Posts filed under 'Popular articles'

Bathrobe! The uniform of champions

This year’s skyrocketing gas prices are enough to make even the most diehard office suck-ups fantasize about finding a job that lets them telecommute. But is finding a new job that lets you work from home a realistic goal or just a pipe dream?

Thirty-three percent of U.S. companies allow employees to telecommute on a part-time basis, while 21 percent allow it full-time, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

In other words, although work-at-home jobs do exist, they remain few and far between…

You can read the rest of this abcnews article written by yours truly — complete with tips on how to find a telecommuting-friendly job — here.

Favorite tip from the article:

Rather than waste your time reading scam after scam advertised on Craigslist and through Google ads, see, which screens work-at-home job listings and posts the pick of the litter on a daily basis. Run by the authors of The Two-Second Commute: Join the Exploding Ranks of Freelance Virtual Assistants, this site features both “earn a little pocket money” job listings (such as filling out online surveys) and “earn a living” listings (such as transcription and call-center jobs), as well as a list of telecommuting-friendly companies and a goldmine of tips for weeding out work at home scams.

Okay, here’s the rest of the article — for reals.

1 comment June 24th, 2008

Oops, I did it again…

Please pardon me as I ease back into the wonderfully addictive world of blogging. I think I may have devised a plan for how to proceed (but as I’m ever the commitmentphobe, don’t quote me on this):

Mondays through Wednesdays: original blog posts from yours truly

Thursdays: column and/or highlights from the work/life balance blog

Fridays: highlights from the work/life balance blog and/or Q&As with or guest blog posts from other relevant bloggers

I know it’s not Thursday anymore, but I wanted to share this week’s column, as it’s a topic people feel so strongly about:

Paternity Leave: When a Week Isn’t Enough

An excerpt:

I’ve always felt the world was divided into two kinds of people: the family-track folks (most of the population), and the holdouts (people like me) who were too busy, too unprepared, or too satisfied with their status quo to raise a child.

Then, one of my fellow holdouts — a friend I’ve known since college — decided to give parenting a whirl. Suddenly, I took great interest in every detail of how she and her husband planned to juggle raising a baby with their office jobs, especially during those first few trying months.

You can read the rest here. Happy dad’s day!

3 comments June 13th, 2008

Oops, I forgot to blog…

Things have been pretty quiet around here lately. But now that I’ve put book #2 to bed — first draft, revised draft, and any day now, review of copyedits — I can resume sleeping and blogging again.

As of May, you can also read me here: career column, aimed at cubicle workers. Here’s the current column, on workplace revenge. And here’s a past one, on how to make a case for telecommuting to work, despite the souring economy. “Nine to Thrive” blog, featured on the Seattle Times’ career center site and aimed at Northwest folks looking for better balance and a bit more bliss in their work lives. Topics include coworking, baby-friendly workplaces, what not to wear (to work), and more.

Feel free to send ideas for either, as I will be churning this stuff out each week. More from me soon. I’m going back to bed because, at last, I can.

6 comments June 1st, 2008

How to get a corporate blogging gig

ariel-meadow-stallings.jpgSome of you may know Ariel Meadow Stallings, author of Offbeat Bride, the book and web phenom. She’s also the subject of my current “How’d you land that great job?” column in the Seattle Times, as her part-time day job as a blogger at Microsoft is pretty dang enviable. Following are excerpts from my Q&A with her.

The job: “I never thought my silly Internet addictions would actually be useful,” says freelance writer and author Ariel Meadow Stallings, who’s kept a personal blog since 2000. But in the Microsoft job she’s had for the past year, being Facebook-savvy isn’t just useful — it’s essential. As a marketing manager on the software giant’s staffing team, the Seattleite spends much of her time publishing Microspotting, a blog profiling some of Microsoft’s most notable employees, from a Peruvian rockstar to a technical editor known as That Goth Girl to the company’s infamous mystery blogger Mini-Microsoft.

Q. How did you get this job?

A. About a month after I’d been laid off from [a] startup job, I got an e-mail from a colleague who I’d met at a blog conference in 2006. She started the e-mail congratulating me for getting back to my freelance career, and then said, “Just in case you’re interested, I heard about this job at Microsoft…”

I was going to stop reading right then. I wasn’t looking for a full-time job, let alone a job at The ‘Soft. In the late ’90s, I’d worked a contract gig at Microsoft, [doing] content editing, and it was such a bad fit that I was fired after two weeks and literally escorted out of the building.

