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Traditional or E-Cards: Some Things Never Change

Posted by Peter Post November 29, 2012 07:00 AM

At last week’s staff meeting at Emily Post, holiday greeting cards were on the agenda. Each year inevitably someone asks about e-cards as opposed to traditional mailed cards.

Equally inevitably, we determine that for Emily Post traditional cards are the right choice. The biggest argument in favor of an e-card is ecological—no trees used and no carbon footprint in the delivery. Good reasons for sure, but somehow a virtual holiday card doesn’t have the presence of a traditional one. Literally, when we see the cards displayed in the office, each of those clients, vendors and friends is called to mind.

We like the tactile feel of a mailed card. While it’s true that an emailed card can be printed and put out in a reception area for all to enjoy, a message and image printed on twenty pound copier paper just doesn’t have the same feel as a traditional card. Besides, if your main reason for choosing an e-card is to be green, printing out the card sort of defeats the purpose. We also appreciate receiving mail that’s not junk mail or a bill. It makes going to the mailbox a pleasure rather than a chore.

That said, e-cards are here to stay and companies are electing to go with them. Better that than sending no card at all. The following tips that apply to traditional cards also apply to e-cards.

  • Be careful in building your list, and make sure your contacts are current. Ask yourself if each person is still a valued client, prospect, supplier, or friend of the company.
  • Check your addresses carefully. While you’ve done your due diligence throughout the year in maintaining your database, this is a good time to double check it for accuracy.
  • If you’re asked to provide names of those you want the company to send a card, be sure to get the names and pertinent information to the organizer as soon as possible. That person’s job is difficult enough without having to repeatedly remind people to submit their lists.
  • Holiday cards are an opportunity to reach out to people associated with your business. They are a friendly, relationship building gesture. They aren’t a vehicle for selling products and services so keep marketing and sales messages out of them.
  • The people you are sending cards to may well come from different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. Be careful of including a message that contain a religious overtone.

You may find yourself wanting to send cards individually to business colleagues. In that case consider the following:

Make your list first. If it’s a large list, ask yourself if you have the budget to send the cards yourself and if you have the time to do the work of sending them.

If you are sending cards to colleagues at work, send them to their home, especially if you aren’t sending them to everyone. By sending them to the homes you avoid any hard feelings of people you haven’t sent them to.

Live chat: Judy Shen-Filerman from Dreambridge Partners

Posted by Julie Balise November 28, 2012 10:25 AM

judy100.jpg

Judy Shen-Filerman is founder and principal of Dreambridge Partners in Arlington, a cross-cultural leadership development firm.

Unemployment Eligibility

Posted by Elaine Varelas November 28, 2012 10:00 AM

Q. My company is challenging my unemployment claim because I did not stay in my position for the two weeks they requested upon learning I was being laid off. Is this legal? I was a salaried employee.

A. Unemployment assistance was created by Congress during the Great Depression in 1935 to provide temporary assistance to workers who had lost their job through no fault of their own. To receive benefits an employee must be capable of working and actively seeking work. The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is the state agency that administers the unemployment assistance program in Massachusetts.

I consulted with Attorney Valerie Samuels, an employment attorney at Posternak in Boston. Ms. Samuels explains, “Generally, a Massachusetts employee will be eligible for unemployment benefits unless one of the following applies:

a discharge as a result of deliberate misconduct in disregard of the employer’s interest, or due to a knowing violation of a reasonable and uniformly enforced rule or policy of the employer. The violation must not result from the employee’s incompetence; or he left work voluntarily, unless the employee establishes by credible evidence that he had good cause for leaving due to a situation created by the employer or left for a reason that is of such a, compelling nature to make the separation involuntary; or because the employee was convicted of a felony or misdemeanor.

Your employer is likely challenging your unemployment claim under the theory that you voluntarily left work, which is only true with respect to the two week notice period. Attorney Samuels notes that under typical circumstances, leaving work voluntarily may disqualify you from eligibility for unemployment benefits. Whether you were paid on a salary or hourly basis is irrelevant when considering your eligibility for unemployment compensation.

The answer to this question depends upon DUA’s interpretation of the word “voluntary.” Under Massachusetts law, a separation from work is not voluntary if for “urgent, compelling and necessitous” reasons caused by circumstances beyond the employee’s control.

An employee may leave work due to sexual, racial or other unreasonable harassment but only if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment. Even if the employee left due to urgent reasons, he must have made a good‐faith effort to remain employed. The employee also will be deemed to have good cause to quit if the reason for leaving work was due to domestic violence such as needing to relocate or fear of domestic violence at or on route to work.

In this situation, you were informed of your imminent separation and asked to continue working for two weeks. While you could have remained during the notice period, your ultimate departure from work was involuntary. As a result, DUA will likely find that you are eligible to receive unemployment benefits but you will be disqualified for the two week period when you could have remained at work. Even if you were to receive unemployment benefits for the notice period, it is likely to be less than your regular salary.

Given that good jobs are hard to come by nowadays, if you receive notice of termination, remain at work until the termination date in order to continue to be paid and not jeopardize your unemployment eligibility, unless you are leaving to join your new employer.

Orthodontist braces for the chance to make teeth healthy

Posted by Cindy Atoji Keene November 27, 2012 11:34 AM

By Cindy Atoji Keene

The bite is a complex system that includes up to 32 teeth, gums, upper and lower jaws, and facial muscles. A healthy bite has not just aesthetic impact but also functional benefits, said orthodontist Sam Levine of Levine Orthodontics in Lexington. Crooked teeth and a bad bite can contribute to tooth decay, wearing of tooth enamel, and even headaches and jaw joint pain. “We think of braces as merely straightening of the teeth, but teeth that are properly aligned can enhance your overall health – as well improving confidence and self-esteem,” said Levine, 37, who uses the Damon system of orthodontics made by Ormco, based in Orange, Calif. And as braces become more comfortable to wear and better at repositioning teeth, Levine is seeing patients from ages 7 to 70, as more and more adults opt for orthodontic treatment. Rather than the metal-mouth look of a generation ago, new materials and other technological advances have made smaller, less obtrusive braces available. Braces today range from translucent to tooth-colored ceramic braces, clear aligners that can be worn at night, and other devices.

Q: What are the most common conditions that you see?
A: Overbite, overjet, and buck teeth – are common, and more rarely, underbite. And hand-in-hand with these bite issues are crowded teeth, or when teeth twist and turn. There is largely a genetic component to these conditions, along with environmental factors such as thumb sucking or other habits. One national study found that approximately 60-70 percent of the population have a problem that could benefit from orthodontic treatment.

