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frustration vs defeat December 3, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Fired, Seen Elsewhere.
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Overheard in the Newsroom:

Last year on my self-evaluation I wrote a lot because I was frustrated. This year I will write little because I’m defeated.

The right to make your voice heard on your self-evaluation is huge. It’s the one time during the year when you can get on record how you feel and what changes you want to make. It’s very freeing. You still have to be careful — you don’t want to badmouth your boss because your boss, after all, is the one who decides if you deserve a raise — but for the most part, if you hate the way your department is run ragged by another department, you can certainly say it.

The thing is, most people aren’t getting raises this year. They’re lucky to keep their jobs at all in most cases, what with the across-the-board layoffs and more people having to do more work but make less money. And they know that if they make too many waves, they’ll be tabbed for the next round of job losses.

Anyway, if you aren’t getting a raise, it’s unlikely you’ll get more than a perfunctory meeting with your boss where s/he tries to convince you that you need to stick around and do your best even though you’re not seeing anything good happening in your job. You may not even be asked to self-evaluate, and if you are, your boss is just as likely to throw it on file and be done with it. So why would you bother to write a lot? Or anything at all?

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on peeing in a dark suit November 19, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Fired.
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From Overheard in the Newsroom:

“Doing a good job here is like peeing your pants in a dark suit — you get a warm feeling but no one else notices.”


Don't pee in the dark suit. (cc-licensed photo by Jeremy Carbaugh)

These days, it’s really hard to get more than lip service paid to you when you do a good job. Even as few as five years ago, people who did good jobs could count on relatively-substantial raises, bonuses, promotions, and respect. But then the economy turned, and companies had to cut corners any way they could.

Lucky for them, when the big companies started laying off hundreds of employees, the smaller ones realized they could just cut pay or bonuses or raises and say “well, you still have a job, so congratulations, your bonus this year is that you get to keep it.” (I have a few articles brewing on that front.)

And yet we have to continue doing the best we can, doing work we’re proud of, or else we’ll just lose our jobs too. If that’s the case, maybe we should all pee in our dark suits.

ways to avoid work November 11, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere, Wasting Time.
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Sometimes I wonder what kind of office Scott Adams used to work in; the people there must have been really forward-thinking in their cubicle insanity, given how accurate nearly every one of his strips is.

Let’s examine the points made by Dilbert here:

Ten Minutes of Explanation. This one is my personal favorite when it comes to doing things I don’t want to do. I’ll often find ways to foist a task back onto the person requesting it by saying I need more information or I don’t have time or my computer is updating. Anything to avoid actually doing a distasteful task, even if it’s a quick one. Yesterday, for example, I had to build a test page on one of our websites. It’s drudgery, it’s annoying to do, and if even one step is missed the entire thing has to be started over. If I do it right, it takes 20 minutes.

I put it off for almost four hours. The person I was doing it for totally accepted my BS explanation.

Incompetence. I’ve always been good at this one. When I worked for an office supply store, one of my tasks was cleaning the floor. I have never, ever been any good at floor-related cleaning tasks (except mopping; I’m good at mopping). Vacuuming the carpet in my area was a nightmare, and I was often asked to vacuum the carpeting in the furniture area as well. My coworkers eventually figured out that I was no good at it, but when I worked in the copy center, I was the only one who could do the job. I actually almost got written up because my vacuuming was so bad.

Company Policy. Whenever I didn’t want to do something before the reorg, I would simply say it was company policy for me not to do it. Most notably when artists and photographers were supposed to write their own copy. I could do it faster, and I could do it better, but it was technically their job to do it. (Still is, I suppose.) The whole point of it was to get them to be better at their jobs by getting more practice, but they just did it half-assed and it became my job to fix it so my work didn’t look crappy. Company policy always comes back to bite you in the ass.

Forgetfulness. I keep a list of everything I have to do. I actually write it on paper. I tried putting it in Outlook, but that was a failure; I never felt like I accomplished anything. Nowadays, with e-mail being the primary form of requesting people to do things, it’s easy to simply say “your e-mail got lost” or “I deleted it by accident” or “it’s in my inbox but I missed it between these other tasks”. You can still forget things; it just takes more work.

