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What is your biggest weakness as an employee?

I disappeared from Twitter and my blog over the last few days because I was busy attending the Society of Nuclear Medicine & Molecular Imaging Conference in downtown Vancouver. If that sounds super geeky, you’re right, it was. :) I haven’t talked much about my new job on this blog, but I work for a high tech company that makes particle accelerators called cyclotrons.

Here are a few pretty cool pictures I took from the trade show and over the last few days:

Working in this industry has been challenging over the last 5+ months. There’s a lot to learn, and it can be difficult at times – especially for someone like me, who didn’t take a single chemistry or physics class in high school. But over the past few months, I feel like I’ve really gotten comfortable with the things that I’m familiar with – coordinating trade shows, events, designing, and getting involved in video production.

But after this weekend, where I met dozens of people around the world, I realize that I really need to focus more on being less shy. I can be pretty terrible at approaching people, starting conversations, and making small talk in general – it’s my biggest weakness as an employee. And while I’ve done a little bit of speaking in front of bigger groups at work (and leading meetings), I’m still not comfortable presenting in front of management.

So what does this mean? I’m not sure. I want to say that I will start going to Toastmasters again, but I’m not sure that’s the best thing for me. Or maybe I need that, as well as something else. I think I just need to face my fears and go for it at work. Stop being afraid. Seize the chances that I’m given. Because if I don’t do it, I’m never going to become a better worker, and I’m never going to get to that level I want to get to.

I think it’s really important to know what your biggest weakness is. Not only is it super easy to answer that kind of question in an interview, but since you’ve identified it, you can say something like, “I think my biggest weakness is X, but I’m doing X, Y, Z in order to improve my skills in that particular area.” It shows initiative. And you can stop answering the biggest weakness question with the standard “I’m a perfectionalist” or “I work to hard.” Because really, come on. Nobody is good at everything, and it’s okay to admit what you’re really weak at. Just make sure to follow it up with how you’re going to turn that weakness around and make yourself better because of it. :)

What do you think your biggest weakness is as an employee?

Truth: if you don’t ask, you won’t get

Last week, I tweeted something that’s been on my mind for a while now:

It’s something that I really try to practice in my everyday life… sometimes I go after things that are completely outrageous. And sure there are plenty of times where I don’t get what I want. But there are always those times, those unbelievable I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-to-me moments where I actually do get what I ask for. And it’s because of those moments that I keep asking.

I think this is especially important when it comes to a career. I might be shy in my everyday life, but the workforce is competitive, and if you’re not actively asking for (and going after) what you want, somebody else is bound to get it over you.

Take your salary for example. Did you negotiate your starting wage, or did you just take what was offered to you?

In my experience, you are always worth more than the first offer. Every company expects you to negotiate, and if you don’t ask for more, the company isn’t going to just give it to you. I mean, you wouldn’t take the sticker price when buying a car from a dealership, would you? And if you buy anything off Craigslist, you would always try haggling – because you know they’re asking for more than they would accept. Right? :)

Sure, it’s hard at first – especially for women. I had such anxiety about it when I first entered the work force, and since then I’ve been called everything from greedy and bossy, to confident and assertive. But asking for fair compensation does not make you selfish or bitchy or aggressive. It makes you smart because you’re asking for what you rightfully deserve.

I have never taken a job offer without negotiating first, and I have never been turned down. In most cases, I end up $2,000 to $4,000 ahead. Sometimes I have it written in my contract to get an automatic raise after a certain period of time, or a year-end bonus. A few thousand dollars may not seem like much now, but in the long run, it can add up. Your raises, bonuses, and future earning power are dictated by how you negotiate your starting salary with a company. And that few thousand dollar gap has the possibility of becoming bigger in the future – leaving you farther behind how much you are truly worth.

Of course, when you’re negotiating your salary you have to have solid reasons why you think you deserve more. So try to evaluate your skill set and years of experience compared to other people in your field. Then try to formulate a salary range for your job. You don’t need an exact number, just a rough estimate. Check out websites like Glass Door and Payscale to help you get started. I also like looking at job postings on LinkedIn or Eluta, as well as asking friends and family to find out what other companies are willing to pay for a similar position.

Related: How 20-somethings should ask for a pay raise

The worse thing that can happen is they say no

And so what? If they say no, and you are comfortable with the salary being offered then go ahead and take it. But before you do, perhaps you can try to negotiate an automatic raise after a certain period of time, or more vacation time in lieu of a raise. I’ve only successfully negotiated more vacation time once in my career, and it was because they said no to my salary pitch. But now that I look back on it, that one extra week of vacation was worth way more to me than a few extra thousand dollars a year. so I was extremely happy.

Nobody works for free, and the reason that most of us have a job is to generate an income. You deserve to be fairly compensated. But if you don’t ask for it, you likely won’t get it.

Thoughts? What has your experience been negotiating your salary?

Prioritizing time

Life has been pretty hectic over the last few weeks, and a lot of changes have taken place. I wanted to go back to working 70 hours/week like I was doing prior to moving to Europe… but once I got back, I realized that lifestyle isn’t really going to work for me anymore. While I don’t regret that crazy work schedule (and it was actually a lot of fun!), there’s so much more that I want to do with my time.

One of my goals for 2013 was to cut down my workload down to (hopefully) 50-55 hours/week. I spend 40 hours/week at the full-time job, which leaves 10-15 hours/week for freelancing. I think this is a good balance for me, and I can always tweak it down the road if I find it’s not what I need.

In order to achieve this work-life balance, one of the first things I did was to step down from my position with the Toronto Star’s Moneyville.ca. It was a really, really tough decision because I’m one of the original bloggers that my editor hired. I’ve been writing for Moneyville for 2.5 years, and I’ve learned so much in that time. But I just can’t conduct interviews and follow-up with stories/leads during the day when I’m at work. It’s sad, but I’ve made some terrific industry contacts, and I’m still going to be writing for the Toronto Star on occasion.

I’m not sure how that will affect my 2013 income goal of $85-90k, but I’m still going to try as hard as I can to get there. I’ll need to make between $1,500 and $1,600 each month in freelance income in order to hit that target. So far this month, I’ve pulled  in just under $2,000 – so it’s possible as long as I keep on top of everything.

As for the full-time job, it’s been great so far. Although it feels weird to be a decision-maker (and a boss), I’m really enjoying the challenge. The people I’m working with are nice, and I think this is a great next step in my career. I was really nervous about being able to handle such a crazy position, but it turns out all of the experience I’ve had in past jobs has really prepared me for this one. Plus, it looks like down the road there could be some major international travel involved. So fingers crossed. :)

Anyway, with the extra time I had on my hands over the weekend, I was able to accomplish a few things to get my finances back on track:

    • Increased my mortgage contributions back to accelerated bi-weekly payments with an additional 20%.
    • Created a spreadsheet to track my 2013 income.
    • Submitted paperwork to turn my TFSA with TD Canada Trust into an e-series mutual fund account.
    • Started sorting through my 2012 receipts (this is going to be a long process).
    • Started looking for an accountant.

How was your weekend?

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