TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Scientifically Backed Ways to Seem More Powerful

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Compassionate Eye Foundation/Jamie Grill—Getty Images

Mail clerk? Administrative assistant? Make the honchos look at you in a whole new light. Here’s how social scientists say you can make people think you’re more powerful.

Take up lots of space. MIT researcher Andy Yap says the way we stand and sit can give both those around us as well as ourselves the sense that we’re powerful. Specifically, what Yap calls “expansive poses,” where people adopt a wide stance when standing, put their hands on their hips instead of at their sides and stretch out their arms and legs when seated. “High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power,” Yap writes. “That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.”

Scientists who study the effects of these hormonal changes say they’re associated with status, leadership and dominance — and all you have to do is take up more space.

Tap into the “red sneaker effect.” This is why Mark Zuckerberg can get away with wearing a hoodie. Researchers from Harvard Business School studied how sometimes looking out of place can have a positive effect. “Under certain conditions, nonconforming behaviors can be more beneficial than efforts to conform and can signal higher status and competence to others,” they write. (They give the example of someone wearing a pair of red sneakers in a professional setting as an example.) Since most of us try to conform to social norms, we tend to think that people who deliberately don’t do so because they have enough social status that they don’t have to care what the rest of us think.

Use big-picture language. Yes, it pays to be detail-oriented, but when you communicate, think in terms of broader ideas, because it makes people think you’re more powerful. Researchers discovered that when people use abstract languages in phrases, sentences and short paragraphs, experiment subjects were more likely to perceive of them as powerful than when they used more concrete verbiage.

Call the shots on eye contact. Social scientists observe that people with lower status tend to make eye contact more than those with higher status — probably because the higher-status person doesn’t need to seek approval or isn’t as concerned with the other person’s response. More powerful people also aren’t afraid to break eye contact, according to Audrey Nelson, writing in Psychology Today.

“Investigators found that people who are more dominant break a greater number of mutual gazes than those who are more submissive or in the power-down position,” she says. Just as Andy Yap finds with our bodies, the amount of space a person’s gaze takes up also telegraphs how high they are on the social or corporate food chain.

Stand at the back of the elevator. In an Australian study, researcher Rebekah Rousi, a PhD candidate at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, observed people’s interactions in an office complex elevator. “As a result of 30 elevator journeys (15 in each building) a clear social order could be seen regarding where people positioned themselves inside the elevators.” She found that senior male staffers, who she suggests have a greater relative amount of power, tended to cluster along the back wall of the elevator.

MONEY Careers

Why You Should Tell Your Boss About the Job You Really Want

Gear shift from Sales to Marketing
Shifting to a new department can be tricky. Sarina Finkelstein—Alamy

Q: I want to apply for an opening in another department at my company. Should I tell my boss?

A: In most cases, yes. Telling your manager you are going for another position may be awkward, but if she hears about it second-hand—and that’s a real possibility with an internal opening—that’ll be an even more uncomfortable conversation. Worse, the news could create a rift in your relationship that could make it tougher to do your job.

It’s not about asking for permission, says Heather Huhman, founder & president of Come Recommended, a job search, digital PR, and HR technology consultancy. It’s about maintaining a good relationship. “A good manager will respect your career goals and understand that few people want to be in the same job forever,” says Huhman.

Explain why you’re seeking the job. Maybe it’s an opportunity to take on more responsibility or earn a promotion. Or, if it’s a lateral move, the position will give you a chance to learn new skills or expand your areas of expertise so that you can move up the company ladder later. Whatever the reason, be clear that it’s not because you don’t like your boss or what you’re doing—even if that’s the case, there’s nothing to be gained from that kind of honesty.

Talking your boss also has a potential upside, especially if you’re a valued worker: If your manager learns more about your ambitions, she may create opportunities that will keep you. If not, well, then you’ll have a better sense of where you stand.

Ideally, your boss will be supportive and may even offer a recommendation that helps you land the job. At the least, you’ve ensured that your manager won’t get wind of it from someone else.

