Getting Ahead in Hard Times

Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of success is showing up. But he’s old. And he doesn’t have to sit in a cubicle every day with the threat of layoffs hanging over his head like a dim fluorescent bulb.

Success during The Great Recession means you need to boost your performance, outshine your co-workers, and more important, let your bosses know what kind of butt you’re kicking without looking like you’re kissing theirs. Here’s some advice from real job experts -- not some crotchety moviemaker -- on how to get it done.

1. Jump ahead a few years
Our economy will never return to the good ol’ days -- and, most likely, neither will your company’s boom times. To survive long-term, you’ll need to think about how your industry is likely to evolve and the ways you can stay ahead of the curve as it does. “You should be setting yourself up now for what your job will be like a few years from now,” says Penelope Trunk, CEO of the employment advice Web site BrazenCareerist. “This doesn’t mean working harder; it means setting personal goals for growth and getting on the right projects for the right experience -- so the right people notice you.”

2. Don’t be a jerk
A startling number of folks at the office have been sent to the unemployment line recently, and your responsibilities seem like they’ve doubled. The urge to let your boss know exactly how hard you’re working -- to get a little credit and to just vent -- is almost too great to resist. Resist anyway and be an enthusiastic team player now more than ever. If you need to complain, do it to your girlfriend, not your co-workers. “You’d be hard-pressed to find an annoying person in the office who’s not getting laid off right now,” says Trunk. “Being kind and gracious, exchanging information and ideas, reaching out to people -- if you do these things, you’ll do better in your career.”

3. Know exactly what doing a good job means
These days, the corporate bean counters are quick to cut any worker who’s not operating at 100 percent efficiency -- and your opinion of what’s efficient may be completely different than your boss’s. Career coach Marie G. McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, uses the example of an old client: a quality assurance manager who was so obsessed with perfection on the assembly line that he disrupted production. “He thought he was a high performer,” she says. “Management thought he was an obstacle. You never want to be seen as an obstacle or hard to manage. That’s an absolute career killer.” Ask your boss for occasional feedback, whether you like it or not, and even set up a quick monthly meeting to ensure you’re both on the same page. You shouldn’t need an annual review -- or a pink slip -- to discover your flaws.

4. Self-promote without sucking up
You’re not just another anonymous entry on a “clean out your desk” list if the company bigwigs know you and what a great job you’re doing. The trick is standing out without sucking up. “People can tell if you’re insincere,” says McIntyre, “but you need to do something to get out of that cloak of invisibility.” Find ways to strike up conversations with the bigwigs under casual circumstances -- like maybe in the lunch line or the elevator, or at the company softball game. Over time, drop subtle information that modestly tells them what you’re working on and shows that you’re well-plugged into the job. Adds McIntyre: “You shouldn’t have an agenda with every conversation, but you do need to manage relationships to achieve your goals.”

Best and Worst New MLB Uniforms

In the upside-down world of baseball -- seriously, who’da thunk that future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols would be striking out more than George Costanza in a singles bar? -- everything new is old again. Several different teams are sporting new uni’s this season, and most are reaching back into their historical closets for their new look.

Since all things baseball must be analyzed to death, we give you our early-season scorecard detailing which teams have hit home runs and which have struck out with their new/old uniforms. Three cheers for forced sports metaphors!

Kansas City Royals
The Royals have always stressed elegance and simplicity to achieve their regal look. This year’s models offer subtle tweaks that reinforce their status as the world champs of understatement.  The refined script brandishing the Royals’ name remains the same on the snow-white home uniforms, but the “Kansas City” lettering on the road jerseys has been retooled to more closely match the home lettering.  There’s also a cool All-Star patch on the right sleeves of both the home and away jerseys because the team will be hosting the game on July 10. Sadly, that’s as close as the Royals will get to having actual all-stars on the team.

Let’s face it: Tradition can’t hit.

Score:

Triple
 

Cleveland Indians
The Tribe has returned to the losing ways that inspired the hilarious 1989 movie Major League. While that might not be good news, a revival of more simplistic uniforms of that -- and other -- crappy periods in Indians’ history has fans cheering.   The big changes? A creme-colored alternate home uni with simple, red-block “Indians” lettering across the chest, paired with a bright red cap that recalls the uniforms of the crappy Indians of the ’60s.   There’s also an alternate road uniform with the word “Cleveland” in block letters across the chest. That one comes with a blue cap, emulating the crappy Indians of 1901.  

Still … they’re well-dressed, traditional cellar dwellers.  

Score:

Double
 

Toronto Blue Jays
Compared to what looked like prison-issued, beer-league uniforms for the last decade, the Jays could have switched to hospital gowns and scored an upgrade. But they’ve done much better than that.   Happily, the Blue Jays have returned to the uniforms of their back-to-back championship era of 1992 and 1993 with royal-blue hats and the old split-lettering that was displayed on the chests of such great World Series heroes as Joe Carter and Paul Molitor.  

For the moment, the Jays are playing like those guys. But their talent isn’t as sharp as their threads and should yield diminishing returns as the season wears on and the Canadian exchange rate kicks in.  

