• How to break the cycle of underearning (because you’re worth it)

    How to overcome underearning and make what you're worth

    How to overcome underearning and make what you're worth

    Money troubles usually come down to one of two things: overspending or underearning.

    There’s a million and one posts out there about curbing spending. But underearning is a less explored – and thornier – subject.

    Are you an underearner? I suspect that I was, briefly. But I didn’t realise it until recently.

    It all started when I came across this podcast with Bari Tessler and ended with me reading Secrets of Six Figure Women by Barbara Stanny. I can’t say I’d ever really come across the concept before. 

    It’s a sensitive topic – who wants to think that they’re not living up to their potential? ‘Underearner’ is not a particularly flattering label. But the key is about desire – many of us have the potential to earn more in different types of work but choose not to.

    What is underearning?

    Underearning, as I’ve seen it defined, is about earning less than you want to. Bringing in less than you need or than would be beneficial, despite attempting otherwise.

    It’s not about raw numbers. Or the hours you work. Or ‘underachieving’.

    It’s about the ability (could earn more) combined with the desire (want to earn more) but for whatever reason, it isn’t happening.

    Reverse snobbery

    Especially in creative fields, I think there’s often a bit of reverse snobbery at play. Prejudices against money and toward the wealthy. We sort of believe and play into the idea of the nobility of poverty – of struggling for art. Making money is selling out. As Tessler points out, creative and self employed types often set fees too low – and don’t raise them often enough.

    But as Stanny writes in her book, ironically, few people work harder or obsess more about lack of money than underearners do.

     As the artist Willem de Kooning once aptly remarked, ‘The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all your time’. 

    Not having enough money is exhausting. Dealing with the realities of hardship is a constant grind.

    I suspect as women, there may be an added dimension at play. We are, after all, relatively new to the workplace as we know it compared to men. Home is still considered the female domain, and we’re still considered the nurturers and caretakers. A point raised in an episode of The Broad Experience (a great podcast on women and success that I’ve recently discovered) was that often we perceive ‘doing well’ as being materialistic, or greedy. I’ve definitely encountered that in reaction to things I’ve written on the blog here and there! But more on that a bit later on. 

    How to overcome underearning

    There are many external factors that affect how much we currently earn. Also, life happens and sometimes your income takes a hit.

    Not to mention, there are factors that affect how much we CAN earn. Different fields are structured differently. Some will never pay much – choosing to stay in one of those will limit your options. 

    But as with anything else in life, it boils down to focusing on what you can control. That might mean steeling yourself to:

    • Ask for a raise
    • Change roles
    • Switch industries
    • Start your own business and work for yourself

    Staying in a job too long is a common trap – a job that’s comfortable like old jeans, doing things the way you’ve always done them. In most cases, changing companies is the fastest way to advance pay-wise.

    But most importantly: learn to ask for what you’re worth. Even if that feels uncomfortable. Even if it seems outrageous. Negotiate salary offers, and ask for raises. That’s what it all seems to boil down to. 

    Overcoming underearning pretty much requires that you believe in your value, and stick to it. I was so at risk of underselling myself when I left journalism (thankfully, it worked out even better than I’d hoped). I knew better for the next time around, and I got exactly what I wanted upon my next move

    There’s a huge mental component to underearning. Most of us can’t just flick a switch and suddenly become a totally different person. Here’s where I’ve gleaned another tip from The Broad Experience: You need your own WWJD mantra. Think of somebody that you know – someone who’s direct and isn’t afraid to ask for what they want. What would they do? Channel them!

    Enjoying what you’ve earned

    Despite knowing the market, I feel ridiculously overpaid sometimes – like, how can my work be worth this much? And then I realise people around me are certainly earning 6 figures, and that reboots my perspective – and spurs me on. It would have been totally unfathomable before this; it almost feels like I’ve discovered a secret, tapped into a new level in the game of life, busted through a ceiling.

