you get into the details, you see sub-goals associated with the larger goal. Instead of 4-6 goals, you really have 12-30 goals. Count all of those sub-goals up and it starts quickly adding up.

Too many goals ruin your focus

I hope you all know that multi-tasking ruins your productivity because you really are not multi-tasking, you are switching tasks and switching costs you productivity. Well, get too many goals on, and it’s impossible to serve all the masters at once.

Studies have shown that the human brain can handle two complicated tasks without too much trouble because it has two lobes that can divide responsibility equally between the two. However, adding a third task can overwhelm the frontal cortex and increase the number of mistakes you make.

Now imaging going into your job — difficult to stay focused as is — and then understand how all that fits into 20-30 goals on your performance review. You really can’t.

You can’t be great at everything

This is straightforward, right?

For example, I’m a project manager. But I’m not a construction, software, medical, testing, or architecture project manager. No, I’m a technology infrastructure project manager.

I’d be a terrible construction project manager. We specialize. And even within our specialty, we’re better at certain parts of our work than other parts.

With performance goals, I’m better at some than others. You’d hope that the goals I get for the performance review would be goals associated with the strengths I have in my work, not my weaknesses.

But when you get 20-30 goals in your performance review through sub-goals, there is no way you can Exceed at all of them. Or even the vast majority of them.

Outside of it not being in your wheelhouse in terms of job skills and what you like doing on the job, you simply can’t do 20-things at once or keep that in your head.

And your Exceeds rating goes along with it.

Significant business results are hard to come by with 20-30 goals

The best way to show your performance is to tie business results to your goals. The way to show you Exceed in the goal is to show better business results because of what you did.

Coming up with business results is not easy — it requires asking good questions about the aspects of your work as well as consistently documenting the results so you can put them on the review.

Now try getting business results — much less Exceeds business results — on 20-30 goals.

Because you can’t get Exceeds business results across all the different goals, it drags your performance review rating down.

Three quick takeaways:

You can't focus on too many goals

You can't be great at everything

You can't get enough business results for too many goals to get to an Exceed rating

There is no easy answer with too many goals

Early on, you can try and limit the number of goals on your performance review. That only works if you have any input into your goals in the first place as company management will often set the goals for you. As part of the “cascading” goals so that you are operating as one happy company.

In the meantime, you can try and document your accomplishments where you can and get as good results to document.

But it is a tough slog to do, but necessary if you hope to hit Exceed on your review.

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Nice? Or likable?
Job Performance

Why team goals drag your performance review rating down

We're heading into performance review season and it's time when we all do our self-reviews. The ones where we write the review for the manager and provide fodder for our manager to defend our rating in the calibration sessions

Did you notice when you hit the team goals that you had a hard time figuring out how you could get something better than an average rating?

It's true -- team goals push the manager to provide an average rating on the goal. After all, how many managers, even if they think they have a great team, are willing to provide an "exceeds" rating on a team goal?

There are reasons...

Not everyone on your team is great!

You know this, right? And it's not as if your coworkers are slackers or don't care. No, this is about performance and you know that some of your coworkers on your team are better than others. 

And when you get a mixture of okay-to-great, you end up with an average or slightly better than average team.

Translate that to your team goal and you end up with an average rating for that goal -- dragging your performance rating down.

It's hard to show how you contributed more to your team goal

Whether your team goal is internal (make the team better by...) or external (show how our team helped...), it's tough to show what specific actions or outputs materially helped the team reach the goal. After all, it's a team effort...

Plus, it feels icky to say "I'm the best contributor to the team goal and thus you should rate me higher than the rest of the team!" It's not exactly a "team" position to take, throwing your coworkers under the bus.

Am I right? Even if it's true?

So you're left with showing how you contributed to the goal not knowing if enough of the other people on your team showed how they contributed to the goal as well. And your manager then needs to weigh all of those contributions and then decide what the goal rating will be for the team.

It's pretty hard to justify an exceeds when everyone needs to contribute above average to the goal.

Why team goals drag your performance review rating down

It's the math

Depending on how many goals you have, your team goal -- or goals -- will drag down your performance rating simply by throwing that rating into the average overall rating. A 3+4+4=11 and 11/3=3.6. Average.

That assumes that every other goal you have is rated Exceeds (4). Maybe, but not usually.

Even if you don't get to a rating by doing an average -- perfectly okay for a manager to do -- the average on the team goal sticks out walking into those calibration sessions. Every additional average goal rating adds ammunition for that other manager to justify your performance rating is too high.

And the team goal contributed to that argument, dragging your performance rating down.

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The Interview
Job Search

4 job interview differentiators to make you the preferred candidate

After conducting my last job interview — where I was interviewing a candidate — I reflected on what differentiated a job candidate from others to make them the preferred candidate. After all, I’ve done a ton of job interviews over the past year. I’ve provided specific poor job interview practices — talking too long, we we we instead of I, and not answering the question. Those are bad things.

What about the good things?

Once you get past job skills (can you do the job) and your accomplishments, what can make you preferred over others in an interview compared to other candidates? It turns out, there are patterns.

You display energy through high engagement

This isn’t jumping up and down energy. It isn’t nervous energy.

Instead, this is more about highly engaged. You look at the person or people conducting the interview. You actively listen to what is being asked and said. You appropriately gesture to make your points.

