Outstanding Professional Skills Training for Graduate Students & Post-Doctoral Fellows

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 7.46.24 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 7.45.12 PMPost-graduate studies can provide an in-depth knowledge and expertise in a particular field. In any field, however, there is one common set of skills necessary for success: professional skills. Yet in many academic programs, there are few opportunities to refine these skills or enhance students’ abilities outside of the program requirements.

This is where the Mitacs Step program makes a difference. Mitacs Step provides professional skills development workshops for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows across Canada. The free workshops offered by Mitacs Step give students a competitive advantage as they launch their careers and enhance skills that will be necessary for a lifetime. Here at Corporate Class Inc., we excited to be part of this exceptional and accessible programming with our Business Etiquette and Networking Skills workshops in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.

How Mitacs Step Lends a Competitive Advantage
The Mitacs Step program aims to build competencies for graduate and post-graduate students in four key areas that are recognized as essential for professional success. All of the Mitacs Step workshops address at least one of the following competencies; some address all four:

  • Leadership & Management
    From “big picture” management issues (such as influencing future outcomes, risks and impacts) to day-to-day organizational processes (such as planning, budgeting and performance management), participants learn skills necessary to lead and manage people and projects.
  • Communication & Relationship Building
    Working with people – and doing it well – is essential to success. Mitacs Step helps participants assess situations and communicate solutions, while fostering collaborative environments and offering constructive feedback to a team.
  • Personal & Professional Management
    For individual success, Mitacs Step aims to help students find self-management techniques to achieve their career and personal goals.

  • Entrepreneurialism
    Participants are encouraged to identify professional surroundings as a professional marketplace – then acquire the tools to take advantage of opportunities within that marketplace.

To address these four competencies, Mitacs Step offers a range of workshops that are hands-on and interactive and help students apply these skills to both academic and non-academic settings. Further, the workshops provide access to networking opportunities and industry expertise.

Corporate Class Inc. in the Mitacs Step Program
We are excited to be part of the Mitacs Step programming. With sessions on both Business Etiquette and Networking Skills, our team connects with graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in universities across Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.

  • Business Etiquette: This full-day workshop aims to increase awareness of how one’s actions and behaviours matter in building personal and professional relationships and reputation. The session begins with an overview on business etiquette. It then discusses the role of business etiquette in and out of the workplace environment, using technology appropriately, running and participating in effective meetings, and personal appearance.

    Click here to learn more about the learning objectives and key topic areas covered during the workshop.

  • Networking Skills: In the full-day Networking Skills session, participants gain insight on how to build and sustain professional relationships through effective networking. Participants then have the opportunity to try out the skills learned during the workshop during an in-session networking opportunity.

Click here to learn more about the learning objectives and key topic areas covered during the workshop.

We look forward to meeting you at one of the upcoming Mitacs Step workshops. For extraordinary skill development for emerging Canadian professionals, find a workshop here or share this link with a graduate student or post-doctoral fellow today!

Leadership Toolbox: Taking Initiative

Leadership Toolbox: Taking InitiativeAs part of our Leadership Toolbox series, we have explored how you can develop your leadership skills through effective communication and by facilitating efficient meetings. In this post, we’ll focus on one of the most basic traits of a leader: the ability to lead! Taking initiative is critical if you want to make a name for yourself in business. And if you don’t know where to start, do not panic: there are so many opportunities to take initiative in any organization. Below are just a few situations where you can step in and lead.

Making Organizational Improvements
We are creatures of habit, and often we can get stuck in a rut simply because we do not have the time, energy, or wherewithal to change our habits. The same goes for companies. Where in your organization can you see room for improvement – and an opportunity to take initiative?

  • System Improvements
    Does your company use a filing system that no longer makes any sense and resembles organized chaos? Or are you stuck with an outdated database system that restricts your company’s potential? These are two typical examples of systems that everyone would like to see improved, but no one wants to take on.Set aside a small amount of time every day to brainstorm how you can improve outdated systems. If the task is small enough that you can handle it yourself, take it on after gaining approval to revise a broken system. If not, develop a plan to distribute tasks among staff, so a large task is effectively managed across your organization.
  • Attitude Improvements
    Attitudes can get caught in a rut of negativity, often resulting in a pattern of inappropriate behaviours in the office. What is the culture like in your workplace? Do employees often gossip or speak negatively in the office? Is there room for improvement for employees to become effective brand ambassadors? If any of these situations sound familiar, it’s time to step in. Recommend and organize a staff training session or a Lunch and Learn to address persistently negative attitudes that ultimately may damage the workplace environment.
  • Appearance Improvements
    When left unmonitored, appearance – of both the office environment and of employee dress – can slowly become less and less professional. Look around your office: when was the last time the staff pitched in to tidy up? Are certain employees’ desks messier than others? Are employees dressing like every day is casual Friday? If this is the case, work with HR to clean things up: whether it is by organizing an office-wide cleaning day or implementing a standard dress code.

