Aaron Engelsrud

Make Your Video Conference Call Excellent

Let’s face it, the video conference is here to stay. While this type of meeting may have been an anomaly a year ago, today, the video conference is an everyday occurrence. Whether it’s a casual gathering for work, a sales pitch to a potential customer, or a job interview for a new position, make sure you are always putting your best foot forward in video conferences by following these six tips.

Most of these tips are, at first, going to seem obvious and, therefore, not very useful. However, before you write it off, try and think how many times you’ve broken one or more of these rules in a meeting. For your next video conference, try to apply one or more of these rules and see if your session is smoother, more comfortable, and less cringy.

Dress Appropriately for the Meeting This cannot be understated. No one from your office wants to see you in your underwear (well, maybe they do - but that’s a whole different post). Even for the early morning meetings at the start of the day, get dressed appropriately. Keep in mind that it may mean a t-shirt and shorts, but it may also mean a pressed shirt and tie. Look like the part you are trying to play. This is especially true for sales calls and job interviews. Ask yourself how you would dress if you were meeting the people attending in person. Would you show up to the office in pajama pants and a food-stained t-shirt? Would you walk into a potential customer’s business in shorts and a sweatshirt? Probably not. Don’t do it at a video conference either.

Be Punctual There is nothing worse than sitting and waiting for the last person to join a conference call that was supposed to start 10 minutes ago. It’s inconsiderate and rude. Be punctual and log-in on time to start the meeting promptly. There are reasons you may be late in getting to an appointment in person. Maybe there was an accident on the freeway, or your car broke down. Things happen out in the real world. When all you have to do is sit down and turn on your PC, there is little excuse to be late. All being tardy really says is that the meeting held little value to you.

Pay Attention to the Meeting Being on a video conference call is the perfect opportunity to get some online shopping done or get caught up on current events, right? Wrong. I can almost guarantee that soon as you drift off to Amazon.com and start shopping, you will get asked a question or be called on to present something. It is an unwritten law of conference calls. The one person that has the needed information is never paying attention. Having to fake knowing what has been said is dangerous, and asking what is required is embarrassing and unprofessional. Just pay attention. It’s pretty simple.

Use Your Mute Button I cannot overstate this enough. Even if you are in a quiet environment, mute yourself when you are not talking. Every jostle of your microphone, every key typed on your keyboard, every burp or guzzle of water comes through and interrupts everyone else. Zoom, for example, will highlight the person who is speaking. If you are not muted and make noise, it will highlight you, rather than the person who delivers the meeting’s message. It makes you look bad and is distracting to everyone else. Just mute yourself.

Further, if you are the host of the meeting, you can mute those annoying people who refuse to mute themselves. Do it. Everyone else will be grateful, and you will have a much better conference.

Close Non-Relevant Content This is critical if you find yourself needing to share your screen to deliver your message. Even if you are only sharing a Powerpoint presentation, make sure that Powerpoint presentation is the only thing you have up on your desktop. Close everything else. This is important for a few reasons—first, online security. If the text document with all your passwords is open (you know you have one) and you happen to breeze by it while switching windows or getting set, assume everyone now knows “password12345” is your Twitter password. Second, it stops you from fumbling around, looking for the right tab or application. Everything is ready to go. Finally, it makes you look prepared and professional. This is what you want, right? Prepared and professional.

Pay Attention to Your Background This is something that people don’t often think about. If you are ok with your co-workers seeing the fur-lined handcuffs that you have attached to your headboard, then, by all means, conduct your video conference in your bedroom. However, if you prefer to maintain some privacy, find a neutral location in your home with a simple background before you flip on the video switch. On this note, green screen backgrounds or virtual backgrounds are becoming more popular and are viable options for maintaining your privacy and hiding a messy living room. However, here too, choose a simple background that is not distracting and is professional.

Conclusion Attending meetings via Zoom or Webex is a permanent part of our personal and professional life. Spending a little extra time to make sure you are ready to be present and put your best foot forward will set you apart from the herd. Pay attention to your surroundings, dress appropriately, be on time, and be courteous to the other people in attendance - none of this is hard. Further, doing these things shows that you care about your image, want to excel in your career, and be a professional.

Be Deliberate About Self Help

I would guess that you have read some form of a “self-help” style book at some point in your life. You probably read this book to improve your overall experience and make some specific positive changes in your life. Maybe you made the changes you were looking for and found the book useful in your quest for self-improvement.

But, more likely, you didn’t get as much out of it as you could have.

I bet you read the material and enjoyed it. Still, you never really took action on the concepts delivered to you. It could be that you didn’t really understand what needed to happen to fix your problem. Maybe the book didn’t correctly spell out the steps necessary to find success. Or, perhaps it just seemed too hard, too complicated. Bottom-line, you didn’t get it done. You had the tools at your disposal, but you didn’t use them to fix the problem.

