No matter how bad things have been, when you quit a job, part on good terms.

Australians and New Zealanders are bad at making a clean break. We’re too blunt and our work culture doesn’t help.

Keeping perspective when you’re given 30 minutes to empty your desk isn’t easy. The good news is this response to a resignation is rare.

Parting on good terms is also difficult if you quit because of workplace problems—maybe the colleague from hell or a tyrannical boss. Even so, you must resist the temptation to even the score.

There are three justifications for making a clean break after you quit:

Things change

A difficult boss will one day move on. The company might change its pay policy. A new espresso machine might replace instant coffee.

Either way, it doesn’t do to burn your boats. You might want to work at this place again—one day.

Reputation

Reports of bad behaviour during your notice period will spread. Bosses talk to each other more than you think. So do colleagues. Bad behaviour at this stage can undo all the hard work you put into establishing your reputation.

A messy split is no way to start the next stage

We’re not talking about bad karma, this is more practical. As you wrap up one stage of your life, you should make a positive preparation for the next. Allowing your bitterness or anger to boil over means you lose focus.

Here are six things you should do before starting a new job.

  1. Tell your existing employer you are leaving. Do this fast and stay as professional as possible. Don’t make a big production number.  It’s best to do this face-to-face. If that bothers you, write a short letter – not an email.
  2. Tell your existing employer why you are going. Focus on the positives – even if there are negatives. Say your new workplace has wonderful coffee. Don’t whinge about the powdered Nescafe.
  3. Wrap up loose ends. If you can finish projects do so. Try to ease the transition for whoever is going to fill your shoes. You never know, that person could be your boss one day.
  4. Work out your notice in good faith. Don’t start late and leave early or skive off to the pub. Work normal hours—of course no-one will expect you to work around the clock now you are on your way.
  5. Remember to thank people for the good times – there must be some. Be positive but sincere. Colleagues will remember your parting words longer than the thousands of words spoken while working together.
  6. Close on a high note. Singers leave the best songs for their encore – try to do the same.

Look for jobs that give you the right experience for the long haul. In today’s job market that’s easier and more important than getting more money.

For more than a decade now the hottest spot in the knowledge worker job market is for people who combine strong technical skills with an understanding of how business works. At the high-end salaries in excess of $500,000 are achievable. Although to get this money you’d need to be highly experienced and at the top of your profession.

But there’s an important twist. Employers aren’t just willing to pay for paper qualifications; they want to see real evidence of solid experience.

Evidence of a strong track record is even more important in a downturn than in the good times because employers simply can’t afford to take a punt.

Experience, delivery

Right now an ability to deliver is critical. No one is going to pay anyone a cent unless they can deliver exactly what’s expected. And this comes back to the basic principle of interview and selection; past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.

The logic goes like this: If you’ve done the job before, you can do it again. If you’ve done it before, did it well learning new things along the way then you’ll do it better next time.

In other words, knowledge workers should look for jobs giving them the right experience, not an immediate high salary. The strategy that pays off in the long-term and a wise move in a downturn.

During previous recessions (the early 1990s, just after the dotcom crash) the knowledge workers who had the most trouble finding work were those who had previously enjoyed puffed up salaries. Often they were puffed up themselves and didn’t have a track record of delivering.

Remember that the right kind of experience will almost always beat paper qualifications in an employer’s view. Faced with the choice between spending $30k on a masters’ degree and taking a $30k pay hit to work on a prestigious project, the latter is the better investment.

There was a time when bosses demanded loyalty. In return they’d give you a job for life – or at least a sizable chunk of it, along with steady progress through the ranks and pay rises.

At some point the social contract broke down. Employers no longer expect you to stay for ever. Or at least most don’t. If they want to keep your skills, talent and enthusiasm they’ll offer you equity, options or another incentive.

So you’re off to a new job then?

From your point of view, moving on should not just be about earning better money. You should also build your curriculum vitae. You must balance the variety of skills and breadth of acquired experience against the need to show stability.

Your next employer may not care if you have only been in your current job for 10 months, but later employers will.

It’s important that you don’t appear to be a butterfly flitting casually from job to job. On the other hand, smart recruiters recognise five years at a single employer might not mean five years of experience, but the same year of experience repeated five times. It might also show an unambitious nature or even a lack of gumption.

