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Friday, June 26, 2009

What are your weaknesses?

That's a common interview question, huh? I've got some pretty snarky answers but I'm not sure any are appropriate for HR or a hiring manager (For example, "one of my weaknesses is burning bacon, I'm dangerous in a kitchen"). I've been doing some introspection lately and I have a new answer prepared for this question should it come up at an interview or in the context of a performance review or at a dinner out with friends so I won't have to say something lame and generic like, "I work too hard". ;)

If asked, I would say my weakness is really more of an area of continuous development. I am overly-enthusiastic and a huge Type A person so I constantly have to audit my communications to make sure I am not 1) giving too much away 2) muddling things with extra details or 3) overpowering others. This is especially important when I send email to my sites or business colleagues. I try to keep email correspondence succinct and use bulleted or numbered lists when I am seeking clarification on multiple points. In a team context, I make an effort to listen to other's input before I jump in and offer my $.02 so that way less emotive folks can contribute to problem resolution. Finally, in a negotiation, you always have the most power when you can sit silently and take in all the information. I like to slow down and thoughtfully consider things rather than always acting impulsively.

So I think this is a good answer because I am describing something that I can control and work on. I am demonstrating self-awareness and goal-driven behavior; I think both of those skills are important to hone and develop. If I said, "I am short" I couldn't exactly do much about that other than wear high heels so I think it is a poor answer to the question (I'm actually tall, but you get my point).

Let me know what you think of my new answer and it's Friday so if you are feeling slap-sticky send me an email or post some outrageous answers you would love to give to this question.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer Vacation

I've been so busy monitoring and traveling the past year and a half that I accrued quite the vacation bank. My project is at a lull so the timing feels right to take a little holiday. I found a cheap last-minute airfare to Europe so I am flying to Stockholm and will spend a few days there then fly to Frankfurt, Germany. In Frankfurt we will rent a car and drive West to check out castles and explore the Rhineland. We'll take a few days in Amsterdam and then fly home. It will be pretty whirlwind I'm sure but that is just my style - always on the go.

One of the biggest perks of my Regional CRA position is the hotel points, car rental credits, and airline miles I accrue. I am delighted that all 8 nights of hotel are free because of the points I amassed traveling for work. The airfare between Stockholm and Frankfurt was paid for by my Membership Rewards points on the corporate Amex (1% returns on all spend). We're flying first class using the upgrade coupons I received for flying so much last year, and we received a discount on a really nice Mercedes to zip around the autobahn because of my status in the car rental program. I could not be happier with how I'll be cashing in on these benefits. I hear other monitors say all the time how they bank all these perks but never get around to using them. I'm a firm believer in earn and burn. Can't wait to blow through all my freebies!

I also bought a really cool set of Sharper Image suitcases from - fingers crossed they arrive before we leave. Maybe since I am saving so much money on the trip logistics I can bring an empty one just for shopping and see how far I can flex the Euro and the Krona. Ha det så bra - Adjö´ så lä´nge! Perhaps my Swedish blog readers can let me know if I am using that phrase properly. Danke! ;)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lead CRA Q&A: CRA Work/Life Balance

I recently received an email from a blog follower asking how I maintain work/life balance as a traveling CRA and whether I get paid more when the weeks are longer. The email is a little ironic as I actually have been really under-utilized lately and have spent most of the past 3 months sitting at home pushing papers around and trying to think of billable work to do. I am currently assigned to 1 study and I only have 2 sites enrolling - I can drive to both of them and visits are only every 4-6 weeks so I've been doing some co-monitoring and asking my manager to help me find more work or an additional assignment. You have to be careful what you ask for...I could be very busy again soon.

In any case, I've been monitoring for about three years and I have done a lot of traveling (if not lately) so I was definitely able to address the reader's question and I will summarize my response for you all.

I work for a CRO and I am paid the same salary regardless of how many hours I work. It is normal for me to work 10-15 hours over 40 and not be paid. This happens because I have to stay on top of my reports, there are unexpected layovers when traveling, or there is just a lot of work to do and you have to be flexible. It is important to have a good dialogue with your manager and make sure that every week isn't a 60 hour week - that is not in your best interest or the companies best interest because you will burn out.

On average I travel 3-4 days each week and spend a couple of nights at hotels away from home.
Once you have 5+ years or so of experience you may choose to work as an hourly consultant. However, while you are new and learning, typically you take a salary job. The trade is that if you work for a large company they provide structured training so you are gracious about working the extra hours because the experience you are getting is so valuable. Also, I typically only work on 1 or 2 studies at a time so naturally my work ebbs and flows. For example, this month I had a lot of trips back and forth to the East Coast (9+ hours travel time each way) but last month I was just working at sites near my house so I traveled only about 10 hours collectively the entire month.

When you travel all week sometimes the last thing you want to do is go out with your friends or plan personal trips so you have to make the effort and be sociable even if you are tired. The travel does get in the way of me taking continuing education courses at the community or local college since I am typically on the road on weekdays. A membership to a local gym would be wasted on me since I am never home - I just make sure I stay at hotels with nice gyms. Sometimes I miss Happy Hours with my friends or important networking events or ACRP meetings because I am not in town. When you are at home you may not want to eat out, upkeep the house, or take care of all your other 'real-world' responsibilities. However, you have to compromise and do these things as you can because you love the people at home and want to make them happy - even though you may be exhausted. Plus, when your home is a sanctuary from the road you'll feel better and more relaxed, too.
You may not be able to own a pet or a plant because you just won't be home to take care of them. 
That negative stuff stated, I won't travel 85% of the time forever. This is just for another 2-3 years until I step into a Lead role that requires less travel or work towards Project Management. If I go independent I could just make my schedule such that I don't travel Mondays or whatever I like and that would keep the hours within reason. I'm compensated well and I am developing great career skills and networking connections so the travel is in balance for me. Not everyone is cut out to be a road warrior but I still fancy it. There is no substitute for experience and I am gaining that everytime I travel and visit a site.