The Fallacies of Training

I talk quite a bit on this blog about the freelance work I do, as well as the fact that I’m an author. That said, it’s not common that I bring up my day job. I generally don’t feel like this is the right place to talk about it in most circumstances. While there are some exceptions, the more I can keep my work life and my blogging life separate, the better I think the content I create is in both places.

My day-to-day for the past four and a half years1Across tenures with two different companies. That said, I’ve also been tasked with running training at multiple places before I officially got a trainer designation. has been a combination of training instructor, instructional designer, technical writer, and (occasionally) professional development coach. When taken as a whole, I’m going to classify these responsibilities as training, not just for ease of explanation throughout this post2As referring to it as Learning and Development or L&D is just silly., but also because training is more than just the act of standing in front of a room and telling people how to do their job. I find training to be a generally fulfilling job, however not everything about the role is particularly gratifying.

In my time as a trainer, there’s a handful of common fallacies about training that I’ve encountered regularly. These items tend to come up regardless of the company I’ve worked for, independent of departments of subject matter experts (SMEs) I’m working with, and commonly arise regardless of the nature of the project as well. I wanted to take some time to talk about them at the request of a friend of mine who recently stated she was considering getting into training, as well as to serve as a critical thinking exercise for myself about how corporate adult education is handled.

1. Your leaders and employees have very different perceptions of employee knowledge.

One of the first things I learned when I moved into a training role was that no one can agree on how much employees know about a given topic. Let’s say you’re a trainer for The Business Company3aka my favorite fictional company to use in pretty much any example thing I do.. Your first training task is to retrain your customer service team on supporting your primary product — Business Widgets. Your employees, on average, will say that they know 80-85% of everything they need to know about Business Widgets. Your leaders, on average, will say that your employees know 30-35% of everything they need to know about Business Widgets. While there will be individual employees and leaders who will have different answers for you (some objective, some not), you’ll find that this will be the general range you’re in.

The reality will be somewhere in the middle. Your employees, even the well-trained, long-tenured employees likely won’t know every single thing they need to know to do their job. Likewise, the leaders that assume your employees know little to nothing about their job are likely greatly underestimating the ability of those employees to do their job. This disconnect is common, if not expected. After all, employees are (generally) so focused on the minutia of their job that they don’t see how the mistakes they make impact the larger picture for the company. Similarly, departmental or divisional leaders are typically so disconnected from the reality of a front-line employee that they misinterpret a downtick in performance as a downtick in knowledge4There’s a separate fallacy that causes this issue as well, that being the use of small sample sizes to make training and staffing decisions rather than trended or longitudinal data.. Even leaders who used to be front-line employees fall into this trap, particularly the longer they’ve been separated from that role.

As a trainer, the key way to manage these expectations is to do your best to remind both sides of this debate that training is a process that everyone goes through. For leaders, remind them that their front-line employees are the experts in their role for a reason — and while they may need refinement on certain topics or in particular pieces of knowledge, there’s a reason they were hired to handle the hard work of their role. For employees, a lesson on the concept of an asymptote is probably the best way to get your point across. No matter how much those employees learn, there will always be more to learn. Even though they’re getting closer and closer to perfection, it will always be just out of reach because there’s something new that can be learned in all situations.

2. Developing quality content takes time.

So you’ve determined that you need to train your front-line employees on how to support Business Widgets. Great. Now it’s time to create the training content that your training department will be delivering. In a best case scenario, this will likely entail gathering all of the content you need from pre-existing materials and conducting your training. More likely though, particularly if The Business Company is a technology organization or if the company has not created training materials before, you’ll have to create this training largely from scratch. Any learning and development professional will know that this takes time, as you have to consider numerous factors. What’s the best method of delivery for this training? Who is your audience? How long does this training need to be reusable for? How much time are your leaders going to allot to training5Spoiler: The answer is usually “less than you’ll need”.? How will you assess learning and knowledge retention from the material covered in the training6We’ll talk about this point more a little later in this post.?

That said, individuals who don’t have a background in training or instructional design will commonly assume that all that needs done to make a training is to slap a PowerPoint together, get people in a room, and start talking. That takes, what, a couple of hours, right?

