• 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?

  • Jobs I once thought sounded cool

    Jobs I once thought I wanted to do

    While I think I almost always knew roughly what kind of career path I’d take, there were definitely times during my teens when I wavered, torn between some of my other interests.

    Luckily, I saw sense and stuck with the area where I had the most talent – and thus, potential to succeed. Believe it or not, here’s some of the other professions I briefly entertained:

    Psychologist

    Some things I enjoy giving advice on. Some of those things, I even might be good at – like the more practical things in life. But I’m not really equipped to deal with emotional issues. Lord knows I have my own stuff to handle. I’m fascinated by people and what makes us tick but I’m better observing from the sidelines rather than wading in.

    Music journalist/publicist/performer/writer

    Late nights for work? Leaving gigs early to write up reviews ASAP? Taking flak from armchair critics? Needing to form opinions about entire albums in a pinch? Not for me. I’m no great shakes as a songwriter, certainly not as a performer, and don’t have the personality to do music PR. And while pegging hit songs is one skill I do have, it takes a lot more than that to become an A&R rep, if those even still exist these days.

    Designer

    I enjoy fooling around with images for the blog and for work but I’d be terrible at any real design work. I lack visual flair and don’t have a style of my own (just scroll through my archives and you’ll quickly see what I mean).

    Financial planner

    I don’t think I’m the only PF blogger who’s briefly considered this. Thing is, I’m really only interested in the lower level, psychological aspects, not the serious finance stuff. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable advising anyone on how to invest their money, and there’s no money in helping struggling people learn to budget.

    Software testing

    Getting paid to essentially try and break stuff? Sweet! This wasn’t ever really a job I wanted to do myself, but it did cross my mind this might be up T’s alley. Then I started having to do the odd bit of testing as part of my job … and quickly realised how tedious it gets. It’s repetitive and painstaking work that would drive either of us up the wall.

    What other careers have you considered, if any?

  • Career tip: Play to your strengths

    One thing that stuck with me from my  recent training session on mentoring high school students was the strengths based approach.

    It seems so logical. Focus on your strengths, rather than solely on tackling your weaknesses. Yet I realised I have not been doing this at all.

    For example, an ongoing goal of mine for, oh, a couple of years now, has been to brush up on my coding skills. Yet every time I dived in, trying to dig into CSS, or even starting the Javascript module in Codecademy, it was a CHORE. I didn’t enjoy it, and I wasn’t particularly good at it. The other day I managed to break my blog thanks to a stray < in one of the PHP files. I used to think the concept of testing was pretty cool – essentially trying to break things on your site – but actually doing it on my own blog and the site I work on is bloody tedious.

    (On that note, there was a great piece on Mother Jones recently about how computational thinking is the new literacy – the ‘learn to code’ movement is great and all, but programmers need to be able to think about WHAT to build, too, in order to meet needs and solve problems. I definitely felt this during my brief brush with Javascript; it was cool to write code that actually DID something active, but realistically when would I use it?)

    I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the natural bent, and I don’t have the desire, since there are no obvious benefits. I’m confident in tweaking code – poking around and figuring out what pieces to change in order to get elements doing what I want them to do. Writing code from scratch – not so much. Getting to the stage where I’d be good enough to do it in my professional life is beyond my capability – and it’s probably not going to be hugely helpful to me. Even if I want to go down the full stack marketing route later on, heavier back end coding skills beyond basic HTML/CSS are not going to be as important as commercial nous and/or analytics. If there is talent besides programmers that we are crying out for in today’s work world, it’s digital analysts! (Seriously, we’re hiring right now.)

    I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of clarity about my immediate career path lately (this is my third job, and I finally feel like I’ve found my ‘story’ – a cue for me to tweak my LinkedIn profile soon, actually) and the way forward is not to try be something I’m not. My strengths are in content, not design or development. Focusing on that – particularly content strategy, building on my production and management base – is the obvious move.

    In the next few weeks I’m going to have to create a development plan as part of annual reviews at work (a totally new process to me), so now I’ve really got to think about what kinds of specific goals to commit to and how I can get there.

    Any tips?

