Time magazine’s cover story is How Your Siblings Make You Who You Are. There are a few good tidbits about how your sibling experience affects how you are at work.

Adult life is made up of relationships – at work, in marriage, among friends — and we learn the skills for these relationships through siblings because we spend so much time with siblings during our most formative years, according to Susan McHale, psychologist at Penn State University.

One example is if there is a favorite child (which researchers see in the majority of families) all the kids will use it to their advantage. As in, “Why don’t you ask Mom if we can go to the mall because she never says no to you.” And we end up using the same tactics at work: “You go tell the vice president that we missed our sales goals. He has a soft spot for you.”

Negotiation styles between siblings affect skills beyond the home. If kids have good conflict-resolution skills among themselves, then they will have more success in school. Regardless of race, income and family structure, it’s the style of play that will make the difference in future success.

Favorite statistic from the article: “Kids in the 2-4 age group have more than one clash every ten minutes,” which I read as my older son hit my younger son with Buzz Lightyear.

The deluge of press about the difficulty of attracting and keeping Generation Y employees is amazing.

Here’s an example of a press release pandering to the media infatuation with the topic. Even the sheep are suffering : “Fewer and fewer people are choosing the sheep and beef industry as a career. There are huge job choices across a wide range of industries and for young people, the world is their oyster.”

Now is a great time to start asking for a wider range of benefits from your employer. Companies are beginning to understand that if they don’t start caving to Generation Y demands then there won’t be quality job applicants.

Ask for flexible schedules and jobs that foster personal growth because that will make the most impact on your life. Pat Katepoo gives good advice on how to ask.

Not that Generation X didn’t want this stuff in a job ten years ago. But Generation X did not have the demographic power to demand it. Generation Y does, and employers are shaking in their boots. Finally.

Can we all just stop talking about promotions like they matter? A promotion has meaning when someone is moving up the corporate ladder at such a slow pace that every small step is grounds for celebration.

But there are no more ladders because no one stays long enough at a company to get up the whole ladder. And even if someone did try to climb, they’d probably be laid-off outsourced or off-shored before they got to the top.

So what is the point of a promotion? Titles do not matter because they are accoutrements of hierarchy in a nonhierarchical workforce. And no one cares about getting MORE responsibly that implicitly comes with a promotion, they want the RIGHT kind of responsibility — which means interesting work and a chance to expand one’s skills set.

So all that’s left to justify continuing to talk about promotions is getting a raise, which is hardly a notable event. Here is a headline from Salary.com: “Raise Outlook Better than Employees Expected”. The article goes on to say that the average raise was something just above three percent. Let’s say four percent. This means if you were making $100,000 a year, you’ll get $4,000 a year more. SO WHAT? After cost of living and tax adjustments you are looking at a little over a thousand dollars. That will not change your life in any significant way, that’s for sure.

When someone tries to give you a promotion or insult you with a $1000 a year raise, tell them you want someone that really matters. Here are some suggestions:

1. Growth opportunities

Learning new skills is worth a lot more to you than some ridiculous 4% raise. Ask to get on a team that will teach you how to do something you think is important. Ask to work with the clients who are doing the most innovative projects. Request a training budget and send yourself to a bunch of seminars. The best way to learn is to role-play, which everyone hates to do, so go to a seminar where someone is forces you to do it.

2. Mentor opportunities

Ask to be matched with a mentor in the company. This is not a revolutionary request. Human resource executives have been studying this process for more than a decade and they know how to pick someone good for you. They just need to spend a little time doing it.

3. Flex-time opportunities

If you are so great at your job that you have earned a promotion, suggest that you keep your current job but do it from home or do it four days a week. After all, you’ve already shown you perform well. Heck, ask to work from Tahiti; you should be able to do the job however you want as long as you maintain that stellar level of performance.

4. Entrepreneurial opportunities

Just say no. To the promotion, that is. Now that you have a sense of how much time and energy your current job requires, now that you’ve mastered the scope, you can try something on the side. The safest way to experiment with running your own business is to do it while you still have a regular paycheck. Who cares if it doesn’t include that 4% raise? Think of that paycheck as a research grant for your ideas for a side business.

Instead of letting last century’s carrots dictate your workplace rewards, think about what is right for you, right now. What do you really need? You don’t need a promotion. It’s something else. Think about what would really make a difference in your life and then make it happen. While the rest of your organization is focusing on titles and money you can slip under the radar and get something truly meaningful.

