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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Job hunting is an uphill climb already, but there are times during the process when the odds truly seem stacked against you. When this happens, it can be very tempting to throw in the towel. See what Tina* and Ulysses* did.

When Tina* approached me about beginning her job search, she was wary and explained that she didn’t like the process of looking for a job.  This wasn’t so unusual, and I tried to discover which part she found difficult:  Crafting her resume?  The interview?  Selecting positions to apply for?  Getting her to respond to my questions turned out to be the hard part, and took more investigation than usual.

It turned out that what was really the most difficult part of job interviewing for Tina was dealing with her sister throughout the process.  Whenever she had decided in the past to conduct a job search, Tina found that her sister’s remarks were so negative, critical and hurtful, that she ended up taking the first thing she could – simply to be done with everything.

“This time,” Tina explained, “I’d like to take the best offer – not the first offer.  But I’m not sure how I can hold out, with my sister’s constant criticism.”

Although my first suggestion was that Tina simply not tell her sister that she was conducting a job search at all, this wasn’t feasible, since she would probably need to ask for her help with babysitting during some interviews.  However, we did decide to delay mentioning the job search until at least the first interview, and downplay everything as much as possible.

In the past, Tina would share her excitement – and disappointment – each time.  This time, her sister wouldn’t have the opportunity to elaborate on anything.

When Tina’s sister finally became aware that she was interviewing and began engaging in her familiar patterns, asking for details, Tina responded as we had rehearsed, by providing very minimal details, with as little description as possible:  “Oh, it’s hard to say.”  “We’ll see.”  “You never know.”  “I’m just going to give it a try.”

When prodding her for further information didn’t work, Tina’s sister attempted to provoke her, as she expected: “Well, when you’re ready to hear the truth, you let me know!”

Tina was prepared this time, and refused to engage in these battles, keeping her eye on the ball.  “Uh, huh.  Gotta go now.  Talk to you later.”

Spending more time and energy on her job search – and less effort fighting with her sister – allowed Tina to select the right job, as she wanted, and not merely the first job that came along.  It took nearly a year, but she is much happier not only with how she was able to Fix It! with her new position, but also in how she now stands up to her sister.

Ulysses* had gotten an interview with an organization he would be pleased to work for in a neighboring city.  He was also impressed, because, although it was a nonprofit, they had offered to pay for his travel expenses.  He hadn’t seen this offer made before at the middle management level, merely for interviews, and figured it was a designation of professionalism that marked this organization as being special.

The first interview went well, as Ulysses met with a couple of people on the development staff.  In addition to the typical interview questions, they asked him specific questions about how he would conduct campaigns for the organization, and handed him their latest direct mail piece, wanting to know his specific opinions about it.

Ulysses, eager to impress his potential employer with his skills, rattled off a variety of items that were good, as well as several that could be improved, and noticed that the assistant director was taking notes furiously.

Later, he was called back for a second interview, which included meeting several more staff members.  Ulysses was pleased that his previous performance put him into the final cut, and planned on showing more of his talents, in the hope of being selected as their newest staff member.

His final meeting of the day was with the Director of Development, who made a point of sharing with him some very specific (and “proprietary”) budget figures, and asking him to strategize – given that “this is our current situation,” where they should focus their efforts next.

Ulysses was quite excited, thinking that surely he was going to be hired, because this type of information was not really something to be shared with a candidate, but really with an internal employee!  If the director is seeking his expertise, he must have already decided to hire him!

Ulysses responded to the question about where the next campaign strategy should focus, as well as some other thoughts, and then finished the rest of the interview.  He went home feeling quite good.

Then a week passed.  Then another week passed – and no word from the organization came.  At all.

Finally, the HR Director contacted Ulysses and told him that the Director of Development had done some “further research” on him and concluded that he really wasn’t “at the level” of fundraising that they needed, and that they were going to open up their search once again.

Adding insult to injury, she said, “So, you don’t need to apply.”

Ulysses felt very deceived!

“For one thing,” he said, “I don’t know what ‘further research’ they’re talking about, because he didn’t speak to any of my references.  They would have told me.  For another, the Director knew ‘at what level’ of funds I’d raised before I had my first interview from my resume, so that wasn’t a surprise.”

Ulysses suspected that there was no job at all, and that the organization was merely “interviewing” candidates for free consulting services.  He particularly believed this because his set of interviews was the second round of interviews.