  • Finding your work style: A little self-awareness goes a long way

    Finding your work personality and communication style

    One neat thing about my current workplace is that there’s a focus on career development, learning, that kind of thing. On day four I attended a workshop on personal development and training opportunities, and in the second week my team had a group workshop based around figuring out our different communication styles and ways to collaborate better.

    I’m an ISFJ. While that’s been interesting and vaguely helpful in relation to my personal life, it really hasn’t shed much light for me professionally. But now I have another lens to look through for that.

    For this workshop, we used the DiSC model, which is a workplace-focused assessment. The four pillars are Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness. Turns out my preferred communication style/work style is of course, a near perfect blend of two.

    I’m an SC, which roots me in the steady, and perhaps more importantly, sociable quadrant.

    That’s not because I’m a typical outgoing people person (far from it, I’m decidedly not gregarious at all) but because I’m sensitive to other people’s needs, feelings and vibes. I’m diplomatic, often struggle to say no and hate conflict. Quite literally, it gives me the sweats and a stomachache. And while I don’t like to admit it, I do want to be liked. I get little pangs when I observe people at work who effortlessly chat to anyone and everyone, who have friends all through the office, who stop by other people’s desks to chat throughout the day; a little bit of me wishes I could be a warm, universally loved person too.

    But like the Force, the C side is strong in me. I’m basically on the cusp of the two quadrants. Work is work. I do mostly enjoy the basic level of required social contact; at times I even appreciate the small talk. But overall when I’m at work I want to get on with the job, and I’m greatly frustrated by incompetence and inefficiency. My working style is just as much about achieving end results as it is about attempting to ensure harmony.

    I am happiest behind the scenes. I’ve always thought that my personality is better suited to something totally hidden away in the back room – apparently there are a lot of Cs in finance, strategy, etc. I have some pretty deep seated perfectionist tendencies. However, working in online, I embrace the ‘done is better than perfect’ philosophy and kick ass at getting stuff out the (figurative) door, fast.

    Ideally, though? I need time to think about and absorb things – to have reports and presentations and notes emailed to me to study before a meeting – and that’s one of the biggest things I took away from the day. That some of us don’t like being forced to make snap decisions in a meeting, and want to weigh all our options based on as much evidence as we can get.  A quiet comment was made about how another individual with a similar profile to mine tends to go a bit ‘blank’ when initially presented with issues, and whoa did that ring true for me. T feeds this back to me all the time and I’ve become a lot more aware of how cold and expressionless I can come across as.

    That said, when it comes to our relationship I’m definitely the default D. When it comes to running the household and our personal affairs my type A comes out. Two equally chilled out people, in my mind, is recipe for domestic disaster, so I compensate.

    Are your personal and work personas the same?

  • The art of selling yourself: Let’s talk behavioural interview questions

     

    How do you answer behavioural interview questions?

    When I interviewed for this job, I was pretty confident I had the skills required. I was mostly concerned with how to figure out whether it would be a good fit for me.

    Rather than rehearsing answers, I spent a lot of time thinking about what kinds of questions I could ask to pinpoint whether this would be the right move and what the culture was like. I was quite conflicted about whether I should even be interviewing for it.

    Did I mention I’m not experienced at interviewing at all? My last job was a warm lead; I already knew them well so the interview was informal and there were no reference checks. My first job grew from a part-time job, which in turn grew out of an internship. So I’d never been through an actual structured interview before.  

    Some of the questions I struggled with:

    Discussing projects and my role in pulling them off

    I don’t come from a project-based background. The nature of my workflow means that it’s pretty constant. I suppose on a micro level, you could say I go through a lot of mini projects – every newsletter, every piece of writing, every photo shoot I coordinate. Luckily, I have gotten to work on a couple of initiatives over the past years – the joys of a lean team – that were often a pain in the ass but provided valuable work experience.

    What I said: Rambled a little about one initiative I was a part of, struggled to quantify my contributions.

    What I should’ve said: Next time I’d prepare and practice with one or two examples and try to put some numbers or specifics to it. My workflow will be much more project-based going forward so I plan to keep notes along the way for my own records.

