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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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quit unexpectedly December 2, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Getting Fired.
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So what do you do when you’re treated poorly, not given enough incentive to hang around, and not appreciated by management?

You quit.

Years ago, I quit a job because I was harassed and, while my regional manager was willing to back me to the hilt, the RM’s boss said no way. I found another job, I called the RM, I explained my reasons, and he totally understood. He wasn’t happy, but he understood.

I didn’t do this, though:

This guy has totally burnt his bridges. He will never work for this company again. He will never get a reference from any managers at that company. And because of that, he can’t use any work he did at that company for future job applications because they might call said company and try to find out what kind of designer they’re hiring.

It goes both ways, though. My boss is very vocal with his praise, and the culture of positive recognition is so ingrained in my department that we actually have a segment during our weekly meetings where we publicly recognize our co-workers for doing good work or being helpful. In my old job, my immediate boss was always appreciative, but beyond him there was very little praise or pleasantness unless you did something really amazing — which I did every now and then. Which is why, when the reorg happened, I went upstairs and most of my coworkers went to another office.

I’ve got a post about burning bridges coming at some point. This is just a tease, if you will. And a funny one at that.

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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.”

cs_darksuit

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.

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.

    NOTE:
    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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“any special requests?” September 14, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Experiences, Free Food!, Getting Fired.
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Someone in my area recently got a new job. This conversation took place Friday morning between Ron, who is departing, and Harry, a middle manager who oversees Ron:

Harry: So, when’s your last day?
Ron: Next Thursday.
Harry: Okay… any special requests?
Ron: *shifts anxiously* How do you mean?
Harry: What kind of cake do you like?
Ron: *clearly uncomfortable* Um… well, I don’t like chocolate cake.
Harry: No chocolate. Okay. What do you like?
Ron: *even more uncomfortable* Whatever, I guess. *shrugging*
Harry: Okay.

CC-licensed photo by whalesalad

CC-licensed photo by whalesalad

I felt pretty bad for Ron, who was really put on the spot by Harry. Ron is a self-effacing kind of guy; he doesn’t make a fuss, and he isn’t very good at taking praise. Like me, he’s good at being criticized because it gives him something to respond to, something concrete to change, but blanket praise is hard for him. When the cake ceremony happens on Thursday, Ron will probably stand there, shifting from foot to foot, maybe even blushing a little as Harry and the Two-Year-Old (and probably Ron’s co-worker Cedric) say nice things about the work Ron’s done during his time at CorporateSpeak. Then Ron will have to make a short speech filled with the usual platitudes before cutting and distributing the cake.

I for one had always wondered how the content of the cake was decided; Poppy, the department secretary, is responsible for making sure the cake is present at the appropriate time, but I thought she just picked up whatever she thought the most people would enjoy. (She also bakes the monthly birthday cakes shared by everyone in the building, testing out new recipes.) I happen to know — because Ron and I have had lunch together from time to time — that Ron enjoys vanilla cake or cookie cake, and prefers one local grocery store to the other.

Resigning from a job is always weird — you get dozens of congratulatory messages, the obligatory “happy you get to go, sad to see you leave” from everyone who thinks they’re being original by saying it, and questions about why you’re going. Usually people ask: “more money, right?” Ron happens to be getting more money at his new job, but that’s also a hard thing to discuss — you’re basically condemning your current boss for not paying you enough. The last time I resigned — before joining CorporateSpeak — I did so because of a conflict with corporate management over how they handled harassment against me*, which I told my boss. He also asked if I was getting a raise at my new job and I answered honestly: yes, and I told him how much. I could’ve declined to answer, but my boss and I both disagreed with how corporate handled things.** Ron, for his part, is leaving because he’s dissatisfied with the way things are going here (more on “throwing your old job under the bus” in a later post).

How would you answer that question? How would you respond when someone says “what kind of cake do you want for your goodbye gathering?” Is it ungrateful to make a request? Should your boss even bring it up? It’s amazing how many tough questions there are around the simple purchase of a congratulatory/goodbye cake.

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* It wasn’t sexual harassment. And no, I’m not going into the details. It’s a rather personal story that I don’t feel comfortable sharing.

** I still keep in contact with folks at my old job, and all of them want me back; they haven’t liked any of the managers who came after me. That’s gratifying, but they can’t afford what I’ll want to be paid. That’s not being boastful, either — the person in that position shouldn’t be paid as much as I’m making for what I’m doing now. It’s just not that kind of position.

no quarter for fuck-ups August 17, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Getting Fired, Observations.
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These days, there’s no quarter for fuck-ups at work. Except where you work.

