People

What you say vs. what others hear

July 29, 2008 Communication, Job hunting, People 1 comment

As you work through life, and especially the job hunt, never forget that what you say may not be what others hear. Your message often has unintended side messages.

This article from the Wall Street Journal discusses how job candidates trash their chances of landing jobs by using overly informal communications.

After interviewing a college student in June, Tory Johnson thought she had found the qualified and enthusiastic intern she craved for her small recruiting firm. Then she received the candidate’s thank-you note, laced with words like “hiya” and “thanx,” along with three exclamation points and a smiley-face emoticon…. Workers in their 20s and younger are accustomed to online and cellphone messaging, and the abbreviated lingua franca that makes for quick exchanges, [David Holtzman] says. “It’s just natural for them. They don’t realize that it’s perceived to be disrespectful.”

Sometimes it’s not even the medium or the message, but when you send the message.

Executive recruiter Hal Reiter recently received … a thank you from a chief financial officer candidate sent by BlackBerry just minutes after the interview. “You don’t even have time to digest the meeting and you’re getting a thank-you note,” says Mr. Reiter, chairman and chief executive of Herbert Mines Associates, a New York-based search firm.

In this case, the very method of sending the communication told the recipient that it wasn’t worth much of the candidate’s time. The candidate was on his way somewhere else and dashed off a reply, as if he was getting an odious task off his checklist, rather than giving a respectful letter that matched the gravity of the communication.

It’s all about respect, and the ways that we can easily show our lack of respect or interest in others. Unintentional messages are messages none the less.

No overnight successes building your personal network

June 3, 2008 People No comments

The always-insightful Seth Godin writes in Not so grand about the silliness of grand openings on a business.

Most overnight successes take a decade…. [T]he best way to promote something is consistently and persistently and for a long time.

The same holds true for your personal brand, and your relationships with others in the working world. The term I like to use is “time and repetition.”

The worst reason to quit your job

February 19, 2008 People, Work life No comments

When you’re in a job that makes you unhappy, it can be easy to start thinking about making a move elsewhere. Maybe the work’s not as fun any more, or you’re not advancing when you should be. While there are plenty of good reasons to leave, there’s one that shouldn’t enter your mind: Not liking the people you work with, even if it’s your boss.


It doesn’t seem like something you’re likely to be able to get past. You deal with them every day. But don’t think that you can go to a new job that will be jerk-free.


The jerks of the world follow you around. Remember how there were people in school you didn’t like? And then in college there were people just like them? And then your first job, you get a new set of people, most of whom you like, but some are jerks, too? They are everywhere.


What’s more, they move around. You can be in a perfectly swell department, with a great boss and great co-workers, and blammo! In comes some socially stunted goober who screws it all up. Or who can’t code his way out of a paper sack. Or maybe your boss decides to take off and gets replaced by some micromanager who calls you “Pal”.


You might think a bad boss is a bigger deal than a bad co-worker, and it is to a degree. When a boss is bad, it has bigger effects on you than just an incompetent co-worker in the next cube, so that much is the case. When you dig deeper, though, it’s more an issue of the company and company culture than about any individual person.


Imagine working at the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin (on the US version of the TV show “The Office”). It’s not that so much that Michael Scott is a terrible boss, but that he’s allowed to keep his job in the face of his egregrious shortcomings. Michael has problems, but the company doesn’t care, or doesn’t seem to care. You take pride in your work, but why doesn’t the company show the same pride?


The distinction between the bad co-workers and the company that allows them to work is an important one. The bad co-worker or bad boss may go away over time, but the company is a larger problem that may be well entrenched. Before you make for the door, make sure you know what the problem actually is. If it’s just a person or two that rub you wrong, you’re probably better off to live with it for a while until things change.

Your second most important relationship

September 3, 2006 Job hunting, People, Work life No comments

As I sit here on this Labor Day weekend, I ponder who it is we labor for. I want you to as well.

Most of us in the computer industries are lucky enough to be doing what we love. Programming, system administration and the like are in our blood. We’ve done it as a hobby, and now we’re getting paid relatively large amounts to do it. Plenty of other people don’t have it nearly as good as we do.

And yet, so many of us are unhappy with where we’re at. We work with jerks, or the companies we work for have Mickey Mouse rules that treat us like children, or even worse, hourly workers. Maybe you’re in a company with motivational posters on the wall where you can’t miss ’em when you have to take a leak. It’s a sort of ongoing battle for your soul, where the day-to-day grinds down at you and makes you miserable over time.

Seems to me, however, that the most common source of bad jobs is having the bad boss.

I had lunch with my friend I’ll call Bob who had just been let go from his job after a short, confusing month. His boss was vague in expectations, yet also a micromanager. He’d demanded on Wednesday that Bob have a project done by Monday morning at 9am, because it was Crucial To The Company. On Friday night, after Bob returned home from a long-planned dinner with his wife and some friends, he found in his inbox on his return a note: “I see you logged off at 6pm, this project is crucial to the company.” The boss badgered him all weekend until Bob finally declared that his work was done on Sunday.

Add to this that even though Bob had the work done, there were other unspoken, unmet expectations. The boss rattled them off to Bob at his summary firing, but Bob didn’t understand them after the fact.

I offered “It doesn’t sound like much of a loss. Your boss was crazy, or stupid, or just a bad boss. He wasn’t like that when he interviewed you, was he?” Bob replied “I’m glad you think he was a bad boss, because I kind of picked that up in the interview.”

Now here’s what astonishes me. Here’s a guy who’s a good programmer, who works hard, and yet he’s willing to take a job with someone who he strongly suspected of being dumb and/or crazy.

Bob’s not the only one, of course, or I wouldn’t be writing this. I’ve got other friends who jump into a job relationship hoping for the best, and coming out miserable. Some people may be desperate and have no choice, but it happens so often, that can’t be the case most of the time.

I suspect that most people miss that word “relationship”, because it is exactly that.

Your job is a relationship.

It’s a relationship with your boss, yes, but it’s also a relationship with the company, with your co-workers, with the commute, with everything that goes into your job.

It’s a relationship that you spend 40+ hours a week on. How many hours a week do you actually spend awake with your spouse? Probably a little bit more than that, but it’s roughly the same in size.

The relationship with your employer is as important to look at as the relationship with your spouse. That means both before and after you commit.

I’ll write more about this in weeks to come, as I work on my upcoming book, Pragmatic Job Hunting.