Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Reading Roundup

Tasty links and stories from around the web:

Feel free to add in the comments!

Monday, December 28, 2009


Making New Year's Resolutions That Stick

It's that time of year again, when we stop, look at ourselves, and say, "You know, this coming year I really ought to..." or "This year, I'm definitely going to..." We make lists of these things, and about a month later, they somehow migrate to the round file, and we go on as before.

There's a false sense of security in making resolutions, the idea that once we write it down, it will happen. Magically, that is, without us doing anything more than fixing the idea at a particular point in time.

So how does one make resolutions that stick?

Change Is Incremental

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Sound familiar? Sure, you've probably read it in some sentimental card at Papyrus or a chain e-mail. Despite the hackneyed phrasing, the idea is still fundamental: you can't go far if you won't take the first step. For New Year's Resolutions, you have to realize that big changes don't happen overnight, they take time and effort. Don't resolve to lose 100 lbs if you can't start with a single trip to the gym.

Start Small, Finish Big

We all know someone who's made a BHAG for a New Year's Resolution, along the lines of "I'm going to beat the company sales record this year!" At the end of the year, you look at the sales records and the would-be top salesperson is nowhere on the list. Why do people fail to achieve a these kinds of resolutions? Because they keep the goal ambiguous without creating an action plan for achievement.

If you want to add a BHAG to your resolutions, don't just shoot for the moon, build a rocket ship to take you there. If you want to break a sales goal, calculate how much you have to sell each month. Look hard at your clients and determine how much you can sell to existing customers and estimate how much will have to come from new sales. Spend time developing an implementation plan, and you can achieve a major goal each year.

Be Realistic

My resolution last year (singular) was a simple one: never have more e-mails in my Inbox than I could view on a single screen. My life at the time was really crazy with a part-time job and full-time MBA program, but after skimming through the classic David Allen tome, Getting Things Done, I had decided to implement this one idea.

It meant taking fifteen minutes every single day to look at the e-mails piling up in my Inbox and find homes for them in categorized folders. I even took out scrap paper and sketched an index for sorting folders. For ongoing projects, I created a main folder called "Project Name" and then created sub folders by month, so I could track a project's progress.

My time was limited, and yet I did achieve my goal, to the point that it's a habit for me. But I was very realistic in setting my goal, knowing that I didn't have a lot of wiggle room to be ambitious.

Don't Give Up

For the past ten years or so, my list of "things to do someday" has included two things: learn to ski and learn to golf. Another person might have given up by now, but I still haven't. But I'm becoming a little more realistic about these items. They both require time and money. Over the summer, I bought a used set of golf clubs from craigslist, so this year, I'm one step closer to golfing. This coming summer, I'm going to block off some time to actually take the clubs to a driving range to try hitting a few balls. Sure it's taken me the better part of a decade, but I'm making progress. Certainly learning to golf hasn't been as much of a priority as my MBA training, or getting married, but I'm still keeping it in my mind. Lots of people have "someday" goals, the important thing is to take them out of the closet once in a while and try and take a few steps forward.

This year, I'm resolving to lose 30 lbs, and I began by joining a gym last week. So far I've been 4 times, which I like to think are the first 4 steps in the journey of many many more. What are you resolving this year?

Image: Calvin and Hobbes © Bill Watterson

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


What Robocalling Means For Your Business

"Hi, I'm Steve Pagliuca. I'm sorry for this recorded call..."

Such were the words that greeted me from my answering machine upon arrival home. In my mind, the next best possible words that could have followed would have been, "but you'll be hearing from me less frequently in the future." That wasn't what followed. What followed was a thanks for all of my support over the past months in Pagliuca's Senate campaign, and a general holiday greeting.

If I know nothing else about Pagliuca's campaign, it's that he has a lot of money to make robocalls (note the Wikipedia section header "Heavy use of robo-calls"). His campaign has called my home number just about every day for the past few weeks. Robocalling can be an effective tool--but only when used properly. This often means sparingly.

Recorded voice calls are often the most infuriating kind of call, short of the pushy telemarketing type. I very rarely listen to one all of the way through, unless it's a dentist's office reminding me of an upcoming appointment and I've forgotten the exact time of it. Using robocalls for appointment reminders is a great use of automated telephony. It's a quick piece of information, low cost, and useful to both the dentist's office and the patient. The dentist's office gets chance to confirm the appointment, and the patient gets a reminder for an appointment likely made six months ago.

Other good uses of robocalling are followup calls from services. For example, the last time I called Verizon about line trouble, I got a robocall from the company a few days later telling me that my service ticket had been addressed, the resolution, and the exact number to call in case the problem was not resolved. I didn't have to stay home to find out if the repair person had been by; I got a notice via the phone. Once again, a low cost, automated piece of technology that gives the customer piece of mind, and saves the company time.

Stephen Pagliuca, on the other hand, isn't reminding me to get my teeth cleaned, or letting me know that my phone line has been repaired. He's calling to ask for my vote, and this is something that isn't best accomplished via the robocall. People vote based on party affiliation, the candidate's position on issues important to the voter, past performance, and often charisma. Pagliuca needs to create a story about how he will act in office if elected Senator, and as a Bain alumnus and Romney protege´, he's running his campaign like a businessman, not necessarily a politician.

For a business-minded person, robocalls represent a way to blanket people with a message in a quick, efficient way. Props to Pagliuca for investing in good sound equipment; he has a much better sound quality to his messages than most robocalls. But even though people are hearing his name, they aren't hearing from Pagliuca himself. Robocalls are canned, impersonal, and don't put people in touch with the sender. People vote for people they feel a connection to, not someone who exists as a disembodied voice on the answering machine.

So, after yet another robocall tonight, I decided to call Pagliuca to ask to have my name taken off his calling list. (I'm pretty sure I'm on that list because I'm a registered Democrat and of the proper target demographic.) Here's where I found some worst practices in his contact system:

1) No number on the caller ID.
My caller ID lists the robocall has having come from "Out of Area" with no traceable number to call back to. This is a big no-no. What if I wanted to call and send him a donation?

2) No one answers the phone.
I looked up his campaign website and called the number on the "Contact Us" page. No one picked up, just an impersonal robo-voicemail system asking me to dial a given extension or 0 for the operator. Since there are no specific people listed as contact points for the campaign, or any extensions given on the web page, I dialed 0.

3) Unprogrammed voice mail.
After pushing 0, I heard a click, several rings and then the robo-voice, "Mailbox for Reception Area doesn't answer. Please leave a message after the tone." If you're not going to answer the phone, it's always important to program a message to answer. I would suggest something along the lines of "Thank you for calling the campaign headquarters of Stephen Pagliuca for Senate. We're out of the office for the holiday, but will return on.... If you need immediate assistance, please call our Public Relations officer at..." etc.

So I am left with the impression that Stephen Pagliuca can call me all he wants, but I can't call him. I heard on WBUR the other morning an interview with Pagliuca, and he was pushing a slogan of "Pags means jobs." I think it might be more appropriate to say, "Pags means robocalls." And if anyone does actually get through to Pagliuca, please send me his number. I have some advice for him.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Random Acts of Kindness

New York Magazine's blog, Daily Intel (one of my daily must-reads) called yesterday for stories about the kindness of strangers in New York City. This has inspired me to ask Bostonians for similar stories, because I will always believe in the innate goodness of most of humanity (Bernie Madoff excluded).

Practicing random acts of kindness, aside from being a favorite bumper sticker, is something I try to incorporate into my daily life. Few things actually mean more to me than making someone else happy through help. This can come in many forms--earlier this week, I stopped to ask a woman staring at a map if she needed directions and was able to point her to Canal street. On my honeymoon to Martha's Vineyard, I gave away the free ride from catching the brass ring on the Flying Horses carousel to a kid who was too short to reach the ring dispenser.

