Welcome to Hispanic Business LiveChat. We would like to welcome our guest John McKee, a 30-year veteran of corporate boardrooms and executive suites, taking your questions on effective ways to be seen, heard, respected and, in turn, promoted in the workplace.
Ruben from Encinitas, CA
what is your experience promoting minorities in the corporate world? What are the most common obstacles in the workplace or in the personality of a minority type of individual that prevent her/him from climbing the ladder?
Ruebn Flores-Saaib, Ph.D.
Hello Ruebn. Over my career I have hired, promoted, fired and laid off literally thousands of individuals. I have seen great people shoot themselves in the foot with personality issues and I have seen mediocre people climb the ladder far faster than others who seemed better able to do so. I've concluded that the single most important action required is to create a personal life plan that details goals and actions needed to ensure those goals occur within targetted time frames. The plan should cover all 3 aspects of one's life - professional, family, and personal.
Don Martinez from Los Angeles, CA
What are your thoughts about the efforts companies are making to open up opportunities for minorities in executive ranks?
I view these positively Don. Whatever the reasons behind the actions, it will have a great outcome for those in minorities by providing greater opportunity. And then the company will realize what many studies are now showing - greater diversity in management ranks actually improves business results. We'll then see more and more shift from the mostly white environments running America's businesses today. It will become a circle of success for all concerned.
Jean Paul from Rochester, NY
I am a fluent Spanish speaker and feel as though I have an advantage in my line of business because of it. I was wondering what would be the best and most effective way for me to use my language skills to get noticed and promoted at work?
Jean Paul - as with any skillset that sets one apart from others in an organization; it's important that those who need to know ( those in a position to make a positive impact on your career or pay) are aware. It should be noted on your personnel file, it should be discussed in a non bragging manner when the opportunity presents itself, and it should be offered up whenever the chance occurs for example by making suggestions that you could volunteer to make happen.
Eric from Portland, OR
What should I look for in a prospective employer when thinking about opportunities for upward mobility?
Good question and one which too few people ask in my opinion Eric. Take a look at the complexion of the organization - do all staff and management have the same appearance and background? If so, do they look like you or are you going to stand out in the crowd. Either can be good depending on what you want. What type of policies do they have for promotions - are they likely to go outside for hiring new people or do they have a commitment to promoting from within? What do they do or offer to help people to grow such as outside courses they pay for entirely or partially? Check them on the internet and see if there are blogs that can give you more insight as well.
James from Los Angeles, CA
Is mentorship a common practice in the corporate world? I just feel like people would be too competitive to actually take me under their wing. Advice? Thanks.
It's not extremely common but does occur more than some think it does James.
And it is particularly important when you are in those competitive environments you describe. A mentor is someone who has accomplished a lot and is less likely to be in the competitive mode, they can be internal to the company or external. The can be doing it to help others to succeed and thus free, or paid for like a coach. They don't have to be within your industry either - most management skills are transferable.
Just don't go without one if they don't seem to be available at your employer - they are really valuable as you move ahead.
tony from denver, CO
What would you suggest is the best way to gain acceptance at a new organization ?
Tony - are you having difficulty with this? If so, what is occurring - are you being left out, not invited to participate, or ignored? Many organizations are kind of clicky meaning they don't really welcome newcomers. Others are very work-focused so they don't have any time to take a break and welcome the new arrival and show them around. Try to find out what 'culture' you have entered.
Don't change yourself to much in an effort to fit in, though. I see too many folks do this and then end up being unhappy because they cannot be authentic.
I'd recommend being a bit assertive - go over to people and ask to get involved with what they are doing or if you see them going out for lunch just ask if you can join in. Remember most people are not extroverts - they may just be shy!
Trevor from New York, NY
What do you think is more prized at the corporate level, ability to fit in and work within the corporate structure? Or ability to think originally and blaze your own trail? Is there a balance? Thanks.
It is really tough to give a one-size-fits-all general answer. It really depends on the organization itself. I do believe that original thinkers who provide new solutions and answers to longstanding problems will always get recognized for their contributions. As long as you are not creating friction with others who are in a position to slow down your own career (like ticking off a boss or making a peer look like an idiot in front of the boss) you would do be wiser to go that route in most companies, Trevor.
