Thursday, August 20, 2009

Career Skills

My work is mainly around analytics - making sense of data and numbers and presenting it to folks who can then use that information. Since I work in Digital Marketing, one of the blogs I follow is Avinash Kaushik's Occam's Razor. This is a great post that I just read and it encapsulates a lot of my personal beliefs about work and building your career. It is a long post and devoted to web analytics, so in case you're not a web data junkie, I'm distilling here the 3 general principles that I think have been helpful to my career so far.

Here, in a nutshell, are my core beliefs about building a career and interviewing for positions - a vital part of building a successful career.
1. Think broad - Its great to be a specialist but its more important to ground your specialty into the bigger context. What does your skill and knowledge mean for your colleagues, for the company and for the industry? How is what you do relevant? Asking those questions and making sure you have an answer is a good way to know you're relevant and adding value. It makes a great pitch to be able to tell a potential employer exactly how your job and work tied in to the company's business.

2. Be interested - My personal curiosity just forces me to do this a lot - its come in handy when I talk to other people since I always have a good idea of what is happening around me. I borrow ideas for my work, retro fitting projects or ideas that I hear in "What do you do conversation?" to my world. Hearing people talk about their work also gives me ideas on what I want to do next. That way, I can plan a path to the job that interests me - I ask about experiences, skills, education needed for a job that interests me and plan to acquire that set of knowledge. It keeps me ahead of the game so I am not forced to do the next crappy job that opens up. It's also a great way to meet people and build networks.

3. Take Charge - One advice repeated by various mentors to me is "Act like you're in the job you want. If you want to be GM, start to think, act and be like the GM." Ask what she would do in a given situation and do the same. Avinash, in his post talks about getting around company and policy limitations. In the online analytics world, he talks about getting your own blog, your own analytics account and playing around with it. Creating and managing a blog will provide expertise in every area - strategy, creative, content, marketing and so on. You want to be a project manager - why not volunteer to manage the next fundraiser at your kid's school? Nothing better than jumping in and getting your hands dirty. There is a confidence that you'll get from having done the job that no amount of reading can provide you.

So, in summary, look around, ask questions and then take charge. It will add to your basket of skills and that shows when you walk into an interview. I have lots more to share on successful interviewing - but more on that topic later.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Politically Correct...OR... Who gives a ***

Enough of the "taking it slow" - saw the doctor for my post surgical visit today. Clean bill - no cancer, no nothing, everything is great - for now (see, I can't help it - the cautious one in me rises every time I whoop with glee about anything). Wish my credit card bill would come in so clean. Anyway, "taking it slow" has never been my style.

So back to work this week and I've been faced with an interesting challenge - delivering bad news to Executives is never easy, even when you're not the one to cause the bad news. I think of my job as close to journalism - I watch, monitor and report. So would you blame the news reporter for reading out the bad news? I wouldn't - but I would certainly hope that the reporter had checked their facts and made sure the news was accurate and relevant for the audience. That's sort of what I do and sometimes, the news is not so good and I know its not what people want to hear. But where do you draw the line between doing the right thing and being savvy about it? Luckily, I have some great people I work with who helped me think this through and arrive at the right conclusion. In case you find yourself in a similar situation ever, here is my wisdom
1. Pay a nod to the politics but let it not be your north star - you're likely headed for the cliff if you do.
2. Always, always verify and check your news, facts, numbers - whatever you are reporting
3. To the best of your ability, have a point of view about the situation
4. But, don't be afraid to say " I Don't Know" - sometimes you really don't. Fabricating is worse - believe me.
5. Finally, have a solution - or at least some proposals for remedying the situation.

This was top of mind for me when I watched video of Barney Frank confronting a woman at a Town Hall meeting - chops to both for having the courage to speak their minds but if there ever was a moment when political correctness was thrown to the wind, it was this.