No easy answers

There are no hard and fast rules. Details differ from discipline to discipline and from region to region, but after talking to recruiters and people who successfully manage their careers the following seems to be about the right recipe for today’s job market:

  • It’s OK to have a new job roughly every year up until around your 30th birthday.
    Assuming you graduate at 22, that means you can safely fit in seven employers before hitting your 30s. Less than three employers in this time means you probably haven’t learnt enough. Higher degrees, periods of self-employment and bar-keeping in London each count as a single employer.
  • When you hit 30, you need to slow down. Individual jobs should last between 18 months and three years with an average of over two years.
    Aim for four CV items between your 30th and 40th birthdays. Don’t worry if one lasts less than 18 months—but make sure you have a good explanation if there is more than one short-term job. Higher degrees and periods of self-employment are still cool. Indulgent goofing-off (i.e. bar-keeping in London) looks a bit flaky, but accomplishing something (writing a book, sailing single-handed around the world or climbing Everest) is OK.
  • Above 40 it’s OK to stay a little longer with employers, but not too long and certainly not if you stay in the same role. The lower limit of 18 months still applies but you should be looking to clock up some extended periods of more than four or five years with a single employer.

Technology companies talk up their products and technologies. Let’s not mince words: they are hype merchants.

They hire professional public relations consultants and advertising agencies to whip up excitement on their behalf.

Sometimes they convince people in the media to follow suit and enthuse about their new gizmos or ideas.

Occasionally the media’s constant search for hot news and interesting headlines leads to overenthusiastic praise or a journalist swallowing a trumped-up storyline.

Hype cycle

None of this will be news to anyone working in the business. What you may not know is that the IT industry’s shameless self-promotion has now been recognised and enshrined in Gartner’s Hype Cycle.

Gartner Hype Cycle

 

Gartner analysts noticed a pattern in the way the world (and the media) viewed new technologies. This is a huge initial burst of excitement rapidly followed by a sigh of disillusion and, eventually, a more balanced approach.

This observation evolved into the Hype Cycle represented graphically in the diagram. The horizontal axis shows time, while the vertical axis represents visibility.

Five phases:

In the first phase, Garter calls it the “technology trigger”, a product launch, engineering breakthrough or some other event generates enormous publicity.

At first only a narrow audience is in on the news. They may hear about it through the specialist press and  start thinking about its possibilities.

Things snowball. Before long the idea reaches a wider audience and the mainstream media pays attention.

This interest gets out of control until things reach the second phase, which Gartner calls “the peak of inflated expectations”. At this point the mainstream media becomes obsessed – you can expect to see muddle-headed but enthusiastic TV segments about the technology.

You know things have peaked for sure when current affairs TV shows and radio presenters pay attention.

At this point people typically start to have unrealistic expectations. While there may be successful applications of the technology, there are often many more failures behind the scenes.

Trough of disillusionment

Once these disappointments become public, the Hype Cycle shifts into what Gartner poetically calls the “trough of disillusionment”. The mainstream press will turn its back on the story, others will be critical. Sales may drop. The idea quickly falls out of favour and seems unfashionable.

Occasionally ideas and technologies sink beneath the waves at this point, but more often they re-emerge in the “slope of enlightenment”. This is where companies and users who persisted through the bad times come to a better understanding of the benefits on offer. As a rule of thumb, most of the media has lost interest and may even ignore things, the good stuff just happens quietly in the background.

Finally, the cycle reaches the “plateau of productivity”. This occurs when the benefits of the idea or technology are now widely understood and accepted.

Any fool can write a good press release that hits its target audience and creates an impact.

Writing one that fails means work. There are people who have mastered the art.

As an editor I’ve seen some great efforts over the years. I’d like to share them with you.

Here are my top ten tips for making sure press releases get minimum attention:

1. Cripple its chances of reaching editors and journalists

Everyone can read plain text messages in the body of an email. The message will almost certainly get through to any kind of desktop email clients, all flavours of web mail, as well as Blackberries, iPhones and Palm Pilots.

To reach less than 100 percent of your potential audience, try putting some of these clever barriers in the way.

Attachments are an effective way of cutting down the reach of your press release. People reading email on mobile devices have trouble reading them. Spam filters treat them with suspicion and if you’re lucky the recipient may use Lotus Notes as a client and have difficulty decoding the attachment.

Another advantage of attachments is that you can trim your audience further by using difficult-to-open file formats: such as the new .docx file format used by Word 2007 – many journalists will struggle to read them.

Attachments are great for bulking up the size of your release so it won’t squeeze through email gateways. If you’re clever, use high-resolution logos in, say, your Word attachments. These add  nothing to the press release but can swiftly push the file size over the email gateway threshold.

A further reason for sending a press release as an attachment is its invisibility to email search. So, when a journalist decides to look for your press release among the hundreds and thousands in their email in-box, it will be difficult to find.

