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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, December 12th, 2012

After the honeymoon period is over, your job might not be what you thought. What clues do you look for while interviewing so that you’re not surprised down the road? See what Natalie* and Olympia* learned at their new jobs.

Natalie* was pleased when she discovered that her new job was literally across the street from where she was now living!  “What could be better than that?!” she thought.  No more commute, no being late for work, no gas bills or parking, etc.  It seemed like a dream come true!

“I should have known better,” she told me, six months into her job.  “I’m old enough to realize that anything that seems too good to be true must have a catch to it.”

Although Natalie actually liked the work she was doing, there was too much of it – and she didn’t appreciate the fact that she was always the person chosen to do it.

“If my boss ever needs someone to work late, he always picks me.  Same thing for coming in early – or weekend work.  Because I’m across the street, I have become the de facto pick-up-everyone’s-slack worker!  I’m sick of it!”

“Also, I’ve noticed that I get more criticism for being late,” Natalie added.  “Now, I realize that I don’t have to drive through traffic as others do, but I’m rarely late – and there are other reasons that people are late.  Besides, I’m always working additional hours, so you’d think he’d be gracious about it, but no . . . “

Natalie and I discussed what to do about her manager’s situational ethics, since he appeared to be understanding about all the other employees’ family situations, commutes, etc. – but not hers.  She was interested in a workaround, if we could find one that didn’t lead to her being double teamed.

Something recent Natalie mentioned that had helped her situation had to do with her mother, who had had surgery.  When Natalie needed some time off to take her mother to the hospital – and subsequently stay with her over the weekend – she noticed that nobody at the office contacted her for any evening or weekend work.  (Her mother doesn’t live near the office.)

I suggested a several-pronged plan of attack, to give her manager and co-workers the impression that she wasn’t home, even if she was:

•     Publicize to people at work an exaggerated need for her mother’s convalescent care, which will require more regular and extended visits from Natalie to her mother’s home
•    Change interior decorating, such as curtains, etc. to her apartment, so that it isn’t apparent when she is or isn’t home from viewing across the street
•    While at home, park her car not within view of the office, so co-workers aren’t aware if she’s home or not
•    Don’t call the office from home, or otherwise publicize your whereabouts during days off.

Once Natalie followed these guidelines, her manager – and other staff members – read the cues she laid out for them, and responded in kind.  She was able to Fix It! and remain in her job.  She was pleased that this method allowed her to keep her private life private . . . and public life . . . well, public.

Olympia* was having difficulty getting a position in marketing when she had moved to this new area, since she didn’t have many contacts, so she was pleased when she finally landed her position with this company, but after a while she felt singled out – and not only because she was “the newest employee.”

What she noticed very soon was that she was the only woman in the marketing department, and whenever there was a boring or meaningless task of cleaning up this or that to do (whether figuratively or literally), her director would end up finding a reason for her to do it.

In the beginning, she simply complied, but this was beginning to get ridiculous.  She finally challenged him and said, “Actually, I’m really busy with (project).  Couldn’t ______ handle it?”

This is when she saw not only her director’s horrified reaction, but her “co-workers’” as well.  It became obvious that they never saw her as a co-worker, and that it wasn’t a coincidence that her predecessor was the only other woman in the department.

“I certainly didn’t have to guess about how my pay stood up next to the other guys’ in the department, once I found out that I was a glorified secretary!”  Olympia exclaimed.  It took us several months to find her something else after that, but this was the turning point when she decided to Forget It!

Olympia made a concerted effort in subsequent interviews to be acutely aware of not only how many women were on staff in each organization, but what their positions were . . . and how they were treated, spoken to, and so forth, during her time there.

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:

Bonnie* and Caitlin* work to redefine what’s acceptable

Virgil* and Zola* are unprepared for gossip

Gertrude* and Hector* find teamwork almost impossible

              

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Sometimes your workplace situation isn’t quite what it appears to be.  When that happens, how do you go about discovering what lies beneath the surface?  Should you Fix It or Forget It?  See what Leonard* and Maxine* did.

When Leonard* came to me, he was frustrated about his job.  Although he liked it, he was contemplating looking for a new one, because he felt that he should be further along than he was, and if things weren’t going to progress any more than they were where he currently was, perhaps it was time to look elsewhere.

This was going to take further investigation, I could see.  Sometimes employers do take advantage.  On the other hand, some employees expect nearly an immediate payoff.