Q: How has treatment advanced?
A: Braces have gone through a revolution of sorts. Braces used to be bands tightly attached with a ligature tie or wire around teeth, which caused a lot of pain and discomfort. But instead of pushing teeth as hard as you can, the concept now is low-force and low-friction, with a brace made up of sliding mechanisms which generate forces and gradually move the teeth over time. Dental appliances continue to make improvements, and now clear braces are virtually invisible.

Q: There have been reports of younger and younger kids seeing the orthodontist. Are you experiencing this in your practice?
A: There is cultural pressure to have that perfect celebrity smile, as seen in magazines and movies. Sometimes patients or their parents are eager to get started on orthodontic treatment. The American Association of Orthodontists does recommend that initial evaluation should occur no later than age 7 or at the first signs of problems. But it’s important to understand that starting treatment early doesn’t necessarily mean finishing early. There is the certain age when treatment is most effective.

Q: Why did you choose to become an orthodontist?
A: . I think of orthodontics as the ultimate mix of art and science. As an orthodontist, I’m able to have a long-term relationship with patients – and I don’t have my hands in their mouth the whole time. I also had a Jewish mother, so I joke that my choice was to be a lawyer, doctor, or dentist. As a kid, I was a tinkerer and liked to work with my hands a lot. And it helped that I had a really good dentist who inspired me.

Q: What’s the future of orthodontics?
A: Braces are currently a stock product; we have a box of braces that we choose from, then individualize by bending wires and our other skills. But customization is a big step; we can take a tooth impression, make a 3-D model on the computer, then design a smile and create custom braces for that patient. Custom braces can reduce treatment time.

Q: What’s the record for someone losing a retainer?
A: Too many to count. One patient lost his retainer three times in the first month. We’ve had retainers that travel the world and get lost overseas somewhere; retainers put in the washing machine or dryer. Dogs love retainers – it’s the most expensive dog toy you can buy. Retainers have the smell or scent of the owner, so if a dog likes the owner, he likes the owner’s retainer.

Q: How do you resist not judging someone’s teeth and the work they need to get done?
A: A smile is the first thing you notice when you meet someone, whether you’re a professional or not. As a dental resident, when I was still learning, I would always think, ‘How can I fix that?’ Now I still see smiles, but my thoughts are limited to diagnosis and not the treatment.

Chat live with Job Doc Elaine Varelas

Posted by Julie Balise November 26, 2012 08:00 AM

Elaine-Varelas-100-new.jpgElaine Varelas, managing partner of Keystone Partners in Boston, has over 20 years experience in career consulting, executive development and coaching. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

When can "comp time" be used?

Posted by Pattie Hunt Sinacole November 26, 2012 07:44 AM

Q: I run a small business where our customer needs are very cyclical. Like a lot of retailers, we make most of our money in 3-4 months of the year. My company employs about 15 workers. Most of these employees are part-time but some are full-time. I attended a seminar recently where the seminar leader said you could not offer compensation time to full-time workers. If I can’t do this, it would severely limit my ability to employ full-time staff. Can you help me better understand if I can or can not offer comp time to my full-time employees?

A: Providing compensatory time (or “comp” time) is a common practice in some industries. This practice, giving an employee time off instead of paying the employee, can be used lawfully sometimes.

Generally, state and federal law require employers to provide non-exempt employees overtime pay, at one and a half times their regular rate, when they work more than 40 hours in a work week. A retail sales person almost always must be classified as non-exempt. Some employees (e.g., outside sales representatives or managers) are “exempt” from the overtime requirement.

I consulted Daniel Field, a partner with Morgan, Brown & Joy, LLP, a firm which focuses exclusively on representing employers in employment and labor law matters. Field warns, “Federal and state law prohibit the use of comp time for overtime eligible employees in weeks in which they work more than 40 hours. Providing comp time instead of paying overtime in such a work week would constitute a violation of the federal overtime law (called the Fair Labor Standards Act or ‘FLSA’). This action would also violate Massachusetts and most other New England states’ corresponding overtime laws.”

According to Field, former chief of the Massachusetts Attorney General's wage enforcement division, “Employees who work extra hours may receive compensatory time off within the same work week because it does not affect the calculation of hours worked or the overtime due. This is because an employee’s compensatory time off (for which the employee is paid but does not work) is not counted toward the 40 hour calculation. In addition, employers may normally (but don’t have to) pay overtime exempt employees comp time when they work beyond their normal week.”

Most employers are trying to reduce costs in this economy. However, even unintentional violations of wage and hour laws present significant problems for businesses because, under Massachusetts law, employees can recover automatic triple damages, and their attorneys’ fees from their employer. Increasing numbers of businesses, even very small ones, have been facing expensive class action wage-hour lawsuits brought by attorneys on behalf of affected employees.

Feedback is like death

Posted by Paul Hellman November 23, 2012 11:00 AM

1) You receive a 360 feedback report, describing what everyone at work really thinks about you.

Your first reaction: shock.

You see yourself one way, others another. That's the human condition.

I used to lead management workshops for a large consulting company, the Forum Corp, that included 360 feedback reports. Before distributing the feedback, we'd warn participants:

"You may not believe it's really your report," we'd say.

Later, after seeing the feedback, a few managers would demand we call Forum immediately:
"You gave me the wrong report," they'd say. "It's got my name, but it's not mine."

2) Getting negative feedback threatens our self-image, our identity. Some experts compare it to dying.

Sound melodramatic? Well, let's just say you may not feel like kicking off your shoes and dancing on the tables.

3) Denial, depression, anger . . . These are stages of grief, according to psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. Also, typical feedback reactions.

4) Want a second opinion on your feedback? Ok, take it home, and ask your friends and family what they think.

Unfortunately, they'll probably agree with it.

Let's say you scored low on listening. Your spouse will say, "Honey, I've been saying that forever. You didn't listen to me yesterday. Or last Thursday. Or 2001-2010—the entire decade."

5) What are your strengths? Those often gets missed, and they're extremely important.

One executive coach has clients read all the positive comments—aloud—just just to make sure the clients actually hear them.

6) What's your next step?

Consider thanking people for their feedback. "Wait a minute," you may be thinking, "what, exactly, am I thanking them for?"

Well, for their time, and for their candor.