Candice from Fort-Worth, TX
Hi. I have a good job doing what I love, but have been feeling under appreciated as of late. I don't have bad bosses, but I'm not exactly being challenged either. Is there anyway to let the company know exactly how valuable I am to them without leaving? Should I just leave? Appreciate the help.
Candice - most of my clients are women and I hear this all the time. In fact I address this in a new EBook, "21 Ways Women in Management Shoot Themselves in the Foot". Here are a couple of things you need to do:
Talk to your bosses - make an appointment and let them know the subject beforehand. How they react to the request and the meeting will tell you if you are in the wrong place.
Make a list of your accomplishments for that review and for any and all formal assessments. Many bosses are too busy nowadays to recognize all that those underneath do for the company.
Above all - don't expect that your results will speak for themselves. Women do this far more than guys. Don't be afraid to make it known that you are making real contributions - they won't!
Don't just leave without talking to the bossed first. You may be missing an opportunity. But if your intuition says it's time to move on - trust it. It's one of the best tools of successful people.
George from Atlanta, GA
Any advice for spotting talent among new employees?
George - this is an easy one. Get out and talk to them. As much and as often as possible. America's businesses are filled with employees who are bored, stale and disinterested. I believe this has a lot to do with management not knowing them well enough and not having enough face time with them. It is better if it's 'by accident' for example in an elevator or walking thru the cubes at lunch time. People will respond authentically in those environments and you'll see who's go the right stuff.
Ted from Dallas, TX
Do you find most executives are hired from within the company? If so, are minorities at a disadvantage in certain areas or industries?
In most cases, historically, most execs have been hired from within. It's safer and cheaper than using a headhunter for the company. Of course this changes in times of duress for the company, or based upon market conditions like when all the great ones are leaving for greener pastures. I do think, Ted, that minorities are still not treated as well as they should be in certain companies but I have no reason to think that situation is industry specific or industry dominated. You need to understand the company's policies and look around to see if the bosses 'walk the talk' - are there minority people in power positions already? What's the likelihood you will get ahead in that company when you talk to them. Don't hesitate to use the HR department reps as well.
Alexis from Detroit, MI
I just got my first job and am deathly afraid of not making a good impression. I know the culture more or less, and I have a good idea of what the people are like, but is that enough? How do I ensure I don't blow it?
Fear of looking bad can make us less likely to show our strengths. If you know the culture, you know what is going to be expected and what could occur if you screw up Alexis. Here are a couple of things to noodle:
A screw up doesn't mean the game is over and you've lost. It means you hit a banana peel and watch out next time. This issue is more gender specific by the way - guys are usually more able to put it into perspective and move on.
Consider taking some outside courses to develop your "presence" - that combination of how you look and communicate. It's true that bosses will overlook a mistake if they see the individual as a winner.
You may want to develop a relationship with a mentor of some type - internal or external - whom you can be totally honest with and have no fear of it getting back to anyone else. It really helps to have a 'partner' on your side to discuss and plan with.
Monica from Los Angeles, CA
You mentioned your new book on women. Where are women usually on the corporate ladder? Are they making strides? I've heard a lot about a handful of powerful women, but not much beyond that.
OK - I have to control myself as I answer your question Monica because I get really cranky on this issue.
Less than 4% of America's largest corporations have women ceo's! How bad is that?
The good news is they are making progress and the numbers at lower levels are growing. In a recent study when women professionals were asked why they think they are underrepresented in the top ranks the answer was 'a lack or fear of self promotion'.
Guys are trained better at this and women still see it as a bit 'unbecoming'. Don't be afraid to let others know you are good.
Ben from Las Vegas, NV
I'm not much of a partyer, but at my current job going out is 'the' thing to do. Do I have to take part in these outing? Am I going to be shunned if I don't?
Sadly, you may risk being shunned. Some organizations see this as bonding, Ben. Management may believe they are creating a better team spirit if they encourage this and they may use them as an opportunity to get to know the employee group better. Additionally, if it's mostly peer groups doing it, it's probable that they are talking shop and individuals over drinks. If you are want to hang around a pool it's good to learn how to swim. If you don't want to swim - be aware that it could cost you. (But don't drink and drive.)