“I don’t think the HR Director realized that I knew they had already ‘opened up the search again.’” Ulysses told me.

Looking back, Ulysses postulates that their “travel reimbursement” was merely a type of protection, should anyone figure out that they are engaging in this type of behavior, so they can technically say that they are “paying people” for their time.

Although he knows he can Forget It! with respect to this job, Ulysses is carefully considering how to position his expertise for future interviews.  On the one hand, he wants to demonstrate how knowledgeable he is; on the other, it’s a fine line that needs to be walked.  He won’t make the same mistake of giving away everything during the interview again.

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:

Leslie* and Kirk* have different interview difficulties

Noah* and Odelia* learn the power of networking

Blanche* and Arthur* face discrimination

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

It’s easy to think that a job offer – any job offer – should be taken immediately, especially in this economy.  Often, though, many of them need a second look before accepting.  They can be more expensive than you think.

Winnie’s* story wasn’t uncommon.  She worked for a small organization that was hit hard by the economy, and when they had to cut their staff, she was among the “last hired, first fired” list of people to be let go.  Her manager let her know that it was no reflection on her skills and that he would write her a recommendation, as well as be a reference for future interviews.

This became less and less of a consolation as time went on and her interviews continued to be merely job interviews, but no job offers.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Winnie did get an offer from a small nonprofit for a position that wasn’t an exact match, but she viewed it as an exciting growth opportunity.  The organization had created a new position, and she would get to essentially create the direction that the job took.  Mostly, though, Winnie was just thrilled to be employed again – and she was certain that she could fulfill the duties of the position.

A few weeks into her new job, as she was learning the ropes and finishing what seemed to be mounds of HR paperwork, Winnie discovered something that she wished she had paid more attention to during the hiring phase:  her position was grant funded, and only for one year.  She discovered this because she had additional – regular – paperwork that she had to file about her job, to comply with the terms of the grant that funded her job.  The other employees didn’t have to file as many reports, she realized.

Although it was possible that this grant would be extended – or that the organization would find her valuable enough to hire next year in another position – Winnie certainly couldn’t rely upon either of these situations occurring.  She realized that she’d only bought herself one year, and was essentially a temporary employee, still needing to begin another job search!

Winnie and I worked together and made a point to Fix It! by scrutinizing the positions we researched and applied for.  While on the one hand, she was frustrated to have to begin searching once again so soon, she did feel less pressure than before, since she was earning a paycheck while interviewing this time.  She also made a point to network – and asked her manager and other employees for assistance with referrals.

“In a way,” Winnie says, “I had more freedom while searching than typical employees.  Many currently employed people wouldn’t feel free to ask their present employer for help, but since I was under contract for only a year, there was no resentment – or need to hide the fact that I was looking – so I did get referrals and assistance from others.”

Alexandra* is a very shy person, and hates to interview, because, as she puts it, “It means public speaking and bragging about yourself – both things that I’m not good at.”

Alexandra is actually quite good at her job, but often feels that she is overlooked for recognition and/or promotions, as well as taken advantage of by co-workers and managers.  A lot of this stems from her demeanor of being shy, quiet and cooperative.  She works in a mostly male-dominated industry, and those around her often speak up more about their accomplishments.  Alexandra quietly works on her projects without saying much, and frequently gets more than her share of work handed to her.

Eventually, Alexandra’s discomfort at being taken for granted became greater than her discomfort with the interview process, and she approached me about preparing her for beginning a job search.

Several months later, Alexandra had a job offer for something quite a bit better than the conditions she was currently in:  larger organization, better title, pay and benefits – and she accepted.

Upon learning that she was leaving, her manager was shocked.  He conveyed a thinly veiled attempt at congratulating her, followed by an offer to hire her as a part time consultant upon her departure, to “finish up a few things around here.”  He asked her to consider what her rate would be, and she agreed to think it over.

As Alexandra took the weekend to ponder her manager’s offer, she realized that this was actually an attempt to continue making her do the lion’s share of the work in her soon-to-be former office!  Clearly, her manager had known all along that she was essential to getting a great deal of work done – and was worried about her departure.  This way, though, he wanted her to keep doing it – and without being a full time employee?!

Although the additional money was tempting, when Alexandra returned after the weekend, she decided to Forget It! and politely declined, saying, “I really need to focus on my new job and all of its responsibilities, but thanks.”  Her manager was visibly irritated, and she knew that it was because it would be difficult for him to find someone – anyone – not only to do the caliber of work, but also the amount of work that she had been doing.

