Listening to the gut feeling

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It’s probably a weird hobby, but I tend to go to a lot of job interviews, even when I am not  actively searching for a job. Sure, I don’t apply for anything I wouldn’t want or for which I am not qualified (obviously I wouldn’t be invited to an interview without qualifications). I have probably written somewhere before that I think keeping the interview skills sharp is important, and even if I can’t claim to be brilliant at interviewing skills, despite my keeping my “hat in the ring”, I would be even worse if I weren’t actively practicing.

Because this is a common enough occurrence in my life, as a hobby, I give the process and the part of the process that involves gut feeling, a lot of thought. Possibly I am more interested in worklife/human resource linguistic anthropology than in getting jobs. I’ve written before about red flags and alarm bells experienced in interview situations. Sometimes, though, things are even more subtle. You get a sense for a company culture by the small things you see and observe. You might be wrong about the impression you get, but ultimately those impressions matter. You probably aren’t going to feel particularly comfortable in these places if you do get these inexplicable feelings or unusual observations.

I am thinking now about a few other examples. I had a great series of interviews with a company but to start with they rescheduled interviews multiple times throughout the process. I am flexible, so this was okay, especially when we were doing Skype calls and could be flexible. But then they invited me for some final interviews, which required moving around a lot of my schedule and traveling at the last minute. I flew to the city where the company was located. And late in the evening the night before the interview, they emailed to ask if I would mind postponing an entire day. Not just a few hours but an entire day. I already had my tickets to return home in the evening, after the originally scheduled interview. Looking back, maybe I should have said no. Instead I agreed to the change but told them that it was really inconvenient.

In the end, even though the interviews went well, I noticed as soon as I went to the offices that everyone I saw in the office except for a receptionist, everyone I talked to, everyone who was referred to as being a part of the global organization, was a man. And when they talked about their customers, they kept referring to the men who use these products and their wives. It may well be that the majority of their customers are men, but the framing was (unintentionally) gender imbalanced. And later, when they called to tell me it had been a hard decision, narrowed down to one other person and me, they ultimately hired the other person – a man. I don’t necessarily think that was conscious or had anything to do with it, but it was something that I clearly observed. The gender imbalance coupled with the multiple last-minute shifts in schedule led me to think that it was a good thing that things didn’t work out.

Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash

 

 

 

friends or… work friends?

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In almost every job I’ve had, I gained one of the most valuable possible things: not just a work best friend (along with many nice acquaintances), but lifelong friendships that developed from these close work friendships. When I look at jobs in which I didn’t make friends (particularly close ones), I recognize exactly how empty those jobs were and how much harder it was to feel as motivated. Yes, as a recent HBR article maintains, these friendships can indeed be tricky. And I suppose that is why, as the article posits, only something like 19 percent of those surveyed (Americans, by the way) reported having close friendships with a colleague. This is framed as at least partly cultural (non-Americans may be more trusting, collaborative and less “fiercely independent” or bent on personal privacy?).

I have seen some of this dynamic in action. When a global company in which I worked all came together for a global meetup in Europe, the European and Asian colleagues became a more cohesive group, while the Americans seemed standoffish, less social, more formal and “observational”. That is, two years in a row, the American contingent seemed to stand on the sidelines and make observations about how the activities we were engaged in would never be allowed in the US, how we’d have been required to sign liability waivers (in case of injury, etc.). It may also depend on other demographic features (age, etc.) but the Americans’ uniform reserve always struck me as an interesting given how “loud” and “outgoing” Americans are generally perceived to be.

But this is a diversion.

One of my best friends started off as my “office nemesis”. For a year at least, we disliked each other but eventually ‘warmed up’ to become, incrementally, friends.

Another best friend became a friend almost instantly. We went out for dinner together on her first day working in the company, and we lost track of time until the restaurant owners were staring at us, waiting for us to leave so they could close. It was an immediate and deep connection that has only continued to grow, long after our lives changed, long after we stopped working together. And we have since become colleagues again. I cannot imagine my work life – former or current – or, more importantly, my life at all – without her.

I’ve never experienced the ‘tricky complications’ as outlined in the HBR article, but I can recognize that many of the points made could be issues. I suppose for me the depth of the friendships has always been valuable and deep enough that the relationship mattered so much more than just a job. In that sense, I guess, these friendships transcend the idea of a “work friendship”. I happened to meet these people through work, but our friendships had no real connection to the work itself. And you can feel and see a difference. Another good friend, whom I met through work, is a fabulous and intelligent person, and we are still good friends despite not working together any more. But there is a sense that the piece of the puzzle that bound us together closely and gave us something in common is missing, even if we still have a great time together. The impetus and intensity can be driven by the mutual passion or misery created by a job/project.