But then I noticed the job was part-time — and permanent. That hit a special and rare sweet spot for me, as I’d have the benefits of a permanent gig (Helloooo, health insurance!) but still have time to work on all my freelance projects. I wouldn’t have considered the job if it had been a 40-hour-a-week position.

Q. What does a week in the life of Ariel at Microsoft look like?

A. I try to get a new [employee] profile up every week or two on Microspotting, so there’s a fair amount of behind-the-scenes researching and networking that goes on. I’m obsessed with conveying the diversity of Microsoft in my profiles, so I do a lot of mulling over whether I’ve already profiled too many white-dude testers vs. female Indian developers vs. older gay Inuit program managers. I want the stories to stand on their own as interesting and noteworthy, even without the marketing angle.

Once I’ve got a person I know I want to profile, I meet with them to record an interview and take a few photos. That’s actually been a surprisingly fun part of this job — somehow I’ve become a corporate photographer. But I try to take unexpected shots of people having fun and being themselves. I’m not into the stuffy head shots.

Like any journalist, there’s transcribing and writing up the interview, and then pushing it live on the Web site. I also manage promoting the site — mostly using social media sites like YouTube and the photo site Flickr and the bookmarking site Digg. And I’m managing the development of a Facebook application for my team and helping with the Workin’ it @ MSFT fan page.

Q. What advice can you give hopeful corporate bloggers?

A. Just blog! And then blog more! And read blogs! And blog more! Blogging for yourself is the best training you can do — especially if you get into the metrics, like your Web stats. Granted, it’s not easy work (there’s nothing sadder than an abandoned blog that hasn’t been updated for 18 months), but the payoffs are remarkable. You’ll show up higher in search engines, get questions/comments from people you didn’t know were looking at your Web site and have the opportunity to impress your prospective employers with your latest thoughts.

You also can’t just be a writer. Even though modern blog tools make it easy to get by without much design knowledge, having a basic understanding of HTML and how the Web works will go a long way in making things better.

Networking is huge too. I attended blog conferences like BlogHer and Blog Business Summit and met lots of amazing folks, one of whom recommended me for this very job.

Want more? Read the whole profile here.

3 comments March 20th, 2008

Anti 9-to-5 profile: Laura Michalek, auctioneer

auctioneer2.jpgFollowing are excerpts from my latest “How’d you land that great job?” column for the Seattle Times and, the paper’s online career center. I love Laura’s job and wanted to share with the class. Plus, we couldn’t run the photo at the left in the paper, and I didn’t want to let it go to waste…

The job: Between 1994 and 2005, Laura Michalek owned and operated four vintage furniture shops in Seattle, most notably Standard Home on Capitol Hill, which she opened in 2000. A self-professed “junker,” she’d put 60,000 miles on her car every year just trolling for antique treasure at estate sales and auctions. Somewhere along the way, she became sold on the idea of grabbing a microphone and working as a full-time auctioneer herself. Today she takes the stage at dozens of local fund-raising auctions each year, helping community and arts organizations such as Home Alive and the Center on Contemporary Art drum up hundreds of thousands of dollars.

auctioneer3.JPGQ. How did you make the leap from selling antiques to auctioneering?

A. I went to the Missouri Auction School in 2001 because I was inspired by auctioneers who I had seen while buying furniture for my vintage furniture shops.

Within a few months of finishing school, I was asked to help out at an antique auction house in Edmonds, which turned into a once- or twice-a-month gig, without pay. I did that for two years and developed my chant. That experience was priceless, because it’s not easy to get the actual “calling” experience that you need to develop as an auctioneer.

From there, I built my business on the side, until I decided to go full-tilt boogie — full time — in 2005. Thus, the closing of Standard Home.

Q. What exactly did auctioneer school teach you?

A. The school is actually only nine days long. It teaches you business skills, selling, chanting and ethics. Your instructors are world champions. The school I went to has a particularly strong focus on the chant, and you spend half your time there developing your chant through various exercises.

During the week, they sent us out to small auction houses in rural Missouri, in the evening, to sell. The whole town would come and watch and cheer us on. It was like free theater for the locals.

Q. What types of auctions do you do?

A. Contrary to popular belief, most auctions in this town are not black-tie galas. The average auction I do is a $100,000 fundraiser. But I do everything from a $2,000 auction to a $500,000 auction — from public schools, private schools, nonprofits, art organizations and environmental groups to big galas at downtown hotels. All of my clients have a financial need that a successful fund-raising auction alleviates. There is no posturing or fancy money sitting in the room.