You wasted your time and didn’t take and discernable action. You failed to execute.

Self-help books’ intention is to provide you with information that you can use to solve some sort of personal problem. These books are designed to illicit action and change. The self-help category of books is enormous. There are tens of thousands of books on hundreds of different topics, all with the intent of helping you solve some specific problem. Finding the one particular book that speaks to you and enables you to address your distinct issue is not an easy task. It’s easy to get lost in the volume of information and never find what you are looking for. Choosing the correct book is a critical factor in actually applying a solution to your problem.

Given this, what are some things you can do to help ensure you find a book that can help you the most?

First, you can ask friends or family for recommendations. Chances are someone you know has faced the same problem you are trying to fix and may have some suggestions on books that could help. Second, do a web search for the top 5 or 10 books specific to the topic you are exploring. You will find several useful resources in the top 3 or 4 search results to point you in the right direction. Finally, go to your local bookstore and ask the staff what they recommend for your topic. They will most likely show you the correct section in the store and provide a few good options to choose from.

Once you’ve found a book that provides what you need, what can you do to take action on it and stop wasting your time?

The single most important thing you can do while reading a self-help book is to attack it with a plan. Don’t read a self-help book the same way you would read a novel. Instead, read it like it’s a college course, and you need to get an A to graduate. Take notes on the material and jot down questions and thoughts while reading. Summarize your thoughts on what you have learned. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, after your reading session, write-out 2 to 3 things that you are going to do to take action based on your learning.

Action 2: Improve Your Skills

If you are currently unemployed or even underemployed, there is one thing you have plenty of: time. Use it to your advantage. There are literally dozens of educational websites offering free or very inexpensive career-focused training that can help you get your next job. Further, by improving your skills while looking for work, you might get an even better job.

Learning new, or improving existing skills, will show prospective employers a few essential facts about you that I guarantee they will like. First, this shows you are driven to excel. Employers want their employees to have the drive to be the best at what they do. Second, continuing education shows that you have the aptitude for learning new things. This may allow an employer to see you in a more advanced position than technically qualified. Third, taking the initiative to continue building relevant skills while unemployed shows employers that you are self-motivated. Having self-directed and self-motivated employees means an employer can pay less attention to you and more attention to other critical factors. Finally, working on improving your skills or learning new ones while unemployed is an indicator that you want to work and succeed. What employer doesn’t want that?

Never stop getting better at what you do. Even when you are unemployed. I have a whole additional post coming on free and low-cost employment training that you can take advantage of whether you are employed or not. Keep an eye out for that one.

Action 1: Don't Burn Bridges

I don’t care why you got laid-off or fired from your last job. You shouldn’t care either. No one cares about your “feelings” as to why your previous company let you go. Once it’s done, it’s done. All you can do is move forward. The why or the how or the anger you harbor about your previous employer is really irrelevant to finding new employment. In fact, all of these things can actually stop you from finding a new job.

You need the company that laid you off to support you in finding a new job. You need them to be your ally and champion. With a reliable reference from a previous employer, getting your next gig becomes much more manageable. If you bad mouth your previous company publicly (regardless of if it is warranted or not), two things are going to happen. First, your former company will find out about your unkind words and refuse to provide a reference for you. Second, the prospective company you want to work for will find out and not want to take a chance that you’ll do the same to them. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Don’t burn bridges. You never know when you’ll need help getting across the river.

6 Actions to Get You Employed

Between COVID-19, riots and social unrest, and an uncertain political future in the United States, unemployment is becoming more the norm than the exception. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the end of July 2020, the United States had more than 10% unemployment, accounting for 16.3 million people. Even more, people are often underemployed or working jobs just to get by. People are out of work, struggling to find employment, and the job market is not looking bright.

If you are one of those statistics, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. You can set yourself apart from the masses, get the attention of employers you deserve, and land the job you want. There are jobs out there that employers are filling. Interviews are happening. People are getting hired. Yes, there is more competition, but there is also an opportunity for you to shine.

Keep in mind, in a recent blog post on avoiding career complacency (https://jonsrennie.com/2020/08/05/career-complacency/), author and leadership expert Jon S. Rennie (Twitter: @jonsrennie) states, “You need to understand that your company doesn’t care about you or your career.” Think about it, if this sentiment is accurate for a company that currently employs you, I guarantee that it’s also true for a company that hasn’t even hired you yet. To get your foot in the door and keep a job today, you’re going to have to do more.

It takes effort.

You cannot expect to get the results you want if you are unwilling to put in the effort to achieve those results. Nothing is free. This is as true in job hunting as it is in health and fitness. The bodybuilder didn’t get that fantastic physique by sitting on the couch. He got it through hard work, dedication, and personal drive. Likewise, getting the job you want will require all of that and more. You will need to stay positive when things seem bleak, motivated when you want to quit and learn to accept feedback and criticism.

