Jul 31

Finding a Work Spouse

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According to data in a new CareerBuilder survey, 12 percent of workers say they have a platonic work spouse, someone who they are not married to, but feel like they are married to at the office. The work relationship can happen to both married and non-married people and can have positive effects on work. In order to have a successful work relationship, workers must put in some time and effort. Take a look at the secrets for a happy work relationship:

One of the biggest advantages to having a work spouse is being able to honestly communicate and provide feedback with a co-worker. Requesting insight for areas where you are having difficulties and returning the favor, allows you to appreciate the support from one another and grow professionally. Being open and honest allows you to create your best work thanks to direct praise and criticism.

A work spouse also requires a large amount of respect. You must be able to recognize the person’s talents and skills and support their qualities throughout the ups and downs on the job. Be aware of the areas that they may struggle in, and find opportunities to help strengthen the other person. A work spouse allows you to grow your career, thanks to the one-on-one attention that you are able to give and receive, in addition to having a support system where you enjoy the person’s company and respect their opinion.

Finally, listening is important when it comes to maintaining a work spouse relationship. A work spouse relationship represents more equal footing for both co-workers and requires each person to put in hard work and energy. Support you work spouse through positive communication skills and effective listening.

Relationships certainly come with various ups and downs, so when things get a little rough remember to avoid venting to others, offer to help and continue to keep other relationships strong. Establishing a relationship with a work spouse can provide you will the necessary support at work that will help you grow and advance further in your career, while also maintaining a strong, dynamic friendship.

Jul 30

8 Companies with Awesome Workplace Perks

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While paying for top talent is important, studies continuously show that money isn’t the only thing that makes people happy at work. Some top companies today have come to the conclusion that offering awesome perks can help them get, and keep, the very best employees. The following 8 companies understand the value of rewarding their employees – and do it in some of the coolest ways possible:

1. Epic Systems
Imagine having an entire month off and getting paid for it at the same time. At Epic Systems, this is the reality for 5-year employees of the business. Beyond offering extensive time off, the company takes one step further: if employees choose to spend their vacation in a country they’ve never visited, Epic will pay for most of the travel costs for the employee and a friend. Epic’s office, located on a farm outside of Madison, Wisconsin, is another impressive perk just on its own. The campus features an Indiana Jones-themed tunnel, a tree-house conference room, a moat, and plenty of green space for outside activities.

2. Google
Free food, a bowling alley and bocce courts, could it get any better? There’s a reason that Google has earned a ranking for the past 3 years as No. 1 on the Fortune Magazine’s list of the ”100 Best Companies to Work For. ” The company has remarkable offices around the globe that offer, among other benefits, free gourmet food at on-site cafes. And if you’re looking for that mid-day pick-me-up, you don’t have to leave work to partake in in a range of recreational activities taking place in various locations including a bowling alley, game room, basketball courts, and a gym. As for your chores that you didn’t have time to do, Google also offers an on-site barber shop, massage parlor, and a laundromat.

3. S.C. Johnson
The cleaning product company S.C. Johnson helps employees with their chores via access to a concierge service that does everything from returning overdue library books to making sure your dry cleaning gets picked up on time. “To make the best products for your family, we need the best people in our company family,” says the company’s website. The company also offers childcare for parent employees, maternity and paternity leave, and paid time off.

4. Southwest Airlines
Employees at Southwest Airlines enjoy free flights for themselves as well as their friends and family. Additionally, Southwest Airlines employees also receive discounts with a handful of other airlines as well as at several hotels, theme parks, and rental car companies. When they’re not traveling, employees can participate in events like the annual chili cook-off contest, and the Halloween party when Southwest transforms their Dallas office into the “Haunted Headquarters.”

5. Chesapeake Energy
One of the nation’s largest natural gas producers, gives half-priced SCUBA diving classes to employees and their families. Once they’ve learned how to swim with the fishes, Chesapeake also helps workers organize trips to exotic locations like Cozumel, Mexico. Those workers with no desire to SCUBA dive can still enjoy the company’s on-site, 72,000-square-foot fitness center, which includes an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a rock-climbing wall, and a sand volleyball court.

6. J.M. Smucker Company
The perks at J.M. Smucker Company start on day one, when every new employee receives a gift basket and a warm welcome. According to Fortune,“New hires get a gift basket sent to their homes; [other] employees enjoy softball games and bowling nights.” The PB&J Company also reimburses employees 100% for tuition with no cap. If Smuckers employees aren’t looking to go back to school but still want to advance their skills, they can also take advantage of free technical training.