2. Minimise relevance

One way to make sure your press release fails is to make sure it has no relevance to any sane audience. For example, if you are a technology company and you buy a new fleet of cars you can squander your PR budget and make sure any future release goes directly to an editor’s recycle bin by sending the story to the technology press.

3. Send your press release out whenever

Timeliness is everything. So send releases out when you feel like it to boost your chances of failure. Better still, for print publications try waiting until five minutes after the final deadline. For online publications wait until the story has already broken elsewhere. Editors love that.

4. Organise schedules so contacts are unavailable for interview

Good journalists are annoying creatures. Rather than printing your press release verbatim and passing the contact details over to their advertising departments, they may want to speak to the people mentioned in your releases.

A tried and tested technique for avoiding these complications is to send the people overseas shortly after dispatching the release. International communications are good these days, so just packing them off to a partner conference in Atlanta isn’t good enough, you need to make sure they are on an 18 hour trans-pacific flight or, better still, holidaying on a remote island.

5. Use poor writing skills

Obvious when you think about it. If your writing is poor and confused so that editors and journalists can’t understand your message you kill two birds with one stone.

First, you’ll make sure the first message gets spiked in the too hard basket.

Second, as a bonus, you can establish your reputation as an illiterate idiot that isn’t worth bothering with under any circumstances. That way, your future releases will go straight to the junk pile without even being read.

6. Try bullying

Sadly this powerful technique is underused. By threatening to talk to a journalist’s editor, or an editor’s boss about their poor response to your press release you can permanently undermine your relationship with scores of people (remember journalists talk to each other so this is an efficient way of burning lots of bridges).

Another approach is to tell the journalist the company in question is advertising thus triggering their professional editorial independence.

7. Don’t bother with press release photographs

Journalists and editors like photographs. They love good photographs. By making sure they are no photographs of any description you’ll increase the chances that your press release is regarded as useless.

If you think that’s taking things too far, try sending out crappy, unusable photos. Photos with dozens of un-named people work well in this respect. Getting people to hold champagne glasses, stand in front of company logos, gather around an unreadable normal-size bank cheque or impersonate public enemy number one mug shots are all effective techniques for creating instantly ignorable press release photographs.

8. Send it to everyone regardless

This is a great way to upset journalists and degrade both your personal and company reputation. At the same time if you work for a PR agency you can bill the client heaps for having a, er, comprehensive, mailing list and then bill them for time as you and your staff spend all day on the phone dealing with angry editors.

9. Keep your press release as dull as possible

Journalists prefer interesting stories. Public relations professionals recognise this and use clever tricks like passive sentences, boring ideas, irrelevant background facts, tired clichéd adjectives and implausible anodyne quotes to turn them off and help speed their press releases on their way to the great recycle bin in the sky.

Press releases use a surprising amount of predictable material.

In-house and government public relations people are usually better at delivering boring releases than agency staff – if you’re worried your writing sparkles too much, they have much to teach you.

10. Make sure the subject line obscures the message

Even experienced public relations operatives can slip up by giving an email release an interesting subject line. The danger is that after putting in all the hard work required to guarantee nobody takes the slightest notice of their press release they use active language to put a relevant, timely subject line message that tempts editors and journalists to open the document and read more.

The good news is there are fail-safe subject lines that are certain to turn off editors and journalists so they can just skip past your release. A classic subject line like press release will probably work, if that’s too simple try important press release or important press release from Company Name.

A neat by-product of badly written subject lines is they can fool spam detection engines into rejecting a message altogether; phrases like important announcement from Company Name or message for Clark Kent can come in handy here.

Workers becoming slaves to technology

The Information Overload Research Group has been set up by academics and tech companies like Microsoft, IBM and Intel to find ways of reducing the stresses on knowledge workers. The organisation’s slogan “reducing information pollution” says it all.

A reading list for aspiring knowledge workers. Future Tense:

Jim McGee recommends 25 books for knowledge workers.

I’ve only read two of the books on this list from cover to cover (and both a long time ago) so there’s a fair bit of catching up to do here.

I’m not sure I agree with all McGee’s choices. For example while David Allen’s Getting Things Done has useful ideas and can help for some knowledge workers, it is not an essential read on the subject of knowledge working.

Break or Weld? Trade Union responses to global value chain restructuring

This book review on the New Unionism blog says some knowledge workers are joining trade unions, or at least organizations that look and function like traditional trade unions. The post also looks at how unions are responding to globalization. Sadly there are no comments on this post. It would be good to see some discussion of whether the trade unions that developed to protect industrial workers are of practical help to knowledge workers.

