MAKING “WORK” WORK FOR YOU Whether You’re an Employee or the Boss
You spend a large portion of your life at work and if you’re feeling as if it’s a grind, there are some questions you ought to ask yourself:
Do you love what you do? Do you enjoy where you do it and do you like your boss or supervisor? If the answer is no, ask yourself the following, and be honest: How much of this relationship do you own, and how much does your supervisor/employer own?
As the founder of a marketing communications agency, I ask myself all of the above almost every day.
Being the Boss Isn’t Easy:
I have been an employee, but being “the boss” is harder. I feel very responsible for every hire I make and try to be wise each time. It’s not easy.
How do you find a good boss or be one?
This question matters, not only if you’re an owner, but also if you manage people who report to you. And it definitely matters if you aspire to the top position some day.
When I meet a candidate for a position in my agency, I am looking for several key things that will allow me to assess the person sitting across from me at my conference room table.
We are a relatively small agency, so there’s no official HR person. If I like someone, I invite my Managing Director to join in. If I really like them I ask another senior level person to join us.
Watching these staff members interact with a potential hire gives me yet another layer of insight.
What do I look for?
They say most people are judged by another within seconds of meeting them. So how a person presents herself is critical, not because I am looking for a clothes hound or someone who is up on major cosmetic trends. Rather, I am looking for signs of good judgment.
Loud, flashy clothes are not helpful to my cause. I wind up asking myself, “What does this person want me to know about her?” It’s a relevant question because everything we do communicates volumes about what we want other people to know about us.
Twirling hair and fidgeting about with one’s jewelry or scarf tells me someone is not at ease with herself. Lacking in self-confidence? Maybe, or maybe not. What I do know is it’s distracting. And, I have to consider how this person will appear to clients too.
I once interviewed a young woman who wanted to impress me with the research she had done on my agency. Nice touch, but badly played.
She informed me that one of our largest clients’ moisturizer contained a banned ingredient and she was wrong. When I pointed that out, she became vehement and cited her father, a cosmetic chemist, chapter and verse.
But it turns out he was wrong too. Our interview became a battle of wits with a tub of moisturizer occupying the spot where her resume should have been. Lesson: Being prepared is great, but be sure to have your facts straight.
Bosses Can Learn From You:
Speaking as an employer, I think the key to being a great candidate is being intelligently relaxed and being yourself. I don’t have a set of pre-arranged questions to lob at someone.
I like to have a conversation. If you run across this type of potential employer or if you have a supervisor that fits this description, take advantage of it, because it’s a good opportunity for growth. Learn from this person. A key takeaway is that everyone learns from one another. Being “the boss” does not mean you can’t learn from your staff. I do all the time.
Be a Good Listener:
I think one of the unfortunate mistakes job seekers make is not really listening.
Often individuals arrive with what sounds like a script and if I interrupt with a question, it throws them off their mark. Some can’t recover.
It’s wise to know what points you want to make, what you want this potential employer or supervisor to know about you, but be at ease with the flow of conversation. Don’t just look for openings to get your creds in.
If you really know your stuff, it will naturally flow into the conversation. Similarly, if you run into an employer or HR person who recites a list of questions, get out. They’re just looking for bodies and don’t care much about who you really are. Just my opinion, but…..
Ask Questions Appropriately:
High on my list of “likes” is meeting a person who has written down some questions for me. The effort that goes into asking really good questions is very meaningful for me, although there have been exceptions.
Many years ago I got divorced from a man whose name was Roger. He had been my partner in business as well and my staff didn’t love him. However, in an uncharacteristic fit of perversity and by coincidence, I had a job opening.
Two different Rogers applied. The first was just a bad fit, but the second is an example of what not to do in the question department.
As I interviewed this young, very nervous Roger, he began to form large spitballs on either side of his lips, making it hard to understand him clearly. I was seated in an armchair in my personal office and he was on the sofa. After about ten minutes, during which I began to feel so sorry about his nervous demeanor, I found myself wishing for the interview to end.
Roger, however, wanted to know if he could ask me two “extremely important” questions. I answered yes and with that he got up, closed my door and proceeded to sit in the armchair next to mine, which he moved closer to me.
Was I the nervous one now? Absolutely!
Why The Secret?
I couldn’t imagine what he needed to ask me that required these maneuvers and I kept my eye on the door. “So, Roger,” I began, “what is so important?”
He dropped his voice to a hush and said, “Is there health insurance here?” I was prepared for almost anything, but not the secrecy involved in asking this question.
The answer was yes, we had comprehensive health insurance. But I hastened to add that everyone who worked for me knew that, no need for secrecy.
What was his next question, I wondered? When he asked in even a graver whisper what the office hours were, I got up and opened the door. On the other side were my top three senior staffers, who had become concerned when the door closed. The interview was over.
I have met many people and have been blessed to find several who were looking for a true balance of life/work, not just the words, but the reality.
Those things matter a lot to me too and if you are looking for a job, they should be important to you as well. Finding an employer who delivers on this is worth sticking with. There really is no mandate that says you must jump around every two years if you’re happy and your work fulfills you. Those are very important “ifs.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask:
If you have a good thing, don’t hesitate to make it better. You never know what you can get if only you ask, but be prepared for a “no.” Unless your request is truly absurd, you may find a receptive ear.
An as example, for a while my staff and I discussed the merits of remote work or working from home. Our rent is very high, so it was a plausible idea. My immediate reaction was no, but I listened and took my time in finding an answer.
I think there is huge value in working and meeting as a group. The dynamic is so different from email and conference calls. In my agency everyone has their own office with a window and a door, a true luxury these days, and when we want, we can go to someone else’s office to brainstorm or we can all meet together in the conference room. We make eye contact. High on my list of priorities.
But, I was paying attention and decided that remote Fridays would make sense. Everyone appreciated that and it has worked out very well. Compromise. So important in working together! And, it works both ways.
I believe I have always been a good mentor and a teacher, but these days I find that I learn an enormous amount from my staff. They’re much younger than me and more in touch with trends and all things social.
As I encourage my staff to do, I ask tons of questions. I want to know at least some of what they know and I definitely get that I don’t know it all. I never have. No one really does.
So listen, participate without dominating, fight for what’s truly important to you, but be smart enough to know when it’s time to back down. And check in with yourself now and then to make sure that work always delivers some pleasure and builds your self-worth.
If not then it’s “work” as in “grind.” Maybe then, it’s time to move on.