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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, August 22nd, 2012

In an ideal work situation, co-workers and managers can not only get along in their jobs, but hopefully, can have some personal relationships that make the days more pleasant and meaningful as well. That’s not always the case, though.  See what Kathy* and Lisa* faced.

Kathy* thought she was making a routine call to her daughter’s day care center, merely to tell them that her neighbor would be picking up her daughter, ironically, because she was going to be working late.

“If I had known what was about to take place, I certainly would have made the call privately on my cell, and not from my work phone in my cubicle, for everyone to hear,” she explained.

The manager of the daycare took the opportunity to lambast her for a delinquent payment and nearly threaten to expel her child on the spot, if she didn’t make immediate arrangements for payment of her balance by the end of the day.

Kathy was so shocked, flustered, apologetic – and embarrassed that all of her co-workers and supervisor could hear – that she was nearly in tears by the time she hung up the phone, promising to have the money within a couple of days.

“I felt as though I had been publicly spanked by the principal, or something,” Kathy recalls.  “I was still fairly new to this job, and trying really hard to make a good impression.  With that single phone call, I felt that my reputation was gone.  It was all I could do to not burst out crying.”

Then, she was surprised by what happened next.  Her manager came over and insisted that she come out “for coffee” with her, across the street, to the coffee shop.

“I thought it was nice of her to give me a breather,” Kathy recalls, “But I was totally unprepared for what happened next.”

Kathy’s manager asked her how much money she needed to pay her balance – and lent her the money on the spot, saying she could pay her back “whenever she could”!

“I couldn’t believe it!”  Kathy said.  “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t dream of asking for myself, but for my kid is another matter.  Plus, I didn’t ask . . . she offered.  I remember thinking it was like a gift from heaven – and that I was really lucky to have found this job.  Also, I was going to work extra hard for my new boss!”

For the next couple of weeks, Kathy was very pleased to have the financial buffer – and showed it, by working that much harder, coming in a bit early and working a bit late.

After a while, however, Kathy began  noticing a difference in her manager’s behavior – particularly toward her.

Whenever there was an extra job – especially a menial one – she asked Kathy to do it.

“The first hundred times, I was quick to volunteer,” Kathy explained, “But it started to wear thin after that.  I have skills, too, and they go beyond doing her photocopying and getting her coffee, you know?”

When everyone was going to go out to lunch to celebrate someone’s engagement, Kathy’s manager asked, “Are you sure you’ll be able to do that?”  The double implication was that Kathy had too much work to be able to leave the office for the long lunch . . . as well as should she spend the money on eating out?

“I hated myself for it, but I stayed in and worked on finishing her project instead of going out with the gang.”  Kathy told me.  “It was like a turning point, though.  I realized that she seemed to think she bought me, or something, with that loan.  I had to pay it back in full – and soon.”

Kathy and I first worked out a strict payment schedule, so that she could escape the obvious indentured servitude that her boss viewed her as being in.

Next, we found ways for her to defer the various requests of photocopying, coffee, recycling and other menial tasks, without saying “no,” such as, “Oh, I’m about to head that way myself . . . as soon as I finish this ____ report that the director needs.  I can get to it as soon as this is done.”  (Of course, “this” would end up taking a good 30 minutes or so.  If her other task was really important, she’d probably go do it herself before then – or ask her assistant.)

Obviously, it wasn’t enough to get out from under the image of being servile – Kathy needed to document and highlight the important projects that she was working on and contributing to.  Her record keeping of the important projects that she produced helped her to Fix It! when she presented portions of her projects – and their successes – at the next annual staff meeting.

By then, she was rarely photocopying, opening mail or doing other tasks that were not in her job description, so people on staff began to see her for what her job description truly was, and not her manager’s lackey any longer.  (She also makes a point to have all personal calls off site on her cell phone.)

Lisa* worked for a manager who turned out to be an absolute tyrant.  She came to me after a particular set of circumstances occurred at work.

“I guess I knew he was awful, but it became clear just how bad when he was out sick several months ago.”

Lisa works for a medical equipment supply company, and the policy regarding sick leave is pretty strict, because the sales staff often encounters both people with difficult conditions and weakened immune systems.

“If you’re sick, you stay home,” Lisa explained, and you CAN’T return until you’re 100% well.”

Apparently, her manager was on sick leave for several weeks with something that weakened him substantially.