Taking on Tasks
There are certain tasks that no one seems to want to take on. Whether it is a long project with no perceived ending, a portfolio with difficult clients, or an assignment that will require extra hours in the office, these tasks always require a strong leader. Be that leader – and benefit from it:

  • If you lead, others will follow.
    Do not panic when you take up a daunting task. If you lead, others will follow! It will be up to you to determine how to move forward and to distribute work among others. But once the first steps are taken, the support of others will make the rest of the job easier.
  • Upward Mobility
    There are benefits to taking on those tasks no one else wants to handle: senior staff will notice, and they will take note that you can take on challenges within your organization. If you consistently demonstrate your leadership qualities, soon you may move up to become an official leader in your company.

Professional Presence: Actions and behaviours in the workplace

Nervous businessmanDoes your company have a great external presence but lacks professionalism and good communication internally? You’re not alone: many of our clients grapple with this troubling dynamic. While it is important to show the best side of your company to external contacts, smooth internal operations are equally as critical for a company’s success. Not only can bad behaviour and actions in the workplace foster a negative workplace environment and hinder employee efficiency, it also can begin to influence your external presence.

Encourage the best professional presence in your office by addressing internal issues upfront, even before they start. With this strategy, your Human Resources colleagues won’t have to address issues on a constant basis, and all employees in your office will function on the same understanding.

Below are a few examples of issues that we have come across in our trainings and conversations with clients, as well as reasons why they need to be addressed immediately and tactics on how to do so.

Breaching confidentiality
If a staff member inappropriately shares confidential information, not only is this disrespectful to the owner or person to whom the information pertains, but also it can put all parties involved at risk. Additionally, if the confidential material pertains to an external client or partner, it could put the whole business in jeopardy.

This issue needs to be addressed up front. Many companies outline their confidentiality policies in the hiring documentation. If this is not enough to deter employees from breaching the confidentiality policies, then ensure it is emphasized doubly through company-wide email or verbal reminders.

Inappropriate conversations in front of clients
Gossip, arguments, and other inappropriate conversations in the reception area where clients are waiting is an example of negative professional presence in the workplace – and one that can hinder your external relations as well. When clients overhear disrespectful, confidential, or confrontational dialogue in common spaces of the office, this will influence their relationship with your staff and perception of your company.

If employees do need to discuss and work out issues among themselves, schedule a due amount of time to address these in a private space. Advise employees against engaging in serious or inappropriate conversations in common areas.

Use of bad language
Bad language can find its way into office spaces. If employees feel comfortable and familiar with one another, they may begin to speak more casually – sometimes inappropriately – at the office.

While common understanding and strong relationships among colleagues is a good thing, swearing is decidedly not. CBS MoneyWatch published a great article this spring outlining the many reasons why employees should not swear at work, including the statistic that 80% of bosses reported that a cursing employee appears unprofessional, and that employers are less likely to promote staff members who swear.

Among other reasons, these alone should be enough to deter employees from swearing in the workplace. Ensure that your employees are aware of the potential harm that swearing could do to their potential for growth within the company.

Lack of dress code adherence
Like language, when attire becomes too casual in the workplace, it can project a lower standard of professionalism. This affects the internal environment, as an inappropriately dressed employee can send a signal that they are less serious and committed to a standard of excellence than others. Additionally, this is another internal faux-pas that can make its way externally: visiting clients, partners, and contacts will see a lower standard of dress in the office, and may associate this with your company’s business standards.

Again, this is an issue that should be addressed upfront with a company policy. For tips on how to get started and a few sample policies on various levels of dress code, check out our blog post on Top 3 Business Dress Code Policies You Can Implement Today.

A successful company has a great external presence as well as a strong and positive internal environment. Help your company rank among the best by fostering professional presence among your employees.