Overall it seems interesting because friendships are reportedly difficult to make in adulthood, and I suppose they are – where else can you make them than work? Unless you are involved in activities outside of work, or end up being forced friends with, for example, your kids’ friends’ parents or something, it is not exactly like a social smörgåsbord out there. I am not particularly social but don’t feel like I’ve done too badly…

Current grove/Fuck a fox

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J: “It is not uninteresting (be wary of men who express themselves using litotes).”

I’m working and working, and completely unlike all the previous years of my life, sleeping at least the recommended number of hours. I used to fight against sleep and loved being awake for as long as possible, but now sleep draws me in. Then I am awake and make coffee but forget I’ve made the coffee, leaving it to get cold. Repeat.

I’m reading and reading, and the more I read the more I want to read. So many random titles and themes are thrown at me constantly, so the mix of things is incomprehensible to many, who like to stick with well-trodden paths (that is, some people are strictly fiction, some non-fiction), but I am all over the place. Monday, instead of finishing a project, I grabbed Kingsley Amis’s The Alteration as a quick, spontaneous read after reading about it in The Atlantic. It’s an interesting semi-sci-fi/alt-universe thing with an airship called Edgar Allan Poe and the repeated exclamation: “Fuck a fox!” (Which, in literary terms, always leads my mind back to Kerouac’s The Subterraneans and Mardou Fox, but whatever.)

I’m writing and writing, and something totally different from what I had imagined. It’s also collaborative, which is entirely new for me, and that makes the process more energetic and speedy.

Workplace fire extinguisher

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Sometimes you work with people who are natural firestarters – not in a good way. Everything they touch starts to burn, slowly at first, but eventually the flame turns into uncontrolled fires of epic proportions. Some workplaces have firewalls in place who protect most of the other people working there from getting burned too many times. And you really notice when those firewalls are absent.

In those times, you feel a bit like the guy in this Kids in the Hall sketch, following the pyromaniac with a fire extinguisher – frustrated both by the person starting the fires and by the boss who drags his feet doing anything about it.

 

Work: 2 key considerations about your future… or maybe I’m a renegade

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I think a lot about work. Every aspect of work. Not my specific job or career but the overall concept of work.

And I always have. Even when I was in high school/college, I was trying to wrap my head around the different aspects of work. Work life, labor policy, pay, equality, office life, teamwork, reconciling being a non-conformist introvert with the “rah rah” of corporate cheerleading, recruitment, innovation and automation in recruitment, the shift from “pounding the pavement” to targeted online search and the role of technology in hiring and working, the economics of hiring, maintaining a workforce, building small businesses and startups, fitting into a corporate culture (or not) and finding one’s professional niche. I have thought a lot about the past (the “job for life”), the present (freelance/for-hire/impermanent job culture) and the future. All of this can include everything from education and how people learn and enter the workforce to how individuals can find just the right career and balance that works for them. It’s no more cookie cutter than anything else in life, but often it feels like the whole concept of work life is a conveyer belt in a factory making millions of the same commoditized, non-differentiated product.

No, not every company or job is alike. Very different cultures, industries, expectations… but when it’s boiled down to, for example, the job ad – the hook that gets someone to apply in the first place – there is very little differentiation. Recruiters can ask for different approaches to applying (for example, “send us a video and tell us about yourself” – but that just lights up all the pseudo-legal, proto-litigious lights in my head, “And open myself up for blind discrimination because I’m a middle aged lady?”) and change things up, but even the fresh wording in job ads is filled with subtle and not-so-subtle coding. A lot like real estate ads that describe a dilapidated shithole as a place with a lot of potential, if you just think outside the box and will just use your imagination, elbow grease and a lot of energy to turn it into your dream home, many jobs turn out to be the same.

And maybe these limit us – all of us. For example, I might see a job description that mentions how “young” and “fresh” the company is – I am immediately thinking about how environments emphasizing youth, a. probably don’t want anyone over 30, b. no one over 30 and/or really experienced wants to be there, c. the company probably demands much more than they give back, d. it would not be a good fit. And maybe nine times out of ten, it wouldn’t be a good fit. BUT… what if the job description was written by just one person who had a bias or interpretation and that is not at all what the job or company was about? Or, what if, like Microsoft, every job ad spewed into the world, read like it was written by a computer?