Hearing that previous statement happens more often than you might expect. Leaders: making that statement is the quickest way to drive your learning and development staff to insanity. Yes, we could throw something together quickly for whatever content needs taught. But in order to create training materials that will last, that will teach employees well, and that will ensure they’re retaining information, your learning and development staff needs time. This is to say nothing of if that content also needs to be created for a learning management system (LMS), if audio or video recordings are needed, or if there’s other mitigating factors that will delay the content from being created quickly. The creation of learning materials is not instant. If you’re a training professional, be sure to set clear and reasonable expectations with your leaders about this point.

3. Everyone will agree on assessment — until assessment is ready to be conducted.

Assessment, in my estimation, is the most critical part to a comprehensive training program. Assessment allows you get a gauge on how your employees are doing in terms of knowledge retention, as well as the ability to identify areas for future training where your employees are currently struggling. That said, assessment is more than that. Assessment allows you to turn training from a one-way interaction where your training staff teaches employees what to do and changes it into a two-way interaction where both your trainer and your trainees gain valuable insight and provide critical feedback to one another.

That said, the level to which assessment will be accepted within your organization will largely depend on how much buy-in you can generate from your leadership team. At a previous job, I spent a ton of time creating this comprehensive technical assessment for technical support representatives at the behest of leadership. This assessment was to be a three hour long assessment conducted yearly in order to get a full look at what areas an employee may need training on. We went through the design, planning, and beta testing phase of the assessment, getting all the way to our launch date with no concerns from anyone in leadership. Then, three days into our assessment cycle, our director announced that he was changing roles effective immediately. The new director felt that knowledge assessment shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes of a rep’s time, so the project was shelved, only to be rolled out again nearly a year later after a massive redesign. Unfortunately, one hole created by that redesign was that the partial set of data obtained before the project was shelved was no longer relevant, due to changes in the technology the reps were supporting in the time that had passed.

While I don’t have a ton of advice for how to handle a massive organizational leadership change like the one described above, it does highlight the fact that the way assessment is viewed varies drastically person to person. Everyone agrees that you need to understand what your employees are struggling with. But while some folks want to determine that all in one fell swoop, others will want to break that judging up into bite-sized pieces. Whatever length and depth your assessment needs to be will vary based on your circumstances. I will note that no matter how much time I’ve budgeted towards assessment in my training plans, I’ve nearly always received push back from those above me saying ‘that’s too much time’ or something to that effect. If your knowledge assessment for your training really matters, be prepared to fight for it. It’s likely the first thing that non-training professional will look to cut from your training program.

4. Your leaders need to learn too. And not just leadership training.

One of the easiest sells I’ve ever had to make when pitching a training program was to say that organizational leaders/managers/leads/supervisors/etc need to receive the same attention in training that front line reps do. Everyone wants to feel like they’re getting attention from other groups, so hearing that training had an interest in them made the managers I’ve pitched training to ecstatic. What was a much harder sell, however, was to tell them that the training they needed was not solely management exclusive training.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of leadership training topics that are critical components of any leadership development program. Whether it be teaching your managers how to coach more effectively, how to be more discerning interviewers, or even how to apply their interpersonal skills more successfully to work with their managerial peers, you’ll find there’s a lot managers want to learn about7And this isn’t even when considering common managerial courses like sexual harassment training, legal compliance like Sarbanes-Oxley, or IT security training.. But in most cases, your leadership team likely needs a limited amount of training in the skills, product or process knowledge, or even job-specific functions that their direct reports need to know. Getting your leaders to sign onto this training is challenging. Getting them to show up — or to take an online course, if that’s the modality you’re using — is likely just as challenging, if not more so.

Although there will be a certain subset of leaders who will feel like any training not directly made for them is beneath them and is not worth their time, the best way I’ve found to present this type of training is to push it as a way to further a connection with their team members. Seeing their manager in a training with them can foster conversation on the topics covered in training with the employee’s manager. It serves to show that even though an employee may report to a manager, that manager is still human and looking to learn just like the employee. For online courses, managers can take advantage of the self-paced nature to allow themselves time to complete the training, take notes over whatever they’d like to discuss, and potentially review in team huddles or meetings. It’s a great way to make managers part of the training process, as well as to reinforce content while you’re at it.