    None of the six figure women interviewed by Stanny had any qualms about openly declaring their desire to profit. They took pleasure in reaping the rewards of their work. They knew that the more money they made, the more choices they had. Financial freedom is the ultimate flexibility.

    Success goes beyond building up a bank account too; it also includes building up career capital, networks, etc along the way. And with more of these resources at your disposal, you can enjoy more freedom, security, and do more for others.

    Have you struggled with underearning in your career?

    *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich and Super Saving Tips*

  • How I doubled my pay and halved my stress

    How I doubled my pay and halved my stress

    Since graduating with my degree, I’ve managed to double my pay. Most of that growth has happened in the past couple of years, thanks to two strategic job moves. Here’s the process I went through.

    I realised it was time for a change

    It’s a long running truism that you don’t go into journalism for the pay. Young, energetic and idealistic, we rushed into the trenches with shining eyes and grand notions.

    It’s thankless in those trenches. The work never ends. You’re constantly being forced to do more with less. Media organisations keep cutting back; the whole industry is struggling to find a sustainable model.

    I loved my job, but it was tough. When I took a six-month sabbatical, the person covering for me quit after just a few weeks. For what it’s worth, I’d always worked at that pace and this was a bit of an awakening. It really did get me wondering what a normal workload outside of publishing might feel like.

    When I started thinking about my next move, I looked around and saw no opportunities in journalism that excited me. Forget advertised positions; even just considering what roles existed and were currently filled, there was nothing that spiked my interest. Nothing I wanted to aspire towards.

    And just as importantly, I saw little opportunity to increase my income. I was getting by fine, but in order to get ahead, or to afford a family or a halfway decent place to call home, I had to make a change.

    I assessed my transferable skills

    I took the skills I had and started applying to jobs outside of publishing. The decline of journalism has led to lots of new opportunities in all kinds of companies – as content marketing grows, editorial talent is in demand on the brand side. (The typical trajectory for ex-journalists is to head into PR or communications, but you could not pay me enough to do media relations.) They need people who can write, understand their audience, and manage digital channels.

    How to get a job you love

    I researched salaries as best as I could

    I talked to people. I looked at salary surveys. I spent time on TradeMe and Seek just playing around with the filters and seeing how the results changed when I altered the salary band in my search parameters. (This works for real estate listings, too. In both cases you typically won’t see a number listed outright but you can use the filters to see when listings disappear from the results and make an assumption about the range based on that.)

    I sucked it up and negotiated

    Full disclosure: it took me until my fourth job to actually negotiate for the first time.

    In Job 1 I was on union pay rates. My hourly rate wasn’t very high. But a few months into the job I accepted a change in duties that had me working weekend shifts. As a result, I actually took home something like 40% more than that every pay day unless I had a weekend off.

    In Job 2 I was willing to effectively take a small pay cut for better hours, (though technically my actual base rate was higher).

    In Job 3 – my first outside of journalism – I had every intention of negotiating. But the application form asked for a salary range and I was afraid to leave it blank. They offered me more than the figure I wrote down, and more than I would have even dared to expect, to the tune of a 25% effective increase. And so, I didn’t negotiate further. But this was a real eye opener. There was money to be made! My skills were valuable in the marketing world!

    In Job 4 I negotiated and received the exact salary I wanted – a 25% increase again. Boom.




    In hindsight

    Life after journalism is sweet. I’ve been picky about the organisations I apply to and the kind of work I want to do – and as as a result I find even more meaning in my job now. Plus I’m better resourced to do it (though of course, as is the way, there’s usually still too many ideas and too much to do compared to actual capacity). I’ve been able to save more and start to build wealth. And that is incredibly important to me.

  • 3 pet peeves of a freelancer

    3 pet peeves of a freelancer

    I know a few people who’ve struck out on their own in recent times, one of whom has gotten through the honeymoon phase and has now lost those pretty rose-tinted glasses about being self-employed.

    It got me thinking about all the things I detest about doing freelance work (aside from chasing payment, obviously)! Bad clients are rife, especially when you first start out. And as a rookie you often don’t know the traps to avoid.

