October 5, 2016

Unlocking the mystery of my next job

HappyWorkI’ve hit a rut

Our current work and life arrangements are pretty comfortable. The work is flexible and particularly good for me when I’m perpetually sick. I can get the work done as long as I have a phone, an internet connection, and a computer. These are all good things.

They are, no doubt about it.

The “but” you hear coming…

I’ve always enjoyed the act of work, my satisfaction is rarely about the work itself, so when the balance tips away from “fulfilling accomplishments” and towards “frustration everywhere”, it’s time to make an exit plan.

I now advise myself, and anyone who asks, to construct an exit plan based on finding their next level of happy instead of waiting until the magic is well and truly gone. Those are two very different mentalities, and the latter is by far the easier. I know this, because I’ve worked jobs til I was well into the Bitter Zone and it was a world away from leaving when I had a better opportunity beckon. People who leave jobs in a blaze of fury imagine it to be glorious, and to be sure, when you’re young there’s something satisfying about taking a walk when you’re fed up but that’s just the illusion of control. Real control is reading the signs long  before you burn out and strategically making the choice to leave on your terms.

We’re coming up on my 20th year in the workforce and something unusual’s happening. Every time I read another job description, nothing happens. No spark, no interest, nothing. It’s impossible to work up even a facade of enthusiasm for going into an office or to a work site. Perhaps it’s because of this stage of life where I want to have at least this much flexibility to do my work without sacrificing my family or even the Exceptional Levels of Tired of late.

Starting at a new-to-me company comes with a host of obligations to prove myself and build new relationships. That’s par for the course but I just don’t much feel like golfing.

I’m not actually ready to leave, for the most part my job is great. It’s just that I need some kind of change and I don’t know what it is yet. Until I do, figuring out what I’m looking for will either answer the question, the problem will resolve itself over time, or I’ll be inspired.

Navja Sol and The Secret to Being Happy with Your Job: I figured out that biggest mistake I’d been making was asking “What job would I want?” instead of “What do I want out of my job?”

Andrea Emerson and If you want to quit your job this year, do this: …your goals must be firmly rooted in your WHY if they stand any chance of survival.”

What do I want out of my next job?

Tangible benefits and structure

  • Telecommuting
  • Absolute schedule flexibility
  • Generous sick and vacation leave
  • An annual equipment budget

The work itself

  • Primarily online
  • A minimum of people time (meetings, phone calls)
  • Needs to have meaning to me
  • Contribute to the world in some positive way

What is my why?

It’ll be 20 years I’ve been working and most of that time has been about career-building.

Now that has to co-exist with building a life with my family. I didn’t work my butt off up til now so that I’d have the privilege of carrying on working and missing the most important moments and years of my baby’s life, or with my partner, or with our four-leggers.

Every decent parent wants to give their kids what they didn’t have. What I didn’t have is a mile long but I’m no fool to overcompensate on everything. What ze will get, if I can swing it, are the two most important things that I missed: more access to books and time with hir parents.

My childhood is marked more by milestones that my parents didn’t witness, lessons and activities that they didn’t see. I thrived even without them but definitely felt the lack. Without being helicopter parents, I’d like our kid to have the option of having us there more than not.

What I want for myself is to have and be an example of a happy functional marriage so JuggerBaby knows that you can choose a partner and live well as a team, if you’re so inclined.

What does a great future look like?

The same thing as what I want to give JuggerBaby, really. More reading and more time with loved ones. It’d be awesome if that could happen while surrounded by a somewhat larger but very cozy home of our own that’s got a private yard where we can throw balls for Seamus, an office and a library, but isn’t too big overall and doesn’t cost three souls and a half plus property taxes. That’s totally obtainable here in the Bay Area, right?

… ok you can stop laughing now.

:: What’s your next great job look like? What does it let you do in your life that you can’t do now?

February 22, 2016

Planning for job evaporation and asking “What’s next?”

My jaw aches set in at dawn. When I close my eyes, my stomach’s flipping and turning like a bucking bronco. I think I know why.

My body is signalling: PAY ATTENTION.

By and large, I’ve been happy at my current gig. That’s shorthand for “I’m discontent with some things, I hate other things, and I’m fine with the rest of the things.” The scales tilt back and forth but always come back to neutral-positive.

This job’s been good for work-life balance in a way my previous gigs have not been, though, there are trade-offs. There always are.

