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 temp1I 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 low2This 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 occur3We’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 one4This 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 left5Not 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 company6A 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 blog7Aside 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 numbers8As 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 like9There’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 to10Especially 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 positions11Positions 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 job12I’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.

Why I’ve (Sort of) Changed my Opinion on Thank You Cards

A couple of years ago, I wrote a lengthy, expletive-laced tirade about my distaste for thank you cards. In retrospect, the post was arguably one of the worst I’ve ever written for this blog — or any blog I’ve written for over the past 13 or so years. If you’re the type of person that likes getting made at someone on the internet for no reason, feel free to read that post and get mad at me. Even with improvements to the post after I realized that it was hot garbage, it’s still one I cringe while reading.

The strange thing is that I don’t even fully disagree with the primary point I was attempting to make in the post itself. Thank you cards are, as a concept, pretty annoying. Recipients don’t really want them, the sender doesn’t want to put the time into writing it and going to the post office, and the post office isn’t making much money13If any at all. off of a simple card. In general, I still see the thank you card as a flawed and ultimately poor way to show gratitude.

Notice how I specifically called out the thank you card in the last paragraph. This is because I think there’s a far better way to show gratitude to someone who has done something for us — a way that should become the cultural standard for how we handle saying thank you. It’s a way that’s been right under our noses the whole time. I’m speaking, of course, about the thank you email.

I can practically hear my millennial brethren cringing at that last suggestion. The email, the phone call, and the voicemail are becoming antiquated methods of communication among millennials and younger. A former co-worker of mine once14In early 2017. said that they don’t call any co-worker back who leaves them a voicemail because “if they didn’t find it important enough to IM me, it must not be important”. Throwing aside my own disagreements with that philosophy, I get where the person was coming from. Social media has created the need for instantaneous interaction and communication. To provide a delay from that makes the communication seem less valued, at least in part.

The problem with that logic, however, is that it can often take time, as well as careful wording, to show gratitude that seems genuine. That’s not to say you can’t thank someone with a quick “thanks” in passing. But since we live in an interconnected world where most interactions are not occurring face-to-face, most moments where we’re showing how grateful we are for someone’s help are conducted remotely and in real time. So how then do we set ourselves apart from everyone else also looking to show their thanks? Slow things down.

I’ve been on the job hunt for a little while now15As I mentioned in last week’s post, I tend to write these posts well in advance. This post, like the last one, was written in October. That said, I felt like gratitude and saying thank you was a good topic to discuss on Christmas Day., meaning I’ve filled out copious amounts of applications, received more rejection emails than I’d care to admit, and have attended a small handful of interviews. One thing I’ve tried my hardest to do is to write the recruiter, interviewer, or whomever I have contact information for a thank you email after every interview I have. I realize it’s small and, to this point, has meant very little in my job search. That said, I’ve found that my interactions with the hiring staff at the companies I’ve interacted with have been better than any I’ve experienced before.

I recognize it’s not a very deep thought to say “hey…you should be sending a thank you email to the people who interview you, even if you don’t get a job with them”. It’s pretty much interviewing 101. But at the same point in time, I don’t see people doing it that often — both from my own experiences as an interviewer, as well as from what I’ve heard being an interviewee myself. Therefore, in this one case, I think the concept of a thank you card must become more common, even if the literal thank you card itself is left in the sands of time for it.

LinkedIn Is Not Facebook

(aka: Why I’m Going to Judge the Parenting Advice You Post to LinkedIn)

I’m not a parent. I’ve mentioned this on this blog before. Hell, I’ve even provided some dubious advice on how to be a parent from a non-parent’s perspective. In writing the post linked in the previous sentence, I based most of my commentary off of watching what my friends and family did (and didn’t) do correctly when it came to parenting their children. Three of the four points I brought up in that post — don’t be afraid to let your child fail, don’t plaster them all over social media, and try taking care of a pet first — are ones that I still feel are valid. And the point about not buying your kid things it can’t use properly? I’ve softened on that point, if only to allow for the concept of buying thing your kid needs down the line in advance. After all, the cost to raise a child under 1 has jumped from the $12,000 estimate from the USDA I mentioned in that old post to around $15,750 a year.

I bring up all of this to talk about something that gets on my nerves. LinkedIn is a website that is intended to be a professional networking platform. You can use it to search for jobs, keep in touch with old colleagues, and follow industry news. While LinkedIn certainly has its problems, it’s pretty good for what it’s meant to be. Problems arise, however, when people start using LinkedIn as Facebook.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a rather unpleasant increase in people using LinkedIn to share political opinions, travel photos, and parenting advice. Which, again, is not really the point of LinkedIn as a social network. If I wanted to see what you wore when you stood in front of a sunset on a beach in Waikiki, I’d get a Facebook and friend you on there. Part of the appeal to LinkedIn was the fact it wasn’t like other social networks.