“I never thought of myself as the type of person to take joy in another’s suffering, but I can’t begin to describe how thrilled and relieved I was, every day he wasn’t there!”

“It’s such a different environment,” she explained, “Not being someone’s target all day long.  It’s a much better way to work!

“For a while,” Lisa said, “After he returned, things were tolerable . . . but that’s only because he was both weak & overwhelmed.  It didn’t take him long to become hostile and blame me for anything that didn’t go right each day.”

Lisa then found herself, upon hearing about some epidemic in the news, wishing he would catch it!

“Later, while returning from lunch, I overheard chatter of a bad four car pileup not far from our office . . . I found myself checking the employee lot for his car!”

Lisa explained that working at this company, for someone so hateful, was “turning me into somebody I don’t like.”

She knew the job search might be long and tough, but wanted to Forget It! with this employer.

I helped Lisa with her job search, but explained that most people’s searches have been taking up to a year, and that one of the most important assets she’ll need to have is a positive attitude to help her find the next position – since employers don’t care to hire workers who want to “escape” their current job.

This took the greatest amount of effort on Lisa’s part, but it was also what she wanted to work on the most, since it was what motivated her to look elsewhere to begin with.  She didn’t care for what her current environment was doing to her outlook.

It also helped her achieve something else necessary for any job hunt:  good references.  Although her immediate supervisor wouldn’t be a candidate, there were other people who ended up serving well in this capacity when it came time for Lisa to accept a job offer.

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:

Paul* is Only Known For His Coffee

Duane* was Dubbed the Office Killjoy

What Does Labor Day Mean to You?

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Things aren’t always what they seem to be, so it’s best not to make assumptions. Sometimes criticism – or compliments – in the workplace aren’t deserved or appropriate and are actually resented. See what Amy* and Billie* did.

Even though Amy* brought in many more new clients than her goal, her boss marked her overall review as “meets expectations.”  She was very disappointed and asked her manager why – and to reconsider.

The boss explained that her messy desk reflected poorly on him, and his regional manager had remarked about it the past few times he was in town.

“Perception IS reality,” her boss explained to her.  “If you want to be treated as a professional, you need to act AND look like one – in all areas.”

“I was so angry,” Amy said, “That I wanted to quit then and there!  Not only did I not get the credit I deserved for boosting sales above and beyond the call of duty, but I knew damn well that HE was going to take credit for our regional sales increases when speaking to his boss . . . most of which was my doing!”  She also felt that she was judged more harshly on this “tidy desk” policy than her male co-workers, although she did admit that her desk was messy as well.

Although I completely agreed with Amy that her manager was underhanded and a poor communicator, I asked her to look at the situation rationally for a moment.  Considering the job market, she was likely looking at a minimum of six months of active job hunting, interviewing, etc.  It was entirely possible that her job search could take a full year, given the current competition and tight market.

It was also possible that her manager was not being truthful, and even if she did keep her work area tidy, he would find some excuse not to rate her favorably (in order to avoid giving her a raise and/or promotion) in the future.

However, there could be a chance that responding to his feedback – and being vigilant about reducing her workspace clutter – would result in a positive outcome.  After all, each manager has their own idiosyncrasies and each workplace has its own culture.  The most successful employees learn and respect these.

Bottom line, I asked Amy:  In which area did she want to spend her efforts, and which would yield the best payoff?

Amy considered my questions and admitted that her manager is quite the meticulous neat-freak type.  She decided to take the Fix It! approach and make a concerted effort to honor his request for a more presentable workspace – but only for six months . . . until the mid-year review.

If by then, he hadn’t altered his assessment and focused more on her skills and accomplishments, then she would put all of her efforts toward a new job search, having realized that he was only blowing smoke before, and had no intention of ever recognizing her for her talents.

Amy was pleased to learn at her next review that her manager had a glowing report for her!  She was happy at the course of action she chose.  Although she still considers him to be somewhat superficial, she can deal with the picky side of him . . . as long as he continues to pay attention to what really counts on the job.

Billie* had recently lost a lot of weight and got complimented on it.  In fact, she noticed quite a few more perks were coming her way, aside from the verbal compliments.  She started getting more cooperation from people who used to ignore her, she was included in more upper-level planning meetings, paid respect to by managers who previously found her invisible – but now suddenly seemed to remember her name and copied her on emails, and so on.

What Billie didn’t mention to anyone in her office was that she had recently had a cancer screening test, and was relieved to discover that, although it was positive, she was only diagnosed with Stage 1.