7) Another option: ask for some specific examples, especially if you don't understand something.

For instance: "When you say, 'I'm not open to new ideas,' what do you mean?"

Then just listen. Don't argue, and don't debate how open you really are. Demonstrate it.

8) You can also make a few promises.

For example: "I realize I need to work on my body language at meetings. I intend to stop rolling my eyes, and muttering under my breath."

Other person: "You also giggle uncontrollably."

You: "Ok, that too." Then ask: "Would it be alright to check back in a few weeks to see how I'm doing?"

9) It's possible, of course, that the entire feedback report is wrong, that others' perceptions are flawed.

There's comfort in that thought. It lasts about 5 seconds.

10) Because even if everyone's wrong, you've still got a problem: their perceptions.

And even if you think those perceptions are incomplete, ill-conceived, wrong-headed, bad-tempered, perverse, and idiotic—please see grief stages: anger—you've still got to manage them.

© Copyright 2012 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

‘Tis The Season For Holiday Office Giving

Posted by Peter Post November 22, 2012 07:00 AM

The holiday season is fast approaching. Celebrating the season often involves giving gifts to office colleagues. So, whom do you give a gift to and what’s appropriate?

Who? Perhaps the question is: Do you have to give a gift to every colleague?

No. The expense and the time devoted to finding appropriate gifts dictates that a gift to each colleague isn’t necessary or even appropriate.

Instead, I suggest that offices establish policies now before the season gets underway. Typical guidelines run the gamut from discouraging employees from giving gifts to each other at the office to establishing an office gift giving tradition. It could be a draw where people pull a name from a hat and give a gift only to that person. A Yankee Swap is another option, with each participant purchasing a gift not to exceed a pre-set nominal amount. For more information about how a Yankee Swap works visit yankeeswap.com

These office wide gift-giving traditions are a great way for managers to head off the hassles and potential hurt feelings when employees give gifts individually to some of their colleagues and not others. Managers and employees should also respect the wishes of individuals who choose not to take part in a holiday gift exchange event. The person should still be offered the opportunity to be at the event as an observer.

Some offices forgo gift giving and opt for group participation as volunteers in a local organization such as a food shelf, youth organization, or nursing home.

Even if there is an office event, some individuals may still want to exchange gifts. In this case, it is best to exchange them outside the office where it can be a private exchange and no one else will feel slighted or left out.

What’s appropriate? If it is a name draw or Yankee Swap event, the organizers should establish a firm monetary limit. A low limit of $12-15 makes it just that much more fun as people have to be creative on a small budget. Some of the gifts I’ve seen were: a bag of gourmet jelly beans; homemade goods like jams and/or jellies, or candies; gift cards to Starbucks or iTunes, or holiday movie DVDs.

When choosing gifts for a specific colleague, avoid clothing or anything that might carry an unintended meaning, such as jewelry or perfume or cologne. Beware of being overly extravagant and don’t feel compelled to purchase a gift that is more than you can afford. Remember, it is the thought behind the gift that counts.

Interviewing - What Gives?

Posted by Elaine Varelas November 21, 2012 10:00 AM

Q. After a totally unproductive job search over the last 4 months with no interviews, I took all the job search advice I had read about. I got a new suit, polished my resume, am trying to network, and even have a LinkedIn profile. I have gone from no interviews to having had three this month, but no offers. I got stopped at one phone screen, and 2 first interviews. I can do these jobs – my skills are there. What gives?

A. You have discovered that a casual approach to the job search doesn’t work, and that in this ultra-competitive market you need to impress at every stage. Every aspect of your search needs to differentiate you from every other candidate. The steps you have taken are great to move you ahead in the process. Your network and perhaps LinkedIn profile are finding you the opportunities. Your new resume must be improved if it is getting attention. But the rest of the job search comes to a screeching halt, and many job seekers experience the same issue.

To help you change this pattern, I consulted Susan Goodman, of Goodman HR Partners, a full cycle Human Resources consulting firm. Susan interviews candidates for all roles at all levels of organizations and she finds that otherwise well qualified candidates don't make it past the first round of interviews because they cannot convey what one CEO calls “fire in the belly”. They can’t demonstrate sincere interest and enthusiasm for the role, the company and the product. The best way to be ready to demonstrate your passion for the job is to take the time and effort to do all your homework prior to the interview.

Candidates most likely to be recommended for further interviews are those who are well qualified and well prepared. Goodman says, “A candidate who has thoroughly researched the role, the company, the market and the leadership team has an automatic leg up in the interview.” Preparation might include using your network to speak with employees or customers of the company, looking up the members of the company’s leadership team and the people you will be interviewing with on LinkedIn, and doing a deep review about why you are excited about this position and how you can contribute to the company’s goals. In addition, Goodman recommends that candidates review the job description carefully and consider the key job responsibilities, the commute, the work schedule and the travel requirements prior to interviewing.

It is unproductive and a turn off to interviewers when the candidate is unaware of something that is clearly indicated in the job description. Prepare thoughtful questions that express your interest in finding out more about the job, the company, the competition, and the industry. Don't ask questions that you can easily find answers to on the company website which indicates you did not care enough to adequately prepare for the interview. The people you are talking to are most likely very passionate about their company and product, and when you demonstrate that same level of passion your chances of getting to the offer stage increase significantly.

Animal Shelter Manager Helps Pets Find New Home

Posted by Cindy Atoji Keene November 20, 2012 04:05 PM

By Cindy Atoji Keene

There can be as many as 20 dogs, 50 cats, several birds, bunnies and other small animals housed at the Animal Rescue League of Boston’s Cape Cod Adoption Center, located in Brewster. From time to time, there are also chickens, horses and wildlife – up to 1,300 animals a year that are saved from abandonment and neglect or just need a new home. It takes a small staff and an army of volunteers to keep up with the demands of the shelter, said manager Sandra Luppi. “Egos are checked at the door because nobody is above picking up pet poop or vomit,” said Luppi, who added that the animals, some of which are abused or sick, often need constant care and training before they’re adoptable. And in addition to handling the animals, there’s also the dynamic of dealing with an ever-changing parade of people, some of whom are surrendering a loved pet because of economic hardship.

Q: Are you ever surprised by the kind of animals that might come through the door of the shelter?
A: In this line of work, I’ve seen many different types of animals, both domestic and wildlife, including snakes, hedgehogs, opossums and raccoons. The rescue league has an animal ambulance that responds to calls, whether it’s a cat stuck in a tree or an injured seabird. We have a barn that is primarily used as a holding center for animals seized through our law enforcement department, where we have had horses, goats, ponies, as well as a trio of miniature horses.

