Friday, February 19, 2010

the four "P"s of emPloyment

I realize this is a bit off topic from my usual bloggeretic fare; but I know a thing or two about getting a job and  just figured I ought to share that thing or two with those who for some reason are still going to job interviews in greasy t-shirts from their fun week at Jr. High band camp.

What, you might ask, could a fruity art teacher happen to know about getting a job? Well, as it turns out I have read "What Color is Your Parachute", twice, and also "The World Belongs to Those Who Hustle", an article posted recently on the amazing site, The Art of Manliness. More than that, however, at the ripe young age of twenty-two I was put in the position of hiring people for a summer tree planting crew. Because it was to be such an intense environment and because my wages depended almost entirely on how well my employees performed, I took the hiring very, very seriously. I read books on techniques of management, leadership, and hiring. I interviewed each candidate for an hour and a half, checked all their references, and ended up writing a hiring and training manual that was disseminated and widely used in the four-hundred person company for which I worked.

Over the next six summers I interviewed probably around seventy different people, and unlike any other foreman I know, I never had a single one quit. There were quite a few I wished would quit, but that generally had more to do with me and my learning process, because the people who worked for me over the years were amazing, and we consistently out-performed every other crew in our company.

All this to say that although reforestation is a very specialized industry, I learned a bit about what it is an employer wants. I could probably talk your ear off about it, but instead I'm going to just give you four easy-to-remember principles, which I will call "the four 'P's of emPloyment." So without further ado...

Preparation: Locate a job you want. Figure out why you want it. Is it your passion? Your vocation? A logical and important step on your way to your passion or vocation? If it is none of those things, you'd better look elsewhere - primarily because you've got some soul-searching to do. I don't mean you have to be thrilled to death to work in a cubicle at Intertrode, but if you can't figure out how that particular job fits into a larger direction for your life (like, I've got to eat and save money so I can open that Hamster-Meat Taco stand I've always dreamed of) then you might get the job, but you're in for a whole lot of misery.

Figure it out. Then suck it up and get to work. Research everything - not just the position you're applying for, but also the company itself, and the industry in which it competes. It wouldn't hurt you to pick up a book, but the internet will do. Find out what sort of wage a top-performer can expect to earn. Find out what the company policy is on nose-picking - find out everything. Everything. I mean it.

Presentation: Your first impressions are the most important. If you don't take them seriously, they will be the only ones you get. This might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many people miss it. Put together a resume and print it on actual resume paper. Make sure it is flawless. The person interviewing you for that tree-planting job may (like me) just happen to have an English degree. Don't give him or her some stupid reason like punctuation to pick another candidate. The resume is just the start, though. Wash your clothes. Trim your hair. Iron your frickin' pants. This may be stupid, but it's the way the world works and if you don't like it you can either suck it up, start your own internet-based business, or go find another world to live in.

Now, straighten your posture and suck in your gut. Then breathe in and out a few times and relax. Be yourself. They don't want to hire an automaton, they want a person. You happen to be a person - an awesome, unique one - so use that. If you can't seem to calm down going into this, then take a day and go on a silence retreat in the woods near your house. Chill out. Walk right into that interview and shake hands with confidence. Remember, you are awesome and have what they are looking for - you! You are the human resource that they are shopping for, so be confident.

Did I say that word already? Let me say it again: confidence, confidence, confidence. Most people are scared little sheep and will bleatingly follow a confident person wherever they go. Remember that "confidence" and "arrogance" are two very different things, and then go for it. I hired a number of people based primarily on confidence, and they never let me down.

Persistence: You probably heard about Winston Churchill's famous speech to a bunch of schoolchildren? He said, "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." Winston Churchill was the Man, so listen to him. Be polite, but for the love of Jim-Bob-Pete, it is not the job of the employer to track you down and make sure you're still interested in the position. By checking back, you demonstrate your eagerness to work, and your willingness to be a self-starter. Everything you do before you're hired shows what you'll be like once you have the job. So prove you deserve it.

Performance: The moment you start this awesome new job that you've yearned and burned for, you need to prove that you're worth the time it will take to train you. Work is a privilege. It is a gift. It is an honor and you have just landed the opportunity to show what you are made of. And here's the kicker: every day you come in to work, you are interviewing for your next position off down the road. So even if you come to hate your job and feel like you were made for far more glorious things, take a deep breath and remember that the decisions you make today determine the worker you will be tomorrow.

All right. That's it, then. Super-brevified and not all that original, but it ought to get you started. It's up to you now, so go make me proud. I'll be right here rooting for you and who knows, maybe you can put in a good word for me down the road when I get laid off.