My current set-up gives me autonomy and flexibility in exchange for being spare to the point of bare in the benefits department. It’s the first time I could make that choice and it’s because PiC and I have joined forces. I can now spread the risk and rewards across both our jobs, so I am not alone in providing all the income, all the care, and all the savings.  This gig’s crap benefits don’t impact me the way they would have five years ago.

I took a calculated risk taking this job with this compensation package, for specific reasons, and for the most part it’s paid off: our money management has gotten better, my health has slowed its steep downward trajectory, and we even grew our family. These are not small things. These are all good life-changing things. Even if I harbor some disaffection over poor management, again, by and large, this has been a good career move for my life and my family.

It’s also somewhat less stable than your standard job in an at-will state. We renew my commitment every 12-18 months rather informally.

Financial State of the Union

As with all jobs, I maintain the perspective that this isn’t forever.

Every year, we sit down and discuss our budget, our savings plans and goals. After this year’s chat, PiC and I are facing something new. If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, there may not be a renewal of my gig in about 12 or so months.

I’ve seen company buyouts before. I’ve been through corporate buyouts, and small partnerships hitting the reef buyouts. I’m seeing some decisions that may be nothing, or may be the early warning signs to a buyout situation. We don’t know. We do know that it never goes smooth…

Captain Reynolds: How come it never goes smooth!

And thus: the tension.

What if this job is over a year from now?
What if I am allergic to a traditional workplace after having tasted the nectar of a flexible working arrangement? (Magic 8-ball says: odds are high)
What if the next jobs are full of politics, meetings, and bureaucratic crud? (Ugh, I hate playing office politics)
What if I don’t want to stay in this career path after this?
NOTE: Since I started writing this, I’ve gotten confirmation that my reading of the red flags was right. It’s not imminent but I would be wise to plan ahead, starting now!

What shall I do next?

A job loss would immediately halve our income and dramatically focus my waking and unsleeping hours on replacing that income. Not the early retirement anyone dreams of!

My Catastrophizing Catamaran takes flight and I’m rethinking our 7-year-plan to pay off the mortgage, look for a house, heck, even digging into our savings to buy a replacement car.

It all boils down to two main things to worry about: money and what’ll I do next in my career.

The money part

We have a nearly impressive pile of cash in CDs and savings accounts totaling 2 years of living expenses in cash-like accounts. My secondary goal this year was to pull half of those cash assets into dividend stocks. The market’s down right now, it’s a good time to buy.

With this moment of uncertainty, if there’s no job in a year, it might not be great to lock that cash up. We’ll still be fully investing in all our retirement accounts, but our stock portfolio may only get about 1/3 or 1/2 of the cash originally intended.

The job part

This part is more complicated and doesn’t have a firm conclusion yet.

Much as I would love to be one of those bloggers who finds herself transitioning from a job loss to blogging full-time for a great income, this isn’t that kind of blog, is it? I’ve been around these parts for on a decade, doing what I love, and it’s fulfilling but it’s not filling any coffers. At best, this hobby has paid for its costs but it certainly hasn’t bought me a donut. Not even a bag of donut holes. And any money I made was put aside for the dogs. Dogs before donuts!

For now, this is a labor of love, not an income stream because the writing only truly flows when it’s authentic and authentic me isn’t necessarily Ye Most Marketable.

Instead, I cultivate our mundane income streams: the rental, our dividend investing portfolio, and of course a day job. Except replacing that last isn’t really firing up my engines.

Beyond all other things, my career was my passion, for years. The weight of the world rested on my shoulders so I hustled with the best, I outpaced the tireless, I strove and I strove. With that awful responsibility, working a traditional job was the only thing I wanted to do. Entrepreneurship could take a flying leap. My parents had been entrepreneurs. They built, they innovated, they slogged, they toiled 365 days a week, 18 hours a day, for years. It ended abruptly, with no savings, because of a huge number of factors. The upshot of that shared experience and picking up their pieces was I got as far away from it as I could. I did perfectly fine for myself running away from my parents’ choices. “Fine” got us to a place where we could actually plan ahead for emergencies, taking them in stride when they hit, and even have fun.

Having tasted the nectar of freedom from a traditional office, particularly when this lifestyle preserves precious energy, I find myself never wanting to go back there, either.

I get so much more done when I dictate my schedule, don’t have to dress up for an office, and don’t waste time on a commute. Twitter serves as my water cooler. I can dip in for quick mental refreshers, get caught up on news, and keep in contact with the rest of the world. Who needs an office?