Here is a story about one of my favorite random acts of kindness that someone did for me:

A few years ago just before Thanksgiving, on street-sweeping day, I left my apartment only to see my husband's car still on the street -- as the street sweeper and the meter maid approached.

The street sweeper stopped, said he would wait for me to move the car. Only problem: I doesn't have a license and can't drive a stick shift.

'The street sweeper himself, seeing the BTD car with meter maid inside pulling on to our street, asked me for the keys, and he so smoothly drove the car to an empty parking spot right in front of our house. He said I didn't deserve a ticket and he was happy to do it. I couldn't believe it, but I was incredibly happy.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Customer Service Gold Star: Citizens Bank

I switched my checking account to Citizens Bank from Bank of America almost 5 years ago, because I was sick of BofA's fees. I chose Citizens because there was a branch two blocks from my house, and I didn't think they were likely to be bought out. (This was after my BankBoston account became Fleet, which became Bank of America.) When I opened the checking account, I was offered a credit card with 0% interest for a year, and 12% after that. I was in the process of getting rid of my American Express Blue card (sky high interest rates after I was no longer a student), and went for it.

Over the five years I've been with them, I've never had a problem. I've done very well with them. When you ask to have your rate lowered, they always check to see if you qualify and never give you a hassle about doing it. When they recently upgraded their online banking system, they included this account in my visible accounts, so that I can simply transfer the funds from my checking to the credit card balance instead of having to mail a check or set up a check payment in the bill payment section of the site.

Earlier this year, I asked again for a rate lowering, which I qualified for, except that I was on a rewards point account, and there was a minimum rate for that kind of account. I spoke with a manager, used up the point balance and arranged to be taken out of the point system (which is never worth as much as you think) so I could have the lower rate. When I called back a few weeks later with my new card to activate it and confirm the rate increase, there was a slight obstacle in that they were no longer offering the 9% rate that I had been offered previously. A quick transfer to a manager, and explanation that the offer was made before they had changed their policy later, and I was given the lower rate.

Today, Citizens did something completely unexpected. They sent me a box of Godiva chocolates with a note:

To Our Valued Customer,

Please accent this tocken of our appreciation for your continued business. We know that you have many credit card options to choose from and we greatly appreciate that you have chosen ours.

As the New Year approaches, we look forward to serving all of your financial needs. Happy Holidays!

Peter Constant
Credit Card Services

Yes, I like chocolate, and I am a big Godiva fan, but really, this was more meaningful than gourmet treats. After being treated like a deadbeat from Banana Republic (or more specifically GE Banking) recently, and reading all the news about people being harassed by their banks, it is truly gratifying to be recognized as a good customer.

This week in Strategy class, we talked about the WorldCom accounting fraud, and in dissecting the company's strategy, we quickly identified that the company had no interest in its actual customers, just its stock price. At Simmons, the curriculum is focused on Principled Leadership, and part of that is caring about customers. Making customers feel appreciated, and helping them leads to a positive impact outside the company. Certainly, I'm here writing to you all and telling you how much I like Citizens Bank as a credit card company. But more importantly, I know that this credit card is part of my safety net, and represents for me purchasing power. To think about this more philosophically, it empowers me to do good with this money, such as my annual donation to the Boston Ballet when I purchase my subscription. (Certainly I could also be doing less good things with the money, but that's not the point.)

If I have learned nothing else in business school, and through my own experience, it's that customer service matters. When I think of the values I hold personally, and apply them to business, respect and service are at the top of the list. At work, when I think of how my communications impact other people, I know that I can't produce something that doesn't serve the customer's best interests, or isn't respectful. And it is service, and the respect with which I have always been treated at Citizens Bank, that earns this company a customer service gold star.


Mindy Grossman from HSN as a Boss Among Equals

I love the NY Times' column "Corner Office," and I particularly like the regularity with which they feature women executives. They cover a range of industries from military contracting (Linda Hudson) to academia (Drew Gilpin Faust) to e-commerce (Susan Lynne), and I always learn something new.

The most recent column features Mindy Grossman, CEO of Home Shopping Network or HSN. My favorite part of the interview was the leadoff:

Q. Tell me about your leadership style.

A. I believe in accessibility. I believe in honesty and a culture that supports that. And you can’t have that if you’re not open to receiving feedback. I find out as much from the guy in backstage TV as I do from my C.F.O. Anybody can e-mail me. I do town halls with employees at least once every eight weeks. I’m out there and it makes a huge difference.

Q. How do you make sure you’re getting honest feedback?

A. I think the way you start sets the tone for your leadership style. For example, my first day, I went through orientation just like everyone else, because I wanted to see what everybody else feels when they come into this company for the first time. There were 15 people — a guy who is in backstage TV, somebody in production, somebody in planning, and I just came in and sat down.

Everybody had to go around the room and say what their job was, including me. There were a couple of abrupt reactions, with people saying, “Really?” But the impact that had, and how viral it was throughout the organization, made a huge difference, because it was a signal of a new management philosophy. When I came into the company, honestly, it was an unhealthy environment. I had worked in unhealthy environments, so I know what it feels like.

I admire Grossman for going through new employee orientation. This part of the job process is very important, it sets the cultural tone for the company. Not only is it important to make sure your company's culture is well presented in orientation, it is even more important to know that your company practices what it preaches. I can't think of many high level executives that do this, and this is something I am going to make sure that I do when I finally reach the C-level.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Economic Impact: Layoffs

I have worked in the non-profit field for my entire career, most of in at colleges and universities. I currently work in a large non-profit that functions more like a corporate services firm in the student loan industry.

Because of the pending legislation surrounding student loans, my company has had to restructure itself. The FFELP program is being phased out, and as such, my company won't be in the origination business any more. Yesterday, over 100 people at this firm (17% of the workforce) were laid off.

Universities and colleges don't do layoffs in the same way that corporations do, and as such, this is my first time in a layoff environment. I wasn't here yesterday when the news broke, but I did get a text message from a former employee and friend who asked me if I was okay while I was in class. I thought she meant I'd been fired in my absence, and promptly panicked. It took a few emails and phone calls to find out that my job is safe.

Coming in to work today, the tension is palpable. The floor seems very quiet, and I'm acutely aware of several people who aren't here. I'm grateful that my job is relevant to the company's new organizational structure, but I feel terrible for those who lost their jobs.

Yesterday, in my IT Management class, Madge Meyer, EVP at State Street came in to speak, and she mentioned a project she launched that resulted in laying off a significant portion of the IT department. I asked her (not knowing that in a few hours I would be finding out that my company was laying off staff) how she handled the layoffs. Wasn't she worried about the tension it would create? How did she handle such an unpleasant decision?

Her answer was that it was important to move those who were "stuck in the mud" out of the company, and that most of those whose jobs were cut were given a very generous severance package. Most were actually bought out. She was very positive about what had happened. I know that here, its necessary to consolidate and streamline, and I understand the business case for this, but it's still unnerving.

I'd love to hear from others who have been through layoffs. How did you survive or not?

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Wall Street Meets Main Street

I'm currently in the process of buying a house, and I happen to know I have great credit and a spotless credit record. (Quick hit: for a government guaranteed credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com. Don't be scammed by pirate-suited waiter schilling for freecreditreport.com.)

And yet, despite my ability to pay all my bills on time (even through most of 2008 when I didn't have a job and didn't collect unemployment), I am still very suspect to Wall Street. Why? Because the big banking firms made some stupid mistakes betting on the housing bubble and bad mortgages. All of this means that even if I pay a bill on time for more than the minimum, on the day that the bill is due, I get a call asking me to make a payment by phone on that bill.


The bank in question is GE Moneybank, the backer of my Banana Republic card. I carry a small balance on it, and don't use it that frequently, and I've never not paid the bill. My bill was due today for a minimum payment of $23, and I had already scheduled that bill to be paid, the second I got my statement, from my online banking account. I sent them $75, and I checked this morning, and the check cleared. So GE Moneybank got their money probably at 8:00 am this morning. And yet, when I got home, I got a call from them.

