Say it right: How to navigate a difficult conversation

Robert Half International

There's nothing easy about difficult workplace conversations and, unfortunately, these awkward talks aren't uncommon. At some point, you may need to ask a colleague to redo his work on an important project, for instance, or let your boss know you can't meet the deadline she set.
Following are some tips to help you successfully navigate these challenging conversations:

Evaluate the circumstances
Before you say anything, weigh the pros and cons of speaking up. How well do you know the person? How important is it that you say something? What have you done that might have contributed to the situation? What type of response can you expect from the other person?
Make sure you understand the facts before approaching someone about a problem so you can go into the conversation with a well-thought-out game plan. For example, if you have bad news to report, you should also have a solution in mind. If you have a complaint to share, consider if you deserve any of the blame.
You'll also need to keep your audience in mind. If you're broaching a difficult subject with your manager or an executive, you'll have to walk a finer line than with peers.

Think before you speak
Take a step back if you're angry or frustrated. Things you say in the heat of the moment can do more harm than good. Give yourself some time to come up with the right response.

Consider time and place
Unless an issue is extremely urgent, avoid initiating a difficult talk when the recipient is likely to be distracted or focused on something else. You might wait until your boss has caught up on email in the morning, for instance.
Another tip: Never confront someone in a group setting. That's a good way to embarrass the person and put him or her on the defensive. Wait until you can have a private conversation.

Be polite
Your tone and body language can reveal any underlying anger or frustration. You don't want your comments to sound more accusatory than conciliatory, for instance. If a colleague plays music that you find distracting, a remark like "Do you have to listen to this noise so loudly?" probably won't help you convince the person to turn it down. Instead, try: "I'm under a tight deadline and having trouble concentrating. Would you mind using headphones, at least until I'm done with this project?"
Also, strive to take the high road even when a co-worker doesn't. Sarcastic comments or unnecessary criticism in response to verbal jabs from your counterpart will just cause the conversation to deteriorate. If you sense your frustration level rising, suggest that the two of you continue the discussion at a later time.

Reach an agreement
Try not to end a conversation without coming to some sort of resolution, and understand that solving the issue may involve a compromise. The colleague who annoys you by playing music may agree to use headphones in the morning if she can use speakers in the afternoon, when things have slowed down.
In most cases, how well you navigate a difficult conversation depends on your positioning. You might find people are more receptive to your idea if you present it as a way to become more efficient or get more accomplished, for example. Avoiding words like never or always also can help because these terms can put others on the defensive.
Finally, always listen to and respect the other person's perspective. You are, after all, having a conversation. Keeping this in mind as you broach a challenging topic will help you set the stage for a successful exchange.

I hate my new job – and I can't quit

Beth Braccio Hering,

Benny Hsu of Jacksonville, Fla., works in a restaurant. Like many employees, he finds himself in a tricky situation: He dislikes his job but believes he can't quit. "I feel like I have no other option," Hsu says. "If I leave, I won't have enough money to pay my mortgage."
While workers may bemoan "sticking it out" until prospects or finances improve, there are actions they can take to benefit both their current situation and their future career path. 

Here are seven strategies for making the most of an undesirable new job.
1. Give it some time
Being the new person can be tough. Allow some time to bond with co-workers and become familiar with workplace operations. Days may pass more pleasantly as you begin to feel comfortable with others and more confident about your performance.

2. Be realistic
When you're unhappy, it is easy to dwell on everything that is wrong and to glamorize other places. "The fact is that the grass isn't always greener, and every workplace has its share of good and bad," says Elizabeth Freedman, author of "Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself" and "The MBA Student's Job-Seeking Bible." "Lousy bosses and office politics exist everywhere, so don't assume that your job woes will disappear if you get hired someplace else. Be sure that your expectations are in check so that you don't wind up leaving a job for something that doesn't really exist."

3. Make it a learning experience
Evaluate why you hate this job and what would make you happier. Failure to do so may lead to repeating the same scenario down the road.
"You can get a job offer on the other side of the planet, but you're still going to be the one working in it," Freedman says. "If you hate the 9-to-5 lifestyle, don't know what you want to do with your life or simply are feeling worried and anxious about the future, those issues will be right there with you, too, no matter where you work."
Krista Regedanz, a Palo Alto, Calif., psychologist specializing in job-related issues and anxiety, recommends writing down answers to questions such as:
  • Who am I as a person and as a professional?

  • What do I value most?

  • What are my goals for the next quarter, year and five years?
Then, see how your answers conflict with your present position. By focusing on what you truly want, you'll know what to look for as you bide your time until a better fit comes along.

4. Look at the bigger career picture
While sticking around may benefit your wallet now, it might help it in the future as well. "Don't leave before you've got some meaty accomplishments and tangible results to put on your résumé," Freedman says. "Leaving too soon may hurt your chances of being competitive against other job seekers at your age or level with more expertise than you." Another good reason to stay: Job-hopping gets mixed reviews from hirers. If your résumé lists too many jobs in too short a time, employers may rightly question your motives and loyalty.

5. Be good to yourself
If a career situation has you down, do what you can to make yourself feel better both physically and mentally. Regedanz suggests:
  • Getting enough sleep.

  • Exercising regularly.

  • Scheduling time for quality relaxation that leaves you feeling refreshed.

  • Spending time with people you care about.

  • Finding ways to bring more meaning into your life, such as by volunteering or taking a class.
6. Know that this too shall pass
Have you ever convinced a skeptical child that a shot would hurt only momentarily and then things would be better? The same holds true for a bad job. Frustration becomes easier to tolerate when you treat it as a temporary state rather than a lifelong sentence.

7. Find the bright side
Finally, while you need not be a consistently perky Pollyanna, thinking about the benefits that come from your labor may offer a new perspective.
Hsu admits that he used to have problems seeing beyond his dislike for his job, but he says he has learned to focus on the positive. "Be thankful for the simple things in life and what you have," he says. "Appreciate that you have a roof over your head, hot meals and a bed to sleep on every night. Don't always think about how much you hate your job because you'll keep digging yourself into a hole that'll be hard to get out of. Change your thoughts, and it'll change your situation."

