Monday, December 28, 2009

If You Can't Be Choosy About Your Job, Be Choosy About Your Friends

I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday week. As for me, I’m spending much of it doing my all-time favorite thing. No, not eating – which does happen to come in at a close second. I’ve been reading. And I spent much of Christmas Day reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Nothing Was the Same. And crying my eyes out. The book is a memoir of the last few years she had with her brilliant husband, Richard Wyatt, as they came to grips with his terminal cancer. And how she – who suffers mightily and famously from bipolar disorder – would manage the stress of his illness and her inevitable widowhood.

Why I should pick this book for Christmas Day is beyond me. I have very little in common with Jamison (although I exuberantly loved her previous book, Exuberance, which, as it turns out, she was writing as he was dying). I’m not bipolar (at least I don’t think so); I’m not dying (at least I hope not); I’m not married (that much I know for absolute sure). And I’m not especially fond of bassett hounds (although their ears really are irresistible). But still the poetic precision of the way she writes about discerning the difference between grief and depression is a transcendent journey into another person’s heart and mind and experience of loss.

So I did a little bit (a lot) of crying on Christmas Day.

As I was closing the book this morning at 5 a.m., I came upon a line that is actually brilliant advice for all of us. Especially these days:

“Keep away the ungenerous and unkind.”

That one sentence – among so many stingingly beautiful lines -- hit me right between the eyes. And I want to pass it on to you.

As I’m writing these words, I’m painfully aware that Dr. Jamison, or her publicists, might be reading this post (Google Alerts is a wonderful thing; but there’s no more writing in obscurity). And they are appalled at how I could have the gall to turn her message and journey into a blog posting on taking care of yourself when you’re on the job hunt. So, first of all, my apologies to Dr. Jamison and all those who surround her with kind and generous love.

And now let’s get down to business. You may have noticed, in your own passage from one job to the next, that some of those people who would be called your friends, well, aren’t. You’ve lost your job. You don’t know when the next one will show up. You’re grieving. You’re trying to find your footing again in a world that has found many interesting ways of implying that there’s no place for you among the busy, productive, respected, and the paid.

Some people in your closest circles will give you all the room and time you need to writhe and howl with the frustration you’re feeling. Others will fling false upbeat advice at you like pasta against a wall. And then study their watch, tapping their feet, waiting for you to cheer up already. Still others will make you feel like you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of disgrace and now you’re four inches tall – and they have suddenly soared in stature.

This is the time when your friends will divide themselves into two groups. The generous and the kind in one group. And then, on the other side of the classroom will be gathered all those who fall under the category of “un.”

What does kindness and generosity look like to someone who is struggling to land their next job?

Kind and generous friends

* Don’t judge.
* Don’t change their opinions of you and your journey because they have arbitrarily assumed that you should be fill in the blank by now.
* Return your phone calls.
* Will ask you what you want; not tell you what you need.
* Make it easy for you to tap into their network.
* Make introductions and then get out of the way.
* Talk about you in the context of what you have to offer, not what you’ve lost.
* Keep their promises.
* Remind you of your gifts, talents, value when you’re feeling especially unwanted.
* Help you see things in a slightly different way.
* Help you keep your standards high.
* Listen.
* Include you in social gatherings and projects that have nothing to do with job hunting.
* Don’t judge you for false steps, unseemly behavior, embarrassing moments that arise from the stress you’re under.
* Tell the truth.
* Keep their unsolicited opinions and “you shoulds” to themselves.
* Let you make your own decisions.
* Keep a watchful eye out for your wellbeing but won’t meddle in trivialities.
* Will swoop in if you’ve truly lost your way or bearings.
* Will respect you no matter what.

As for the others, keep them at a very, very safe distance. Preferably, as Jamison says, away. Later, when you’re strong and stable again, you can consider the value of their friendship – or even acquaintance -- and see whether you want to keep them in your life for whatever reason. I’m thinking that with the clarity that stability brings, you’ll come to some surprising conclusions about which friends to keep and which friends to cull.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TMI! Scan Your Resume and Applications For Door Slammers

You know that a letter to an advice columnist is going to be good when it’s signed, “Anonymous.” Personally, I’m thinking that if you feel you must hide your identity, you pretty much already know the right answer. You just want to go the other way.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading the Ethicist’s column in the Sunday New York Times magazine and was dismayed by the question: Is it okay to discriminate against otherwise fabulously qualified applicants who clearly disagree with you politically? The questioner was hiring summer interns for a law firm that is completely politics neutral. So there wasn’t really an issue about a skills – or even affinity – fit with the firm. This person, though, is decidedly not politics neutral, and he/she just couldn’t abide the idea of working with someone who wouldn’t agree on the matter of world affairs. The assumption was that anyone with such opposing politics would be definitely unlikeable. In fact, the headline of the column actually used the word, “unlikeable.”