"We just want to know if you're having trouble making this payment, and we'd like you to pay this bill by debit card over the phone."


This payment isn't late. I have NEVER been late with a payment. And yet, the very day it's due, I get a call. And when I told the woman on the phone that the payment was made and it cleared, she still treated me like a deadbeat, saying that she'd have to make a notation on the account, that probably the system wouldn't register the electronic payment until tomorrow.

GE Moneybank is so hard up that they couldn't wait 24 hours for their system to catch up?

I have considered getting rid of this card before, because I don't shop at Banana Republic as much as I used to. And I don't really need another credit card. In fact, the thing that's really stopping me here is that if I close the account, it takes down my credit score for six months, and I don't want to jeopardize my mortgage application in any way.

Why is it, that someone who works hard and takes care of her bills like me gets a phone call like this? Because we live in a recession created by Wall Street. I am furious that the heads of Goldman Sachs are collecting bonuses still and I with my lower middle class lifestyle have to justify my bill payments over the phone to someone probably not paid enough by yet another big conglomerate.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Making Green by Investing in Green

During the 2nd Bush administration, the oil companies profited from government policies hand over fist. Bush, an oil man himself, made a mint on sky-high gas prices and by squashing legislation that would have reigned in oil companies. And no one on the right said anything against this.

But let Al Gore make a few bucks betting on green energy, and the right goes nuts with accusations about ill gotten gains.

Critics, mostly on the political right and among global warming skeptics, say Mr. Gore is poised to become the world’s first “carbon billionaire,” profiteering from government policies he supports that would direct billions of dollars to the business ventures he has invested in.

Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, asserted at a hearing this year that Mr. Gore stood to benefit personally from the energy and climate policies he was urging Congress to adopt.

Is there really anything wrong with this? Americans follow the money. If we can start convincing the country that there's money to be made in green energy, maybe then we can finally get the oil money off our national back.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Customer Service Gets Personal: Part 2

Wow. I never thought this thing would have such legs. But hey! Apparently people had a lot to say about my experience at Elizabeth Grady.

My situation analysis turned up on the front page of Boston.com:

It was the subject of a great discussion on Blake's Customer Service IQ blog.

And my favorite of all, it was mentioned on HubSpot TV. (You can also look up HubSpot on iTunes and subscribe to their weekly broadcast.)

There were some people who felt I was "looking for a handout" about this experience, which surprised me. I don't often go to the trouble to challenge bad service. I think of a bad haircut and color I once got, and I just went to another place and had it redone. Most of the time, I just walk away and take my business elsewhere. The reason I went back and was so aggressive about the wax was because it really hurt, for a while afterward, and I have always had a higher quality of customer service there. My expectations were that they would want to fix a job poorly done.

I was also surprised and how courteous and conversational the comments were. I felt really vulnerable writing about the topic, and I was pleasantly surprised not to have anyone make any seriously out-of-line comments. Yes, someone called me greedy, but no one called me anything I couldn't take.

In the end though, it is about customer service. As HubSpot TV put it, as a customer, I have a huge (well, maybe not that huge) megaphone to use to tell the world about my bad customer service. Treat your customers right because customer service is your business.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Customer Service Gets Personal

(I'm going out a bit on a ledge to discuss this current topic, but I'm going to trust my audience.)

There are many kinds of spas in the Boston area, and I've been to a variety. There are some that do hair and facials, some that offer massages and waxing services, some that just do manicures and pedicures. And there are super-upscale spas and those that specialize.

For those times that I've saved up and wanted the ultimate luxury treatment, I splurge on Exhale. It's expensive, but you get a lot. I love the changing room, with its steam room, sunflower showerheads, and how they provide all the necessities so you don't have to bring your own brush, hairspray, or mouthwash. The surroundings are gorgeous and relaxing, and the staff is fantastic. Recently, I had a massage and facial there, which I booked through their online system. This required using a credit card to pay in advance and I put in a new card, since the old one they had in the system for me had expired. I actually paid with a gift certificate, and they promised to refund my card, and called me on Monday to tell me that they did.

Two weeks later, I still couldn't see the refund and I called back. It turned out that the system had refunded my expired card, since it was the first one in the system. They apologized profusely, told me that they would fix the problem immediately. They took down the number of my new card, so that they could get the refund back where it belonged, and they would investigate why an expired card number still worked in the system. That was Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, I went to Elizabeth Grady (Financial District location) for a bikini wax. (This is the "going out on a ledge" part. I'm normally not keen to share stories about personal grooming in public.) I go to this spa for waxing and the occasional facial because it's cheaper than others, and they offer speedy service. (Think of this as the McDonald's of spas.) The space is clinically clean, and mostly white, and it reminds me of Dunkin' Donuts except for the pseudo-Asian Zen Muzak and lack of donuts. I usually have the same woman, Sandra, for all of my services. Sandra is lovely. She did my wedding makeup, and she's pleasant and provides consistent, good service. Waxing can be very painful, and she does a lovely job. However, on this particular Friday, I did not get Sandra. I got Kaitlyn, who was brand new. This was the worst wax I have ever had in my life. There is some pain inherent in getting waxed, but well, this was far more than what the job called for. I don't want to go into too many details (since I don't want to reveal everything on the internet) but in the end, I was sore for three days after, she took off the hair I asked her not to touch, and she left a lot of hair where I wanted none. I have never before needed to scream during a waxing process, but then there is a first time for everything.

It has taken me two weeks of calling Elizabeth Grady to get a resolution. I asked for a refund. The answer was no. I asked for a gift certificate for a free service next time (with Sandra). The answer was no. I called today while on my lunchtime stroll and was told by Diane, the manager, that "I can't just give away free services, because I'd be giving away thousands of dollars in free services." This really just made me wonder how many people ask for refunds because of bad services. Or how many people Kaitlyn had seen since she started. She put me on the phone with the regional VP who happened to be in the office that day, who told me I'd have to come in and "prove" that I had had such an awful service. How lovely! I have to essentially drop my pants to get any recognition!

And yet, because I was really mad, and wanted restitution, I went. I humiliated myself and took off my trousers and showed them the damage. They offered to have one of the senior aestheticians fix the parts where the hair had been left on, and she did. (She did do a nice job, with just about no pain at all.) But that was it. No refund, no "I'm sorry for your services," not even a discount towards future services.

Of course, like any good blogger, I decided to put this out on the internet, so hopefully people will be aware that Elizabeth Grady does not handle complaints well. That they do not give refunds or future discounts, or even real apologies. But it gets better!

Exhale called me tonight when I got home to let me know that they had contacted their tech people, canceled the refund to my old card, and put it back on my new card and told me I should see it show up in 5 to 10 business days. Courtney apologized for all the trouble, and thanked me for being a good customer. And on a lark, I asked her about Exhale's policy on complaints.

I told her my story about Elizabeth Grady and how they had refused to help me, and asked her, if that had happened at her spa, what would she have done? Her answer was to tell me of a recent customer who hadn't been happy with a massage, and she gave the woman a discount on her massage and a gift certificate for a free massage in the future. That is what I call service! In fact, Courtney was a smart, savvy business woman, and she told me that they have excellent waxing services at Exhale, and if I would like to come in for my next one, she would comp the service for me.

So, as a future MBA, I reflect on the situation. Spas, unlike retail stores, have an extra reason to be dependent on customer satisfaction. Spas provide luxury services, and particularly rely on women customers, who build relationships with certain service providers. In the Boston area, there are a lot of substitutes, and customers have a lot of choices. Because of the current state of the economy, people are spending less on luxuries, like spa services. For an industry that relies on discretionary spending and repeat business in a competitive market, it's important to give the utmost in customer service. It's important to provide the best value for your customers, because they will go somewhere else. In my strategy class this week, value was defined as:


In my experience at Elizabeth Grady, the value has always been low, the outweighing benefit being the convenience of location, and speed of service. And even that edge has been erased by the recent shabby treatment. At Exhale, the benefits include excellent facilities, relaxing environment, complimentary tea, and top of the line service. These are worth far more to me than the higher price tag.