    If you’ve ever freelanced, odds are you’ve come across your fair share of bad clients. Here’s three pet peeves I have that I imagine are pretty much universal:

    The client who doesn’t actually have a clue what s/he wants

    You know the type. Wishy-washy, lots of back and forth over email. Potential clients who won’t tell you what they have in mind, are super vague on the details of a project, and ask you for a quote without giving enough information to go on, probably don’t know what they want. And clients who don’t know what they need are prone to scope creep, blowing out projects way past budget and timeframe.

    The cheapskate

    There’s always a client who wants you to cut them a discount because they’re a small startup, or threatens to go elsewhere because they can get the work done for half the price. Whatever the reason for their stinginess, it doesn’t bode well for your working relationship.

    The needy one

    Like a clinging partner, an overly demanding client expects you to be at beck and call, all the time. Last-minute changes and deadline shifts are all to be expected.

    The single worst client I ever had ticked all of these boxes. I found myself groaning every time her name popped up in my inbox, and putting off responding to her emails as long as possible. Reluctance to even open emails from someone is a pretty good sign that all is not well. Unfortunately, since this client was a referral from another client – a GOOD one – I was reluctant to cut her loose.

    But here’s the thing. If you don’t value your own time, how can you expect your clients to?

  • The differences between white collar job hunting and blue collar job hunting

    White collar job hunting vs blue collar job huntingHere’s a post that’s been percolating for a while, based on observations I’ve made. I’ll broadly differentiate as white vs blue collar, though I’m counting, say, non-office-based sales work here under the blue collar umbrella.

    Getting the job

    The interview-to-offer ratio

    In my experience in the white collar world, employers work hard to shortlist very few candidates and only interview a couple in person. On the other hand, blue collar employers seem to bring people in willy nilly. I am deadly serious when I say T has been to more job interviews in a single week of job hunting than I have in my entire career. So many interviews, so few offers. So much time wasted bringing someone in just for a chat. Ever heard of phone screening?

    The sheer difficulty of interviewing

    Interviewing when you’re unemployed isn’t too hard, logistically. But if you’re still employed?

    Well, for me it’s never been a biggie. I can take my lunch whenever I want and have the flexibility to duck out to appointments during the day if needed, and make time up. For him? Breaks are strictly timed, usually at set times. That makes it pretty hard to get away for an interview during the day, unless it happens to be on the same street. And again, refer to the first point above about the sheer number of interviews required to get anywhere.

    On the job

    Transport costs

    Speaking of that inflexibility, that often necessitates having a reliable vehicle so you can be sure of getting to work on time every day. And if you work anything outside of 9-5, you can definitely write off public transport as an option. Yet it’s probably a struggle – at the very least, when you’re starting out – to afford a decent car. So much irony: low-level job, strict hours, struggling to afford transport in order to keep said job.

    Blue collar jobs are much more spread out over the whole city, whereas white collar employment is more concentrated in town. This further complicates the whole transport issue (‘just move closer to work’ isn’t that simple).

    Tools of the trade

    Even with discounts, we have spent hundreds, if not thousands, on gear and tools and training for him at various jobs. All that on not particularly high wages, really. True, you can take some of these with you to new jobs … but that’s if the stuff doesn’t wear out or break or expire first.

    I’ve never been expected to pay for things that I need to carry out my duties at work. There was one time I paid for a design/photo-editing app out of my own Apple account and didn’t submit for reimbursement. DON’T do that by the way! It was certainly not expected, and I kick myself now for that. What was I thinking? (I was thinking that I felt grateful for the salary at my new job and I could easily absorb the cost. NOT the point.)

  • Careers, compromise and capitalism

    just a girl in a capitalist world

    Time for the latest installment in the ‘loving your work’ series! (Previously: Can we all realistically expect to love our jobs? and The job-that-you-wake-up-excited-for propaganda.)