7. Yahoo
The Yahoo offices have on-site fitness centers with yoga, cardio-kickboxing, pilates, and golf classes. The offices are also well-equipped with ergonomic support chairs and healthy snacks and drinks on every floor. Outside the office, Yahoo offers discounts to California theme parks and ski resorts, and hosts an annual Oktoberfest party. The company will even go as far as throwing a baby shower for employees who become parents.

8. Quinn Emanuel
For a law firm, Quinn Emanuel has some interesting perks. Above the Law reports that lawyers are given a $2,000 allowance to work for one week from anywhere in the world, as long as they work their normal hours. The firm also encourages a casual dress policy to increase employee creativity. To top it off, the company evaluates prospective summer associates (extremely well-paid interns) with parties on law-school campuses instead of the typical job interview.

Visit Gigats.com to view employment opportunities with the companies above that offer fantastic perks and more.

Jul 29

Workplace Benefits on the Decline

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According to a Society for Human Resources Management member survey of 510 human resources professionals, over the past five years, employers have reduced a variety of benefits, educational assistance and perks for employees. Despite the fact that the economy has improved significantly since the recession, some companies continue to cut these benefits. Take a look at the workplace benefits that are on the decline:

Pensions:
According to the survey, less than a quarter of the employer’s SHRM surveyed continue to provide a traditional pension plan for employees. In contrast, 89 percent of the employers offer a 401(k) plan or similar type of retirement account. Additionally, about 74 percent provide an employer contribution to the retirement account. The shift is causing many employees to have to be very active in the oversight and management of lifetime income, according to Shane Bartling, a retirement leader for Towers Watson in San Francisco.

Retiree health insurance:
According to Bartling, “In the early 90s, the awareness of the cost of retiree health benefits began to hit the radar when they were put on the balance sheets of companies in accordance with financial accounting changes.” Since then, fewer companies now provide retiree health care coverage for former employees. In fact, the total percentage of employees who do so has declined from a quarter in 2010 to just 18 percent in 2014.

Long-term care insurance:
Long-term care insurance helps cover costs associated with chronic illness or disability. The number of employers providing long-term care insurance for employees continues to decline, with just 24 percent offering the benefit. Additionally, employer-provided home insurance and automobile insurance, while never common offerings, also continue to decline in popularity.

Education benefits:
Although there has been recent news of companies such as Starbucks offering education benefits to employees, the popularity of these benefits is on the decline. Just over half of companies offer undergraduate educational assistance, down from 62 percent in 2010. Additionally, the proportion of employers willing to pay for cross-training to develop skills not directly related to the job has declined by 10 percentage points to 39 percent. Fewer employees are opting to chip in for professional memberships, college selection and referral services.

Perks for parents:
A dependent care flexible spending account allows parents to use pretax dollars to pay for childcare. Unfortunately, the percentage of employers that offer these accounts has declined 8 percentage points over the past five years to 64 percent in 2014. Additionally, child care referral services are now offered by only 10 percent of employers, down 7 percentage points from 2010.

While some companies continue to offer many of the benefits listed above, others have begun the process of cutting costs and eliminating the perks. Before accepting a job, be sure that the company provides you with the benefits that matter most to you in your job search.

Jul 28

Avoiding “No Vacation Nation” Burnout

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Over the past few years, the United States has earned itself a new title as the “No Vacation Nation.” With nearly 60 percent of people admitting to feeling vacation-deprived, it is no wonder we have developed a reputation as a nation that never stops working. Working professionals are known for working long hours and having trouble with stepping away from their business for a long enough time to take, and enjoy, a summer vacation.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that time off not only helps to improve a person’s mental and physical health, but it also boosts creativity and productivity in the workplace. According to an internal Ernst & Young study, for every additional 10 hours of a vacation, employees’ year-end performance ratings improved by 8 percent. This study demonstrates that the more time a person spends away from the office, the more noticeable the effects of vacation becomes. Although setting out on a summer vacation may seem difficult, there are some simple steps you can take in order to get away so that you can avoid the “No Vacation Nation” burnout.

In order to take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a nice vacation, opt to travel when business isn’t busy. Traveling during off-peak months, such as the winter when your office isn’t insanely busy, also allows you to avoid the crowds and snag some excellent travel deals. If you are concerned about taking off too much time, then start with a long weekend and then begin to work your way up from there.

Before you schedule a trip, you should also develop a plan. Talk with co-workers to figure out when they will be taking vacations of their own in order to prevent overlap, and ensure that you won’t cause any major conflicts with clients. Once you have successfully selected your dates, identify the different activities that will have to be completed during that time and find co-workers who are willing, and able to help you.