Certainly, Exhale and Elizabeth Grady compete on entirely different value propositions (speed vs. luxury), but in this industry, customer service makes all the difference. I'm not sure how many people I've convinced to go try a service at Exhale, but I hope people will think twice about visiting Elizabeth Grady.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Dead Clowns and Bluetooth Headsets

From the Wall Street Journal, a review of two new "chic" Bluetooth headsets. I'm all in favor of Bluetooth headsets, but the images the two companies chose for their products are very
strikingly different.

The Plantronics Discovery 975 model is pretty nifty. It's space age, it's tiny, and it's definitely a man's man's gadget:

The guy showing of this amazing piece of technology is ready to get business done. He's a professional.

The other headset reviewed, the Jawbone Prime by Aliph, is obviously for the ladies:

Just remember, it's what all the hottest dead clown women are wearing this season. (The site also features other dead clowns in a variety of color palettes to match their supercool headsets.)

As a coworker remarked:

Imagine the pitch for this: "We have a really cool new headset. How can we sell it? I know! Dead women painted like clowns! Brilliant!" And someone else said, "Yes!"

Tuesday, August 04, 2009



Really, I try to make this blog less personal than it used to be, but I simply cannot restrain myself from sharing this. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that my status updates for the past month have revolved around my Market Research presentation which went off last week. I definitely felt it went well, but it was great to get this email from my professor today:

Congratulations again on an outstanding presentation. I think it is as close to a “prefect” presentation as any I have seen from MBA students in my 8 years teaching at SOM. I was extremely impressed with your presentation content. You did an excellent job of weaving together a lot of disparate information into a very cohesive overview. Your “key findings” sections were instrumental in keeping the viewer anchored in the implications, and the work you did creating the matrix took the data to a very impressive level of abstraction, showing that you could very effectively use data in very applied and meaningful ways. Your delivery too was extremely good, demonstrating each of you to be mature and accomplished presenters. I will send you some more feedback with my review of your document, but just wanted to let you know what an outstanding job you did of the presentation. You made me proud to be a SOM faculty member last Wednesday!

I attribute this fantastic result to a great team of dedicated professionals. I have never worked with such an incredible group before, and I was very proud to work alongside the other women in my team. There was a lot of sharing, discussion, hard work, and appreciation for each other. I took away a lot from this class in terms of building a solid presentation and paper as part of a group, time management with disparate scheduling, and using technology to organize the project.

Thanks, team.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Race and Minimum Wage

It's sad that even in this day and age, a Black professor from Harvard can't unjam his own front door without being arrested. My first thought after reading the initial news reports was that if Professor Gates were white, this wouldn't have happened. Or Asian, because in American stereotypes, Asians are smart and well-behaved. But the arrest probably would have happened if he were Latino, or Middle-Eastern.

I was also troubled by the idea that the "attempted break-in" was reported by one of Prof. Gates' neighbors. Surely they should have know what he looked like.

But really, this sort of racial profiling happens all the time. Ralph Medley, a retired professor in Chicago was once arrested while performing maintenance on his own property. According to the New York Times, Blacks operate under an unwritten code in dealing with law enforcement to avoid such mis-arrests.

Many of us would like to think we've moved beyond this ugliness, particularly with the success of minorities including President Obama, Clarence Thomas, Oprah Winfrey, Carol Mosely Braun, and other visible role models. But really, they are the outliers. As a country, we create conditions that keep minorities (and women) from achieving great success. One of them has to do with income levels.

Forbes ran a piece online today with the headline "Mandating Higher Unemployment." The article argues that as minimum wages rise, companies will have to lay people off to cover the extra pay raises. It didn't matter to the author that $7.25 (the new minimum) is not a living wage anyway, and that the people who rely on that minimum wage are primarily minorities in this country, and lower-class whites. Please take a look at the author:

Bruce Bartlett is the ultimate Rich White Male. From his combover, to his power tie, to his jowls, this man is someone who has never had to worry about being mistaken for a burglar at his own home. Mr. Bartlett is writing about his views being a very well-off businessman. He is comfortable telling lower-income workers that they don't deserve to earn more, because that would mean layoffs higher up the line. Some of the reason that Mr. Bartlett doesn't want to raise minimum wage:

Minimum wage workers are not well educated. About 40% don't have a high school
diploma, and a third have only a high school education. Just 3% of those working
at the minimum wage have graduated from college.

About a fourth of those working at the minimum wage are married, and 80% of them are women. It's reasonable to assume that most have working husbands, so their earnings probably don't affect the family's standard of living very much.

So, because minimum wage people don't have great educations, they don't deserve to be paid more. Aha! And women should be just fine because they have husbands to earn the real money. What Mr. Bartlett does not point out is the overlap between these statistics and race. 17% of minimum wage earners are Black. I'm willing to bet that many more are Latino.

One of the best ways to make progress against racial prejudice is to give minorities the tools they need to advance, including education, safe, clean housing, health care, and job training. All of these things require money. Raising minimum wage is a small step forward, particularly since this isn't a very big increase. Giving people a living wage so that they can compete with the Bruce Bartlett's in the world is only fair.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Life After 9/11

I took my 2 year old nephew to Revere Beach last year, and he loved seeing the planes on the approach to Logan Airport, so close you could read the airline names on the sides. Myself, I'm not so crazy about seeing low-flying planes, even when I know they're just heading for nearby runways. It's strange to think that eight years later, I'm still bothered by low-flying planes, even though I'm confident in the government's ability to stop any potential terrorist attacks.

Today, this email was sent around my office:

Please be advised that a military fly over consisting of six F-A 18 jet fighter aircraft and one C-130 transport is tentatively scheduled to occur today, Wednesday, July 1st between 1:00 and 1:20 p.m., weather permitting. The flyover is being conducted by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in conjunction with their recent visit to an air show in Rhode Island. The Blue Angels are the U.S. Navy’s aerial demonstration team and they applied for and received permission from the FAA for the Boston flyover at an altitude of 1000 feet to take promotional photos if conditions are favorable.

Please notify your employees who may observe the jets as they pass by, in order to avert any potential anxiety or apprehension the sight of these military aircraft may

It's sad to think that we're still so axious that we have to be "warned" of our own planes doing air stunts.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Diversity Etiquette

Today's Little Pink Book--a free daily workplace tip from PINK Magazine--features a sometimes touchy issue, and handles it with grace and aplomb:

Gay Friendly = Better Business

You've long been a champion of women's rights (and we love you for it!). Racism in the workplace? You'd never stand for that. But how much energy have you given to standing up for that other (less protected) minority in the workplace – gays and lesbians?

New York recently passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. And President Obama declared June "Gay Pride Month." Smart businesses are also making including gay professionals a priority.

Other than just doing the right thing, making your company more inclusive for homosexuals is becoming a business imperative. "There's tremendous buying power [estimated at $759 billion in 2009] and brand loyalty among those in this community," explains Jean-Marie Navetta of Parents, Familes, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "Plus, when workers feel included and able to be their authentic selves, their performance is better, they're better employees."

There are some great resources on the web for helping employees appreciate the diversity of their coworkers. My personal favorite was this piece from DiversityInc.org:

7 Things NEVER to Say to LGBT Coworkers

By Daryl Hannah

For most, coming out at work is not an easy task. You can't be sure how your company or peers will respond to your revelation. And despite recent reports that the workplace is growing increasingly accepting to LGBT employees, people often don't know how to welcome a colleague who recently came out of the closet.