    The TLDR version: It’s hard to not feel a bit hypocritical whenever I write about this, since I’ve always known basically what I wanted to do, followed it where it led and had it work out. BUT! I am married to a textbook Scanner who still doesn’t know what he wants to do for the rest of his life. At last, thankfully, I think we’ve weaned him off the ‘find your passion’ Kool-Aid (it’s so ridiculously pervasive). At some point I think you need to choose: spend a lifetime chasing that elusive and possibly nonexistent thing, or stick with something and be able to fund the other things in life you enjoy or aspire to, such as having a family, playing sports, travel.

    We all know money matters

    It may not always buy happiness, but a lack of it is a surefire path to unhappiness. Money, (or lack thereof) more than job dissatisfaction, sex, housework or any other issue you can name,  has always been the toughest issue for us. It’s no coincidence the two times that nearly broke us were during times of unemployment.

    As this excellent Aeon piece on happiness/meaningfulness (worth a read in its entirety) observes, “Happy people say they have enough money to buy the things they want and the things they need.”  Security of employment/resources falls in the second most important tier of Maslow’s hierarchy; ‘self-actualisation’ is just the cherry at the very top. 

    The intersection of money + career has reared its head for me again recently, with my change of direction and T finding, then losing what seemed to be a 90% dream job, followed by a good job that turned toxic.

    T has always worked to live, rather than lived to work.  Certain material things and being able to spend somewhat freely are important. Dog, kids, motorbike, project car – these things all cost money. And here, they boil down to needing to buy a house (not to mention all the other things that make renting here a genuine nightmare). Oh, and that in turn ties back into needing even more money. We cannot afford to wait around for years for my husband to figure out a dream job (which I doubt exists for him), and he knows it.

    In short, we have dreams, and none of those dreams come for free.

    Find a job that lights your fire? Fantastic, but if not, well, you’re not getting any younger and at some point you need to stick with something. The recession and layoffs aside, you can’t afford to bounce around from low level job to low level job forever, never increasing your income, or your earning potential.

    What if you don’t have a passion?

    When you know how you like to spend your money, but not what you want to do to earn that money, to me it only makes sense to search out a job that fits your lifestyle.

    I rather like the plan laid out by Marty Nemko in Kiplinger:

    My advice? Unless you’re a driven superstar, pick a non-glam career that you’d be good at… Pick the one offering as many of these characteristics as possible:

    • Moderately challenging
    • Meaningful work
    • A kind, competent boss
    • Pleasant co-workers
    • Learning opportunities
    • Reasonable pay
    • Reasonable work hours
    • A short commute

    At one point in his job hunt last year, I came across an advice letter penned by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame, which seemed like it could have been written just for him. Here’s Mike’s response to a guy seeking excitement and flexibility but with steady pay; a hands-on type of person who hates offices and gets bored easily but wants to have a family at some point. No big ask, huh?

    Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

    Harsh? Yes. But there’s truth in it. Job satisfaction is complex and happiness is not going to come from trying to figure out some inchoate passion. Every single job where he’s enjoyed the actual work has had major, potentially unsustainable inherent downsides. Lack of money/potential advancement. Physical exhaustion/danger. Less than ideal hours/schedule. And that’s before even getting to peripheral things like bad managers/colleagues.

    As Penelope Trunk once wrote of his personality type, or very close to it: “The key to being a successful ENTP is followthrough. Because lack of followthrough is such a huge risk factor for an ENTP, it’s almost more important to followthrough on anything than to followthrough on the right thing.”

    Finding happiness at work

    Work is about so much more than your actual duties. There’s the environmental factors – commute, your physical surroundings, dress code, etc. The people factors – are you treated like an adult, does your boss micromanage, do you get along with colleagues? All these  intangible elements that can make or break working conditions, and that’s before we even get to whether the job offers variety, autonomy, challenge.

    What we’ve come to realise is that in a way, this is a bit of a crapshoot. As my career hero Ask A Manager lays out:

    I’d even go so far as to say that there’s no such thing as a dream job that you can truly recognize from the outside. Because as much as you think you might love doing that work for that company, it might turn out that the boss is a nightmare, or your coworkers are horrible, or the company makes you sign out for bathroom breaks and bring in a doctor’s note every time you have a cold, or you’re abused daily by clients, or your workload is so unreasonably high that you end up having panic attacks every morning.