Falsehood. This is the one that always made me feel bad when I used it. I only ever used it sparingly, and really only when I was pissed off at a co-worker or customer. The perk of doing the kinds of jobs I do is that, for the most part, people don’t actually know what I’m capable of. I can lie about my time, my skills, software I use, my workload, whatever. I usually get the job done, but a carefully applied lie is a great way to buy some time.

Which of these is the one you use the most?

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That Guy’s Tips for Job Seekers October 14, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Fired, Tips for Corporate Success.
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cc-licensed photo by Dani Lurie

cc-licensed photo by Dani Lurie

Yesterday I mentioned a friend of mine who was having trouble finding a job. The short explanation of her problem was that she was poorly qualified for a lot of jobs out there — not because she’s uneducated or unintelligent or unwilling, but because of the exact opposite: she’s very smart, she’s very educated, and she’s very willing to work.

So are a lot of people. A lot of people who are getting out into the job hunt for the first time in 10, 20, or even 30 years. A lot of people who are smart, who have advanced degrees, who need to work because their companies raided their retirement accounts and failed miserably at putting the money back.

I wish I had good advice for job-seekers. I really do. I have some advice… whether it’s good or not is completely up to you.

  1. Find a recruiter. This is the biggest one. Recruiters get paid when you get hired, so it’s in their best interest to find the best job for you. I can’t guarantee the jobs will be there, but if there’s a perfect job for you, your recruiter will know and will send you for an interview. Plus, recruiters can get their feet in the door much more skillfully than you, unless you used to be a recruiter yourself.
  2. Treat the job hunt as a job. Don’t just dink around on your computer for half an hour a day. Sign up for as many job boards as you can. Get alerts via e-mail or RSS. Apply for jobs. And if you come across a position being represented by someone else in your recruiter’s group, don’t just apply; go to your recruiter and ask for information. Spend a lot of time trying to find a job. It’s hard work.
  3. Learn a technological skill. I recommend learning web programming — specifically JSP. At least where I live, everyone seems to be looking for people who can code JSP.

    Commenter Alphager says that JSP is pretty complicated and really can’t be learned properly by just picking up a book. As I am not a JSP programmer, I can neither refute nor confirm his statement, but it looks pretty good to me. So, perhaps you shouldn’t learn JSP right away. Instead, read on for other suggestions. I still recommend learning at least one web-based programming language, although know that you will need to spend more than just a few days to get it right (I’ve been building websites, doing both design and development, since 1995).

    If you’ve never done any programming, start with PHP, which is a pretty easy language to learn. Build websites, play around in APIs (Twitter and Tumblr, for starters), get good at CMSes (WordPress to start, but Joomla and Drupal are the biggies these days), and shell out for the good books. I recommend O’Reilly Media — the white books with the animals on the cover. The red ones from Wrox are fine too, but O’Reilly, in my experience, is a little more accessible.

  4. Don’t sell yourself cheaply. You may not get as much money as you used to make, but don’t lowball just to ensure you get the job. Make sure you’re paid fairly. You’ll probably get the low end of the pay scale no matter what, but you definitely want to be somewhere on it. Also, remember that people are willing to pay for things they perceive to be high-quality, even in a down economy; if you’re a high-quality human resource, you can still ask for a good salary and you’re likely to get it if you’re worth it.
  5. Be prepared to wait. I’ve read that you get one callback for every 50 resumes you send out (not necessarily an interview; just a phone call), that it takes six months to get a new job, that there are a ton of qualified candidates and very few jobs overall, that the only fields hiring are education and medicine… I’ve heard it all. Some of it’s true. Just be patient; it’s going to suck while you don’t have a job, but believe it or not, absence really does make the heart grow fonder and once you get that new job, you’ll really appreciate it.