LinkedIn has also taken to sharing posts that your connections have liked on your home page’s feed. While many other social media sites have already done this16And I hate Twitter more and more every day for it., it’s particularly invasive on LinkedIn if you’re using the site to keep up with what’s going on in your professional industry. It was one of these liked posts that caused me to see a parenting advice list that got on my nerves. This post was titled “Rules for My Son” and contained the following 23 rules for this man’s child[2].

  1. Never shake a man’s hand sitting down.
  2. There are plenty of ways to enter a pool. The stairs ain’t one.
  3. The man at the grill is the closest thing we have to a king.
  4. In negotiation, never make the first offer.
  5. Act like you’ve been there before. Especially in the end zone.
  6. Request the late check-out.
  7. When entrusted with a secret, keep it.
  8. Hold your heroes to a higher standard.
  9. Return a borrowed car with a full tank of gas.
  10. Don’t fill up on bread.
  11. When shaking hands, grip firmly and look him in the eye.
  12. Don’t let a wishbone grow where your backbone should be.
  13. If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point.
  14. Carry two handkerchiefs. The one in your back pocket is for you. The one in your breast pocket is for her.
  15. You marry the girl, you marry the whole family.
  16. Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.
  17. Experience the serenity of travelling alone.
  18. Never be afraid to ask out the best looking girl in the room.
  19. Never turn down a breath mint.
  20. In a game of HORSE, sometimes a simple free throw will get ’em.
  21. A sport coat is worth 1000 words.
  22. Try writing your own eulogy. Never stop revising.
  23. Thank a veteran.

Poor grammar has been kept for sake of the fact that this list annoyed the shit out of me. First off, how many colloquialisms can you fit into a 23 point list? I felt like I was reading a folksy letter from a 1950s marketing professional. Second, are you not supposed to make eye contact with women when you shake their hands? Do you not shake their hands? Also, what if your son wants to marry a boy? Does he not marry the whole family then? Does your logic pertaining to traditional marriage violate polygamy laws?

I get the intent behind this post. I get that it’s meant to sound filled with wisdom, despite the fact that it’s a lot of empty words posted by someone in sales[3]. But for the love of all things holy, don’t post this shit on LinkedIn. Your child isn’t going to see it and you’re going to look like a moron for doing so.

While I’m at it, let me improve your list, Mr. Random LinkedIn Guy Who I’ve Never Met. Here’s your list of 23 things to teach your son, only made more accurate…and made for whatever sex your child is. Because reasons.

  1. Never shake a man’s hand sitting down. Ask him politely to stand up first, hug him close, then give him a belly-to-belly suplex.
  2. There are plenty of ways to enter a pool. $10 is a reasonable buy-in for most pools, however the larger the cut you can get for merely participating, the better.
  3. The man at the grill is the closest thing we have to a king. It’s never too early to overthrow him and claim the grill as your own in a bloody coup.
  4. In negotiation, never make the first offer. Or the last offer. Actually, if you can go through life without ever interacting with a sales person, you’ll be better off.
  5. Act like you’ve been there before. Except in the end zone. That’s the place to celebrate, no matter what whiny traditionalist football fans say.
  6. Never request the late checkout. It’s an extra $50. If you’re a real sales person, I’m sure you can convince someone to do it for free.
  7. When entrusted with a secret, keep it. Unless that secret is unethical, could cause you to lose your job, or cause harm to others. Then shout it from the rooftops (or at least tell someone who needs to know).
  8. Hold your heroes to a higher standard, but only if you want to be disappointed in them.
  9. Return a borrowed car with a full tank of gas[4].
  10. Don’t fill up on bread. Hide most of the bread in your purse and/or coat, request more, hide that, and then take it home with your left overs. Because free bread.
  11. Only shake hands with someone if you’re concerned they might be concealing a firearm. Or if you’re dating their child.
  12. Don’t let a wishbone grow where your backbone should be. Grow wings instead. Because it’s just as plausible.
  13. If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point. Leave the beach. The beach sucks.
  14. Carry three handkerchiefs. The one in your back pocket is for you. The one in your breast pocket is for a guest. The third one if for magic tricks.
  15. You marry someone, you’re part of their family. That is, unless there’s a mutual agreement between you and your partner for that not to be the case. Which is also fine.
  16. Be like a duck. Eat all of the bread thrown your way. Seriously. Why was this original list so anti-bread?
  17. Experience the serenity of travelling alone. Better yet, experience the peacefulness of having your house to yourself for three hours. It’s just as good.
  18. Never be afraid to ask out the best looking girl in the room. When she says she’s not interested, never be afraid to leave her alone.
  19. Never turn down a breath mint…but brushing your teeth is better.
  20. If you’re playing a game for money, don’t make it a game of half skill, half chance like HORSE. Either go full skill or full chance.
  21. A sport coat is worth 1000 words. Most of those words are going to sound disingenuous if you’re the only person wearing a sport coat, so know your environment.
  22. Try writing your own eulogy. Never stop revising. Except the when you’re dying part. It’ll save you from doing stupid stuff.
  23. Thank a veteran. Thank everyone, as it’s the polite and right thing to do. But definitely thank veterans.