    Describing my communication style

    What I said: I described my communication style as collaborative – I’m good at taking on board and weighing up various perspectives.

    What I should’ve said: In hindsight, and after doing a little research, in the future I’d also add that I listen more than I talk, am stronger in written communication, and while I value input from others I often do my best work alone.

    Describing my ideal manager’s style

    What I said: My ideal manager provides clear guidance/objectives upfront, offers support when asked for and when they sense it’s needed, and champions their team and their team’s work. (The best bosses are the ones who trust you to get the job done and leave you alone to do it, IMO.)

    What I should’ve said: I’m still thinking on this one. I feel there’s plenty of room for improvement, but not sure how specifically. Any thoughts?

    Describing the kinds of people I get along best with – and the ones I don’t 

    What I said: I get along with most people. I am not a fan of close-minded types who are always convinced they’re right and aren’t open to other viewpoints.

    What I should’ve said: A better answer in the future, especially in a professional context, would probably be that I take issue with the type of person who is a talker and not a doer, a ‘not my job’ type, who isn’t committed to going the extra mile when needed. In short, people who don’t share my work ethic. Coming from a background where resources are always thin and passion plays a big part, I expect the same sort of standards from others. I’m big on work-life balance, but when you’re at work, I think it’s important to do what it takes to get the job done.

    What kinds of interview questions do you struggle with? Any thoughts on answering some of these?

  • Goodbye publishing: On leaving an industry you love

    Goodbye publishing: On leaving an industry you love

    I think I may have said this before, but I’m often struck by the similarities between working in media and working in academia.

    Both fields are going through upheaval. Both fields enjoy less and less security. Both fields are increasingly squeezed. Both fields do a lot of navel gazing. Both fields indulge in a lot of self-deprecative grumbling and moaning – it’s that love/hate thing that often comes with passion industries.

    This is stuff that’s been weighing on my mind of late, what with Nieman Lab’s recent coverage of the NYT – especially the comprehensive, exhausting chronicle of a homepage editor’s day and succinct extraction of the key points from the paper’s leaked innovation report.

    By the time we graduated, lots of my classmates were already bemoaning the implosion of the print market, and of course, that’s an echo reverberating all through the industry. As Allyson Bird’s viral post pointed out: “There was never such a thing as an eight-hour workday at newspapers, but overtime became the stuff of legend … when it came to watching out for themselves, the watchdogs kept their heads down.”

    Not that I necessarily went into this thinking I wanted to work in print. I fell straight into the world of digital, and in hindsight, of course it makes sense. I’d been writing for online magazines throughout high school and started my first website back in about 2000.

    The barriers to entry for online media are low. You can start up something yourself or nab a staff job, and in some situations, it’s easy to move up quickly. Traditional print news is fairly hierarchical, but the online environment is infinitely more flexible and, by necessity, welcoming to Gen Yers who get the web. As Emily Banks (ex-Mashable managing editor, now at the WSJ) once told me, getting to where she is now in such a short space of time would be more or less unthinkable at a more traditional place.

    But it’s not an easy path by any means.  It’s still bloody hard to make money in online, even as print revenues slide. And feeding the beast that never sleeps is a thankless task. As Andrew Nusca, the Editorialiste, writes: “We humans are just not built for this level of productivity – whatever the quality”. And ex-Venturebeater Bekah Grant actually quantified this on Medium: “I wrote an average of 5 posts a day, churning out nearly 1,740 articles over the course of 20 months. That is, by all objective standards, insane.”

    You can’t be on all the time; you can’t be producing 100 percent of the time. You need time to pause, time to think, time to analyse things. I’ve giggled with fellow onliners about what it must be like to be on staff at quarterly, monthly, or heck, even weekly magazines. What luxurious deadlines they have, we chuckle. What could they possibly do on some of those days? But by jove, wouldn’t a day or two every now and then at a less frenetic pace be nice?

    We’ve heard plenty about plagiarism over the past few years. Some blame the industry as a whole. There’s less training, support, mentorship. No longer do subs upon chief reporters upon editors question everything, as old-timers recount. Stretched thin, with the layers of backup eroded, we get Elizabeth Flocks and Jonah Lehrers. That’s probably not going to improve.