After establishing your plan of action, give you co-workers and clients as much notice as possible, no less than a month, and find an alternate contact who can handle any immediate needs during your time away. Remember to also set up out-of-office messages on your phone and email accounts in order to inform people that you will be unavailable.

Finally, the most important step in taking your much needed vacation is to actually follow through. One in 10 Americans say that they can never relax on vacation. If you are that one, chances are it’s because you have your phone by your side as a constant reminder of missed calls and emails. If you are going to tell your co-workers that you are unavailable, then be unavailable. Leave your phone in your hotel room or turn it off when you aren’t using it in order to get the most out of your time away from the office. If need be, set aside time in the morning or evening to check messages in order to save you from coming back to a full inbox.

Regardless of where you go on vacation, be sure to enjoy yourself during your time away. Consider you time off as an investment into your long-term personal success. Relax and prepare yourself to return to work feeling refreshed, re-energized and ready to tackle brand new projects.

Jul 25

Wal-Mart CEO Steps Down

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On Thursday, Wal-mart announced that William “Bill” Simon, the head of the US division, would be stepping down immediately. In a press release, the company made the announcement informing the public that they will be replacing Simon with Greg Foran on August 9. Foran was previously president and CEO of Wal-mart Asia and will be stepping into his new role as head of the US division in just a few weeks. Wal-mart stated that in order to ensure a seamless transition, Simon will be “available on a consulting basis for the next six months.”

Based on the timing and the wording of the release, many are suggesting that the resignation was negotiated. Wal-mart stated that Simon, who became CEO of Wal-mart US in 2010, “led a turnaround that reinvigorated the company’s focus on everyday lows costs, everyday low prices and an increased product assortment.” The business also attributed their commitment to hiring more veterans to Simon, along with additional popular moves that have occurred over the years.

Although the company went out of their way to mention Simon’s achievements, they did not discuss the recent financial performance of the company, which has had sluggish same-store sales (also known as comparable sales) for the past year, according to Reuters. Brian Sozzi, CEO of Belus Capital Advisors stated that “Their U.S. sales have been in structural decline.”

Simon’s retail experience can largely be attributed to Wal-mart. In 2006, he was hired as an executive vice president and served in two different capacities before becoming chief operating officer of Wal-mart US in 2007. Prior to that, Simon did government work and was an employee at the beverage giant Diageo. On the other hand, his successor, Foran, has 30 years of of retail experience, including long stints at chains in Australia.

Daily Finance recently noted that Wal-Mart tends to make leadership choices that lean towards “unpedigreed” CEOs.  Many believe that their decision to bring Foran in as the new CEO continues that trend, due to his experience and degree.

Jul 24

ULTRA Testing’s Unique Hiring

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In 2012, ULTRA Testing, a software-testing firm was founded by two former MIT roommates, Rajesh Anandan and Art Shectman. While most software-testing companies provide a variety of employment opportunities, ULTRA Testing has taken a unique approach to attracting a specific set of talent. In fact, the company was created with the specific intention of hiring people on the autism spectrum.

There are an estimated 1.5 million Americans on the autism spectrum. For many individuals who are autistic, unplanned social interactions can cause anxiety or complications involving communication, making it difficult for them to find employment. Mark Leslie, who has Asperger’s syndrome, spent several years of his life working at a retail job for Barnes & Nobel in New York City. However, about a year and a half go, Leslie was able to find a better work environment, working for ULTRA Testing and putting his computer programming skills to use. Since Leslie has begun working with the company, the New York-based firm has reached profitability and grown its team of testers from three to 10. In addition to seeing growth from the company, many of the employees, including Leslie, have seen personal growth while learning the complex systems that they are assigned to and debugging, and communicating their findings.

Anandan, one of the ULTRA Testing’s co-founders stated that he has always believed that people with disabilities are likely to have hidden talents that others fail to notice. As a result, he and his partner believe that many employers areound the world are overlooking huge pools of talent that have been untapped. This is especially true of the 400,000 autism spectrum members who are deemed to be high-functioning, meaning that they have strong visual and spatial relations skills and average or above-average IQ’s.

Research has suggested that high functioning individuals on the autism spectrum have heightened abilities in pattern recognition and logical reasoning. For many of these workers, however, the interview process can be daunting and they are often limited by their social skills and certain workplace environments that are unable to accommodate their literal-mindedness and attention to detail.

Anandan and Shectman founded ULTRA Testing with the understanding that many of the same attributes that make traditional workplace settings difficult for members on the autism spectrum are what actually make them perfect candidates for quality assurance jobs. Individuals with autism and Asperger’s tend to engage in repetitive behaviors that others might consider boring, allowing them to maintain focus as they test software on different devices, operating systems and web browsers.