Q. What advice can you give budding auctioneers?

A. Start working or volunteering at any kind of auction, just to be around them. Work the ring at an antique auction, or volunteer to check guests in at a fund-raiser. Sitting on an auction event committee, reading business books, learning how to speak in public via Toastmasters — these are all very helpful.

Learning how to ask for money is also important. Working retail is a great way to get a glimpse into the mind of the buyer. Getting nonprofit experience and understanding how the fund-raising world works is helpful too.

I also believe a formal education in auctioneering is essential. I recommend attending the Missouri Auction School and reading books such as Growing a Business by Paul Hawken and To Be of Use: The Seven Seeds of Meaningful Work by Dave Smith.

Q. What skills are essential for making a living as an auctioneer?

A. Being able to handle a tremendous amount of pressure and decision-making in a small amount of time and having a reservoir of patience are great virtues, and of course being able to shoot from the hip. I went to auction school with a small business background, a comfort speaking in front of people and a suitable personality, but it’s all for naught if you can’t actually auctioneer and sell.

Once you get the schooling, practice all the time and start selling anywhere you can, even for free. You really have to create your own opportunities. Early on in my auction career, I not only had to convince folks to have an auctioneer but an auction. At the first auction I called, each item was worth $2, but at least I was selling something.

There is no auction too big or small. I still stand in backyards selling baked goods today. And I still go and watch other auctioneers to see what I can learn from them.

Want more? Read this Q&A in its entirety on Or you can read past installments of “How’d you land that great job?”

2 comments February 28th, 2008

Roberta Browne, how’d you land that killer gig?

Since many of you work or aspire to work in creative fields, I thought you’d get a kick out of my latest “How’d you land that great job?” Seattle Times story, which profiles Roberta Browne, lead animator at Bungie Studios, maker of Halo. I think Roberta’s career path is particularly interesting because (a) she initially struggled with how to turn her talent/love of illustration into a viable career, (b) she tried her hand at freelancing and realized it wasn’t for her, and (c) she has an enviable position in what’s traditionally been an ultra-male field. So, without further adieu, some excerpts from my interview with Roberta…

07_1107_browne.jpgThe job: Roberta Browne grew up on what she refers to as “a steady diet of Looney Tunes cartoons and ‘The Wonderful World of Disney.’” All her spare time in high school was spent drawing cartoon characters, all her notebooks were covered with doodles. After getting a commercial illustration degree at Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, she tried her hand at freelance illustration for two years — and wound up earning the bulk of her income by waitressing and bartending. Feeling off her game, she returned to school for animation and, upon graduating, landed her first job as an animator. A decade later, in May of 2007, Browne joined Bungie Studios in Kirkland, Wash., where she works as a lead animator, a job that involves everything from 3-D software to brainstorming sessions to pratfalls.

Q. How did you land your first game animation gig?

A. I studied animation at Sheridan College, located in Oakville, Ontario. Every year the school would hold an open house to showcase the work of the graduating students. There was usually a big industry presence, with representatives ranging from small post-production shops to big movie houses to game companies from both Canada and the United States. After graduation I was offered a job at a small post-production house in Toronto, creating animations and effects for various TV shows.

I was contacted a few months later by Broderbund, a game company located in the San Francisco area. One of their lead animators had attended the open house and seen my reel. I was offered a job. I have to admit, the initial draw of living in California overshadowed the opportunity to work in games. I wasn’t really sure what was involved in being a game animator, but I thought I could figure it out. What I discovered is that animating for games is an exciting, challenging and extremely rewarding job.

I worked at a couple of game companies in California before moving up to Seattle in 2003. Over the years I worked my way through the ranks, starting as an animator, working up to senior animator and then finally to lead animator. I have worked on seven released games in my career, as well as a few prototypes that did not make it to market. Some of the more notable titles are “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (Xbox), “Shadowrun” (Xbox 360/Vista) and, of course, “Halo 3.”

Q. What does a lead animator do?

A. My role has changed from creating animation content to managing. I oversee a team of five animators. Most of my time is spent planning, problem solving, coordinating with other functional groups and working with the animation team to ensure they have everything they need to create animation content. I sit with the animation team and participate in [their] reviews of content so far, brainstorming, and acting sessions. Acting sessions involve falling onto mats, jumping, punching and so on. We hand-animate, so there’s no motion-capture technology involved. We’re old school in that regard.

I try to get in a little bit of animation here and there, but it is very limited. It was an interesting transition going from creating animation to helping others to create animation. But I have found it extremely satisfying.

