Smoke out Your Office Enemies Now!

Which co-workers can you trust and which are out to shut down your career? Use these methods to test the staff and find out who’s on your side.

Sometimes, the office can be as treacherous to navigate as the prison yard at San Quentin. You may not wind up with a shank in your side, but there’s a better-than-even chance somebody wants to stab you in the back and use your stinkin’ carcass as a stepping stone for their own advancement.

Office predators are constantly looking for fresh prey to steal credit from, or dump on to cover their own crappy work or simply thin out the herd so they can stand out in a smaller crowd.

Face it, kids: It’s a jungle in there. And short of carrying an elephant gun in your computer case -- which we’re sure is illegal in at least two states -- we’ve got some strategic advice to help you identify office enemies.

Establish Attack Patterns
When you’re dropped in-country on your first day of the job, it’s always smart to start with a fact-finding mission. Figure out who’s armed and who’s dangerous by debriefing office veterans. There’s no use spraying ammo -- unless you know where to aim.

“When you join any company, there is real benefit to identifying the culture,” says Roy Cohen, a former placement counselor for Goldman Sachs and a career coach for the Five O’Clock Club, a professional counseling network. “Ask for full scouting reports about who you can rely on and who to be wary of. But do it in a way that makes it seem like you want to find the best method to work with everybody. You may get surface-y answers at first, but people tend to send signals about people that may indicate where you should place your trust.”

Don’t Play Your Cards Until They Play Theirs
You can ask for advice and talk to people to fit into the office environment, but never share secrets with your co-workers until you’re sure you can trust them. “It’s always best to do substantial research on your colleagues before you reveal too much about yourself,” says Cohen. “If you see them use information against other colleagues, you’ll know not to take them into your circle of trust.”

Make Allies in the Trenches
Sure, it helps to have the boss on your side, but you’ll find your most effective recon outside the executive offices. Secretaries, assistants, even the cleaning staff see how people really act -- and they know where their bodies are buried.

“It’s good to get to know everyone in the office environment,” says Cohen. “People below the management level often have a good perspective on everyone’s true behavior and habits. They’re exposed to people as they really are and can give you good insights into who to trust and who to look out for.”

If There’s Smoke … Let Your Co-workers Help You Find the Fire
Keep your ears open for any bad news that might surface about you. If somebody’s cooking up foul rumors, “ask your co-workers where they heard these rumors, then go to that person directly -- as quickly as possible,” says Holly Green, CEO and managing director of The Human Factor, a management consulting firm. Tell the cook you’d like to help him whip up a better batch with more accurate information.

Green points out that letting rumors run wild is like leaving a fire unattended. Put your enemy at ease by letting them know you’ve come armed with the best intentions. Green suggests saying something like, “I am assuming you had good intentions, but can you help me understand why you said XXX? In the future, if you have any questions about me or something I did, please let me know. I really want to work effectively with you, and that would help a lot.”

Stay Focused on Finger Pointers
Fingers are often loaded … and will eventually point at you! If there’s someone in the office who’s the Babe Ruth of the blame game, get on their team ASAP. “If you see someone deflecting responsibility from themselves by blaming other people, disable their digits by offering to help them solve the problem early in the game,” says Cohen. “Offer to assist them in finding a solution without engaging in a blame game. This will prove you’re task-oriented and someone they can rely on -- plus you’ll build political equity in the office.” Bottom line: You’ve just slipped into a finger-proof vest!

Make Sure You’re Really in the Crosshairs Before Firing Back
Hey, Mr. Sensitive, not everybody’s out to get you! If you think someone’s unnecessarily tearing up you or your work, make sure you’re not just freakin’ paranoid. “Before you do something that might label you a troublemaker in the office place, do a reality check with your colleagues,” says Cohen. “But don’t do it in a way that suggests you have a problem with this person. Ask [a colleague] if they have any recommendations about how you can best develop a successful working relationship with your tormentor (but don’t call them that -- try “co-worker” instead). You may learn that this is just their working style and not a personal vendetta.”

Job Fair Play

They may be called career “fairs,” but they’re hardly carnivals. Treat them as daylong job interviews -- with multiple suitors -- and you’ll be poised to land a plum position.

We know all’s fair in love and war, but what’s fair at a job fair? Are certain questions off limits? What should you wear? How do you set yourself apart from the pack?

To get you the answers you need, Men’s Life Today interviewed a trio of experts who make a career out of helping others find careers. These in-the-know people are Eric Winegardner, a vice president at Monster Worldwide, parent company of the Monster Web site; Allison Nawoj, corporate communications manager for the CareerBuilder Web site; and Andrew Cronan, human relations professional and executive director of career services at New York’s Fordham University

Men’s Life Today: Are companies that show up for job fairs really hiring or are they just trawling for resumes?
: In this economy, no corporation can afford to attend a career fair if it doesn’t have jobs to offer.

MLT: What if the companies coming to the fair are not on my short list of places to work?
: Don’t rule them out. Even if an employer is outside your current industry, you never know what positions the company may have available or how its representatives can help you.

MLT: What’s the best way to prepare?
: Visit the Web sites of participating companies, read their press releases and search local newspapers for information on them. Also scour job boards for openings at the respective companies. Arrive at the fair ready to speak about those specific positions and explain why you believe your skills match the job.

Cronan: Don’t show up asking, “So what jobs do you have?” or worse, “What does your company do?” Also, to ease your nerves and get you in the habit of selling yourself, ask a friend or family member to help you practice your elevator speech -- a 30-second pitch that sums up your skills and offerings.

MLT: How long should I spend there?
: Plan to stay the entire day and see everyone. Yes, everyone. You never know when a connection you’ve made will lead to a job. And make sure to also speak with the people waiting in line with you.

MLT: What should I wear?
Consider this your first interview. Dress at least one level above what you’d be wearing on the job.

Nawoj: Err on the side of conservative. You only have a few seconds to make a good first impression, so do it right.          

MLT: What should I bring?
Make sure you have plenty of updated resumes -- and make sure they are proofread and free of errors.

Winegardner: If you are exploring more than one sort of job, be sure to bring resumes tailored to each type of job you’re seeking. Also bring business cards and don’t forget to ask the interviewers for their cards. You don’t necessarily need to bring references; in fact, keeping them aside can provide you with a good excuse to follow up.          

MLT: What’s the best way to manage my time?
: Begin with the companies you’re least interested in. This will give you the chance to build your confidence and practice. Just don’t wait too long to meet with the companies you really want to target. It will be harder to make a memorable impression on someone at the end of a long day.

MLT: How long should I expect with each recruiter?
: No more than five minutes, maybe less. Recruiters will decide within the first 45 seconds whether your resume is going into Pile A or Pile B and also whether it’s going to the top or bottom of those piles. Make eye contact, use a firm handshake, speak clearly and have a rehearsed introduction ready to go. End your introduction with a question, which will help you engage the recruiters.

MLT: What if they ask about my salary requirements?
: It’s a “gotcha” question. In all likelihood, they are trying to see how you handle uncomfortable situations. Stay calm and instead of answering directly, say you’d love to hold off on the compensation discussion until you can meet them for a follow-up. Likewise, you should not bring up salary yourself.

MLT: How should I wrap up the exchange?
: Something along the lines of “I’d love to stay connected with you. What’s the best way for me to do that?” If all has gone according to plan, you’ll be well on your way to scheduling your second interview.