Scent-Free Offices: Notes on the why and how of implementing policies

Going “scent-free”: this is a policy that workplaces have begun to implement increasingly over the past several years. The policy, which requires employees and visitors to refrain from wearing perfume, cologne, or using other strongly scented products in an office, aims to acknowledge certain employees’ sensitivities and to create a healthy office environment where everyone can work comfortably.

Though this specific policy is a unique example, the reasons and practices for creating scent-free offices can serve as good general guidelines for implementing any workplace-wide policy. Has your office gone scent-free? What methods did your team use to implement the policy?

Why a scent-free policy?
A scent-free policy is a representative example of an issue that, while highly bothersome to certain people, may be entirely welcome by others. Yet if the best practices for implementing a policy are to be observed, the entire staff must be on board and follow the guidelines in order to create a workplace that is inviting and safe to all.

A standard of “all or nothing” must be set to maintain a physical space free of scent, which for some could trigger asthma, nausea, dizziness, headaches, or distraction, among other symptoms.

Some offices may even choose to implement such a policy even when there are no obvious scent sensitivities among full-time staff, in an effort to welcome an occasional client, partner, or other visitor who could not function comfortably in an environment with scents present.

What are best practices for implementing a policy, whether scent-free or otherwise?
For management, implementing a policy should never take the form of a single announcement that a new set of rules is to be followed at once. At minimum, staff should be forewarned of any company-wide changes before they are expected to follow them; if possible, staff should additionally be involved in decision-making and discussion about a policy.

In meetings or via email, staff should be given the opportunity to contribute to ironing out the details, timelines, and parameters of a policy. This kind of inclusion is important for making decisions that affect the entire workplace, not merely a few people.

Additionally, a policy should be written as a report and incorporated into a staff handbook or office manual, so that there are clear guidelines to follow. If employees have questions later, they can always refer back to the original document instead of functioning on guesswork.

What if you love to wear scents – and disagree with the policy?
Like any workplace guideline, whether it is a dress code or standardized work hours, the time to diverge from those guidelines would be solely on your own time and in your own space. Just as you might wear jeans or sleep in past 9:00 am on the weekends, the same context would apply for trying out your favourite perfumes. Reserve them for weekends or special occasions, to separate your work and life habits.

Additionally, be diplomatic: even if a policy such as a scent-free guideline does not fit within your personal preferences, it is important to acknowledge that such policies exist in order to improve the overall office environment and to accommodate the needs of every employee or visitor.

Why New Hires Need Business Etiquette – and How They Can Get It

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The transition between university life and a professional workplace isn’t always seamless. Adjusting to a major shift in workplace culture, protocol and dress takes time and effort. That said, with training, seminars and resources, recent graduates and new hires can be well equipped to jump right in to a professional environment –and your company can help them to do so.


Why do new hires need business etiquette?

For those who have been working professionally for years, many aspects of professional life come as second nature. But for those just entering the workforce, certain protocol can be new territory. Notable examples:


Dining Etiquette

When dining for business, there are many more guidelines to follow that simply dining with family or friends, at home or in a restaurant.

Business dining often takes place in a more formal setting, which requires know-how of more extensive table settings and flatware as well as behaviour.

Additionally, the question of alcohol may come up, in which case it is not always obvious to a new hire that alcoholic drinks should only be ordered if the host encourages the order, and if so, no more than one alcoholic drink should be consumed in a business context.

Finally, keeping good conversation going throughout the meal is an art in and of itself. The savvy diner will not engage in controversial discussion, and will discuss business matters only when it seems appropriate to do so.


Interview Etiquette

Before a young person is even a “new hire,” they’ve got to get the job first! No matter how impressive a resume may be, poor interview etiquette may detract from a candidate’s chances of landing a job.

Punctuality is absolutely essential for a job interview – even if a candidate is only 5 minutes late, many employers will simply write off that opportunity. That said, a fine balance is necessary; in other words, getting to an interview too early can be awkward, especially in small companies. Arriving approximately 10 minutes in advance is a safe bet.

A handwritten thank-you note after an interview is indispensible. Coming prepared with other hard-copy materials is also helpful as well; for example, a copy of a resume and cover letter for each staff member conducting the interview, and a business card or reference letter if applicable.


Professional Dress
The expectation for professional dress and image, even in business casual settings, can be vastly different than on a university campus. It can help new hires immensely to have the dress code outlined right at the start of employment and to have an idea of the differences between business formal, business and business casual dress codes.

How can new hires acquire business etiquette?

New hires can learn the basics of business etiquette and professional image right in your company.