ULTRA Testing is able to find its talent by posting jobs with advocacy groups like the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership. Due to the fact that about 80% of adults on the autism spectrum are unemployed, the company receives a large amount of applications very quickly.

The company also makes an effort to decrease the social anxiety that can come with an in-person interview by conducting interviews on Skype or over the phone and gauging the prospective candidates’ interest in technology. Further in the hiring process, ULTRA Testing uses a series of diagnostic tests that measure the ability to recognize patterns and follow a path to completion to test candidates.

ULTRA Testing has hired 10 testers, who make between $15 and $20 an hour and mostly work part-time schedules. By the end of the year, the company expects to make $1 million in revenues and hopes to expand its department of testers. Within three years, they plan to expand to between 250 and 300 testers, continuing to provide opportunities for this commonly overlooked, but incredibly talented group of individuals.

Jul 23

Video Interview Mistakes

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For years, job seekers have been perfecting the art of interviewing face-to-face. But with technological advances and a changing labor market, a new platform shook things up. Several companies now choose to interview for jobs and internships over Skype. When it comes to video interviews, job seekers often believe that they are more prepared than the really are, according to Randy Bitting, founder of InterviewStream. Bitting says, “Business schools are finding that there’s an enormous gap between how students view themselves as prepared, compared to how employer view them in interviews.” Close that interview gap by avoiding these errors and following the tips below:

Avoid wardrobe malfunctions
The assistant dean for career services at University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business, Jamie King Belinne, says that while students typically dress professionally before face-to-face interview, they tend to slack off during a video chat. Even when interviewing over Skype, you should plan to meet the same standards as a normal interview, and err on the side of caution by overdressing.

Tech glitches won’t ruin an interview, but your reaction to them will
If the feed or audio drops during a Skype chat, most people will become frustrated. During job interviews, the stakes can be even higher, heightening that frustration. Before beginning your interview, make sure that you have strong wireless connection before getting on a video call. Control your emotions when you begin to have technical problems because you never know what the other person is still able to see or hear.

Be aware of your environment
During a video interview, job candidates also risk messing up their interview backdrop. Aim to choose a private office or clean bedroom that uses as much natural light as possible. Make sure that there isn’t anything inappropriate behind you and that you aren’t in a dim lit, untidy room that could cause distractions.

Don’t be a jerk/boring
Bitting says that during a video interview, “The key is coming across as confident, but not overconfident.” Often, job seekers will perceive a video interview as less formal than a face-to-face interview, leading them to come in with an inflated ego. Additionally, avoid falling into distraction-prone tendencies, like checking email or reading notes, during the middle of your interview because the hiring manager will likely notice.

Video interviews should be treated just the same as face-to-face interviews. Be sure to dedicate an efficient amount of time to preparation, ensuring that your computer and wireless connection are working, and meeting the normal expectations of proper interview etiquette.

Jul 22

Strategies for Work-Life Balance

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Although many of us wish things were different, heightened job expectations have forced many vacationers to find new ways to integrate the office into their downtime. In 2013, the American Psychological Association reported that close to half of American workers check work messages as least once a day while on vacation.  Whether we are on the beach with our smart phones, or at the pool with our laptops, vacations now come complete with a little bit of extra work.

Of course, staying plugged in 24/7 can take away from our fun time with family, but it can also lead to ineffective performance at work. Despite the fact that productivity is actually poorer, APA research found that 56% of those studied felt that staying tethered during extended breaks from the office actually allows for greater productivity, while 53% percent feel it improves flexibility.

Regardless of where you stand on the matter, there are always ways that you can improve your work-life blending skills. Take a look at the different strategies that can help to blend your family and your colleagues while you are on vacation:

Give yourself cushion:
For most people, they only consider the actual days that they are vacationing as their days that they are off duty. In reality, building in extra breathing room around your vacation allows you to transition into and out of vacation time and help prevent unnecessary stress. Author of “Personal Productivity Secrets,” Maura Thomas suggests changing your voice mail and email out-of-office messages to say that you are gone one day prior to actually leaving on vacation and that you will return one day after you actually return. Giving yourself an extra day to return back to zero before people expect a response from you can be beneficial and ease the transition back to work.

Pre-delegate top priorities and share schedules:
No one wants to receive the dreaded work call on vacation that an urgent issue has come up and your attention is needed. Before picking up the call, determine if you are the only person capable of fixing the scenario. Pre-delegate by asking a colleague to serve as the first reviewer or input provider in order to ensure work carries on in your absence. Also, be sure to define your availability in advance so that you are not frequently called during your vacation.