Q: How does game animation differ from film animation?

A. Games are different than films in the sense that the animators create a bunch of smaller pieces of content that are then combined in the game engine. In film, animators work on shots or scenes and animate all the motion from start to finish. So a game animator needs to collaborate with other disciplines. That’s what I love about working in games — it takes art, design and engineering working together to fully realize and bring a game character to life.

Q. Are you a gamer yourself?

A. I do play games outside of work, about three to five hours a week. But I do not consider myself an avid gamer. My passion lies with animation and bringing characters to life. A lot of my free time is spent taking figure drawing and figure sculpting classes at a local art school. This keeps my observational eye sharp, which is a skill I use on a daily basis as an animator.

Q. What advice can you offer hopeful animators?

A. There are so many schools offering animation courses. My advice to those looking to pursue a career in animation is put your focus on learning how to animate. Many schools focus more on teaching different software, and it is fairly easy to get a character to move around. But to have that character act and emote is the real trick. Look for the schools that offer training in animation principles and acting. Having a solid understanding of the basic principles of animation and acting is the key to being a successful animator. Once you accomplish that, you can work in any area of animation production.

You can read the rest of my Q&A with Roberta — complete with recommended resources for aspiring game animators — on

6 comments November 13th, 2007

Dear manager, think twice before you send that next meeting invite

Here’s the latest PayScale piece. Thanks again to everyone who sent in their best hell-meeting tales.

When Marie, a sales assistant, showed up for a routine meeting with a big-time retail client, she didn’t expect to find the guy drunk. With a bird cage containing a latex chicken hanging on the wall behind him. Nor did she expect him to spend the entire meeting on the phone, haggling over money with a bunch of car dealerships.

“I thought about Kafka,” Marie says. “This was so weird.”

While most meetings from hell aren’t quite so surreal, they’re every bit as maddening. Take Judy, who worked as managing editor at a magazine and had the classic sitcom experience of suggesting a story idea in a meeting only to have her boss ignore her and then present the idea as his own ten minutes later.

“Everyone’s jaw dropped as they turned to look at me,” she says.

Or Lawrence, who worked for a travel company where the president’s wife (who doubled as the business manager) would monopolize the first ten minutes of every meeting by lecturing the staff on the finer points of carpet stain removal, sometimes even demonstrating how the team should go about cleaning spilled coffee from her prized new office carpeting.

Then there’s Ruth, who worked at a non-profit arts organization where many a meeting devolved into a group therapy session:

“At my very first staff meeting, one woman announced that she had to leave early because she was going to see her therapist, another woman started crying over something and then apologized because she was hormonal, and more time was spent talking about hair than anything else.”

With such a sense of uselessness and futility at meetings — and such a dizzying percentage of the workday sucked up by them — is it any wonder that so many attendees have taken to working on their laptops, texting friends, even snoozing through them, often in plain sight of the boss? Should it come as any surprise that workers overwhelmed by the onslaught of irrelevant meetings block out several days a month on their calendars so they can get some actual work done?

Managers, the next time you feel compelled to schedule a team meeting, think long and hard before you hit Send. The way to earn your employees’ respect is not by scheduling a pre-launch meeting to discuss what next week’s launch meeting will discuss. It’s not by holding a meeting at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday or 6:30 p.m. on a Friday. It’s not by showing up five minutes before the hour-long meeting you called is scheduled to end (and no, you don’t get points for actually showing up). And it’s certainly not by hijacking a meeting so you and the one other manager in attendance can beat to death a topic that has nothing to do with the cube monkeys helplessly held captive in the conference room.

Managers, don’t say it with a meeting when you can say it with an email. Don’t say it with a meeting before you know what the heck it is you want to say. Don’t be the crazy drunk guy with the rubber chicken in a bird cage who haggles with car salesmen during meetings with business colleagues. And if you have to be that guy, make sure you bring enough booze for the rest of the class.

For some ideas on putting meetings out of their misery, see this PayScale page.

3 comments November 11th, 2007

It came from the conference room, part 2

Thanks, everyone, for sending in your best Meeting from Hell stories. Who knew there were so many drunk, stoned, vomiting, conniving, idea-snatching, lobotomized, obsessive compulsive, and three-blinks-shy-of-a-nervous-breakdown managers out there? The PayScale story I wanted them for will be out in November and I’ll link to it here once it’s live. If I decided to use your story, I sent you an email confirming as much. Meanwhile, congrats to Marie, who sent in a tale of a rubber chicken-wielding intoxicated client who used a meeting with her as an opportunity to do his personal car shopping. Complete with phone haggling! With a bunch of car dealerships!