10 commandments for cubicle dwellers

By Alina Dizik,

Still gunning for that corner office? First you've got to learn how to work in your company's cubicle farm. Not sure how to navigate the unspoken rules to be the perfect cubicle dweller? Here, experts weigh in on the 10 commandments:

Focus and refocus
Because of the possibility for constant interruptions, it's important to set priorities. "If you don't know your complete inventory of work and you can't instantly refocus on the next priority -- or your manager's emergency du jour -- you won't work well in a cubicle because there are too many interruptions," says Scot Herrick, founder of

Make it comfortable
Whether you want to be seated with your back to the hallway or watching those who pass by your cube, arrange your space the way you want it, Herrick suggests. Add photos or decorations to create a more personalized and comfortable environment. "You spend all this time there [so] make your space your space," he says.
Stay off speaker phone
It's easy to simply start dialing on your desk phone and never pick up the receiver, but it's important to know that those around you don't want to hear your whole conversation. Pick up the phone or use a headset. "For some reason, it is easier to tune out a person on the phone with a one-sided conversation than hearing both sides," Herrick says.

Go elsewhere for meetings
"Don't hold a never-ending parade of meetings at your desk," Herrick says. Instead, be more considerate to those around you and find a conference room or grab a coffee for longer talks. While holding shorter conversations at your cubicle is not taboo, using your space as a boardroom can be very distracting to your neighbors.

Be careful of what you say
Even when you don't see the people around you -- all of your conversations are still being heard. Be especially careful when speaking negatively about work related matters. And avoid any foul language, says Jacqueline Peros, founder of JMP Image and Style Group.

Avoid informal gatherings
While it's okay to stop by for some quick catching up, it can be easy to get caught up on the details of a co-worker's personal dilemma, Persos says. If a conversation is lingering on for too long, suggest a time to grab lunch or coffee in the break room to catch up with your co-worker when you're away from your cubicle.

Be mindful of volume
Don't disturb others with your ringing devices. Set your desk phone to low volume and your cell phone to vibrate. If you're watching a video on your computer be sure to use headphones. With so many electronic devices it's important to keep the volume at a level that won't disturb your neighbors.

Use your indoor voice
Most cubicle dwellers have trouble keeping their voices down, especially when they talk on the phone. Staying aware of your own volume can help. "Some individuals are not aware of how loud their voice projects," Peros says. "If you think it might be too loud, ask your cube neighbors to weigh in and let you know."

Befriend your neighbors
There's no way to be completely isolated from your neighbors, so it's important that you build a comfortable communication style. "Keeping an open and honest dialogue with your cube neighbors is a great way to build a mutually collaborative and productive work environment for everyone," Peros says.

Use your manners
No matter what you do in a cubicle, your actions are always on display. Each time you come to work, make sure you're at your most professional. "Manners are extremely important when working in a cube environment because everyone is sharing a common public space," Peros says. 

4 Ways to kill office conflict

Robert Half International

As a manager, helping to resolve employee conflicts comes with the territory. In a Robert Half survey, executives polled said they spend, on average, almost one-fifth of their time sorting out personality conflicts among staff members.
One common mistake many managers make is to downplay a problem or assume it will go away on its own. Chances are, it won't. You must address an issue before it grows out of control.

Working with a single person
Say you have a worker who is constantly butting heads with colleagues. Meet with the individual and deal with the issue head-on. Explain how you've noticed that he seems to be having trouble communicating effectively with others and that deadlines could be missed because of this behavior, which impacts group morale and productivity. Keep your tone neutral and the conversation impartial so it's clear you're not taking sides or "picking on" the employee.
Try to find out what's driving the behavior. A personal issue could be causing the person stress and impacting his attitude at work. If it turns out to be work-related, try to get to the root of the problem. Is he upset about being passed over for a raise or promotion? Has he outgrown the job and become bored with his responsibilities?
Work with the person to develop an action plan to resolve the issue. For example, if he is bored with his job, help him explore alternatives, such as an internal training program that can allow him to develop new skills or prepare for a different role within the company.

Serving as a mediator
If an employee is having trouble with another worker, meet with both individuals so you can hear each staff member's side of the story. Does it appear that one person is clearly at fault? Are they both struggling under heavy workloads, leading to stress and short tempers? Do they have a history of competing for the same projects or disagreeing on how to tackle assignments?
Ask them what type of resolution they would consider fair, such as a more equitable division of projects. If the two employees can't agree on a solution, your job is to come up with one and ensure that both adhere to the guidelines you've set.
Objectivity and fairness are key. Develop a time frame and follow-up steps to ensure both parties are sticking with their ends of the agreement and that the suggested resolution is proving effective.

Monitoring the team's morale
Conflict can be dangerous to a healthy team because the squabble can quickly spread to other employees. You need to be sure the issue has not polarized the work environment, with employees taking sides. If that's the case, it could drag down morale and even cause dedicated employees to question their fit with the team.
To gauge the effect of a conflict, gather feedback from your staff. Maintain an open-door policy to encourage employees to come forward with suggestions on how to strengthen the team. Also ask staff members to meet with you individually to share their thoughts on the group's morale.

Encouraging cohesion
Perhaps the best way to deal with office conflicts is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Fostering collaboration and camaraderie among team members can cut down on workplace politics, gossip and infighting.
Order in lunch for team meetings or hold occasional off-site gatherings. These types of events, which combine business and leisure, encourage staff to get to know one another on a personal level and help promote better understanding.
Whether you manage five people or 50, tensions and disagreements are bound to arise. Prevent them from escalating into intractable battles by addressing the behavior head-on. You'll not only make your own job easier and more enjoyable but also help set a standard for your team to follow.

6 ways to minimize conflict with co-workers

Robert Half International 

"The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people." -- Theodore Roosevelt

Looking for ways to win over the boss? Here's an easy one: Play well with others. In a recent survey by Robert Half International, managers said they waste, on average, 18 percent of their time trying to resolve staff personality conflicts. That's more than seven hours a week, or nine weeks per year.

So, it's safe to say the boss wouldn't mind dealing with less discord. Beyond making your manager's life a little easier, honing your collaboration skills -- and deftly dealing with conflict when it does arise -- will aid you throughout your career.

Consider these tips.
1. Don't assume the worst
Did a co-worker fail to get you a file on time with the specific intention of ruining your day? It's possible but not probable. It's much more likely poor planning, miscommunication or an overloaded schedule caused the person to miss the deadline.
Start with the assumption that it's not personal. Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt will help you address the matter in neutral and objective terms, rather than letting emotions dictate how the discussion goes. 

2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes
Paying attention to your colleagues' work styles can help you collaborate with them more effectively. But in addition to learning about their communication preferences and pet peeves, try to get a sense of the competing priorities and pressures they face. Just as others would probably cut you some slack if they knew the full range of responsibilities on your plate, you'll likely be more empathetic and tolerant when you better understand their roles.