Q: How has the economy affected domestic animals and local shelters?
A: Sadly, I think effects of foreclosure have had an impact, especially during the height of the recession. People have surrendered a pet because they couldn’t afford to live in their house any more. That’s where we come in – our role in the community is to provide a safe and caring place for people who can’t keep their pets, and greet them in a compassionate and non-judgmental way. They have the assurance that the pet will be well-cared for, and have the space they need to continue their lives.

Q: How do you help pet owners find lost dogs or cats?
A: We take reports of animals that are lost and found, and offer advice on how to look for pets. If an animal has been seen but is difficult to capture, we will often refer owners or animal control officers to our rescue department in Boston. They have the technical rescue skills and equipment necessary to help capture even the very elusive.

Q: Has it always been your dream to work with animals?
A: I have a great love for animals. When I saw an injured animal by the side of the road, I’d turn around and go back to help them. My initial dream was to be a veterinarian. I didn’t end up going to vet school but ended up in a traditional office environment. I had a good career but when I heard there was an opportunity at the rescue league, I decided to take a chance and apply.

Q: How do you keep the shelter from smelling like poop?
A: I do have to say that we get a lot of compliments on the cleanliness of the shelter. We are very diligence in keeping up on the animal care and making sure bedding and cages are always clean. There’s the added benefit of our indoor and outdoor runs which make for nice airflow throughout the building. The shelter needs to be a clean, happy environment because we are setting an example for how animals should be taken care of.

Q: Have you ever adopted a pet from the shelter?
A: Yes, I have one currently. He is a very smart and spoiled 11-year-old beagle. He was very shy and not very interactive and needed some socializing. I had recently lost my 14-year-old dog, so I just took to this guy. I love beagles in general since my grandparents had them growing up. It was an easy adoption.

What to strengthen for a telephone interview

Posted by Pattie Hunt Sinacole November 19, 2012 07:46 AM

Q: When fielding a screening phone interview, what one skill would you recommend strengthening before receiving the call? Thanks!

A: A telephone interview is as important as an in-person interview. A few tips before I offer a specific answer to your question.
1. Make sure that you are using a phone that will provide good reception. Using a cell phone can be risky, especially if there are connection concerns.
2. Confirm the call in advance. Email is a good vehicle for confirming the date and time of a scheduled interview.
3. Monitor your voice. Make sure that you are able to sound positive, confident and enthusiastic.
4. Have your resume handy. The individual conducting the call is probably looking at your resume when making the call.
5. Check email before and after the call. The interviewer may need to push the call back a few minutes or reschedule the call. After the call, send a thank-you email as quickly as you can. Make sure that you are checking email frequently.
Now to answer your question! I would recommend strengthening your preparedness. This applies to all candidates, at all levels, across industries. Don’t take a call “on the fly” or receive a call in a loud area. Prepare in advance for a quiet location with no interruptions. Ready yourself with examples of some of your strengths. As an example, instead of saying, “I am good under pressure,” consider “I am good under pressure. For example, last week our copier died when we were printing a complex proposal for a client. The client required several hard copies be delivered by a certain deadline. I found a local copy shop that was able to handle the copying. I picked it up and walked it to our client’s office with minutes to spare.”

Telephone interviews are now a common screening tool. You want to make sure that you advance to the next level.

Job Doc live at noon: Pattie Hunt Sinacole

Posted by Julie Balise November 16, 2012 03:44 PM

JobDoc-Pattie-Hunt-Sinacole-100.jpgPattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

Who Goes First?

Posted by Peter Post November 15, 2012 07:00 AM

Invariably I get asked about doors. People are particularly interested in revolving doors and elevator doors. My guess is their questions and their lack of confidence stem from the old adage that men hold the door for women, and women should go through the door first. But we’ve also learned that today’s world in general, and the business world specifically, have changed. So does the old adage still stand: men should hold the door for women?

Interestingly, in business when two colleagues arrive at a revolving door, the solution is simple. Whoever arrives at the door first should step forward and get it moving. Communicate. “Please, go ahead.” Or “Let me get that for you.” Who goes first doesn’t matter nearly as much as communicating ahead so there is no confusion. The awkward play: hesitate and then step forward and end up stuffing both of you into the same section of the revolving door. That is a faux pas leading to a pas de deux shuffle, and neither of you can’t get to the exit fast enough.

If I’m out socially, then the situation changes slightly. The key again turns on communication so you again don’t end up crammed into the same section of the revolving door. If it’s a door that is already moving, I’ll step aside and indicate for my female companion to go first. I might even add a “Please, go ahead” just so there won’t be any confusion. If, on the other hand, the door isn’t moving, I will offer to go first. “Here, let me get that for you.” Then, as I exit, I wait to offer my arm as she steps out next to me.

Elevators also seem to cause confusion, especially whether a man should step aside and wait for a woman to exit. Whether I’m in a business situation or out socially, regardless of the gender of the person I am with, as the doors open, I glance at the person and gesture for them to go first. I’ll add a verbal cue as well: “Please go ahead.” That simple communication saves a lot of confusion and awkwardness.

It gets a little trickier when you’re in an elevator that has several people in it. In this case, it simply doesn’t make sense for a man to try to step aside in a crowded elevator car so a woman can exit first. The person closest to the door should just step through the door and then hold the door so the people exiting don’t have it shut on them. If I’m following people exiting an elevator, I’ll smile, nod and say thank you to the person holding the door for me. If no one in front of me has made an effort to hold the door, I’ll try to reach out to hold it so it doesn’t start closing on anyone exiting behind me.

Re-Entering the Work World

Posted by Elaine Varelas November 14, 2012 10:00 AM

Q. I have been out of the job market for 12 years as a full time Mom. I started my job search about three months ago, and I am feeling challenged by hiring managers lack of receptivity to my ability to transition back to the world of full time work. I’m a human resources professional and am confident my expertise is current and valuable. I know how to work and I have the energy to deliver. How can I convince at least one hiring manager I’m ready to come back full time?

A. You are coming back into a very competitive job market, so everything about your presentation needs to be of the highest caliber. There has been a great deal of movement in the human resources marketplace in the last two years, and the issues facing HR people have changed as well. Twelve years is a long time to be out and you need to make sure your resume, your LinkedIn profile and your networking support tell a compelling story about why people should meet with you.