    Dream jobs do exist — when it’s work you love, at a company that treats employees well, working for a great manager, alongside coworkers who are competent and kind, or at least unobjectionable — but it’s dangerous to think something is your dream job before you’re really in a position to know.

    It doesn’t have to be a choice between extremes – a $150k job you hate and a $40k job you love – there’s usually options in between. It’s hard to place any hard and fast rules on this kind of thing, but for example, I’d personally trade a ‘dreamy’ $50k job up to an ‘okay’ $80k job any day. (Adjust the numbers accordingly for your area’s cost of living…)

    ‘Do what you love’ is a nice philosophy and it works for some of us, but I absolutely detest it as blanket advice. At the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

    We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America.

     
    lthough my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy – See more at: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2013/09/23/how-to-love-what-you-do/?priorityCode=3969702399&cid=aff_cj_6150161#sthash.Sfp4gCaa.dpufAt the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

    Or how about letting your passion follow you? There is so much goodness to unpack in this Billfold piece on discovering job satisfaction, written by someone who was toying with taking up fulltime work in a field she volunteered in but came to realise that mission and purpose are not everything:

    While I had always believed generally in the cause I was working for, it didn’t speak to a deep part of my identity. The day to day tasks, however, did excite me. I liked the variety, the creativity, the people I worked with, and the latitude I had in my role. I recognized that I had a lot more control and flexibility around my responsibilities than I had previously thought. I also loved my work environment, which included wonderful colleagues, a predictable schedule, and natural light. Ultimately, I realized that these elements were far more influential to my overall satisfaction and emotional health than working for a cause I’d believed in since I was a kid, but whose day-to-day responsibilities were a poor fit for my personality.

    Life’s too short to starve for passion’s sake. It can be fun when you’re young but it gets old fast. Trading glamour/ego for more money/a normal workload is something I do not regret one iota. It’s also nice being on the side of a growing niche, rather than a struggling one – feeling positive and hopeful about lifetime career prospects rather than depressed.

    At some point in my 20s, I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in soulmates. I believe there are a lot of people out there we could be happy with.  If we waited for total perfection, nobody would ever get married. And likewise I suspect there are a lot of jobs out there that many of us could be perfectly happy with. I was pretty excited about all the possibilities when I started job hunting a year ago, and I hope I get to explore all those paths over the coming years (unless of course I lose interest in some of them, which is always a possibility).

    Because don’t get me wrong: I need a lot of variety.  Honestly, even if traditional publishing wasn’t in the state it is in now, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck around forever. I was ready for a change.

    Having grown up in this era, I started out with rose-tinted visions of some unicorn of a dream job. Now I’m older and wiser and perhaps a tad more cynical and mercenary.

    “The work world has become a battleground for the struggle between the boring and the stimulating. The emphasis on intensity has seeped into our value system. We still cling to the idea that work should not only be challenging and meaningful — but also invigorating and entertaining. But really, work should be like life: sometimes fun, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and defined by meaningful events.” –  Po Bronson

    Did you always know what you wanted to be/do?

    Although my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy. – See more at: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2013/09/23/how-to-love-what-you-do/?priorityCode=3969702399&cid=aff_cj_6150161#sthash.Sfp4gCaa.dpuf
  • Would you tell your boss you were looking for a new job?

    Should you tell your boss you're looking for a new jobLife’s biggest transitions, I’ve found, are usually conducted with an air of secrecy.

    Take moving house, for example. You’ve got to find your next place to live, wait to go through the approval process, then give notice and line up the dates. Last time was relatively easy as we were crashing at my parents’ and could move immediately; the time before that we had to give notice, and balance this with getting a reference from the current landlord, who obviously didn’t know we were looking to leave. (I’m always paranoid that things can fall through at the last minute, and being homeless is my biggest fear. Like this, but without the happy ending.)

