Urgency: Does Anybody Have It?

Yesterday, I got hit with another massive wave of discouragement. I realized that I don't want to get good at handling discouragement. It's not worth the pain. But I am resorting to a tactic that got me through boot camp. I keep telling myself that many people have been here before me, and they made it. I can too.

First, I had a phone interview. I was hoping for "Wow, you're the super tech we've been waiting for. Can you start after lunch?" What I got was a second interview next week.

Then I exchanged emails with a friend. There are a few open positions in his organization. I applied for one. Even though he's a director, he has no real authority in hiring. All he can do is forward my resume. But, even after applications close out, it will be 4-6 weeks before I could even get scheduled for an interview. That's another mortgage payment. Not sure my savings will hold out that long. Crap. I wanted to crawl under a table.

Then an email came in. I applied for a FEMA job in November or December of last year. They FINALLY got around to deciding I'm not qualified. 

I have to wonder if anybody has a sense of urgency in hiring. How does any work get done when nobody can get hired?

But there was a bright spot. I'm not totally without hope. A friend of mine is a Real Estate agent. When I first got laid off, I asked her if she thought I could make it as an agent. It's something I always wanted to do, and with FEMA not being the only organization not in a hurry to hire anybody, I figured it was worth pursuing.

I met with my friend's broker, who is willing to take me on after I get licensed. I already took the school, and my state license exam is scheduled for Monday. Then I have to get fingerprinted, and get a background check. I think I misunderstood how long it will take before I can start though. Apparently it will be sooner than I thought. I'll also be working in the top producing office in New Jersey. I'll be learning from the best.

That's where a paradox comes in. I could take down all of my resumes now. I could start laying out a list of goals for Real Estate. Or do I pursue another tech job? I feel weird trying to keep a foot in each door. I think I'm going to have to make a decision very soon.

And I have to study for my license exam.

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Alternate Work Schedules: What’s Best For You?

The company that laid me off last month rolled out what they called "Flexible Work Schedules" at the end of 2008. I elected not to participate because I considered these schedules to be far less flexible than a regular 8 hour day 5 days a week.

One model required you to work 9 hours every day and take 1 day off every two weeks. The other model required 8 hour days one week, then 10 hour days the next, with 1 day off in the 2 week period. Maybe if they'd called it an "Alternate Work Schedule" I would have considered it. But by calling it a "Flexible Work Schedule" while making it less flexible than the original model, my BS detector just about blew my eardrum out. Oh, yeah, if an unpaid holiday appeared (they only gave us 7 paid holidays a year, and Black Friday wasn't one of them), your day off became that holiday whether you liked it or not. Yeah, real flexible. Also, if a paid holiday appeared during a time when you were scheduled to work more than 8 hours a day, you had to take vacation to make up the balance. Again, super flexible. 

It's scary when companies believe their own BS.

I've worked a flexible schedule before. When I was at BAE systems, I was required to put in 80 hours in 2 weeks. I could flex up to 16 hours from one week to the next within a pay period. As long as my work was getting done, I could come and go as I pleased. I loved it. If I needed a day off (or was sick) I could work a couple of 12 hour days to make up for the missed day. I could leave for a few hours and come back. Nobody ever said anything as long as my work was getting done, which it was.

I really enjoyed that kind of flexibility. I normally worked 9 hour days and took a half day most Fridays. I could come in on weekends if needed to make up time. I loved coming in on Saturday, when nobody else was there. I could get a lot done with the entire floor all to myself.

When Caleb tried a physics experiment (he wanted to see if his hand and the minivan sliding door could both occupy space simultaneously) I got up and left for the ER. I came back a few hours later and worked late.

INC Magazine has an article about Four Day Work Weeks. I don't actually like the concept of 4 day work weeks. I like to have the option to do them occasionally, but I would not want a 4 day work week to replace a 5 day work week.

Here's why:

  • 10 hour days are exhausting- Seriously, they wear you down. I don't mind doing 10 and 12 hours days as the situation requires, but I wouldn't want to do them all the time.
  • Workload is rarely that predictable
  • They limit flexibility to handle workload- what do you do when something comes up on Friday, but everybody is off? "Oh, sorry Mr. Client, we don't work on Friday. You'll have to wait until Monday." That or you can incur some overtime expenses.
  • Life is rarely that predictable

Here's my preference:

  • Hire professionals that you can trust. Seriously, if you catch somebody cheating on time, fire them.
  • Tell your professionals what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by.
  • Give your professionals some leeway to decide what needs to be done and when it can be done.