Score:

Home Run

 

New York Mets
This team was built on tradition. They chose their original colors to honor the history of New York baseball: blue for the Brooklyn Dodgers, orange for the New York Giants, and pinstripes as a salute to the crosstown Yankees.  More recently, they benched tradition and looked like a different team almost every time they took the field. They ditched the pinstripes and broke out black jerseys and a bunch of different hats. 

In their 50th year, the Mets have adopted the role of a grown-up wondering what he was thinking with that high school hair and fashion non-sensibility, and returned to their original colors and design.

Here’s hoping they hide their high school photos.

Score:

Home Run

 

Miami Marlins
With a new city name, stadium and team colors, it’s a fresh start for the fish. Unfortunately, their new uniforms reek. It’s as if somebody broke into Don Johnson’s closet and sewed together all of his scariest stuff; the resulting array of outfits is better suited for a Florida fruit factory than a baseball field.  They’ve got white jerseys with orange caps; black jerseys with black caps; and orange jerseys with blue, white and teal lettering, fish flying all over the front of their shirts and an “M” on the cap about the size of a McDonald’s sign. 

The team needed a reboot, but this mess is like a reboot in the butt.

Score:

Yer OUT!

The 10 Worst Mother’s Day Gifts Ever

It’s Mother’s Day, that time of year when you let Mom know how much you appreciate everything she’s done for you. But sometimes those expressions of love get lost in translation, like when you somehow convince yourself one of the following gifts will result in smiles and hugs … and not the kind of blowback you haven’t seen since you flunked biology. If you’re looking to rub your maternal unit the wrong way this year, go ahead and wrap one of these babies up. But let’s face it: It’s gonna be tough telling the guys at the office you’ve been grounded.

  1. A Kitchen Appliance. This woman has spent years cramming food down your gob. A kitchen tool will seem less like a “Thank you” and more like a, “Hey, Ma! Can you whip me up another meatloaf?”
  2. Bathroom Accoutrements. The idea of brightening up the commode with a gold-plated toilet brush or beautiful new soap dish is all well and good, but she’s gonna look at it and think one thing: crap.
  3. Lingerie. Unless you have a special relationship with Mom that would bring prosecution in all 50 states, this creepy notion will bring the holiday to a screaming halt … and probably lead to your needing to register with local authorities.
  4. A Gift Certificate. “Dear Mom, I just couldn’t be bothered to put any effort into thinking about what you might want, so here’s this.”
  5. A Pet. Your mom is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of taking care of you. She’s thinking pedis and mah-jongg -- not starting from scratch raising a brand-new helpless creature.
  6. Fruit of the Month Club. Not exclusively a bad Mother’s Day gift. This is the kind of monumentally awful gift that can ruin any occasion.
  7. A Fancy Vacuum Cleaner. “It’s time for you to take life a little easier, Ma. Use this!” Well, that might be a functionally sound concept. But for a woman who just spent half her life cleaning up after you, this idea sucks.
  8. Lunch at Any Restaurant With Laminated Menus. While Hooters and IHOP are time-honored institutions, they won’t exactly scream “special occasion.” Any screaming you hear will likely be X-rated and directed at you if you choose to take her to one of these joints.
  9. Automotive Supplies. Nothing says I really am an unsentimental, self-involved son like a brand-new set of white walls!
  10. A Gym Membership. Your mother passes as many health clubs as you do every day. So if she hasn’t signed up for anything yet, she’s not looking for a reminder from you that she needs to get in shape. Stick with chocolates on her special day. You can tell her she’s fat tomorrow.

How to Ace Your Performance Review

Which would you rather face: a sink full of dirty dishes, or your annual performance review? If it’s the former, you’re not alone. In a recent study conducted by Development Dimensions International, sitting through a performance review was ranked ahead of doing housework, paying taxes and having a hangover on a list of situations that employees loathe most. Jazmine Boatman, who has a doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology and is the manager of DDI’s Center for Applied Behavioral Research, understands why: “A lot of managers don’t know how to have these conversations. And people dread the unknown.” The fact remains, however, that your performance review is your opportunity to shine … and to be rewarded accordingly.

Prepare All Year Long
The key, says Ford R. Myers, president of Career Potential LLC, is preparation. The more backup you can bring into the meeting, the better. “Keep a success file throughout the year containing notes and information about all of the good things you’ve done for the company,” says Myers, who is also the author of Get the Job You Want Even When No One’s Hiring. He adds that the success file should not be filled with a list of everyday tasks (i.e., the things you’re expected to do) but rather “the things that go beyond, that produce measurable results.”

Typically, says Myers, “an employee gets a job, puts his head down, and his boss has no idea what he’s doing for the next 12 months.” This approach is especially damaging since the average boss is not in the most generous frame of mind at performance-review time. “He has budgets to meet -- and a boss who’s watching him too,” explains Myers. The upshot? “You need to prove you’re worth more money.”

Make Praise Pay
Whether your goal is a promotion or a raise -- or both -- you’ve got to be proactive. Ryan Kahn, a Los Angeles–based career coach and host of the show “MTV Hired,” says you need to “blow the boss away, demonstrating how you’re bringing extra revenue into the company.” Of course, not everyone can prove he’s generated sales leads or helped the firm’s bottom line. What about the poor chap who’s answering phones? “I would tuck away positive emails, compliments you’ve gotten from customers or others,” suggests Kahn. These testimonials, he explains, will do the bragging for you.