But if you think your manager will take the news personally or, more importantly, undermine your bid, don’t tell her in advance, says Huhman. When you interview, ask to keep the process confidential until you are further along.

If you do get the job, offer to help find and train a replacement. You’ll still be working at the same organization and maybe even collaborating on projects with your old team, so make the transition as easy as possible for your boss. If you stay on good terms, you’ll have a valuable contact in the organization, which can pay off. “You never want to burn any bridges,” says Huhman.

Have a workplace etiquette question? Send it to careers@moneymail.com.

 

TIME Careers & Workplace

The 3 Most Important Words You Should Learn Right Now

How To Ace A Job Interview: 7 Research-Backed Tips
Chris Ryan—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Hard to say—but very important

One thing I’ve learned at Buffer is that being open to not knowing things seems to be the best way to learn quickly and teach others at the same time. So many of our biggest hits on the blog have come from saying, “We don’t know the answer. Let’s find out!”

On many matters, we haven’t any authority.

Is this an OK way to get by?

We’ve found great success in not knowing, and there’s no reason why you can’t, too. While we can certainly see the value in establishing yourself as an authority in your industry, being the answer-man or answer-woman isn’t the be-all, end-all of your options.

You can survive and thrive by embracing “I don’t know.”

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

The leading authorities on not knowing

An interesting phenomenon occurs when you’ve been not knowing things for as long as we have. You become an authority on not knowing.

That seems to be the case here at the Buffer blog. We’d like nothing more than to be known as a go-to source for social media content. When you think about social media, we’d love for you to think of us!

At the same time, we understand that we may not be authorities on everything social media—we may not have all the answers right away, near at hand.

And that seems to be alright.

Instead of being authorities on social media, we can be authorities on thorough research, fascinating statistics, and personal experience. In other words, there is more than one way to cement yourself in the minds of your followers beyond traditional authority. If we can earn a reputation as a go-to source for social media content by embracing what we don’t know, then the opportunity’s there for you to do the same.

If you aren’t able to claim authority in your chosen field, you can still seek after a subset of authority. You can be an authority on:

Find whatever it is you’re good at, and become the best you can be. Soon enough, your Facebook and your Twitter and your blog will be known for the quality, exceptional work you do, regardless of what it is that you don’t know.

The authority pyramid

So maybe authority means more than expertise, influence, and confidence. If we expand our definition, we can each find our own path to authority, however it may look.

Impostor syndrome: We all feel like we don’t have all the answers

I’ve had moments where I wasn’t sure I was cut out for my job. Have you had these moments, too?

We’re not alone. Psychologists call this impostor syndrome, and it applies to those of us who are unable to internalize accomplishments. Despite outward evidence that we’re great at what we do, we’re convinced that we’re frauds and undeserving of our place.

This level of “I Don’t Know” is more common than you might think. The term has been around since the 1970s, and researchers believe that up to 70 percent of people have felt the effects of impostor syndrome at some point.

If you’re interested in finding out if you have any characteristics of impostor syndrome, you can take the Clance Impostor Scale survey and see where you land. For each statement in the survey, you mark how true it is of you. For example,

  1. I tend to remember the incidents in which I have not done my best more than those times I have done my best.
  2. I often compare my ability to those around me and think they may be more intelligent than I am.
  3. At times, I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck.

Part and parcel of impostor syndrome is the feeling of not knowing—the lack of expertise that we’ve been talking about so far. Via the Crew blog, here is a simple illustration that shows how impostor syndrome feels:

Impostor Syndrome chart

In the same Crew blog post, Andrea Ayres explains what the manifestations of impostor syndromemight look like, how people may compensate for feeling like a fraud. Do either of these sound familiar to you, whether you’ve done them yourself or witnessed them from colleagues?

Overdoing: When people prepare to an almost obsessive level, putting in much more effort than is realistically needed in order to ensure they don’t fail

Underdoing: People will under prepare or put off doing something until the last minute so they can blame any possible failures on a lack of readiness, as opposed to their actual ability. If you don’t really try you can’t really fail, right?

