Monday, October 11, 2010

So, About That Conference Recap...

Yeah, I dropped the ball on recapping the Minnesota Blogger Conference, at least in a timely manner, to say nothing of writing about other stuff. But I still think I want to do it, and am going to try to do so by the end of the week.

That said, I have class starting in the middle of next week again, so I will be quite busy from that point on until the end of the year. But I am going to try to post here as often as I can manage, since my life can't be just working and school, after all.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hello New Visitors!

Just wanted to say hello quick to anyone visiting the blog for the first time, either because of the Minnesota Blogger Conference or for other reasons. I know this blog isn't much to look at right now, but I appreciate the visit nonetheless, and I look forward to meeting you and reading your blogs as well.

(cross-posted at Blank Fortune, my miscellaneous, whatever-is-on-my-mind blog)

Friday, September 3, 2010

A (Mostly) Good Month

I was pretty good about posting regularly for the past month or so, and I have a lot going on in the next couple of weeks, so my posting is going to be a bit more sporadic again. I want to get the Newbie's Guide underway (and think of a better name for it), and doing that is going to require more time and planning for each post than I usually put into these, so I'd rather take more time and do it right.

I'm still going to try to post at least a time or two a week, though, and will post other stuff besides the guide to break things up a bit.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do Your Homework

It should really go without saying, but I'm always surprised by how much people don't know about the organizations that they work for (in any capacity).

I'm not talking about digging up dirt or finding out things that you don't actually have a right to know. I'm referring to current events that affect your employer, or things they've done that are in the news. Additionally, this could encompass the organization's history or initiatives and partnerships that they're currently involved with.

There are quite a few ways that you can learn these things. Most companies have internal websites where news and other information about the company is posted, in addition to what is available on their external sites. Additionally, you can search for the organization's name in Google News or another news aggregator website to find articles, pictures, and video involving the company and their activities. You can also do this to find information on competitors, the industry as a whole, and trends that may affect them. And of course, there are the social media platforms that companies are increasingly taking advantage of, like Facebook and Twitter. Odds are good that your company has some kind of presence there by now (and if not, it needs one, yesterday).

Why keep track of all this? Well, for one, it can help you do your job better. For example, I've been able to learn about flooding shutting down a facility before the official communication from the company was received. Another example are the multiple times I've found about about problems with products before official recalls were issued, allowing me and my coworkers to brace ourselves for the increased workload. But another reason is that it makes others see you as a resource and someone who knows what's what with the business, and someone who is capable of thinking strategically and using new information to good effect. It will impress those you work with and those you work for if you know what's going on.

I'm sure there are ways of learning about a company, organization, or industry that I would never even think of on my own. They don't call it the Information Age for nothing -- with more ways to learn and keep tabs on the world than ever before, there's no excuse to not be informed.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Newbie's Guide Preview

I haven't finalized the topics I want to discuss in this guide just yet, and when and in what order I'll do it, but here's a list of things I want to cover at some point:

-- Contractors, temps, and freelancers: definitions
-- Why a contract gig?
-- The downsides to contract work
-- Where to find contract positions
-- Agencies: what you need to know
-- Corporate culture and contractors
-- Contract work as a lifestyle
-- Going solo: hanging out your shingle
-- Contract work as an extended interview
-- The future of contract work

Plus, whatever else I think of. And if you have any suggestions, I'm certainly open to them.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Newbie's Guide to Being a Contractor

Sorry for the delayed post again. Just when I think I'm getting better, I slip. But then, progress isn't always a straight line.

Anyway, I've decided to start writing a series for people who are new to the contractor and temp world, with tips and advice that I wish I knew when I started years ago. Even though I'm a permanent employee now, I still think I have a few words to say on the subject.

It will be recurring and I'm not sure exactly how long it will go just yet, so I'll post more details when I have a better idea. But I hope somebody out there will find it useful.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Temporary Hiring Trends

Back at the start of 2009, I predicted that temporary hiring was going to increase despite the poor economy, because companies would still have short-term hiring needs and/or they would want to hire temporary staff before committing to hiring permanent employees.

According to economist Barry Ritholz, I was right, and then some. Indeed, in 2009 and for much of 2010, the pace of hiring temporary and contract workers has skyrocketed compared to the rate of hiring for permanent employees. In July, however, the hiring of temporary workers has started to decline, which may be a bad sign (as we didn't have enough other issues to worry about right now).

It will be interesting to see what the activity for August is, but of course we won't have that information until next month. My guess is another decline, but I would be more than happy to be wrong.