I learned that Leonard had been working at his company for several years, actually.  One thing in particular that made him reach this conclusion recently was that someone else in his department had recently been promoted – a coworker – and she arrived more than a year after he did.

“I don’t mean to sound petty,” Leonard explained.  “It’s not that I don’t think she deserves it.  She does.  But I certainly do, too.”  Leonard and his coworker actually get along quite nicely, and he had congratulated her.

“I don’t understand how I suddenly became overlooked and invisible, though,” Leonard lamented.  “I work at least as hard.  If that doesn’t count for anything, why should I stay?”

Since Leonard said he got along well with his (former) co-worker who had been promoted, I suggested that he tactfully approach her and ask for her input on how to better impress their manager.  This seemed to be a good place to start, and if it had very little to do with the quality of work being done, then it more likely had to do with personalities.  His co-worker clearly understood – and related to – the manager’s personality better.

Leonard learned a great deal from his soft approach with his co-worker!  Her input was very valuable.  He discovered that several of his mannerisms were very off-putting to their manager, which essentially deemed him “not supervisor material” – and he had no idea about it whatsoever!

Some things he learned:

•     The manager frowns upon him taking more than one doughnut when breakfast is provided for employees.
•     When Leonard speaks to the manager at his desk, his eyes apparently wander behind the manager, as though he’s reading his computer screen, or emails.
•     Leonard has begun eating while dining out with clients before everyone has been served.

Leonard also heard a couple of tales about other former employees and their etiquette breaches that their manager found unforgiveable . . . even worse than his!  It would seem that his co-worker had been dubbed the one with the best manners, which was worthy of promotion.  He was astounded to learn this “secret code”!

When Leonard shared his new discovery with me, I added a possible habit of his that I had observed: fidgeting.  He frequently “played” with items, such as his pen, folder, cup, etc. while talking – and especially while listening.  I explained that this gives the impression that one isn’t actively listening, but bored, or hoping the speaker will soon finish.

He thanked me, and said he had decided against the job search, and would try to Fix It! at his current job instead, now that he had a new assignment – not to mention an ally.

Maxine* worked for a manager who was constantly demeaning and condescending, day in and day out.  It didn’t matter what projects or deadlines she was faced with – her manager was spiteful about nearly everything, and regardless of how well she did her job, Maxine’s boss never had a kind word to say about her performance.  There were just more demands placed upon her – and always in a loud, hateful tone.

This wore on her so much, frankly, she didn’t have the energy to begin another job search, so she began to calculate what it would do to her financial situation if she were to quit, period.  She had recently refinanced her home, and began taking other cost saving measures in her spending.

Maxine worked up a budget that showed her that she could leave her hellhole in nine months, if she continued her penny pinching ways, since she was not too terribly far from retirement anyway.  It would mean a few very lean years, but, frankly, it would be worth it not to endure the boss from hell.

She made up her mind to Forget It! in nine months, and marked her calendar.  This resolution was a great deal of peace of mind, in a way, and provided much needed strength that allowed her to endure more yelling and derision for the months ahead, knowing that the end was in sight.

Maxine decided that she would only give two weeks’ notice at the end.

About two months before her freedom, the boss came in and began launching into one of her particular tirades, when Maxine decided she’d had enough.

Maxine turned to her, staring straight into her eyes – something she rarely did – and said, “You know, it’s not appropriate for you to speak to me that way.”

Maxine was beyond startled when her manager backed down and replied, “Uh . . . you’re right.  I’m sorry.”

“I couldn’t believe it!” Maxine said.  “There was a complete change in her and the dynamics between us after that!  I’m not saying she became a saint, or anything, but it was tolerable working with her.  I had no idea that simply saying something like that would have changed things!”

Maxine ended up staying in her job until retirement after all, much to her surprise, and had a nest egg that was a bit bigger than she originally anticipated.

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:

Winnie* and Alexandra* take a second look

Barney* and Courtney* endure micromanagers

Gloria* and Herman* notice problems in the office

              

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

The economy has made the job market so difficult, that many have taken positions they otherwise wouldn’t, and stayed longer in situations they previously would have deemed “intolerable.” Yetta* and Zeke* share their stories.

Yetta* couldn’t find anything in her chosen field after being laid off, so until something came along, she got a job working in a family style chain restaurant.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was a job, and she had quite a few hours, and the manager seemed to like her.

Interviews were few and far between, and Yetta was able to switch shifts when she needed to as interviews came up.  It seemed to be the best stop gap measure in the meantime, and it paid more than unemployment, which wasn’t going to last forever, anyway.