Thinking about limitations, probably the biggest concern/lingering thought I have on work pertains to remote work and home offices. I have long felt that technology would enable employees and employers alike to have their pick of the right fit regardless of geography (this has not managed to bear out the way I expected on a large scale). I’ve become semi-activist in my firm belief in remote/distance/distributed work and flexibility in the workplace. I’ve run my own business from a home office for 19 years without a hitch, but somehow most regular jobs and companies aren’t up to speed with that unless they are working with freelancers/outside “renegades”. So maybe I’m a renegade.

The point of this is that work takes up a lot of our lives. And we can end up feeling pretty miserable just because we take on a job (and stay in it) when it’s not the right fit. I read an article today that highlighted five things you need to make sure you do before you sign the dotted line on any new job.

From this, I took away key two points as an extension of the writer’s points:

It’s so tempting to just take the offer and put the job search to rest — but your career, not to mention your health and sanity, are more important than a quick close!”

This statement is true – no job is worth your sanity or health. You might need a paycheck, and you might say yes to a job that won’t be your career to pay the bills. But looking long-term, you’ve got to look for a good fit. BUT (!) what struck me here is the statement that one puts the job search to rest.

In this day and age, in an uncertain and even unstable economic climate and with the ease/automation of the search, does anyone ever “put the job search to rest”? Aren’t you always kind of keeping your eyes and ears open, feelers out and antennae up? Am I just crazy that I regularly update my CV, I keep an eye on the job market and in-demand skills, that I take on occasional freelance and volunteer opportunities, sometimes apply and interview for jobs (if not to get the job to keep the interview skills intact?)? Maybe because I have obsessed about work all my life this restlessness is to be expected, but perhaps a less obsessive but certainly thoughtful and measured approach (always having the job search at least casually open to possibilities) would be advisable.

The second point:

It can take nerves of steel to pass on a job opportunity, but if you’ve ever had the wrong job, you’ll know why it’s important to have standards.

The wrong job can shorten your lifespan.”

I agree on the stress and shortened lifespan. I’ve had some wrong jobs, and I found myself tied in knots, stressed, unable to sleep… and so blinded by the need for a job that I could not even recognize the signs until I had moved on to a new/better situation. Stay clued in when your mind, body and heart are trying to tell you something. It, as the above states, requires nerves of steel to say no – but you are your own best – and sometimes only – advocate. You’ve got to have the guts to say no, back out or take yourself out of the running if the fit just isn’t there or if you have doubts. Or even sometimes when your own life circumstances change and might render you temporarily the wrong fit for a job or company. I have finally learned to do this – for the most part. Sometimes it’s complicated, and a job offer (or job) has a lot of contingencies sucking you in like eight octopus arms squeezing you. Even after some let go, others still tether you there. Recognizing those tethers and figuring out how to ease your way free of them can be a good strategy.

But… what most struck me with this statement is not just that you should say no to the job offer but also that you should think seriously about whether to even go through with the interview – or subsequent interviews in the case of multiple interviews. Sometimes you see a job that looks perfect on paper. You read the ad and you check all the boxes and are ready for or need a new challenge. You apply. You are asked to an interview, but something about the initial exchange leaves you ill at ease. I have learned that this too is a test of will. When I was young and freshly out of college, just getting interviews was a triumph. I went to a lot of painful interviews for things I did not remotely want to do. Back then I sort of had to – but that marked me and influenced this idea that I couldn’t say no, especially because I was the one who had initiated the application process. But you can and should say no if something feels “off” – while you may well have been interested in the first place, interest cools – and you will thank yourself later for not putting yourself in an awkward situation (and for not wasting your own or a potential employer’s time).

It’s your life, your work. You don’t have to be a renegade but you also don’t have to settle for anything that threatens to kill you. If the wrong job can shorten your lifespan, at least find a way to dominate and enjoy the lifespan you have.

Hot dogs and mannequins

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Freaking me out

Freaking me out

My life has seemingly been half-lived on Twitter of late. No long-form blogging streaming from this globetrotter’s fingers.

Lately, I find that wherever I go, hot dogs keep coming up as a source of illness, envy, a stand-in representative of American hegemony (even if eaten in hamburger buns) and even in the form of a chain of eateries called “Hot Dog World”. Even in a traditional UK bakery chain, they’ve launched this new hot dog proposition – and naturally, one, impatient for a coffee and pastry, will get behind the one idiot who needs a fully loaded hot dog first thing in the morning.

