Q: It has been recommended to my CIO (chief information officer) husband that he receive professional coaching to improve his skills in communicating to board members. The coaching is expensive and would involve several out-of-town trips. What's your opinion? - Debbie
Dale: In the double-speak of corporate politics, it's something your husband cannot not do. Once he's been told he needs to work on a skill, he'll be watched more closely, his every weakness magnified. So, he'd be wise to say with all the sincerity he can feel, "I'm so grateful for the chance to improve. Thank you." Then, following every future presentation, he should seek out his boss and ask, "How did I do?" This will make his boss his ally in your husband's change, thus magnifying his improvements, not his shortcomings.
Kate: Assuming that it's politically correct to broach the subject of saving the company time and money, I'm sure there are local, affordable coaches to work with your husband. He could find one via the local association of IT executives. Just make sure the coach has worked specifically on board presentations. Then your husband has to practice, practice, practice. There aren't many people in the world who are more used to speaking in public than President Bush, but even he rehearses. If the president is going to face a Q&A session, he practices with an audience of people meant to replicate those he will face in real life. Smart executives do likewise. Your husband should get a group of people to play the role of board members, meaning that he'll learn to anticipate the issues every person on the board might raise.
Dale: It's a lot of work, sure; but rather than resenting it, I hope you can help your husband see it as an immensely rewarding skill. Perhaps you will even become fans of the masters of the art of oratory. Visit the Web site AmericanRhetoric.com, and see if you don't get hooked on the sport of public speaking.
Q: I have two years' experience in HR. I left my job two years ago to stay at home and care for my newborn son. I've since realized I am not stay-at-home material, but I can't get an interview, much less a job. I feel that the problem lies in employers seeing that I left my job to stay at home and think there is a possibility of the situation recurring. I don't know how to convey that I wouldn't stay at home again, as I know this topic isn't supposed to be brought up in interviews. - Kim
Kate: I don't know that the HR field is biased against women who have stayed at home for a while. I would think you would find a sympathetic ear, as long as you have kept your skills up-to-date.
Dale: This situation smacks of the dilemma I've come to think of as The Reason. Once you decide that you're not getting interviews because of a single reason - in your case, your stay-at-homeness, but often it is age, race or lack of a degree - then learning and experimentation stop. You get turned down for a job and think, "There it is again," and shrug, hopeless. The solution is to stop throwing your resume against the wall, guessing at why you aren't getting calls, and start getting back in control of the search process.
Kate: You'll have to get up-to-date, even after just two years. HR has become more metrics-oriented and you'll need to get comfortable with the new buzzwords. One way to do so is to become active in associations. You'll then have a directory of senior HR people you can contact. Get to know them before the openings occur.
Dale: And as you do, you can reassure them on your staying-at-home. They can't bring it up, but you can, and should, so you'll realize that it isn't as important as up-to-date skills, especially the job-search skill of being the first one considered for a new opening.