    It’s a similarly delicate dance with changing jobs. Again, you never know how long it will take to find a job, and for all the processing to be done at the hiring end. Plus, that balancing of references is even more crucial here.

    When I came across a blog post discussing whether you should inform your boss that you’re looking for a new job, I did a double take.

    I’ve always had great bosses – but I have never had that kind of open relationship with them. Perhaps general chat in broad terms about career paths, ambitions, next steps … but I would never come right out and say I was actively looking elsewhere.

    And yet, people do. I was recently chatting to someone who’s been in the same company for nearly 7 years. There were a few times, she said, when she was proactively interviewing elsewhere. Feeling stuck with nowhere to go, she’d voiced her frustrations to her boss – only nothing was happening. He was willing to act as a reference for external jobs, even. (In the end, she had leverage enough to get what she wanted, and accepted a counter offer to stay.)

    Would you ever tell your boss you were job hunting outside your workplace?

  • Three big money lessons I learned this year

    3 big money lessons I learned this year

    I’ve been back in full-time employment for a whole year now, and I’ve been thinking about the place work occupies in my life.

    I do not want my life to revolve entirely around work … but that said, I would much rather focus on work than the domestic front. Paid work can be frustrating (and a whole bunch of other adjectives) but I find it so much more personally fulfilling than doing household type work.

    If money were no object, I would literally never cook or clean. I would pay to have all that done. Not because I think my time is super valuable, but because I simply don’t enjoy those tasks and I am not very good at them. Eating good food made by others = one of my biggest joys.

    On a macro level, here’s what else I’ve been contemplating, more  generally.

    Your pay does not always reflect your worth

    It’s common sense, and we all know this. You are more than your paycheck. But this REALLY hit home for me this year, having moved out of a field that is notorious for underpaying and overworking.

    It seems crazy to me that people like the Starbucks barista profiled by the NY Times work so hard and get paid so much less than I do. Or that some construction foremen can earn less than me when that is objectively a much harder and more important job. And don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly rolling in it; I’m only now making the equivalent of a starting salary in many other fields. Yes, sometimes it’s because the higher-paying role genuinely creates more value/ROI for the business – but not always.

    There is a LOT of money floating around out there

    I have written about countless funded startups and interviewed both investors and entrepreneurs. T has sold stuff to people with (in my humble opinion) way too much money.

    It’s clear to me that there is money to be made – if you can tap into it. That means getting into the right industries in the right kinds of roles.

    Money affords happiness

    There’s no such thing as ‘broke yet happy’ in my world. Never has been, never will be.

    I earn more now. That reduces my stress levels. It enables me to live a more enjoyable life.

    I hate scrimping. Don’t get me wrong, I am really frugal by nature, and I suppose that’s why I hate to have to cut back beyond that.

    For years I thought T would outearn me – but that’s not how life has worked out.

    Strangely enough, an unexpected benefit of what I do these days is that the things I struggled with previously – the external/outward facing stuff, coming up with story ideas – aren’t factors anymore. And for the first time I feel like I have the means to support (financially speaking)  the creative things I love – bands, publications.

    New Zealand can offer a great lifestyle, but it’s not a cheap place to live, particularly in Auckland. If I have the opportunity to earn more to fund a better life, then that’s not a route I’m going to turn my nose up at.

    Also: at some point, I would like to work someplace that pays bonuses. Just to see what it’s like.

  • It feels like I’m starting (in the workforce) all over again

    It feels like I'm starting (in the workforce) all over again

    I’ve been at my job for six months, and as tends to happen, it feels like I’ve either been here all my life, or just a short time.

    First and foremost, it’s really challenged me in new areas – particularly my soft skills – and encouraged me to consider what I want out of work.