In this age of knowledge work, many jobs can be done outside the limitations of a 9 to 5 workday set in a physical location. Why not change compensation to a model based on what gets done rather than how many hours a butt is in a chair? Some service jobs are still somewhat chained to time and space, but most knowledge jobs aren't. Give knowledge workers some space and watch what happens.

Inc. Magazine: Onboarding a New Hire

Inc. Magazine has an interesting article about how to onboard a new hire. The article seems to have disappeared since I started writing this. Maybe it'll be back. It still shows up on a site search.

Hopefully, very soon I'll have to worry about starting work with a new company. That means I'll go through some form of onboarding. But what kind of onboarding will it be?

Traditionally, you show up for work and spend most of the day filling out forms. Some companies will have an HR representative to walk you through them. Others stick you in a room (or cubicle) and leave you on your own.

Then you get to meet the people you'll be working with. 

Some companies are more organized than others. Sometimes it takes days to get an email account. My last company had one created for me the day I started.

I started working for BAE Systems the week of Thanksgiving. But because it was the "holiday season", for the next several weeks many key people were unavailable. I started work in November, but it was January before I had access to all the accounts and systems that I needed to do my job.

But is the traditional onboarding plan really the best? Unfortunately, most companies have the attitude "We do things the way we do because this is the way we've always done them."  Not "experience has proven this is the best way." No, it's because it's the way we've always done it. Talk about circular reasoning.

We work in cubicles, not because it's the best and most productive working arrangement. But because it's the "way we've always done it." Work hours are set, not because those are the best hours for people to work, but "this is the way we've always done it." We don't have more telecommuting because you can't trust college educated professionals to work unsupervised, but because "everybody getting up in the morning and driving to this office is the way we've always done it."

The INC Magazine article made some suggestions for onboarding. Mostly it was simple (yet ignored) advice, like setting up email accounts ahead of time. Send the employee handbook and benefits information ahead of time.

What onboarding inefficiencies have you experienced? How do you think it could be made better?

Do You Know When To Fix Somebody, And When To Just Listen?

This post is hard for me. I like to fix things. I love to have problems to solve. I also love to learn things. I’d love to have the answer to every question.

A few weeks ago, a group I was talking with had an interesting discussion. Have you ever had somebody totally drop a bomb on you? He just open up and let you in one some major problem in his life. What’s your first reaction?

If you’re like me, your first reaction is probably something like “Oh, that’s not a big deal. You should try this. And also this. And yeah, this too. Ok, got it?” If you’re a Christian, you’ll probably throw a boilerplate “You’ve got to trust God. God will provide.”

The problem is, that’s often not helpful. I’m not saying I don’t believe it. But when the manure hits the fan, it’s not helpful.

Here are some steps to take when you are dealing with a friend facing a crisis that you think could be fixed, if they would just listen to you:

  1. Give the person some credit for knowledge and life experience– It’s no secret I’m out of a job. I’ve gotten plenty of advice. None of it is helpful. Definitely none of it is new information. (See my post about the most useless career advice, and “Drive Safe…”.) I had somebody ask me if I knew I could look for jobs in the newspaper. No, really? Wow, I’m 36 years old and nobody ever told me there were jobs in the PAPER! What have I been doing with my life? Seriously, when you’re tempted to hand out advice, stop and think critically about whether or not the person you’re advising might actually know, have considered, or even tried the advice you’re hoping to use to apply a quick fix to his or her situation. Please.
  2. Are you actually following or would you follow the advice you’re giving? Prior to being let go, a friend at my job would constantly offer me advice. I hadn’t seen him do any of it himself. I honestly wasn’t interested in following it. It didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to try some of my own ideas first. But he kept coming over to my cubicle and giving me the same advice over and over again. And of course, while he was giving me this advice, I couldn’t do anything else productive. When I was first told I’d be out of there in a few days, and given permission to access the job sites from work, he spent a good 45 minutes giving me that same advice again. That was 45 minutes that I WASN’T applying for other jobs. Then I had to be escorted out because they realized that employees who know they’re short become security risks. He was a friend, but that was wasted time. It wasn’t helpful, and it didn’t “fix” my problem.
  3. Consider this: is it possible that you could be more help if you just shut up and listened? I have a fair amount of intelligence and life experience. I’ve had to find jobs before. I know how to do a job search, and intellectually, I know what steps I have to take to secure another position. But honestly, I’m scared. I don’t want to end up miserable again. I don’t want to be stuck in another stuffy cube next to the gossip-hole. I don’t want to be doing boring, tedious work again. I don’t want to work for another micromanger. I don’t want to be in another organization that is busy being busy. I want to be effective. I want to have challenges and solve problems. And I’m afraid if I go too fast, I’ll end up in another bad fit. And I don’t want that. It’s not good for me, and it’s not good for the company (see below). I’m often able to work through my own problems when I have somebody to think out loud to. I assume other people are as well.