3. Start (and stay) on the same page
Simple misunderstandings are often the source of significant tension. There are few statements more maddening to hear toward the end of a project than, "Wait, I thought you were doing that."
Arrange a meeting at the outset of a group assignment to clarify who is responsible for what. Immediately afterward, follow up with an email recapping what was discussed. Continuing to check in periodically will also help you avoid last-minute scrambling and finger-pointing.

4. Accept people for who they are
Focusing on people's perceived shortcomings is a recipe for frustration and friction. If you're a perfectionist, you can easily find yourself annoyed by a less detail-oriented co-worker. He may not cross every "t," but keep in mind that he brings other valuable skills to the table. For instance, he might be adept at generating big-picture ideas and selling them to management. When you work together, strive to make the collaboration more about complementing your respective strengths and less about your differences.

5. Criticize with care
There's nothing wrong with respectful disagreements. In fact, going along with a bad idea just to keep the peace is in itself a bad idea. But always make sure your criticism is constructive.
Watch both what you say and how you say it. A perfectly logical opposing viewpoint will lose its impact and fuel resentment if it's delivered in the wrong way. Tactfully saying, "We might want to consider another approach for the following reasons ..." will be met with less resistance than a brusque barb about how "that plan will never work."

6. Nip problems in the bud
When you lock horns with someone, take steps to resolve the situation quickly. Molehills can grow into mountains if you falsely assume things will blow over or wait for the other person to make the first move.
Once you've cooled down, request a brief meeting to clear the air. Keep your comments professional and solution-oriented. If being forgiving or apologetic will repair the rift, take the high road and move on. You don't have to be best friends; you just need to be able to work together in the future.
Finally, it would be naïve to think you'll interact smoothly with every fellow employee. Difficult, rude and uncompromising people exist in every workplace. And despite your best efforts to work together harmoniously, problems may persist with a particular colleague. In these situations, you may have no choice but to reach out to your supervisor for advice or assistance.
That being said, there are many co-worker quarrels that can be avoided or easily deflated without managerial intervention. Don't underestimate the power of flexibility, diplomacy and empathy.

"I get nervous around my boss": Tips to stop panicking and start shining

By Beth Braccio Hering,

By the very nature of their position, bosses often make people edgy. "When you consider the number of resources a boss has control over -- from your job assignment and performance review to whether or not you're going to make your next rent payment -- it's easy to understand why you can get nervous in their presence," says Kerry Patterson, co-author of the New York Times best-seller "Crucial Conversations." "If things go wrong, bosses can make your life miserable."
Letting nerves get the best of you, however, can cause what Ed Muzio -- CEO of Group Harmonics in Albuquerque, N.M., and author of "Make Work Great" and "Four Secrets to Liking Your Work" -- calls an "emotional doom loop." "You worry that even a small mistake or misstatement will carry serious and unpredictable consequences. Nervousness leads to worry, which leads to reduced focus, which leads to a greater chance for error and thus more nervousness. For many, an audience with a VP or CEO can be nearly crippling."
While for some people interacting with superiors may always be filled with a bit of apprehension, there are strategies workers can use to improve the situation.

Be proactive in communicating
"Don't wait for your boss to tell you what's important," says Lynne Eisaguirre, workplace consultant and author of "We Need to Talk: Tough Conversations with Your Boss." "Ask your boss where you should focus your energies. Make specific requests and ask specific questions until you are clear about what he wants."

Practice your responses to situations and questions that make you nervous until they become second nature. "Rehearsal goes beyond preparation, research and knowledge, all of which are prerequisites. It requires that you actually make your presentation aloud, in advance, multiple times," Muzio states. "When your anxiety comes, you will fall back on your muscle memory and perform well anyway. Sure, you can't practice every possible interaction, but if your rehearsal helps you to manage your first few waves of anxiety, you may find that things get easier."

Don't engage in boss bashing
While it may be temporarily therapeutic to let off steam with co-workers, getting a reputation as a complainer is not to your long-term advantage. Worrying if what you said around the water cooler might get back to your boss is only going to make looking him in the eye that much harder.

Get to know your boss
Ease comes with familiarity, so spend more informal time around your boss. Eisaguirre suggests asking him to coffee or lunch to get a better sense of what he values and fears. "It takes courage, but it will pay off."

Approach your boss as you would a mentor
"Bosses can provide helpful information regarding what it takes to succeed, and they love to play the role of mentor," Patterson says. "Spending time in career discussions helps remove the power from your relationship -- transforming your boss from evaluator to mentor and helper."
Likewise, this willing-to-learn attitude can help defuse potentially volatile situations. "When your boss criticizes your work, ask for detailed information about what's wrong. Suggest possible solutions or ask for ideas -- don't immediately defend your position. Asking for additional information is the ultimate sign that you're confident in your work and your ability to solve problems," Patterson says.

Lay to rest the ghosts of bosses past
Negative experiences with former supervisors can cloud current relationships, putting you on edge around someone who is perfectly pleasant and professional. "You can't change the power difference between you and your boss, but you can address your level of trust," Muzio notes. "Seek situations in which your boss has a legitimate opportunity to make a commitment and deliver upon it -- whether it's to you or to someone else -- and then take time to notice whether or not he follows through. If you begin to see your boss as someone who behaves predictably and ethically, your trust will improve and your nervousness will decrease."

Do great work
Lastly, it may sound like the simplest advice, but it may be the most powerful: Be a good employee. Confidence comes with positive experiences, and positive experiences come from hard work and preparation. Do your job well and there's nothing to fear when interacting with your boss, including fear itself.

Can you get fired for cursing at work?

By Alina Dizik,

If you're cursing at work, be careful. While it's commonplace to curse once in a while and may even help you build a bond with co-workers, there's a fine line to when and how you curse. "We are being judged constantly by our co-workers for how we do our work and how we interact with them," says etiquette expert Cynthia Lett. "Cursing is an aggressive and hostile way of expressing oneself."
Companies where employees are constantly in front of customers are especially harsh when it comes to foul language -- employees caught cursing can be in trouble. Not sure where you stand when it comes to cursing? 

Here's how foul language at work can impact your career.

Reveal an unprofessional attitude
In some professions cursing is accepted and can even help you fit in to an environment, perhaps in high-pressure jobs where everyone needs to let off some steam. Constantly using foul language, however, can make it difficult to fit into a professional environment, says Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of "The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength." "Perceptions are important in shaping your career -- you don't want to be seen as that foul-mouthed person," she says. Be especially careful about your language when surrounded by several co-workers at once -- such as during meetings or when working in teams. 