Book Excerpt: The Numerati by Stepen Baker

BusinessWeek reprints a chapter from Stephen Baker’s eye-opening book which looks at how mathematics (or math if you are American) can deliver powerful new insights into just about every area of human activity. Going on the extract, this book looks like it might earn a place on my knowledge worker book list.

The Knowledge Handoff

This looks at how baby-boomer executives are handing over their knowledge to a younger generation as they prepare for retirement. There’s also a slide show that runs over the key points.

Being good at your job helps. But to get the best jobs in some sectors you also need to work on your profile.

When top-flight companies hire executives, the first question they ask is ‘who is the ideal person for the role?’

The first name that comes to mind is usually someone with the right skills set and a high-profile. One sure-fire way to build a higher profile is to become a media star.

An expert source

Reporters and editors are only as good as their contacts. Although stories appearing in newspapers, magazines and online or broadcast via radio and television are increasingly manufactured – many are not.

Journalists need expert sources to explain things or to put them in context.

Because journalists need source fast, they turn to the people they know first. For example, if a military coup erupts in a third-world country, reporters will hunt for citizens of that country or at least someone who has more than a passing knowledge of the country.

Specialist knowledge

This process gets granular – particularly with the trade and specialist press. If a computer virus infects government computers, most general news reporters will look for online security experts. More specialist technology reporters will determine the operating system and hardware concerned and look for, say, Windows Server security experts.

And that is the opportunity.

No matter how obscure your area of expertise, if you are a knowledge worker you are an expert on something and a valuable resource to journalists and editors.

In fact, the more obscure your expertise the more valuable you are as a contact.

Be ready to comment

It’s no good just being an expert. You have to let journalists and editors know you are there and available for comment. They are not going to find out about you through psychic power. This is the hardest part of building your profile.

If you work for a big outfit, use your company’s public relations agency or marketing communications person. Make sure that they circulate your name to editors and key journalists as a possible expert contact.

Don’t forget to include online news sites, TV and radio stations on your list.

Running a blog centred on your expertise will also help you develop a higher profile. Or write in-depth specialist articles for Linkedin or Medium.

Another approach is to wait until something happens and issue a statement. For this to work properly you need to anticipate the news and prepare your statement in advance.

If you really are a subject expert this won’t be that difficult. But you’ll have to move fast. Journalists tend to work around the clock and time waits for no-one.

Miriam Cosic writes in The Australian about journalist Nick Davis who says more than half the news in Britain’s top five newspapers was generated by public relations companies or taken from wire services.

Davis is in Australia to promote his book Flat Earth News.

While this is a great background piece that makes me want to buy the book – it paints a depressing picture of the state of journalism. I’ve worked in the industry for almost thirty years and agree with Davis’ basic premise that today’s journalists are now expected to do a once-over-lightly job and rock the boat as little as possible.

Blame the media corporations

Davis points the finger of blame at the media corporations. This analysis can’t be separated from the widely reported decline of traditional news media.

Conventional thinking says people are moving away from newspapers, magazines and broadcast news because of the Internet. I believe the audiences would be declining even without the arrival of online news because the news media is turning off audiences.

Graphs of reader numbers stretching back to the days before the internet show audiences started to decline in the 1980s. The arrival of the open internet in the mid-1990s saw the fall accelerate. It did not start then.

One aspect of this  The Australian story overlooked is that public relations companies now massively out-gun newspapers in terms of staff, expertise and experience.

This is particularly noticable in New Zealand where the newspapers seem largely staffed by young reporters in their 20s and early 30s while many of the brightest and best of the older generation work for PR companies.

Marketing communications, the business of letting people know about your products and services, can be broken down into two distinct parts: advertising and publicity. For more about the differences between the two, see Use publicity to get noticed.

As the earlier post says, advertising is straightforward. You pay money directly to a media company. In return, you retain control over your message and how it is presented. It’s a commercial transaction.

Publicity is different. It can still cost you money – there are plenty of businesses who will willingly accept payment for their promotional services – but in general you don’t pay the media to propagate your message and you have no say over timing, placement or presentation. You can’t even be sure it will run.

In theory, you should be able to get publicity when the story you want to tell is so compelling that journalists and editors will fall over themselves to ensure it appears in their publications, blogs or broadcasts. Just remember their idea of compelling is unlikely to coincide with your opinion.

Editors are driven by the need to provide readers, viewers or listeners with the hottest news, up-to-date information, the most relevant background features and the best stories. They may also be looking for something entertaining to brighten up their pages.