And, to be clear, this isn’t about introverts and extroverts. If you’re an introvert (and, interestingly, I am), highly engaged in a conversation with another person should be in your wheelhouse. And if you’re an extrovert, engagement should also be relatively easy.

But sitting back passively, answering questions in a monotone, and not looking at people will make it harder for the hiring manager to hire you.

You provide organized answers to questions

This means you take a couple of seconds to organize your thoughts before you provide an answer.

Being organized in your answer will force you to not drag out the answer with trivial data or fill-ins. By organizing your answer, you’ll be more likely to directly answer the question (which, honestly, most people do not do).

A subtle thing here as well: organized answers allows your hiring manager to ask pertinent follow-up questions. When you give a too-long answer or a wandering response, the reaction of the interviewer is to move on to a different question and chalk it up to you just not getting it.

I’ve done enough interviews now where I don’t have niceties: if you don’t answer the question, I’ll say you didn’t answer the question. If you drag out your answer, I’ll interrupt you and ask something different.

But organized answers usually bring out follow-up questions because it is more like — wait for it — a conversation and not an interview.

Clearly describe what YOU did, not what the assignment was about

This is similar to the introduction where most people talk we we we we the team the team the team and never “here’s what I did” for the particular assignment or project.

An interview is one of the few times in your career where it is imperative you talk about what YOU did to get the accomplishment. Think about it: the hiring manager isn’t hiring “we” or “the team.” No, the hiring manager is hiring YOU to get stuff done.

It’s fine to talk about what you did to get the accomplishment and THEN talk about how the team helped. That approach demonstrates leadership. But the majority of the time and importance in the answer is what YOU did to get the accomplishment.

Trust me on this one: you need to talk about what you did to accomplish stuff. Very, very few people do in an interview.

Unless you’re a narcissist, of course. If you are, don’t be one.

Demonstrate curiousity

If you look at my “Strengths Finder” results, “learning” is number one. If I’m not learning, I’m dying. And if I stop learning in a position, I get bored — and that is the first sign it is time to leave.

In an interview, this type of curiosity comes across.

You have to know your shit, of course. You can’t just continually say you want to learn new things — because if you do, no one will believe you can do the job.

This is more about having confidence in your abilities, but that you are also a student of what you do. For example, I’m a project manager. So I’ve forgotten more about project management than most people know. But what I’m curious about is how to make a team work. How to bend the culture to get things done.

In a poor sports analogy, I’m very curious how bad teams become good teams. And how good teams stay good teams. Yes, I like the wins and (not so much) the losses, but the overall interest is how teams are built.

Whether you’re a nurse and are curious about what motivates people to get better, or an accountant and curious about what gets some people to save for retirement, or an engineer who wonders why some buildings stay up in a storm while others are damaged, being curious comes across in an interview.

It’s rare when it happens and is a differentiator to other job candidates.

This is a mindset shift

Most people won’t make this shift in their heads. What happens when you don’t in an interview means all fully qualified job candidates look the same. They all passed the HR screen. They all passed the phone interview. That means they all should have the job skills and accomplishments to get the job. And then they all hit the face-to-face interviews and turn into the same, bland job candidates.

As a person who interviews job candidates, I can’t tell you how much you want to hire the candidate that demonstrates these job interview differentiators. That is not the position I’m in with my current job. But when I interview a candidate that’s hitting on these differentiators, I’ll advocate for that job candidate to the hiring manager. And hiring managers will move up timelines, cut off other interviews, and make faster decisions when they see the same thing.

Job interviews using these differentiators is what makes you a preferred candidate to hire.

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Cube Rules Commentary

The hidden scars of a job loss affect people years after the event

Sometimes, the best thing is to get laid off. It, of course, is tumultuous, chaos, stressful, and oftentimes, maddening. In the long run, however, a layoff can help you define yourself, what you want to do and who you want to work for. But, as John Maynard Keynes noted: “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

In the long run, even in the best outcomes, we all know that the impact of job loss lasts for a long time. And as Jason notes in the link, a lot of going through the process really sucks.

If you check out my About page, you’ll see the journey that happened to me in my career:

  • Leaving an 18-year career with what is now the “new” AT&T and going with a tech company at the peak of the tech boom leaving me vulnerable to a layoff
  • Then the layoff…and then 9/11 causing the whole layoff to go on even longer
  • Then a decent run with Washington Mutual until it collapsed — the biggest bank failure in American history
  • Then moving back to my home state and consulting because the Great Recession was still going strong
  • Finally landing a full-time gig and six months later, having the company being bought out
  • Then leaving there because the writing was on the wall and landing my current gig

There are times when I think about what would have happened if I hadn’t jumped ship from the “new” AT&T. I would have needed to have landed somewhere else in the company as my position there was all at risk. And all the other “what if’s” are interesting…but worthless thinking. What might have happened is all counter factual. You could make up anything and never prove it right or wrong.

To a degree, I’m still going through that sucking process to get healed. Fully healed. Like getting ALL of my self-confidence back. Like not sometimes feeling fraudy because I haven’t been in a company long enough. Like wondering if I’ll ever be able to not concern myself with watching what is going on in any company I work for so as to not get caught in the wrong place in the wrong time and lose my job through no fault of my own.

Yeah. Those things. The ones where the impact of job loss lasts for a long time.

All those events taught me a whole lot, though. Outside of the job skills themselves — no small thing — what I learned the most was how much of corporate life is not about the most important “people” asset, but how companies use our job skills to meet their business goals. Which, by the way, I don’t disagree with. But companies are typically not about YOU and your job skills; just your job skills that can help meet business goals.