11 comments:

  1. Good article, useful information... but I hope you can take criticism with the same enthusiasm with which you dish it out, because here it comes:

    I've declared myself a big fan of your writing in general but I'm sad that I can't recommend or pass this one on to others as I'd like to, because the ugly tone of the start (i.e., "boo hoo"..."your fat shoulders") is seriously lacking in compassion and understanding of the plight many people are in right now (I don't know about you, but everyone I know who is unemployed does NOT own a house, let alone one ten-times their income, though I know that theoretically that the "irresponsible and deserving of disaster" segment of the population is out there, so many more than the 'greedies' have been affected and are now in truly dire straits, even if they don't pass your 'Are you a smelly homeless guy?' test of authenticity.)

    Honestly, I'm a little less worried about the 'fat' Americans and Canadians, than I am about the judgmental ones.

    All this is meant in the spirit of constructive criticism because I know you can do better...and hope you will next time. Or, consider just revising this post, because the info in the last bit is super! And could be helpful to many people...if they weren't getting pooped upon first.

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  2. I'll echo the sentiments from acj. I used to work construction and I remember that in January there was no work and they had to let me go. I worked hard but there was no work for me to do so I lost my job. I was only 21 or so at the time with no family to support and no car, house or even visa payments to make. However, I was surprised at home much it hurt losing my job. It wasn't a career job, just something I was doing at the time to make some money but still it felt like a personal blow. I think that there's a natural tendency to associate personal worth to one's vocation. If one is loses a job and has a family to support I imagine it could be devastating. Whatever value your advice has, it's negated by the first four paragraphs. I would pull this blog and rewrite it with a lot more sensitivity.

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  3. What America are these people living in? I guess it's the interweb and anyone can get on it... Even us stinky semi-homless guys. Are there actually people in this country who think they are poor and deserving of sympathy, while reading an article on the net, sitting under a roof, having consumed at least one meal durring the day. I'm not saying no ones poor, and even the rich man deserves sympathy, if only for being rich, but come on people...if you ate today, you are rich, and if you think you aren't a sloth fattened American, because you had to sell your blood for rent, and ate ramen for a month, than you need to wake up, and smell the Brazilian favala! I've slept in the woods and begged for food, and I'd take a "boo hoo... Fat American" speech, over your so called sympathy, any day. When your sympathy takes you into the bowels of a Haitian slum, than i'll gladly join you in it. Untill then remind me daily how fat my American shoulders are.

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  4. OK, in deference to those who have called my snarkiness a lack of compassion, I have re-written my first little bit (sorry, anonymous, can't pull an entire section if you won't tell me your name:).

    Nonetheless, I will point out that I did call myself smug, and referenced the fact that it is likely I'll be laid off in the next while.

    And even though I do have a bit of a safety net of saved cash, a place to live, and family to help me out in the event that I lose my job - I still feel pretty strongly that I will be able to find SOMETHING to do if/when that happens. It might not be what I want, exactly, but even if it's a government check, it will put food in my mouth.

    I tend to think that the huge emotional turmoil we feel when we get laid off has less to do with the reality of the situation and more to do with our lack of wisdom. We are NOT Haitians. We live in a country of ridiculous wealth and have options. Lots of options.

    I realize this may be a presumptive thing to say for someone who has never been out of work when he didn't choose to be, and that I could very soon be singing a different tune. But that's how I see it right now, so that's how I say it.

    I definitely went overboard with the "fat American shoulders" bit, and I realize that there are times when you DO get stuck so deep in a rut that there seems to be no way out. But I still think that compassion sometimes means telling it like it is. And sometimes someone who is really down on their situation needs to be told, "suck it up, Princess".

    First you've got to tell them you love them, though, so I'm sorry if I hurt anyone.

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  5. Hi Josh,
    I didn't feel particularly 'hurt'... my main concern was that you were shooting yourself in the foot and that you were writing beneath your ability and limiting your audience.

    I for one would have linked to it and forwarded it on except that I couldn't get on-side with what seemed to me an inscrutable rant at the beginning that had nothing to do with the rest of the post, and would be a turn-off to anyone experiencing unemployment--ironically the very audience who would benefit from the excellent advice in rest of the post!

    To break it down editorially: The whole,"you're fat and rich...suck it up, I don't feel sorry for you at all" bit at the beginning, may be true emotion on your part, but it didn't really mesh with the second bit which was presumably helpful information to people looking for a job. It simply needed editing in terms of voice and writer's understanding of audience, even if you want to leave compassion out of the mix entirely.

    It's 100% your blog. And ranting as you see fit is certainly par for the course on the interwebs.

    The thing is... I happen to think you're destined for bigger things writing-wise than just ranting in the dark.

    I have raved about your potential as a good, and if you keep it up as you've been doing, potentially great, writer. I've praised you directly and to others I've promoted your work to. However, it's important to me to be the kind of friend who doesn't just give you flattery but also provides constructive criticism when the cause arises. I welcome that sort of thing and think highly enough of you as a writer and as a person to assume you would too.