So, y’know, good luck in your job hunt. It took me 18 months to find my last job. I was employed at the time, and I know it’s harder now than it was, but I waited long enough and I got the right job — it pays well, it’s in a good location, I’m doing stuff I like, and the company is a great one to work for (trust me, if I told you the company’s real name, you’d know it… it’s that well-known). Even in a down economy, there are good jobs to be had. You just have to work hard to find them.

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who wants to hire me? October 13, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Hired.
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A friend* on one of the many social blog communities I belong to recently posted that she needs a new job, and is having difficulty finding one, perhaps because of some of the qualifications she posted on her page:

I’m 5’10” so I can reach things on high shelves.

I speak Spanish and English, obviously.


Oh and I have a Bachelor’s in Microbiology, but that seems to be completely irrelevant when I apply to most jobs.

I’m single and have no kids, so I won’t be rushing off to go pick my kids up from school/daycare/after school activities.

I think I’m pretty smart too. My IQ is 135. However that also seems to be irrelevant when I apply for jobs, considering that fact that some people hire retards.

A professional young woman. (cc-licensed photo by cotaroba)

A professional young woman. (cc-licensed photo by cotaroba)

Let me hit these one at a time:

Height: Useful, but it’s more about strength — as in, an employer can say you need to be able to lift 30, 50, or 100 pounds, but they can’t say you need to be tall to accomplish this. It’s in the rules that they have to provide stepladders and such.

Another height issue, though, is that tall women tend to come off as more capable and more dominant in the workplace, and an insecure boss — male or female — will be negatively affected. And I’m not just talking about short bosses — one of my old bosses is about 5’3 and, while he did have a Napoleon complex, it never impacted his hiring practices and he hired employees of all shapes and sizes. Even a tall person can be insecure.

Languages: Given that she is bilingual, it surprises me quite a lot that it’s so hard to find a job. In this job market, being able to speak Spanish is a huge plus — it is, after all, one of the most-spoken languages in the U.S.** I wish I spoke it better (I can muddle through if the other person speaks slowly). Fortunately most of my jobs (at least, since I got out of retail) haven’t required bilinguality (bilingualism?) to be a part of the job description.

Microbiology: Yeah, unfortunately there are a lot of undergraduate degrees that don’t lead to good jobs. My wife has one in Psychology, and she’s basically a secretary and web content updating person. My friend Dave has one in Communications, and after getting laid off from his news broadcasting job, he was hired as an elementary school teacher, which has nothing to do with his degree. One of my former co-workers is a web developer who majored in History. And somehow one of my friends managed a degree in Japanese but has always worked in graphic design. I’m sure she (the woman looking for a job) is extremely smart, but what can you do with an undergraduate degree in Microbiology besides get a graduate degree in something else? If you’re looking for a job as an executive assistant, it’s unlikely you’ll make use of anything you learned in your Microbiology classes. Which sucks. Secretaries with lab coats and microscopes sounds really cool.

Family: It is against the law to discriminate against someone who is pregnant, who has a family, or who has children. Likewise it is against the law to discriminate against someone who doesn’t. I mean, if you’re trying to become the webmaster of a social network aimed at mothers, you probably ought to be one, so the best candidate will be a mother. I could get that job too, except that I’m a man so I don’t have insights into certain women’s issues, such as exactly what goes through a woman’s mind during a gynecological or obstetric exam***. There have been articles written about how to handle job hunting while pregnant, and discrimination happens, I’m sure. But bringing up this point during an interview (that you are family-less/childless) is probably not a good idea.

IQ: This is a big one. Smart people are a huge asset to companies — as a former boss, believe me, I know — but being too smart can also backfire. For example: three jobs ago, I went to my local Office Supply Chain Store to get a part-time position. I needed to earn some extra money for a trip I wanted to take, and since I was unmarried and childless, I had the time to work two to four nights a week. So I went in, applied, got hired, and proceeded to make a mess of things because I was too smart. I thought I knew how to do everything, and I rushed through certain projects, which made things worse for me (because I had to do extra work to make up for it) and for my managers (who had to train me again so I could unlearn my bad habits). I’m sure this doesn’t happen to everyone, but I guarantee it does happen quite a bit.

