Tips for working from home


Working remotely or from home can be a big perk of a job.  In an earlier post, I shared some benefits of working from home from Minute MBA. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work from home in my professional role, which has been awesome in terms of work-life balance.

Whether you’re in a role that lets you work from home occasionally like me, or if you’re telecommuting from the home base 100 per cent of the time, there are a lot of ways to make sure you’re being as efficient as possible getting work done while you’re away from the office.

I’ve definitely developed my skills and abilities in terms of working from home. In university, I struggled to get homework or assignments done at home. I often lost focus and was continually tempted to step away from my work by endless distractions, including cleaning, walking the dog or watching daytime TV, and it was challenging to stay on track.

Over the years, I’ve become much more focused and efficient when working from home, and have found that the following tips have really helped:

  1. Plan your workday – Having the self-discipline map to your day, including laying out tasks and deadlines, along with meetings and calls, can really help you can stay on track. A daily and weekly to-do list helps to put immediate and medium-term deadlines in perspective. There is no better feeling than crossing something off your to-do list!
  2. Now, plan your non-workday – Working at home provides all the comforts of, well, home. If need to take the dog for a short walk at noon, or pick up your dry cleaning by 4:00, pencil it into your schedule. Use your judgment, but as long as you don’t have an important call, deadline or deliverable, you can try to work your day around these “wants” or “needs”. Remember to block-off time in your calendar so others know you’re unavailable, and advise team members you won’t be at your computer at a certain time.
  3. Improve communication with your team – I’ve learned that being clear and concise in emails is even more important when you can’t just pop over to someone’s desk to ask a quick question face-to-face. Make sure action items, responsibility owners and deadlines are spelled out clearly – bullets and lots of white space help! Picking up the phone and having a brief chat (gasp!) is another way to get to the bottom of a question or to discuss next steps.
  4. Pick your environment based on your work – Different settings can inspire me to be more creative, efficient or analytical. For example, quiet places are better for working on budgets or complex problems. When brainstorming creative ideas, a coffee shop or a restaurant may help yield more exciting results. If you’re writing a report, a serene setting like the couch or a chair on a dock at a lake (pictured above) could be appropriate. Being conscious of the impact of my surroundings on my productivity has allowed me to love working out of the office.

Do you ever work remotely? What tips do you have for staying focused and productive?

Image credit: Laine Jaremey.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts and Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

How do I write a cover letter?

Once you’ve spent hours refining and proofreading your resume, writing a cover letter can seem like very challenging and time-consuming task.

But, it doesn’t need to be.  It’s important to remember that a cover letter is your first opportunity to build a relationship via a piece of paper (or email) with the person who’s doing the hiring, as described by Aimee Bateman, founder of Therefore, a cover letter is just as important as your resume, as it allows you to shine some light on your professionalism and personality.

Check out some other tips for developing a stellar cover letter in Aimee’s video, below.

Do you agree with Aimee?  Do you have any other tips for writing a great cover letter?

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Digging up the truth about bringing dogs to work

dogsatworkHaving dogs at work can have a positive impact on a workplace’s culture. If a dog-friendly office is a good fit, it can be a great way to bring people together, reduce stress and add some fun to the everyday routine.

Check out this recent article from the Huffington Post, which highlights some research on the benefits of having pooches in the office.

As a fan of dog-friendly offices, I’ve been fortunate enough to bring my Jack Russell, Junior, to work with me on Fridays for the past few years.

If you’re a dog owner who’s thinking of bringing your pet to work with you, here are a few things to consider first, which I’ve learned in my experience as an owner of an office pooch:

  • Schedule some time to care for your pup – It’s great to go for walks throughout the day and to chat with others about your dog. Just make sure you plan ahead to fit these things into your day. Try scheduling walks in your calendar so your team knows when you’re unavailable, bring your smartphone with you on walks so that you can be reached, prepare water and treats ahead of time and be conscious of how much time you spend with colleagues gushing over how adorable your pet is.
  • If you’re under the gun, dogs are no fun – Have a busy day planned, with a lot of meetings, projects and deadlines? It may not be best to bring your dog with you, since your focus should be 100 per cent on your work. Even well-behaved dogs can be somewhat distracting.
  • Keep Fido on a leash – Not everyone is a fan of dogs at work. Some people are afraid of dogs – even small dogs. Offices are also exciting places for dogs to explore, with lots of nooks and crannies and new smells to investigate. Therefore, I always try to keep Junior under my control when he’s at work with me. I keep him on a leash, and even if I need to run down to the printer for a minute, I like to have him fastened to something so he can’t wander off on his own adventure.
  • Find a dog-sitter – You may have a slow day planned, but that can all change and then having your dog with you may not be very convenient. For example, if a client ask for a last-minute conference call and it may not be appropriate to have your pup barking in the background. Therefore, It’s super helpful to have one or two coworkers who can watch your dog for an hour. It’s usually best if this person is familiar with taking care of dogs, and who your pet knows and trusts. You’ll probably find that people volunteer to dog-sit, which always helps!