5. Someone with a higher title than you will make you redesign your training and make it worse.

This is just reality. While learning and development professionals often have some level of creative control over the content that they’re creating, designing, and facilitating, these professionals do reports to someone higher on the corporate food chain than them. And occasionally, someone higher up on that ladder is going to force you to change your training in some way and it will make it less effective. This could mean you’re not training the full cohort of people you intended to train. It might mean that you’re now forced to train a module that is much more effective online in a classroom because that leader doesn’t want to have to do the training at a computer. There’s a chance that the person above you has decided to fully change the program you’re designing.

While these changes are rarely, if ever, meant maliciously, it can be frustrating, particularly when you’ve dedicated a lot of your time to making your content the best it can be — only to have that program changed by someone who doesn’t have the same expertise as you. My best suggestion for dealing with this problem is to go with the flow and try to accommodate these requests the best you can. After all, such changes are generally coming from someone higher up than you. While you certainly can (and should) make an effort to explain why you’re conducting your program in the manner that you are, it’s often better to lose a single battle and make a few small changes on a single training than to jeopardize your entire training program8I’d love to say this isn’t the worst case scenario, however I’ve seen it happen first hand before..

6. Someone with less experience than you will give you ideas that’ll make your training better. Listen to them.

I recognize that this point is essentially a corollary to the previous point. That said, it’s also a reality that took me a long time to learn once I started doing training in any capacity, be it internal employee training or external customer training. You’re going to have ideas thrown at you on how to do your job better in nearly any role, however these seem to come at you faster and more frequently in training than in nearly any professional role aside from customer service.

As you might expect, some of this advice is going to come from those above you, regardless of their experience level with learning and development. That said, they’re not the main focus of this point, as we’re more likely to take advice from those who have influence over us (and reporting to someone is by its very nature, a form of influence). Where the ideas you’re most likely to ignore are coming from are from those that you, as a trainer, would be viewed as being the expert towards. Said another way, your trainees, your customers, or even your co-workers that aren’t training professionals may give advice as to how to improve your work. Be willing to listen to them. While not every idea you’ll be presented with will be beneficial to your training — and if you get enough feedback, some of it is bound to be contradictory — having an open mind to the ideas you’re presented give you the opportunity to grow within your role. If nothing else, examine each idea for what it is, determine how you could (potentially) take that advice to improve on your work, and then choose to act on that improvement you’ve identified. This can work well even if you’re choosing not to act on the idea itself.

I might do more columns like this in the future for the blog, as this was quite fun to write. That said, I’d like to know what those of you who read this blog thing, especially if you don’t have a training/learning and development background. Let me know your thoughts on this post — or even your own experience with training and development in your career — in the comments.

The Great Big List of Business Jargon

Business has a ton of words that are jargon-filled and yet empty at the same time. Weird Al wrote a song about it. We know these words when we hear them, but what do they actually mean? I’ve collected a list of business jargon terms and phrases from numerous people around the internet and attempted to give definitions to them.

Have your own words and rough definitions to them? Leave them in the comments. I may add them to the list (either directly or with modified definitions).

Thank you to the numerous people who contributed ideas including (in no particular order) Mike, Brandon, Stephanie, Katie, Tim, Eve, Jason, Brian, Patrick, Mike, Steven, Liz, Chris, J.P., and the CEO of Uber.

Actualize Your Potential – The action of developing onto the career path that management desires for you.

Bandwidth – Something that your manager will ask you if you have enough of before they attempt to give you extra responsibilities. This is usually followed by the addition of new work to the employee in question’s workload regardless of their answer.

Big Block/Big Rock – A giant obstacle in the way of progress. Big rocks are identified by leaders with the intent of the rock being moved or solved by many people or processes, though this rarely happens in practice.

Bringing X to the Table – A fancy way of qualifying someone’s skill set when they’re not in the room with you. In reality, you can only say someone brings X trait to the table when they’re not physically at the same table as you. Not to be confused with who is, in fact, going to give it to ya.

Business Casual – Hahahahahahahahahahahhahahahaha. Hahahahaha. Ha. No one actually know what this means.

Calibration – The act of getting everyone on the same page on a topic for just long enough that everyone stops realizing that said topic is the source of a problem.

Collaborative – Any project where two or more individuals or teams are tasked with working together by their managers or directors.

Consulting – Freelancing, only with better pay guarantees and less responsibility.