Of course, neither of these outcomes is preferable. Overdoing will lead to pressure and burnout; underdoing will lead to poor quality and performance.

With the prevalence of impostor syndrome being as great as it is, there must be a better way to survive and thrive while feeling like you don’t have all the answers. Here’s one way that we’ve found.

Giving yourself permission to not know it all

I believe part of the reason for the pressures of impostor syndrome is that there is a stigma around not knowing something. If you feel like an impostor because you don’t have all the answers, it’s because somewhere along the line you learned that it’s best to have all the answers all the time.

Not only is this impossible, it might not even be the best way to go about it.

I’m fortunate to work at a place that embraces the “I don’t know.” Buffer’s values highlight the fact that it’s okay to not have all the answers. We phrase this in terms of curiosity, improvement, listening, and humility.

Here are some choice phrases pulled from our Buffer culture slide deck:

You take the approach that everything is a hypothesis and you could be wrong

You approach new ideas thinking, “What can we do right now?”

You are suggestive rather than instructive, replacing phrases such as “certainly” and “undoubtedly” with “perhaps,” “I think,” and “my intuition right now”

You seek first to understand, then to be understood

Does your company share this belief? I’d be interested to hear which perspective your work takes on the matter of authority and knowledge.

It certainly helps to have an employer so openly embrace the idea of not knowing. And at the same time, there is power in the individual assertion that you don’t have to know it all. Even if your company isn’t outspoken on the matter, you can change your personal philosophy and give yourself a break from chasing authority. You may find this new mindset refreshing, among the many other benefits of embracing the power of “I don’t know.”

3 incredible effects of embracing what you don’t know

“I don’t know” and trust

Jason Freedman of 42 Floors shared a story about a competitive hiring process where one of the key deciding factors for the candidate was Freedman’s openness about not knowing an answer. When Freedman said, “I don’t know,” the candidate was sold. Here’s the reason why:

When people say I don’t know, it lends credibility to everything else that they’ve said.

Think about someone who always seems to have an answer for everything. You’ve maybe wondered along the way if he or she really could know all this stuff, right? But when you admit to not knowing, you give power to the things you do know. People learn to trust your responses to questions and to know they can get an honest answer from you at all times.

“I don’t know” and innovation

Stay hungry, stay foolish

This quote from entrepreneur Sahar Hashemi plays off the idea of embracing the power of “I don’t know” as it relates to curiosity—a key to innovation. Hashemi believes that being clueless and curious is essential to entrepreneurship. Without it, you no longer dream, tinker, and ask “why not.” In this way, knowing too much can actually be a detriment.

“I don’t know” and creativity

Would you hire someone with little experience in your industry? Common sense might say no; however, some would argue that inexperience might be just the thing a company needs.

Nils Sköld writes about this idea on Medium, telling how a lack of knowledge can actually be an ideal way to spur creativity and think outside the norms of an industry. Have you experienced anything similar to this?

My theory is this: when you know everything about an industry, you don’t know whats good for it. What an industry needs is people who have no idea on how it operates. People that don’t know that there are any rules. While it is good to break rules and to push boundaries, it’s much better to just never know that any rules exists.

Our key to not knowing: “We don’t know the answer. Let’s find out!”

In our experience, there’s a bit more to the matter of not knowing than simply embracing our lack of knowledge.

We’d be sunk if we stopped at “I don’t know.” That’s why we follow up by finding out.

Much of our blog content comes from experience. We hunt for answers to our questions (and your questions!) and we report back with what we find.

What we lack in authority on social media, we make up for by seeking input from our audience in chats and conversations and by approaching our social updates with a curious, open attitude.

Embracing “I don’t know” is an opportunity to discover. We’ve found that having an attitude of improvement, experimentation, and curiosity makes it such that there’s no need to worry about not knowing this or that.

If we don’t know, we’ll find out.

Over to you: In what ways has not knowing benefited you?

Having authority in your industry is great, but it isn’t the be-all, end-all for growth. You can enjoy authority in many number of different ways from being the expert of experts to being the expert of your unique perspective.