Prevent real communication
Using curse words over and over again can prevent you from truly communicating what you're trying to say. Instead of cursing, take the time to figure out how to let your co-workers understand what you're really thinking. Even if you're angry or upset, take time to develop a professional communication strategy. "Cursing is an aggressive and hostile way of expressing one's self," Lett says.
Furthermore it can create a distance between you and the others in your department because it makes others uncomfortable. "When people are uncomfortable around someone they avoid them whenever possible," she explains.

Hamper your image
Similar to a disheveled appearance or tardiness, foul language can impact the way you're perceived by others in the workplace. Even if you do great work, cursing can have an impact on your ability to get promoted or get better job responsibilities. "You need to be aware of how you present yourself to your co-workers, superiors and clients," says Suzanne Lucas, a writer and human resources expert. "Swearing when books get dropped on your toes or the copier dies on you is one thing, peppering your daily conversation with expletives is another." 

Repercussions from human resources
Just because no one in your department comments on your use of foul language, doesn't mean it's going unnoticed. In some instances it can be reported to human resources with an official warning.
Sometimes it can even get you fired. "Someone who works customer facing [roles] -- such as retail or sales or call centers -- would be fired for swearing, as it's not appropriate with a customer," Lucas says.
Of course not everyone gets fired. And as you evaluate your behavior, cursing once in a while is no cause for alarm. "We all get angry and frustrated and using a curse word can be the best release available," says Kahnweiler. "Just be aware that this language shouldn't become your M.O. or you could be seen as lacking self control."

How to spot a liar at work

By Kaitlin Madden,

Liars at work can cause all kinds of headaches. Whether it's guy who comes into the office every Monday with the farfetched stories about his crazy weekend ("I met this model, right ..."), the slimy vendor who misleads you into thinking you're getting a deal on office supplies or the lazy co-worker who constantly seems to be covering up one error or another, liars cause stress, tension and frustration for those around them.

Sometimes -- like with your model-magnet co-worker -- the lies might be annoying, but relatively harmless (it's probably more of a headache to dispute him on the facts than to just let him talk himself up). But other times, like if you think you're being ripped off, or feel a co-worker is trying to cover up a mistake that will directly affect your own work, it's important to know whether or not you're getting an honest answer.

To help you get an accurate read from your BS detector, we talked to Bill Rosenthal, chief executive of Communispond, a communications coaching firm, about spotting a liar at work. Here's what he had to say.

The Work Buzz: How can tell if someone is lying to you? What verbal/nonverbal cues should you look for?
Bill Rosenthal: Spotting a liar at work requires the same kind of observation that spotting a liar anywhere else does. Look for signs of discomfort, because most people feel guilty about lying. [These signs] can include avoiding eye contact, making excessive eye contact (which liars might do to "prove" they're being honest), being in a hurry to end the conversation, even pointing their feet in the direction of a getaway. Look also to see if the person is being evasive when answering a question, perhaps by feigning inability to remember something that should easily be remembered. Still another sign is the use of suspect data or excessive data when answering a simple question. Of course, a promise that sounds too good to be true probably isn't true.

TWB: What should you do if you think someone is telling a lie?
BR: It's best to keep asking questions that are hard to answer. The liar might back off by reorienting what's being said. Unless you're sure, don't accuse someone of telling a lie. It's possible the person was misinformed about something and is repeating it with good intentions.

TWB: When is it best to just ignore a lie?
BR: Sometimes [the lie] doesn't matter. Telling someone "I caught a huge sailfish" or "I'm a gourmet cook" may not matter at all if it's just small talk that isn't intended to further a cause.

TWB: How can you promote a culture of honesty in the workplace, either as a manager or as an employee?
BR: It isn't enough to have a mission statement saying the organization values integrity; the organization has to live it. Managers can foster honesty by being open with information. If they have bad news to disclose, they should do it quickly and without sugar-coating the situation. They shouldn't hold back on pointing out an employee's weaknesses during review time to avoid hurting feelings; it's a disservice to the employee.
Employees should be honest about errors they made. It's better to admit having a problem than ignoring it because the problem can keep growing. Admitting there's a problem can get the employee the help needed. Don't take sole credit for the work of a committee. Give credit where it's due. Don't make promises that are hard to keep. 

7 ways to get over your fear of public speaking

By Alina Dizik,

Not everyone is natural at public speaking, but knowing how to confidently deliver a speech or a presentation is a powerful tool in your career arsenal. Of course it's normal to have some fears but excelling is worth the effort, says Sherri Thomas, author of "Career Smart -- 5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand." "Being a good public speaker builds your credibility, influence and opens all kinds of opportunities in your career," she says. 

There are plenty of ways to get over your fear of public speaking. Eager to gain more confidence when it comes to your speaking skills? Here's how.

Start out small
You're not going to give a perfect 40-minute lecture on the first try, so make sure to build up to giving a more in-depth presentation. Get practice by volunteering for any opportunities for public speaking engagements. Whether you're speaking at a neighborhood association meeting or as part of a roundtable discussion, being in front of an audience can ease your nerves. Going through the prep work in even the shortest presentation will help you build up to longer engagements. 

Leave room for mistakes
When it comes to delivering a live speech, go easy on yourself, Thomas says. Most audience members have been on both sides of the fence and are more understanding than you think. Stumbling or even technical malfunctions are part of the deal. Use your sense of humor to quickly acknowledge any noticeable mistakes and move on. 

Practice with people you trust
Asking those in your network to provide honest feedback can help you feel more at ease in front of an audience. "Start looking for safe environments where you can strut your stuff and share your knowledge," Thomas says. "This could include presenting a new idea to your manager or colleagues, or sharing your tips with a best friend or neighbor." 

Make time for follow-up questions
Depending on the size of your audience, answering questions can be tricky. Especially if you're speaking to a larger group, set aside one-on-one time to answer more specific questions that others may not want to learn about, suggests Thomas who did just that when she first started speaking in public. "That let me off the hook for feeling like I was in a pressure cooker having to answer questions in front of a crowd, and allowed to me have more private conversations with attendees who wanted specific information," she explains. 

Don't fret over your expertise
Just because you're not the total expert on a specific topic, doesn't mean you can't give a presentation that's helpful to your audience. "I encourage my clients by letting them know that they don't have to be the smartest person in the world in order to share their ideas, tips and strategies with other people," Thomas says. While it's important to understand the material you're presenting, there's no need to know everything about the topic.

Skip the slides, for now
It's always good to have materials, but giving a presentation shouldn't mean just reading your preparation materials aloud. "Practice giving five-minute mini-presentations without any PowerPoint slides to focus on delivering two to three points crisply and passionately," Thomas says. Afterwards, work in your materials to clarify concepts, which will help to ease your nerves. 