What I learned was how to build my job skills so I could have employment security, not job security. I learned how to figure out how long a job will last. I learned how performance reviews are sometimes about performance, but mostly about fitting your review into a budget (yeah, I’m really cynical in case you can’t tell). And through all of those times, I learned how to be resilient in the face of ambiguity, hardship, and, sometimes, chaos.

So when I look back, would I trade anything? I don’t think so.

But I still wonder if I should have traded something. And if it would have been worth it.

What have you learned from your career ups and downs?

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Job Performance

The two minute rule for a successful meeting

We all have a lot of meetings during our day. I don’t know about you, but I can go from meeting to meeting to meeting with nary a break. After a while, it all kinda becomes a blur. It doesn’t have to.

The problem with those blurry meetings is that over time, you become highly reactive. And not proactive. You end up fighting fires instead of working on what you want to work on. That leads to disengagement about the work you are doing as well as the business goals you are trying to achieve.

Even though you are bouncing from meeting to meeting, you still have the opportunity to have success if you follow this two minute meeting rule:

For every meeting, take one minute to prep and one minute to review.

To be clear, this is not easy. When every meeting is back to back and running right up to the end time, it’s hard to prep and hard to review — even if each of those activities takes less than a minute to do.

Getting the discipline to prep and review is a job skill that needs to be acquired through discipline and practice. I’m not very good at doing this either. At least consistently. And it is the consistency that makes the practice worth it.

What’s the prep? And what’s the review? Let’s take a look.

Understand what you want out of the meeting

If you’re going to take all the time to attend the meeting, the least you can do is figure out what you want to get out of it. Is it:

  • A decision to move ahead with some action?
  • A clarification of your role in the work being discussed?
  • A challenge about doing the work at all?
  • Learning about a new project and how it will impact your role?
  • Or maybe simply to walk out of the meeting with no more tasks assigned to you?

There are a hundred other things you could want as well. But not knowing what you want to have the meeting accomplish for you is simply abdicating any role you have in the meeting. By defining for yourself what you want out of the meeting creates a criteria for a successful meeting — for you.

Review the attendee’s in the meeting and their probable agenda

If you don’t know the positions of the people coming to the meeting, how will you influence them to get what you want out of the meeting? Reviewing their positions before getting into the meeting will help you focus on overcoming their objections, supporting their positions, or helping them make a decision that you need made.

In a perfect world, you would have known their positions before the meeting and figured out how the meeting would go before it even starts. But few of us have that kind of time available to us, so normally the best we can do is divine the positions people will take and know how to overcome objections.

There’s your minute of prep. Not too bad, right?

What about a minute to review?

Understand your next actions needed from the meeting

What are next actions?

  • Tasks that you need to do
  • Commitments made by the participants

Understand that most meeting managers never figure this out. And everyone walks out of the room not knowing what commitments were made in the meeting — except that all the commitments were for someone else!

That just creates ongoing chaos with everyone not understanding who is doing what.

The deal is, you can get this done as part of the meeting itself. About five minutes before the meeting ends, it’s a good time to review the action items that were assigned to people. Plus the commitments made by the people in the room. You can do that, even if you are not the meeting organizer.

If you take decent notes during the meeting — and ask clarifying questions during the meeting (“To clarify, that means James is going to email us the inventory breakdown by Tuesday?”) goes a long way to focusing on tasks to complete.

Plus, at the end of the meeting, you can summarize what YOU are responsible for from the discussions. And maybe that’s nothing. Or maybe it’s three things. But when you get that out there, it clearly gets rid of assumptions other people may have about what you are supposed to do. And everyone will have assumptions about what you are supposed to do, none of them matching what actually needs to get done. So clarify what you are supposed to do.

After that is done, take a minute to review your next actions associated with the meeting. If you’re like me, you think you take great notes. Then you read them a day later and they look like hieroglyphics written on stone tablets.

Thus, in the moment right after the meeting, look at your next actions and get them into complete sentences and what the actual deliverable is that you are supposed to do before you forget.

Make meetings work for you and not against you

Like I said, looks simple, but hard to implement consistently. The way to get this going is to do a 30-day challenge: for every meeting you attend, write down what you want out of the meeting and then what your next actions are from the meeting taking no more than two minutes to do so. Then watch how much better your work becomes because you have clarity around the commitments that come from meetings.

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Job Performance

2 reasons your manager is your most important customer

You read about it all the time — you have to take care of the customer. The customer is always right. Without customers, we have no business. What Cubicle Warriors know, however, it that the most important customer isn’t some vague person out there. They know the most important customer is their manager.

Yes, Your manager.

Sure, most people leave their job because of their manager. But if you talk with people who work in cubes about their customers, they talk about internal customers, external customers, “the business”, and almost never mention their manager.

Yet, your manager has the most direct control over your job satisfaction of any other person in the company.

Here’s why:

Your manager determines your tasks and potential accomplishments

Managers have business goals to reach and they reach those goals through their people doing the work. If you look at work this way, you’ll discover that managers want to hand out work based on who they think will get the work done so as to help them reach their goal.

Plum assignments going to someone else? Sure there are considerations, but the biggest one is that the manager thinks that person can take that assignment and succeed.