Alexandra was pleased that this was no longer her problem – and vowed not to repeat the same mistake at her new employer’s.  Taking the lessons she’d learned from talking up her strengths during her interviewing days, she made a point to continue profiling her accomplishments on a regular basis at her new job, 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:

Audrey* and Brian* Don’t Feel Appreciated

Nell* and Otis* Discover Surprises in the Workplace

Lynn* and Murray* Felt Nothing Would Change

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

When researching a company prior to an interview, it’s important to go much further beyond “the corporate face” presented on its website.  These days, a great deal more information is available to guide you in your decision.

With such a tight job market, it’s not uncommon for job seekers to spend six to twelve months looking for the right position.  Of course, much of this depends on a variety of factors, including profession, experience, geographic location, time spent each week actively searching, level of networking, etc., but the fact remains that the market is tough.

Because most searches are lengthy, though, I advise all clients to keep track of not only their past applications and interviews, but also to try to remember the listings that they view, because after time, trends or patterns may start to appear.

Magda* had come very, very close a couple of times as a final candidate, but still hadn’t gotten hired after several months.  However, she had learned a great deal after each interview on how to perform better next time, she felt.

Still, there were some losses that stung more than others.  [Organization Y] was one in particular.  Not only had she been a promising finalist, but the Executive Director concluded the interview with a reassuring, “I’ll call you soon,” only to put her off a couple of days . . . followed by a couple more, until finally, he sent her an email, stating, “Thanks for your interest, but we’ve made an offer to another candidate, and they’ve accepted.”

“That one really hurt,” Magda explained, “Not only because I didn’t get the job, but because of the way I was treated.  It seemed obvious in retrospect that I was the second choice, and had just been strung along until they heard back from the one they made the offer to.  Plus, he couldn’t have done me the courtesy of a phone call?”

Less than a year later, Magda was reviewing job listings, as she does weekly, and – much to her surprise – she saw the same job listing for [Organization Y] appear once again!

“As disappointed as I had been last year,” Magda recounts, “That’s how relieved I was not to have gotten the position, upon reading the listing so soon!”  Although still looking, she was ready to tell [Organization Y] to Forget It! this time.

After a few more months of interviewing, Magda did land a job offer with an organization that was a good fit for her, and thinking back to “the bullet I dodged,” she could see how much she had learned over the past year that helped her select a better, more stable place of employment that she felt good about.

At Ned*’s previous place of employment, he had given his all to the company, which left him virtually no time for socializing or networking.  When he was laid off, he found that he had very few contacts or connections to reach out to, because he hadn’t done much to maintain those relationships while he had been working so hard at his job.  One of our first goals was to Fix It! with regard to his social media skills, which would likely translate to any new position he ended up getting.  Regardless, I explained, they would certainly be of use to him while searching for his next job.

Ned made a point to work up a list of the few dozen companies that he most wanted to work for, then he not only followed them on Facebook and Twitter, but also monitored their LinkedIn activity closely.  In addition to tracking the companies’ job listings, Ned worked on building up his various social networks, regularly adding friends, followers and linking with new contacts as much as possible.

Whenever Ned saw a position that he felt was a good match, we reviewed his various networks – particularly LinkedIn – for possible connections to the company, narrowing down to the department, if it was a larger organization.

If Ned was directly linked to someone at the company, he wrote to them for advice on how best to apply (e.g., “To whom do I send my resume?  What is her/his email?”).  If he was a second degree connection, he would ask for an introduction to the right company person, or advice on how to proceed, if they knew.

In many cases, this approach led to expanding Ned’s network even further as he continued his job search.

A great deal of “background research” not found on company home pages was to be gleaned from company social media channels, including peripheral channels, such as employees’ blogs, Twitter feeds and posts to LinkedIn groups that were often fed back through the employees’ personal pages.

This type of up-to-date knowledge helped Ned impress others during interviews, establish more contacts, and ultimately, get hired in his new position.  (He also makes a point to continue networking since having been hired.)

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:

Eileen* and Frieda* research social media and email marketing

Noah* and Odelia* learn the importance of networking

Nell* and Otis* witness effects of sour workplace networking

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Previously, I discussed people with long term career goals in mind.  This economy has focused many on the here-and-now, however.  The only reason here-and-now people interview is that they’ve reached their breaking point.