One summer, when I found myself with no job and no plan, I panicked and took a job on a chicken farm in the French countryside. I told myself the job would look good on my resume — showing I am adventurous and understand the agriculture business to boot. Neither is true, in fact, and I have never put this experience on my resume. But I did learn a lot on the farm about getting ahead at the office.

My deal with the family that employed me was that I would perform household chores in exchange for room and board. To me, “chores” meant sweeping and dusting. To them, it meant killing and plucking chickens. In my lame French, I said killing animals was not among my duties. The matron of the house said I’d be kicked out for breaking the agreement. So I learned to pluck. Lesson 1: Get everything in writing.

The farmer blocked off a small area of the coop where the wee chicks could live without getting lost. Every week, the chicks would double in size, as would the area. By the end of the summer, the coop was full. Lesson 2: Start small, but prepare for rapid growth.

It was important to move the chickens into the buyer’s truck before they realized what was happening. So in the middle of the night, while they were sleeping, we grabbed the chickens by the legs and held them upside down. The farmer couldn’t believe I did it without throwing up, and he gave me three days off. Lessons 3 and 4: Have a strategy, and learn skills outside your job description.

I once bit into an apple before noticing that everyone else had peeled theirs first. The 8-year-old daughter declared in French, “She eats apples like the pigs.” The mother responded, “Be careful, she is beginning to understand.” Lesson 5: Learn another language.

I picked cherries from the branches that were too high for the 8-year-old. Later she gathered the eggs out from under the hens so I wouldn’t get pecked. Lesson 6: Make friends in low places.

I fed the rabbits on the farm for five weeks. One evening, they were gone. “They are not pets like the dog,” the farmer said as we dined on my charges. Lesson 7: Never get too attached to anyone you work with.

Relatives of the host family came to visit from Lyon. I had more in common with the city French than the rural French did. They invited me to spend my last month with them, when I was supposed to be harvesting hay on the farm. I told the farmer I would stay only if I didn’t have to feed the pigs anymore. Lesson 8: Job offers give you more leverage.

Every day a few chickens would be trampled to death or die from heat exhaustion in the coop. I walked close behind the farmer, who would scoop up the dead birds before me. Lesson 9: When there’s crap everywhere, stick close to someone in the know.

I didn’t read any books, and I worried all summer that I wasn’t learning a thing. But really, I was learning solid fundamentals that would help me throughout my career. Lesson 10: Never assume that anything is a waste of your time.

Most interviews reach a pause when the hiring manager says, “Do you have any questions for me?” In a world of workplace transparency the most common response to this question would be, “No. I have no questions. I am sick of job hunting. Give me a job.”

But alas, you must play the interview game. So ask three or four questions as a way to convey that you have options, even if, in fact, you do not.

Your questions should convey: “I'm trying to find out more about this position to decide if I'm interested.” But you cannot say that flat out without sounding like an arrogant pain in the butt. You have to *imply* this message. Like the rest of the interview, what you imply — purposely or inadvertently — is as important as what you say. So craft your questions carefully, before you get to the interview, and have some extras in case a few turn out to be inappropriate.

Here are some types of questions to avoid:

“How many hours a day do you work?”
This is a quality of life question. Quality of life is important, and if you need to leave at 5 pm every day, that's fair, but it is not something that automatically makes you more attractive as an employee, so don't ask directly.

If you get through a full interview and the hiring manager never reveals that she has a life outside of work, there's no need to ask: She doesn't. If you are unsure about the situation, conduct some independent research. Park your car in the company lot and stalk unsuspecting employees to see when they come and go. Or, go to a pay phone and anonymously call the interviewer at 7 pm four nights in a row to see if she's still at the office. Just don't ask about it in the interview.

“If you were an animal which one would you be?”
Nothing abstract. Please. This nutcase question throws off an interview and is appropriate to test what someone does under pressure. But as the interviewee it is not your job to instigate pressure.

Most hiring decisions are made based on chemistry. Your number one goal when you interview for a job is to get the person asking the questions to like you. So you should ask questions that make this person feel comfortable.

If you can do it without sounding like a brown nose, ask the person something about how they got to be so great. Like, “Why did you decide to work for this company?” That question implies that you're interested in other people and that you respect the interviewer.

“I just read that your stock is down 15%. What is the company doing in response?”
Unless you're interviewing to be a stock analyst, forget the meta questions. If you are so interested in the company's recent downturn, read the analyst reports.