Monday, August 23, 2010


A little over a week ago, I said I would talk about deadlines and how they relate to getting things done. I meant to do it last week, but since that went a bit off the rails, I'm doing it tonight.

Anyway, I find that deadlines, and structure in general, are a good way of getting things done. Some people have enough internal focus that they can just plug away and accomplish tasks without someone telling them what to do or when to do it. It's a good state to try for, but let's be honest -- most of us are distractable to one degree or another. Hey, who's on American Idol right now? Are those storm clouds off in the distance? Rick is back from vacation and has pictures. And so on, and so on.

Having a deadline is a great way to mitigate those distractions and buckle down to do work. It doesn't have to be a "real" one, either. Not all structure has to be external; indeed, self-imposed structure is often the best kind. Nobody is making me post three times a week on this blog, but setting that goal for myself has been very useful (for the most part) in actually sticking to posting here on a regular basis.

Nor does the deadline have to be chronological. A volume quota is another good way to ensure continual progress, and is the idea behind 300 Words, a site created by Hugh MacLeod and Erik Proulx to get writers to commit to putting down three hundred words per day in order to stick with writing (as an aside, MacLeod's book Ignore Everybody is a great read and I highly recommend it). It's a cool idea for a site, and I'd probably participate if it wasn't for already being committed to six blog posts a week!

The point is just to have a finish line of some kind, and the exact form it takes isn't necessarily important. Even a little structure goes a long, long way.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Ouch. This has not been the best week blogging-wise for me, between the problems with Wednesday's post and dropping the ball entirely yesterday. Hence the post tonight to try to salvage the week. Conveniently enough, salvage is the theme of the post.

I really liked this post from Mark Stelzner of Inflexion Advisors earlier this week (there's a link on the blogroll too). Titled "A Means to An End," it talks about how any job you have, even one that seems menial or unimportant, is part of getting to where you eventually want to go.

It's especially applicable to the intended audience of this blog. If you've spent an extended amount of time as a contractor or freelancer, you've probably had gigs or contracts you didn't care for at all. Maybe they didn't play to your strengths enough. Maybe the work environment was toxic (in the metaphorical sense and hopefully not the literal sense). Maybe it was something else entirely. There could be any number of reasons why it wasn't something you enjoyed and you looked forward to it ending, even if it meant no paycheck.

And that's okay. You don't have to love every job you do and want to have it forever. Perhaps what you take away from this type of position is knowing what you don't want to do or who you don't want to work with, and how to avoid a similar situation in the future. I'm a firm believer in always being able to salvage something out of any situation. Maybe the lining isn't made of silver and it's actually made of scrap metal, but you can always get something for it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Sorry, folks, but no new post today -- technical difficulties wiped out what I was writing. I'll try to make it up with an extra post later in the week or on the weekend. Save early, save often!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Minnesota Blogger Conference

I'm planning to attend the Minnesota Blogger Conference on Saturday, September 11 in St. Paul. Here's why:

  • With all of the talk about social media helping people connect online, it's crucial to remember that networking in person is just as important (and some would still say more so). As useful as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can be, there's really no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face and shaking their hand if you get the chance.
  • Furthermore, just as networking is important, so to is taking advantage of opportunities to learn about what you do from experienced experts. The list of speakers is impressive and a good representation of the Minnesota blogging community.
  • Finally, and perhaps the most important reason for me personally, is that I haven't done something like this before, and to be honest it is a bit outside my comfort zone. I'm not always the most social or outgoing person in the world, and I'm trying hard to change that. I know that small steps outside one's comfort zone in a safe environment are a good way to grow and get more comfortable with uncertainty, so that's exactly what I plan on doing.
So, if you're local and you're interested in blogging, check it out, since it looks like it will be a great event from what I've seen so far. And maybe, just maybe, I will get some ideas for making this a better blog as well.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Quote on Art

I'll have more to say about this next week (here's a hint: it doesn't just apply to artists), but for now, here's a great quote to think about over the weekend:

The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not the lack of talent. It's the lack of a deadline.

-- Chris Baty, from No Plot? No Problem!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Job Satisfaction, Whiteboards, and Inflatable Slides

Personally, I don't think it's ever a good idea to burn bridges when leaving a job. You never know when you might work with someone in the future, or have a company as a vendor or a client.

However, not everyone agrees. Some people torch them with whiteboards*, while others prefer inflatable slides and beer.

I really can't blame them, though; not really. Who among us hasn't wanted to do something like that on some days, even if we'd never go through with it?

And what's more, if the poll mentioned in this article is accurate, a lot of people (34%) are thinking about saying goodbye to their employers once things get better. It makes me wonder if we'll see departures even more audacious than these over the next couple of years.