Start with your LinkedIn profile. Use the recommendations area and the new endorsement areas. Develop a list of the competencies you want to showcase, and ask former colleagues to write recommendations expanding on those skill sets. Use at least two people from each role you had, and ask the same people, and others to endorse the skills you have the greatest desire to use. Some people may suggest you add any volunteer work you chose to participate in while you were out of the work place. I do not suggest this. Evaluate each activity very selectively for the impression it gives. If it is a highly professional activity, it may be appropriate, but if the activity screams “MOM”, leave it out.

Don’t overlook the visual. Get a great current picture – no kids, pets, vacation shots, and no ghosts – do not leave this blank. Make sure you look like a terrific colleague ready to go to work.

On LinkedIn, search the companies you used to work for and your target employers and start to follow them. The information about your former employers will help you find people you should be connected to, and help you expand your contacts quickly. You’ll also be able to access current jobs at these firms. These contacts, the people who know your work history best, may be the first people to help you identify a range of opportunities other than just full time.

Look at projects, assignments, contracts, and consulting opportunities which are a step to get you back into current employment. Once you are in the world of the working, the questions about the prolonged separation from work will evaporate. Adding current projects to your resume and LinkedIn profiles becomes an opportunity for multiple updates on LinkedIn to alert your contacts about changes in what you are doing and the kind of opportunities you seek. You also get current work to discuss in your networking meetings, and this will make it easier to get the attention of search and staffing people.

Join and attend professional association meetings. Most have reduced fees for professionals in transition, and job search groups. Ask HR colleagues about LinkedIn groups that post current jobs in human resources.

Live chat: Resumes, interviews, and networking chat at noon

Posted by Julie Balise November 14, 2012 08:00 AM

tracy-cashman-100.jpgTracy Cashman, a partner at recruiting firm WinterWyman in Waltham, provides placement services for all levels of IT positions, including high-level IT Managers/Directors and CIOs.

Cheese monger makes whey for artisanal selections

Posted by Cindy Atoji Keene November 13, 2012 11:11 AM

By Cindy Atoji Keene

Cheese monger Peter Lovis has been behind the counter at the old-fashioned Cheese Shop of Concord for over a decade, but his background as a turophile goes back to the 1970s. During his long affiliation with the cheese industry, he has seen American taste buds change from a handful of few standards like Jarlsberg and cheddar to today’s mind-boggling artisanal selections. “Most people didn’t know or care about cheese in the past, as compared to the thousands of imported cheese we have now,” said Lovis, 51, who said that he feels like his whole life has been an apprenticeship to owning this store. When he was 15, he started working at a mom and pop store in New Jersey (“as a way to avoid playing football”), then for a gourmet shop, importing company, and finally a distributor. “I’ve worked through the entire supply chain. Instead of getting my MBA, I should have gotten a HVAC refrigeration license,” said Lovis, who just purchased two new freezers so he can expand his inventory of prepared and frozen foods.

Q: Are cheese sales seasonal?
A: I make 30 percent of my gross sales during December. That’s when more people are entertaining more, serving quality cheese; making hors’ d'oeuvres, and enjoying comfort foods. That’s when we also when we host a parade and roll out the red carpet for a 400-pound wheel of Crucolo cheese from northern Italy. This giant supply of cheese ensures that we won’t run out of it during the holiday season. I’ve even been to Trentino, Italy, where I helped make this cheese as well.

Q: What should someone look for when tasting a cheese?
A: First and foremost, do you like it? Does it taste good and bring you pleasure? Don’t be forced to like it because someone said you should. One thing I look for is complexity of flavor – it should evolve as you taste it. Perhaps it is creamy and smooth and then develops a bite; or starts off stinky, then has a creamy richness and hint of salt.

Q: Your head cheese buyer’s name is Brie. That’s very serendipitous.
A: Brie Hurd was a college student who started working here and has been with us ever since. There’s a new energy and excitement among many young people who don’t see this as a job but a cool new profession, as demonstrated by the American Cheese Society's new certification program, a comprehensive test that attests to a cheese purveyor’s knowledge and professional status.

Q: How do you decide what sorts of cheese to carry?
A: We have between 150-200 types of cheese at any time, and over a thousand different cheese over the course of a year. Our inventory changes all the time, depending on availability, season, and demand. There is no firm metric. Cheesemakers send us new products all the time. But we will have some standard items; for example, we’ll always have a one-year-old Manchego cheese in stock.

Q: The Concord Cheese Shop is one of the oldest continuous cheese shops, established in the 1860’s. How did you come to buy the cheese shop?
A: I was in the wholesale cheese business and I called on this store. The first time I walked in, it was like being at home – it was exactly like the store I first worked in as a teen, from the banners to the counters. A good friend of mine was general manager here, and said to me, “You should put on an apron and get back in the retail cheese business.” A few years later, in 2001, I was told the store was for sale, and I was so excited, I raced home and got two speeding tickets. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Q: Have you ever purchased from a chain grocery store with their plastic-looking cheese?
A: My wife and I were on vacation and we ran out of cheese. I went to the supermarket and I picked out what I thought was a nice gruyere. I brought it home and it was dead, well past its prime. She still teases me about it today, but it proves my rule: don’t buy cheese unless you can taste it first.

Untenable stress in the workplace

Posted by Pattie Hunt Sinacole November 12, 2012 07:10 AM

Q: I am gainfully employed in my field. Most think I am lucky to have a job. In reality though, I am overwhelmed almost all of the time. In 2008 and 2009, my employer laid off many employees. We have re-hired a few employees but we are all working very long hours and our CEO believes we should be available all the time (e.g., weekends, holidays, vacations, etc.). I was at a funeral last week and he knew I was at a funeral. He called four times and was very insistent at me returning his call immediately. The expectations are enormous. The stress level at my company is through the roof. I have had colleagues walk out the door without another job lined up, because they could not handle it anymore. I have never seen this in your column. Is this common? Do you have any advice?

A: Unfortunately, your situation is increasingly common. However, I do believe these employers do not represent the mainstream. There are some leaders who don’t understand that employees need time to re-charge. Most employees can survive the work environment you are describing if it is a short-term requirement. As an example, if you are a manager of an engineering team and you have an upgrade that you need to have in your clients’ hands, you can all pull together, work wild hours and meet the deadline. However, as a long-term norm, most would consider this an unhealthy environment.