Roger Lopez from Los Angeles, CA
How important is your external appearance and communication? This may sound strange, but I am afraid I may be descriminated against because of my accent?
It's probably a sad comment; but most leaders still regard one's 'presence' as important to promotability. It has to do with appearance, how one dresses, how one talks, and how one acts in the heat of battle. If you believe you are being held back because of an accent, I suggest you try to address than head on Roger. You can discuss it with HR reps and if you can trust the boss you can open up a conversation with her or him. As importantly, you may want to take some outside courses to 'lose' or 'reduce' the accent to make it less of a barrier. Did you know that most television anchors are trained to lose their regional accents to make themselves more appealing to those in other parts of the country?
Kathy from Redmond, WA
Hi John. I've been with my current employer for about 7 years now and have been promoted three times, each time increasing work and people working under me. I think I've reached the point where I decide to become a 'lifer' or not. Any thoughts on what my next move should be? How do I even know if I'm being considered for executive positions? Thank you. --Kathy
Congratulations on doing well so far Kathy. Do you like the company enough that being a lifer is an ok idea? If so, then you want to have a discussion to see what the near term promotion and long term outlook for you is with the current employer. By now, the boss(es) have decided on their end what your 'potential' is and if you can get some honest feedback it will guide you. If they resist, that alone is telling you what to consider.
If you think you'd like to try new opportunities outside of this employer - think about what you love in this job and what you hate about it; and use that to determine what kind of work and company you'd have if the choice was up to you alone.
Most successful people - 86% - create a personal life plan and use it well. Of those who are unhappy and unsuccessful, most don't have a plan. They simply let life happen to them.
Nancy from Detroit, MI
I am a multicultural seasoned marketing professional with an MBA. In my positions I have been the either the only minority in my area or the highest ranking in the office. However, I don't feel valued or recognized for my work. I have going through my 4th corporate downsizing! I have more experience than my peers and younger employees and trying to understand why this keeps happening.
Sorry to hear that you have had to undergo so many downsizes - it must have been very demanding on you each time. It sounds to me like you've got all the right stuff in terms of qualifications, Nancy, and I don't read that you are certain you are being penalized because you are a minority or a woman.(?) It's important that you determine if you've just got bad luck or if you are being impacted by something of your own. If it's because of 'who' you are - you need to become conscious of when you are running into stereotyping and learn how to overcome it or move on. If it is something about your personality that you can't quite pinpoint - try some psychometric tests to see objective commentary about you. I like Keirsey.com for a scientifically valid report.
Miguel from Chicago, IL
How would you deal with organizational structure and cultural programing at the workplace?
I am not clear about your question Miguel. Please restate it a bit so I am providing an answer of some value to you.
Karen from Washington , DC
Hi John. I've been at my current job for about 10 months now and am really starting to hate it. The policies are strict, there is little room for creativity and the people are downright rude. Should I give it more time? I'd hate for someone to see my resume and think I bounced from company to company.
You've given it ample time. If you hate your job it's time to get out of there. Your concern is valid if you've got a history that shows short tenure with each employee. If that's the case, I suggest you aren't cut out for corporate life - there's a reason that women make up the fastest growing segment of new business startups. If you've only got this one example of short term tenure, it can be explained as being a bad fit that you couldn't remain with - most will understand that, Karen.
Nancy from Detroit, MI
I am working with a contract firm who has an opportunity that fits my experience with a major client and an executive search firm who is trying to fill several permanent positions with the same major client and they want a minority candidate. I have an interview this week for the contract position and waiting to hear from the executive recruiter. I will need to take the contract position if it's offered. However, if this client wants to interview me for the executive position, how do I handle that with the client company? Both recruiters are aware of the situation.
If the headhunters are aware of the situation - have you asked them for their input and recommendations? They are in a very good position to give you guidance here Nancy. For the most part, I have found that hiring managers and companies in general are aware when they are interviewing that the candidate is probably looking at more than one opportunity. I always think it's wise to be honest. If you get the contract offered to you first, you need to understand how long it may be before you hear about the other potential job offer. If it is just a short while, ask if you can have that time before you respond. But a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush as they say.