When somebody drops a bomb on you, please consider that there might not be a quick fix. Consider the possibility that maybe you could do more good just by listening, rather than dispensing advice.

Beware of Scam Sounding Recruiters

I hate looking for a job. It’s never been fun. The last few times, I already had a job, which took some of the urgency away. I’m especially fearful now of ending up in another bad match, stuck in another cubicle near yet another high-traffic/low concentration area.

I have to wonder about a few things though.

For one, do Career Builder and Monster somehow handicap you if you decide not to pay for their premium services?

Also, is it really a benefit

This post just took a turn from what it was originally intended to be. I was going to whine about recruiters asking me to join yet another resume farm. Those really bug me. I don’t get the point, and I’ve never gotten a benefit from them. I was going through my spam folder, and came across the following message:

subject
Corporate Recruiting Firm (Contact info request)

Eric,

If I already emailed you then please ignore this, but I’ve learned that some of my recent emails were not delivered.

I have a copy of your resume and was touching base to see if you are currently in the job market. If so, please register with us at http://www.mcsourcer.com/register so I can easily update you regarding opportunities.

I’m based in Chicago but our current search engagements are spread nationwide.

Best Regards,
Mike McCarthy
McSourcer Recruiting and Staffing
Phone: 312.277.1986
40 E. Chicago Ave. Suite 131
Chicago, IL 60611
http://mcsourcer.myplaxo.com

Remove your email from my list here and I promise to never contact you again:
http://lists.mcsourcer.com/u?id=8080475.23b48f3475dfcdc7d0e7a4c33c22768d&n=T&l=mcsourcer-candidates&o=1372721

I decided to to a search on this agency, and I came up with this. They’re not saying this is a scam, but it sure sounds like one. I agree.

For one thing, look at the phone number: “Phone: 312.277.1986”. In America, we write our phone numbers as “(312) 277-1986”. In other countries, they put periods after the groupings of numbers. I tend to be suspicious when I get an email that is supposedly from somebody living in the U.S. but uses foreign designations. Have you ever posted something on Ebay or Craig’s List and somebody promised to pay you in “American Cashier’s Cheque”? Why would I go to a yard sale in my neighborhood and offer to pay in “U.S. Dollar” when that’s all we use here?

The website for McSourcer is very basic. It’s definitely not professional at all. I could do a better job with TypePad’s templates than that. You can read the link I posted above for what happens when you try to register. I’m not planning to.

McSourcer aside, do you get any benefit from resume farms? If you’re already on sites like Careerbuilder, Dice, Monster, Clearance Jobs, etc., do you ever act on those emails that say “We’re the largest IT recruiting firm, with over 40,000 customers. Put your resume on our site”?

When Bad News Is Good News (And People Won’t Deliver It)

I wrote this post yesterday. Then I deleted the entire thing. What came out of my hands onto my keyboard was very angry and reactionary. It was also immature. I should expect better of myself.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you know the news you’re likely to get is bad? Of course you have. But have you also wished that the shoe would just drop so you could get on with your life? But the shoe never drops. The call never comes. And it all boils down to people not keeping commitments.

Last Monday, I got a call. It was for a possible job. It sounded very exciting. This company was looking to branch into something that I have some very direct experience in. I also happen to be available to help them with it. There were drawbacks, like a 60 mile commute. But I was excited about the possibility.

Continue reading

High-Stress vs. High Frustration

I wrote the following post back in January, but never got around to posting it. I hate to let it go to waste, because I was trying to communicate the difference between a high-stress environment and a high-frustration environment. I can handle stress. Needless frustration is a very bad thing. I was ultimately let go from the job on March 18, 2010. That saved me the trouble of walking out. It's pretty sad when working conditions reach such a low point that you begin to pray to be fired, because you have nothing else lined up and are at a disadvantage if you quit.

I've done my best to change the language of this post from present-tense to past-tense. It's now written from a perspective of a former employee, rather than a current employee.

I plan to write only one more blog post about that job, then I will lick my wounds and move on.

This begins the original post, High-Stress vs. High-Frustration:

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook from November 2009 to March 2010, you know that I was highly frustrated at work. I figured I would take a few moments to explain why.

