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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, 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.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others. Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Tisha* turned negatives into positives

Nadine* realized that she couldn’t move up

Does My Manager Believe in Me?

              

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

It’s important to know the what and why about the company you’re interviewing with, but for your sanity, dig deeper. The more you can learn about an organization’s “personality,” the better. See what Orson* and Peggy * did.

Orson* interviewed for a sales rep position which would cover a several county area.  He was pleased with the salary he had negotiated, and learned that he would also be getting a company car to cover his territory.  This was in an area that was new to him, and moving expenses were included.  All in all, he was excited for his new challenge.

When his offer letter came, however, his excitement soon faded.  A provision had been inserted which said that he would be starting at 80% of his negotiated salary, on a 3 month probationary period!  This had never been discussed – not during any of his interviews, nor over the phone.

He called his manager for clarification, asking why this had been put in the offer letter.  Her only response was that it was “standard,” and she wouldn’t budge.

Orson had also met with his manager’s supervisor during the interview phase, so he then felt he had no recourse but to call the district manager.  It wasn’t the best way to start out a new job, he felt, but he had been offered his full salary, and told the district sales manager so.

The district manager agreed, and a new offer letter was sent to Orson, stating that he would start with the originally negotiated full starting salary!  Orson was proud that he had Fixed It! and signed the offer letter and returned it to his manager, hoping that there wouldn’t be repercussions.

Shortly after he began his new position, he asked his manager, “How do I take care of my moving expenses?  Does the company get billed, or do I get reimbursed?”

She responded, “Oh, you don’t get moving expenses.  Didn’t you read your offer letter?”

“I was so burned up!” Orson said.  “I actually called her boss again.”

This time, though, the district manager was less inclined to be supportive.  He asked, “Does this prevent you from taking the job?”

I said, “No,” Orson recalled, “But looking back, I wish I’d played hardball.”

Orson later learned that his territory had two reps before him in the past year, and his company’s sales reps for the entire state saw more than 100% turnover in one year!

“I, too, ended up leaving the position within the year,” Orson recounted.  “That organization was terribly unhealthy, and I wish I’d noticed the many, many warning bells that were going off around me!”

Peggy* had made it as a finalist for a job she felt would be a good step up in her career, and was interviewing with the woman who would be her supervisor, should she get the position.

Things had been going well, and Peggy began to ask some more direct questions about the history of the organization and specifically, the position itself, such as, “How long has this position been vacant?” and “Why did the last person leave?”

Typically, these answers are not only revealing about the position, but also about the person answering them, and whether or not they are forthcoming.  This is true especially if the previous staff person departed under difficult circumstances, such as getting fired.  Seeing how delicately (or not) a manger handles describing such a situation is very revealing.

On the other hand, if the organization promotes from within, it can be a good sign – and also a bonus to know that the staff member will be available to answer questions while learning a new job.

Peggy was relieved to learn that the answer was somewhat benign:  The former staff member left a month ago because she had a baby and decided to become a full time mother.

The director continued by saying what a loss it was to the organization when the staff member left, then added, “And it’s really so foolish of her, sabotaging her career like that!  I even offered to let her work part time, too!  What can she be thinking?”

Peggy was so startled, she didn’t know what to say.  It certainly seemed as though she was being given a directive that if she had children (or was planning to have them), she’d better not be considering staying home full time and leaving her job!

Before Peggy could think of what question to ask next, the director continued the conversation and changed the subject back to the job and organization, much to her relief.  Peggy finished the interview, all the while searching her memory, wondering if she had dropped any references to her family situation during the interview.

A couple of weeks later, Peggy got the job offer, but politely declined, saying she had accepted another offer (she hadn’t).  She decided to Forget It! and not work for someone who so obviously declared that she knew what was right for everyone else’s situation.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

 

            

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Culturally, women are conditioned to be agreeable and cooperative. That, combined with those who feel the need to help a part of society, yields an abundance of women in nonprofit with a calling to serve in a congenial way.

While this is certainly good for society, it’s not always good for the agreeable – and often, non-confrontational – women, particularly when it comes to their careers.  Often, all the traits that make such women the ideal candidate to work in the nonprofit arena actually work against them when it comes time to lobby on their own behalf.  They frequently learn – too late – that they have been passed over for promotions, raises, or generally left out of conversations that they should have been consulted on.

It has become more important now than ever before, with such a competitive job market, that women speak up and speak out at every opportunity – whether currently employed, or actively job hunting – so that their voices and ideas are heard by management and others on a regular basis.

Bonnie* had discussed her current work situation, where she felt that the director had used the economy as an excuse to whittle down everyone’s position essentially to being his serfs.  Bit by bit over the last couple of years, he had made everyone feel that if they didn’t comply with his latest “cost cutting” idea, they might be next on the chopping block.  This included petty things, such as his removing the office refrigerator and microwave, to “save electricity.”  (Bonnie did notice that, although all of the women in the office now had to modify the types of lunches they brought to eat, the director still managed to treat himself to eating lunch out on a daily basis.)

