Fix It Or Forget It?January 9th, 2013
Ideally, we want a job that requires us to work mostly on the tasks that we excel at, along with other duties that will stretch us to learn. Unfortunately, work doesn’t exist in a vacuum, as Percy* and Rosalyn* discovered.
Percy* described himself to me as a “fixer.” He said that, with most jobs he’s had, he comes into a new office and finds, “Well, a mess.”
“But, I’m very good at straightening out the mess and reorganizing systems or creating new ones, so that the whole department functions much better over time. People can find things and better understand everything, and it all works faster and better, as my systems are put into place.”
Eventually, though, after a few years, the systems that Percy has created or fixed are in place, and there’s only so much “tweaking” to be done to them. They’re up and running – and Percy wants something else to fix. This works fine now, pretty much. His work here is essentially done.
“I guess, to put it bluntly, I get bored and need another challenge,” Percy explained. “I don’t know exactly how to find that kind of job, though. You can’t really say, ‘Hey, do you have a mess that I can clean up?’”
This Fix It! didn’t seem as difficult as Percy believed, because I often have clients who will find a job listing, then go to the company’s website to learn more . . . and respond, “Oh, there’s no way I would apply for that job! They are SO disorganized!”
I suggested that Percy simply do the same search pattern – in reverse. Once he found the jobs and companies that he was interested in, research the company’s website and see how desperately in need of organization they really were. (A company’s website can be very revealing on this point.)
How easy is it to find answers to several basic questions? Are their job listings on various job sites also on their website? Do they have events listed that are current, or from months ago? How many clicks does it take to get to their donation page . . . and to complete a donation? Can you find a name and phone number of a real person, if you have a question?
Once Percy found the companies with the worst managed websites, I instructed him to write his cover letter with three basic points:
• His interest in the current opening
• Three suggestions to improve the company’s site immediately (implying that hiring him would yield more)
• A brief summary of more substantial improvements that he made at previous employers
It’s important to give the potential interviewer merely a taste of your skills, and not give away everything prior to being hired, however. I explained to Percy the need to portray during the interview how, at each of his previous employers’, they went from “pre-Percy” to “post-Percy,” which, of course, was always a much better scenario.
This tactic landed Percy a position with a company that was rebuilding several systems at once – and wanted someone to manage all of them. Percy was glad to have another long term project to tackle, and they were equally pleased to have someone with his track record in charge of it.
Rosalyn* was constantly feeling that she didn’t “fit in,” where she worked. She saw others come in after her and be more welcomed – and promoted – although she knew her work was at least as good.
Eventually, a friend of hers suggested that perhaps she was being shunned for not filling some social expectations. Namely, all of the other women in her department were married and either had children, or were planning to. Rosalyn had neither.
As it turned out, Rosalyn was seriously involved with someone, and considering marriage. Upon hearing this theory, she wasn’t certain whether or not to share her engagement news at the office, once it became official.
Much to her dismay, her friend was correct, and Rosalyn was not only suddenly warmly embraced with such gestures as an office bridal shower, but she began getting more important assignments and shown a new sense of respect for her abilities on the job.
“The only thing that had changed, as far as they could see, was the band on my finger! How in the world does that make me better at my job?”
Even this new found respect, hollow as it was, turned out to be short-lived, however. Rosalyn’s “honeymoon” was over several months later, when she realized that the other women in her department – and office – expected her to share all of her detailed plans for children: when, how many, which gender(s) she wanted, what order, their names, etc.
“I knew I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t,” Rosalyn told me, since her choices were between not sharing her future plans, or telling all of these women that she and her husband didn’t want any children.
This was clearly the time that Rosalyn decided to Forget It! and search for a position in an environment that cared much more about her professional accomplishments.
“I don’t mind an organization that is family-friendly,” Rosalyn explained, “But this was too much. They judged me by one standard and one alone . . . and it had nothing to do with the job I was hired for.”
Because she had been burned in this particular area and wanted to avoid it, I coached her to steer a bit toward family life during the interview. Certainly, it’s illegal for an employer to ask questions about marriage and children, but some cues can be picked up during chit chat.
For example, if she were in a manager’s office, she might notice a family portrait, or a piece of artwork made by a child and make a flattering remark that starts a bit of conversation. Some parents will coach little league, etc. How (and how much) they comment can be indicative. Also, of course, researching potential employers online can reveal PTA members and such.
Rosalyn ended up working for an organization that had a healthy mix of employees, and noticed this, in part, because of some of their clubs, such as a running club, that was popular in the company fitness center. The center also had some “Mommy & Me” classes, etc., and that was fine, too.
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown
Tags: career, career advice, career goals, career skills, career strategy, discrimination, employer, employment, fix it or forget it, interview, job, job advice, job search, jobs, sexism, sexist, woman, women, workplace