Looking but not seeing - mannequin heads in surgical staff clothing

Looking but not seeing – mannequin heads in surgical staff clothing

Meanwhile, in the office, my fear of mannequins has resurfaced. I joined some colleagues for a mini photo shoot this morning only to discover the freakiest, scariest mannequin I have ever seen. I tried to get a close-up shot of its face, which was difficult since I did not want to touch it. You can see how creepy the face is but don’t get the full effect of its slightly open mouth and little freaky plastic teeth (see above).

Never trust a mannequin donning a face mask

Never trust a mannequin donning a face mask

a closet of disembodied mannequin arms

a closet of disembodied mannequin arms

Mannequin hands in ... a planter?

Mannequin hands in … a planter?

The freakiest mannequin I have ever seen

The freakiest mannequin I have ever seen

Toddler fears – closeted mannequins – an exit

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Since I was a baby, I have been afraid of mannequins. I am not literally afraid of them now, but I do find them creepy. I suppose it dates back to my having seen mannequins in a museum (Eisenhower Museum probably – the boyhood Kansas home of good old Ike) my parents took me to when I was three or younger. I had nightmares afterwards about the mannequins crashing out from behind the glass – maybe it was not even nightmares and was just me imagining that they would crash out and try to get me?

My office is full of mannequins (not to be confused with the film, Mannequin, about which I have improbably written before), which are unnerving enough just standing there in unnatural poses modeling clothes. But in my office they are wearing surgical gowns, caps and face masks. The face masks especially add an extra creep factor – only the hauntingly vacant eyes of the mannequin are visible.

The cold, dead eyes of the mannequin

The cold, dead eyes of the mannequin

When I went into the small printer room off the main office area today, I was surprised to find one of the mannequins hidden in a dark closet. Its awkward arm/hand gesture looks a bit like a twisted “Heil Hitler” salute. What is she pointing at? An exit?

closeted freaky office mannequin

closeted freaky office mannequin

The changing workscape: Women, self-awe and flex(ed) work and muscles…

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The other day, in the haze of being a bit too tired to censor myself and my own moment of self-congratulations, I told someone that I am actually “in awe of myself”. Mostly this is because I felt in awe of the copious amounts of work I was able to complete all at once and my general ability to produce prolifically without a huge effort. I was almost immediately embarrassed about saying something so arrogant, even if it really was an expression of surprise at how much I had done (and can do) more than it was a boastful statement.

But then I thought – why shouldn’t I be in awe of myself? Why shouldn’t we all be in awe of ourselves – or strive to be?

In fact women in particular, finally starting to make progress on finding a work-life balance (supposedly, at least), should start from a place of feeling in awe. Not awestruck as in overwhelmed. But awe as in excitement about all the things that

Being able to “have it all” (which, quite honestly, I know nothing about since I don’t really have it all in the way this expression is generally used) does require a bit of rejiggering and sometimes making choices that no one likes. One way women are starting to be able to “have it all” and do more – and thus feel a more tangible sense of resolve and awe – is by being able to have more flexibility in their work lives. Balance, according to a recent Forbes article, is taking on a clearer shape with remote and virtual work arrangements.

I have written a lot about remote work and allowing for flexibility in the workplace – and I too benefit from negotiating for a bit of flexibility. My own work-life balance has improved – and has actually shaped my ability to be more productive and thus in more in awe. 🙂

Lovesick – Layers and processes

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I have a lot of work to do – a prioritized, organized to-do list but cannot seem to focus clearly because I am feeling a bit like a lovesick teenager. I have never really gone through such a thing before – certainly not in this way. It’s belated, arriving only in my middle-aged life, when I find myself much more sentimental than I was in my youth.

The nice thing about it, despite its obvious distractions, is that it is simple. I can’t control it, can’t plan it – can’t do anything except give in to it.

Its simplicity is the exact opposite of the corporate world. Almost every day, new layers and processes are added to already convoluted layers and processes – none of which are useful or mean anything or help anyone. I am convinced that people spend so much time creating these processes, endeavors, initiatives, efforts, workshops, sessions, meetings, summits and whatever else to convince themselves that what they are doing is much more complicated than it really is. It also masks the considerable overlap in job functions – so many people are present creating and then following nebulous “processes”, completely sure they are contributing – and more importantly – busy. And that’s what counts – look and feel busy.

The only similarity with the lovesick thing is that the addition of these processes and layers is completely out of my (your, our) control. Every time a new “thing” is introduced, I find myself shaking my head, sarcastically muttering under my breath, “Oh yes, more processes and layers of management – that’s always better.”