According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout can sometimes result from lack of control. If your schedule, workload or assignments are out of control, stress and burnout can occur. If you don’t have the necessary resources available (e.g., staff) this can also contribute to your stress level.

If you believe your situation is temporary, and could be remedied by talking to your CEO about boundaries (e.g., only dire emergencies require a call during a funeral) and securing additional resources, your situation may be salvageable.

Take advantage of your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) if there is one available. I consulted with Kathleen Greer, Founder of KGA, an EAP firm and sought her expertise. Greer offered, "Assembling a leadership team is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor and retention is important. When executives join an organization, they expect some separation between work and home. Unless a serious workplace crisis is brewing, it is not appropriate to expect round-the-clock work from a leader.”

You will need to honestly assess how long you can continue in this role if your desired changes are not made. I suggest developing a plan for remaining with the company (including establishing boundaries and adding resources) but also developing a plan for considering a new opportunity if your internal situation does not improve.

Navigating The Business Meal

Posted by Peter Post November 8, 2012 07:00 AM

Here’s an interesting situation: A client invites you to dinner. The evening is very pleasant; you talk sports, travel, the weather; but the client never says one word about business. As the meal ends you wonder if you should bring up the subject of your business relationship and ask if the client has any concerns he would like to address now. Should you or shouldn’t you?

The short answer is the person who does the inviting–in this case the client–is responsible for bringing up any business topics. You, as the person being invited, should follow the client’s lead and not introduce any of the business topics you were wondering if you should bring up.

It may be that the person who invited you simply wanted to get to know you better. After all, business is built on relationships. While business meals are a time when business is discussed, they also are an opportunity to build relationships—to become more comfortable with a person who may be instrumental in the success of your company.

So in your current predicament, let the client who invited you take the lead. If he wants to discuss business, then jump in. But if he doesn’t want to talk business, then it’s not up to you to bring it up.

When you are the person extending the invitation and you decide you want to discuss business during the meal, when is it appropriate to bring it up? The business lunch or breakfast tends to be a quicker meal, usually just one course. At a breakfast or lunch meeting the chitchat takes place before and during the ordering. But once the order has been placed, the time spent waiting for the food to arrive is the perfect opportunity to focus on the business at hand. The multi-course business dinner is a more drawn-out and sometimes more formal affair. In this case the host should wait until after the main course is completed before bringing up business. It’s hard to focus on business while you are eating. Once the eating is out of the way, it is easier to then focus on the business at hand.

Finally, even if the client has hosted you previously and technically it’s “your turn,” don’t offer to pay for the meal when the check arrives. The etiquette rule is: Whoever does the asking does the paying. If you do want to pay this time, the time to negotiate is at the time of the ask. “John, I’d enjoy going to dinner again, but this time I’d like to take you.”

What does the average job seeker look like?

Posted by Julie Balise November 7, 2012 01:17 PM

Aaron Green, president of Professional Staffing Group in Boston and immediate past chairman of the board of directors at the American Staffing Association, presents insight on job seekers from a number of recent employment-related surveys.

They currently have a job. Among the employed respondents to Jobvite’s 2012 Social Job Seeker survey, 69 percent said they were either “actively seeking” a new job or were “open to” a new job. That number is up from 61 percent in Jobvite’s 2011 survey.

They care about career advancement more than money. A Professional Staffing Group survey of job applicants asked respondents why they’re looking for a new job and the number one answer that is given twice as often as any other reason is that their current job lacks advancement or development opportunities.

They spend a lot of time on their job search. According to a CareerBuilder.com survey conducted in the spring of 2012, 69 percent of workers say searching for new opportunities is part of their regular routine and 30 percent say job searching is a weekly activity. Thirty-five percent are preparing for their next job within weeks of starting a new one.

They are getting younger. The average worker stays at a job for 4.4 years, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But 91 percent of Millennial workers (born 1977-1997) expect to stay at a job for less than three years. The recession hit younger workers hard and current unemployment rates for workers aged 25-35 are higher (8.2%) than the unemployment rate for workers aged 55 and older (6.2%). The unemployment rate is almost 24 percent for eligible workers aged 16-19 and it is over 12 percent for people aged 20-24.

They continue to get more diverse. The US Census Bureau reported that Massachusetts’ minority communities are growing. Over the past 10 years, the Asian and Hispanic populations in Massachusetts each grew by 46 percent, while the number of black or African American citizens grew by 26 percent.

They look for jobs online. CareerBuilder’s survey found that the majority of workers come across jobs these three ways: online search (74%), traditional networking (68%) and job boards (67%).
Job seekers also use the web to research opportunities. Before applying for a job, 81 percent say they look at personal and professional networks, 74 percent say they read news about a company online and 74 percent say they conduct research on a company’s web site.

They are using social networks for professional purposes. In the Jobvite survey, 25 percent of the job seekers who were surveyed said they added professional information to their Facebook account and 26 percent said they added work-related content to their LinkedIn account. Twenty percent said they had received a new job lead via Facebook and one in six survey respondents credited social media for helping them land a new job.

They prefer Facebook to LinkedIn or Twitter. In what may seem surprising to some, a survey by Jobvite found that 52 percent of job seekers use Facebook to help find work (up from 48% one year ago), while 38 percent of the job seekers surveyed said they used LinkedIn (up from 30% one year ago) and 34 percent said they used Twitter.

They’re starting to budget. In another CareerBuilder survey, forty percent of Americans say they rely on their next paycheck to make ends meet, compared to 42 percent who felt that way last year and 46 percent in 2008. However, 27 percent say they never save any money from their paychecks each month. Of those workers in the survey who say they live paycheck to paycheck, 43 percent are between the ages of 45-54, 42 percent are aged 35-44 and 40 percent are 18-34.

Cape Biodiesel Company Powered by Recycling Cooking Oil

Posted by Cindy Atoji Keene November 6, 2012 11:00 AM

By Cindy Atoji Keene

This winter, much of the oil used to cook all the fried clams and onion rings that are so popular on Cape Cod may be repurposed to heat local homes. A Sandwich-based company, Cape Cod Biofuels, is ramping up its efforts to recycle used vegetable oil into biofuel for home heating oil. Marc Watson, one of the founders of the biodiesel conversion firm, which employs seven employees out of a new plant in the Sandwich Industrial Park, likes to joke that he has one of the dirtiest jobs on Cape Cod. "Everything in the plant, including us, is covered in grease," said Watson. "On most days I go home smelling like burnt French fries or fish.