PricewaterhouseCoopers executive Stephanie Peel's history is a corporate America coming-out success story. When she came out professionally nearly 10 years ago, she was welcomed by her colleagues. "I came out personally in 1997 and came out professionally in 1999. Fortunately, I never heard anything not positive," says Peel.

Peel now serves on the company's LGBT-partner advisory board, which consists of 10--12 leaders in the firm who are LGBT, and provides guidance to the management committee to help further advance initiatives and activities. PricewaterhouseCoopers is No. 12 on The 2007 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® list and No. 8 on the Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees.

"I often tell people who ask me about this [that] it's not just about what you can't say or shouldn't say, because sometimes I find that colleagues feel stymied in that they shouldn't say anything at all. There is a lot of room for the things you can say to give clues to people that you are inclusive and culturally sensitive," warns Peel.

So what are seven things you should NEVER say to your LGBT colleagues? Here's what GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), Out & Equal Workplace Project, and Peel suggest:

No. 1: "I suspected you were gay."

Although it is a common response, it's insensitive and plays into stereotypes.

No. 2: "I'm sorry."

Why should you apologize for a colleague's orientation? This implies judgment and can make the situation more difficult. Would you apologize for a person's ethnicity or gender?

No. 3: "Why did you tell me that?"

It's important for people to bring their "whole selves" to work, and coming out of the closet is certainly a part of who one is. "The notion of leaving a big part of your self at home and walking into work is like walking around with two types of shoes on," says Selisse Berry, executive director of Out & Equal, an advocacy organization that provides services to companies, human-resource professionals, employee-resource groups and individuals.

No. 4: "Which bathroom do you use?"

Transgender people often are asked what gender they are. Such questions are inappropriate, warns Out & Equal. It is important to remember that gender identity is becoming an increasingly sensitive subject.

No. 5: "We are not close enough for you to share that information with me."

Not all employees are interested in their coworkers' personal lives. If you feel a colleague may have shared too much information, you can simply say, "Thank you for telling me that," says Peel.

No. 6: Referring to coworkers as "she-male."

There has been a lot of uproar these days over this phrase. Transgender employees often are the brunt of culturally insensitive jokes and comments.

No. 7:
"What do you like to do in bed?"

Sexual questions and comments are always off-limits. Not only do you run the risk of offending a colleague, you are also teetering the line of sexual harassment. It's important not to be confused between trying to understand someone's personal life and inappropriate sexual harassment, warns Kevin Jennings, executive director of GLSEN.

If you explore the Diversity Inc site, you'll find a lot more about what is and isn't appropriate to say regarding diversity hot-button issues in the workplace. This is a great place for managers to go to evaluate how well they are managing diversity issues in the office, and how to improve the office environment.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Biking in Boston

On Wednesday, I discovered that people in East Boston can't take the Blue Line one stop (across the harbor) with a bicycle, which threw a wrench in my plans to commute by bicycle on Wednesdays. So, I wrote letters to Dan Grabauskas, General Manager of the MBTA, and Mayor Menino, bike enthusiast. Here's my letter (I mention the Trek bike specifically since Menino rides one too):

Dear Mayor Menino,

I have been a resident of Boston for six years, and have been very impressed with your dedication to making Boston a better city for bicycle commuting. I recently acquired a small Trek women's bike, and this morning set about commuting to work near Government Center. I live at (address redacted) in East Boston, and in order to get to Government Center, I have to get across the harbor. Bikes are not allowed over the Tobin Bridge or in the Sumner or Williams Tunnels. Therefore, in order to get my bike over the harbor, I went to Maverick T stop this morning to take the T one stop to Aquarium.

I left my house a little later that I usually do, because I know that the trains running to Bowdoin have fewer passengers after 8:30 am, and there would be more room for my bike (which is not that large to begin with). I paid my fare and went through the gates at Maverick, and was stopped by a T inspector, who informed me that I can't bring a bike on to the T until 10 am. I understand that he was enforcing policy, but I have never before had a restriction on my taking a bike on the T during peak hours. To his credit, the Inspector didn't let me get on, but I snuck on while he was distracted, in the last car of a six-car 8:50 train. There was penty of room on it for me and my bicycle. (In fact, there was plenty of room on the four trains that went by prior, while the Inspector was holding me on the platform.)

I don't like not following the rules, but this is a discriminatory rule. If someone who lives in Allston wants to ride a bike to downtown for work, she can just go ahead and do it. If someone in East Boston wants to, she's stuck. I can't ride my bike in the tunnels, and I can't take it over the Tobin Bridge. This is seriously unfair that I am unable to commute by bike for one T stop (Maverick to Aquarium). I would like to request permission to move my bike by T from Maverick to Aquarium on Wednesdays at 8:30 am. I am completely amenable to riding in the last car of six car train to minimize space issues, and I am willing to wait for a train carrying fewer passengers that would have room for me. My bike takes up roughly the same space as a motorized wheelchair. If I were on one of those, you couldn't deny me access to the T, even though I would be taking up a lot of space. I take up less space than two-child baby strollers, which are also allowed on the T during peak hours.

I know that you don't control the T, but is there some way that you could coordinate with them to allow East Boston residents to take bikes on the Blue Line from Maverick to Aquarium on weekday mornings? I want to use my bike more, and appreciate that on my weekends I can ride for all of my errands and trips, and would really like to add my weekday commute to that list. Maybe you could help the T make an exception for me?

Yours truly,
Kate Hutchinson

I haven't heard back from Dan Grabauskas, but here's the Mayor's office reply:

Thank you for emailing Mayor Menino. This email is to confirm we received your message. Your request has been forwarded to the appropriate personnel. This is an issue that the MBTA NEEDS to address.

Mayor's Office
One City Hall Plaza
Boston, Ma 02201

It will be interesting to see if this issue could actually be raised. Considering it's an election year, here's a little issue that Menino can use to boost his image: helping East Bostonions become green commuters. AND taking on the T. That must be worth a lot of votes.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Assessing Your Leadership Skills

Are you a good leader? It's a hard question to answer, and one that takes serious thought. So where do you look for answers?

Start with your definiton of a good leader. Think of people you've worked with, and how you felt about their leadership. Do you have a leadership role model? Look at your industry and find the top rated leaders there--do they align with your idea of an ideal leader? If you can't think of a person who exemplifies your idea of leadership, begin with listing traits that you feel make a good leader. (For ideas on leadership traits, try visiting Jim Kouzes and Barry Posners Leadership Challenge site.)

Once you've defined the parameters of good leadership, the next step is to evaluate your own leadership qualities. If you feel that leading by example is an important part of good leadership, do you follow that principle? An excellent tool to help you assess general leadership traits can be found on MindTools. Jot down how you measure up to your own leadership standards.

When you look at your definition and your self-assessment, do you see any gaps? Writing this down helps you to find your leadership strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps you excel at motivating those around you, but you could improve your projection of yourself as a leader.

A self-assessment is the starting point, but also remember to solicit feedback from others. Ask a trusted mentor or supervisor how they would assess you as a leader. And ask someone who works with you outside of the office too. Consider where you shine as a leader; if you are a great leader of your Girl Scout Troop, but less so for your Strategy Team at work, you should find out what you're doing right for the Troop to improve your leadership of the Team.

Always remember that being a good leader means continually assessing your performance and looking for ways to improve. You'll notice that the The Seventh Habit of Highly Effective People is to "sharpen the saw"--meaning go back through the first six habits and apply them to your next level of personal achievement. It's important to know that you can always find some way to improve.

Recommended Reading:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The Leadership Challenge
Head, Heart and Guts

Thursday, June 04, 2009


Well Mannered

While we all know that well-mannered women rarely make history, it is also true that they have a harder time breaking into C-level jobs. The way to the top is certainly polished with proper greetings, handshakes, and thank you notes.