    Is constantly doing more with less sustainable? We’re searching for the silver bullet, media and academia alike. But not everyone is willing to stick around to find out what it is. This passage, I think, will resonate far beyond just the chemistry community: “You can recognize that our choices to leave are rational decisions that demonstrate self-knowledge and self-respect. We have weighed whether we love the work more than we hate the context we do it in. You can accept our analysis and respect our agency, and not try to convince us that you know better or that we should have worked (even) harder.”

    I don’t have any answers. And now that I technically no longer work in publishing, I guess I won’t be part of the solution, if one emerges eventually. Instead, I’ll watch from the sidelines, having chosen to walk an easier path, like many before me have and many after me will.

  • What kind of career do I want? How my thinking has changed over time

    What kind of career do I really want?

    In reading back over some of my very first blog posts, it’s clear just how much things have changed in my life.

    In particular, how many times I’ve changed my mind about the kind of work I’d like to have. It’s not just a case of me being fickle, I promise – my chosen career field is a rapidly changing one.

    When I first graduated I thought I wanted to be a subeditor. Thing is, there are fewer and fewer of those jobs these days – it’s a dying art – and the hours are often crappy. It wasn’t long before I ditched that idea.

    Then social media took off. Everyone and their dog was becoming a social media manager or consultant. I loved that I got to play with social networks as part of my job, but the more I did it at work, the less I wanted to do it for fun, and I quickly learned that I would want to be  more than just a ‘Twitter monkey‘. (I had to laugh when someone I follow locally on Twitter, who’s been a social media champion from the early days, tweeted that she is now looking to do a project as far removed from social as possible.)

    I’ve always been a doer. I wasn’t into the top-level stuff – I’m a details person, not a visionary. I like that this, at times, allows me the flexibility to work from anywhere, since all I need most of the time is a computer and internet. But I don’t love staring at a screen all day – and I don’t think it’s been great for my health. Fortunately, as I’ve gained more experience I’ve also become more interested in the strategy behind the doing and being involved in how/why things are done. I still have  zero desire to manage people but increasingly I’m thinking I’d like to learn more about doing things more strategically and getting involved at a higher level.

    It’s great to love your work. It’s also great to be able to afford the kind of life you want, and to have the kind of job that allows you to have that life outside of your working hours. As much fun as my work has been so far, I knew I had to be realistic about the long-term opportunities. Publishers are struggling to make money – but on the flipside, all other kinds of organisations are investing in content.

    MONEY WILL HELP YOU BE MISERABLE IN COMFORT

    In thinking about what I might want to do next, I narrowed it down to a few areas I would ideally like to work in:

    a) the travel and tourism space

    b) the personal finance space (a cool bank, or, say, at sorted.org.nz)

    c) an awesome startup (though arguably my last job was pretty close to a startup job)

    Amazingly, I found a role that perfectly marries my writing chops, digital skills and love of travel. It’ll be my job to help extol all the virtues of New Zealand as a place to visit – a dream gig, really.

    So far, I anticipate a lot more collaboration, a lot more meetings, a workload that ebbs and flows – more facilitation, planning and strategy alongside the nitty gritty production stuff rather than a constant cycle with very tangible daily outputs.

    Overall, will I love it just as much as I did my old work? I think it’s highly likely. Time will tell; I haven’t gotten too much into the ‘doing’ yet. I dig the atmospherical aspects and am pretty sure the workload will be less relentless. All things considered, higher pay, the chance to hone new skills and better long-term earning potential don’t hurt, and are definitely factors that play into professional satisfaction.

    Maybe further down the track I may have to make a stark choice between money and satisfaction, but not just yet. Phew.

  • Do you believe in signs?

    When it comes to job hunting, I always tell people there’s no harm in trying. What’s the worst that could happen? You get ignored, like you almost always do anyway? You’ve got to be in to win, and there’s absolutely nothing to lose by sending your application out to a faceless (and often nameless) person.