Cape Cod Biofuels works with over 600 restaurants across the Cape, South Shore and Rhode Island, picking up waste vegetable oil, refining it into biofuel, and then selling 100 percent of it to Falmouth-based distributor Loud Fuel, which blends it with heating oil and supplies it to homeowners. Biodiesel is a clean-burning liquid fuel that burns cleaner and emits fewer harmful toxins and pollutants into the air, according to Watson. The impetus to start the company came five years ago when he and three friends were running construction-related businesses and fuel costs skyrocketed. "In an attempt to lower fuel costs, we began recycling vegetable oil into biodiesel to run our trucks but soon found that the oil was better suited for home heating oil. That's when we launched the business," said Watson.

Q: Is used restaurant oil becoming a commodity?
A: This oil, which often goes into drain traps or grease dumpsters behind businesses, whether a family restaurant, fast food chain, pizza parlor or donut shop, used to be free. But now that there's demand from commodity and environmental companies, we need to pay for it. The price varies from 40-50 cents to $1 a gallon. If it goes over $1.50 a gallon, it doesn’t work in our business model and it's not worth it to the oil and grease renderers. It's not liquid gold.

Q: What types of oil can you use to create biodiesel?
A: Ninety percent of our biodiesel comes from waste vegetable oils, but we can't use trans fat, which is that lard stuff that was outlawed. It is very laborious to convert to biodiesel, since it comes into the restaurant as a stick of butter and leaves as a stick of butter. It makes the oil so thick and creamy. Some restaurants still blend it in to get a certain taste in food, but we try to talk restaurants into using the best oil that they can. It's better for us and everyone else too.

Q: How are you making your process more efficient?
A: Our newest addition to the plant, a centrifuge, will extract more oil from restaurant food waste; before that we used gravity. The centrifuge is a time machine and speeds everything up, so what used to take a day now takes 15 minutes. The centrifuge separates the small particulates out and gives us a much better product. In addition, every by-product of the whole process is used to create energy in one form or another. For example, our wastewater and glycerin go to the state of Maine to an anaerobic digester that creates methane gas to run generators. We also run our vehicles on B20, a 20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent regular diesel blend.

Q: What is the process of converting the oil?
A: The process for converting the used cooking oil to biodiesel is called transesterification. This is basically the removal of glycerine from the vegetable oil. We do this by mixing potassium hydroxide and methanol together which forms a catalyst that is then added to our batch of vegetable oil. The two solutions mix for about an hour and then are left to settle, the settling phase allows the glyercine to drop out of the vegetable oil, leaving the biodiesel behind. The biodiesel is then washed with water, dried and sent through an ion exchange column to produce ASTM quailty biodiesel for use as on road fuel or home heating oil.

Q: What's the future of the biodiesel industry?
A: The future of biodiesel has lot of uncertainty and politics pay a big part, including a biodiesel tax credit that comes and goes, which plays a big part in growth and production. For the general public, the biggest misconception is that biodiesel is more expensive. It's comparable to the cost of regular diesel. What we really need here in Massachusetts is more political support. New York has mandated that 5 percent of all diesel has to have biodiesel in it. Rhode Island is also five years ahead of us and has huge political support.. At one point, Massachusetts mandated 2 percent, but that's not even on the table anymore. We need to catch up.

Q: Is converting biofuel a DIY endeavor?
A: We did start by buying a kit online. We blew up some equipment through experimentation and some uneducated trial runs. But it's not something I would recommend. It took us many years to figure out how to do it the right way, and the tricky part is that conversions need to be under the right temperature, as well as other factors. There's definitely a science to it.

Q: Do you look covetously at your wife's cooking oil remains?
A: Definitely.

Job Doc live at noon: Pattie Hunt Sinacole

Posted by Julie Balise November 5, 2012 08:00 AM

JobDoc-Pattie-Hunt-Sinacole-100.jpgPattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

Stay-at-mom re-entering the job market

Posted by Pattie Hunt Sinacole November 5, 2012 07:51 AM

Q: I am looking to re-enter the job market after being a stay-at-home mom for five years. My problem is that I don't know for what jobs to apply. I worked construction before I left the job market and would like to return working with sustainable living. I am 47 years old and haven't been on an interview for over 15 years. I feel my age and lack of experience interviewing may hold me back from some jobs. I need resources to help me interview, write my resume, and find the right job.

A: Congratulations on your decision to return to the workforce. Let’s first start with addressing your resume challenges. There are many resources available to you. One place that offers helpful information is http://www.boston.com/jobs/advice/. Check out the section called BEGIN YOUR JOB SEARCH. This section has information on how to create and build a resume, what occupations are on the rise and information on salaries for a wide range of occupations. This information is all free and available to you 24 hours a day. You could also consider hiring a job search coach. However, this is usually not free.

The state of Massachusetts also provides residents with career centers located across the state. http://www.mass.gov/lwd/employment-services/career-services/career-center-services/find-a-career-center-near-you-1.html. These offices offer a wide range of services from creating a resume to networking.

Before you jump into the workforce, reflect on your skills. Are you a whiz on the computer? Are you good at planning events? Do you enjoy the details of accounting? Are you an especially good writer?

Start your job search with an open mind. There are probably many positions that you would enjoy and would also capitalize on your skills. Especially since some of your experience is dated and competition for jobs is fierce, you should be flexible with respect to the roles which you might consider.

I would suggest becoming an active networker. Start telling others you are re-entering the workforce. Talk about what you are good at and what might work for you in terms of a job opportunity. Neighbors, friends and former colleagues are all good sources of job leads. You should also consider joining LinkedIn. LinkedIn is an online networking tool. Once you create profile, you can begin to connect with others. You can also join groups on LinkedIn. There are several groups whose focus is on sustainability on LinkedIn.

Resilience is important in a job search in this economy. You will probably encounter more “Sorry, we’re not hiring” than “Can you interview on Monday?” Keep swinging though. There are opportunities for flexible and resilient job hunters.

Me & my opinions

Posted by Paul Hellman November 2, 2012 11:00 AM

Here's a question I never ask at work: Who are you voting for in the U.S. presidential election?

Let's not talk about it. Because if we disagreed, that wouldn't feel good. And neither of us would change our mind.

Even worse, I suffer from a crazy belief - I'm not proud of this - called "I'm right."

