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TagThe Working World

Identifying What Matters to You in An Employer

Over the past couple of years, I had two moments of great clarity when it comes to work and what matters to me at a job. Before I get to those though, I should give a little bit of context as to why this post matters.

There have been several think pieces written over the past decade about this very concept or ideas adjacent to it. Often times, people are stuck at jobs they hate but they don’t realize why they hate them. It could be because the job is truly bad. It could be because you have bad work habits. It could be because you have a bad boss or a company that doesn’t do the right thing. You could be stuck there even though you have a way out because you need the money. One of my favorite business bloggers, Kaytie at Optimistic Millennial, did an entire piece on this very concept.

The problem, both in my own personal experience as well as the experiences of those I’ve watched go through this, is that often times we stop too quickly when asking why we don’t like a job. Sure, we may be able to say ‘I hate this job because I don’t like the boss I have’. But when we truly despise a job, we often leave it at just that. I hate this single, vague aspect, and nothing more. While this is a great way to have hate that you can direct at something or someone, it does very little to help you make change to improve upon your situation — as well as to avoid repeating the same problems that makes you hate your job yet again.

Last year, I talked about how I left my long time employer for various reasons. The job had, as I shared in that post, felt at times like the worst job I’d ever had. What I didn’t realize — despite writing it in that very post — was that it was also, at times, the best job I ever had. I didn’t stop to think what made it that way. I was so focused on the fact that I was burnt out and bitter about the way things ended that I couldn’t recognize the fact that there were several good qualities about that job that I truly enjoyed and that mattered to me.

Mind you, I’m not talking about things like salary or benefits. Those things clearly matter. If your job’s salary and benefits don’t allow you to meet your basic needs, you’ll constantly be worried about where money is coming from. It will make you paranoid about your job stability even when you have a completely secure job. I witnessed this with several employees around me over the better part of 2018, feeling it myself at times as well. That said, that’s probably commentary on a specific type of job is treated in the USA versus how it’s treated in other countries and is better left for another post1I eagerly await the day when American companies put the same level of care to hiring, training, pay, and candidate selection for call center employees that Philippine companies do..

Let’s say that your salary and benefits are good enough that you’re not worried too much, if at all, about them. What do you need in a company at that point? That’s when the self-reflective side of each of us comes into play. You need to go beyond the thought of ‘I hate my job’ and ask yourself why that is. Not just once, but several times. Such a process may look like this:

I hate my job.

Why?

I hate my boss.

Why?

They micromanage me.

Why?

I don’t know.

Is there anything I can change in my behavior to help improve myself so they don’t need to do that?

Yes.

K. Cool. And have you discussed this behavior with your boss.

No. They don’t take feedback well.

Granted, the above mental conversation could go on much longer than I’m letting it and could discuss several more problems than what I’m listing. But I think the larger point is made. Learning what you love in a job is not just about knowing what you dislike in a current role. It’s about understanding why you dislike it AND how having a different environment around you will help you to be a more productive employee.

The second epiphany about what mattered to me was an extension of the first one in some ways. I had realized that I there were parts to that old job I loved. I had also realized that my (then) new employer wasn’t the right fit for me and that I needed out. The great moment of clarity came when I recognized that in order for things to improve and to find a company that fit what I truly wanted in a company, I needed to flip the interview process on its head.

I love interviewing. I know that sounds weird, but the interview process is fascinating to me, regardless of which side of the table I’m on. The problem was (and likely still is to a certain extent) that I’m much better at being an interviewer than being an interviewee. I’ve worked at multiple companies now where I would get pulled into interviews to help get a better read on prospective candidates that came in looking for a job — even if that candidate wouldn’t report directly to me or my department. After thinking about it for a while, I came to realize why this happens.

As I was learning to be an interviewer, I learned a technique called behavioral job interviewing2Also sometimes referred to as behavioral-based interviewing.. The basic premise to this concept is to get your interviewee answering whatever questions you have with examples of how they handled a situation in the past with their previous work or school experience3The behavioral job interview, in my opinion, is one of the few interview types that doesn’t inherently put recent college graduates or people looking to change careers at a disadvantage in the interviewing process. This is because the interviewer will, if they’re conducting the interview properly, be looking for behaviors in how situations were handled just as much as direct job experience. Although it’s a style that is not necessarily an end-all be-all for interviewing, particularly when a job requires some level of experience or a specific prior skill set to do safely, I view the behavioral job interview as a critical component of most any interviewing process.. I tried taking this tactic one step further, often times drilling down on a specific scenario or question to determine not only what behaviors the interviewee exhibited from the event we discussed, but also what they learned from that experience.

I have, for as long as I could remember, subscribed to the spray-and-pray method of job hunting. If you get in front of as many people as you can for interviews, not only are you bound to get more job offers, you’re also sure to eventually find a company that you’ll like. It was the entire premise of my 2017-2018 job search that resulted in countless form rejection emails. And considering the rotten luck I’d had with friends trying to refer me in to wherever they worked — I had never gotten a job as a result of a friend/colleague’s referral prior to my new job — I thought this was the best way to handle my job search.