A question like this reveals to a prospective boss that you are either (a) preoccupied with the idea that the company is tanking or (b) preoccupied with details of the company that are way beyond the scope of the position at hand. Either way the meta question definitely does not scream, “Hire me! I'll be easy to manage!”

A relatively big-picture question that you would do well to ask is, “What are your primary goals for the next two quarters?” This question shows you care about the company's future in a way that is relevant to your boss's immediate concerns.

“What needs to be accomplished in this position in the next six months?”
This is a useless question at the end of an interview, but an essential one for the beginning. So ask this question within the first five minutes of the interview. And then tailor everything you say to address the goals of the position.

The overall rule that should guide your preparations is that you never stop selling yourself in an interview, even when you pretend to stop selling yourself in order to ask a question.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary. Once a hiring manager chooses you from what is probably the largest pool of candidates she’s ever seen, you know you’re a top candidate. The current economy won’t give you the edge to ask for first-class air travel, but you do have options that can improve your salary outcome.

1. Don’t disclose your pay requirements during the interview process. The first person to provide numbers establishes the range. If you give a number first, the interviewer will either tell you you’re in the same ballpark as him, or you’re too high.
If you ask for less than the interviewer was considering, you’ll probably get it — and never find out you might have earned more. So interviewers always want you to disclose your requirements first. (Do not try to remedy this situation by giving an unreasonably high number because then you will sound unreasonable.)

Your first line of defense is to say you’d like to talk about salary once you have an offer. Still, a good interviewer will persevere. So try asking the interviewer what HE would pay someone for this job. Whatever number he gives, you can say, “That will be a fine starting point.” (You will ask for more later.)

2. Do not negotiate until you have an offer in writing. Here’s why (and you should remember this for when the tables are turned): Let’s say the job pays a salary and a performance bonus, but you don’t know about the bonus part. If you do not get a written offer specifying the pay elements before you start negotiating, then you might negotiate a higher base salary but lose a portion of your bonus. That’s because the bonus gives your hiring manager some “wiggle room.” She can take it off the table before you know you’re supposed to receive it. (Then she can report back to her boss and say, “I saved us $5K.”) Get the full offer in writing so you know what you have to work with during your bargaining.

Once you have that written offer, ask for a night to think about it and come back with a counter offer. Admittedly, you may hate confrontation and feel you’re a poor negotiator, but you have nothing to lose and you’re likely to get more money. Plus you will get better at this each time you try. Remember, almost no one loses a written offer because he asks for more money.

3. Do your research and plan your attack.
To know what to ask for in negotiations, you MUST know the pay range for your position. Check out salary surveys online and in trade journals. Do not quote any numbers from surveys conducted earlier than 2001. They are inflated. Get more recent information. Talk with friends in similar jobs or recruiters who regularly fill this type of position in your geographic region. Find the top of the salary range and ask for that. Show the hiring manager your research and remind her why you are worth the top of the range.

If you are fortunate enough to find out that your offer already is in the high end of your salary range, then propose taking on more responsibilities so you can ask for slightly more pay. Suppose you are a marketing manager with a background in technical writing. You can say that while most marketing managers pass off technical writing in marketing documents to someone else, you will handle this yourself. This entitles you to ask for slightly more.

4. Know what you need.
Each person is compensated in different ways — and not always monetarily. For instance, if you love what you do, you may not mind earning less than your neighbor with the same degree. Likewise, if you have a shorter commute. Friends can advise you, but you are the one in the job, and you must decide if you want it, regardless of the size of your paycheck. No salary survey can tell you that. Decide what’s important to you and what trade-offs you’ll make pay wise, but be honest with yourself. Don’t give up being paid more because you hate negotiating. Self-knowledge, good negotiation skills — and a little chutzpah — will help ensure you earn what you deserve starting with your next job.

 

Couples therapy: My husband is slumped at the edge of the sofa, sulking. I sit in the center cushion, upright and animated, ranting about why he needs to get rid of his bike.

The therapist tells me to be quiet, but in a couples-therapist way: “Let’s give him a chance to talk about the bike.” He says he needs to keep the bike in the kitchen, where it will stay until he formulates a daily riding schedule.

I listen. But not really. Mostly I plan my arguments about why what he is saying is irrelevant and why I am right: The plan is too detailed, he’ll never finish the plan, and because we live in a New York City shoebox, the bike is a waste of space.