Recently I have been looking for an Executive Finishing School in Boston, and while I haven't found one that both suits my needs and fits my budget, I did find a lovely company called Mannersmith, which maintains a blog of etiquette advice. I thought I would pass along this resource to others out there who are seeking to polish their social graces.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


A Recipe for Delicious

The old phrase goes, "monkey see, monkey do..." Last week I read the NYT article on the new hipness of canning, and I felt a wave of nostalgia that brought me to this week's extracurricular project: pickle making. I have a stash of memories involving my family and making things in clean, glass Ball jars that were just so delicious. And half the fun was putting them in the jar, the best part being the sucking snap of the seal at the moment the jars reached the right temperature.

My family recipes are not for the exotic asparagus of the NYT article; they are for pickles, relishes, jams, and grapes. On my great-great-aunt's farm, one point in a triangle of my grandparents' home and my aunt's house, there was an old grapevine, over a century old, and I loved to pick the grapes from the vine. They were sweet and somewhat leathery--nothing like grapes from the grocery store. My father would collect them, store them in jars with sugar and water. Then after months, you could pull out the sweet grapes and eat them, and the water became a grape juice cocktail. When the old farm was sold ten or so years ago, my father took some cuttings from the old vine, and he now has his own vine growing over a homemade trellis on the deck.

I am far from the grapes, but there are plenty of cucumbers to be had. Yesterday I went down to Shaw's and with a little help from the produce department, I picked out fifteen fat juicy cucumbers. Here's the recipe:

Sweet Brown Pickles, from the kitchen of Grammy Kitten

  • 3 to 4 quarts of cucumber chunks
This involves peeling the cucumbers, removing the seeds and cutting the remaining fruit into small chunks:

Put the cucumber pieces in a large kettle, and add 4 to 5 tablespoons of salt. (In the old days, we used Morton's. For this batch, I used fancy schmancy sea salt from Williams Sonoma.) Cover the kettle and shake to evenly distribute the salt. Leave for several hours so the salt will absorb the excess water from the fruit--I leave it overnight. In the morning, the cucumbers will be floating in salt water.

Dump the cucumbers into a collander and drain the salt water. RINSE THOROUGHLY. You do not want salt in this recipe, so rinse and rinse again. I rinse, then let them drain in the sink, rinse again, about four or five times. Taste a piece to make sure they are throughly de-salted. When they're clean, put the cucumber chunks back in the (also rinsed) kettle.

Put on a low heat. Add:
  • 2 cups of cider vinegar
  • 2 lbs of dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
Let simmer to a slow boil, for about half an hour to an hour, stirring occasionally. My grandmother's notes say "leave until soft and of a good color."

Once they're cooked, get out your jars, rinsed in hot water. (You can boil them if you want to be strictly by-the-book, but I just run them under the tap. Ladle in the pickles with an even amount of the juice into the jars, add the flat lid and the screw lid. (Now for the fun part.) Let them sit on the counter, and as they cool, the dissapating heat sucks in the flat lid in a vacuum seal. (I just heard mine pop!)

Now you can't eat these pickles right away, they need to cure. So put a label on them (file labels work fine, or you can usually buy labels from the hardware store that sells the jars), with either the date you made them, or a date three months later--which is when they are ready to eat. They are lovely with meatloaf or steak, or any red meat, but feel free to try them with whatever you want.

Monday, May 25, 2009


My Mom Is On Twitter

If you asked me 6 months ago if my mother would ever get into social networking, I would have said no, particularly based on the Facebook Incident.

This morning, I got a notice from Twitter that my mom is following me. Her one and only tweet to date involves her great love: Revolutionary War re-enacting. Apparently 14 hours ago, she was rolling black powder cartridges for firing the cannon for a Memorial Day ceremony. This would most likely have involved a Civil War era cannon, but my parents are also part of two cannon crews in New England from that era.

My first reaction to hearing my mom was on Twitter was a full on, "Good for her!" It's great to know that she's trying something new, and maybe she'll meet other re-enactors on Twitter. Then comes a thought: do I now need to censor what I'm tweeting? After a few moments of consideration I realize, I never tweet anything I wouldn't want a potential boss to see, and so I think I'm fine with my mother seeing that.

It's strange to think how far I've come when I first had a diary-style blog and I wrote some things that my whole miniature hometown started reading, and someone with my aunt's IP address began leaving seriously nasty comments... I suppose I'm happy I was burned a long time ago, before Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter, so I think I'm a little more careful than most people. I use my own name on all my writing now, because I know that someone will always figure out who I am. I see people who hide behind anonymity as cheaters, free to jeer and threaten without consequences.

Which is why I'm glad that my mom chose her own name for her Twitter account. (Well, the user name is a combo of family initials, but it shows up under her own name.) So, maybe there will be some Hi Mom tweets from me. If you're interested in learning about re-enacting (or even want to join up!) feel free to say hi: @sjkecrh.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Media Consumption

This week has been a lovely vacation between spring and summer semesters, and I've been taking the time to read the pile of books that waited patiently all spring for me:

Alberto Ferraras wrote this lovely Cinderella tale about a larger woman learning to find her inner beauty. It could be dismissed as fluff, but I really enjoyed the descriptions of B incrementally building her self-esteem. I also admit that reading about B's transformation was fairly uplifting, to the point that I started to re-evaluate my own self image. It's a quick read, good for the subway or beach.

Girls in Trucks was a lot heavier than I expected, but Katie Crouch has an incredible writing talent. The story follows Sarah Walters as she wanders from her tradition-steeped home in Charleston, South Carolina to the North. The characters are deftly created, multi-layered with real feelings. While Sarah is undoubtedly the heroine, the supporting characters are incredibly real and play major roles in the story. Some are mirrors for Sarah, some are alternate realities, and some hold promise for her future, or repeat her past. The ending reminds me of my favorite classic movies, where there is no neat ending, but enough resolution to allow the reader to imagine where the story will go beyond the last pages.

I loved Carrie Fisher's classic Postcards from the Edge; Wishing Drinking is another animal altogether. It's funny, witty, and based on Fisher's one woman show, which I now would love to go see, because I'm pretty sure it's all better in person. If you've never read any of Fisher's previous books, you might not want to start with this one; it's very self-referential, meandering--almost navel gazing. But above all, funny. I laughed out loud reading this book, and particularly enjoyed the photos that accompany the stories. Such as the two page layout of all the different ways that her family is connected, with its multiple marriages.

This one I'm still working on, but it's a classic historical murder mystery, which most people know is something I can't resist. I can remember when this book first came out, and everyone I knew read it. At the time I was not into crime novels, preferring to plow through, say, the complete works of Alexandre Dumas. (The Count of Monte Cristo is my absolute favorite book of all time.) I'll let you know how this one goes.

And then, in addition to books, I've picked up some albums from the library:

I'd love to hear any suggestions for books or music for my next vacation in August.

Friday, May 08, 2009


Spam Yoon Strikes Again

Dear Mr. Yoon,

Last time I wrote about you, it was to complain about the unprofessional e-mail you sent me. I've received more e-mail from you since then, and while I would like to give you a silver star for "Most Improved E-mail Campaign," I just can't bring myself to do it.

Why? Because you've turned into a spammer. The first e-mail you sent had no "unsubscribe" link, and I never asked to be on your list. So I wrote to you at sam@samyoon.com and asked to be taken off of your list.

The next e-mail I received did include an unsubscribe link, but the link just took me to your homepage, with no instructions on how to be taken off the list. I wrote you another e-mail that you ignored.

The third e-mail, I replied to with a request to be taken off the list, and then I reported you as spam.

The fourth e-mail that arrived today is very irritating. I get a lot of crap e-mail messages, and I end up wasting a lot of time getting rid of them. Since I know e-mailing you won't get me off your list (although I tried again anyway), I'm hoping a nice blog post will get your attention. Maybe this post will be picked up by Universal Hub and then you'll notice it. And then, maybe, you will actually take my e-mail address off your mailing list.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Copy Editing

From the Nitpicking Department:

While the newspaper industry has been hit by audiences moving to digital news over the morning paper, I applaud the effort to keep up with breaking news via the web. However, I've noticed several online articles over the past few weeks with major typos. Last week, I found "in the the office" in a NY Times piece. Missing apostrophes are [not] everywhere. I often think of these things as one-offs, not caught by a spelling/grammar check program. I was completely disproven today.