Lastly, I’m great at my job in my current industry but I’m at my role’s peak if I don’t want to make massive sacrifices of time on business meetings and travel for not much more money. Quick confession: Nope. Life is too valuable to trade “up” for minimally more money.

So, what’s that leave?

I’m honestly not sure. I’ve never been this uncertain of my professional path forward before. There’s always been some plan, harebrained though it might have been. At least this time it’s not fraught with nightmares. There’s some self imposed pressure to make this next step a good one, but that’s always been true.

My instincts are directing me to look away from this field and explore something new. It’s worth a try. It’s worth kicking around some ideas and seeing what sticks.

One of my skills is resume and cover letter review and editing, and career advising. This is only offered on a highly selective basis but, to date, every single one of my advising sessions and rewritten resumes have borne fruit. For one friend, it spawned two promotions and a $10,000 raise with each. For another friend, lessons in negotiation resulted in 2 promotions and three raises. For the last, three interviews, two job offers, one perfect job. Not a bad track record but the sample size is small.

Another thing I’m pretty darn good at is money management. Again, for a select few, I’ve served as a financial adviser with all the requisite warnings that I’m not a licensed professional. I can only promise that I take this service very seriously and the suggestions and recommendations I make are what I would do for myself if I were in their shoes.

Could I hang my shingle out for either of these things? Sure! But the question is: is there enough of a demand that it would be a sustainable, worthwhile, pursuit? I’ve had a few people say in passing they’d pay for either one of those services but not enough to establish a strong demand.

I’ll keep testing ideas and testing the waters. Something will pop out.

What would you do if your job were over in a year? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Never wanted to do?

Self assessments always ask “What would your friends say you’re great at?” I don’t know. What would you call out as my employable strengths? 

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and Lively Chicken*

February 10, 2016

Toxic jobs, bad hiring, and freedom: A financial victory story

Most of us have had our share of bad or indifferent managers, some of us have had absolutely terrible managers, and sometimes those terrible, no-good, very bad managers were Toxic Waste Phenomena.

For those of us in the latter category, if and when we escape, we often vow to ourselves never to go through that again. It was one of my strongest motivators to get the hell out of Dodge (debt, that industry, that job), build a career where I could write my ticket, and never again be subject to the unsavory whims, or drunken flirtations and grabby hands, of a petty tyrant.

People think that Michael Scott from The Office is funny, and I think I can see the hint of “but he means well” that makes it possible to laugh at him.

Y’all, take Michael Scott, take away any good intentions, replace them with pure solid selfishness and disregard for humanity, and that’s the level of bad we’re talking about. The shenanigans that people can laugh at, I suspect, are because most people think that’s a parody. An exaggeration. They don’t imagine there are people for whom that’s a reality. I could never really sit through much of The Office without feeling the urge to vomit because that, minus any funny, was three of my former managers.

Is it any wonder that the friends from those former jobs that I keep in touch with feel like friends made in foxholes?

Over the summer, my old friend and ex-colleague, C, told me that our former Toxic Manager (I’ve had a few) from 12 years ago started texting her. That TM was fired years ago for incompetence, but out of the blue, sent a mass text to a handful of former employees with a personal life update, ending with “if anyone still cares about me”. Friend who is far too kind for her own good, sent a nice reply back with a congratulations and “hope you’re well”, and worried to me that she was being uncivil in not extending a hand of friendship to someone clearly in pain. Perhaps I shed my humanity a long time ago but I pointed out that TM was piling guilt on a former employee who was never a friend, and if she’d been any good at her job, she wouldn’t have expected it. A true friend wouldn’t have, for example, have welcomed C back to work after bereavement leave with massive guilt trips about how hurt she was that C didn’t confide in her about her father’s death and her feelings. C was then forced in the awkward position of having to try to comfort TM and her hurt feelings over C’s loss. True story. But like I said, C is too kind and attributes her kindness to others who are wholly devoid of consideration for others.

Well, it’s happened again. Except this twist is magnificent.

A friend, Z, left the company specifically because of a TM, without another gig lined up, and eventually found a job at a start-up. He was far from the first. TM had driven out at least 4 other people before this, and if TM hadn’t left, Z would soon have.

He was so much happier, and he soon proudly welcomed into the world his new baby. Everything was coming up Z.

A few months ago, he said that TM was interviewing at his company!  This was after TM had been fired for incompetence at a company that doesn’t easily fire. Of course, I felt strongly that he should speak up. He has strong and valid concerns about TM from personal experience, and TM’s work history is consistent. Warning: contains bullying and petulance.