* Yes, it was fake, but the point still stands, so chill, folks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Always Improve Your Position

Sometimes, I decide that I want to write about a topic on this blog only to find out that someone has already done it, and very well at that.

When I was doing a Google search for the quote "Always improve your position," which I like but couldn't remember where I heard it from, I came across a great post on The Simple Dollar. Titled "It Doesn't Matter What Your Position Is Right Now, You Can Do Better", it says everything I wanted to and then some. I was already an occasional reader of the blog, and great posts like this remind me why I need to keep up with it.

While the blog and the post is about personal finance, I think it applies equally well in the world of work as well. So think of one thing you can do today to improve your position, whether it be revising your resume, doing a Google News search for articles on a company you're interested it, or even something as simple as shining your shoes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Punk Rock Farewell

No, not for me. But Laurie Ruettimann over at Punk Rock HR has set an end date for her current blog, as she co-launches a new company and takes her blogging ventures in a new direction.

Fortunately, she plans on keeping the posts available in some form, which means that if you've missed out on her insightful, subversive, and downright hilarious blog over the last few years, you'll still have the chance to catch up on it. I've loved reading her blog ever since I was introduced to it back in 2008, and it's easily one of my top three blogs about work to read. I've had the pleasure of meeting her in person, and she's just as awesome to talk to face-to-face as she is to read.

I wish her lots of luck in her new ventures, and can't wait to read the next few weeks of Punk Rock HR and whatever she chooses to blog about next.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


So, I haven't really done much with the layout, structure, and visual elements of this blog in quite some time, and it's definitely due for an update. I'm trying to come up with an idea for a very basic logo, symbol, or even a mascot to represent the site. In addition, I want to update the blogroll (mostly additions, and making sure everything I've listed is still active).

I make no guarantees as to how long this will take. :) Hopefully before the end of the month, but don't hold me to that. Along with that, I hope that a bit of housecleaning and polish will encourage me to write here more.

So, if you want to be included in the blogroll and have a blog that is about or sometimes covers workplace issues of any sort (not just about freelancers, contractors, or temps) feel free to let me know in the comments.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ambition vs. Hard Work

Ambition and hard work are not the same thing. They're often confused for each other, and it is true that people with one often have the other. But they're not synonyms.

I've known people who were hard workers, but not terribly ambitious. They were great at what they did, and always made sure their output was the best quality possible along with seeking out ways to be better at their jobs and make themselves more effective. However, they didn't necessarily want a position with more responsibility or to advance in their company. They were happy where they were and were content to be allowed to stay in their position indefinitely rather than being promoted or making a lateral move to a different team or part of the company.

On the same note, I've known people with plenty of ambition, but who weren't willing to do the grunt work and the primary job functions they were hired to do. Instead, they focused on doing projects and work that would get them noticed and would look good on a review, rather than the mundane tasks that won't make a person stand out (even though someone has to do them in order for the team or company to fulfill its mission).

I don't blame anyone for wanting to be promoted -- I want it as much as anyone else. And I know that a lot of people with ambition realize that hard work is essential to getting where they want to go. But it's important to recognize the difference between wanting to have accomplishments and recognition, and wanting to be good at what one does.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Quote on Company Culture

Your culture is what people do when no one is looking.

-- Herb Kelleher, Chairman, Southwest Airlines

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sick Days

I had to take a sick day earlier this week on account of having a fever. I've been accruing paid time off since last fall, when I hit the eligibility point at my company (non-exempt employees have to put in a certain amount of time before they start getting PTO). As such, I'm not going to be out any money for being home sick for a day.

But in my previous life as a contractor, paid time off was a whole different story. I received it, but only after working for six months, and it wasn't very much: five days for the whole year, accrued at a slow pace. And if I were to find myself not working for a few months, it would go away and I would need to start all over again in my next contract. Still, this was better than the situation for contractors at some other companies, who didn't receive any paid time off at all. Needless to say, I didn't intentionally take time off very often, and when I did, I factored the lost income into budgeting and planning. What's more, I only took time off for being sick when I was feeling so terrible that I had no other choice.

It's easy to say "don't come to work when you're sick," which most places do, especially after last year's H1N1 scare. But actions speak louder than words, and if your staffing firm, outsourcing company, or agency doesn't pay their contractors and consultants to stay home when they're sick, what are you really saying to them?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Shameless Plug

Yep, I'm back. I would be remiss if I didn't plug my wife's awesomely revamped blog, now located here. I think it looks pretty sweet, myself, but then I am biased.