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?

Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons, Orange Stars, Green Clovers, Blue Diamonds, Purple Horseshoes, and Red Balloons!

It’s luck. I discovered my cubicle of gold at the end of the occupational rainbow because some little leprechaun must’ve sprinked a slew of magically delicious Lucky Charms on me. A four-leaf clover was more valuable than my talents, smarts, creativity, and six-pack abs combined. My successes and accomplishments likewise rode on the wings of a ladybug. Even John of Finland‘s critique of my résumé and this site proved less relevant than rolling dice.

I will never pretend that luck isn’t the foremost factor in finding any position. One’s herculean job-search efforts won’t amount to anything unless the right this and the right that align.

I wish that career counselors (and who isn’t one these days?) would stop ignoring luck when advising job-seekers because it does them not only a disservice. It is an insult. It tells already emotionally vulnerable individuals that their best attempts can’t possibly be their best attempts if they’re still unemployed. And if their best really is their best, then the logical conclusion is that they just plain suck.

But (of course there’s one) that doesn’t mean any job-seeker has a reason to sink into helplessness and blame fate. Fate is not a thing. Luck is. That’s why it’s equally true that you can create situations that enable good fortune to play its hand.

That is, you’re more apt to get lucky if…well…if you do what I did.

Step 1: I Should Be So Lucky. Lucky, Lucky, Lucky!

This step’s name is just a lame excuse to reference yet another song. Still, if you stop reading now, you’ve got the main point of this post. But since I haven’t written in a while, don’t ditch me for Netflix yet.

Step 2: Create Your Luck!

When Prudential laid me off some months back, thousands of people (or something like that) expressed condolences and concern, as if I faced a looming battle with leukemia. A few colleagues even cried. I hope they were upset mainly because they’d no longer have someone with whom to sing ’80s duets, discuss Bravo shows, or bitch about shared nemeses.

While I was sad to leave behind great coworkers, I was anything but glum about my future. I knew that amazing adventures, experiences, and people were around the corner.

Until they weren’t. Turns out, I got a different type of cancer, one that inevitably afflicts most job-seekers. It’s that nagging, growing frustration stemming from inability to convince, or have opportunities to convince, companies of your splendor. The more it metastasizes, the more it twists some people to feel worthless.

Thing is, I never lost sight of my value, even if applicant tracking systems, the bots, and some recruiters did. (I have great stories to tell in future posts. Stay tuned!)

Meanwhile, looking for work became full-time work. I did all the usual stuff, like waste too much time on job boards, but I also put a ton of energy into networking. Next to luck, connecting with people is the best thing you can do as a job-seeker and, for that matter, while still employed. But not just for the obvious reasons.

What I enjoyed most about unemployment (did I just type that?) was speaking with cool people at cool businesses about cool things related to work, life, and Real Housewives.

I won’t turn this into “9 Tips on Networking” because you already scroll past that article on social media. Google can also unearth the same re-re-re-plagiarized tips.

So let me tell you something else. Lean in. Come closer. I’m about to say something über-vital: Forget about your career. Forget about your job for a moment. And remember this: Meeting new people is the best thing you can do in and for your life, period. We are biologically primed to be social, so whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, regardless of whatever some personality assessment once claimed about you, there are myriad ways to socialize comfortably. And you will be far happier when you do. For real.

That’s not Oprah speaking. That’s not even me speaking. That’s you speaking—because you know it’s true. And so what kept me sane and engaged with the job-search process and with life in general were all my interactions with family, friends, and colleagues, old and new.

Speaking of increasing interactions, not long after losing my job, I decided to explore taking on a greater role with DisruptHR, an information exchange designed to energize, inform, and empower HR professionals. The organization holds events in 101 cities in 22 countries, and since its 2015 New York City debut, I’d spoken at it numerous times.

I approached the local organizer about helping out. Maybe I could, I don’t know, create a post-event survey?

“How about you come on as a co-organizer instead?” he replied. So I did. So I still am. I thought it would be a terrific chance to help steer an organization and produce events that I love while meeting a ton of new people in the process! It was. It still is.