We’ve embraced the power of “I don’t know,” and we’ve seen the benefits for trust, innovation, creativity, discovery, and so much more.

If you liked this post, you might also like The Beginner’s Guide to Putting the Internet to Work for You: How to Easily Save 60 Minutes Every Day and The Big List of IFTTT Recipes: 34 Hacks for Hardcore Social Media Productivity.

Kevan is a content crafter at Buffer, the super simple social media management tool. His social media and productivity tips have appeared in Fast Company and Lifehacker, and he’s always on the lookout for a good headline pun. Connect with him on Twitter .
MONEY Careers

How to Disconnect from Work (Without Getting on the Boss’s Bad Side)

Man alone in the mountains
No cell tower in sight—you're free! Valeria Mameli—Getty Images/Flickr Open

Check out these ideas from savvy career coaches for keeping your job from spoiling your summer vacation.

Chances are, you’ll be spending some of your time off this summer with a piña colada in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

According to a recent survey by employment website Glassdoor, 61% of us have done at least some work on a vacation in the last 12 month.

Not that this is always voluntary. Of those who logged on while they were supposed to be logged off, a third did so because they felt that no one else could do their work; 28% did so to avoid getting behind; 24% say they were contacted by a colleague on a work issue, 20% by a boss. And while 20% gave up part of their time off because they were in pursuit of a promotion, nearly the same number (17%) stayed connected because they feared for their jobs.

Clearly, it’s tougher than ever to get a real vacation in these times of uber-efficiency, double workloads, and 24-hour connectedness. And yet all those factors mean you need a break more than ever—if not for your own mental health, for those you love. After all, one in 10 employees confessed that a family member had complained about their working on vacation.

Seriously, you deserve a break; you’ve earned it. So MONEY called on career coaches, business etiquette experts, and corporate wellness gurus for tips on how to put your work life on pause to finally enjoy some real time off.

1. Go really off the grid. “Plan your vacation for a destination where there is limited access to email and virtually any other way to be reached. For example, an African Safari or a cruise. An athletic vacation (like a bike trip) or one that is focused around learning (like cooking school) will have a full schedule of events and activities that are pre-planned and where your absence will be disruptive. Regardless of where you go, advise everyone that you will have limited access to email.” —Roy Cohen, a career coach and the author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide

2. Go at the right time. “Exercise good judgment about when to schedule your trip. One of my clients learned that mistake when she insisted on taking a vacation despite knowing that a transaction was about to close and that all hands were expected on deck. Her boss and colleagues were angry and did not appreciate having to cover for her during a time when they were all working against the clock.” —Roy Cohen

3. Make a list, and check it twice. “Devise a list of what is outstanding—what tasks and responsibilities need to be taken care of, where important files are, what might come up while you are away and who can take care of it. See what makes sense to delegate or put off until you return. Go over it with your boss and key people who are involved. Knowing you have a plan in place while you’re on vacation will help you enjoy it more.”—Kirsi Paalanen, a health coach who specializes in helping corporate professionals manage stress

4. Define “emergency.” Post an away message on your voice mail and email that reflects your decision about how you want to be contacted for an emergency. This will include your defining in advance what the definition is of an emergency that you want to know about and set expectations for how you will handle it— e.g. make a phone call? produce a report remotely? fly home from Asia?” —Debra Feldman, an executive talent agent

5. Call in a sub. “Make sure that you have a designated person in place to handle any unexpected events. Share enough to enable a colleague to cover for you and to show that you are a team player, but not all of your secrets or you may find your value diminished. If you are going somewhere exotic, always return with a few inexpensive but significant gifts for colleagues as an expression of your appreciation.” —Roy Cohen

6. Take people at their word. “If your bosses truly tell you not to respond to something, then really do it and give yourself that break.” —Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th edition

7. Allow yourself limited access. “A young investment banker client of mine was about to go on his honeymoon in Hawaii and asked if I thought it would be terrible if he worked on his smartphone during the trip. I told him that if I were his wife, I would throw the device into the ocean. Our compromise was that he would dedicate one half hour a day to answering and reading emails, and that he would do it completely out of sight of his wife. If it’s absolutely necessary to check in, limit communications to a set time each weekday or maybe even two to three times a week.”—Ellis Chase, a career coach and the author of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job

