The Lion, The Witch, and My Wardrobe

apple watchWhat’s the best part about being out of work?

When you’re no longer out of work. Obviously, getting hired was the highpoint of my recent job search. That aside, throughout my journey from unemployment to becoming Texas’ newest cowboy, I went through a range of experiences, some great, most mediocre, some far from great, and one that shocked me so much—and really, almost nothing surprises me since Nov. 8, 2016—that I can barely talk about it to this day.

Who am I kidding? I love talking about it! 

I love talking about a whole bunch of things that happened to me as I zigzagged through a process that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. (Who am I kidding? Of course I would!)

I could go on and on about the highs and the lows of my unemployment escapade, but instead, let me tell you about a couple of incidents at both extremes.

The Lion

Here’s the best (aside from my candidacy with my current employer): During interviews, I like to ask the person across from me a simple question: “What would failing at this job look like?” It’s a nice way to get the interviewer to view things with a somewhat slanted perspective.

Respondents tend to cite a smorgasbord of quantifiable and qualifiable results. “Results” being the key word. So when I asked the question of L’Teisha Ryan, Aetna’s senior director of enterprise communications, she replied:

“You’re failing if you’re coming to work unhappy.”

That’s all. She didn’t attach qualifiers. She didn’t mention results. She didn’t reference herself, or the job, or the department, or the company. What’s more, her response seemed genuine because it was instant. L’Teisha didn’t recline in her chair, arms crossed behind her head, and repeat what I asked or say anything like, “That’s a good question. Hmmm…” in an attempt to buy time to cook up an answer—honest or otherwise—geared to impress me.

She impressed me because she made it about me. Her answer was powerful in its focus and simplicity. And it was the right one. No one defines your own success but you.

Look around at everyone you know who earns more than you, produces more and better results than you, is smarter than you, is better-looking than you, writes wittier blog posts than you.

Are they more successful than you? Maybe. You don’t know. I don’t know. They don’t know. That’s because the answer depends on whose yardstick you use—yours, theirs, or that of some $50K-per-session motivational speaker.

Ultimately, every individual is his own success barometer.

Furthermore, to argue that someone is successful but unhappy is to misunderstand both notions. Success does not determine happiness. Happiness doesn’t lead to success. The two concepts aren’t even intertwined. They are the same. Thankfully, L’Teisha recognized this, and I truly hope you will, too.

(Come on! Those words of wisdom were worth at least $50,000, right? Maybe give or take a few zeros? You just got them for free! You’re welcome.)

So thank you, L’Teshia, for giving me one of the best moments of my job search. You didn’t hire me in the end, but hey, we all make mistakes in life! No matter, though, I landed a great job elsewhere, and, as it turns out, your employer is my health insurer.

Meanwhile, hiring managers and recruiters: Want to give people a great candidate experience? Think about how you can infuse L’Teisha’s reply and its meaning into your own talent-acquisition efforts.

The Witch

Now for the worst: As part of an interview process, after meeting with the hiring manager, I came in to speak with a director with whom I’d be working. (I threw in her title only because at her level, she should especially know better.) The moment we greeted each other, I sensed something awry. Like, girlfriend, would it kill you to smile and at least fake that you’re eager to talk to me?

Things got even weirder when she sternly asked a colleague to summon another coworker who was running late for our panel interview. Like, girlfriend, would it kill you to feign that you don’t generally address people that way in front of a candidate you just met?

Nonetheless, I figured, OK, at least one of us can behave professionally by maintaining a congenial attitude. In other words, in that moment, I was alright pretending. Too bad she wasn’t.

Now this is where things get really bizarro. Picture this director and her colleague sitting directly across from me at a conference table. Picture her asking me all sorts of questions. Picture me answering them. Picture her looking down and playing with her Apple Watch as I’m speaking. Not once. Not twice. Not thrice. She tapped and swiped her watch constantly throughout the entire 45-minute interview.

Like, girlfriend, can’t you try harder to impersonate a decent human being during our brief time together?

If you have something more important going on in your life in this second—maybe you’re bidding on eBay?—let me know. We can pause. We can reschedule. Instead, Watch Witch was sending a signal that she was not paying attention to me, even if she was. Worse, she showed a complete lack or disregard of basic manners. Like, girlfriend, you don’t have to be interested in anything I’m saying, but haven’t you learned throughout your career and your life to act like you are interested?

It was all pretty repulsive. Imagine if I, as the candidate, had done the same. I hope you can only imagine because you care enough about others to offer rightful respect.

I remember leaving the company that day, calling up some friends and family, and explaining how Watch Witch was not a very nice person. Naturally, “nice” was not the actual or only four-letter word I used to make my point.