Step 3: Do You!

With no excuse not to, I also re-launched this blog. As I wrote shortly after I left Prudential:

I’ll be writing about workplace issues. Because I know about workplace issues. Because I’d written about them for 14 years at a magazine where I was a senior editor (see how I snuck in a credential to give the illusion of authority). Because I recently worked at a Fortune 100 company (I did it again!) managing talent engagement and doing internal communications focusing on leadership, learning, development, performance management, and more. Because I care about creating better workplaces. Because I work.

We all work. We all have all sorts of feelings about our jobs, our managers, our companies, our careers, our lives. I want to share mine with you because…why the hell not? I love challenging the status quo and provoking thought. And this is a better outlet than Facebook, where no one cares what anyone says anyway.

I started writing again because I love writing. Plus, I wanted a platform to share my views with you, fellow HR geeks, and beyond—in my way, in my tone, on my terms. No one was about to give that to me, so I gave it to myself. I even created and had Vistaprint send me my first personal business cards. You guys, I am now legit adulting!

Which leads to the third most important aspect of finding new work: Brand yourself. Do you, and do you publicly. It doesn’t matter that all of Kim Kardashian’s—or even all of Jennifer McClure’s—followers have no idea who you are.

If you have interesting opinions to share, or boring opinions to share in interesting ways, start a blog, post on LinkedIn, go to Meetups, attend DisruptHR, speak at DisruptHR! Because I just told you why in Step 2.

(Let’s take a commercial break from this employment telenovela: The next DisruptHR NYC event is on Sept. 13. There’ll be food, alcohol, great speakers, alcohol, awesome networking, alcohol, and me! Get your ticket here. Want to speak? Let’s make that happen! There will be alcohol.)

Step 4: The Best Part!

Let me preface the following series of events by pointing out that the impending onslaught of details serves to highlight that this is how it works in best-case scenarios. This is how luck can draw lines between dots in unexpected ways.

While on a vacation in Asia. I got a text from Leprechaun Laurie, or my fairy HR godmother, Laurie Ruettimann. I’d originally gotten to know Laurie when I edited her column for The Conference Board Review. (She still refers to me as her former boss. As if. Ain’t no one bossing around that HBIC.)

Since then, we’ve built a friendship based on aversion to meat, mutual body-shaming, endless complaining (mostly I to her), and ongoing support (mostly her to me). Laurie has also introduced me to a bevy of HR luminaries whirling in her orbit. (Networking!)

In her text, Laurie alerted me to a job that had just opened at The Starr Conspiracy, a B2B marketing and advertising agency dedicated to enterprise software and services clients. Soon after, Lance Haun, who works at TSC, reached out to me. (Networking!)

Only a month earlier (before any job prospect, so no ulterior motive), I had approached Lance at the ERE Recruiting Conference in San Diego. I’d been reading Lance’s work for a while and figured, why not say hello?

Lance spilled his smoothie all over the table upon greeting me, because after all, who wouldn’t jump in excitement when seeing me for the first time? We then chatted for a while about everything important in life. (Networking!)

I should also point out that I had been at that event as a result of connecting, also via Laurie, with ERE CEO David Manaster. He and I had pigged out on pizza in Little Italy and next thing I know, I’m instigating a smoothie calamity across the country at ERE’s conference.

And so at this point, I don’t think I need to parenthesize the word. You get it. Networking. It matters.

It also matters that I sought all sorts of support from all sorts of people—from Mary Faulkner to Madonna (though only one consistently replied). All of us need some hand-holding during stressful times in our lives. I’m super-thankful that I had enough caring hands I could grasp with my own shaky, disgusting, sweaty palm.

Anyway, Lance introduced me to his boss and hiring manager, Jonathan Goodman, who said at one point that he wasn’t sure he’d find a candidate like me. “Well,” I explained, “when you aim your sights low enough, you eventually find me.” We then proceeded with an interview disguised as a conversation, or was it the other way around?