I guess I’ll repeat: I despise the concept of cubicles. It sends a great message to the kids, doesn’t it? Work really hard, get a degree, and someday, you too can sit in a box with little privacy where people can sneak up behind you all day long. It’s a great incentive for education and hard work, isn’t it?

Cubicles frustrate me. I’m a knowledge worker. I get paid to think, and turn that thinking into product. But, it’s hard to THINK when people are talking all day long. I also don’t do very well when people sneak up behind me. The project leader I worked with liked to sneak up behind me and grab my shoulders. I somehow managed to stop myself from coming up swinging. I don’t care if some of you think I’m whining. I don’t like it, and it hinders my ability to work. I’m not comfortable in an environment where people can sneak up behind me and grab my shoulders like that.

Then there were the conversations. People in offices like to talk. I understand, so do I. But it’s hard to concentrate on work when the conversations all happen right outside of your cubicle. Cubicles are one of the most anti-productivity concepts around.

Enough about cubicles. I know, there’s nothing I can do to change them, but they are frustrating. On to why the actual work was frustrating.

As you may know, I was fired from the project I was originally hired for. My company was nice enough to keep me around for a while. They had one project that I could help out on. It wasn't actual engineering or technical work, but it brought in a paycheck.

The problem was, the project brought in lots of frustrations. It was never planned out properly. I think our customer didn't know how to do the job, but it had to be done so they outsourced it to us. They constantly changed their minds about what they wanted. Some of their requests actually prevented us from doing a good job. Basically, they wanted a product that they could redline and show their program management that the job was done.

On top of that, the people who led the project hadn't planned very well. Some of the instructions we were given earlier caused more trouble later.

Several times, I got so frustrated that I started wondering just how badly I need a house, or a car, or food, or anything. I don’t like being frustrated enough to walk out, but what we were doing was literally like digging a hole and filling it again. I would be given an assignment, then have it taken away and passed to somebody else while I picked up where somebody else left off on another assignment. There was no ownership, and I had no part in the planning of the project at all even though my expertise would have helped make it run smoother. 

I got frustrated one day because I was given a spreadsheet. We were tracing requirements to documents that we had written. We should have done the requirements trace as we went along, but were told not to and “we’ll do it later.” Somebody else supposedly traced these requirements, but I had no idea which document they were traced to. It took me a while to find the right document with the help of the guy who did it. He was given confusing instructions, so I had to repeat work that he already did. He would have done it right had he been allowed to.

It didn't help that I read this one night in the middle of all that frustration:

…Jewish law mandates that no employer may direct a subordinate to dig a ditch one day and to fill it in the next, only to have him reexcavate it on the third day. Early years of experience in mass production and assembly lines during the twentieth century showed that treating workers like automatons and depriving them of meaning in their professional lives was not only immoral but also economically stupid. – Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Thou Shall Prosper, Chapter 4.

During one point where I contemplated walking out in frustration, I gave some thought to this. Obviously, I had to stick around at that point because I’ve got bills to pay and a family to support. 

I generally liked the people that I work with, even the project leader who frustrated us. I think he just didn't have any experience in running a project like this. He also didn't seem to know how to communicate, which led to our frustration. His emails were in riddles, he confused acronyms, and he confused the terms “test procedure” with “step within a test procedure”. That one lead to no end of confusion until I figured it out. That’s as bad as in my last position where people didn’t know the difference between a test procedure and a test plan.

It’s not that that was a high stress environment. I can handle a high stress environment. I actually somewhat like it. I wouldn’t go out of my way to create a high-stress environment for the heck of it, but I don’t mind them. I don’t mind working 12 hour days and traveling half the time AS LONG AS SOMETHING MEANINGFUL IS BEING ACCOMPLISHED. It feels good to get things done and make things happen.

But when your professional life consists of the equivalent of digging a ditch only to fill it back in again, it leads to a high-frustration environment. I don’t deal well with frustration. Stress I can handle, frustration I can’t.

I like to be effective. Just tell me what you want done and get the heck out of my way while I do it. I like to work like that. I like to know what has to be done and make it happen. I wasn't getting that in the months before I was ultimately let go. Sometimes, the assignment changed twice an hour. I was told to do it one way, then to do it another way the next time I talked to my project lead. One time, I had him convinced and had permission to write a new document, then the next time I saw him, “no, we’re not writing new documents. Match the requirements to what we already have.” They don’t match. “It doesn’t matter. Match them.”

OK, would you like me to defy gravity while I’m at it? Grow wings?