Today’s job hunters cannot afford to be weak or complacent.

If you have been out of work for some time, or even just since the pandemic hit, and the job search is not going well, maybe it’s time to accept that you need to make a change. If you aren’t getting interviews or getting interviews but not getting offers, you may need to consider that it’s you, not them. Now is the time to objectively look at the prospective employee package you have created and assess if it needs updating. You most likely need to evaluate the product you are trying to sell (yourself) and determine if it’s something employers would want to buy in its current state. You need to understand that hiring a new employee is very expensive. In today’s constricted, frugal, and conservative job market, you need to provide a perceived long-term value that overcomes that expense.

Bottom-line, you need to show that you are worth it.

Over the next week, I will layout six high-quality actions you can take right away to get the job you want as quickly as possible.

Communicate Negative News

This seems counter-intuitive, right? Tell your supervisor that you screwed up? Yes, tell everyone that you screwed up. Tell them each time it happens, be honest, and be open about the mistake you made. Don’t try to hide it or blame it on someone else. Attack it head-on and take ownership. Even with bad news, being honest will serve you as a net positive in the long run. For starters, you are working on building trust; this does that. Taking ownership of failures shows management that you understand the mistake. Also, it reinforces that you communicate the good and the bad.

In the end, your mistake would have been found anyhow. Someone would have figured out what went wrong and who was responsible. Heading it off by open communication allows you to navigate the problem from the offensive side. Any other route puts you on the defensive, makes you look like you were covering something up, and breaks down trust.

Openly communicate negative news to build your career.

Be a Problem Solver

Don’t be the guy that comes to every meeting with a dozen problems to solve and no solutions. No one likes that guy, and while it may seem like raising issues is a net positive, really, it just causes problems for your boss. If your boss ignores the issues and does nothing, he positioning himself for a possible future failure. Conversely, suppose he tries to get them all resolved. In that case, his management might ask why there are a significant number of issues to solve. It’s a no-win situation.

How do you fix this?

Make things easy on your boss. Bring solutions to the problems you find. Then, and this is the most important part, go and actually solve the problems. This is what makes this so powerful; you are not just bringing problems. You are finding solutions. Perhaps most importantly, you are tackling issues that solve problems for your boss. This is a win for you and a win for your boss. These solutions make everything better. You solve problems, your boss looks excellent, and you get recognition as being awesome.

Bring solutions to build your career.

Find Ways to Excel: Never Stop Learning

No matter what your career path looks like, it is critically important that you are continually learning and finding ways to be better at your job. I happen to work in IT, where finding training and education is relatively straightforward. Even the most obscure IT specialties have opportunities to learn more and new skills. Not every career is this simple, but everyone has opportunities to learn more and excel. This might be as simple as reading a book on leadership or finding a course that applies to your career. Go back to school and get an additional degree or certificate. Join a professional group associated with your job. Professional conferences are excellent opportunities to learn something new and improve your expertise.

The idea here is that you never stop learning. If you are consistently learning new skills, expanding, and improving yourself, you will become immeasurably more valuable as an employee. In the end, this is what you want. You want your employer to see that you will continue to improve and continue to provide value to them if they stick with you. The time you spend improving yourself will be paid back with promotions, better pay, and more respect. But, like everything else, the onus is on you to make this happen. Do not expect your employer to find training or education for you; it will not happen. Go out and get after it. Learn something new today, and then communicate what you have learned.

Never stop learning new things to build your career.

Manage your Manager

Your boss is busy. Too busy to have to worry about following up with you about every deliverable you are working on. Remember, your boss has 6 or 7 other people and many critical projects that all demand his attention. Your job is to make his or her job more manageable. If you do this, you will be successful, and so will your boss.

What’s the best way to do this?

Focus on doing things that specifically make your boss’s life better. Find ways to do more with less, improve your team’s effectiveness, or fix problems. Whatever you do, make sure it’s making things better for your boss. Don’t wait for your supervisor to set up one-on-one meetings with you. Find the time, and schedule the discussions yourself. Then, when you meet, come prepared with a plan and corresponding information. Don’t waste your supervisor’s valuable time. Keep it as brief as possible and provide them the information you need them to know. Make it short, useful, and positive. When you are done, follow up with an email recapping what you covered.

Manage your manager to build your career.

Do What You Say

Trust is not freely given. Trust is earned. The quickest and best way to earn supervisor’s or managers’ trust is to simply do what you say you will do. Make no mistake; if you consistently fail to follow through on your work commitments, your career progress will suffer. Further, this doesn’t have to be failing to finish significant work projects on time or being consistently late for work. Doing what you say goes far deeper than this.