Prepare for a long-term process
Most stellar speakers didn't get there overnight and it takes a while to really feel comfortable in front of an audience. Make sure you're in it for the long haul and don't expect to feel confident in your speaking skills right away. "Step up and do the research, get the training, talk to other experts, formulate your key ideas and then go for it," Thomas says.

The case for the 4-day workweek

Beth Braccio Hering,

If your employer offered the opportunity to work four 10-hour days per week instead of a traditional five 8-hour-day workweek, would you take it?
Teresa Allen, a customer service representative for American Fidelity Assurance Co. in Oklahoma City, did take it and is pleased with her decision.
"I love the arrangement of the four-day workweek. I like getting to the office as early as I do, 6:30 a.m. The morning is my most productive time of the day, the phones are off until 8:00 a.m. and the office is very quiet. I enjoy having Wednesdays off and can focus on spending time with family and maintaining a home. It helps me with balancing stresses of being a family provider and full-time employee."
Allen is not alone in her sentiments. From employees able to save a day of child-care costs to employers pleased to have extended hours of office coverage, the system can be win-win. In Utah, where a four-day workweek became mandatory for many state employees, energy use was reduced 13 percent during the first year of implementation, and it is estimated that employees saved as much as $6 million in gasoline costs by not driving into the office on Fridays.
"The shortened workweek could give employees more time to handle family and personal business, making it less likely that they would need to miss work for doctor's visits or other personal matters. Also, a four/10 schedule gives employees 52 extra days off each year, allowing them the freedom to do whatever they wish on those days," says Rick Gibbs, senior human resources specialist for Insperity, a human resources provider headquartered in Kingwood, Texas. "In our new economy, the flexibility and autonomy provided to employees make it an idea worth exploring."
While the thought of a midweek break or a three-day weekend all the time may sound alluring, the arrangement has potential shortcomings, especially when only some employees are on the alternative schedule.
"Being out of the office means less visibility and less access to the flow of ideas and information," says Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." "When decisions are made, you may not be there, and the potential to be marginalized is very real. Out of sight could literally translate into out of mind."
Other potential pitfalls include:

  • Work "leaking" into the scheduled off day, such as answering emails or phone calls at home.

  • Trying to find extended child care for the 10-hour days.

  • Feeling drained by the longer hours.

  • Diminished productivity as the 10-hour day progresses.

  • Stress on co-workers to pick up the slack at the office on days a fellow employee is off.

From an employer's perspective, Cohen notes that organizing meetings can be a logistical challenge when different employees are off on different days. For companies at which everyone works the same four/10 schedule, closing the doors on a traditional business day may not go over well with customers. "Gaps could result in disruptions to client service, productivity and other similar issues," Gibbs says.
"Companies should also be mindful of state wage and hour regulations, which have fairly detailed definitions of 'workweek' for purposes of the payment of overtime," Gibbs adds. "California, for example, requires overtime payments after eight hours worked in a day, and the state has a process that employers must follow to develop an alternative workweek schedule."
Wave of the future?
While not every employer is willing or able to offer an alternative schedule, and not every employee would want one, the popularity of having a choice seems destined to grow.
"Flexible work options are becoming the trend, particularly as companies look to cut costs such as overhead and occupancy charges and to be competitive for the generations that are looking for greater flexibility and balance in their lives," says Xan Raskin, owner of Artixan Consulting Group, a human resources consultancy in New York City. While acknowledging that flexible schedules do take extra time on the employer's part to set up and monitor, Raskin has seen firsthand as a manager the difference it makes in employee morale and loyalty.
"The key is to set agreed-upon ground rules, communicate expectations clearly and take action if productivity levels drop off. Compared to the exorbitant costs of employee turnover, if you can keep one valuable employee who otherwise would have left, the benefits definitely outweigh the costs and risk."

People tell us what they'd love to say to their co-workers

By Alina Dizik,

It's no secret that co-workers may drive you nuts.
"At the office, even the littlest things can set you on edge when they happen every single day," says Kerry Miller, founder of, a humor blog that often highlights annoyed office workers. "You start to think your co-worker is typing extra loudly just to drive you crazy -- and then you go crazy stewing over it."
Since most people spend more time on the job than away from the office, it can be especially difficult to express the feelings that flare up -- without getting fired. Ever wish you could tell your co-workers exactly what you're thinking? We asked real people to vent about their co-workers and they did. Their real feelings may surprise you, which is why they've asked to keep some anonymity. Read on to get an inside glimpse of what your co-workers are thinking: 

Escaping office annoyances
"Please, for the love of God stop playing this music for the entire office. No one else likes it. No one else cares about your flashback stories to the months you spent following rock bands. It's super annoying and the year is 2011; your hippie days are long gone. Also, your laptop has a little spot just for your headphones, not sure if you knew."
- Jessica M., Chicago
"Leave me alone and stop bothering me via all possible electronic mediums. I know what I'm doing and can do it better and quicker than you, but I cannot do it if you are constantly in my face. No one likes a micromanager, so we'll all be better off if you just let me do my job."
- Cari B., marketing associate
"Every time something doesn't work with your computer, please don't start taking to it. No one wants to hear you ramble. What you may not realize is that the only thing not working is your head."
- Eugene K., Chicago

Manners matter
"Next time there's a team dinner, why don't you join us? Whatever else you're doing isn't as important as keeping up project morale."
- James D, San Francisco
"To the guy a couple of cubes down, please stop clipping your nails at your desk. It's so gross. Don't you have time at home?"
- Brie G., news editor

Break the bad work habits
"Team, get your butts up in the morning and get to work early. It's time you accept discipline in your life and become professionals. You don't have any good excuses. I want to see the effort and ambition or the next person in line will take your seat."
Jordan P., sales manager
"I can tell which of you were in band or theater in high school. We know you like to be the center of attention. Showoffs!"
- Brie G., news editor
"I'm sorry that you're stuck training me, but how can you not understand that the better and nicer you train me, the quicker I will learn, be self-sufficient and stop asking questions? So get off your high horse, spend 10 minutes on some training materials, and we'll all walk away happy."
- Sabrina B., marketing associate
"Your outrageous misogyny and borderline sexual harassment is unconscionable. My name isn't 'toots' or whatever nickname you've decided on for this week to further dehumanize me. Don't wink at me; it doesn't inspire kinship, it just makes you creepy. Stop staring at women's legs. News flash: They can see you. And stop assuming that my male counterpart is better at the job than I am simply because he's a man.
- Christine K., New York