    I’ve also had a jolt of hope that maybe having kids isn’t going to be as bad as I fear. At my first job there were hardly any women, and none with kids – only the men had families. (After I left there was a spate of pregnancies – as far as I know at least one of the women went part time; I’m not sure about the others. News is a tough biz when it comes to work-life balance.) In my second job there were lots of women but they were mainly childless or with older, more self-sufficient kids. My new workplace is overwhelmingly female and mostly young. Initially I assumed most were childless but over the months I’ve come to realise a lot have babies/toddlers and are still really put together and awesome at work.

    On top of that, I’ve really had to get used to a different industry and different ways of working.

    Communication

    I’m used to jobs that are largely self-contained, where communication with other people is fairly straightforward and transactional. Now I find myself working on more collaborative projects and interacting with people in ongoing liaisons.

    Even in a flat organisation, projects can get complicated when there’s lots of players. Collaboration gets more difficult with every extra stakeholder.I have never spent so much time re-reading emails trying to decipher them and tease out meaning. (I don’t count the countless inane PR pitches I used to get in a former life – that’s a different ball game!)

    I think I’ve become a better communicator since working here, and become really aware of any times when I’m not being as empathetic as I’d like to be. I firmly believe that the best way forward is understanding where everybody is coming from, but even I find myself forgetting that principle in the quest to get things done.

    I’ve also come to see what a tough job it must be to run internal comms – keeping everyone in the loop and engaged within a company. This was the one aspect of PR that most interested me at uni, and should I ever move into PR that’s probably the way I’d go.

    Culture

    Working with people in overseas offices has its challenges. Time zones, for one. Language barriers, for another. Cultural differences. For once, those communication theory classes I sat through at uni have come in handy. (We also had a handy workshop on cross-cultural communication recently that was nothing short of fascinating.)

    It’s also made me realise how valuable face-to-face contact is. In so many cases, it’s just so much easier to have people in the same room. Email, phone, VoIP or video conferencing just isn’t the same. I’ve gotten a lot better at talking slowly, that is for sure. Even collaborating with people at our agency, who are less than a 10-minute walk away … sometimes it saves so much back forth when everyone sits down in a room together to hash things out. I’m all for remote working, but it’s certainly more suited to some types of work than others.

    One thing I noticed when I came in for my initial interviews was that the super open plan layout had people even closer together than in any of my previous open plan offices – but that people were constantly breaking out and going off to tables and corners for chats and meetings. Having spaces to better facilitate these kinds of collaborations and watercooler chat is so important.

    Coordination/Flexibility

    I’m been used to having the same basic framework for my work days. It’s true that no two days are the same in news, but you generally know what you’ll be doing from day to day, even if the content is different. You’ve got a newsletter/broadcast deadline to work to, or you’ve simply got to keep a rolling homepage fresh over a shift.

    In many ways my work is now more reactive. I often don’t know what the day might hold. And rather than essentially wiping the slate clean at the end of every day (except for when I was working on bigger feature stories), there’s no hitting the reset button now. Ongoing projects stretch out over weeks or months, with multiple timelines in play. I’m not a naturally organised person, but I’ve had to get a lot better at it.

    Have you ever had to get used to a totally new field or style of workplace?

  • The absolute worst things about job hunting

    The worst things about job hunting are...

    Thanks to a lot of hard work and a healthy dose of good luck, I’ve never really personally struggled with unemployment. Being a firsthand witness to a long job hunt, though, has definitely got me sympathising. These are the worst things about job hunting, as observed by me.

    Please call in order for us to reject you

    I can’t believe there are people/companies that will leave a message asking you to call back – only for them to tell you that you were unsuccessful, once you return the call. Just leave a voicemail, or send an email. Seriously.

    Radio silence after in-person interviews

    There’s a special place in hell for those who don’t get back to you after interviews. I get that some industries don’t screen much and often interview a lot of people in person, but I do think it’s a courtesy once you’ve brought someone in. (Personally I don’t think rejections are needed if you don’t get to interview stage, and actually prefer it this way, but I know a lot of people disagree. As a job hunter, I don’t expect any acknowledgement of receipt, just like I wouldn’t if I was a PR rep pitching a journalist – editors are busy and we’ll ignore pitches we’re not interested in.)