A few days later, I was hired to be a practice leader in The Starr Conspiracy’s Intelligence Unit, where I’ll be strategizing, thought-leading, writing, and consulting for the agency and its clients.

Why Was I Hired?

The new work looks really interesting. I think I’ll learn and accomplish a lot. Also, my colleagues seem like a really gregarious, intelligent, supportive, and fun group. (Then again, what do I know? I’m new and naïve, and we’re all still on semi-good behavior.)

Unlimited PTO, flexible schedules, working remotely, a casual culture, and a host of work/life perks that emphasize the part after the slash are also appealing. I especially love all the dogs in the office. The number of licks I received during my week of onboarding was more action than I’ve had in years!

Though in the end, none of this is what’s most gratifying about finding this role.

What really gets me moist is that I feel like everything I’d been doing to get to this point finally paid off. All the puzzle pieces of my job search finally fit together. The networking, my experience with DisruptHR, the blog, the personal branding, the time, the effort, the spilled smoothie, the business cards!—it’s not that all this earned me a job. It’s that they earned me the right job.

Something else: While I come with a range of skills, I don’t think I was hired predominantly for them. I can write, sure. I can think, usually. I have HR knowledge, yeah, I guess. That’s all crucial for this role, but plenty of other candidates can string together words, and they also know how messy and messed up HR can be. Indeed, I told Jonathan not to hire me for my competencies. Instead, hire me for my personality.

At least in my mind, that’s what happened. The Starr Conspiracy prides itself on challenging conventions, provoking thought, and humanizing brands. Hey, me too! As my favorite line from the agency’s website states:

Our bottom line: Let your freak flag fly. Even if it’s blowing in the opposite direction of freaky. We’ll help you find what makes you weird and awesome, and then we’ll flow it into your marketing strategy, so you attract your ilk.

Simply put: There’s major cultural fit going on here. We see each other. I see my character reflected in theirs. They see someone who doesn’t have to feign excitement for the job or the company or perform mental acrobatics to connect with the mission.

I branded myself in a way that repelled the majority of employers so that I’d land at one that wasn’t enslaved by meticulously matching a job ad’s bullets with a candidate’s résumé. They understood the significance of hiring me, not my LinkedIn page.

Best of all, I can come to work as the best version of myself, which, for starters, means not fearing naming my employer in my personal blog. Obviously, I’m still luxuriating in a honeymoon phase, but I take it as good signs that coworkers can laugh at jokes that would induce side-eyes in other workplaces, that no one thus far has discovered my incompetence (maybe by August), and that I get to travel regularly to Texas headquarters to train for a side job as a cowboy. Or maybe a Cowboys cheerleader.

So yeehaw for me! I got lucky. And you can too!

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

Ashamed to Be Nice

smiley-1271125_960_720There’s a really popular article on LinkedIn called “A Human Resources Career Is Not for ‘Nice’ People.” So far, it’s garnered more than 20,000 likes, almost 2,000 comments, and nearly 10,000 shares.

It’s not hard to see why: When you read something implying that friendliness and human resources are incompatible, you think Wow! or What? or Huh? or But I’m in HR and I’m nice!

Is Nice Enough?

The problem, as the article insists, is that too many HR people think that their jobs are all about helping people. They consequently assume that “being a nice person is qualification enough for the function.”

Who are these people? Who are these professionals that believe that grinning from ear to ear at work is all you need to do your work? Many of the HR peeps who I know have “MBA,” “SPHR,” or a host of other acronyms trailing their names. What idiots! They spent all that time and money and energy growing their knowledge when they could’ve gotten by with a mere smile.

The post goes on to detail how hard HR can be. It cites examples of professionals who must lay off people, have difficult compensation conversations, and do other not-fun things. All of which point to the notion that “nice is not enough.”

Well of course it isn’t!

The article eventually explains that we should replace “niceness” with “empathy.” Fair enough, but can’t we embody both? Shouldn’t we?  Continue reading