Apparently, Z did. And his company went and hired that terrible TM again.

So Z quit.

And invited us to his retirement party.

Z and I weren’t close, we just kept in touch over the years, but I am ready to throw on a dress, make some sparkling confetti and pop a champagne bottle. And that’s before we even get to the retirement party!

Because, y’all.  Z is maybe 40 years old and even with a new family, they can afford for him to quit instead of sacrificing his health and sanity working alongside someone whose track record for the past 20 years has been to torment colleagues and underlings like you wouldn’t couldn’t believe.

This is why we save.

*wipes away a happy tear* I entertain the notion of early retirement a lot, for many reasons, but this is a favorite. The freedom to walk away from any bad situation because you can and you want to is amazing.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and The Yachtless*

April 15, 2015

On feedback: when bad management strikes

A. I don’t like giving feedback, it feels confrontational.
B. I shouldn’t have to give you feedback or tell you what I’m thinking. You’re my right hand, you should already know.
C. Why are you doing [what you thought was your job], you’re not responsible for that! You need to be doing [some other thing you were never informed of]!

These are just a few of the gems delivered by Past Terrible Managers in my Past Work Life.

Bad managers drive me more than a little bit ’round the bend. Not all managers became managers because they were actually good at managing people, they were usually promoted for doing their own job well. When that happens, either they learn how to do it well, or you get a dingleberry of a supervisor and that’s just bad times.

As a manager, past and present, giving feedback to staff, or really anybody, without either feeling or being confrontational is such a necessary skill. If you need someone to change, they need to KNOW that you need them to change! Relying on strategy C above is such nonsense.

I understand that delivering criticism feels fraught, it’s not always comfortable, and empathetic people who have had bad experiences on the receiving end of feedback don’t want to perpetuate that cycle. That does not relieve you of a key aspect of your duty as a manager.

When a manager tells me they just don’t want to give feedback, I often ask if they enjoy being irritated, resented and subpar. Because that’s the situation they’re setting up: their employee will continue to do things wrong, this will reflect badly on the employee and reflect badly on you. Also, it’s likely that the tolerance of poor performance by that employee will have a sinking effect on morale for the rest of the team.

And conversely, what would it be like to be the hapless employee who doesn’t know they’re doing things wrong or inefficiently, and catching flak for something they don’t even realize is a problem? Don’t be that jerk boss who sows confusion, induces anxiety, and breeds resentment!

FeedbackG1

As I said, this is a learned skill. I didn’t come by it naturally, especially since I’m both introverted and at least a little anti-social.

So, how do I give constructive feedback?

1. I treat feedback sessions as conversations.

This isn’t intended as a confrontation but girding yourself for a battle almost certainly turns it into one. Be prepared, just don’t assume it has to be that difficult.

First time offenses? I ask them to explain to me how and why they’re doing X so that I understand where they’re coming from. It’s possible that they’ll identify a weakness in the existing protocol, or the training documentation. In other words, this could be a learning opportunity for me too.

After I solicit some perspective from them, if it doesn’t change my mind, then I explain what we need them to do and why.

Repeat offenses, if the thing is non-negotiable? I remind them of previous conversations, and ask what, if anything, is preventing them from performing their duties as asked. This is not permission to stand their ground, this is checking whether I need to be doing another aspect of my job: removing barriers to their performance. Reiterate that I need them to do it this way, and follow up as needed.

2. Understand that your goal is improvement, not chastisement.

Even if they’re on a PIP, the end goal is improvement of the work situation, whether that’s ultimately a firing or a mediocre employee understanding what’s really needed from them and turning a corner.

When frustrated by an undesirable outcome, I’ve seen managers rage and rant at their staff. What’s the point? That intimidates some, irritates others, but rarely ever produces results. Besides, it’s rude and disrespectful. Respect goes both ways and is more easily lost than earned.

FeedbackL1

3. Take the emotion out of it.

This is about the job, remain professional. It’s not your feelings or their feelings or likes or dislikes or any of that other stuff. It’s not personal. That doesn’t mean be a robot! It just means don’t derail the conversation. Focus on the thing you want improved and find a way to fix it. If someone is causing a problem, then figure out a way to fix that but don’t make it personal.

No one benefits from going several rounds in the blame game.