This individual, and by extension, this company, had mistreated me as a candidate. More than that, they mistreated me as a human. I walked away from the interview questioning if I even wanted the job anymore because I like working with nice people. “Nice” as in nice.

Eventually, the hiring manager and I had a conversation during which we both gave feedback. She explained why I wasn’t a right fit for the role, and I filled her in about my candidate experience. That included throwing Watch Witch under the bus, because this company will lose talented candidates if that sort of behavior persists.

And so the moral for hiring managers and recruiters and all interviewers: You need to ensure that you humanize the candidate experience—really, it’s not all that hard to get it right. You have to try pretty hard to get it wrong. As I always say, you’ll accomplish a lot if you treat people with kindness, empathy, and respect.

The Wardrobe

I feel like I need to throw in something about my attire to justify the title of this blog, so here’s how I gussied up for my interviews with both L’Teisha and Watch Witch. It’s a shame that not everyone is as skilled as I am when it comes to pretending to be an adult.

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You Should Be So Lucky!

luck-152048_1280 (1) (1).pngNow this is the story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute. Just sit right there. I’ll tell you how I got a job, with a bit of flair.

But before I begin, I recognize that it’s been seven hours and fifteen days since I blogged last (sorry, couldn’t resist another song reference). I hate myself even more than usual for neglecting my tens of fans for so long, so I promise to try to inform, provoke, and entertain more regularly.

With that half-apology out of the way, you guys, omigod, I got a new job!

Of course, lots of people write about how they landed a new role to encourage job-seekers brag: “Look at me, everybody! My dreams came true! And yours will, too…if you do exactly as I did.”

All this Oprah-fied pseudo-inspirational babble rarely cites the most important skill to score a job—because it isn’t a skill at all. And since it isn’t an actual ability, then everything else this slew of swaggerers spews resembles nothing more than gloating for clicks.

So, what is this essential non-skill skill that you need to win a new job?  Continue reading

A Reneged Job Offer

handshake-2056023__340(1)I have a friend who’s looking for a job. For real, a friend. Not a “friend.” While I’m also currently searching for new work, this isn’t an after-school special in which we all know the real identity of the “friend.” But like the moral tales you sometimes watched when you got home from class, this story also offers a valuable lesson.

What I’m about to describe is every candidate’s worst nightmare. It’s something that lots of people wonder: Does this actually happen? It happens. Sometimes like this:

My friend Steve* (of course there’s an asterisk) was recently offered a job at America’s Most Disorganized Employer* (there it is again!). He was eager to accept it, except the offer letter lacked enough details. Beyond salary, it mentioned little else. Clearly, a red flag demonstrating a sloppy hiring process or total ignorance about what candidates value, or both.

So Steve did what every candidate should in such situations. He contacted the hiring manager for more information. That’s when he learned that America’s Most Disorganized Employer allows only 10 days for PTO, including sick days. But who cares. Is there free soda? A ping-pong table?

Nothing like companies offering stupid, meaningless perks to try to hide an unwillingness to recognize that people have lives outside the workplace, right? The best talent such firms can hope to lure are job-seekers desperate for work.

Steve was one of those people. He was planning to ultimately accept any offer, but again, he did what every candidate should. He negotiated for more money and more time off, to which the hiring manager replied, “There’s wiggle room.”

No there wasn’t.  Continue reading

Why You Don’t Deserve Recognition for Your Results

stars-303203__340(1)(1)(1)(1)Beware of people who say things like, “I’m the sort of person who likes to get things done.” They almost always make this remark when trying to impress an interviewer, colleague, or manager. The implication is that while all the losers around them are busy being losers, these are the stars of your organization. Often, though, they’re just jerks, or walking clichés at the very least.

The reality is that all of us like to accomplish things. That’s why I hate the term results-oriented to describe anyone.

Know what else I hate? Best practices. So you can imagine how I feel when I hear pundits, executives, and everyone else preach that a best practice for building a results-oriented workplace is to recognize employees who produce…results.

It’s a line that so many people repeat so many times that it’s easy to mistake it for a fact.

It’s actually an alternative fact, an opinion disfigured into a recommendation because it makes intuitive sense. If this seems intuitive to you, too, your intuition is fooling you.

Rewarded for Luck

A while back, I spoke to Michael Mauboussin, Credit Suisse’s head of global financial strategies and author of The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. He explained something that you probably already feel in your gut but might be too panicky, egotistical, or deluded to admit: Many of your achievements—the same ones that earn you praise (or punishment)—are largely beyond your control. Mauboussin explained:

There’s a continuum of things that are pure luck on one end and pure skill on the other. When your outcomes are truly a reflection of the work that you’re doing, a results-oriented evaluation is not unreasonable, like in manufacturing, which is very skills-oriented. But things like launching a successful R&D project are inherently probabilistic, with a lot of randomness and luck to them. There are profound influences that are hard to anticipate.