Cost Marginalization – How pompous people and/or mathematicians refer to opportunity cost changes.

Creating Buy In – The act of getting someone to care enough about your job or project that they won’t act as an impediment to you getting your job done.

Cryptokitty – Keyboard cat for hackers.

Crystallize – Any idea that is clear in the head of the person explaining it, but murky in everyone else’s minds.

Culture – Your company has a good one if you’re happy. Your company has a bad one if you’re angry.

Dedication – An employee’s willingness to do exactly what they’re asked or told to do for long enough that they can be awarded with a certificate or a plaque.

Deep Empathy – Like regular empathy, only with more business jargon. South Park did a picture perfect explanation of deep empathy.

Design Ninja – Someone who can convince shareholders, the public, or a graphics designer that Comic Sans is superior to all other sans serif fonts. Which it is9Save for Tahoma, of course., though good luck cleaning up the brains of a visual designer when their head explodes from telling them that.

Disconnect – A term used when one person thinks another person or department has a major problem, but is trying their hardest to be polite about the severity of that issue. See also: Pain Point.

Dynamic Workforce – What a manager’s workforce believes themselves to be when they can still meet their quotas despite upper management constantly changing goals. See also: Moving the Goalposts.

Experiential Training – Another way of saying hands-on training. A learning model that is rarely effective even with the most engaged learners, and a potentially catastrophic one with a disengaged learner. See also: Shadowing.

Friday Eve – Whatever day is the next to last day of your work week.

Get My/Your Head Around It – A diplomatic way of telling someone you don’t understand what they’re trying to say without offending them.

Hitting The Wall – A polite way of telling someone that you/they/their project is running out of steam.

Incentivize – The action of giving prizes as a method to increase productivity, sales, or other positive behavior you wish for your employees to exhibit. Pavlov’s dog was a nard dog.

Intentionalize – A word used to explain that you meant to take an action and you’re trying to sound smarter than someone in the process.

Integration – When used in the context of software, this is the interactivity between two or more systems. When used in the context of mergers and acquisitions, this is the action of the acquiring company picking and choosing what they want to keep of the acquired company, usually as dictated by the board of directors.

It Doesn’t Pop – Phrase used any time a presentation, design, or marketing material doesn’t have the exact type of pizzazz that a major stakeholder who has zero design experience wants. This is nearly always remedied by RANDOM Capitalization of MEANINGLESS words and Letters, extraneous use of font style changes, or by placing said presentation over and endless loop of Dave Matthews music10AKA the holy trinity of ways to get me to make fun of your presentation..

Millennials – A generation that is killing everything according to people who don’t understand how either economics or generations work.

Move the Dial – Progress on a project as viewed from a high level. Usually utilized by someone that does not have a direct connection with said project.

Networking – The act of making business connections without developing any actual friendships. These connections are most commonly used only when it is of a professional benefit, such as when searching for a job or selling.

Optics – The phenomenon wherein something you’ve done always looks far worse to you than it does to other people. Even when you know that, you still can’t help but feel like you made a mistake. Like that one time where you were cleaning out a desk that you’re moving to and you instant messaged the former office owner asking if he wanted a stash of candy wrappers you found in the desk, thinking that he had managed to get personalized peanut butter cups because you didn’t realize that Justin’s is a candy company. SHUT UP BRAIN! WHY ARE YOU REMINDING ME OF THIS AT TWO IN THE MORNING ON A TUESDAY! I JUST WANT TO SLEEP!

Overqualified – What you totally are when you don’t get a job you feel you should have.

Ownership – The act of taking responsibility to solve a problem, even when you weren’t the one to cause that problem. A trait that’s strong in customer service and information technology professionals, but weak in other fields.

Partner (v.) – To work with someone. More specifically, the person saying “I’m happy to partner with you” or some variation of the phrase is assuming that the other party will do the bulk of the work, but that both parties will receive equal credit.

Pop Up – Any computer notification, instant message, new internet window that opens when you click a link, or other computer function that does not perform as expected. Commonly used by non-IT professionals.

Self-Starter – An employee who has the ability to both do work and slack off at will without their direct manager noticing the difference.

Shareholders – A nebulous concept that leadership of public companies use to place blame on when a decision negatively impacts employees.

