Monthly Archives

August 2013

Career Tools

The Value Proposition

After recently attending an executive coaching session in which our second-year full-time MBA students were asked to create a value chart in order of priority for family, work, community and self, the emphasis placed on “values” got me thinking.  While a large proportion of the current professional population has been affected in some way by the arduous job market, how important are values to job seekers?

At a MBA Career Services and Employers Alliance student-lead panel, full-time MBA students  from St. Thomas and the U of M cited various items they consider prior to accepting a job offer.  Of those, professional advancement, opportunity to learn and be challenged as well as sharing the same values rated much higher than a competitive salary. There are a few things any job seeker should think about before accepting a position (or even applying for one).

During our executive coaching session, we asked students to complete the chart below by placing a percent of importance for each of the four categories, totaling 100%.


Area of Life Focus currently devoted Importance area currently holds
% Total 100% 100%

Most could attest that what is perceived as important and the actual importance it holds, is more often than not very different.  If those two values are at opposite spectrums, there will most likely be strife in everyday life.  To find professional happiness, the values of an organization and the employee must be similar.  Finding these values may not be as easy as a simple company search.  Most organizations post their values and mission statement directly on their website for public access, but there is often some disconnect between what is written and what is displayed at the employee level.

There are a few things to keep in mind when matching a company’s values to your own.

Mission Statements

Look for where importance is placed, whether it is the client, employee or profit.  Measurement of success is key.  Success that is measured solely on financials and profit may not be the best fit for someone looking for a socially dedicated organization.

What to look for: Mission statements dedicated to providing exceptional interaction with clients and employees, and dedication to serving the community are great clues for those interested in working for a socially responsible organization. Take for example, Target.

“Our mission is to make Target your preferred shopping destination in all channels by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and exceptional guest experiences by consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less brand promise.” (

Goals and Disclosure

Companies that strive to project themselves in a positive light are common; companies that strive for continuous improvement in adverse times are exemplary.  While negative press can ruin an organization’s public image, companies that are transparent with their employees and clients, set a standard of honesty and forthcoming that can outweigh any slanderous article.Caribou Coffee, for example, provides all financial annual reports to the general public.

Communication Style

Reviewing the methods companies use for communication is a direct line into what communication will be like working there.  Social media, websites and advertising are all great clues. In addition how a company socializes with the greater community is revealing.  Companies that respond quickly to inquiries, are active in their industry, share their knowledge and are respectful of an applicant’s time during the hiring process will likely have a strong and effective communication style.

To review interviewing techniques and other insight into companies check out

Management Style

Company websites and literature can be great resources, but word of mouth directly from current and former employees will likely be your best resource.  Finding a great place to work takes time and effort, but the perfect fit can lead to a fulfilling career.  In regards to deciphering management style, Clare Whitmell, of The Guardian, says

“Assess how you’ll be able to make a contribution, and whether initiatives and bottom-up thinking are valued. At the interview, ask how the company sets sustainability goals and measures progress, and whether it’s linked to compensation. What does the company offer in benefits and opportunities for promotion and growth, or investment through training and development? Examine staff turnover rates. (Useful information on hiring patterns and career paths is included in LinkedIn company profiles.)”

Get started on your perfect fit by reviewing a complete list of Fortune 500 Company mission statements.

In looking for a post-MBA career, students cited professional advancement, opportunity to learn and be challenged as well as sharing the same values rated much higher than a competitive salary. How do you find a company that shares your values?

Career Tools

Improv: A Career Gold Mine

Usually the best advice comes from experience.  Tina Fey, actress and Saturday Night Live star, is just that. Experienced.

As a cast member of Saturday Night Life, her comedic history traverses decades of movies, parodies and skits.  The success to all of these humorous ventures centers around one acting principle, IMPROVISATION.  Several books such as What Color is Your ParachuteThe Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Who Moved My Cheese have long been the bibles to career advancement and professional development. In her book BossypantsFey accounts her comedic success to that of improvisation, and depicts the four rules to improv below.

To succeed in improvisation, one must master the ability to:

  1. Always agree
  2. Say yes
  3. Make a statement
  4. No mistakesbossypants

While these rules seem simple enough for a comedian, their value heightens in the professional world.

AGREE, first rule of improvisation, allows for agreement between you and your partner to engage in creation.

An example Fey offers:

“So if we’re improvising and I say, ‘Freeze, I have a gun,’ and you say, ‘That’s not a gun. It’s your finger.  You’re pointing your finger at me,’ our improvised scene has ground to a halt.  But if I say, ‘Freeze, I have a gun!’ and you say, ‘The gun I gave you for Christmas!’ Then we have started a scene because we agree that my finger is a Christmas gun.”

The same can be applied the workplace or a project of any sort.  If a coworker or partner suggests a crazy idea, it is better to hear it out before dismissing.  This leads to collaboration, trust and a more cohesive atmosphere. “Respect what your partner has created and at least start from an open minded place,” says Fey.

Secondly, “Start with a YES and see where that takes you.” In improvisation, the YES must be followed with AND.  “You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.  If an actor says, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and his or her cast mate says, “Yeah…” There isn’t much to go from.  But if the cast mate says, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” This not only provides context but also something to work with.  As is the case with suggestions, meetings and training, agree with what is provided, but offer input or improvements. In essence, speak up – be heard. “To me, YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute.  It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile,” guides Fey.

The next rule is MAKE A STATEMENT; don’t ask questions all the time.  Asking questions, rather than supplying information, puts pressure on all those involved.

Where is the company going?  What is the next step? How do I accomplish that?

By following the first two rules, commit to a solution, suggest ideas and continue to be part of the process until success is achieved.  Supply information when it is needed, step out of the comfort zone and participate.  “In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution.  Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles,” says Fey.

Lastly, “THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.  In improv, there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents.  And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident.” (Fey, 2011)  Post-its, fireworks, potato chips and silly puddy were all accidental successes. (Business Insider, 2010)  Welcoming opportunities rather than fearing blunders allows creative innovation to take root and grow.

While the workplace may not be as funny as a scene from Saturday Night Live, the four rules to improvisation offer professionals a guide to approaching any situation with open arms.  Agreeing, saying yes, making a statement, and allowing room for opportunities are all great tactics that can be applied either on a comedian’s stage, or in the boardroom.  Either place will yield great results.

Stephen Colbert, comedian and political television host, said it best:

“Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”