8. Don’t punish yourself for failure. “You want to be a great professional and parent and partner, but all are part time jobs, and you won’t always be able to be great at all roles. Forgive yourself and don’t feel guilty when you slip up. Just reset your priorities so you can get back to your family and vacation.” —George Dow, a career coach who specializes in job transitions

MONEY Second Career

3 Tips for Launching Your Labor-of-Love Business

Women practicing yoga
Willie—Getty Images

An Air Force nurse turned yoga studio owner offers advice from her experience.

Switching careers to open a labor-of-love business in your 50s or 60s is a certifiable trend in America today.

As Ting Zhang, an economist at the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore and the author of the Elderly Entrepreneurship in an Aging US Economy: It’s Never Too Late told me: “Some older workers have been cherishing a dream, wanting to start their own business, and the time is now. Aging is a new opportunity to be an entrepreneur.”

Huge Rise in Midlife Entrepreneurs

The numbers bear her out. According to the Kauffman Foundation, new-business creation by Americans age 55 to 64 rose by more than 60% between 1996 and 2013. Last year, their business starts accounted for nearly one-quarter of all launches.

(MORE: Plotting Your Next Move for Unretirement)

Economists Joseph Quinn of Boston College, Kevin Cahill of Analysis Group and Michael Giandrea of the Bureau of Labor Statistics have found that more than a third of men age 51 to 61 are self-employed, up from 20% in 1992. Some 15% of women in that age group are entrepreneurs, a rise from 10%.

Elizabeth Isele, the septuagenarian cofounder of the nonprofit Senior Entrepreneurship Works, applauds the trend but also has a concern. “There is too much happy talk about it,” she says.

From Nurse to Yoga Studio Owner

Amen, I imagine Liz Campbell saying.

Campbell, in her late 50s, is among the new generation of boomer entrepreneurs. The former nurse opened her Yoga Gem studio in Montgomery, Ala. in 2013.

It’s not that she regrets her decision. No, Campbell is passionate about her midlife career switch and her business. But after a rocky start, she has learned that starting and running a small enterprise is harder than some wannabes think.

“You really have to be prepared for the long haul,” she says.

(MORE: Busting the Myths About Work in Retirement)

Campbell graduated from nursing school in 1979 and then worked for about eight years as a nurse in the private sector. During much of that time, she was the sole support for her family of four, living in Oklahoma during the oil recession. (She later divorced.)

Campbell then joined the Air Force as a nurse—for greater financial stability—put in 20 years, and officially retired in 2009 as a Lieutenant Colonel. Like many boomers, Campbell wanted to keep active and employed, but the idea of sticking with the nursing profession didn’t appeal to her.

Instead, she used the GI Bill to pay for her training to become a yoga instructor in Albuquerque, N.M. She then moved to Montgomery and worked at a yoga studio before deciding to open her own and teach a style of yoga emphasizing healing and calmness.

“You see people change with yoga,” she says. “This is how you change the world.”

(MORE: Where to Get Help Launching Your Encore Career)

Limiting Her Financial Risks

Campbell somewhat cushioned the risks inherent in starting a new business by having a realistic financial foundation.

She pulled out about $60,000 of her money in the stock market to have safely at hand when, and if, needed. Perennially frugal, Campbell determined that the roughly $50,000 she receives each year from her military pension and veteran disability benefits would be more than enough to live on in Montgomery.

So she rented a large studio for $1,400 a month and crossed her fingers. “I opened the doors, and I would wait all day,” she recalls. “One or two students showed up. I thought: ‘What have I done? I signed a three year lease. What a fool I was.’”

Not really. Business picked up by the second month, through a combination of word of mouth, competitive pricing and marketing, including radio ads.

When I caught up with her recently, Campbell had two instructors on contract working a few hours a week, with another hire in the works. The studio now averages some 60 students a week and Campbell pulls in roughly $3,000 a month—enough to pay her rent, electricity, advertising and other business-related bills.