Sign-off – The natural conclusion of buy-in, wherein you’ve gotten enough people to care about your project that you either get funding, get manpower, or get left alone long enough to actually complete that project.

Streamline – In the context of a project or dataset, this term roughly means to make more efficient. In the context of employees, this loosely means to lay people off in an effort to increase profits to please shareholders.

Subby/Subbie – Shorthand for subcontractor. Can be a term of endearment or one of derision, depending on the quality of the work provided by said subcontractor.

Synergy – Something that your meetings have if the highest ranking person in the meeting thinks that meeting is going well. See also: Momentum, It.

The D – According to the CEO of Uber, this is apparently the power to make decisions in meetings. According to literally everyone else, this is a thing you say you need when the marketing team misspells ‘extraordinary’ in your building’s faux-motivational graphics.

Thinking Outside the Box – To propose an idea that is just different enough to everyone else’s but similar enough to your boss’s that it gets selected as a plan.

Up and to the Right – The direction the profits chart moves for a profitable business. Generally, this is a good thing. In some cases, your company’s senior leadership may profess a desire to have sexual intercourse with such charts. It’s just as creepy as it sounds.

Your Job Rejection Emails Suck

(or But At Least You Told Me That I Didn’t Get The Job)

I recently went through a very lengthy job hunt. This is the same job hunt that prompted this mental head clearing rant I posted a few months ago (though I wrote the post back in February…I didn’t want to talk about the search while it was going on though), as well as the epitaph to my job from a couple of weeks back. Truth be told, it’s something I have no intention of going through again at any point in the near future. Even though I learned a lot during the job search process — some things good, some not — that would help me in future job searches, those things weren’t the thing that stuck with me once the search was finally done.

Of the 392+11As I mentioned in an earlier post, I received emails confirming my application submission for 392 jobs. There are at least 2 — likely quite a few more — jobs that I applied for that never sent a confirmation email. jobs I applied for between finding out our office was closing and when I was offered my new job, I received rejection emails for 108 positions. These rejection emails came at various points in the interviewing process12Most came before even a phone screening, but I had some phone screenings and a handful of interviews in there too., though all of them told me I wasn’t, for whatever reason, getting the job.

Just because I got 108 rejection emails out of 392+ jobs applied for doesn’t mean that I got offered 284 jobs. That would be ridiculous. What it does mean, however, is that 72.4% of jobs I applied for didn’t even bother to send any sort of communication letting me know that I didn’t get the job. Some of the companies that didn’t reply back didn’t mean much to me. They were just jobs I found on job boards that sounded interesting, so I applied. There were three companies that I applied for that were dream companies that I would have considered leaving a great job for. Of those three companies, only WordPress took the time to send me a rejection email13Nothing against the other two companies, hence not sharing who the other two companies are. But it was incredibly disappointing, particularly considering how both companies present themselves to their client base..

That said, there were still 108 rejection emails that I got. Most of those emails were form emails that looked something like this.

Dear Timothy,

Thank you for your interest in 55555EX – Business Worker at The Business Company and for the time you took to submit your interest in this position. We carefully review hundreds of resumes daily, and while your skills and accomplishments caught our eye, we have decided to pursue other candidates.

However, this isn’t goodbye! Just as we value our customers, we also value you and appreciate that you considered The Business Company during your job search. We invite you to keep checking our careers website, as new opportunities are added daily.

We wish you much success as you continue your job search.

Best wishes,

The Business Company Talent Acquisition Team

I understand that large organizations receive countless resumes on a daily basis. If that organization is telling me no without even giving a phone screening for the position, as the email above was for, I find this to be an acceptable email. Sure, it’s impersonal. And after you’ve received 12 of these emails from the same company14The company who wrote this particular form email employs a ton of people in Northern Ohio. As such, they have numerous job postings year round., it does come off as disingenuous. But that said, it’s not a bad email, per say.

On the other hand, there’s emails like this.

Dear Timothy,

Thank you for submitting your application for the Business Worker position. We appreciate your interest in The Business Company.

We received numerous applications for this position and were not able to consider them all. Unfortunately, your application was not reviewed for this position.

We look forward to speaking with you in the future as new opportunities become available.

Thank you again for your interest and good luck in your job search!