    Yet I almost didn’t take my own advice. When I first came across the listing for my new job, I shook my head and sighed. It sounded like the perfect role in every way … but the timing wasn’t right. I wasn’t planning on leaving until later in the year! I know positions like this don’t come along everyday, but I decided to shelve it anyway and put it out of my mind.

    And then …

    Without going into any detail, let’s just say something happened to remind me that business is business. Your only loyalty should be to yourself, first and foremost. Never forget that. —-> SIGN 1

    I decided to do a little more research and put in an application. And what do you know: a Google search revealed that the position would be reporting to someone who worked at my previous employer, who I had actually had a couple of dealings with. —-> SIGN 2

    They called me right away, and although I’d just had my wisdom teeth out and was a bit sore, I wasn’t in too much pain and didn’t want to put off the interview. It went well, and I had a second interview a week later.

    A few days after that, my (super awesome) boss announced her resignation. —-> SIGN 3

    Handily, this also freed me up to ask her for a reference, and in keeping with the theme so far, that very same day I was asked for reference contacts by the HR consultant.

    In a strange twist, as it turns out, we both ended up joining and leaving the company at almost exactly the same time.

    I am a bit bummed to bail out before winning an industry award. But then again, I was sad to leave my last job before getting assigned a travel feature – and then I got to do a couple of sweet trips at this one.

    Because of the way Easter and Anzac holidays shook down this year, I wound up with 10 days off in between. Add in the fact T didn’t have work to go to either, after getting very close to a very cool sounding job (final 2 candidates) and I took this as a sign that we should make the most of this time and take a trip somewhere. Call it an early anniversary celebration.

    So we took off to the Great Barrier Reef for a few days of relaxation. (Recaps to come.)

    And funnily enough, on our last night over there I learned through Twitter that my bank’s social media team will soon be hiring – another ideal opportunity that I had been hoping might manifest. It’s still on my career bucket list.

  • How long do you wait for the perfect dream job to come along?

    How long do you wait for the perfect dream job to come along?

    I’ve found a new hobby.  And nerdy as it sounds, that hobby is writing cover letters. 

    Job hunting is so much easier when you have a passion for an industry. Helping T do cover letters is super enjoyable because it’s a breeze to communicate that – and those letters are getting responses, because that passion shines through and stands out.

    Still, time has flown; it’s been about a month already with no solid leads. Obviously it’d be great if he could score a dream job doing what he was doing, now that he’s had a taste of it … but with limited experience, that’s a long shot.

    How long, then, do you hold out for the ideal job? Money is money and at some point bringing in an income becomes top priority. (You can always keep looking, and they do say a lot of employers prefer to hire people who already have jobs…) And I think we’re shifting into that mode now.

    One option would be to keep going down the sales path – there’s never any shortage of sales jobs out there, many of which are happy to train people up. If you can sell, you’ve got a pretty versatile skill that’ll never go out of demand, and your earning potential is massive. But he rocked car sales because he loves cars, and it’s doubtful that he’ll find the same level of a) enjoyment and therefore b) success selling insurance or water coolers or whatever.

    The other obvious path is to look for something else in the auto industry. Now that T’s found an area he really likes, it’s a no-brainer. Even if it doesn’t pay a ton, as long as it pays enough, is steady, not too physically taxing, and doesn’t trigger Sunday night blues – that’s pretty good in my books. We’ve been doing this to some extent but it’s probably time to really ramp that up and expand the search.

    This is where I think I need to play cheerleader a little. Sometimes he’s a bit narrow-minded about his skillset and will write off postings because he doesn’t fit all the criteria; I find myself having to persuade him that his experience applies just fine to roles that don’t bear the exact same title or description, and that there’s nothing to lose by applying for jobs that are a little bit of a stretch if you don’t tick every single box. (This is no time to fall prey to impostor syndrome…)

    There’s something really exciting about all the potential, all the opportunity that comes with the job hunt – imagining yourself doing various jobs that sound particularly awesome and what your future might look like. But conversely, it’s also a bit depressing seeing how mundane and poorly paid many jobs out there are – it makes me feel really privileged to be able to do work I enjoy that I am decently compensated for.

    How long would you keep hunting for the dream job? On a scale of 1-10, how perfect is your job?