Joseph from Dallas, TX
I have strong interest's in furthering my knowledge in certain subjects (ex. Sarbnes-Oaxley compliance, Microsoft Project) could you offer some advice on how to approach my company to pay for me to take these type of courses?
Does your company have a policy for tuition reimbursement or outside training? If so, it's easy to ask your boss or the HR department how to apply. If not, they you may need to make a case, Joseph, about why it's to the company's benefit to pay for your education. Can you show that you will perform better in your current position with such educational upgrades? If not can you make a case why it will make you a better employee in the future? If not - it's unlikely you're going to get the financial support you are looking for.
Phillip from Tempe, AZ
Help! I just started a great new job that I love, is there anyway to learn the company culture fast? I think I just stepped on toes at my last job, but I really don't want to do that this time.
Getting to know a company's culture is all about asking and listening to as many people in as many different departments and levels as possible. Remember: what a supervisor in one are says may be very different than what the president thinks. You need to try to find a few individuals who can immerse you in their opinions and then decide how it looks to you.
Stepping on toes can still happen of course, Phillip. Be aware and conscious of what is happening at all times to avoid that.
Heather from Chattanooga, TN
Hi John, thank you for taking my question. I took a job after college because I thought it would offer me great experience. Now, two years later, I feel like I'm in a rut. I'm still gaining good experience and i've been promoted twice in two years. But I look up and see no where left to go. Is it time to move on?
It's time to move on - IF - you want more out of your career. Anyone who feels like they are in a rut and want to have more out of their professional life need to look at change. That said, if you intend to do other things in your life ( remember we all have 3 aspects: professional, family and personal) than be aware of chasing job growth having an impact on your personal or family goals. Again I say - make a life plan that identifies who and what you want to be in life and then make a timetable to accomplish those goals Heather.
Carlos from Columbus , GA
Hey John, I have a question about pasts. Unfortunately, I have an employer in my past that I didn't exactly get along with and I'm afraid it might damage my long term career goals. Should I leave it out when talking to recruiters? Will they know anyway? I'm terrified of being black balled!
You have a couple of choice here in my opinion Carlos.
1. Leave it out and try to come up with a good explanation of what was going on during that time when someone asks about the gap on your resume. If you go this route it's not likely that the recruiter will check it out and find out that you weren't entirely forthcoming.
2. Include it and be honest with those looking at your history. Tell them you and the former employer clashed and that you left because of that. Let then know that this isn't likely to occur again in the new situation under discussion. And tell them that if they go to that company for a reference it's going to be less than stellar. Good luck!
Marie from Denver, CO
Hi John. I've recently taken on a lot of new responsibilities for people that are either on leave or quitting. Would it be wrong to ask for an increase in pay or a change in title to reflect the work I am doing for these people? I just don't want to feel shorted.
Hi Marie. If you are being given more responsibility and more workload it seems reasonable to ask for more pay in recognition of that. Here are some things to consider:
- are you paid fairly now?
- is the company in a position where it is letting people go or not replacing them because they have financial difficulty already?
- would you be satisfied with a temp increase until your position's workload reverts to what it was?
Each of these presents a different discussion with yourself and then your boss. No one wants to feel shortchanged or taken advantage of. Queue up a discussion with your boss when you have a satisfactory resolution in your mind.
Doug from San Francisco, CA
I've been recruited by headhunters before and I always have to do phone interviews. The problem I have is that I am great in person, but can stumble and lose track on the phone. Is there anyway to make sure I'm at my professinal best on the phone?
Doug - make some notes before you go into the phone interview. Decide what you want to communicate about yourself beforehand and write them down so you can fit them in during the talk.
On a phone it's very important that you try to have the other person do most of the talking. I always say a good interview has the interviewer doing about 65% of the talking. They leave feeling like you were a good listener and were to the point. Headhunters always have long winded types on the phone and appreciate it when you are concise.
This concludes our Hispanic Business LiveChat. A big thanks to business success coach John McKee. For more from Mr. McKee on effective ways to be seen, heard, respected and, in turn, promoted in the workplace stay tuned to HispanicBusiness.com.