- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

The Busywork Trap

Dear Kate & Dale: I’m wondering if it is appropriate to express that I want to grow with the company I currently work for and ask my boss for suggestions on how to do this. How do I approach the subject during my salary review? — Kalena.

KATE: Good for you. Most employees do not think long term. In fact, don’t wait for your salary review — it will seem as though money is your motivation. Tell your boss: “I love working here and want to grow with the company. I’d like to get involved with special projects or anything you think I could do to help out.”

DALE: I agree about separating the discussion from a salary review. Just before review time comes Butter Season, where employees butter up management like a tub of popcorn. So, Kalena, your talk of long-term planning might come across as short-term manipulation. However, I would be cautious about making general offers of help. The situation reminds me of the adage of trial attorneys: Never ask a question unless you know the answer. In this case, the answer you might get is: “OK! You’ve been doing 20 reports a week, do 25.” Instead of new assignments, you’re just the star drone.

KATE: Busywork can be a career trap. If you get saddled with all the ugly little tasks no one wants, it will eat up all your time. That’s why those most willing to volunteer sometimes do WORSE than their co-workers. Instead, you need to learn how to spot projects that would be good for your career. Read the company literature — press releases, Web sites and notices to stockholders (if it’s a public company) — to see what it says about the company’s future and how you can align your future with the company’s.

DALE: Agreed. But one caution: Although you might figure out what projects are best for your future, that doesn’t necessarily mean your boss will want to help you get them. The key issue for your career might not be how to approach your boss about your future, but how to find a boss who wants you to have one. There are managers who rejoice in helping you develop, and there are those who revere the status quo, which includes keeping you “in your place.” Here’s a critical revelation: A critical decision in becoming a leader is the choice of whom to follow.



DALE: It’s time for Best of the Month, our continuing search for truly useful career resources. My pick is a DVD called “Ms. Interview.” The video is mostly a placement counselor coaching a job candidate for an upcoming interview. Unless they fooled me completely, it’s basically unrehearsed. So we get to see the applicant looking baffled, confused and intimidated, whereupon the counselor offers advice and encouragement. Eventually we see the young applicant improve before our eyes. And that’s what makes the DVD so powerful — we SEE the importance of the visual side of the interview process. OK, the program has a “girl-talk” tone to it, and the woman giving the advice, Deidre Dale, runs a placement company specializing in executive assistants, and that’s the nature of the interview preparation; however, this would be an important aide to anyone concerned about interviews, especially for those who wonder “Am I doing something wrong?” The DVD is $25, available at www.msinterview.com.

KATE: My choice is a book called “From Biotech to Hollywood: New Career Opportunities in Technology” (Prentice Hall, $17). It’s a job-search book focusing on high-tech careers, very broadly defined. The author, D.A. Benton, argues that EVERY business is a high-tech business, and that hundreds of thousand of jobs will go unfilled for lack of workers. Benton will inspire those who have suffered during the hard times in the tech sector, and if you’re one of them, and you’re willing to really work the job market, it might just give your career some bounce even before the industry rebounds.


Kate Wendleton is the founder of The Five O’Clock Club, a national career-counseling network (www.fiveoclockclub.com). Her books include “Targeting the Job You Want” (3rd Edition, Career Press, $13). Dale Dauten is an innovation consultant, speaker and author. His latest book, on how great bosses and great employees find each other, is “The Gifted Boss” (Morrow). Please write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or via www.dauten.com for e-mail.

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