Better Prospects for the Years Ahead

She isn’t drawing a salary yet, though, and estimates that she lost about $5,000 last year. That turned out to be less of a concern than she thought. When Campbell delved into the bookkeeping records, she realized the loss mostly reflected costs associated with installing blinds at the studio and paying a co-instructor from a workshop that didn’t do as well as expected.

This year, Campbell expects her business will be in the black and that she’ll draw a small salary. Two reasons for her optimism: She’ll launch a yoga teacher-training program in September; 10 students have signed up, at $2,800 each. (She hopes the tuition income will allow her to hire more yoga instructors so she can devote more energy to the business side of the enterprise.) Also, Campbell plans to turn her volunteering as a yoga instructor at the local Veterans Administration medical center, into a paid contractor position there.

All in all, she believes it will take about five years to get her business humming and her hope is to sell Yoga Gem in about 10 years. At that point, she’ll likely ease into retirement by becoming a part-time instructor.

Her 3 Tips for Starting a Business in Midlife

I asked Campbell what advice she’d offer potential boomer small-business owners. Here are her three tips:

1. Writing a business plan is crucial. To learn how, Campbell took a class at a small business incubator run by the local Chamber of Commerce. “The class was a really good thing to do, even though the business plan changed right away,” she says. Campbell then quoted General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous observation: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Federal, state, and local governments offer a number of programs like the one Campbell took, typically in partnership with other organizations and usually at little to no charge to entrepreneurs. Also, every state has a network of Small Business Development Centers, housed in colleges, offering professional guidance. The web portals of the Kauffman Foundation and the Small Business Administration are valuable sources, too.

2. Network about the nitty-gritty aspects of business. Campbell says she’s approached all the time by vendors and usually meets with them to learn more about running a company. Her relationship with one of her yoga customers, an experienced entrepreneur who sells organic skin products online, helped Campbell better understand small-business accounting and taxes. “Talk to everybody,” Campbell says.

One advantage of starting a business after 50: you probably have deeper networks to tap than younger generations.

Look for local startup events, meet-ups, conferences and competitions. You might even want to begin planning your business at a co-sharing workspace for independent entrepreneurs, which is a great environment idea sharing.

I’ve found that many veteran entrepreneurs are eager to mentor newcomers, so take advantage of their generosity. When I visited TechTown, the Detroit-based incubator, in 2012, it had about 120 experienced entrepreneurs working with potential small business owners. Said Leslie Smith, president and CEO of TechTown: “They just want to help create value.”

3. Be sure you have a financial cushion before taking the leap into entrepreneurship. Financial uncertainty is tough at any age, but that’s especially true when you don’t have a lot of time to make up any losses if the business goes sour.

So make sure your finances add up before taking the leap into small-business land. And then remember: the hard work is only beginning.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

MONEY Careers

POLL: How Do You Feel About Your Job?

Last year, less than half of U.S. workers were satisfied with their jobs, according to business research group The Conference Board. Are you one of the happy ones—or are you counting the days until you quit?

 

MONEY Careers

How to Make Sure You Sail Through a Reference Check—Before You Even Apply for a Job

Lie Detector machine
Do coach your references on what you'd like them to say...but stick to the truth, of course. Pictorial Press Ltd.—Alamy

Congrats on making it past the interview round! But don't rest on your laurels—the reference check may be the deciding factor in who gets the position.

You’re in the throes of your job search, and things are looking up—with any luck, the recruiter will call soon to ask for your references.

References are important, and definitely not a throwaway step to be considered last-minute. In fact, you shouldn’t only be nurturing your network of references when you’re seeking a job. Remember, these are people who already know and like you. Keeping your references updated ensures that you hear about trends and opportunities in your field—even if you’re employed now you don’t want to miss a great lead.

Here are the right and wrong ways to manage that process:

DON’T just ask your former supervisors to be references.
DO ask vendors, consultants, clients, peers and direct reports.