We go through this routine for every topic: He cannot figure out every single detail, so he cannot plan; I have no patience for details, and I always have a plan. When we decided to have a child, he wanted to overcome every hurdle first — from finding an apartment with a playroom to setting up a college fund. I told him we had to move forward, hurdles and all. At every session he ends up very quiet in the corner of the sofa, and we accomplish nothing.

Our therapist tried a lot of tactics to get us to communicate. I took notice when she observed that the problems I have in talking to my husband are probably the same types of problems I have in talking to people at work. This made sense to me immediately because I always say that I love my husband but would never want to work with someone like him.

He’s a slow, methodical thinker, and I generally do not have patience for them at work. But the therapist points out that I chose such a person for a husband. “You must have had a reason,” she says. And it’s true. In my heart of hearts, I know that a slow, methodical thinker is the perfect counterpoint for me. At home, my husband is the one who takes the time to find out that our first-choice apartment has rats, and our second-choice apartment — which we live in now — has a secret cubbyhole for keeping cookies warm. In my work, the detailed thinker is the perfectionist who compensates for my disinterest in details.

But knowing something doesn’t mean I’m willing to change. Just like when I claim to be listening to my husband, I seem as though I’m listening to people during work but in reality, I’m more interested in my own ideas than those of the person talking. I talk over and past them. I am dismissive and unresponsive. “How do you keep people from strangling you?” my husband asks, when he’s particularly annoyed and probably considering strangling me himself.

So back to the bike. I tell myself that if I’m patient, he’ll come up with a great plan that will make keeping the bike in the apartment a good idea. That if I can just learn to control myself in the context of the bike, the therapist, and the annoyed husband, then I will do much better in my career. It is clear to me that I deal with my husband in the same way as I deal with people at work. And my career will be stronger if I can become a stronger marriage partner, because the communication skills are the same.

So every time I get frustrated in couples therapy, or I think that it’s a waste of money, I remind myself that communication skills know no boundaries. I can tell myself that I’m a good communicator at work, but the best feedback I can get is at home. If you want to know what your weak points are at work, ask your significant other — that person knows.

It's salary review season. Most managers conduct performance reviews at the beginning of the year, and most performance reviews entail some sort of salary review. Don't get your hopes up for a raise though. In this economy, many companies have a salary freeze, and no one's coming out of the cold any time soon.

By all means, prepare rationales as to why you should receive a raise. But in the likely event that your boss cannot budge, suggest ways that your boss can reward you for your good performance without giving you a raise.

On the company balance sheet, a raise is very expensive. It's a fixed, recurring cost, and the additional benefits and taxes make the raise even more costly for your company. Your suggestions should be one-time expenses, which are easier to justify to the holder of purse strings. Better yet, suggest something that is free to the company.

1. More vacation days. Go for the gold: ask for three extra weeks and bargain down from there. Take a long break now, while the economy is sluggish and opportunities are scarce.

2. Flex time. You could work one day from home. Or, if you are like 80% of office workers, and you know you'll get nothing done from home, ask your boss if you can work four long days and have one day off. This is a good time to hone your work/life balance.

3.Training. Be creative with this request. Recognize one of your weaknesses and find a top-tier class to deal with it – Try public speaking (TAI Resources is great — and thousands of dollars a day), or leadership. (Tony Robbins is $10K plus airfare to some chi-chi island.)

4. Another salary review in June. This promise is free to your boss, and an easy way to get you off his back right now. Get the promise in writing, but realize that a promise for a review is still not a promise for a raise.

5. A laptop to take home. This is a good request to make if you have a crappy computer at home. Tell your boss you will work from home and this will help her justify the expense to the keeper of the purse strings. (Do not actually do any work from home, though. After all, you didn't get a raise. Instead start that pet project — see #8)

6. Stock options. Stock was a joke in the “?90s because it was so overvalued. But today it's not likely that you work at a company where the stock is overvalued (if you do — fight hard for a raise!) So ask for some stock now, before accounting rules change and stock grants cost your company money on the balance sheet.

7. A plumb project. Look around the company for a project coming up that will make big impact on the company's bottom line. Ask your boss if you can manage that project. It won't get you a raise now, but it'll set you up for a big one down the line.

8. A pet project. If there's no big project you can ask for, what about conjuring up your own project? Figure out what skills you need to add to your resume and create a project that will get you those skills.

When you are negotiating with your boss for a substitute for a raise, the thing to remember is that recessions don't last forever. So instead of focusing on salary now, use this time to put yourself in a good position for when the economy improves. The raise will come a little later, but you will be in line for a bigger one.