A screenshot of an article from the WSJ on Capital One's loan losses:

Twice, Reiker uses "oversees" instead of "overseas." So I shot him an email pointing out the error (I certainly want to know when I've made errors). He replied almost instantly:

Yep. That’s wrong. Thank’s for pointing it out. Sorry
about that. Matthias
I think I'm going to send in my resume to the WSJ to check copy. And emails.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Error Check

In my internship, we use a good email management program to create emails that we sent out to clients. It processes data and builds customized emails. And yet, as reliable as our vendor program is, we always run test emails to make sure that we don't have any errors in our messages. Errors could include broken pictures or links, typos, or misaligned margins. Good email communications build credibility with a company's brand. Email is a particularly important place to present the best image, because it's a type of communication that everyone uses and knows how to format or manipulate. It's as easy to prevent email errors as it is to send them. The instantaneous nature of email means that you don't have a chance to recall it, and if your name is on it, it makes an indelible impression on the recipient of you and your brand.

Today I received an email from the man-who-would-be-mayor, Sam Yoon. Take a quick look at it:

The first thing I noticed about this email is that the data field in the greeting wasn't properly populated. It's nice to get an email that starts with "Dear Kate"--it's less pleasing to get the email equivalent of a robo-call, that starts with "Dear {FIRST_NAME}".

Sam Yoon has, as a city councilor, not made much of a name for himself outside of "the first Asian-American on Boston's City Council." This email doesn't add much to my impression of him. For example, this looks like a news update from a concerned city councilor. What gives this away as an election shill piece is the text at the bottom of the email:

Paid for and Authorized by the Committee to Elect Sam Yoon.

(This is not in the picture because of my limited screen shot capabilities. I would link to the "view this email as a web page" except there isn't any such link on this piece.)

Another oversight on this piece is the fact that there is no blurb saying why I am getting this email (so I don't know how he got my name), and there is no option to unsubscribe from this email. I'm not looking forward to getting any more emails from Sam Yoon, and it would be nice to be able to take myself off of his email list.

Needless to say, I'm not voting for Sam Yoon for mayor (and I don't want to give him any traffic, which is why there are no links to his webpage; you can Google him for yourself). I don't know who I'm voting for in the mayoral race yet. But I do know for City Councilor, I'm voting for Andrew Kenneally.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Tax Refund Advice and More

Recently, through Twitter @marieclaire, I was asked to provide an answer to a series of questions that had been asked of Marie Claire's Career & Money Expert. One of my answers was selected and can be found online, on the Career & Money blog. Because of space allocation, my answer had to be edited, so I thought I would pass on my full answer to the question, plus my answer to all the other sample questions that was sent. Enjoy!

1. I get stuck when I’m asked what my biggest weakness is at job interviews. How do I answer the question in a way that's honest but doesn't make me look bad? [Is there a best answer for this, or something you should absolutely never say?]

When interviewing for a job, honesty is the best policy, but the trick is to present the truth in a convincing manner. Before you interview for a job, read the job description carefully. Look at the qualifications needed, and then think about your own personal strengths and weaknesses. Are you up for a job in Finance, but don’t use Excel so well? Does your target job require a lot of time management, but you can’t seem to ever straighten your schedule?

Once you can identify your weaknesses, think about how you would go about fixing it. This is crucial to answering the question in a job interview. When your interviewer asks what your greatest weakness is, your answer should be honest but speak to your goal to improve yourself. For example, “My weakness is working with Excel, but I’ve signed up for a training course to help me sharpen my software skills.” Or “Time management has been a sticking point for me in the past, and I have been reading some books on the topic and working with task lists and calendar tools to keep me on track.”

Never answer that you’re a perfectionist or a workaholic. These answers are disingenuous. Everyone has a weakness, and it’s important to the hiring manager to know what yours is. If you have trouble with time management but are a whiz at making presentations, she might pair you in projects with an organizational pro who is shy about speaking in public.

An extra tip: it would be best to prepare a few answers to this question, and gauge the responses of the interviewer as the interview progresses. If she stresses time management as a must-have quality, you might want to go with an answer about software skills instead. The most important thing, though, is to be honest in your answers, and convey that you are self-evaluating and self-improving.

2. I'm job-hunting but haven't been great at keeping in touch with my references. Should I send an e-mail to let them know I'm listing them as references, even if I've used them before? I’m not even sure if they’ll remember me! What do I write?

Everyone has had that moment: you’re searching for references and you find an ideal name in your Rolodex, only to realize you haven’t spoken to her in a year. What to do?

First, think about how you used to be in contact. Did you see this person at professional lunches? Did you email with her on a list-serv? Or maybe this is a former coworker. Whatever the case, you should try and reconnect in a similar style to your previous meetings. Call your coworker, or attend a luncheon you know your contact will be at. If you are an email person, send an actual email, do not use a social networking site such as LinkedIn or Facebook to send a message. The contact should come directly from you, to let her know you are looking to reconnect.
Next, think about what to say. Most people are usually happy to reconnect and provide a referral for colleagues, even after time has passed. But you don’t want to come right out and say you’re only contacting them for a reference. Here are some points you will want to touch on. Ask how your colleague is doing: Does she have a new job? Promotion? Ask her about her career first. Mention your last meeting. Cement the connection by talking about the last time you saw her, and remark on something you did together.

Once you’ve done this, you can either mention your job search, or ask for an in-person meeting, such as coffee or lunch, and ask for a referral there. Don’t be pushy about this, make sure that you are really interested in reconnecting with this person. And when you do ask for the referral, make sure you have something to offer in return, such as a client lead or relevant industry information that could be helpful. And of course remind your connection that you are available to give referrals for her. Or ask her if there is anything she needs—maybe she’s trying to find a good administrative assistant and you know the perfect candidate.

By taking this approach, you’ve not only gotten a referral, but you’ve reconnected with a colleague. Building relationships is crucial, particularly in this day and age when the job market is so volatile. Remember to send a handwritten thank you note to your colleague whether or not your get the job; she did you an important service, and you need to thank her properly.

3. What's the smartest way to spend my tax refund?

Tax refund season is upon on! It can be tempting to take your check and spend it on that amazing pair of heels that you’ve been dying for, but before you indulge your inner fashionista, take a look at your financial situation first.

Do you have overdue bills? Credit card debt? Student loans? These obligations should take top priority. Any of these items can take a toll on your credit score, and paying them off will only help you. Make a list of your bills, including utilities, mortgage, and credit cards, and take a close look. Bills that are overdue should be paid first. On a spreadsheet or a pad of paper, write the amount of your refund, and then subtract the amounts of any overdue bills. Next, look at your credit cards. Credit scores are heavily influenced by the proportion of available credit you have used up, so look at those that are closest to the maximum limit. Do you have a card with a $1,000 credit limit that you have spend $700 of? That’s a 70% debt rate, which can look very bad on a credit report. Ideally, you shouldn’t use more than 30% of your overall available credit. Add up the total you have available on all of your credit cards, and how much you’ve used. Divide the total limit by total used, and that will give you your personal debt rate.

Once you’ve determined your debt rate, be smart about where you pay down your debt. If you have a lot of credit cards, think about paying one off. Top choices for payoff cards are cards with high APRs (store credit cards are usually high on this list), and cards that are close to the maximum. Plan out the payments you want to make, and subtract this figure from the refund amount as well.