Your supervisors will always be your most requested reference. However, over the course of your career, you work with a variety of people—not just for your immediate supervisor. Sometimes you work more closely with others than with the person you report to on the organizational chart. Therefore, you need to think more broadly about who can speak for your work than just a boss. Furthermore, your different collaborators can speak to different elements of your work—vendors see your negotiation skills, consultants gauge your teamwork skills, clients know your service quality, peers see you day-to-day, and direct reports know your management style.

DON’T wait until the recruiter asks to check in with your references.
DO line them up in advance.

People move around. You don’t want to find out right before you need the reference that you can’t find that supervisor who knows your work so well. You also want time to find alternative references if one of your choices seems lukewarm when you contact them, or is just so tough to reach that they may not get back to the recruiter in a timely fashion.

DON’T assume references know what to say.
DO coach them on what to highlight.

Your references haven’t worked with you in a while and have since managed others. They won’t remember exactly what you worked on. They also don’t know this job you’re going for so won’t know what to emphasize, especially if you did a lot of different things when you worked for them. Therefore, you need to help them help you—remind them of that big project or key client you want them to discuss, share the job description, and tell them you would appreciate it if they talked, say, about your analytical skills.

__________

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart®career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

How to Network in Just 5 Minutes a Day

How Making a Friend in HR Can Help Your Career

10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable

Your Career is Your Biggest Asset. 5 Ways to Protect It

5 Ways Microsoft Employees (and You) Can Prep for Layoffs

MONEY Second Career

How a 57-Year-Old On Her Second Career Launched a $10 Million Business

Im Ja Choi
Im Ja Choi (center, in white suit), founder of Penn Asian Senior Services, celebrates with clients at the opening of her agency's first adult day care facility, the Jubilee Center in Philadelphia. Courtesy Penn Asian Senior Services

Im Ja Choi saw a need for caregivers who speak foreign languages. So she started a non-profit that provides them.

After her mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2002, Im Ja Choi knew it was crucial to get her a home health aide once she was out of the hospital. But Choi was quickly frustrated by the difficulty of finding a caregiver in the Philadelphia area who spoke Korean, her mother’s native language. Choi quit her job as a bank vice president to take care of her mom until she found one—a process that took seven months.

That experience became the catalyst for Penn Asian Senior Services, a non-profit home health aide agency that Choi, now 65, launched in 2005 to serve the local immigrant community in Philadelphia. Today PASSi serves 455 clients and provides home care services in 11 languages. And with 400 workers workers on its payroll, it’s one of the largest Asian immigrant employers in the area. Annual revenue is about $10 million, and earlier this year the agency opened its first senior daycare center.

It’s an impressive outcome for someone who had never run a business. Choi, who emigrated to the U.S. from Korea after finishing college in 1971, had a 20-year career as a top real estate agent in Philadelphia. Then, after getting a master’s degree, she worked her way up to vice president at a local bank. But starting a business from scratch at age 57 was a wholly new challenge for Choi.

To cover initial operating costs, she took out took out a home equity line of credit for $55,000. “It took some convincing for my husband to agree,” says Choi. A long-time volunteer on Asian women’s issues, she used her local network to find public funding. She got a $50,000 grant from the county and won $900,000 in grants during the first three years of operation. “I had to learn how to write a grant application well, but it was my contacts in the community that really helped. I knew who the decision makers were,” says Choi.

She had enough savings to get by without salary for the first year and was able to repay her home loan within a few months of starting the business. She started drawing a small salary at the end of the first year, after budgeting for that income in her grant applications. “Every step of the way I was fighting for funding and looking for clients,” Choi says. When PASSi reached 175 clients, its revenue covered operating costs; in 2009 the agency began turning a profit.

Today Choi earns about $114,000 annually. It’s less than she pulled down as a banker but she feels much more satisfied by her work. “We provide a service that’s really needed,” she says. She saw proof of that with her mom. Despite a grim initial diagnosis, Choi’s mother lived another eight years, passing away in 2010 at age 93. Choi believes the culturally-based care she got was key to her long survival.