One afternoon, a man in a suit, carrying a portfolio, came up to the counter and asked for the manager.  Yetta went to get him from the back, and continued cleaning in the back, preparing for dinner rush.

Yetta figured that he was selling something: restaurant equipment or perhaps some line of food that the restaurant stocked, since vendors often came during the slow times of day when there were few customers.

Shortly after, the manager returned to the kitchen.  He had obviously turned the salesperson away – or so she thought.

When Yetta asked him about it, he told her that he was looking for a job, not selling something.

“But I thought you were looking to hire a couple more people,” Yetta replied, somewhat puzzled.

“Yes,” the manager responded, “But not one of them.  They aren’t good workers.”

Yetta was stunned to realize that the manager meant he wouldn’t even consider hiring an African-American applicant, and even more shocked that someone would blatantly say so.

The manager went on, elaborating about how unreliable “they” are, with a story of some past worker whose car broke down frequently, etc., etc.

“I’m not sure what I said, because I was so shocked,” Yetta recounted.  “I think that mostly, I just listened.  I wish I could have afforded to quit that night, but, of course, I couldn’t.  I started wondering if he liked me for my hard work, or simply because I was a white employee!”

Yetta made a point to be “busy” at work and have little time to chat after that encounter with the manager.  If she didn’t have work to do, she had a book to read, a call to make, or something else to do – but no time to talk with him!

Several more (long!) months passed, and she finally got a job offer in her field, and accepted it.

“I didn’t tell anyone about my boss for a few months, and when I finally did, a friend gave me some good advice: Report him to the EEOC!”  Yetta said.  “I had felt so bad for that young man who came into our restaurant that day.  Here I had been job hunting, too – just like him – and he was told that there was no job available, which was a lie!”

Before she turned in her two weeks’ notice at the restaurant, Yetta decided to Fix It! by notifying the EEOC with details on what her manager had done – and said – about refusing to hire African Americans.

“Now, we know he’ll have a vacancy to fill!” Yetta said.

Zeke* had been looking a while, when he got an offer, then made a counter-offer for the position he wanted.  After a series of shrewd negotiations, he and his new employer arrived at final terms.  His new Vice President even complimented him on his negotiation tactics.

It was clear that the employer hadn’t planned on ending with the terms as they did, but Zeke’s response was that he will work that hard when negotiating on behalf of the company in his new sales position.  His Vice President seemed pleased with this perspective.

At Zeke’s company, all positions are contracted on an annual basis and subject to renewal.  Although Zeke’s sales had been doing quite well in his first year, some of his co-workers were average or below average, falling victim to the tough economic times.

He watched one co-worker not get her contract renewed, shortly before his was due, and became somewhat nervous.  Although his sales were good, he and the Regional Manager didn’t always see eye to eye.  The Regional Manager seemed more interested in finding details to complain about, instead of noticing that Zeke’s overall sales were up.

When it came time to discuss Zeke’s contract renewal, his Regional Manager informed him that, while his contract was being renewed, it was going to be for less base pay – far less!  His quotas were being set higher, and if he exceeded those, his commissions could compensate.

“And the reason I was given for paying me less?”  Zeke was incensed.  “I was told that a new Marketing Assistant was being hired, and the company hadn’t budgeted for it, so they needed the funds!  How pathetic is that?!  What really happened was they looked for some excuse to pay me what they wanted to in the first place!”

In addition, Zeke’s office was taken away, and it was explained that since he was “on the road,” he could share with another sales rep, while the Marketing Department would be using his office.

“So, on the one hand, my commission bar has to be set higher, because I’m so successful, but on the other hand, I deserve a smaller office?” Zeke asked.  “I don’t think so!  I can see the writing on the wall.”

Zeke looked upon this as “one year’s notice,” and decided to Forget It!  He began looking for another job immediately.  Obviously, the Vice President and/or the Regional Manager didn’t really view Zeke’s salary negotiation tactics as a demonstration of what good he’d do for the company, but instead, decided to punish him for it – all the while, taking advantage of whatever sales talent they can get.

It didn’t take the full year, but within about eight months, Zeke had found a position with a company that truly appreciated his talents, instead of pretending to.

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:

Olive’s* boss tells her she’ll hire a man for the job

Orson* finds out his initial salary offer has been altered

Vicki’s* religion is insulted in the workplace

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

 

            

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