Marie’s getting a signed copy of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide, but there are a couple dozen more where that came from. (Actually they’re in my office, and I’m looking to free up some shelf space.) If anyone wants one — $15 + $5 shipping = $20 US — email me and I’ll tell you how to send me some dough so that I can get you a copy.

1 comment October 22nd, 2007

Death by cuteness

My Puppy's First JournalSince I’m trotting out all my freelance projects this week and I was just talking about pet photography, I want to introduce you to a journal/book I worked on last summer that Sasquatch Books recently published. It’s called My Puppy’s First Journal, and it features the stunning pet photography of Emily Rieman, proprietress of Best Friend Photography in Seattle. There’s only one way to describe Emily’s work: so freaking gorgeous-adorable it makes you coo and goo and blubber like a baby, which I of course mean in the best possible way.

It probably won’t come as any shock that this goes down in history as my best freelance project ever. It wasn’t as high-paying as, say, my less-sexy mega-corporate high-tech work, but it was hardly work to sift through achingly cute puppy shot after achingly cute puppy shot and come up with accompanying text like, “the first time I humped my person’s leg,” “the first time I pooped on the carpet,” or “the thing I did in front of company that embarrassed my person so much they had to change their name and move to the next state.” (That last one’s not in the book, but I kind of wish it was.) Working on this project was one of those freelance high points where I almost felt guilty accepting money because I was having so much fun. And the fact that Emily was a blast to work with was just icing on the already delectable cake.

dexter.jpgSo… if you’re a pup fan or you have friends who recently adopted a four-legged bundle of joy, I highly recommend this one. And for the record, this is Emily’s book, not mine. As in, she earns the royalties. I was paid a flat fee by the publisher for my work on the project. So the only thing I get out of you buying the book is the satisfaction of knowing that more people will get to slobber over Emily’s scrumptious pup photos and that another freelancer’s doggone done good.

2 comments October 12th, 2007

Can this job be saved? How to know when it’s time to go

Here’s my latest article on PayScale. Enjoy…

We’ve all been there. Sunday night rolls around and suddenly we’re covered with hives. Or we find ourselves frantically searching WebMD for some exotic new disease to call in sick with the next morning. Or we begin entertaining “kill the boss” fantasies that rival the pink-collar revenge scenes in the movie “Nine to Five.”

But suffering from a chronic case of the Mondays doesn’t necessarily mean you should dust off your resume and start looking for greener pastures. Some workplace woes are fixable. The trick is knowing which ones — and how to mend them.

The magic is gone
So you’ve been at your job a couple years and now you’re bored. Or frustrated. Or disgruntled. Sound familiar? It’s possible you’ve just fallen into the age-old workplace habit of griping for griping’s sake, says Cynthia Shapiro, author of Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know — And What to Do About Them.

Instead of pissing and moaning, Shapiro advises, try to tap into what you originally appreciated about your gig and company. If you come up empty, take a long, hard look at your job: Has it changed for the worse since you started? Has the company? Have you changed, perhaps outgrowing the work? If the answer’s yes to any of these, it’s indeed time fly like the wind.

“I hate my boss” syndrome
Sure, a lot of bosses are crummy managers, but only a small percentage of them are sociopathic misanthropes. “If your boss looks like he’s terrible, it’s probably just that you’re terrible at managing up,” says Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success.

The solution, says Trunk, is to tell your boss what you need to succeed in your job — be it more lead time on deadlines or more backup when the workload’s piled sky high. But remember, it’s not all about you. It’s about supporting your boss and doing a bang-up job so that she impresses her superiors. Keep your boss happy and you hold the keys to the kingdom.

“I think my boss hates me” syndrome
But what if you are doing a heckuva job, only to be snubbed when your boss hands out the plum projects, pay raises, and promotions? Maybe you’re constantly getting the difficult clients dumped in your lap. Or your job title’s changed so many times your coworkers have no idea what you do anymore. Or you just received a poor performance review, seemingly out of the blue.

If no matter how hard you shine, you’re ignored or sidelined by management, it’s time to wake up and smell the pink slip. “That is not just job ennui,” says Shapiro. “That is danger — you’re in the exit lane.” And while it may be tempting to sulk, your focus should on looking for a new employer. Pronto.

Want more? Read the rest of the article here.

6 comments October 12th, 2007

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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