After bills and credit cards, the next smart thing to do with your money is save some of it. There are a few options for saving which can include your regular savings account, an IRA, or a high yield savings account. If you have an IRA already, consider putting some of your refund aside from retirement. Remember, the earlier you start saving for retirement, the more you will have when you retire. If you don’t have an IRA, visit your local bank branch and ask about IRA options. Don’t be hasty in selecting a retirement plan; shop around and mention to each bank you visit that they are not the only option that you are considering. A high-yield savings account can be a great option, and you can find great rates at banks such as ING, HBSC, and E*Trade. Deduct the amount you put into savings from the refund amount.

The last thing you should spend your check on is a self-investment. If you own your own home, consider doing some home improvement, like purchasing new leak-proof windows to save on heating and air conditioning. If you drive a lot, take your car to the mechanic’s and have it given new brakes, shocks, or have the engine cleaned. Or think about your work wardrobe—take your suits to a good tailor and have them altered for a custom fit. Quality tailoring lasts a long time.

Once you’ve invested in cutting back debt, retirement, and yourself, then feel free to splurge on something fun, like those heels.

4. My friend asked me to pass along her resume to one of my contacts. She's qualified, but I don't think she has the best work ethic. Do I pass it along, or will it reflect poorly on me if she gets hired and drops the ball?

This is a very complication problem. There are multiple stakeholders involved in the situation: your friend, your network, and your reputation. You don’t want to damage your relationships with your friend or your contact, so think carefully about the situation.

First think about the job your friend is applying for. You say she’s qualified, but is she really? Qualifications are not just about the technical skills and experience; they are also about the soft skills, like work ethic. Has she done a job like this before? Is it a stretch position? Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes: would you hire her for the job?

Next think about the contact who would be getting the resume. Is she the hiring manger? Would she be passing the resume to the hiring manager? Does she know your friend at all?

Then examine the ramifications of your friend being hired. If she does a great job, you would get the kudos of having referred an excellent employee. This would be a great point in your relationship with your friend. But if she drops the ball, as you say, how would this play out for you? Your friend might still be happy that you helped her land the job. But you may have alienated a contact—would you value the opinion of someone who sent you a bad hire?

What you can do in this case is pass on the resume without a recommendation. Send the resume to your contact and say, “My friend is interested in a position at your firm, and asked me to send on her resume. Would you mind taking a look at it?” This puts the ball in your contact’s court, and takes some of the pressure off of you. If your colleague asks, “This is a project based job, how is her time management?” you should give an honest answer, but avoid bad-mouthing your friend. Try saying, “She’s not always the most organized person, but she’s very interested in the position.” Convey something positive about your friend, because no one wants to know you as someone who denigrates her friends. If this is a close contact, like a mentor, you can open up a little and perhaps say, “I think this job might be a stretch for her, but I would appreciate it if you could just consider her resume for the first round.” Don’t push too hard, you don’t want to strain your relationship.

When you see your friend, you should tell her you did pass on her resume. If she asks you what your contact said, feel free to answer “She said she would put your resume in the consideration pool.” You don’t have to elaborate. Keep things short and simple.

As for whether your friend gets hired or not, that’s up to her. She will have to interview for the position, if the firm calls her, and she will have to convince them that she is a hard-working employee. There’s no guarantee they will hire her, after all. What might happen is she might list you as a reference. A reference is confidential, and so if you are called for one, tell the truth, and say that you don’t think your friend has the best work ethic. Cite an example to back up what you say. Confidentiality will mean that your friend won’t know that you didn’t recommend her. Being honest will make you more reliable within your network.

You have a duty to your friendship to pass on the resume, but a duty to your contact to tell the truth about your friend. Be careful about your evaluation of your friend; don’t exaggerate about her abilities one way or the other. And you can always decline to pass on the resume in the first place, by saying, “Anne isn’t a very close contact, I wouldn’t feel comfortable passing on your resume to her.” A true friend would understand, and not pressure you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Women Have A Right To Work--Except Maybe In Ireland

A fellow MBA candidate passed on this article to me through a discussion forum, and I must say, I don't think I've been this outraged since that WSJ column on Nancy Pelosi and family planning funding. So now I feel compelled to pass this on to you, to share the outrage, so to speak:

Working women almost certainly caused the credit crunch


Wed, Feb 25, 2009

NEWTON'S OPTIC: THE ANSWER to all our problems is staring us in the face. It may even be quite literally staring at you, right now, across the breakfast table.

So put the paper down, stare back and ask yourself a selfless question.

Does the woman in your life really need a job?

Admittedly, this is not a fashionable question. From Iceland to Australia, men are blamed for causing the credit crunch, while a more feminine approach to finance is proposed as the solution.

Of course there will always be a place in the world of business for exceptional women. Women also have an important role to play in jobs that are too demeaning for men, like teaching. But the general employment of women is another matter. Indeed, working women almost certainly caused the credit crunch by bringing a second income into the average household, pushing property prices up to unsustainable levels.

Whether working women actually caused the credit crunch is now a moot point. The point is that removing women from the workforce would mitigate its effects.

Consider the issue of unemployment. There were 221,301 men on the live register last month and just under one million women in work.

Surely at least half these women have a partner who is earning? Surely at least half would be happier at home? One half of one half is a quarter and one quarter of a million is roughly 221,301. I think we can all see where this argument is going.

It would be ludicrous to suggest that women should be sacked purely to give men their jobs. In many cases, their jobs should be abolished as well.

Women are twice as likely as men to work in the public sector. They account for two-thirds of the Civil Service and three- quarters of all public employees.

Yet they are barely represented in the useful public services of firefighting and arresting people. Encouraging women to leave the workforce would go a long way towards addressing the budget deficit without any downside whatsoever.

Further benefits of sacking women have been uncovered by the Central Gender Mainstreaming Unit at the Department of Justice. According to its research, twice as many woman as men travel to work by bus and train, potentially halving the impact of cutbacks in public transport. However, it is probable that three-quarters of the Central Gender Mainstreaming Unit’s staff are women, so these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt.

While the economic case for fewer women in the workforce is irrefutable, we should also acknowledge the social advantages. Women make the majority of spending decisions in Irish households and make almost all of the purchases. They are far more likely than men to regard shopping as a leisure activity, far less likely to make savings and investments, and were even almost twice as likely to spend their SSIAs.

In short, women were the driving force behind the greed, consumerism and materialism of the Celtic Tiger years and it was female employment that funded their oestrogen-crazed acquisitiveness.

The time has come to build a more sustainable, equitable and progressive society. Why not make a start by telling your other half to quit her job? She can ask you for the housekeeping on Friday.

In short, men are more useful and women are just sucking up all the jobs. Really? Really?

Now let's be reasonable Mr. Emerson. The "non-useful" civil service jobs probably don't pay well. Men don't want them. Women want to work them. They are called "pink-collar jobs" for a reason.

And the bit about greed, and hormone driven women who can't stop shopping? Did you both to read any statistics? Where is your data to back that up? Yes women make most household purchases, but it's far more likely that they are buying groceries, clothes for the kids, cleaning supplies, and other home-related goods than doling out the cash for kilos of chocolate or non-stop shoe sprees at whatever the Irish equivalent of Nordstrom's is.

Blaming the credit crisis on women is silly, because if you think about it, the whole shebang started here in America, with banks led by the big boys like Vikram Pandit of Citigroup and Ken Lewis of Bank of America, not to mention John Thain, formerly of Merrill Lynch. Even today those men are spending: $10 million for the redesign of the Citi executive suite including customized millwork and a Sub-Zero fridge. Don't tell me men don't splurge on luxury.

Mr. Emerson, if you cut public transit, you're also eliminating jobs in a male-dominated area. So you can cut off your nose to spite your face in terms of saying that women are sucking up all available funds on bus and train maintenance. Besides, I'm sure men take the bus too.

These are just a smattering of rebuttals, from my end. Please feel free to continue the argument.

(C) 2007 - 2009 Kate Hutchinson. All rights reserved.

All opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the author.