Contrary to what you may think, they generally don’t care at all about whether their stories help you or your business. Or at least they shouldn’t if they are doing their job properly. However, there are some, less than totally independent publications where this logic doesn’t apply.

Another common misunderstanding about publicity is that the best way to get it is to use something known as the press release. This is a pre-written version of the story you’d like to see in print. Press releases are often written in a highly stylised format, containing the basic facts together with some background.

Press releases can work, but in general they don’t. Many go straight into the bin. And rightly so. That’s the usual place for rubbish. Others are stored, maybe for future reference or to keep potentially useful contact information in a handy place. They mainly exist because clients like them – they create an aura rather than the reality of useful media activity.

In fact, there are publicity experts who believe the overwhelming majority of press releases are never read by journalists, let alone used as the basis for an editorial item.

Some of the best communications professionals – they may call themselves public relations consultants, press agents or even something ridiculously bombastic like media consul – will tell you that press releases are only one, not particularly useful strategy and account for a tiny fraction of their work.

We’ll look more closely at the mechanics of press releases another time.

Remember, publicity involves enticing the media to write or broadcast information about your company, product or services because you have something new, important, exciting or otherwise interesting to say.

Often the best way to do this is to call a journalist and tell them, quickly and concisely, just what your story is and why it may be of interest to their readers. Like everything else in business, this is largely a matter of forming the right relationships.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, get some media training or hire a press agent to do the calling on your behalf. Good public relations professionals know precisely who to call and how to pitch stories in a way that will make them more interesting to journalists or editors. They can introduce you to the right people, set up face-to-face meetings or organise phone interviews and help you prepare for these.

Occasionally when you have something particularly important to announce, you may want to hold a formal press conference or maybe host a less formal gathering of journalists for morning tea, lunch or afternoon cocktails. This kind of event works best when used sparingly, it’s not always the best way of telling a specific story, but it’s a great way to make or maintain contact.

You don’t succeed or fail a psychometric test.

There are no pass and fail marks. There are ways to get the best from a test.

If a boss asks you to take a psychometric test, the chances are they want to know if you are right for a job. If you don’t match their needs, they may find a suitable opening elsewhere.

Psychometrics make the best use of employees

Some bosses use the tests like the Hogwarts sorting hat to make the best use of employees.

Supporters think the tests reveal attitudes and beliefs as well as personality. They can put empathic workers with good communications skills in front of customers. They can keep miserable bastards in the back rooms where they won’t upset anyone.

This is controversial. Not everyone agrees psychometric tests have value. Reducing personalities to a handful of key terms is handy. But it oversimplifies. It can lead to wrong assumptions about how people react to various circumstances.

Also, people change. If you take the same test on two different days you may get different results.

Cheating pointless

While it is possible to game a psychometric test: to show the personality needed for a plum job, cheating is hard and pointless.

Well-designed psychometric tests have subtle cross-references to tease out inconsistencies and spot cheats. Testers know when replies are not genuine.

Showing up as flaky and dishonest is not good (unless perhaps you are seeking a career where these traits are an asset). Alternatively, you may just end up looking like you’re confused or crazy.

This aside, cheating a psychometric test is pointless because the purpose is to decide whether you are a good fit for a particular job.

Why would you want to trick your way into a role which, by definition, you are unsuitable? Not only will you make yourself unhappy, but you’ll almost certainly doom yourself to failure.

So, what can you do to get the best from a test?

Ten tips for getting a good psychometric test result:

  1. Have a good sleep before your test. You’ll think clearer.
  2. Relax. Calm those nerves. This isn’t going to hurt. You’ll give a more accurate picture of your personality if you’re in relaxed frame of mind.
  3. Read the instructions carefully. Read the questions carefully. Reread anything that’s unclear. If the tester says anything you don’t understand before the test starts ask for clarification.
  4. Make sure you are comfortable.
  5. Don’t hurry. Psychometric tests are rarely timed, so work through the questions carefully and consider each answer before ticking the box or clicking the mouse.
  6. The testers want to know what you are like as an employee, so answer the questions based on what you are like at work and not at home or in private.
  7. Answer the questions based on how you feel now and not in the past or in the future. The company wants to use your current personality.
  8. Don’t read too much into each question. Individual questions don’t have hidden underlying  meanings, the subtlety lies in how the questions mesh together.
  9. Avoid making too many extreme answers. If you have to mark things on a scale of one to five make sure there are more twos, threes and fours than ones or fives.
  10. After the test is over ask the tester to discuss the results with you. While you may not get the job in question, the test may offer insights in to more suitable career options.