Do you get the crap assignments? Perhaps your manager doesn’t view that work as important to meeting their business goals so they give the work to someone where what they do with the work won’t matter. Ouch. Yes. Harsh.

The point, the selfish point, is this: you have to achieve tasks and goals to show your worth to hiring managers. And if you can’t get those accomplishments by getting the right kind of work from your current manager, your manager just submarined your career.

Yes, your performance counts. Your job skills count. But if you don’t treat your manager as your most important customer (even if you don’t have a great manager…), you won’t get the assignments that will help you shine to other hiring mangers.

Your manager supports your promotion or transfer. Or not.

When you apply for a position somewhere else in the company (even if it is a lateral move), do you think the manager ignores what your current manager thinks about you? Do you think the managers don’t talk?

Well, they do.

I’ve been in a position to influence those decisions. I’ve been asked multiple times about a person applying for a job in a different department. It’s like asking for a reference. When that happens, my integrity is on the line. I’m going to give a very balanced report on the person applying for the job.

Because I have a reputation for keeping confidences and telling truth, my word carries weight. When I say yes and provide the reasons, that person’s candidacy is increased. When I say no and provide the reasons, people rarely get an interview and never have gotten the job.

Your manager is the same, And, to be fair, even if they aren’t the greatest manager, the other manager has to live with the decision, so even bad managers carry a significant impact on a person getting a job.

Your manager is your most important customer. If your manager isn’t on board with what you are doing trying to get a promotion or a transfer, chances are you won’t get it.

Interestingly, some people continue to apply for jobs outside of their own area without their manager getting behind the move and they wonder why they don’t get interviews, much less the job. And I hope you can imagine what sort of reputation the person gets who constantly apply for other jobs — and then don’t get interviews, much less the job.

Your mindset needs changing

To go old school, the movie (and play) The Sound of Music featured a song title “What do you do with a problem like Maria?’ In our case, “What do you do with a problem like your manager?” Here, you need to take a look at your manager and understand what your manager needs — as your most important customer.

You have to figure out what that person views as a success. How that person thinks someone should accomplish their goals. You know and I know every manager is different and focuses on different things.

Our job as Cubicle Warriors is to figure how how to best mesh with our managers. Sometimes it works out great. Sometimes it grates on us daily. Sometimes, we need to grit our teeth, work with the manager, and have a strategy to get us the hell out of working for this person.

But all of it means you focus on one thing: your manager is your most important customer.

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Personal Finance

How the 2018 Tax Cut is not a tax cut for Cubicle Warriors

When the Republicans passed their tax cut at the end of 2017, the Republicans proclaimed it was a (windfall) tax cut for corporations and a (small) tax cut for individuals. Well, it is a windfall for corporations. For families? It depends. For Cubicle Warriors? It’s probably a tax increase.

If you were curious, you might have checked your paycheck like I did when the law kicked in. I was happy — my take home pay went up about $130 per paycheck. Tax cut? Awesome.

But then I started reading about people who ran their paycheck numbers through an IRS withholding calculator and reported surprises.

So this weekend, I did too. And, boy, did I get a surprise.

The $5000+ withholding shortfall

One of the big changes in the tax law is that it caps the deduction for state and property taxes to $10,000. Anything above that is now taxable at the Federal level.

So what happened is my company reduced my withholding amount from my paycheck — hey, there was a tax cut so withholding should go down — but they don’t account for the state and property tax cap in what they withhold.

If you live in a higher state income tax and property tax state,, such as New York, California, New Jersey — Wisconsin is one of them where we have higher taxes, but great services — you hit the $10,000 cap pretty quickly. I get close with property taxes and then the state taxes are like no longer deductible.

And that’s where the surprise came in

After looking at my YTD withholding, the amount withheld per paycheck, my 401(k) contributions, HSA/FSA contributions, and my bonus check, the IRS Calculator said I needed to have zero deductions (I do) plus withhold another $250 per paycheck in order to get to even on my Federal return next year.

Oh, and my spouse needs to withhold about another $130 per paycheck from her pay as well in order for us to break even. This is the first time in my entire career where I’ve had to withhold more dollars than my normal zero deductions on my W-4.

The combination of reduced withholding in my paycheck and not accounting for the state and property tax cap means I would have ended up with a huge shortfall come tax season in 2019.

If you, and especially if your spouse, both work in cubicles, the chances are you’ll hit these maximum thresholds.

Check your withholding

Many of you, perhaps, have accountants doing your tax returns. If you have a really good accountant, they should have looked at this for you and made some recommendations. But I do my own, so I wasn’t prompted to check until I read some of the articles about this.

This is not rare, especially if you live in a higher state and property tax state. Anecdotally, everyone I spoke to today about this who had done the calculation (or their accountant did) had to significantly up the amount they were withholding.

So don’t get surprised in 2019. Get surprised in 2018 while you can still make up a difference or have confidence that you won’t have to worry. Work the IRS Withholding Calculator. Then take actions you need to take on your W-4.

I changed my withholding today.

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Resume Tips

Why using standard job titles on resume makes sense

I once had a coworker who, as was a requirement, humorously put his job title in his email signature as ‘Data Janitor III.’

It wasn’t far from the truth — he was a Database Administrator. Keeping data clean was part of his job. Now, should he put that ‘Data Janitor III’ into his resume? Nope. No one is looking for a ‘Data Janitor III.’ Instead, recruiters are looking for Database Administrators.