Thou shalt look professional: 10 commandments of workplace dress

Beth Braccio Hering,

In a 2010 national poll conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, "appearance" ranked second only to "communication skills" when respondents named qualities most often associated with professionalism. "How an individual dresses for work can be a powerful extension of his personal brand," says Matthew Randall, executive director of the CPE. "Clothes, accessories and even the footwear an employee chooses to wear help to reinforce or diminish his skills and qualities in the eyes of his employer, co-workers and clients."
Universal dress rules can't be set in stone, because what is considered appropriate varies by workplace, field and what is happening on a given day. But if such a tablet were to be created, there's a good chance it would include the following:
1. Modesty is a virtue.
Get noticed for your great work, not your tight pants, overdone makeup, short skirt or cleavage-revealing shirt.
"Nothing undermines how you are perceived in business as leaving nothing to the imagination," says Chris Hauri, founder of Mirror Image, a Chicago-based image and identity consultancy.
2. Keep holy the casual Friday.
Yes, the workweek is almost done -- the key word being almost. "Casual Fridays are a recipe for fashion disasters," says Lizandra Vega, author of "The Image of Success: Make a Great Impression and Land the Job You Want." Don't jump the gun by wearing your weekend plans, whether that be catching some rays in a halter top and short shorts or cleaning out the garage in your college sweatshirt and cut-offs.
3. Thou shalt wear the right shoes.
Your feet should look prepared for work. Vega suggests skipping flip-flops and other open-toe shoes, while Hauri notes, "High high heels may be fashionable, but not for actually working. Image conveyed: I can't pitch in and do any work because I really can't walk in these things. Want to be a team player? Wear flats."
4. Honor thy leaders.
Not sure what is appropriate for casual Friday or a client meeting? Look around. "The wisest employees often observe and take cues from the most respected individuals within their organization on what is appropriate workplace attire," Randall says.
5. Thou shalt not steal thy boss's tie.
Keep in mind that taking cues from those above does not mean replicating their wardrobe piece for piece. Instead of coming off as a lemming, find comparable styles, colors and accessories that work for you.
6. Control thy festiveness.
Wearing seasonal colors is one thing, looking like Santa's elf is another. Randall recalls a story about a co-worker who exuberantly over-accessorized her outfits to fit the holidays. "Her overzealousness caused her co-workers to snicker, and she became unofficially known as 'the walking calendar.' Moral of the story: Your workplace wardrobe should enhance your professional skills and qualities, not detract from them."
7. Remember the good book.
Whether you are questioning what constitutes an acceptable variation of a uniform or wondering about the company's stance on jeans, chances are the employee handbook has the answer. Still trying to decide if you should cover up a tattoo? Seek the advice of a trusted mentor, human resources representative or immediate supervisor.
8. Thou shalt notice what year it is.
Congratulations on taking such good care of your clothing that items from 1983 are still "fine" today. Now put these relics in the Goodwill box where they should have landed years ago. While one need not be a fashionista, looking outdated can give the impression that you lack fresh ideas.
9. Err on the side of caution.
Worried that your casual Friday outfit might be too relaxed or that a bright orange shirt might not be received well by a new client? Avoid the guesswork – and the corresponding nervousness – by making safer choices when in doubt.
10. Dress for the job thou want.
A final tidbit: "My advice for everyone, no matter what age or gender, is to dress for the job you want, not the one you're in," Hauri says. "Unless you're happy with where you are, which is just fine."

When to quit a job you hate

By Alina Dizik,

Not all jobs are a perfect fit, but even if you know you're ready to jump ship after just a few months on the job, it's usually in your best interest to stick it out for a while. Most employers shy away from job hoppers, so it's important to avoid that reputation.
Not sure when to leave a job? Here's what career experts want you to know about a well-timed exit strategy:

Hit the one-year mark at a new company
If you just started a job, try to stick it out for at least a year, says John Crant, founder of Self Recruiter. "At the one-year mark, it's much easier to position that one-year stint as you having gone after a specific skill set or exposure to expand your expertise, making you a more well-rounded candidate for the true next step in your career goals -- the [new] job they are offering," Crant explains.

After a promotion, wait four months to leave
The rules of when is appropriate to leave can change after a promotion. Most employers are more lenient toward employees who decide to leave less than a year after a promotion because, presumably, they've already spent some time at the company. Wait "at least four or five months -- and then moving to an outside opportunity that is a lateral to that new role, or even up the ladder from there, will not likely do any long-term damage," Crant says.

Look for a solution before jumping ship
No matter if you just got promoted or just landed a new job, try to fix the situation before leaving right away, suggests career expert Heather Huhman, founder of Come Recommended. Especially if you've just been promoted, ask yourself whether quitting is the best option, or if it's better to speak with your supervisor about your workload to make the transition easier for you, she says.
Stay for a few years to allay job-hopping fears
If you left a previous job in a hasty manner, it's important to stay at your next job for a while, Crant points out. "Once you get the 'right one', try and stay for two-to-three years to reset any concerns over job hopping," he says.

Perceptions are changing
If you can't make yourself stay, don't panic. "People used to worry about being perceived as job jumpers if they didn't stay in a position at least two years. Gen X and Y [employees] are changing this perception," says Taunee Besson, president of Career Dimensions. "Just as young techies [who are] unconcerned about how they dress at work brought about business casual attire, younger generations are changing attitudes about job hopping."
One caveat: If you've already quickly switched jobs, two quick job stints can make you look like an unreliable candidate.

Leave quickly to avoid a layoff
If a layoff is on the horizon, it might be better for you to find a new job before that happens, no matter how long you've been at the company.
Statistically, those who've been let go from a previous position can have a tougher time finding a job than working professionals. Additionally, "the [laid off] job seeker can sabotage himself by feeling he's inferior or by assuming potential employers will think so," Besson says.

Above all, avoid a meltdown
If you can't stick it out for a year (or less if you just got promoted), don't try. It's more important to stay sane at your job than to leave in a timely manner. Sometimes, leaving early can't be avoided. Bottom line: "If you really hate your job, it's time to leave," Besson says.

Getting back up when your job gets you down

Beth Braccio Hering, 

Let's face it: Even the most enthusiastic workers have moments when they dislike their jobs. Here, seven people discuss those instances -- and what they do to get over them.

Mark Fellhauer, chief marketing officer, St. Louis:
"Personally, I 'hate' my job when things which are for the most part out of my control impact the performance of my (financial) institution. An example is we are having a tough time coping with the local real estate market. Given that real estate loans are the majority of our revenue and asset base, it is not difficult to image what this has done to our growth and profitability.