    (By the way, I still think highly of you as a writer and person...just want to make that clear...)

    Believe me , it takes time and effort to write thoughtful feedback. I wouldn't do it unless I thought there would be value in it for you.
    But I can just send you smiley faces in the future, if you'd prefer that. :)

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  6. Oh, no worries, April. I wasn't apologizing for hurting you, as I didn't get that from the tenor of your comment. I just saw your point, realized I'd overdone it, and was actually worried that I might have actually hurt someone.

    My snarkiness WAS a lack of compassion, and it was ill-advised. That's what I get for writing late at night and not editing before posting. The internet is forever, and I ought to take it just a bit more seriously than I do.

    I absolutely DON'T want just smiley faces. One of my frustrations with this site is that I know there are people reading who disagree with me, but they rarely seem to push back. A blog ought to be a dialog and a learning tool for the writer, so I do consider your comment a lesson learned.

    I believe that I've rewritten it without the snarkiness, but if you think it needs more tweaking, I'd love to hear it.

    Thanks.

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  7. I think you made a good change Josh, but not enough to rescue this blog entry.

    You almost lost me on the first couple original sentences - because it felt way overplayed and I made the assumption that the rest of the article would be of similar tone. I actually went to a different site, then decided to give you the benefit of the doubt and came back to read it.

    Well, meh. You start with the assumption that there are plenty of jobs to be had for anyone with the gumption to get out there and get one. The statistics say otherwise: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

    Your first "P" says "Locate a job you want" - this is your beginning point. Let's back off of that a bit and just say "Locate a job you are qualified to do." You have just leapfrogged over the real problem: there are not enough jobs. The people I know who are scared and unemployed are looking, looking and looking -- for ANY job where they can get an interview. There are not enough phone numbers to call. And when you call, there are very few responses. And of those responses, only a few if any turn into interviews. Once interviewed, it can take weeks or months to hear any kind of response, even when you call back.

    I was lucky - it only took 2 1/2 months for me to find a job. Meanwhile, I would have been $5000 further in debt if a well-off family member had not been giving me cash. Rent, food and child-support don't stop when you lose a job. Of the many jobs I sent my well-qualified, well written resume to, I had 3 serious responses in those entire 2 1/2 months. Only one of them resulted in a real interview. I got the job, but I had to move an hour away from my kids and take a 30% pay cut for a higher skilled job to do so. All this, and I have a very marketable in-demand skill set.

    You mock us for thinking our economy is bad, because it isn't bad compared to Haiti. But then you give employment advice that is only broadly useful in an economy that is better than the one we have.

    My impression is that you are saying something along these lines:

    "Boo hoo, fisherman. There aren't enough fish to go around. Quit your whining, people in the Sahara have it worse.

    Here's my advice on catching fish:

    First, you find some fish..."

    Then you go on to give instruction on net-hauling, fish cleaning and how to sell the fish once it is caught. Not terribly useful all in all.

    Instead of opening your article with commentary on the economy and American blindness to the world, you perhaps should have started with "I figured I ought to share a thing or two with those who for some reason are still going to job interviews in greasy t-shirts from their fun week at Jr. High band camp." That is the audience who will benefit from this advice.

    Sorry - I think your impulse to speak to grand concepts lead you astray here.

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  8. OK, Jon. Although I still think I'm right when it comes to the more general principle (or grand concept, if you will), general principles do NOT universally apply, and it is wrong to kick a man or women while he/she is down.

    Point taken, change made. My apologies.

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  9. I think you are correct on the idea that we have it better than most of the world. Also that we tend to make things worse in our minds than they actually are. And blogging on these issues is fine - thinking about issues like this is one of the reasons I follow your blog.

    My objection was to this commentary being tied to the job interview advice you gave. It unintentionally came off as insulting - I think mostly because of the mismatch of introduction and offered solution. The post took a complex, painful problem and seemed to offer a smug, over-simplified answer which missed the core of the issue by a mile.

    I apologize if my tone was harsh. I was very surprised to see you go in the direction you did. I guess it felt to me like a "Just give it all to Jesus" type answer - not your usual fare.

    Kudos for taking feedback to heart - takes courage and humility.

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  10. Thank you for the advice former teacher of mine. But you forgot the P that stands for Ploy and how we should endorse free-birdedness and uninstitutionalized living rather than a systemitized monster that causes much unhappiness and the dying concept of spontaneity and daily grind. Comprendes?

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  11. Too true, Olivia. I do advocate the annihilation of the system in my most recent post. But for those who must continue to eat and pay for all the debt they've incurred as they wait for the new world order to dialectically materialize out of the goodwill of the obviously right-minded masses, this will have to do.

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