Think about this, if you let your manager know you are going to lunch and you’ll be back in 30 minutes but don’t get back for 60 minutes, what is the message you are sending? Two things: first, you do not do what you say you are going to do, and second, you don’t think your job is important enough to be on time. Neither are good messages. This is an elementary example, but it still holds true. The bottom line is if you don’t follow through on the small things (being punctual, submitting your timesheet on-time, or showing up on time), no one will have any faith in you. You will not get the priority work, the high-visibility projects that help you set yourself apart, or the critical tasks that allow you to shine. They will be given to others who do what they say they will do, those who have built trust, and their career will move forward while your career stalls.

If you are not doing what you say at work or in life, you cannot expect good things to happen. You will languish with the untrusted, be passed over for promotions, and not be given positive lateral move opportunities. You will stagnate, and it will be your fault.

Build trust to build your career.

Change Starts With You

If you wake up without any fire in your belly and head out the door dreading the day ahead of you, you have a problem. While your job or career doesn’t define you, your job satisfaction can certainly impact how you feel about yourself. Considering the amount of time you spend working, finding a way to enjoy your career and achieve success is critical to your overall well-being. There is simply too much to lose by being passive and letting your career happen to you rather than taking action and making your career successful.

I consider myself very lucky. I’m on the backside of my career. I have been fortunate to build a stable career with a company that I am very proud to be a part of. I’ve spent the last 18 years of my nearly 30-year career helping build a company I love. At the same time, I have worked on expanding my own skills, making friendships, and educating myself. I’m happy with the career I’ve built and proud of the work I have done.

Even with this great career, I recognize that I’ve made many miss-steps and mistakes along the way. Like many things in life, if I knew then what I know now, I may have done things differently. One of the key realizations I have had over the past 3 decades is that I am the only one who cares about my career. If you can take away any one thing from this and apply it to your career planning process, this is by far the most crucial action you can take: Own your career.

No one else cares if you succeed or fail.

No one else cares if you are promoted or get a pay increase.

Your career and your success or failure are on you, no one else.

It’s not your supervisors’ job to make sure you are moving in the right direction. The company you work for does not owe you a promotion. Your career path and progress are your responsibility. If you take this to heart and start applying this idea to your decisions and the things you do in your career, you will find that things will start changing. You’ll no longer feel stuck in a job. You will go to work happy and excited for the day to come. You’ll no longer dread Monday. You will start building a career you can be proud of.

Do You Need Personal Coaching?

Here are 4 reasons hiring a personal coach might be a good idea:

  1. They are objective. You are not.
  2. Different perspective brings new insights.
  3. Coaches force you to think about things you don't want to.
  4. Typically, they've done the research to fix your problem. This knowledge saves you time, effort, and money.

Don't Be Miserable at Work.

Too many people are doing work they hate.

They are either unhappy with the work they do, the people they work with, or the amount of money they make.

Their unhappiness follows them around like a black cloud, and it ends up impacting everything they do.

These are the people that call their job the “daily grind.”

They dread Monday morning.

They live only for the weekend.

These poor people pour a drink as soon as they walk in the door in the evening.

Some people resist even rolling out of bed in the morning.

Don’t be that person.

End the Misery

If you are miserable at work, you are doing it wrong.

Work should be where you find your passion.

Work should allow you to do something you love.

Work should make you a better husband, wife, mother, or father.

The bottom line is, if your employment is causing you pain rather than elevating you to a higher level, you need to make a change.

Consider for a moment how much time you spend at the office, with your co-workers, doing your work.

Then consider if you are willing to spend that much time unhappy.

Are you willing to trade your happiness for money?

If the price is too high, and you are no longer willing to be miserable, you can fix it.

You need to do one of two things:

Change your mindset


Change your job

Both are possible, but neither is easy.

Change Your Mindset

To change your mindset, you need to start by finding something about the job you enjoy.

Focus on that one thing.

Make it yours.

Improve it.

Build on it.

Be the absolute best that you can be at that one thing.

Then find another thing and focus on that.

Do it again.

Pretty soon, you’ll be the best at what you do.

You’ll love the work you do, and people will respect you for it.

You will wake up Monday morning with a fire in your belly ready to attack the week.

You will kill that miserable soul and replace it with a driven, triumphant, and happy spirit.

Change Your Job

To change your job, you need to understand what you want.

Understand what is making you miserable.

Determine what would make you happy.

Find someone to pay you to do the thing that makes you happy.

You’ll need to sell yourself.

You will need to convince someone else that you are worth their money.

Never forget, when looking for a new job, that YOU are the product for sale.

You want to get the best price possible for your skills and passion.

You can only do this if you are putting the best product on the shelf.

Putting out the best product (you) starts with your resume.

And it continues with your interview skills.

Proving your value never ends.

Doing easy things is, well, easy. Doing hard things, the things you don’t want want to do but know you need to, the things that make you uncomfortable, the stuff that keeps you up at night, is hard. Do hard things. Take care of business. Make things better.