"What I do to combat this is look for small 'wins' throughout the day. I look for something that I can control and execute it well. It could be something as simple as following up with someone quicker than expected or calling a referral source and scheduling a lunch. This typically carries over to the next task and generally has a snowball effect of taking something bad and turning it into a positive."

Cheryl Pozek, recruiting team leader, Dearborn, Mich.:
"I hate my job when I am working with a candidate who says he really needs a job or wants to make a move to another company and I submit him for a position that perfectly fits his qualifications, salary requirements and location -- only to have the hiring manager sit on résumés for a month or so, then call for an interview and that candidate is no longer available.

"I remember why I love my job when I get a job for someone who has been unemployed for more than two years and was about to lose his house."

Chris Formosa, customer relations consultant, Vancouver, British Columbia:"I hate my job when I speak to customers with unrealistic expectations and demands. I also hate when management expects too much and doesn't provide enough support.

"In order to remind myself of what I like about the job, I try to wow the customer. Once customers feel like I have gone above and beyond to help them, it can be quite rewarding to hear how their mood has changed."

Derrick Hayes, juvenile corrections officer, Columbus, Ga.:
"What can be frustrating is when information is not passed on correctly from the person who you are relieving or from your supervisors. This is important as it gives you things to look for. If you are not informed properly, a fight can break out that could have been prevented.

"What makes me happiest about my job is when youth are released and you see them in society and they thank you."

JaLeen Bultman-Deardurff, life skills aide, Rensselaer, Ind.:
"I work with special-needs middle-school children. I hate when parents undo everything we teach the kids, and there's nothing we can do about it. For example, we have one student with Angelman Syndrome [a genetic disorder that affects the nervous system]. She is unable to communicate, but I will give her a chance to make choices. At breakfast she can have juice, so I hold up two different kinds and let her choose which one she wants ... Well, I found out at home the family just does everything for her and doesn't bother letting her point to things she wants.

To love the job again, "I remember these kids need help. Some of them come from not-so-great homes, and we try to counterbalance that need."

Erika Walker, human resources manager, Orlando, Fla.:
"I work for a professional writing and research company. The times I hate my job are when the customer complains and is completely dissatisfied with the work one of the new writers has completed. Hiring professional writers is my core responsibility, and I feel personally responsible if the new writer does not meet the customer's expectations.

"To help fight the disappointment, I review the testimonials section on our website where our frequent customers leave their gratitude for the help we provided. All these comments remind me that there are hundreds of people whom we have helped."

Johnny Atomic, illustrator, Tampa, Fla.:
"What I hate is that a publishing schedule doesn't take into account any form of 'off' time. When I did my last book, I had 90 days to finish, but that was calculated against the idea of my working every day without a break in an assumed 6-8 hour day ... Eventually, working without any break at all will fatigue you so badly that you will end up taking a day off, even though one isn't in the schedule.
"On the other hand, I know that when my deadline is over, I get to take a monthlong vacation with my whole family. My industry is feast or famine, but the workload is also hellish or heavenly. I try to concentrate on the heavenly part."

Dealing with a hands-off boss

By Rachel Zupek Farrell,

To some employees, working for an absentee boss is a dream come true. But in reality, working for someone so "hands-off" can hurt your career.

"A hands-off boss does an employee a disservice when the employee is unable or unwilling to fulfill her responsibilities and the boss does not step in to work with the employee to diagnose the problem and improve performance," says Bob Lazzarini, a member of the faculty at the Graduate Management Program at Antioch University Los Angeles. "It is the responsibility of the boss -- and the employee -- to engage each other, with the manager providing appropriate direction and support."

The reasons a boss may be absentee are many, says Bettina Seidman, career coach with Seidbet Associates, a career management company.
"They may not have management skills or perhaps they don't enjoy engaging with subordinates or getting involved in 'messy' interpersonal relationships," she says. "Sometimes individuals are promoted into management positions based on job expertise and don't understand the role." 

In the best of cases, perhaps your boss just trusts you to do the job and doesn't know you need more leadership.

"[Maybe the boss] believes that leaving you alone is exactly what's needed for you and your team to perform and develop most effectively," Lazzarini says. "Or perhaps your boss is leaving you alone because she thinks you know what to do, how to do it, and you have the resources and motivation you need to be successful without her becoming the dreaded micromanager."

Whatever the reason, a boss who's not much of a boss can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are ways you can cope with the situation. One obvious remedy is to take the situation into your own hands. Have a conversation about your needs and how your boss can help to support you, Lazzarini says.
"When in doubt, communicate," he says. "Being aware of one's own hands-off management practices is one thing. Having the time and presence of mind to communicate that awareness to you may be another thing entirely."

What you should not do is make assumptions about why your boss is MIA -- or even that she knows she's lacking leadership. Instead, manage up, Lazzarini suggests. 

"Manage up by contacting your boss and inviting a conversation. Take responsibility for sharing what you are experiencing, inviting your boss to help you think through what is needed -- including her more regular presence -- for you to perform more effectively," Lazzarini says. "Affirm your boss's engagement, and invite her to consider setting up a more regular opportunity to meet, since you find it helpful."

If neither of these tactics works, make the most of your situation with these two tips:

1. Do what you are supposed to be doing.
"No employee is well-served by saying, 'Well, you weren't here, boss, and I really didn't know what to do,'" Lazzarini says. "You may not know it, but there are lots of people, maybe even your boss, who are not getting enough of their boss's attention and direction. Figure out what needs to be done to advance the organization's mission, objectives and goals. Then do them, whether or not it's your job and irrespective of whether someone gave you direction."

2. Start doing things you would direct someone in your role to do if you were the boss.
Of course, make sure to not overreach to the point that you lose your job or bankrupt the organization, Lazzarini says.
"The sooner you begin to think like your manager and do the things a good boss would want you to do, whether told to do so or not, the sooner you'll be on your way to being recognized as someone who is ready for more responsibility and authority."
But ultimately, the fate of your career should not be blamed on an absentee boss, Lazzarini says.
"Remember that it takes two to tango. If you see your career, your department or your organization on the way to going down in flames because your boss is too hands-off, don't just stand there and watch. Step up, and invite the dialogue."

Preparing for your annual performance review

Last-minute foolproof tactics
By Alina Dizik, 

Performance review time can be nerve-racking, especially in a slow economy ridden with layoffs. Impartially evaluating your strengths and weaknesses is difficult, but it's an important part of progressing in your career. And of course, it's not always pleasant to hear from your boss about the ways you need to improve. 