To Ethicist’s credit, he advised the recruiter that it wouldn’t be right to discriminate on that basis. And he advised him/her to set aside the mini-McCarthyism. But in an updated note, Ethicist informed the readers that the recruiter went ahead chose only the applicants who didn’t leave any clues about opposing political affiliation. What’s interesting here is that the recruiter could have hired Hitler, just as long as he was qualified for the job and didn’t put his political point of view on his CV – leaving some really terrific, qualified, public-minded citizens in the big heap of the unemployed, unlikeable pile.

For several years now we’ve been talking about the inadvisability of posting pix of you wearing a lampshade on your head on social media sites. And one young woman actually lost a job because she posted on her Twitter account that it was such a bummer to have to go to work on a daily basis. (Problem solved!) You’d think that these choices would be obvious – and most of them are (although I’m still trying to convince a friend of mine that “calling in drunk” is not a smart thing to say on his Facebook page. He’s finally told me, nicely, to back off, so I guess I will. He’s a big boy, I respect him, and I value his friendship.)

But little, seemingly inoccuous, things can sneak into your public profile, resume, and applications. And even though they might be perfectly innocent, and actually indicate that you’re an active participant in life, they will slam the door on opportunities for you just as assuredly as if you had put “heroin addict” on your Profile. And what’s really too bad here is that you would never know. If you’re being screened out on the basis of your resume alone, you would have no way of tracking the reasons why you were being eliminated from the short list. Many biases (like your political inclinations) aren’t legally prohibited. And even if they were, why set yourself up for unfair exclusion?

Am I suggesting that you create a politically correct resume? Maybe I am. It’s killing me to do so, because freedom of expression is important to me – especially these days. And the way our society is becoming increasingly polarized is breaking my heart. But still, right now we’re talking about improving your chances of getting hired. Or at least getting the interview. And if you can tolerate the possibility of working with people who might disagree with you on the headlines, why destroy your chances of a great job?

So here are some details that you might want to scan your public image for. That means your resume, your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, any public description of who you are that you have control over.

How you vote: Some activities are political hot-buttons that could spit you out of consideration on sight. PETA. NARAL. Planned Parenthood, any committee to elect, re-elect, or impeach anyone. Anything having to do with saving endangered but not especially attractive fish or reptiles. Anything having anything to do with polar bears. Pro or con. Sorry. I’m not saying you stop caring about the polar bear situation. I’m just saying that you might not want to go bragging about it for a while.

What you believe. Yes, it’s definitely illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion. So are you going to be there to tell the screener who is sifting through the plentiful resumes that the applicant tracking system managed to cull from the thousands? I’m thinking probably not. It’s not right. It’s not legal. But it is. So you might as well deal with it. Places of worship are wonderful, enriching and powerful community support systems. No doubt about it. And the fact that you can carve aside precious time in your life to actively care for others is a sign that you would be a credit to any company. Again…not telling you not to devote your time to these things but while you’re looking for a job, you might want to consider stripping the description of your activities of anything that would indicate your religion – or lack thereof.

What you read. If you like to read books or blogs that set other people’s hair on fire, you might want to take down your lists for a while.

If I were in your shoes right now, this is what I’d be thinking: This is bogus. I wouldn’t want to work for an organization that was so ideologically rigid as to not accept me for who I am. Well, here’s the thing: The person who is screening your resume is most likely not the person you would be working with directly. And you can’t be absolutely certain that the resume screener who stands between you and your ideal job (complete with ideal boss and wonderful company) won’t take advantage of the position of power to populate his/her company with “only the correct kinds of people.”

This isn’t to indict recruiters and HR (I love HR, as my long-time readers will tell you). It’s just that there are some people out there who take advantage of the power of their position (as we’ve already seen in the Sunday Times magazine). And neither you nor the company that needs you deserves to lose the opportunity of the two of you finding each other. So why take the risk?

Now it could be that you might also be thinking: I can’t working with or for someone who doesn’t think just like me. So if I get spat out at the early stage of the game, well, saves us both some heartache. Okay, fair enough. But, just to reiterate, remember that the resume screener isn’t likely going to be your manager. And there may be your perfect boss waiting for you, and wondering how it is that the screeners keep sending in such politically extreme weirdos.

You’ll have a chance to see how simpatico you will feel with the company and boss. Just get that interview first.