Everyone has a “deal breaker” (or more than one) when job hunting, and it’s best to know what those are when going in for the interview.  Even better: Consider how to pose questions that will get these situations and attitudes revealed, prior to accepting an offer.  It stings to discover later that you’ve landed into a breaking point situation only after having taken the job . . . especially if you left another position to do so.

Of course, not all of these circumstances can be anticipated or screened for ahead of time.  Gretchen* had no idea what she was getting into when she accepted her position as office manager at a company’s local office.  During the interview, everyone seemed pleasant enough.

Actually, the people at her office are nice to be around, but she quickly discovered that the brunt of her job entails fending off creditors for the regional office, including explicit instructions to lie outright to them.  Her company deliberately doesn’t position anyone with power at the local office, and if they happen to visit, local staff are instructed not to call them by name in front of any visitors, lest they be bill collectors.

Gretchen has also been given a litany of instructions, including only to “take a message” or give callers the local address for mailing statements, rather than ever give out contact information about the regional office to anyone.

It didn’t take long before the stress levels of Gretchen’s daily routine rose immensely, since she ended up dealing with hostile people that she was blamed for giving the runaround to.  They wanted answers, and she could only cite the speech she’d been given, knowing that they’d fall into the hole intended for them.  They knew it too, eventually, and would be furious with her.

Gretchen could only take being the scapegoat for so long, and decided to Forget It! when she contacted me to start looking for another position.  Of course, it took several months of looking before she found something, so in the meantime, we worked on her detachment from the hostility, so she didn’t feel personally hated by so many callers.  We also made a point to search for consumer – and other – reviews online when interviewing with future companies.  This action, we discovered, would have helped shine a light on her current company’s reputation.

Holly* never has understood why she’s been treated differently at her job by her boss than her co-worker.  She arrived first at the sales firm, with a good record, and showed stellar performance in telemarketing for the first year.  Her feedback from the boss was always a sanitized “That’s nice,” but she figured that he wasn’t the warm and friendly type.  That was ok with her.

When he hired an outside sales person, however, things changed.  He did provide warmer feedback to her.  She didn’t just get good feedback, she got praise.  When new items came up for sale, he made a point to tell her, mentioning the employee discount – and on some occasions, offering an additional one.  Holly happened to overhear this, but no mention was made to her, and no extra discounts on any items.

Later, after the co-worker returned from maternity leave, the manager made special arrangements with her work schedule so that she could work from home one day per week.  Holly thought that this was nice for the co-worker (and reasonable).  A couple of months later, she asked the manager for permission to work from home on a special project that lasted for two weeks and was lectured instead!

While Holly bore no ill will toward her co-worker, she couldn’t see how it was more reasonable to let someone who does outside sales to work from home for a several month stint, versus someone who does telemarketing, for a very limited scope.

Holly was frustrated over these inequities when she contacted me, but wasn’t quite sure she was at the deal breaking point.  On the other hand, she wondered how much farther it would go.  Also, what – if anything – could she do about it?

The more we discussed her overall situation, Holly explained that she had a great many responsibilities at home, and unless and until she absolutely had to, she would rather not add another task such as a job search to her to-do list.  However, she was tired of feeling helpless at work, while her manager continued taking advantage of her.  What if he crossed a line?

Holly decided to stay and Fix It! by doing a couple of things differently.  She diligently wrote down each and every example she could think of where she had been treated outright unfairly in comparison to other employees, including the (approximate) date, place, and anyone it happened in front of.  (She even brought them up in conversation casually to the witnesses, with, “You remember when . . . ?” for verification, which helped not only jog their memory, but hers, when they mentioned things she’d forgotten.)

She also made a point to record anything her manager did moving forward, including saving emails.

For preventive measures, Holly made attempts to socialize a bit more outside her department, particularly with the co-worker that her manager seemed to like so much.  They hadn’t liked or disliked one another strongly, but didn’t really spend much time together one way or another previously.   We thought it couldn’t hurt to improve her PR image within the company.

Finally, regardless of what anyone else thought of Holly, we sought to reduce her daily stress by making the trip to and from work more pleasant with her station cued to jazz, and her workplace rearranged with some photos of loved ones.  Various audio and video cues helped to remind her throughout the day, during stressful times, why she was there – and for whom.  She and a friend also text each other once a day, to check in.  They have an arrangement so that there’s always at least one person to say something nice to them daily . . . and nobody overhears the conversation.