And while the story may seem silly, in a very real sense, we are putting ‘Data Janitor III’ on our resumes all the time. While some corporations are really taking their job titles to industry standard, a whole lot of them are not.

Putting that company issued job title as the only one on your resume is killing your job search.

You need to broaden your ability to be found by recruiters by using industry standard job titles

When recruiters, company or otherwise, have an open position, the requisition has an industry standard job title sitting at the top of it. When they then go searching for candidates, what do they do?

They put in the industry standard job title for the position. They put in ‘database administrator.’

And what do you have on your resume? ‘Data Janitor III.’

Do they match? No, of course not. And the search gods blow past your resume in nanoseconds all because your company decided to give you a ‘Data Janitor III’ title and that’s what you put on your resume. It is, after all, true: that’s your job title at your company.

This isn’t about your company, though. This is about a job search. And if you have great job skills for hire, recruiters need to be able to find you.

Adjectives about your job title are not needed either

See the ‘III’ in Data Janitor III? III means you are (probably) at the senior most level of that Data Janitor job title. That’s an adjective that isn’t needed. ‘Senior’ is another one. Vice President titles are thrown around like candy in the financial industry — it tells you nothing except some level of budget sign off that person has compared to others.

So titles like ‘senior’ Database Administrator, or Database Administrator III, or IT Database Administrator all start to limit your ability to be found.

Now some of you can take offense to this — you worked hard for that ‘Senior’ title. Or that III at the end of the title. I get that.

The deal here is to get found. The rest, as a recruiter once told me, is about money. And you can’t get to money until you’ve been found, had a phone screening, had some sort of face-to-face interview, and get to the point where there is an offer being created or presented.

So Database Administrator is your title.

How to present this on your resume

There is a risk here: you get the offer and listed your job title at your company as ‘Database Administrator’ and when the background check happens and they call your company and ask if you were a Database Administrator there, the answer will be ‘no.’ Because you were a Data Janitor III there – and that is what HR shows as your title.

You can lose that offer if this stuff doesn’t match up.

So what you do is wherever you list your job title, list the standard job title and then your company job title:

“Position held: Database Administrator    Company Title: Data Janitor III”

You get found because you have the industry standard job title. And you get confirmed by having your Company title as well.

Get your resume found

Getting found in a sea of resumes is hard. We make it harder, though, when we don’t remember the audience looking for our resume and how they do searching.

By putting in industry standard job titles, we make our resume easier to find and that leads to a chance at an interview.

See more resume tips and my approach to building resumes. Check out my Resume Tips page.
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Cube Rules Commentary

Once, good jobs paid good salaries and benefits. Now good jobs prepare you for your next job.

I believe in jobs that have good salaries, bonuses, and benefits. But I also believe that every jobs ends. And when that job ends, you need to have skills and accomplishments to grab that next job.

It didn’t used to be this way. Companies brought you on board, helped you in your work, promoted you when you had the skills and accomplishments and paid you for those skills and accomplishments. There was a commitment of you working for the company and the company helping you to grow. That lasted long enough until companies would lay you off in a New York minute and figured they could replace you through others, outsourcing or not.

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Job Performance

You have done the work for the promotion, but it does not happen. Now what?

I do love hearing from my readers. They ask pretty good questions. This one came in today:

“In order to be promoted, one must already be doing the work required in the promotion.” But what if, say, you’ve been doing the extra work for two years and the promotion has yet to be offered? In other words, how do you protect yourself from being taken advantage of? Is this just a personal judgment call of keep trying or move on?

I say the part about you need to already be doing the work in the promoted job casually today — because it is a good principle.

But I was reminded from the question that I originally thought this principle was a sham. Why?

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Job Search

4 must do actions to take before applying for a job

If it has been a while since you’ve been in a job search, it’s tempting to apply to a perfect job posting right away. Tempting, but there is work to do.
Before you blast out your resume, take some time to review the basics. Not too long — job postings get removed as fast as they go up. But not doing these actions will likely mean your resume gets thrown in the electronic trash can.
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Cube Rules Commentary

Why we owe companies our work – but not our loyalty

In my interview the other day on Vocate, the first question I was asked was “What are the most important lessons you’ve had to learn in your professional life on finding and thriving in a job? My first bullet point, of many, was this one:

We owe a company our work, but not our loyalty because corporate loyalty does not exist

That is a provocative statement and one worth exploring. There are reasons. Let’s see what they are.

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Cube Rules Commentary

The expert interview on jobs, interviews, and careers at Vocate

I was fortunate to be able to provide some of the Cubicle Warrior perspective on jobs, interviews, and careers over at Vocate. It’s a pretty long, wide-ranging interview. If you wanted to find out about the Cube Rules approach to working in corporations, you’ll do well reading this interview.

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critical accomplishments in new position
Job Performance

4 ways to start fast in your new position

There are four critical accomplishments you need to have when you start a new position. None of them relate to your job skills and have little to do with your interview.

Instead, you need to learn how things get done in your new job. How you can fit into the team. What your manager tells you — and what he or she doesn’t.

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Job Interview
Job Search

4 necessary skills for a successful job interview

A lot of articles about doing a job interview talk about how to prepare for an interview. I do as well. But most articles don’t talk about the skills you need to have successful job interviews. This one does.
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Cube Rules Commentary

3 things I learned from pausing Cube Rules

Most people would not have noticed because they were looking somewhere in the past where a thousand articles have been published, but since May, 2017, I officially paused Cube Rules.