By engaging new hires in etiquette training, ranging anywhere from a full-day seminar to a one-hour Lunch and Learn session, your company will help young professionals become accustomed to new protocol. Additionally, this can help your company is well – with etiquette training as soon as they begin their positions, your newest employees will be able to represent your company’s brand well and will be trusted to interface professionally with your company’s partners and clients.

Young professionals can also acquire business etiquette training during their degrees; undergraduate commerce degrees and MBA programs now often require an etiquette component before graduation. If you work in a university or career counseling setting, consider offering business protocol training to all undergraduate students – because good business etiquette is relevant for any professional!

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For those interested in our etiquette training services, here are two testimonials that may be of interest:

#1 Dear Diane,

Thank you for sharing the link to the dining video. I find it impressive that it covers how one should behave when he is the host or the guest, as well as how to manage gratuities.

I would like to also thank you very much for yesterday’s session. It was extremely useful and I feel that I learnt many new things when it comes to business etiquette. 

I especially appreciate the information and advice you have provided on how to behave in business networking events. Again, thank you so much.”

#2 “Hi Diane,
I love my new job. People are very nice here. I’m learning a lot from my new job.

Last week my company sent me to Montreal for a conference, held by one of the leading investment systems maker in the world. All the Canadian clients of this company came to the conference. Task given to me by my manager was to make contact with everybody. There was a cocktail party, dinner and conference that took place over 2 days. 
 
What I learnt from you helped me a lot. I think I’m very fortunate to have met you. I used all the things you taught me. It was very successful. I saw lot of people who came unprepared for the event. I read the Executive Presence manual you gave me before I went and it helped me remember what you taught me. Thank you so so much again.”

 

Office Etiquette: Do or Don’t?

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Most days at the office, basic practice and common knowledge help us to navigate situations and keep our days running smoothly. In certain situations, however, there can be a fine line between “do” and “don’t” for best protocol. What can help in these moments? Reflection, perspective, patience – and the tips below for added insight!

Have you found yourself in any these situations? What are your tips for best protocol?

Phone calls in open offices

For those working in open concept environments or cubicles, taking phone calls in earshot of several colleagues is a daily occurrence. What is the best practice when you know that someone will hear your conversation?

  • Do: Take normal calls with non-sensitive information at your desk. It is unreasonable to expect employees to find a private space every time they need to make a call.
  • Do: Keep your voice down to a normal or low tone, so it is not too distracting for others around you.
  • Don’t: Take any phone calls that will involve private information, such as salary rates or employee personnel. Find a quiet space, or book a private, closed-door office for the duration of the call.
  • Don’t: Use speakerphone. This includes music playing while your call is on hold, or a conference call you would prefer to take hands-free.

Managing issues

Whether you have an issue with a co-worker, are over your workload capacity or simply need advice, effectively managing workplace issues is key to being a great professional and having a functional work environment.

  • Don’t: Engage in workplace gossip. The friend or colleague you complain to won’t be able to provide guidance from an organizational perspective, and gossip always holds a high risk of backfiring. Not to mention, gossip breeds negativity.
  • Do: Elevate the issue to your supervisor or manager. Have an upfront, rational and professional conversation about the issue at hand.

Wardrobe mishap

One wardrobe mishap can be a source of great frustration: spilling coffee on a blouse or suit jacket, say, or accidentally dressing down for casual Friday when an important client meeting looms that same afternoon. What to do in these situations?

  • Don’t: Panic. If you’re down and out on the wardrobe front, a last resort could be to step out for an emergency dry clean or even a new shirt purchase, or to head home over lunch hour to change.
  • Do: Be prepared. This means keeping an extra suit jacket hanging on your office door or in the coat closet for unexpected spills or formal occasions.
  • Do: Keep tabs on your schedule with wardrobe concerns in mind. Make a mental note (or even a note on the appointment itself) when there is a critical meeting, presentation or formal event in the day’s activities, so you can remember to dress up a notch when need be.

Late to an important meeting

This is a situation to be avoided at all costs, but inevitably, tardiness happens. When it does:

  • Do: Send a quick email or text to the meeting organizer that you are going to be late, so that the group can proceed without you.
  • Do: Apologize profusely – to the meeting organizer and to the attendees, especially if others’ schedules will be impacted by your lateness.
  • Do: Email any contributions to the attendees following the meeting that you would have shared during the duration of the meeting itself.
  • Don’t: Make a habit out of being late! Punctuality is an essential characteristic in a successful professional.