What I Learned In My 20s About…Job Hunting

A little later on this year, I’ll be turning 30 years old. In American society, this is for some reason a milestone birthday[1]. If nothing else, it’s the birthday that signals that “milestone” birthdays will stop coming at oddball intervals and instead begin showing up at the decade mark.

As I did in my previous post about finance, I wanted to try to impart some of my advice to those of you looking for some guidance when it comes to job hunting. I get that there’s thousands upon thousands of articles online about this very topic. If you’re here, you probably didn’t find this from a search — you likely know me or someone I know. That said, I still want to share my experience with the job search process.

Note that I’m really not going to go into interviewing too heavily in this post. While the interview is a critical part of actually getting a job, it’s not the job search itself. I may talk about interviewing in a later post.

1. Companies Are Going to Call Sales Jobs by Lots of Non-Sales Names

One of the various jobs I had in college had the title Marketing Advisor. Based on the title, you’d think I’d be doing something like social media campaigns, advertising, or even lead generation, right? Nope. I spent three weeks going door-to-door selling cable in rich suburbs of Columbus, Ohio[2]. This was my first lesson to not trust job titles. Over the years, I’ve applied for jobs with marketing, training, account development, account management, admissions advisor, and customer service in the name, only to find out during the interview that the job was actually a sales position — even though the job description online didn’t frame the position as one[3].

If you like sales and/or if you’re looking for a sales job, more power to you. It’s not my gig, but if you like it, go for it. If you’re not looking for a sales job, know that there’s a lot of companies that frame sales positions as non-sales jobs. If you find that out during the interview process, stay away from that company. It’s for the better.

2. In the Corporate World, Having A Degree Matters More Than What That Degree Is In

Note: The following section applies to non-specialized positions in the corporate world. If you’re a doctor/accountant/lawyer/engineer/meteorologist/etc, your specialized degree is immensely important to your career. This also largely doesn’t apply to teachers, unless your goal is to be a substitute teacher, in which case your rules are far more lax than I imagined.

I’ve worked at three relatively large companies[4] since graduating college. In every single one of them, I’ve met dozens of people working in positions that have nothing to do with their degree. I’ve met a social worker who managed a call center, a paralegal who spent all day making outbound calls, a broadcasting major who ran a rental car desk, a vocal performance major who worked as a receptionist…and so the list continues on. Finding a job in the field you go to college for is not easy. While in a utopian world we’d all be able to wait on the job that lets us do what we want in the field we want, reality doesn’t work that way. That’s part of why I was working in a call center three weeks after graduating rather than working in radio.

Companies know this and interview people with that in mind, particularly in a corporate setting. Your ability to finish a degree program (and ideally do well), along with the traits and skills you present in your interview are a big selling point. Business, communications, and English majors in particular seems to do well, regardless of industry. After all, if you can talk well and understand business, you’re a (comparatively) hot commodity, especially at entry-level positions.

Speaking of entry-level…

3. Temp Agencies Can Be Your Friend…But Only if You’re Looking For Entry Level Work

When I lost my job in 2011, I was fortunate that part of Ohio’s unemployment process was to pass your information along to temp agencies. Though I had been applying for hundreds of positions a week[5], I was getting very few calls from recruiters to set up interviews. A temp agency had managed to use my experience to help me get four interviews within the first two weeks of them helping.

The problem was that all of the interviews they could find for me were entry level positions. 24-year-old, unemployed me didn’t care about this all that much and happily took the interviews. But in the experiences that I had separate from that time and that others have shared with me as well, don’t expect a temp agency to find you anything beyond an entry-level position, even if your experience clearly has you at a middle management or higher level. If you’re a middle manager, you’re kind of stuck on your own when it comes to job searching.

4. Experience With a Formal Title Trumps All

Remember what I said about college degrees mattering less than you’d think (so long as you have one)? Part of the reason you’ll find that to be true is that it’s difficult to find entry-level positions in specialized areas. Couldn’t find a paid internship in college in the field you want to work in? Too bad. You’re probably only going to get interview opportunities for low-level positions (generally that have nothing to do with what you want to be doing). Trying to make a career path change to a different area of the corporate world? You’re likely even worse off. Companies aren’t going to take a chance on an unknown commodity, even if you’re the most skilled worker in the world. Doubly so if you don’t already work for the company.

I realize I’ve been a bit doom and gloom in this post, but it’s because one of the biggest things I learned about the business world in my twenties is that having an office job isn’t the idealized world that many of prior generations made it out to be. That rant in and of itself deserves its own post. If you do have a takeaway here, let it be that you’re going to need to work your ass off to get an interview for the job you want…and even then, don’t get your hopes up.