Then there’s this: really smart people get bored really quickly in drudgery-filled jobs; when I was in college, I worked at a Video Game Chain store and, while the job was fun and the people were cool, I found myself going crazy trying not to look like I was holding up the counter the entire time. It was mostly boredom, and smart people have trouble dealing with that. The whole “taking out a notebook and writing a novel” or “drawing passers-by in a sketchpad” doesn’t happen in real life. Ever. Bookstore cashiers don’t get to read when they’re bored; they have to clean up, or put returns back on the shelves, or (worst of all) find mis-filed books and put them away. Retail is boring; employers don’t want to hire people they think are going to be bored the whole time because bored people feel unfulfilled and that kind of mood brings everyone down.

And finally, smart people with degrees deserve a higher paycheck, which is something companies don’t want to provide right now. I get that; I really, really do. But on the other hand, companies need to learn that unemployed smart people are going to be very hard workers because they know:

  • This is all they can get.
  • This may end up being a career, so they’re going to work hard.
  • They’re used to working hard; they were laid off from good jobs, or they’ve taken difficult paths of study in college.
  • They have families to support, and they’re going to do everything they can to not get fired for slacking off.

So, what advice can I give my friend? The same advice I give everyone.

Yup. You guessed it. I’m saving that for tomorrow. Hey, writing a new post every day is hard!

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* In this usage, “someone who reads my posts, and I read her posts”. Kind of like on LiveJournal, except I’m not talking about LiveJournal here.

** At my old job (before the reorganization), I rarely spoke directly to consumers, but on occasion someone who spoke little or no English would call. The front desk people would frantically search for Wally or (before he quit) Daniel, both of whom were fluent Spanish speakers. If they weren’t there, the caller usually heard “no hablo espanol; por favor llame a (whatever time Wally or Daniel would be coming in). As for where I am now, that won’t be a problem; the person who sits next to me is a (legal) immigrant from a Hispanic country, and speaks both languages fluently.

*** I know what was going through my mind during the times my wife was at the doctor for her checkups while she was pregnant, but not really what she was thinking or feeling beyond what she told me.

what to do when you get a no-motion September 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition, Economic Downturn.
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The short answer? Grin and bear it, and be happy you’re still employed.

From Urban Dictionary:

1. A promotion without a raise or bonus.

2. During the recession of 2009, employers have embarked on a new trend of giving promotions to employees (e.g. by adding more responsibility to their current position or new job title) but not giving the employee any monetary compensation for it (e.g. no raise, no bonus).

Looks like lots of people got no-motions and are still trying to figure out how to finish everything in one day. (CC-licensed photo by loumurphy)

Looks like lots of people got no-motions and are still trying to figure out how to finish everything in one day. (CC-licensed photo by loumurphy)

This began at CorporateSpeak in early 2009, after employees older than 55 with more than 20 years service were offered the option to take buyouts — one week of pay for every year employed, with insurance ending when the pay ended. Nine out of the ten eligible employees took the buyouts. They included:

Rena from accounting — she was in charge of all the money coming in and going out. Not an accountant or a comptroller; more like a glorified records clerk. But if you needed anything involving money, you went to Rena and she made sure things were done correctly. Andy and Leland both got no-motions to take over Rena’s duties.

Arthur from archives — in this economic climate, we really couldn’t afford someone whose sole job it was to keep track of the decades of archived print, video, photography, audio, and web stuff we’d done. Arthur knew that and took the buyout, which was too bad, because Arthur also coordinated talent appearances — ie, hiring people to pose in photographs or act on video — and that wasn’t part of his job description. It was just something he’d been doing for about ten years because it needed to be done. A combination of Raven, Rick, Marc, and Danny received various no-motions to take over Arthur’s tasks. Raven by far has it worst; she is the final word when it comes to the library, she works an odd shift, she still has to do mockups and photography (what she was hired to do), and when someone can’t find something in the library, she has to figure out where it went.