When Bonnie decided to Forget It! we worked on finding her another position, but kept in mind the dynamics which led to the situation she ultimately found herself in.  She wanted to make certain to define what type of treatment she would – and would not – tolerate right from the beginning.  I explained to her that a great many parameters are set in the first few weeks of employment, when you make your first impression.  Her boss and the other employees would see what they could expect from her during this initial phase.

While it’s important to be eager to learn and get along with others, of course, you still don’t want to project yourself as a doormat, either.  If, for example, Bonnie had given the idea that she would be willing to do everyone’s filing (whether it was her job or not), all those on staff would immediately be thrilled to have her do it for them . . . and anything else they could delegate to her.

When Bonnie began her new position, she had difficulty getting her business cards printed in the first couple of weeks.  The position that usually handles the task was vacant, and the procedure in his absence was arduous.  She learned that the last person who went through the procedure not only waited a long time, but her cards weren’t right.

Bonnie decided this would be one way to define herself.  She took action and had her own cards printed and simply submitted the receipt afterward.  Her director was surprised at first, but then she explained why, and he signed the expense report.  Bonnie was pleased with her first step toward defining her new self as someone who wouldn’t sit around and wait for second best.

Caitlin* defines herself as a “very shy person,” but came to me for assistance, because she felt that she was “invisible” in her organization.   She wanted to work on her networking and socialization skills, but didn’t know where to begin.

“I don’t feel as though I can just barge in on the already established social groups at the office and ask to join them for lunch,” Caitlin says.  “They’ve been having lunch together for a couple of years now.  Nobody has ever invited me along.  It’s like they don’t see me, even though I’m right there.”

Since Caitlin didn’t feel comfortable encroaching upon what she already felt was “established territory,” I suggested we Fix It! by trying some new territory, and had her join a local chapter of her professional society.  Not only was it good to work on her skills with a new group of people, but, I explained, it’s always best to extend your professional group beyond your immediate workplace, anyway.

One excellent way for someone shy to mingle at professional functions is for them to volunteer to work the function, and Caitlin signed up to help at a few upcoming events.  This provides several benefits.  Not only did she get the lay of the land beforehand and feel more at ease, but if she ever felt awkward at any time while talking, she could always excuse herself, since she had “something to do,” because she was working the event.

In addition, the leaders of the professional society got to know Caitlin in an informal setting and became appreciative of her hard work.  I had given her advice on several talking points to make about herself, as well as targeted questions to ask of others when chatting at these events, and it was working well.

After Caitlin had worked at several of these events and was becoming more comfortable speaking with people she’d recently met, I had planned on having her apply these techniques back at her workplace, so she wouldn’t feel as isolated.  It turned out, though, that it became unnecessary.  Caitlin made several good contacts with her new networking friends, and one of them offered her a better job, which she accepted!

Now, Caitlin works in an atmosphere that is more inviting, and she no longer feels “invisible.”  She also makes a point to participate more actively, to ensure that she’s seen, too.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Abby Wants to Break the Cycle of Bad Bosses

Whitney, Yolanda & Zelda Deal With Being Taken For Granted

Sadie & Tanya Work on Their Negotiation Skills

What Does Labor Day Mean To You?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

For so many workers, the meaning of Labor Day has changed drastically.  What used to be regarded merely as a long weekend and a changing of the seasons is now a stinging reminder of being unemployed or underemployed.

Similar to the anniversary of the death of a loved one, Labor Day creeps up and reminds many people of what they once had . . . and slaps them in the face with the reality of what they are now faced with instead: little or no reward, appreciation or prospects, not to mention a reminder of how much time has passed since the job search began.  It can all be a bit overwhelming to have Labor Day stare you down like that.

There never were guarantees in the job market, but the odds have gotten much more difficult in this economy.  Having a list of various steps that you can take to help tilt the odds back in your direction can be useful.  Not only might this increase your chances, but it can also begin to allow you to consider the employer’s point of view more often.  As you are more mindful of a hiring manager’s needs and perspective, this will make you a better candidate overall.

There are many phases in the hiring process beyond the face to face interview, which is certainly important and worthy of preparing questions, responses, wardrobe, demeanor, etc.  However, aspects prior to sitting down with a hiring manager may or may not lead to getting that interview, and your actions after the interview can determine if you’re called back or selected for the position.

With so many candidates being qualified – and over-qualified – directors have the luxury to be as picky as possible these days.  Which areas might you improve upon, either to impress or make life easier for a potential new supervisor?

Phone/Voicemail

Typically, if a hiring manager likes what they see, the first means of contacting you for more information will be by phone.  It’s important, therefore, to consider carefully which phone number(s) you have provided.  Unless you were asked for more than one phone number, provide only one and remain consistent.