A different kind of political correctness was also thrown out the window by Mrs Obama as she stepped out of Air Force One wearing shorts. I didn't realize this was a big deal until I read about some people wondering if it was appropriate for her to do so. Hmm, I wonder if it's appropriate for people to be stuck in time and to not see that that people have moved on - in shorts?
Whether it was a good look or not is another story but seriously, do people really sit around pondering the propriety of what the first lady should wear to a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon?

On the topic of fashion - that's one area where I happily toe the line - so I am always glad for these helpful little tit bits from the people who know these things. The folks at Instyle ( I used to work there, you know! I know I've said that before, it just always begs to be said again) compiled the style guidelines for Fall - I'm probably going to be getting more cardigans than motorcycle jackets, but hey, to each their own. And NO JUDGING - remember.,,20297053_20297775_20657223,00.html

Friday, August 14, 2009


This week has been one of forced relaxation - occasionally, I've had guilt pangs about doing nothing but eating, watching TV and sleeping - but hey, that's what I'm supposed to be doing. It does not come easy to me. However, I was surprised this morning when I weighed myself and I've been pretty much at the same weight as usual when I try to get to the gym a few times a week, watch what I eat and run around like a chicken with it's head cut off. I mentioned this to my husband and he took the credit for feeding me healthy food this entire week. What I have not shared with him yet, since I've been forcing him to go running at least once or twice a week, is this article from the NY Times.

While neither of us, my husband or me, can claim to be any sort of fitness freak, maybe for once, he can be part of the "coolio trend" - ugh!! Apparently, the hottest accessory the hipsters of Brooklyn are flashing these days is a cute little belly. Double ugh!! Just as Puneet was getting into the whole running thing too :-((

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rest & Recovery

On Friday, August 7th, I had surgery to remove part of my thyroid. There were some nodules in there that the doctors thought were better out than in. So here I am, day 3 after the surgery, trying hard to stay in bed, give my body some rest and allow it to recover. In the crazy routine that is my regular life, I, like all busy working parents, crave for this - uninterrupted rest time. But now that it's here - thrust upon me, its so hard to just lay in bed and relax. I'm seeing a million chores around me that need to be done, I'm thinking of tasks I can accomplish without walking around too much. But for once, I'm trying to banish those thoughts as soon as they spring up in my head. Its not fair to me or to my family, I realize, for me not to rest and recover so I can be back a 100% when it is time to swing back into things. I'm going to take the time I need to feel better - things will wait, all the paperwork, all the cleaning, all the phone calls - everything will be there when I am back up. So for now, I'm putting away the computer, the notebook and the pen. I'm drinking plenty of water, taking my medicine and just relaxing - its hard work, after all!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Here, in America, we all work so hard - well, most of us, anyway. So what is it that keeps us going? I've thought about this for various professional exercises where they made me think about the great days I've had at work. What were the most stimulating & challenging times I had. Again and again, I come back to this - I am happy when I am working hard and achieving something. For the past 2-3 weeks, work has been a complete grind. I've been up well past midnight on most nights and then constantly busy in the office from 9-5. Had a great presentation yesterday and even though I got home only around 8, it felt good. It actually felt great - I had been working hard on this presentation and it went off great and that made it all worth it.

7 year old's probably have a different perspective on work & enjoyment. Arjun, my 7 year old, can whip through his math problems pretty easily. But the writing part has him stuck like glue. He dawdles and sits there - yesterday, he went an hour and wrote 2 words - seriously, 2 words on the page. We've bullied and threatened him and of course, that doesn't work. When does it ever? As I was losing my patience with him again last night - as he drank his 4th glass of water in 10 minutes - while I was supervising his writing, it struck me. Maybe its just too big of a body of work for him to grasp. I had asked him to write 2 pages on a wedding we just went to. I changed that and asked him to do 2 sentences instead.
"2 sentences?" he was incredulous.
"Yes, just 2."
"I can do more - I can do 3, no 4. Actually, I'll keep writing till I run out of sentences." He literally transformed before my eyes and attacked his work. He ended up writing a half page but I'm happy with that. We're going to do that more regularly till he masters the half page and then move on to more.
So, of course, it's all about knowing your audience and positioning accordingly.