For a lot of reasons, I needed to back away. Cube Rules was becoming more of a burden, I didn’t know if I was making a difference with the site, and, to be fair, the site was not producing any income.

And, if you read marketing gurus, I had no interest in building a big audience only to then start fulfilling whatever objectives I have for the site.

So I paused. I needed to in order to gain perspective. To figure out if what I was writing really made a difference.

What happened since then?

In between normal life, my family also took a week-long trip to Paris. Trudging 45-miles in shoes, seeing some of the great art of our times, and living a lot of the cafe life was renewing. I didn’t think specifically about Cube Rules or my day job, but it was a useful exercise in just clearing out the cobwebs.

Figuring out what was important.

The first question

The first question I had to ask myself: Did the content and products I was producing really have the potential to make a difference in people making transitions in corporate?

You need to understand, I follow about 70 career sites. I see their content every day. 90% of their content is completely different than mine.

Stuff about how management can, essentially, make their cubicle dwellers feel better about their company or something close to it.

Fashion in the office (there is more than one career site “ranked” in awards that focuses on this…).

Or career sites that talk about how you can create a business (when the site is about careers, not about building businesses…).

I, seriously, look at those sites and just wonder how they are helping people land jobs, have job success or build any type of employment security. The honest answer is: they are not.

And where the 10% overlaps on my subjects, the stuff looks like it has been written by people who have never really worked in a cubicle, dealing with Corporate politics, policies, and trying to figure out how to survive and thrive in a place where you compete with everyone on the planet for your job.

Certainly, not all of my content is awesome. But a whole lot of it deals with real issues in corporate life. A whole lot of it directly addresses what people face in cubicles every day. And, since I work in one of those cubicles in my day job, I have a certain point of view. Living the dream, so to speak, gives you a unique point of view…

I did an interview yesterday – one that was about the career expert side of Cube Rules and not job interviews that I do for my day job — that asked a lot of good questions (like, what have you learned about work over the course of your career?).

When I go back over the past years of work on this site to try and answer that question, the thing that stood out of me the most was like, “Damn, you have really written some very good stuff here!”

So the answer to the first question — yes, the content and products I have here have a huge potential to make a difference.

The second question

The second question was: What is the best way to serve people who hope to become Cubicle Warriors?

The way I currently present and sell my products clearly is not the answer. This is something that can be improved upon.

While the content on the site is, IMHO, very good, the actual products need to improve. Not necessarily with the content (though that can be better), but the approach needs to be different.

Instead of “here is your download,” the better approach would be to build classes on my various subjects allowing users to break subjects up into smaller chunks, increase the variety of methods of providing the information, and making the content better over time while still giving those who started out full access to all of the improved content for their reference.

I don’t have all this worked out yet, there are a few things I need to change on the site and how stuff is presented, but I know what I want to present and have the tools ready to create the classes. Obviously, more on this later.

The third question

The third question is: are you, Scot, motivated enough to do this?

It’s a valid question. Maintaining a web site, producing content, creating classes, managing clients — all that takes a serious commitment. Is it worth it? After all, this is the question that produced the pause here in the first place.

And after a lot of time, the answer to this question is yes.

There are two reasons for the answer to be yes.

The first reason is this: there is a great need for this work because, frankly, people are really horrible at doing career transitions. It’s because it is a job skill that isn’t used much.

But, seriously. I’ve been fortunate to be a “hiring manager” in that I do the screening interviews for candidates for openings in my department for my day job. If you didn’t make it past me, you never got the opportunity to do a second interview with the panel that really does the hiring.

I was the “gate” you had to pass once you got past the HR screening interview.

And even though our HR group is pretty good at screening candidates, I have to tell you: these interviews were just absolutely awful. And I didn’t pass on many candidates.

The validation to all of that was that if you made it past me, the panel unanimously agreed with my interview results and you got a job offer.

Now, given the market (oh, soooo much better than 2009!), not everyone accepted the job offer. But they got one to evaluate.

The deal about all of this isn’t about what a great interviewer I am or whatever. The big deal about this is: there is such a small threshold for job candidates to overcome to get to the next interview because the competition is just horrible.

That’s not going to be the case all the time — but most of the time, if you know how to do a job interview right, you can move on in the process. And get a job offer.

How can that be ignored?

The second reason is this: I enjoy helping people. Sometimes it is very frustrating in that people ask for advice — and then don’t follow it.

But it is sooo satisfying to have someone want to change, take the advice and get results.

A small example are the people that I have helped with their resume who, after months of no interviews, now get multiple interviews simply because they change their resume to match up with what I recommend.

You are talking people’s livelihood here — making a difference in their ability to provide for their family, their self-worth, and be able to live a life without the big corporate axe hanging over their heads.

Being able to help someone get the interview, get the job offer, be successful on the job is just so satisfying.

What’s next?

Obviously, this isn’t going to be the viral post bringing in thousands of readers. It is much more of an accountability post so I can put my thoughts out there and figure out the path forward.

So this will take a bit. I have the outline for multiple classes — but one miracle at a time. The content I produce I’m happy with, so that will continue. The web site changes will happen over time.

But after wandering for a while, the answer is: I still have stories to tell. I can help people.

You still deserve to be a Cubicle Warrior. And I intend to help you get there.