    Super scammy sales roles

    There are always SO many entry-level sales/promotion type roles promising a fast track to success for hard workers. The thing is, these sales roles are usually pretty dodgy – shady insurance companies and the like – and often just door to door marketing. If it sounds too good to be true…

    The weird thing about job hunting is that you’ve got to totally amp yourself up for interviews and really commit to imagining yourself in a particular job. Then you’ve got to completely disengage and do your best to forget about it, since odds are high you won’t make it any further.

    What are your pet peeves about job hunting?

  • Toxic bosses and trial periods

    Bad bosses and nightmare workplaces

    How many bad bosses are out there? I’m starting to wonder if they aren’t the majority rather than the exception, after two particularly bad apples in a row for T. Both seemed like great opportunities to start with, but the rot eventually became apparent. And both ended abruptly, thanks to the 90-day trial period rule brought in three years ago.

    The slash and burn

    An established industry name, it was talked up as a place with great potential where high achievers would be rewarded. While T was new to the industry, he quickly took to it; all the other team members said so and the big boss (as in, the one the company is named after) took note, publicly praising him.

    A couple of months in, he and the other newbie got their marching orders. We don’t know about the other new guy, but T had never had any negative feedback at all, so this was completely unexpected. Being still within the 90-day period, the company didn’t have to give a reason for letting them go. (While it shouldn’t have any bearing on the matter at all, I’ll add that just before this, T injured his leg on a day off and wound up being off work for a week – hobbling around on crutches isn’t really conducive to the kind of job where you’re on your feet all day and interacting with customers. The week after was when he and the other guy got let go.)

    In the following months, the company kept recruiting for entry level staff – and eventually, for an assistant manager. Thanks to the guys there who he’d kept in contact with, we learned that all the remaining staff quit in quick succession, and heard that managers got demoted due to the indeterminate firings they’d carried out.

    Lesson learned: Unclear. Never sprain your ankle during the first 90 days?

     

    The Jekyll/Hide boss

    It was a small and new, growing company, almost all fresh staff, seemingly good prospects. However, a few weeks in it became clear there was little regard for customers (y’know, the lifeblood of any business), a lack of support and a temperamental boss. Out of the blue, he suddenly seemed to turn on T, and overnight T could do nothing right whatsoever – the badmouthing done behind his back to other staff was unbelieveable. Our best reading of this situation: a boss who picks out a golden boy to take under his wing, but if you fall out of his good graces at any point, you are OUT for good. He also treated other staff poorly, and the newest hire of all (newer than T) quit after just a couple of weeks. A few weeks and a lot of mental stress later, we decided T needed to follow suit – this was about 2 months in.

    In this case, I suppose we benefited in that under the 90-day rules he could quit right away rather than giving 2 weeks’ notice – but the reason for quitting in the first place was a real fear that he was going to be pushed out (IMO, jumping is much preferable to being forced out). That’s how bad it was – how much the situation had deteriorated. Under these rules he could be let go at any time for no reason, as we already knew – no warnings or notice needed. If it wasn’t for that, we would have stuck it out until he found a new job.

    Lesson learned: Unclear. Be nothing but an absolute doormat/yesman during the first 90 days?

    I don’t have a problem with the 90-day rule; I absolutely understand the rationale for it. Theoretically nobody would abuse it as the cost/hassle of recruiting and training should be a huge deterrent. But as we all know, logic does not always reign supreme, even in the free market. (Hence why we badly need some legal standards around rental housing – case in point.) Especially in small companies with no HR – which are also the companies that most need this legislation – there’s so much potential for this kind of thing to happen unchecked. Oh, the irony.

    The happiest way to spin this, of course, is to say it worked out and he’s well rid of them – better off out of those places. I’m really keen for him to temp until a genuinely good job comes along (a third short-term stint will look dire) and hopefully we are a bit better equipped to tell the difference.

    Got any bad boss/nightmare workplace war stories?