FeedbackE1

There’s no magic bullet, and I’m not the perfect manager, but I try to address my weaknesses. The least we can do is help people do the same. After all, it’s your job.

Feedback

:: What ridiculous things have you heard from management?
:: What did you love in a good manager?

December 10, 2014

Down with terrible cover letters!

After several years of hiring, patterns inevitably crop up with every round of applications. In the latest round of hirings: Awful cover letters.

I’ve spent more time as an applicant than as a hiring manager and always hated writing cover letters so I know very well how much it sucks. So at first, I was feeling motivated to write a really helpful post about all the things you should and shouldn’t do in your cover letter, but Ask A Manager has that covered and really, knowing what not to do is NOT the same as able to give advice on what to do.

Then too, the letters were so bad, well, something in me just broke. A misstep here or there is no big deal but each letter was chock full of eye-twitch inducing goodness.

Why didn’t you get the job? Well ….

Dear Applicant,

Please don’t use “Greetings”. I feel like I’m being contacted by aliens. (Yes, personal preference.)

If it’s not the cultural norm, please don’t send me your photo. I do not want to be biased in any way or distracted by what you look like. Or wondering why you sent me that picture with that background, and what’s going on with all that there?

Please don’t use “Let’s cut to the chase”.  Aside from being annoying because you never actually do, we’re not buddies and I’m not trying to buy something from you.

Please don’t say “I don’t want to waste your time”. It has only ever prefaced several long paragraphs, chitchatting about your daydreams, inevitably wasting my time. Again, you’re applying for a job, we’re not having a coffee and biscotti on a Sunday afternoon.

Speaking of biscotti, please don’t offer your skills at baking cookies or fetching coffee in lieu of relevant skills, when the job has nothing to do with baking or fetching. Frequency: 20% of cover letters. 100% of them were written by unqualified candidates.

You cannot claim to have AMAZING (stellar, unbelievable [well maybe unbelievable], fantastic) attention to detail when your resume has seventeen typos in the most relevant work experience section. The evidence does not support the claim. That isn’t how you spell those words and you didn’t even finish that sentence right there.

Please don’t do written choreography in your resume. I just need stuff relevant to the job. Not your personal philosophical journey, the length and breadth of which spans the globe, that got you physically here to this location.

The different colors and font sizes thoughout? Please please spare me. Some of us are old and our eyes are tired.

Only apply to this job IF YOU KNOW WHAT THIS JOB IS.  It’s right there in the title. I’m not playing job Mad Libs or Mystery Job. The cover letter is not the place to speculate (fantasize?) what the job might be. The ad actually tells you what it is.

If you have a disproportionately different (far more or far less) amount of experience than the job requires, tell me that you actually noticed that and explain why you still want the job. Otherwise I have no idea if you know what you’re trying to apply for.

Telling me that you’ll follow up in a few days to answer any questions I might have is not showing initiative. It might suggest that you think I’m too stupid (lazy? incompetent? these are valid concerns but maybe don’t be so obvious about it) to hit “Reply” on the email to ask those questions I might have. More importantly, if you nag me within 3 days of sending in your application for consideration, it’s just going to suggest that you don’t respect my very limited time. Alison agrees with me, see Letter #3!

It is common for the same job to be posted at more than one website. We do not mean for you to apply to every identical posting.

Don’t include an objective if you can’t be bothered to customize it to the job you’re applying to. Everyone‘s objective is “get a job that pays me money”. It’s cool.

Saying “Call even if you don’t think I’m a fit. You won’t be wasting my time since I am interested in finding out more about your company…” doesn’t sound like “enterprising individual” so much as “not aware that hiring isn’t the time to play publicity person and also didn’t notice that you have a website that tells you a LOT about us”.

*Deep Breath*

I had a handful of good cover letters and a few ok ones.

I took a chance on one of the ok letter writer-applicants as I do from time to time, but true to experience, that candidate was the worst of the lot: barely qualified, completely disinterested in the actual job, just looking for a pitstop sort of thing on the way out of town.

Don’t get me wrong, all jobs are temporary stays over the length of a career. But!  There has to be some match between what you want and what the job requires of you. When the role is doing A, B and C long term, and you intend to get out and do X, Y and Z as soon as possible, it’s kind of pointless for both parties.

The cover letter doesn’t tell you the whole story about a candidate but it has been a decent indicator of whether or not the applicant is worth speaking to.

As an aside, I do agree with Suzanne Luzas on hiring people who make typos when it’s not relevant to the core job.

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