Why was I thinking about this? Because of this story:

Best Buy, based in Richfield, Minn., said it has corrected an online pricing error and will not honor the incorrect price. Orders made Wednesday morning at the incorrect price will be canceled and customers will receive refunds, the company said.

CC-licensed photo by Sean Loyless

CC-licensed photo by Sean Loyless

What they didn’t say is that the person who screwed up will be fired*.

Now why doesn’t that happen at your office? Why don’t incompetent people get fired when they screw up at your office? Why do they instead get given a pass and then the task of fixing everything is passed on to you?

No one knows. But it’s maddening, and it will continue happening until the end of time.

Just don’t fuck up. That amnesty? It doesn’t extend to you. If you screw up, you most definitely will be fired… and blackballed… and never work in the industry again… and be out of work for a very long time, until you swallow your pride and go work in retail.

No quarter for you.

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* I don’t know that. I’m just making it up. Don’t sue me, Best Buy.

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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cleaning up before you turn out the lights July 1, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Getting Fired, Technology Trouble.
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Today marks the beginning of Q3, and many companies are soon to discover that they haven’t made budget and will need to start doing layoffs.

Something a lot of people don’t realize is that they’ve put a whole lot of things on their work computers that they want to take with them — and not even personal stuff at that; what about designs? Code examples? Documentation? In other words: your hard work.

photo by Waldyrious

photo by Waldyrious

Resignr has a 10-item list about what to do when you quit, when it comes to your work computer, and interestingly, it’s not until item 9 that they talk about backing up your stuff. I, on the other hand, am of the mind that you should back up your data every month or so — not just because hard drives fail, but because it’s entirely possible that, when you’re laid off, you’ll be escorted out and you won’t actually have the time to go get your stuff.

What to back up: Anything you’ve designed, written, developed, coded, produced, edited, prototyped, or collaborated upon. Usually you can find all of this in My Documents, though if you’re very technical, you may have folders scattered all over the place. Make a list, or consolidate. Also, if you have a shared directory or drive, back that up too — recently at CorporateSpeak, the drive containing every piece of shared artwork for the past five years completely crashed and the data is likely unrecoverable, though our IT guy is doing his best to get it back*.

When to back up: Once every month; more frequently if your job is in danger. Set an appointment in your calendar so you don’t forget. It’ll likely take you about 20 minutes to set up the backup, even if you drag every folder manually, and another two or three hours for it to finish. I used to back up my personal computer that way, though now that I have Vista I rather like the native backup program.

What to use: External USB storage is amazingly cheap these days. I recently bought a 1TB external hard drive for $130, and if you’re a savvy shopper, you can get even better deals. I recommend against using an internal drive, because it’s a lot more difficult to pull it out of your computer when no one’s looking. Also, backing up online or in the cloud takes time and probably costs money (I’ve never done it). Figure out how much data you’ll have and buy an external drive that will hold it all; one terabyte is a great investment, and there’ll probably be room left over for your porn, too.

How to back up: The most basic way to back up your work is to drag the folders onto the external drive, one at a time, into a dated folder. However, there are plenty of free programs online that you can use to run a backup, and you may even have one as part of your OS. Setting up incremental backups will save you a ton of time after you finish the first one (which will take forever, or so it’ll seem, because every single file will be copied over).

I don’t have these programs: Adobe CS/3 is expensive. Microsoft Office is expensive. Visio is expensive. But none of that matters. You don’t need the programs to have the files; if you go to an interview and they want your design comps, provide PSD files. Of course, most designers have obtained tools to use at home. If you produce a lot of video, you can make DVDs; if you’re a writer, OpenOffice works just as well as Microsoft and is completely free. (I’ve had some trouble getting it to work with Windows Vista 64-bit, but that may be unique to me.) But, seriously, if you don’t have programs at home that at least somewhat mirrors the kind of work you do at the office, then now’s the time to start saving up.

What about my personal stuff: If you have the time, pull everything personal off your work computer. You’ve probably got a ton of pictures, passwords, and purchasing information stored on there. Get it all off; the Resignr article referenced above has lots of useful tips to do that. If it’s too late, then honestly, you might want to format that drive. If your company hasn’t backed up all of your software and kept a list of licenses, then it’s their own fault.

Last week, while I was cleaning off my external hard drive in advance of doing a backup on my personal computer, I found a folder of all my work stuff, backed up off my computer just before it was replaced in early 2008. I haven’t done a backup since then, and today, I’ll be remedying that situation. After all, CorporateSpeak did announce that there’ll be another round of layoffs this quarter, and even though my bosses have said we won’t be affected, I’m not taking any chances. There’s a lot of art, animation, code, and writing on that PC and I don’t want to lose any of it.

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* And I know he really is working on it — this IT guy is a true gem, and everyone at the office appreciates how much work he puts in.

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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