And get this: The higher you are on the ladder, the greater the role that luck plays in your work. You know what else grows with each rung? Compensation. All of which means that a four-leaf clover increasingly determines what you earn in cash and recognition as you move up a hierarchy. Continue reading

This Is Gay

Scan 6-2-2Does this photo make me look gay? Do I make this photo look gay? And what’s with the hair? It looks very Presidential, only fuller, don’t you think?

This was me around the time I realized that I liked boys and the power of Sun-In and a hairdryer. I’ve been thinking about the person in this picture as I recently watched a TV show that you probably did not. ABC’s When We Rise condensed the sweeping arc of gay-rights over the past 50 years into a four-night, eight-hour miniseries. A big commitment, I know—and I don’t just mean from viewers. That a major TV network devoted a week of prime time to telling queer stories is a major sign of progress.

Yet this was no Roots. Ratings sucked, which some might say also signifies progress. Today, the notion that gay people are, you know, people isn’t as wackadoo as it used to be. And so a history lesson depicting the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of the gay movement can’t capture attention the way that the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills can these days.

Still, I liked the show. It spoke to me, maybe because I was born in 1976 and pushed open the closet door when I was 13. Not many middle-school boys back then openly proclaimed their love for Madonna or knew the entire “Vogue” routine. Even fewer kids supported those who did; gay-straight-student alliances were not yet a thing.

As I watched When We Rise, I obviously reflected on how today so many people take for granted the reality of being gay now vs then. In the early ’90s:

  • I remember being taken to a psychologist not to change my orientation but to confirm that I might be passing through a phase. (Confirmed! I’m still going through it!)
  • I remember stealing gay books from Waldenbooks because I was too scared to be seen buying them.
  • I remember being called a faggot one day in high school. I remember being called a faggot the next day, too. And many days after that.
  • I remember a guidance counselor who stood in the hallway like a deer in headlights after hearing such barbs hurled at me.
  • I remember a theater of moviegoers reacting in (likely feigned) disgust when two male dancers kissed in Madonna’s Truth or Dare. I also remember being one of them, pretending to be grossed out since I wasn’t fully out.
  • I remember wearing kooky clothes to school and feeling relieved that people were making fun of me for something other than being gay.
  • I remember wishing that I were fat, because I thought one F-word wasn’t as insulting as the other.
  • I remember another student coming out and admonishing me for being a disgrace to all gay people (it was either the bathrobe or phone cords I wore to school).
  • I remember a friend telling me to walk in front of her because she didn’t want to be seen with me. A friend.
  • I remember being fired from a summer job as a supermarket cashier seemingly for being gay, and letting them get away with it because I didn’t want to be that guy who played the minority card. (You can read about it here.)
  • I remember deciding to pursue a career in fashion design (my eventual college major), because gay people belong in the arts. I’m gay. I liked clothes. See the logic? A glamorous job in HR never occurred to me. To this day, I’m frustrated that I made a major life decision based on the wrong reasons, or the right reasons at the time, or without much reasoning to begin with.

I remember a lot more, and probably forgot even more. And though I enjoyed the TV show, it made me queasy to relive such memories. I bet the show unnerved lots of homosexuals. Homosexuals! To even hear that word used on TV was weird. Like I’ve always said: Never trust anyone who refers to gays as homosexuals.  Continue reading

How Not to Hate Change (Part 3)

change-948016__340When change-management efforts fail, it’s worth pondering if it was really a lack of efforts that ruined everything. That is, maybe it’s less about what leaders did and more about what they didn’t do.

This week, I’ve been sharing a series of posts featuring what 25 senior executives at leading organizations told me about how they manage change. Their insights come from an article I wrote some years back, but they are just as relevant now.

Communicating Change

Today, in the series’ third and final post, I want to highlight the role that leadership and communication play when managing change.

Read below what execs from Verizon, MassMutual, Novartis, and other big companies have to say about leading and communicating change. (Note that companies and titles reflect people’s roles at the time the article was published. In fact, today almost none of the 25 executives interviewed work for the same corporation and even fewer hold the same job. You know, things change. To view their full comments, and those of other executives, check out the original article, “Will Your People Be Ready?”.) Continue reading

How Not to Hate Change (Part 2)

craftsmen-1713666__340

Is it better for a company to develop a sea of generalists or specialists?