The Business Company Talent Acquisition Team

While this wasn’t the worst rejection email I received15It wasn’t even the worst form email I got., it is representative of some of the most frustrating ones I got. To tell a candidate that the time they took to apply for your job was so wasted that you didn’t even look at their application is an embarrassing way to represent your company. Not only does that deter someone from applying to work for your company in the future, it also deters them from being one of your customers.

I recognize that not ever employer can take the time to give a personalized response to each and every applicant that applies for a job with a company. I also recognize that not every applicant to a position will meet the basic qualifications for the position they’re applying for16Oddly enough, I was better qualified for the job in the second email than the first one., hence complicating individualized candidate review processes. So how does a company make a rejection email better? Oddly enough, I think another form rejection email I received can point us in the right direction.

Dear Tim,

Thank you for your interest in the Business Worker position at The Business Company. Although you were not selected, we wish to thank you for presenting yourself for candidacy and encourage you to continue to review our employment opportunities at [website redacted] and apply for any position that meets your qualifications as they become available.

We sincerely thank you for your interest in becoming a member of the Business Company family and look forward to you presenting your candidacy again.

The Business Company Human Resources Group

When I got the email above the first time, I didn’t think much of it. I had applied for a position that was a massive reach for my qualifications and experience. I applied for three more roles with this company at various points in early 2018, only to get the same form email back each time. That said, this one never got on my nerves. If anything, I felt a bit uplifted when I read it. I think the main reason for this is one small section of a giant run-on sentence.

“Apply for any position that meets your qualifications as they become available.”

To me, this specific sentence reads as “hey…you didn’t get this role…but you should apply to the roles you feel you’d succeed in as you continue your job search”. After reading repeated form emails where I was told my qualifications didn’t exactly fit the role’s requirements17If I had a dollar for every “entry level” job where the job poster wanted 3-5 years or more of experience, I wouldn’t have needed a new job., seeing this sentence was a welcome light in the sea of frustration that was my job search. If you can’t, as a company, find a way to review every application18You should. or give a personalized rejection email to every candidate who isn’t considered, at least give them some encouragement to continue their job search on their terms.

Oh. And if you’re one of the companies that can’t be bothered to send rejection emails to people you’re not considering for a job, get your shit together. People don’t spend two hours filling out an application that has five essay questions to be ignored.

Update: Since writing this post in May, I received an email from a company I applied for back in February that was apparently just getting through their resume review process. It holds a special place in my heart because of this post, as you’ll see once you read it.

Hi Tim,

Thanks for your interest in the Business Worker position at The Business Company. We have reviewed your application. I must regretfully inform you that the position has been filled. However, we will maintain your resume on file for a one-year period. We will contact you should there be an opening that matches your profile during that time.

We wish to thank you for your interest in our company and wish you great success in your future endeavors.

via email only


It’s Over Meow

This post is about the worst — and best — job I’ve ever had.

Two thousand, three hundred and twenty-two days is a long time for anything. According to snarky non-millennials on Twitter, that’s an eternity for a millennial to keep a job for. Apparently we’re a generation prone to job hopping, despite the data proving out otherwise. Yet the perception still remains.

For me, however, those 2,322 days is a long time. It’s six years, four months, and ten days, which is…

  • Longer than every relationship I’ve had save for one
  • Nearly double the amount of time I spent on my undergrad and graduate degrees combined
  • Almost three years longer than the next longest job tenure I’ve had…and…
  • Just under four years longer than the next longest full-time job tenure I’ve had

To me, it was an eternity. I don’t mean that as a bad thing either. It was just a really long time to be in the same place.

In October 2011, I was in the first group of people let go in the few months before my then-employer closed its doors. I applied to tens of jobs daily. I didn’t care what kind of job I got. I just wanted to pay my rent and my student loans. In what was a short, but frustrating, job search, I went on somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty interviews before landing a job as a temp19I was on a 90-day contract. This period is one of the most frustrating parts of my employment ever, as my now-former employer refused to count it toward my job tenure, despite the fact that I was doing work for them (not to mention being promoted nearly as soon as the temp period ended). doing front-line customer service and data entry for a technology company. It was a long, though not unmanageable, drive for low, though not terribly low20This statement is mostly reflective of my temp period, however it did three promotions to get back to the pay I was making at my previous employer., pay. But it was a job, which was exactly what I needed.