I do think this method can still work. That said, in utilizing this method, what I wasn’t doing was researching the companies before I applied to them. Or, if there were concerns about the company that surfaced in my online search, I wasn’t trying to dig in and address those concerns in the interview process. Nor was I asking about the things I cared about in a job aside from benefits, salary, and schedule. Essentially, I was doing everything I encouraged those who asked me for advice NOT to do.

It wasn’t until I started treating the interview like I was the one interviewing the company that I started to notice a change in results. I cared a lot more about things that were deeper company culture factors that I had in the past. Though this turned off some interviewers, other times it led to deeper philosophical conversations about business culture and direction during the interview. Even if I didn’t get the job at a specific place I interviewed, I had a better idea whether or not the job was going to be a good fit for me — and not just from a salary standpoint — coming out of the interview process.

If nothing else, this experience showed me why it matters to understand what I’m really looking for in a job. There’s no guarantee I’ll be 100% happy with everything in my new job. After all, there’s always something that gets on your nerves, even in jobs you like. That said, I feel informed and comfortable for the first time going into a job. I don’t think I would have been able to do that without learning what mattered to me in my work.

On Rejection

There’s a colloquial usage of a word in the English language that’s always befuddled me. There’s a specific way the word ‘break’ is used that essentially makes it come off with a positive connotation. See: break the seal, break a streak, break a slump, and others. Basically, it’s used to mean ‘to bring an end to something’.

I’ve found this weird for the longest time in part because of the primary usage of the word break. As a verb, it’s meant to indicate when something is separated or shattered, while as a noun, it’s an interruption1The verb can also mean an interruption, but in this context, it is more commonly a noun.. Yet, regardless of the exact nature of the usage employed, the word break typically has negative connotations. With the exception, again, of bringing an end to something.

It’s been a rough couple of years for me in the working world. To explain why though, I need to take a step back and give a little context. One of the things I’ve been working on for quite some time now is trying to get myself to the point where I could make a transition to a human resources role. It’s something I’ve wanted for a few years now and I’ve made an active effort everywhere I go to try to learn things the best I can so that I can grow into such a role. But then I watched the people who supported my move transition roles or leave the company. While I gained new support in some cases, other key folks felt I needed to be further entrenched in the role I was in because I was too valuable to lose. I don’t say all of this as a matter of sour grapes — things worked out the way they did for a reason and I hold no ill will against anyone for it. It’s needed context.

And then our office got shut down.

I took a job that I though would help me out. A job that I thought (from the interview process) that would both be a step forward in my role and responsibility, and one that would help me to have opportunity to grow my career with supportive people who wanted me to move up, but also to do so on my timeline.

Two days into the new job, I realized I was wrong on so many levels. I had been misled heavily in the interview process by the director over our department about the department, its resources, the nature of my role, its responsibilities, and its seniority. Over the course of the rest of the year, I’d learn that the career growth opportunities I’d been led to believe existed were in the company, though not to the extent as they were originally portrayed. There was nothing I could do though. I had no where to go back to. And considering I had changed jobs in the extremely recent past, companies wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole — longer if they owned large enough poles.

I felt like all of the work I’d put into my career to that point was a waste. My career had taken a massive step backward. I wasn’t challenged anymore. I didn’t feel like I fit in with my new employer, be it socially, ethically, or mentally. I had just gotten out of what was, at times, the worst job I’d ever been part of, only to feel like things had managed to hit an even lower point. This wasn’t a feeling of imposter syndrome. I’d had that and knew very well what that felt like. This was something new. I felt rejected. By prospective employers, by my current job, by my previous job, by those who didn’t believe in me, by those who did believe in me…if you can think of someone it felt like I was getting this feeling from, you’re probably right.

While all this was going on, a former coworker of mine reached out to me seeing if I had any interest in doing a freelancing writing project for the company she worked for. I was somewhat interested, though nothing ever came of the project. Considering I was having struggles getting my own freelancing work off the ground at this point, it would have been a welcome gig, though one I definitely would not have had time for in retrospect.

Later in 2018, I interviewed at the same company for what would have been a dream role. I had a lot of confidence that the role would come to fruition and that it was just a matter of time before it happened. Then, right when I was hitting what was arguably my lowest point mentally with how rejected I felt by everything work related — all while combined with a massive amount of non-work related stress — I found out the budget had been cut for that role. I didn’t get the job.

I was on my break when I found out. On my breaks, I typically walk around the parking lot in an effort to get some exercise, as sitting in a cubicle all day is a rough way to lose weight. In that moment, I found myself standing in the parking lot of a nearby building, crying because I felt like I was never going to get out. Nothing was going to change for the better. I felt like the world was rejecting me, no matter how hard I tried to make things better.

Things did — and are still getting better. I write this post, including the previous 900+ words of sadness and frustration, to remind people that in order to advance your career, it requires a ton of hard work. Not just a little bit here and there. Not just one day of hard work and you’re set for the rest of your career. Do your best every day. Even if what you’re doing isn’t what you’re passionate in, do the best you can and put some of that passion towards finding something to fuel your passion. No one is going to help you out of the rut. Sure, you may find someone who helps you take those last few steps and helps you land a new role. But if you’re not putting in the leg work yourself leading up to that point, they’ll never see your hand poking up from the ditch to grab.

 

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 is1Save 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 music2AKA 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.

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.

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