Meetings Can Equal Moola

As a means of showing your mettle and your monetary value, Myers recommends that anytime you take a new position, you get your boss to agree to a strategic meeting with you once a week for the first three months, and then once a month for the duration of your time on the job. “You want to be working on the projects that are most important to that boss,” says Myers, “and to be of as much assistance to him as you can possibly be.”

Go Above and Beyond (and Say So)
Another terrific way to stand out is to keep a bullet list of all of the things you achieve each month and send it to the boss as an attachment. “Send it on the 30th of every month, like clockwork,” says Myers. “When your boss sees you coming in for your year-end review, she’s going to say: “This is a strong person. We need to retain and reward him; we can’t afford to lose him.”

The best part of all? Once you get a raise -- not to mention your big, fat promotion -- you’ll be able to pay someone else to wash the dishes.

Are You a Tech Geek?

You’d rightly bristle at being called a nerd, but these days it’s practically chic to be labeled a geek. Take this quick quiz to see whether you can count yourself among the few, the proud who know their NVRAM from their H.264.

1) The first thing you do when you get up in the morning is:

a)

Pull on your bathrobe and head outside to grab the newspaper.

b)

Yank your smartphone from under your pillow and check your messages.

c)

Wake up your iPad and surf to Engadget to see what you missed since your last visit, which was at 2:30 a.m.

d)

Unclasp your sleep bracelet and launch an app to review how your slumber numbers stack up against the ones from the night before.

2) It’s the first weekend in months that you don’t have to go in to the office. You’re going to reward yourself with:

a)

A romantic getaway weekend -- just you and your girlfriend at a B&B so remote it doesn’t get cell service.

b)

A strenuous mountain hike that will let you put your new Magellan MobileMapper CX through its paces.


c)

Back-to-back watching of “Battlestar Galactica” seasons three and four, streamed straight to the TV from your 4 TB hard drive.

d)

Deep delving into the product links you grabbed by scanning QR codes up and down the aisles of this year’s C.E.S.


 

3) An abbreviation you use on a daily basis is:

a)

AOL

b)

ROFL

c)

COD MW3

c)

TRA (If you don’t know this one, you obviously don’t work for the U.S. DoD.)

4) The way you’re most likely to use the word “game” in a sentence:

a)

“I can’t believe there’s no game meat on this menu.”

b)

“Anyone game for a ride on my new jet ski?”

c)

“I finally figured out an untraceable way to game the cable company!”

d)

“Dude, Portal 2 is not just a game to me -- it’s my life.”

5) When it comes to cameras, your philosophy can best be described as:

a)

“Let’s keep Kodak in business! Digital is for sissies.”

b)

“Why should I buy a camera when I’ve already got one on my phone?”

c)

“I don’t care what the experts say. I love me megaloads of megapixels.”

d)

“My life before buying a light field camera is just one big blur.”

6) The TV personality with whom you most identify is:

a)

The washboard-ab’d Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino of “Jersey Shore.”

b)

Walden Schmidt, the Internet billionaire played by Ashton Kutcher on “Two and a Half Men.”

c)

Stan Smith, the “American Dad” bodacious CIA operative.

d)

Adam Savage, the bespectacled special-effects designer who co-hosts

MythBusters” as well as the new science- and engineering-themed game show “Unchained Reaction.

7) If you could meet any historical figure, it would be:

a)

Ned Ludd, the rebellious 18th century English youth whose name was adopted by that era’s Luddite movement.

b)

Benjamin Franklin, founding father, author, diplomat and inventor.

c)

Alan Turing, World War II–era scientist and creator of the Turing machine.

d)

Watson, the annoyingly smart computer that won “Jeopardy!” last year.


8) You’re all ready for the Olympics this summer, thanks to:

a)

Friends who’ve offered you their place just off Leicester Square -- and front-row tickets to the opening ceremonies, diving competition and decathlon.

b)

The new flat-screen they’ve just put in at your fave neighborhood haunt, the Regal Beagle.

c)

A satellite dish on your roof, which pulls in 880 high-definition sports channels -- providing there’s no reception interference from a heavy rainstorm.

d)

Your 55-inch 3-D television and a box of active-shutter glasses. Soon, you and your two best buds -- whom you met while working at the Apple store’s Genius Bar -- will be watching the London games in three friggin’ dimensions.


SCORING

Calculate your answers according to the values assigned to each:

a = 1 point

b = 2 points

c = 3 points

d = 4 points

If you scored a total of …

8 to 12:

Are you serious? Not even a pocket protector and a ham radio kit could turn you geek.

13 to 19:

You’ve got some tech tendencies, but you need to make some changes before you can geek out with the best of them.

20 to 26:

Way to go! You’re an up-and-coming geek. Very few people make it this far.

27 to 32:

Congratulations! You may not get all the ladies, but you are a true Jedi Master in the world of tech geeks.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/oliverwolfson