Just go on vacation:
When looking at the same APA report, more than half of employees do not check their work email while on vacation. There are a handful of executives who fully agree that in order to get the full value if a vacation, employees should entirely disconnect from all work-related plugins. Instead of fretting over how to get work done while you are on vacation, completely disconnect and enjoy your time away from the office.

Jul 21

5 Lesser-Known Email Etiquette Errors

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It has been two decades since email saturated most American workplaces. As email has grown in popularity, most people have established basic email etiquette rules that guide our use. Though many of us know the basics of email, such as avoiding using all caps or refraining from using the reply-all button, there are some finer points of email etiquette that are not as universally acknowledged. Take a look at the five lesser-known email etiquette errors that you should eliminate in order to make yourself a more effective emailer:

1. Waiting to respond to an email until you know the answer
Often times, when individuals receive an email that requires a specific piece of information, they will wait to respond until they have an answer, even if it takes several days. Setting that email aside until you find the information can create a reputation for yourself that makes you seem slow in getting back to people. Instead, send an email to the sender to let them know the situation, and that you are in the process of figuring out the answer they are looking for. A quick email that says “I should be able to get back to you about this by early next week,” will only take 10 seconds and won’t leave anyone hanging.

2. Assuming that you don’t need to respond if you’re more junior than others receiving the email
In this scenario, it is likely that a co-worker has sent an email to you and your boss, with a question that either of you could answer. Assuming that your boss will answer because he or she is more senior is a mistake on your part. Instead of deferring the question to your superior, your boss will likely appreciate it if you handle the query and save them time.

3. Sending out “gentle reminders”
The phrase “gentle reminder” really comes across as “I think you might be offended by normal workplace interaction so I am approaching carefully.” Don’t tip-toe around an issue and soften a message in order to avoid ticking off coworkers.

4. Responding to a serious or sensitive email with only “OK.”
In some circumstances, answering an email with a quick, “OK” is perfectly fine. But in other circumstances, such as when your manager emails you about a problem with your work and you write back with an “OK,” you will appear flippant or curt. In situations that warrant a longer, more appropriate response take the time to actually respond from a computer versus from your phone.

5. Sending emails that are too long or aren’t clear about what action you are requesting
Chances are you are trying people’s patience if your emails are incredibly long or lack focus. Effective emails at work tend to be short or bulleted. Emails should be crystal clear and avoid burying information deep in the message. If the important elements of an email are buried deep inside the writing, chances are your co-worker won’t even get that far along and see the most important detail.

Improve your email etiquette by eliminating the errors above and successfully communicating professionally. Making your emails short, to the point and effectively responding to various issues can improve workplace communication and make your job easier in the long run.

Jul 18

6 Tips for Professional Social Media Bio

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It is already difficult enough to talk about yourself, but limiting your description to just 160 characters can make it even tougher. Crafting the perfect professional bio for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or other social networks can be difficult. Writing a bio that sets you apart from others, but still accurately reflects your personality takes hard work. A professional bio on a social network serves as an introduction or a foot in the door so your potential audience can evaluate you. Your bio should consist of focus, wit and well-polished language in order to make a strong impression. Follow the six rules for a foolproof bio in order to make the most out of your bio space and professionally portray yourself:

1. Show, don’t tell
This principle of writing means that you should focus on what you do, not who you are by using action verbs. Instead of blatantly saying that you are creative, reference specific products that you have worked on that demonstrate that trait.

2. Tailor your keywords specifically to your audience
According to San Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself, “Your Twitter bio should position you as an expert in your field who serves a specific audience.” Instead of using a generic bio, focus on what you are an expert at by using specific keywords. Social media profiles are searchable, so keywords can make it easier for others to find you based on your position.

3. Keep language fresh and avoid buzzwords
A once loved and useful word can very quickly stop being useful when it is overtaxed. In your bio, make sure that the language you use is fresh and not overused.

4. Answer one question for the reader: “What’s in it for me?”
Followers want to know one thing about you: What’s in it for me? Using your bio you must deliver the promise of value to your audience. Explain to your audience what the can expect from you and the value that you are able to bring.

5. Get personal and hire a stand-up comedian to write your bio
Use you bio to tell a one-of-a-kind story by expressing the hobbies and passions that are uniquely yours. Being funny can be tough, but adding a small quip or personal fact can go a long way.

6. Revisit often
Your bio should evolve with your skills, areas of interest in expertise. Frequent your bio throughout the year to update the information and ensure that it still reflects you the best it can.

Crafting a well tailored social media bio can give potential employers or co-workers insight on who you are as a person and professional. Follow the steps above to create a bio that demonstrates your skills, uses humor and accurately portrays who you are.