“I consider this job a privilege,” says Choi. “When you have a dream, you somehow make it come true. Now I feel like I am doing the things that I want to do.”

Im Ja Choi is a Purpose Prize Fellow. The Purpose Prize is a program operated by Encore.org, a non-profit organization that recognizes social entrepreneurs over 60 who are launching second acts for the greater good.

MONEY Careers

What You Can Learn From Derek Jeter’s Perfect Exit

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ZUMA Press—Alamy

Whether you’re a 14-time All-Star or a regular employee, leaving a long-term employer on the best terms can pay off handsomely. 

When shortstop Derek Jeter leads off for the American League All-Star team tonight, you can bet the crowds will roar and the 20-year Yankee veteran will modestly acknowledge the fans, take his stance in the batter’s box, and get on with the job at hand. You can also bet that Jeter, who announced his retirement from active play at the start of the season, can parlay that adulation into a very lucrative post-baseball second act.

That’s what a job well done and a well-honed exit strategy from a long-term position can do for you too.

Whether you’re on the verge of retirement or are simply leaving a company you’ve been with for a while to take a new position, here are three lessons from the future Hall-of-Famer’s actions in his final season that you can take to the bank.

Get early buy-in from management. Jeter gave Yankee manager Joe Girardi, general manager Brian Cashman, and owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner more than six months’ notice about his plan to end his playing career at the close of the current season. That’s allowed them plenty of time to plan for his replacement at shortstop.

Show your bosses the same courtesy. Notify your manager a good three to six months in advance if you’re retiring and a month to six weeks ahead of time vs. the standard two weeks if you’re leaving for a new job so they have enough lead time to fill your position. That’s especially important if you’re in a critical, revenue-generating role or are a highly skilled employee who may be difficult to replace. Help identify other staffers or professionals outside the company who might be good candidates, and offer to train them before you go, or at least to write a detailed memo that will help the person fill your shoes.

Your reward: If you’re retiring, you never know when you might want to earn a little extra cash by doing some consulting work or might want or need to return to part-time work. Your behavior helps ensure your former employer will want you back in some capacity. And if you’re simply moving on, you can count on a glowing reference if and when you need one in the future.

Mentor younger players. They don’t call Jeter the Captain for nothing. Since late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner appointed him team leader in 2003, Jeter has taken his job as a role model seriously, consistently mentoring younger players and youth off the field through his Turn 2 Foundation.

Share your knowledge as generously with younger colleagues at work, especially those who toil in a similar capacity albeit at a more junior level. Offer some inside tips that only someone who’s been around for a while would know, and make yourself available for questions and as a sounding board. Be especially generous in passing along your know-how to the person who’s taking your place. Those junior staffers will be the bosses one day, possibly sooner than you think. Good for them to remember you fondly if they’re in a position to hire you someday.

Show fans your appreciation. Jeter is notoriously not on board with hoopla over his career accomplishments, and his farewell tour has been subdued compared with that of fellow Yankee Core Four member Mariano Rivera last year. Yet Jeter has graciously accepted the gifts and gratitude shown him as he plays at various ballparks for the last time and tips his cap to the fans, just as they tip theirs to him.

Remember to show your gratitude to those who helped your career along as well. If you had a mentor at work, let him or her know how much you appreciated the help and mention a particular lesson or words of wisdom that were especially useful (the specificity makes your gratitude seem more genuine). Let colleagues who you particularly admire know and, again, try to identify a specific accomplishment or skill that you believe sets them apart. Bring in bagels or doughnuts for the staff one morning near the end of your run or buy a round of drinks. Think of it as a form of networking that may one day help you professionally.

This kind of classy behavior may not earn you a standing ovation on your way out the door, let alone an emotionally resonant and star-studded tribute video sponsored by Nike. But it can’t hurt in the good karma department — and is very likely to pay off in hard currency after you hang up your spikes.

More in Careers:
These Two Key Moves Will Help You Land Your Dream Second Career
How to Find Happiness in Your Second Career—And Earn Money Too
Your Career Is Your Biggest Asset. Here Are Five Ways to Protect It

 

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