  • Silence is golden – Your dog should be calm and quiet throughout the day so as not to disturb you and your coworkers. You may not know how your dog reacts to being in your office until he or she is there a few times. Over time, I’ve learned a few tricks to keep Junior calm, quiet and ideally asleep.  He has a nice pillow to lie on, wears a dog sweater and often chews on a bone. He also tends to be calm and tired if the weather’s nice and he’s had several walks throughout the day. It make take some trial-and-error, but you’ll learn what works for your pup too.
  • Use your judgment – Depending on the workplace or industry, it may not always be appropriate to bring your four-legged friend to work with you. Also, if a client or someone on the company’s leadership team is visiting your office, it’s probably best if you leave your dog at home that day.

Have you brought your dog to work with you?

What tips do you have for helping your pooch get used to the office environment?

Image credits: Laine Jaremey.


Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

How to use the right keywords to get your resume past hiring software

In some organizations, hiring managers are looking for candidates for several different departments, looking to fill many diverse roles. It would take ages for them to review all of the resumes manually, and this would result roles not being filled in a timely manner.

As a solution, a tool referred to as a human resources (HR) software program can help to filter the resumes and cover letters that are submitted. Not only does this save time, but it allows hiring managers ensure that everyone who moves on in the interview process has a minimum level of experience.

???????????????????????????????How do these software programs work? Usually, they’re algorithms that help to identify keywords in resumes and cover letters that are relevant to the experience required for the job. The good news is that you’ve probably already seen these keywords – they’re typically listed throughout the job description.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail shares how to get your resume past these electronic screening programs.

Here’s an example of how a well-qualified candidate may not have been considered had she not incorporated an important keyword into her resume:

“I helped a lady recently who wanted to work as risk analyst in a bank. She had an MBA, a background in accounting, she was fully qualified for the job. I did a quick keyword search of the word ‘risk’ in the job posting, and it showed up 17 times. Then I went to her resume, and it showed up once, on the second page. That would never get through.” – Pamela Paterson, resume coach and author of Get the Job: Optimize Your Resume for the Online Job Search.

The goal is to write your resume in such a way that it will get through the system and into the hands of a human who will consider you for the job.

The three things to remember when you’re writing a resume that will be reviewed by a software algorithm are:

Tip 1: Highlight the keywords – Make sure the recurring terms in a job description, like skills, responsibilities, training/certifications, commonly-used abbreviations and action words, are used in your resume and cover letter.

Tip 2: Keep it simple – Avoid PDFs, and use traditional headers and basic formatting.

Tip 3: Time matters – If you’ve had different roles in the same company, treat each as its own job and identify the dates you were in that role. This may be a cue to the filter that you have the required amount of work experience.

What if you’re searching for a similar job at different companies? You can probably use the same version of your cover letter and resume. But never assume that a generic resume will get you past the first round of review by the software algorithm and into the hands of a hiring manager. Take a careful look at the job description for each company to find keywords that are frequently used. If a job description isn’t available, review the company’s website or online newsroom for clues about the keywords you should include.

What does this all mean? How you write your resume needs to constantly evolve to adapt to the new digital tools used in the job search process.

Do you have any tips for incorporating keywords into your resume or cover letter? Share them in the comments.

Image credits:; Creative Commons.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts and Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

How do I dress for a job interview?

I love the tips that Stacy London and Clinton Kelly from What Not to Wear share for dressing for a job interview, whether you’re just entering the workforce or looking for a new job.

For example, they suggest starting with a neutral suit look, and then adding other prices that show your personality to more interesting for an interview.

Do you have anything to add to their tips? Share in the comments.

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Interview: PR pro Alanna Fallis shares career transition advice 


I recently sat down with Alanna Fallis (Twitter: @lanifallis), a communications professional who has just recently made a move in her career. Alanna shared how taking on new challenges and building her network has allowed her to grow in her career, and gave advice for others who are considering a transition into a new role. Read a summary of our conversation below.

Pencil Skirts & Punctuation (PS&P): Tell me a bit about your education and career path so far.

AF: I completed my undergraduate degree in Communications Studies at York University in 2011. I loved the smaller fourth year tutorial courses there, and the program increased my interest in communication theory. Thus, I felt encouraged to continue learning and exploring, and applied to graduate school programs in Ontario.