The ideal answer is probably yes—in the sense that you want to have a mix of both types of workers. But given limited resources, which would yield a better workforce?

This week, I’m sharing a series of posts featuring what 25 senior executives at leading organizations told me about how they manage change, including answers to the question above. Their insights come from an article I wrote some years back, but they are just as relevant now.

Change’s Impact on L&D

Today, in the series’ second installment, I want to focus on how change influences learning and development efforts, and vice versa.

Read below what execs from Caterpillar, Shell, General Mills, Deloitte, and other big companies have to say about how L&D and change management intersect. (Note that companies and titles reflect people’s roles at the time the article was published. In fact, almost none of the 25 executives interviewed work for the same corporation and even fewer hold the same job today. You know, things change. To view their full comments, and those of other executives, check out the original article, “Will Your People Be Ready?”.) Continue reading

How Not to Hate Change (Part 1)

question-mark-460869__340Change makes me nervous. There, I said it.

It unsettles me for the same reason it unsettles you—because as much as today might suck, tomorrow could suck worse. (Want proof? Watch CNN’s political coverage.)

Of course, you’re not supposed to actually admit your insecurity. In job interviews, during work meetings, and when speaking with colleagues, you’re expected to talk about how change brings fresh possibilities and new opportunities. You’re supposed to spout some bullshit about how you thrive in uncertainty and ambiguity. Bring it, yo! You’re an effing change agent! And don’t change agents love change?

No! Change agents like when they initiate change. But they’re just as likely as anyone to get the jitters, maybe even more so, when someone else grabs the wheel to careen down a new road. Still, when an organization tinkers with people’s routines, you know the response it wants: Yes we can!

Yes we can! But do we want to?

Take what’s happening at IBM right now. The company’s Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso recently announced that U.S. marketing staff may no longer work remotely or out of smaller district offices. (Supposedly, the new policy will extend to many more workers.) Employees have 30 days to decide whether to report/relocate to one of six “strategic” locations: Austin, San Francisco, New York, Cambridge (Mass), Atlanta, and Raleigh. What’s more, they will not get to choose the city. Continue reading

Mourning in America

light-1551387_960_720-2Someone in your family just died. That’s really too bad, and work must be the last thing on your mind. You’ll obviously need time to grieve, attend a funeral, blah, blah, blah, but you’ll be OK enough to head back to the office really soon, right? Like, perhaps in three days? Sound cool to you?

Of course, you may take longer than that, but things may get…um…you know…kind of complicated to figure out. But really, you should take whatever time you need. Still, three days should be sufficient, right?

That’s essentially the response that many workers get from their employers after a loved one dies. While few managers or HR professionals would ever say the above, they don’t have to. They have policies to do it for them. Nationwide, the average length of paid leave for bereavement of immediate family members is three days. One day for your cousin Shelby.

Ain’t no way I’d be able to work, let alone function semi-normally, that soon. And I doubt you would. Neither would anyone who works in HR—you know, the same people who craft or uphold these egregious edicts.

So why not change the rules?  Continue reading

I Am a Refugee

statue-of-liberty-1142486__340I came to America in 1979. That I am an immigrant is common knowledge among friends, acquaintances, and anyone who’s sat on my schmata-covered couch (it’s not plastic, OK?). But many people do not realize that I am also a refugee.

My family fled the Soviet Union about 37 years ago so that we could buy quality toilet paper at Walgreens. That, and something about an oppressive regime. I’m too young to remember growing up under authoritarianism (though I’m getting a bit of a real-life lesson now), but my mom tells me that life pretty much sucked.

I think nothing of my neighbor overhearing Britney Spears blaring from my apartment, but when my mom was young, her family used to listen to BBC Radio at home at barely audible levels. They did this in spite and because of the fear that neighbors might discover and report the illegal act, ensuring shipment to a camp (not the summer kind), or worse.

Like most Russians, my mom wasn’t allowed to say anything she wanted, live anywhere she wanted, or work anywhere she wanted. But hey, at least she could vote. The choice was always Candidate A or Not Candidate A. Not Candidate A consistently lost by a landslide.

There were also economic problems. You know, Jews. Many Russians understood the obvious: Money-hungry, cheap Jews were manipulating the ruble. Actually, you could trace pretty much everything wrong with the country back to the Jews. Forced to queue for toilet paper, bread, or whatever surprise staple awaited you (if there was a line, you got on it)? Blame a Jew. Lost a job? Blame a Jew. Stuck in traffic? Blame a Jew. Bad hair day? That’s on you, but take it out on Ilya Cohenbergman anyway because you know he’s doing something to ruin your life. Continue reading