Dan the receptionist — after 30 years, it was determined that paying a full-time receptionist was no longer necessary. Dan took the buyout. Now Gina has received a no-motion; where Dan worked 8:30 to 5:30 — our regular business hours — Gina works 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Her computer was moved to the front desk, but if she needs to check her files, she has to get someone to cover the front desk so she can go up to her old cubicle and get what she needs. Needless to say her productivity has suffered. Oh, and as for 3:00 to 6:00, we’ve brought in a part-timer, because, you know, that’s a great idea.

But what could Andy, Leland, Raven, Rick, Marc, Danny, and Gina do? Say no? Of course not! Because they need their jobs. They have families to support and bills to pay. They have to eat.

Welcome to the new workplace, where people leave and are halfheartedly replaced by others who don’t have time to do their own jobs, let alone the jobs of others — and woe betide them if they claim overtime for doing what they were told to do.

The worst part of all of this is that it’s not going to change back. Once the economy rights itself and we go from bust to boom, we’re going to be much more careful as a business culture and we’re not going to hire anyone new — not a new archivist, not a new receptionist, not a new money specialist. The seven people above are going to keep doing what they’re doing, and the company as a whole is going to suffer. Just like your company is when it happens to the people around you.

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That Guy’s Tips for Not Looking Stupid on the Internet, #2 August 5, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Economic Downturn, Getting Fired, Getting Hired, Technology Trouble, Tips for Not Looking Stupid, Unsociable Networking.
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Don’t ignore the power of social networking while you’re still employed; the moment you get fired, you’ll need it.

For the last six years or so, CorporateSpeak employed a long-term contracted freelancer named Ivy. Recently, though, it was decided that Ivy’s contract was not going to be renewed and her duties would be assumed by an existing full-time employee. Ivy was unhappy about this, but I think we all understood the economic reality of the current U.S. market.

One of the first things Ivy did when she got home was update her Facebook thusly:

Ok, I am gonna be better about updating my status. Ok, I am actually going to start updating my status. The pressure to be relevant.. sigh.

Ivy used her Facebook a little bit before this, but not as much as her co-workers did — even her partner, who was let go at the same time. She would occasionally post about what she was doing, or put up some photos, but she wasn’t active on Facebook (or, to my knowledge, any social network). Now that she’s unemployed, though, she’s got to find a new job, and she’s figured out rather quickly that networking is the way to do it.

Just don’t tell everyone. It makes you look like you’re better than everyone else, like you’re saying, “well, I had a job for a long time, and now I don’t, so I’m going to do what all the cool kids are doing and use Facebook to find a job.” Coming across as elitist on a social network is a sure-fire way to lose regard with a potential employer, especially one that you want to hire you for a high-profile or high-paying position.

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“exciting concept” June 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Definition, Economic Downturn, Meeting Minutes.
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exciting concept
ex-SY-ting CON-sept

Layoffs are everywhere. Companies are cutting budgets and cutting services. Employees are doing more with less, and for less money as it becomes clear pay cuts are going to be necessary to even approach the black. And yet you’re still being asked, time and time again, to do new things at work, to add new tasks that you know in your heart will be the business equivalent of vaporware.

And the worst kind of vaporware is something that starts out as an exciting concept.

Warning! Exciting concept creation zone!

Warning! Exciting concept creation zone!

Exciting concepts tend to begin in conference rooms at the corporate office, where several suited employees gather together and try to come up with something that will cost no money but somehow bring in revenue while also virally infecting the internet. These suited employees have been on the corporate payroll so long that they’ve forgotten actual non-suited employees have to somehow make these concepts come to life.

So they sit around, often for days at a time, until a great idea (likely suggested by a non-suited employee three or more months ago) suddenly strikes. They come up with dozens of ways it can go viral and be huge on Facebook or Twitter, and then they lay it all out and order it to occur.

And y’know what? Some of them aren’t half-bad ideas. The problem is that there’s never support for an exciting concept. There’s no extra money in the budget; there’s no extra people to work on it; there’s no possible way that the job can be done by current employees without being slammed shoddily together at the last minute, as so many things are. Then management puts a polish on it and goes back to corporate and says “hey, look how great we did with your exciting concept!”