Between the third and fourth years of my undergraduate degree, I did a summer placement at GCI Group, a mid-size public relations (PR) agency in Toronto, where I was introduced to the PR industry. I didn’t know quite what I was getting myself into, but enjoyed every minute of it. At first, when I overheard PR jargon in the office I had to Google it at my desk later so that I could keep up with the team! Over time, I thrived in the role, and loved participating in new business brainstorms and learning how to use the databases for tracking media coverage.

Before attending Ryerson University for post-graduate studies in 2011, I completed another summer internship with GCI Group. The work was tougher and projects were bigger, which was great, as it meant my team trusted me more! I gained confidence during the placement that turned into a steady growth period personally and professionally. I made media calls, wrote pitches and sent clients media monitoring reports. My career path became clear to me, and I decided to work in an agency after graduating from Ryerson. I truly felt that the PR agency setting was a place that I could constantly learn and grow.

I then completed Ryerson’s Professional Communication Master’s degree program in 2012. This was a fantastic experience full of combined professional and theoretical learning.

After graduating, I returned to GCI Group as a full-time Account Coordinator. Daily interactions with bloggers and writing pitches became second nature. I took advantage of every opportunity to do new tasks, even if they were above my level and beyond my job description. I tried to prescribe my role based on the work being done above me, dismissing the limitations of the tasks typically done at my job level, and working at the level of the role that I wanted to move into. This proved to be beneficial for my growth, as I soon received a promotion to the Consultant role. Several peers of mine were instrumental in my growth, allowing me to face challenges head-on and learn new skill sets.

Because of this fantastic experience, I was able to explore a new opportunity at Ryerson University in a communications and event management role, where I would be directly involved in the branding and strategic communication planning in the Dean’s office in the Faculty of Arts. The new adventure started in July 2014 and I anticipate it will be full of continuous learning experiences and professional growth opportunities.

PS&P: Transitioning from one job to another can be nerve-wracking for some people. What tips would you give to make the move easier?

AF: Never stop learning, exploring or experimenting. Be willing to share your knowledge from your previous role with the team at the new organization. I also think that an open-mind and the eagerness to try new things can help to smooth the transition.

PS&P: Would you say relationships are important in helping to shape your career path?

AF: Totally. Networks are a key element of shaping one’s career. Some relationships can veer your career towards a path they may not have considered otherwise. Relationships are a key resource in the “career toolkit.”

PS&P: What advice would you give for expanding your network and professional relationships?

AF: Be yourself and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. For example, reconnect with former colleagues, or cold-email people you’ve never worked with before. In my experience, more times than not, there is someone willing to help at the other end of the email you’re sending, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

Also, leverage your strong relationships and introduce people in your network to each other. For example, if Bob at Bell wants to know Roberta at Rogers, offer an introduction and help them build their professional relationships. Chances are, it will likely help you expand your network too!



Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

Tips for leading a successful meeting

My appreciation of well-planned meetings started in a seminar course during the fourth year of my undergraduate degree. Our course mark was largely based on one major presentation that involved working with a group of five others in the class.

In preparation for the final presentation, our group held several meetings. At first, these meetings ran on and on, without structure or meaningful outcomes. So, I started to develop lists of items to discuss, assigning tasks and following up with the group after the meetings.

As a result, our group held more efficient meetings, met deadlines and produced a high-quality presentation, which resulted in a high mark.

Although this experience was many years ago, the benefits of being prepared for and structuring meetings have stayed with me into my career. Not only will using a formulaic approach to leading meetings demonstrate your professionalism, but it will allow you to get things done more efficiently and make the most of the time you have with your colleagues.

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Here are a few tips to help you lead effective meetings:

1. Come prepared. 

  • Understand your meeting objective(s). It’s helpful to actually say them or display them on a PowerPoint slide as you kick off your meeting.
  • Develop an agenda, and if possible, share it beforehand so that everyone who’s attending knows what to expect.
  • Although it seems obvious, make sure you’ve invited the right people. For example, if you’re discussing a presentation, it may make sense to have the graphic design specialist in the room when you meet to discuss the content of the presentation, so they can hit the mark when they design the look and feel of the presentation.

2. Be in control.

  • A meeting is successful when you make the most of everyone’s time while they’re together. Assign a time-keeper and note-taker to help keep things on track, cover the agenda and meet your objectives.
  • Depending on who’s in the room, it may not be appropriate to go into the tiny details for a task or project. If the meeting discussion veers off track  encourage participants to discuss things “off-line” in a smaller meeting.
  • Assign tasks and next steps. Determine who has the “R”, or “who is responsible for”, each task. Set realistic timelines for the delivery of action items and next steps.

3. Follow up.

  • Develop a contact report for all attendees, which includes meeting notes and a list of action items for everyone to complete, as discussed at the end of the meeting.
  • Schedule follow-up meetings to check on the status of everyone’s tasks, as required.

What other tips do you have for holding a successful meeting?

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