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:

Gloria* and Herman* felt stressed and isolated at work

Xavier* and Wendy* worked for difficult bosses

How Best To Prepare To Fix It Or Forget It?

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

One of the first things I assess with a client is their career goals – both short- & long-term.  Many people assume that theirs are the same as everyone else’s, but they’re not.  They’re as diverse as those who seek my help.

For quite a few people, making rent is the immediate and overwhelming goal, but for others, having a flexible schedule is more important, so they can attend class, pick up the kids, or tend to their aging parents, etc.  Still others find it necessary to do challenging or interesting work during the day, or be around people  (“I’d just die if I had to do data entry all day!”), while others prefer a more solitary environment and appreciate the absence of gossip and politicking that comes with too many co-workers.  And these categories only begin to cover the clients who are seeking something.

There’s another litany of job seekers who haven’t found the time to do this yet.  It’s too luxurious.  Their current job situation is too hellacious and they can only focus on escaping whatever prison they’ve been sentenced to report to everyday.  It’s more common for this type of worker to seek help from a career counselor, because they are at or near their wit’s end.  These stories are for another days’ column, however.

Many clients are mindful of their careers in addition to their paycheck, location, hours and day-to-day activities, too.  They really do think about “Where will I be in five years?” and “How is this helping me to get there?”  Wherever you’re at in your continuum, it pays to extend the effort so that the next job is better than the last one you had . . . each and every time.  If you take care to ensure this, you are making progress in your career.

Frances*came to me to begin her job search because she felt that she had done all she could in terms of career growth at her present position after several years at the same nonprofit.  Although she had been successful, she didn’t feel that she would really learn much more there, and it was too small an organization for her to move any higher.  Her director was a poor mentor, and although she could probably do her job a bit better, she knew her director wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.  The only way to gain more experience was to leave for someplace larger, with a more experienced staff, she concluded.

It wasn’t long before Frances landed an interview with a nonprofit that was slightly larger.  It was also older and steeped in more tradition, which was promising.  One of the problems, Frances felt, with her current place, was that the organization itself was less than ten years old, and was going through some growing pains.

When Frances and I debriefed after her interview, I pointed out a couple of segments of the conversation that could have been answered better by the organization, so she followed up on these items during her second interview.

Frances wasn’t impressed with the responses to her follow up questions, however.  Instead of hearing about how they wanted her talents to take them to new levels, she consistently felt that they were telling her, “This is our tradition . . . it’s the way we’ve always done it.  We just want more of it.”

Initially Frances had been tempted to accept the position, since they clearly wanted to hire her.  It was more salary and managing a larger department, but looking ahead several years, she felt that she wouldn’t really be able to say she accomplished anything new – just larger versions of the same campaigns she’d already been managing.  She decided to Forget It! and politely declined the position.

“I hope I don’t regret this in the months to come,” Frances told me, knowing that job searches can take a long, long time.

A few months later, Frances was at a large networking luncheon and happened to sit next to the gentleman she had turned down for the position.  They politely exchanged greetings and while catching up, she mentioned that she was still looking for employment and asked how his new hire was working out.

The director told her that he was “okay,” but not nearly as skilled as Frances.  He went on to explain it’s meant he’s had to invest in him attending events such as these networking luncheons and other trainings, in order to bring him up to par.  He expressed regret that they couldn’t work something out so that she ended up working for his organization instead of the new hire.

Then, as the director continued, lamenting about his new hire not being “so bad, though,” Frances saw him motion to the other side of him, to a man who was speaking with another person at the table!  She couldn’t believe it!  The director had been talking in a disparaging tone about his new employee the entire time he was sitting there!  Luckily, she thought, he was otherwise engaged in a conversation, and probably hadn’t heard what his new boss said, but she was still stunned!

“That incredible indiscretion on his part put to rest any doubts I had about my decision to turn down a position working for him – or that organization!” Frances said.  “I’d much rather wait and find the right fit!”

Several more months of interviewing went by for Frances, but ultimately she was able to accept a position with an organization that was much better suited to her and her career goals.  She was able to Fix It! by taking her time and not settling for something that wouldn’t have put her on the path to where she wanted to go.

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:

Craig* and Debbie* worked for directors with commitment issues, preventing progress

Gwen* and Howard* had bosses whose myopic views left no room for employee input

(When) Should I Start Looking Elsewhere?

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