That only leads to one thing: more exciting concepts coming right down on your head.


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nice to be invited… oh, wait… June 15, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Economic Downturn, Getting Fired, Management.
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My boss was laid off, as you know. Friday was his last day. I happened upon his office around 11:00 that morning and he was talking to Judd and Ray, an IT guy and a content editor (respectively). Apparently Judd was planning to take my boss out to lunch. Ray somehow got himself invited — and hung out more than two hours after his shift ended to go along.

My boss (now ex-boss, I suppose) was trying to figure out where they were going to go.

Then, at 12:45, they left.

I wasn’t invited.

Curious. I’m the only person left in the department. I continually pulled his ass out of the fire when he either acted the fool and said no without thinking, or when he had to figure something out and couldn’t do so. Of the six people he’s hired, I’m the only one still working for him (three quit, one was transferred to another department, and one was freelance and sucked so badly that we didn’t ask her back). The two who were already here when I got here — one works nights and the other works from home, so they weren’t here. And they don’t work for him anymore (transferred to other departments too).

But no, don’t ask your one employee to come to lunch. I might not even have said yes, but it would be nice to be asked.

I get it, kind of; maybe he’s bitter that I still have a job and he doesn’t. But maybe he doesn’t get that over the past three years we’ve formed a working relationship that I think goes beyond boss/employee — we’ve been out outside of work, and we’ve been in work-related extracurriculars like the fantasy football league I run here.

Insult to injury: I texted him and asked if he could swing my McDonald’s, which is literally two miles up the street, to pick me up an iced coffee on his way back. He texted back:

not going that way sorry dude

Really? It wasn’t as if I was going to stiff him on the $2.25, but seriously? Come on, dude. Would it kill you? It’s not like you want to be back here anyway for the rest of your last day.

He’s applying for a regional position, newly created, based out of our building. I’m kind of concerned because he’s a good enough BS artist to actually get the job, but he wouldn’t be very good at it. I’m a better candidate than he is, and I think it would still be a pay cut for him but it would be a raise for me (a small one) as well as — and this is key — an office away from the production floor.

Ah well. I don’t wish him ill, and I won’t miss him fielding meetings so I can actually work, but if you can’t be bothered to invite to lunch the person who hooked you up with recruiters when you lost your job and made you look good when you had one, then that’s the best you’re going to get from me.

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dick move, corporate person June 12, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Hired, Unsociable Networking.
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As I mentioned Wednesday, my boss was laid off. So were about 40 others across the company, many of whom are my friends on Facebook. Yesterday, one of them, Charlene, posted this Facebook status update:

How about a Facebook page for ex-CorporateSpeak webmasters?

And Alfred, a sales-and-web consultant at the corporate office had the balls to post this comment less than half an hour later:

Great idea! are you all on Twitter and LinkedIn as well?

And I — and my cubicle-mate — just about exploded with indignation. Seriously, Alfred? Seriously, when your job is 100% safe because your results are un-quantifiable (all subjective), you have the testicular fortitude to post on the Facebook page of a woman who lost her job with literally no warning — a woman who was one of the five most-qualified webmasters at CorporateSpeak — that it’s a good idea? And to suggest to someone who’s in the web community that she should have a Twitter and LinkedIn page?

You. Idiot.

Here is the appropriate response from any corporate person not fired at the same time:

That’s right. The sound of silence. If you want to offer helpful hints, do it on the phone or via e-mail. Or in person. I offered my boss information on recruiters I have used in the past, and he welcomed it. I’m sure that Charlene would’ve been pleased to talk to Alfred about strategies for getting hired elsewhere, but for Alfred to post such a flip, cavalier message on Charlene’s Facebook page is a pretty big dick move. I feel bad for Charlene because she got fired, but I feel worse for Alfred because he’s so inept that he seemed to not even know what he was doing when he posted that.

Beyond that, Charlene will never, ever call Alfred out for what he said. And that’s too bad.

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