And yet . . . 64 million people (half the electorate) prefer the other candidate. And many of these people are very smart and very sensible. And they're convinced that they're right too.

Another problem: I have no idea, really, how I decided. Or even when.

Sure, I watched the debates, every second, but mostly as theatre. I've been watching presidential debates for years; I can't remember the last one that changed my mind.

If you asked why I prefer this candidate to that one, I'd give you reasons. There are always reasons. But it's more like these reasons came later, to justify an already-formed opinion.

So, this decision - some decisions are like this - is less about reasons, and more about something deeper, like values. And that's why debating your politics feels like debating your religion.

We identify, strongly, with our values. We don't say, "These (Democrats, Republicans, wild-eyed extremists) have some intriguing ideas."

We say, "I AM (a Democrat, Republican, wild-eyed extremist)."

And some people say, "I don't even want to meet anybody who's from the other party." That's what clients are telling Chicago matchmaking service, Selective Search (Wall Street Journal, 10/29/12).

How does this relate to work? Well, hopefully, at work you and I do the exact opposite (apart from avoiding politics).

That is, we're open-minded. Let's check. To what extent do you:

1) Actively seek out divergent opinions.

2) Suspend judgment, at least temporarily, and really listen to those opinions.

3) Sometimes, change your mind.

The U.S presidential election, analysts tell us, will be decided by the undecided voters. I have never met one, but if these voters really exist, they have something to teach us about open-mindedness.

I just hope, on election day, these undecided voters make the right decision.

Tip: Ever get triggered when others disagree with your opinion? Ever feel like they're attacking YOU?

It's easy to feel that way. But hard, then, to learn anything new.

© Copyright 2012 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

Manager Mis-Behavior

Posted by Elaine Varelas November 2, 2012 09:04 AM

Q. A key position in my department has gone through three employees in the last year. These people have chosen to leave because of the unreasonable expectations for the position and the abusive treatment from the manager. My boss is that manager. He treats me well and seems oblivious to how he’s treating others. This mess is taking its toll on me, and making my workload unmanageable. Should I speak with him, go to HR or do nothing?

A. The kind of turnover you have outlined should be sending big red flags to Human Resources. Most people choose to leave jobs, or stay at jobs, because of the relationship with their manager. If one employee left in short order, a mis-hire might have been the case. But if three people make a voluntary decision to leave the same role with the same manager, there are most likely other issues at work.

At this point, since you have a good relationship with your manager, it is best to try and keep it that way. An employee relations issue like this should be one that human resources or his manager has already looked into, or is asked to review. This is the kind of situation exit interviews with human resources are made for. Do you know if the employees who left had that opportunity?

I encourage you to meet with human resources to review key facts. Let the HR representative know you would like to discuss staffing issues in your area. You can start by reviewing the turnover. “We have lost three people in less than one year in the XX position. Having this much change in my group has led to a significant increase in my work load, and the stress of training new people. Can you tell me if you had the opportunity to conduct exit interviews with the people who left?” If yes, the question to be asked is “What are your plans for the area based on the information they provided?” If they did not conduct exit interviews, it may not be too late.

If HR doesn’t get the information they need from your former colleagues, it will be up to you to suggest that your manager has some opportunities for development. Explain that while your manager is able to work with you successfully, he is challenged by new employees, or other employee styles. Perhaps you know how he works, what he is looking for, and thus he has confidence in your capabilities which allows for a good working relationship. He may not be able to develop new employees and turns into an unreasonable and abusive manager when frustrated. Based on the information HR may have from former employees, coupled with the insights you can provide, they may believe your manager has the potential to be coached into becoming an effective manager. If the behavior is truly abusive HR should make another decision.

Often managers don’t recognize their behavior and actions impact all employees, not just the individuals they treat poorly. An effective coach can offer insights into blind spots, and effective tools to deal with frustration on the job.

Holidays at the Office

Posted by Peter Post November 1, 2012 07:00 AM

As I write this blog, it is day three of the devastation that hurricane Sandy has wrought across the east coast. I have heard mind-numbing stories of loss and tragedy and of heroism. Even though I have heard the roar of hurricane winds and seen the devastation they can cause myself, I am stunned by what people have had to endure from this storm. At such a time it seems odd to write about the holidays, but this person's letter reminds me that at their core the holidays are about people coming together. I pray for the people who are suffering, that they are safe and that recovery is swift.

Q. The holidays are a fun time for most everyone and the social atmosphere at most offices lends itself to some special holiday events; cookie exchanges, potluck lunches, Secret Santas, etc. How can we enjoy ourselves and still be respectful of those who choose not to celebrate, can't participate because of financial restraints or may not be in the mood to join in the festivities? I've always wanted to have a multi-cultural celebration so that everyone can enjoy, and we can learn from each other. Like a very large portion of Americans, I celebrate Christmas, but I wouldn’t be the least bit insulted if someone invited me to another type of celebration.

M. M., Hillsboro, OR

A. You're right that some people choose not to celebrate while others would celebrate but don't feel they can because of financial or other reasons. For the former, the best thing you can do is to respect their desire not to take part in the office parties, potluck lunches, or Secret Santa exchanges. Let them know they are always welcome, but also be respectful of their wishes by not pestering them. Consider switching the "Secret Santa" activity for a "Yankee Swap" a more inclusive-sounding alternative whose rules often make it more fun, too. Alternatively, speak to planners and suggest an office celebration that is tradition neutral or that encourages participants to share elements of their holiday traditions that fall around the December solstice. It might be as simple as a brown-bag office lunch together.

There are also people who would want to celebrate but don't or can't because of financial circumstances. If your office is organizing holiday donations, whoever is in charge should make sure that no one is pressured to contribute and that ALL donations and participants are anonymous. Set price limits for any gift swaps, and keep them low. Make sure there are ways for employees to participate in the holidays that don't involve money, too. Being the organizer of office events is a significant contribution on its own. As is manning the phones while any party is held, or helping with the decorating, set-up, and clean-up. Be creative and respectful and find a way for everyone who wants to participate to be involved.

I like your thoughts about the opportunity the holidays offer to learn about the ways different cultures celebrate. At home, you can take the initiative by inviting, a friend or colleague from another culture to your celebration. And let them know that you're interested in appreciating theirs, as well.

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From looking for a job to dealing with the one you have, our Job Docs are here to answer your employment-related questions.

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Meet the Jobs Docs

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.

Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.

Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.

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