She had banked enough vacation so that most of her treatments and doctor visits were taken during “vacation days,” and when that didn’t work out, or she was too weak or nauseous, she would simply call in “sick.”  This, she felt, wasn’t much of a stretch of the truth, but she would attribute her “illness” to the flu, or something else instead.

With her new found clout, nobody seemed to even question her additional time off – just compliment her on how good she now looked, ironically.

“As soon as I begin to hit a certain milestone of being totally cancer-free,” Billie said, “I plan to Forget It! and look for work elsewhere, but frankly, I can’t afford to yet.  I’m too weak to start over someplace else and begin the interview process, and I’m worried about being able to finding the same healthcare coverage.”

“Plus,” Billie explained, “Interviewing means more time off, and I need it all for treatments and recovery right now.  I won’t miss these incredibly shallow people once I’m gone, though.  I don’t dare tell anyone what’s really going on.”

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:

Opal* is Publicly Chided About Her Weight At Work

Gloria’s* Home Stress Trumped Work Stress For Some Time

Hannah* Had Problems Getting Hired, Even When Cancer-Free

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Job interviewing can be stressful enough by itself, but what happens when you and a friend wind up competing for the same position? How do you maintain the friendship during and after? See what Imelda* and Josie* did.

Both Imelda and Josie were clients of mine who not only had me design their resumes, but sought my career counseling services. They also knew one another professionally for some time and had become friends over the years.

A particular position had been advertised recently that they each wanted to apply for, and they knew that the competition would be fierce, so they wanted to be especially prepared. They both wanted to hire me to coach them, knowing the other would also be using my services to try to get the position as well.

This was an unusual situation – and an unusual couple of friends – that I encountered.

The first thing that I instructed each of them to do was to make absolutely certain that nobody in the hiring process knew that they knew the other was applying, or that they were doing this “as friends.” Nothing turns off an HR director faster than applicants who come in pairs, because it’s an immediate sign of weakness — that someone needs a prop just to make it to an interview.

I also asked each of them to seriously consider how they were going to feel if the other one got the job when it was all over. Perhaps it would be better to take a hiatus from their friendship during the interview process, so they wouldn’t have to Fix It later?

Each of them laughed at my suggestion and told me (separately) that they had already agreed that if one of them got the job, she would treat the other one to dinner out on the town.

Nevertheless, I assured them both that my sessions with each of them would remain confidential. Whatever I learned from one of them during the process, I wouldn’t be sharing with the other, and vice versa.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to reassure anyone, as both Imelda and Josie freely shared interview information with one another! I spent time coaching each of them on how to prepare for the recruiter they dealt with, which got them both through the phone interview and first and second face-to-face interviews.

Imelda was scheduled earlier than Josie for the first face to face interview, and filled her in on everything that happened, so that she was very prepared for it – including the need to leave early enough so she wouldn’t have to speed! (Imelda got a ticket on her way to the interview!)

Josie reciprocated when she had the second interview before Imelda, leaving her knowing what to expect before she walked in to meet with the interviewers, for the most part.

After the second interview, they were both notified that they had made it into the final three candidates and would be called back for the third and final interview in the next couple of weeks! They were both thrilled!

A couple of weeks went by, however, and the recruiter mentioned reason after reason why there would be delays in scheduling the final interview . . . among the remaining four candidates.

Four? This seemed odd. Imelda and Josie were grateful that they could confirm with someone else that they had initially been told there were three remaining candidates. “Ok, now I know I’m not crazy,” Imelda said. “You heard it, too. They just changed it on us, and figured we didn’t notice?”

The entire tone of the final interview seemed to change, they both also noticed. Everyone seemed polite enough, but more rote, as though they were on “auto pilot,” Josie recounted.

It turned out that neither Imelda nor Josie were hired, but politely thanked for their time and effort – which ended up being considerable!

Several weeks later, they checked the organization’s website to see who did get the position, and it turned out to be someone who already worked at the organization!

“So much for the identity of the mystery fourth,” said Josie. “I suppose they’ll be listing his position soon.”

“If the recruiter contacts us for that position,” Imelda said, “He can Forget It!  The organization is clearly poorly managed. If they wanted to hire from within, why spend a fortune on a recruiter and the better part of a year to do so?”

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:

(When) Should I Start Looking Elsewhere?

Arlene* and Burt* Face Challenging Interviews

Wilma* and Zoe* Downplay Their Skills For Interviews

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