Over time, my role evolved from being a customer service professional into a trainer, manager, and instructional designer (depending on when we’re talking about). I helped bring on numerous folks into our local office, watched many people — both locally and remote — grow and develop thanks to training programs I designed, and proudly saw numerous folks I helped mentor move up into positions within the company with more responsibility and visibility. For the first four years or so I was there, I genuinely enjoyed my job. I could comfortably say it was the best job I’ve ever had.

There were three main reasons the best job I ever had became the worst job I ever had. The two reasons that I felt the most regularly weren’t even the most major reason to occur21We’ll get to that one in a minute.. It started with being overworked. While there was never anything formal said about this, it felt at times like there was an unwritten expectation that if you were a salaried employee, you should work from home throughout the week in addition to your time on the clock. Though I’m sure the thought process behind this was “in case of emergency only”, I’ve always subscribed to the theory that if there’s still work to be done, you keep working on it. As a result, most of my six years with the company featured my forty hour weeks looking much more like fifty, sixty, or (in rare cases) eighty hour weeks. Though this did improve slightly in my last two years with the company, by the start of year four, I was getting burnt out.

In addition to getting burnt out, I often felt like I wasn’t getting the recognition I deserved for doing my job well. And I was doing my job very well, as I always graded out in the highest grade for my position. But I didn’t want more money. Don’t get me wrong, getting a raise, a bonus, or some kind of additional stipend is wonderful and exceptionally helpful. But when you’re a one person department for four years, the best way to show that department that they’re doing a great job is to help them grow. It was a promise I heard year after year. It’s also a promise that never came. Couple that with the fact that I had to watch someone else get honored for projects I created, designed, and (in many cases) ran, and I felt like my work didn’t matter.

All of those things were bad enough by themselves. Then, a year after the company I worked for was bought, we got told our office was shutting down.

While the employees in our office were (mostly) given a good bit of time to search for a new job while keeping their current one22This was incredibly kind of our new parent company. The fact that they kept telling us how generous it was of them that they were doing this felt like a mocking statement, however., it still felt like the end of something special. Our main office closed down in October of last year, causing most of the remaining employees to move to a temporary office space. I was one of the last people in the building at the main office, allowing me to sneak upstairs to where I had started my career as a temp in early 2012.

Though my off-centered picture was necessitated by boxes that had been moved upstairs late that afternoon, it was a surreal moment to see the place I’d been to every day for (then) almost six years so empty. My very first desk was the one directly across from the empty desk on the left23Not the one with the chair. The one further back as if you’re moving away from the camera.. My last one (in this building) was a closet-like office where I could hear every toilet flush in the building thanks to the pipes running through the wall in front of me. It felt somewhat like leaving a home I actually liked, even if I no longer enjoyed the job itself.

Between October of last year and April of this year, the vast majority of people left the office. Some left because they found a new job. Others were there until their company-designated last day. But by the second week of April, I was able to take a similar picture of our new space, though with much crappier sight-lines due to five-foot-tall cubicle walls.

I had to stand on top of a desk to take that picture. It was a lot more work by the end…both to take that second picture and to come to work each day.

In six years, between a few moves my wife and I made as well as the temporary office move, my commute length had more than doubled. I had lost the boss who I truly feel was the best boss I ever had. The team that I had developed, nurtured, and watched grow, was mostly gone from the company24A small number of them were fortunate enough to be able to relocate to Chicago for new jobs there.. Meanwhile, I found myself sitting in my car crying against my steering wheel at 7 in the morning most days because I didn’t want to go in. It was, by that point, the worst job I’d ever had.

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the job was either the best or worst I’ve had. At times, it was both. There were even days where it felt like both of those things at various points in the same day. But it was time for a change. My mind needed it more than anything else (as evidenced from my post a couple of weeks ago).

I would love to say I left when there was no more work left to do, in keeping with my own mantra. That definitely wasn’t the case. There’s more work to do than ever. But I left when I reached the point where there was nothing left I could do while also remaining sane.

Despite that feeling, I can also recognize that I grew so much while I was there. I kept up with a job that felt like constant pressure for more than six years. I made some friends and got to watch some people grow into exceptional employees and people. It was just time to turn off the lights and leave.

Impostor Syndrome

Disclaimer: This is a bit darker than the typical post on this blog25Aside from the short stories. Those can get dark.. It’s just something I needed to get out of my head. Apologies in advance.