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The Interview
Job Search

How to really answer a job interview question

When those customer surveys of executives ask about how hard it is to find talented people for positions, you’re likely to hear that finding good people is pretty darn hard. Or is it?

I’ve been doing interviews for my day job and it has been (and continues to be) a revelation. The people we’re having interview have good resumes. But they don’t know how to do a face-to-face interview when they answer questions. It’s understandable. It’s a different skill set — and one that we don’t use very often.

Here’s what happens (and then, how to fix it).

Explain the project, but not how they contributed to the project

Most of the interviewees talked a great deal about the project they were on — what the project was about, what the customer wanted, what team members were involved, how long the project took, some of the problems on the project….and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked.

But not about what they did. Just the project in general.

At most — and at best — there would be a general statement like “…and then we gathered requirements for the work…” and went right off of that statement into more about the project.

So put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. What would you want to hear? You’d want to hear what the person you were interviewing actually did on the project and how they did it.

Why? Because the hiring manager is trying to make one decision: can this person produce business results? And, secondarily, if that person can produce business results, will that person fit into the team?

If the answer is yes to both those questions, it’s offer time. But people made it incredibly hard to get those two questions answered. And if you, as the hiring manager, have to drag the answer out of the person kicking and screaming, guess what? No offer.

So finding good talent is hard, right?

I I I I I I I I I I I I NOT we we we we we we we we we we we we

Perhaps we were taught to be humble. Maybe saying “I” is considered selfish. I don’t know. What I do know is that when you’re doing a job interview, “I” better be a big part of your vocabulary when you are describing the work you did.

In about half the interviews — after cutting the person off after a 2-minute speech on what the project was about and asking what they did on the project — I then had to interrupt yet again and had to ask, “What did YOU do on the project; I don’t care about what WE did on the project.” Almost bordering on being rude.

Think again of being the hiring manager listening to the answer and trying to determine if you can help that manager meet business goals. That person isn’t hiring “we,” that manager is hiring a singular person. You. You get zero benefit talking about we outside of this one case: There were multiple people doing this one function and you did part of that function.

The way you describe that is simple and straightforward: “There were three of us gathering requirements. My role was to gather the functional requirements while the others collected non-functional and application requirements. Here’s how I did it….”

Two sentences describing the context (so the hiring manager doesn’t get confused as to why you’re only talking functional requirements…) and then immediately what you did and how you did it. Your work. Your successes. Your way of solving issues. Not we.

Examples would be good. Oh, you don’t have any?

This one really baffled me. After finally getting to “I”, the answers were still generic. “I sat down with the customer and gathered requirements.” If you’re in IT, you know the function (and if you’re not in IT, don’t worry — that answer is just as mysterious to us who work in IT as it does for you).

After taking a few stabs at getting a more detailed answer with multiple people, I started asking example questions:

“Tell me a requirement that you wrote.”

“How did you decide who you should invite to the requirements gathering meeting?”

“How did you prepare for the requirements gathering meeting?”

Even if your brain disengaged from remembering what you did on the project, you can provide the theory answer to those questions (and make up a requirements example), These are not hard questions. But, apparently, they were.

Maybe it really is hard to find good talent.

How to answer an interview question

I’ve written about this before, but it is worth a good review. You answer interview questions using a CAR – Context, Action, Result

Context describes the scale around the work you are doing. It’s a global project. It’s a department initiative. There are 50-people on the team. It’s a $2 million budget.

Context helps the hiring manager relate the work you did with the work that needs to be done on this gig. Oh, what you did was bigger and broader. Oh, what you did is about the same as what we need. That kind of thing.

But here’s the deal: You need to distill the Context part of the answer to about 4-5 sentences. That’s it. Full stop. Not a five-minute monologue on everything that happened — except what you did to contribute to the work.

Then comes Action. That’s what YOU did for the work. Not what WE did, but what YOU did. You describe the function you performed (“I gathered functional requirements”). Then you describe how you did it (“I worked with the Sponsor to select which people should be involved with requirements gathering. Once selected, I set up a meeting for the initial session. I prepared an agenda that covered the purpose of the sessions, what the end objective was, and how the participants were critical to getting the right stuff into our upgrade.”).

Actions: no more than two minutes long. Maybe even one minute long. The reason is, if you answer with that level of detail, the interviewer will ask other questions. Like, “How else did the Sponsor contribute to your successful sessions?” And pretty soon it becomes a conversation about how things work and how you get things done.

Finally, Results. Results are accomplishments. 1-2 sentences here — that’s it. “The result was we gathered about 150 business requirements that were then turned over to create functional and non-functional requirements for the work.”

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=”Remember: Context, Action, and Result”] [/thrive_text_block]

Using this process gives you the Cubicle Warrior job interview advantage

Think again to that hiring manager. That hiring manager has slogged through almost a dozen interviews encountering answers that resemble the first part of this article.

And then the hiring manager interviews you and you follow the CAR method of answering interview questions. The Context is short. The Actions are all about what you did to contribute to that part of the story. And the results are straightforward.

When this happens, it’s magical. Seriously, magical. The hiring manager has a clear view as to how you can contribute to meeting that manager’s goals. And compared to the other candidates, you come across as a competent, smart, contributor to the work. And, trust me, it results in job offers. Because it did.

[thrive_follow_me facebook=’’ twitter=’CubeRules’ linkedin=’’ pinterest=’CubeRules’]

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Management styles interview question
Job Search

The 4-point framework for answering job interview questions

When the hiring manager has to interrupt you answering an interview question in order to ask you another question, you’ve pretty much lost the job.