•     Is this a phone number you have control over, or do you share the line with others?  Will you get your messages in a timely manner?
•     What impression will the potential employer get when the phone is answered?  How is the phone answered?  Will the hiring manager feel you are professional (“Hello.  This is Dawn.”), or immature (“Yo! ‘Sup, dude?”)?  Will there be unfavorable background noise, or unprofessional voicemail?  Do you identify yourself on your voicemail, or is it a generic, “Hi – this is 555-1234.  Leave a message.”
•     How soon after a call do you get/retrieve your messages?
•     How easy is it for you to return – or receive – a call during working hours in a private, uninterrupted setting?  (Most first interviews are now via phone.)
•     Do you make a point to add your phone number under your signature in every email correspondence?  Although it may already be listed on previous documents, why not make it easy for someone to find your phone number, instead of looking it up elsewhere?

Email

Many people don’t give a single thought as to how they are representing themselves with their email address, either, but this can affect the job search also.

•     Most people have more than one email address these days.  Consider using – or creating – one specifically for job hunting and networking purposes only.  Receiving all correspondence at one email address can make it easy to have your inbox cluttered and lose or overlook an important incoming message.
•     Try to make your email address as business-like and close to your name as possible.  If your name is “John Smith,” then JohnSmith@aol.com is no doubt taken, but if you can try a different service provider and/or adding your middle initial, certification, etc., so that your email doesn’t end up adding several digits to your last name, it’s much better.  You wouldn’t want a typo of inverted numbers to leave you without a message that was intended to ask you to return for a second interview.
•     Consider investing in a smartphone or other handheld device that allows you to access your emails without having to use a company computer.  Most businesses monitor employees’ online activities these days, and while “personal emails” may have a broad interpretation, using company property to search for and respond to other job listings and offers could get you in real trouble.
•     Many colleges offer free email to their alumni upon graduating, but it’s not a good idea to use this account as your job search email.  Unless you are in the academic field, hiring managers will view you – fair or not – as very young and very green, just out of college, with no “real world” experience, and still trying to vicariously relive your college days.

Online Presence

Having social networking skills is often a selling point when interviewing these days.  It’s often becoming a necessary part of the job, just as computer skills were a couple of decades ago.  However, it’s essential that you be aware that how you behave online reflects back on the impression you make to your current and future employers.  There really is no privacy online whatsoever, regardless of any setting(s) provided on the various social networks.

Take care in what you say and how you say it when posting – or emailing – any type of statement, video, photo, etc.  If you wouldn’t be comfortable with the general public viewing it, it’s best left unsaid online.  This doesn’t mean you have to be a recluse, however, but learn that it is a public venue.  There are things you wouldn’t say or do in public, simply because you prefer to present a well-behaved, polite persona.  It’s the same thing.

Some additional pointers:

•     Periodically Google your name and see what the results are.  Are you pleased with them?  What are the most important aspects that Google has to say about you, if anything?  If your name is similar enough to others, add some other distinguishing terms about yourself (or remove the distinguishing terms about the others) to narrow the search to you.  If you don’t care for the results, there are two things you can do to improve your online presence:  Add more positive hits with online activities such as tweeting, blogging, posting comments on other blogs, LinkedIn groups, etc., or remove the hits by contacting those sites that have mentioned and/or tagged you.
•     Be mindful of what you are tweeting, posting, blogging, commenting, etc.  This isn’t just about party photos, but such things as complaints about your job, co-workers, boss, and so forth.  If you come across as whining about job interviews, or being negative, rather than someone who perseveres, your attitude – regardless of the topic discussed – can help a hiring manager decide whether you make the short list or not.  Many bosses are turned off by excessive use of profanity as well.
•     Consider that the better you become at social media, the more you can use these tools to your advantage, too.  While managers are availing themselves of a way to view potential employees while they “have their hair down,” candidates with know-how can do the same thing and learn more about the personality of a possible manager than they ever could before.  Now, after an interview, if you have a gut feeling about that person possibly being condescending or a drill sergeant in disguise, you might be able to confirm that hunch with a little online homework!

Mail

Don’t neglect the importance of writing a handwritten thank you note after your interview.  For a phone interview, an email thank you may be all that’s necessary, but unless a decision is being made within the next day or two (which you determined during your interview), there is time to write and mail a thoughtful, handwritten note, which elaborates upon some point or topic discussed during the interview, as well as thanking the manager(s) for their time.

Not only does this gesture demonstrate that you have courtesy and a timely sense of follow through, but in addition to showing legible handwriting and the ability to craft a letter, all managers appreciate knowing who has the ability to compose sentences properly without the use of spell check and grammar assistant tools from a word processor.

So few candidates send a thank you after an interview, and among those that do, many opt for the shortest route, such as a text, email, or sending some type of form letter to everyone seen.  Make certain you take good enough notes to write each individual a unique message expressing something about the time spent with them – or why bother?

The better fit you can find with the job you ultimately do get, the less likely you are to spend all of your off hours searching for the next job so soon.  The ideal situation is not only to find work that is challenging, but also a supervisor that gives and receives respect.  A living wage is the cherry on the sundae, of course.

Here’s hoping that future Labor Days remind us more of sundaes, s’mores and picnics, rather than unreached goals.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

(When) Should I Start Looking Elsewhere?

Does My Manager Believe In Me?

Yvonne* and Zachary* realized that even with preparation, problems arise during interviews

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