Disclaimer 2: I wrote this post in early March when my job search was at its darkest. Said job search is over now, which means you’ll be seeing me talk about it in coming posts. That said, I decided to publish the post anyway because I’ve seen quite a few folks on Twitter getting frustrated in their job searches. If nothing else, hopefully seeing that others go through this is supportive in some way.

There’s a common experience I hear a lot of my fellow millennials talk about. It’s this idea called impostor syndrome. For those unfamiliar with the term, impostor syndrome is where a person is afraid that they’re not good enough at something and that they will eventually be exposed as not being good at that thing. It’s not a formal psychological disorder, but it is an experience that many people seem to go through at some point in their lives.

I’ve personally struggled with impostor disorder at various points in my life, almost exclusively with my writing. I can objectively identify that I can write well — or at the very least that I’ve shown quite a bit of improvement over the time that I’ve been writing. That said, there’s been countless times wherein I’ll write something, creative or otherwise, only to feel like the piece is inadequate once it’s live. I still struggle with this with my book, even though we’re nearly two years since the point when I published the book. I know that I can work to put out a better work down the line, but I feel like my published work is inadequate — despite the fact that many reviewers have disagreed with that assessment.

Impostor syndrome is not what drove me to write this post. It is, however, the best thing I can use to describe how I’m feeling at the moment.

As I’ve talked about before on the blog, I want to do work that I care about and that does good in the world. I’m the type of person who cares a lot about the work I do. If I can’t feel like my work is making an impact and if I can’t feel proud of the work I do, it becomes extremely hard to that work. I haven’t felt proud of the day-to-day work I do in…two years now? Nearly three years? It’s hard to keep track of time.

That said, I also can’t just quit my job and dedicate my full-time life to finding a job that fits what I want. I wouldn’t be able to afford that. My wife and I wouldn’t be in a position to live solely off her salary while I looked for a job without having one of my own. So I look. I’ve been looking off and on for nearly two years now — hard for almost a year. Without getting into the numbers26As I plan to do a whole write up on this at some point in the future, as data is fun., I can say that the job hunt I’ve been on has been one of the most mentally demoralizing things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Rejection email after rejection email has come into my inbox. They’re common enough that I can tell you almost word for word what the rejection form messages from a couple of companies look like27There’ll be a post on this too. Some companies do this really well. Most do not.. That said, I’d much rather get a form rejection email than no message at all from a company I applied to28Especially when two of the three companies that you list off as “dream companies to work for” when someone asks are companies that never followed up with you after applying..

At a certain point, I’ve begun to feel like I can’t do my job. I’ve begun to feel like all of the work I’ve put in — the four years of 60-80 hour weeks with no overtime pay, the mass of projects I’ve jumped in on even though they’re outside of my discipline just because someone needs help, the amount of cross training I’ve received, the repeatedly watching other people in my company get awards for projects that I’ve done the bulk of the work for — is for nothing. I know I do damn good work. I can objectively say that in spite of the rejections. I also know that a percentage of the positions I’ve applied for have been reach positions29Positions where I was underqualified, but tried anyway as a way to advance my career.. Hearing no from one company is fine. Hearing no from a handful of companies is frustrating. Hearing no from literally hundreds of companies for roles that I am (generally) well-qualified for? At some point I must be the problem.

I don’t know how to fix this. The longer this drags on, the worse this gets. I do not feel valued for my work by the company I work for. It’s clear that those outside of my company do not value either my experience or my education enough to bring me in. I’m sure I’m self-sabotaging too by wanting to be free from my current job badly enough that I’ve applied to some companies tens of times at this point. I was taught that you’re supposed to get out of bad situations though. Yet, the harder I fight to get out, the more I feel trapped.

I don’t know what to call this feeling that I have. It’s certainly not impostor syndrome. But in a way, it is. I feel inadequate to whatever expectations there are of me as a job seeker. I feel that the situation will not get better at my current job30I’ve done everything I can think of to try to make it better for nearly three years now, with minimal success. If someone from my employer were to happen to read this (likely not, but hey), my door is open. There’s a lot I’m prepared to talk about yet another time if there’s any hope of making it better.. I should be able to do this. I know I have the skills to find a job.

Or so I thought.