That’s happened in literally all of the interviews I’m participating in for the day job. It drives me (and the hiring manager) crazy. It’s like the person interviewed has no idea what they did, how they did it, or what the results were.

Clearly, there is no framework for answering interview questions — and it’s desperately needed so the person interviewing and the hiring manager can have a meaningful time together to see if there is a fit for the job.

Because the interviewee didn’t follow a framework for answering interview questions, here is what I’ve been hearing from my latest interviews I’ve participated in:

  • Few interviewees are even answering the question
  • All are droning on and on and on and on about stuff that isn’t answering the question. And on and on and on….
  • Even after clarifying what is being asked for, the question is still not answered. And the non-answer answer goes on and on and on and on
  • As a result, no one has been made an offer. No one has even come close to showing they can do the job.

Clearly, people who interview for jobs need some sort of framework to answer interview questions. This is the framework.

There is a specific process you should follow to answer job interview questions. It’s worth spelling out:

  1. Clarify the question if needed
  2. Provide Context about the work you are being asked about
  3. Provide your Actions you took around that work
  4. Provide your Results because of your work

If you follow the capitals in 2-4, you’ll see it has the acronym of CAR.

Follow the link to learn more about the CAR approach (others use STAR — but I can never remember more than three letters…).

Let’s take a closer look.

Your resume says you can do the work. The job interview is what is done to prove you can.

All your resume does is get you the opportunity to interview for the job. No small thing. But that’s all it does. The resume won’t do the interview for you.

Instead, the interview is about three things:

  1. Proving you can do the work
  2. Showing your motivation for doing the work
  3. Determining if you will fit in with the team

If you fail to show those three critical pieces during the interview, you won’t get the offer. Not getting the offer can be a very good thing, especially if the cultural fit doesn’t work, but the truth of the matter is most candidates never get to the point of having a discussion about the culture and fitting into the team. Because they fail to prove they can do the work.

Now this can sound all “blame the job candidate,” but most of the time, hiring managers want to hire someone. It’s hard to justify positions, it’s done when everyone else is overloaded with work, and getting an addition to the team would be an incredible help.

Of course, there are plenty of ill-prepared managers who do interviews, but even the ill-prepared ones usually want to hire someone. Why else go through the hassle?

Let’s check out the framework.

Clarify the question if needed

Let’s hope this is self-evident. If you don’t understand the question, clarify what is being asked. Sometimes the clarity needs to be about scale, or approach, or results, or your actions.

So clarify before you answer the question, if needed.

Provide Context about the work you are being asked about

Context — scale of the work, circumstances around the work, the difficulties around the work — is a good thing. It helps you and the hiring manager to compare and contrast the work being done for the interview question with the work that needs doing on the job.

The context provided is about 30-seconds long and no more than a modest sized paragraph in length.

Did you catch that? 30-seconds, one paragraph.

In my interviews, context turns into Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in both length (404 pages!) and relevancy.

The hiring manager wants to know the context of the work because then, when you talk about your Actions and Results, there is a logical flow relating back to the context you provided.

Plus, the context provides the hiring manager a path to follow. The managers you were working for had this issue and they wanted to fix it. You fixed it which helps the hiring manager achieve business results.

Provide your actions taken for the work

We we we we we we we we we we we we we we they they they they they they they they we we we we. Words to avoid. The hiring manager doesn’t care about the we or the they — it’s all about you and what you did as actions for the work.

This is where you prove YOU can do the work. You can take actions to solve problems or accomplish goals. A good hiring manager will hear the we we we and they they they stuff and conclude you did none of the work at worst and had to be led by the hand to do each thing you did at best.

It’s okay to talk about the team. But you immediately go to what your actions were to get the work done. “Two of us did the analysis. My coworker covered the data migrations and I covered all of the people and logistics. Here’s how I covered my part.”

See how quickly that shows multiple people doing the work, but clearly showing your accountable part? That’s what you want. That’s what the hiring manager wants to hear. What you did.

Harsh. But more than one candidate was eliminated on this basis alone — no one could tell what the person actually did for the work.

Tell your results

Having your results in your resume is awesome, of course.

Hardly anyone even brings this up in an interview — and it’s a tragedy. In the Hero’s Journey, the world changes, you overcome great obstacles, do great work and you did all of this to get to……..what? Why did you go through all this effort? Why did you overcome all those obstacles?

Even if you think it is obvious, you need to say what the results were from your work. It may not be earth-shattering business results. But it is meaningful based on the work you did.

The underlying root cause?

We don’t create stories around the work we did before going into an interview.

And we don’t practice those stories before going into the interview.

And it shows by costing you the job offer.

Once you have updated your resume, create an outline for each of your major accomplishments in each of your positions — outline the story you would want to tell a hiring manager about your work. Get it down on (electronic) paper.

Then, when you start interviewing as part of your job search, practice the story in your outline. Tell the context. Describe your actions. Show how what you did made a difference. Make the story two to three minutes long from beginning to end. And when you are done, stop.

If you follow this framework — and create and practice your stories about your work — you’ll end up not having a job interview.

You’ll end up having a conversation.

That’s where Cubicle Warriors want to be: having a conversation with the hiring manager about how you can help that manager achieve business goals. It’s so rare that hiring managers can have that conversation. You want to be there.

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