US Air’s disturbing practices

In recent months I’ve flown US Airways a few different times, and learned a valuable lesson about pestering people.

Unless I go out of my way to make it so, there are few places in my day-to-day world where I have complete, quiet alone time, largely without interruption. Airplanes are one such place, which is why, when I fly, I enjoy my alone time to the fullest, and I prefer not to be pestered. So that I don’t get in the way of a row-mate’s bathroom excursions, I always select the window seat even though, at a leggy 6′ 4″, the aisle would be far more accommodating. Before longer flights, I cut my water intake so I don’t have to get up myself, and I generally don’t take a beverage from the service cart when it makes the rounds. I use my time to escape into a book, catch up on my magazines, or work. US Air, however, isn’t on board with my plan. Continue reading


5 reasons you’re not getting promoted

Few promotions and even fewer raises have been doled out in the last two years. But if you find yourself watching other people get promoted while you toil in the same position for what seems like far too long, one or more of these reasons may apply to you.

1. You’re not doing more than your job. When promotions are scarce, you have to work even harder to get ahead. That doesn’t just mean being the best at your job–it means doing more than what’s asked of you. You’ve heard of “exceeding expectations,” right? A common phrase when giving performance appraisals, it’s a step above “meets expectations.” The problem is that expectations are set based on the job description. So if you’re expected to achieve an 85% accuracy rate, and you hit 92%, you’re exceeding expectations. But that just means you’re really good at your current job–it doesn’t mean you’d be good in a new position. You need to do something that isn’t even remotely expected of you.  Continue reading

10 questions to ask your boss


Not this kind of boss

Building a rapport with the big cheese is an integral part of success–it never hurts to have friends in high places, and leadership is in the best position to provide performance appraisals and suggest options for career development. Here are ten questions to help on both fronts:


  1. What are two or three important things for me to focus on learning or improving in the next 3 months?
  2. How do you define success for this position?
  3. What can I do to make your job easier?
  4. (If the boss held your position in the past) What did you think was the best part of this position? What was the hardest part?
  5. Do other companies have this position? How do they implement it?
  6. Why do you like working here?
  7. What’s the hardest part about your job?
  8. What is something you know now that you wish you’d known at my age?
  9. What do you do when you want to get completely away from work?
  10. Is there any additional training I can take, or particular topics I could educate myself on?

Demonstrating commitment to the job and a personal interest in your team is a great way to get a leg up, and these questions are an easy start.


3 simple ways to progress your career in the next hour

It’s Friday afternoon, and much of the nation is on the tail-end of a nice little heat wave. Feels like spring, doesn’t it? The tendency is to knock-off early and head on home. But how about ending the week on a high note? Here are three easy ways to support career growth that take less than one hour combined.

  1. Invite 5 people to coffee or lunch next week. Don’t include people from your immediate network, though (friends, current coworkers, family). Reach out only to past coworkers, people you met at conferences/happy hours/online, or twice-removed current coworkers. Using LinkedIn, this shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. Just send a quick note saying “We haven’t talked in a while so I thought I’d check-in and see what’s new with you. Have time for coffee Tuesday morning?” Invite 5, because only one or two will have time. Building and maintaining these relationships will pay dividends later, when you least expect it.
  2. Write down, on paper, three skills you want to learn or improve in the next month, and pin it to your cube wall. Written words form a permanent record. Once you have these three things on paper, you’re almost half way there. If you’re feeling saucy, take the next step and write down two or three things you can do on Monday to jump-start the process.
  3. Ask your leader if there’s anything else you could be doing to make the team more effective. The mere act of asking puts you in the top percentile of employees. You’ll improve your standing in the eyes of leadership, and hopefully you’ll get something new to master. Guaranteed win.

Actually, these three things should take under 30 minutes, and you’ll end the week feeling like you accomplished something positive, different, and new.

The Framingham Heart Study

I was reminded today of the Framingham Heart Study, which was commissioned to identify the common contributing factors associated with cardiovascular disease. So-named because the study closely followed the health of 5200 people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, the study uncovered many of the risk factors (in fact, it coined the term “risk factor”) about which we now slap our heads and say “well, duh!” For instance, some major findings:

  • Smoking increases the risk of heart disease
  • High cholesterol (LDL), high blood pressure, and obesity all increase the risk
  • HCL cholesterol and exercise reduce the risk

I found all that information on–I admit some research was needed before writing today. But what’s semi-buried in the long list of discoveries is the following:

Based on evaluation of a densely interconnected social network of 12,067 people assessed as part of the Framingham Heart Study, network phenomena appear to be relevant to the biologic and behavioral trait of obesity, and obesity appears to spread through social ties.

Continue reading

More on college debt

One factor in the value of a college education is the resulting amount of debt to get it. Paying $300 a month for ten years after graduation is a huge chunk of retirement money that could be used more productively. A $300/month investment in a safe product for 40 years (ages 22 – 62) could return over $450,000 for retirement. But if that period is reduced to 30 years (ages 32 – 62) because of student loans for the first ten (ages 22 – 32), the final return is closer to $250,000. That’s a significant difference.

Here are some interesting numbers:

  • The average college grad finished with $24,000 in debt in 2009 (Project on Student Debt)
  • 2009 grads faced the highest annual unemployment rate on record (8.7 percent) for their age group (20 – 24 year olds)
  • Since 1978, costs have increased:
    • 2.5 times for cost of living
    • 6 times for medical costs
    • 10 times for tuition and fees

Continue reading

Is higher education debt impacting your career decisions?

(Update: Two very related articles published in my hometown newspaper on Feb. 16–two days after this post. College debt meets real life, and Students rally against tuition hikes at Capitol.)

It seems everyone is questioning the value of a college education. Is it worth $140,000? Is it even worth $30,000? It’s a good question, because in the last few years, the rising cost of education has significantly outpaced changes in the economy, making the value equation balance differently than it did before.

Unfortunately, the Consumer Price Index doesn’t line-item the cost of higher education in the CPI data we see every day. (Kidding–who sees this data every day?) Though if you keep clicking and reading, you’ll find it a little deeper in the Education and Communication group. The cost of education in December 2010 was up 3.9 percent from November 2009. (Full PDF report.) Meanwhile, the CPI for All Items Less Food and Energy has been declining since mid-2006, and hasn’t topped 3.0 percent in more than ten years (I didn’t look at data from before 2000). So the cost of higher education is growing faster than the cost of every day goods, and that must be why I’ve seen so much press on this topic. Continue reading