Instead of feeling intimidated, take a more positive approach, suggests former human resources executive Liz Ryan, who runs the career consulting firm Ask Liz Ryan. "The annual review is one more opportunity to collect and claim the great things you're making happen at work," Ryan says. Not sure how to impress when it comes to your review? Here, experts weigh in on last-minute, foolproof tactics.

Go through your calendar
Use your Outlook calendar or journal to recall your most ambitious projects from the previous year. Using the calendar "will jog your memory to recall and write down the projects you've looked after and the other things you've accomplished on the job," Ryan says.

Include the unexpected
Not everything in your review has to link back to a larger project; note the various other ways you've been a valuable employee. "Don't forget to include times you saved the day, [like when] your company's biggest client was ready to bail, and you kept him onboard. Those are still huge accomplishments, even if they don't fit a project format," Ryan says.

Don't just bring a consecutively ordered bullet list of what you've done each month. Instead, think strategically about the accomplishments you'd like to highlight throughout your review. "Write down, in order of priority -- greatest impact on the company to least impact -- about 10 or 12 of these milestones, things that you did over the past year," Ryan suggests. 

Include details
Especially when you get nervous, it can be difficult to remember the crux of your accomplishments. As you prepare, jot down the most impressive details of each successful task. "Write a sentence or two about each one," Ryan says. Be sure to include any impressive sales numbers or qualitative results to help add weight to your accomplishments. 

Use the fourth quarter to wrap up long-term goals
With so many holidays and family obligations, the fourth quarter is the busiest time of the year, but taking time to complete the previous year's goals is key. Most people "get buried in day-to-day work and forget their higher and loftier ambitions under the pressure," Ryan says. If you don't think ahead, you risk approaching annual review time "with nothing to show for the last three months except that [you] showed up."

Keep track of feedback
Whether feedback takes place during review time or informally throughout the year, it's important to understand what your manager is trying to say. Take notes, pose questions and be conscious of the response you're getting. During and after the conversation "ask for feedback on your set of priorities so that you're working on the most critical issues, not sideline projects that no one cares about," Ryan says. During review time, refer to your manager's feedback throughout the year to further demonstrate improvement.

Come with a new annual plan
Thinking through your goals for the upcoming year is often the toughest part of a review, but understanding your role in a larger company context is also what can help set you apart as an employee. Consider what you want to tackle on the job and what you want for your own professional development, Ryan suggests. "You've got to lay out a plan for your manager -- you can't sit back and wait for him or her to tell you what your priorities should be."

What it's Like to Design Bachelor Pads

By Kaitlin Madden,

Why is it that even five years out of college, some guys still can't shake the frat-boy act? You know the type: seemingly grown men who still consider a cardboard box to be an appropriate substitute for a coffee table, believe the only decoration a room needs is a flat-screen TV, and -- instead of throwing them away -- opt to display their empty liquor bottles like trophies on their bookshelves.

Taylor Spellman, owner of New York City-based interior design firm August Black, hopes to enlighten these perpetual dorm-dwellers. Spellman founded her guys-only interior design firm in 2008, based on the belief that most men don't want their apartments to be a mess; they just don't know how to decorate and organize them properly. So she set out on her mission to bring stylish décor to men everywhere, one bachelor pad at a time. 

Below, Spellman tells us what it's like to be the owner of August Black:

CareerBuilder: As an interior designer and small-business owner, what does your job entail? What do you do on a daily basis?
Taylor Spellman: As a small-business owner, you have to be comfortable wearing many hats. Every day there are the challenges of running a small business such as invoicing, general accounting and prospecting for new clients. Then there's the more fun side of the business, which is the actual interior design element that includes picking paint colors, fabrics and shopping for goods. On a daily basis, I am constantly switching back and forth between the left-brain business side and the right-brain creative side.

We heard you had no formal training in interior design. If this is true, how did you become successful in your industry? Is it something you've always had a knack for?
It is true that I had no formal training. When I was deciding if I wanted to go to school or just dig in and get to work, I read an old Zen saying that said, "Leap and the net will appear." I decided to leap -- and the net has certainly appeared!
You can have all the schooling in the world, but if you don't have that confidence and faith in yourself, you will still get nowhere. I think I have always had a knack for it, and after decorating so many apartments for friends I suddenly thought, "Wait, I could be getting paid for this!" 
Ultimately, I think we have excelled in the industry, especially in such a competitive environment like New York City, because we are capitalizing on a niche. I think it helps any business to get off the ground when you're able to home in on an untapped market.

What prompted you to actually start your company, and in the middle of a recession, no less?
I was prompted to start the company because I was ready to launch a real career that I was passionate about, compared to a job that simply paid the bills. Before I went off on my own, I was working for quite possibly the meanest human on the planet ("The Devil Wears Prada" style) and I knew that the challenges I would face in opening a business (even in a recession) would be cake compared to my old job and would also be a lot more rewarding.

What's it like to run your own business? Is it all it's cracked up to be?  Is it more than it's cracked up to be?
My father is also an entrepreneur and when I was a kid he'd always say, "I'd rather work 100 stressful hours for myself than 50 for someone else." Now that I run my own business, I understand what he was saying. It is all it's cracked up to be in that you get 100 percent of the credit when things go well and the work is really fulfilling because you are so invested in the process from start to finish. Also, even when I am feeling an exorbitant amount of stress and pressure, that is another good thing about being your own boss -- job security. I never walk into the office wondering if I'm going to get fired.

When did you realize your business was a success?
After the first year of being open (in the height of the recession) had come to a close and I realized we were profitable.

Have you ever encountered a particularly trying client or project? How did you handle it?
Seeing as I work with extremely successful, high-powered men who are used to getting their own way, I have definitely had my fair share of trying clients. It's par for the course, so I handle it by trying to have a good attitude, a good work ethic and a thick, thick skin.

What advice do you have for people who want to start their own business, but may be afraid, or may not have the educational background typically needed for the industry they're interested in? 
When it comes down to it, if you want to do it you will, and if you want to make excuses for why it won't work, you'll do  that, too. It's all a matter of what you decide in your mind. So don't waste energy being afraid, as that will get you nowhere. Decide what you want and map out the plan on how you're going to get there. 

Interested in becoming an interior designer?  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
  • Employment for interior designers is expected to grow faster than average (19 percent) through 2018.

  • Job competition for interior designers is expected to be keen. Those with degrees in the field and related experience are expected to have the best job opportunities.

  • Interior designers are often  self-employed. 

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