Knowing Your Worth in the Real World

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Dear Soph-
I was two weeks away from college graduation and interviewing for my very first “real” job. It was a publishing company and I was interviewing for a position on their promotions team.

It started off well enough. The interviewer seemed funny. She regaled me with personal stories of promotional events, projects she’s worked on, authors she’d met. She talked and talked. And I listened. I would try to interject a question here and there to show my interest, but mostly, she just talked. Aaaaaaaand talked.

Then came the pop quiz. And it went something like this:
Her: “I’m going to give you a scenario – you tell me what happened and how you would handle it. You have a book signing set up. You and the author are there, a line of fans is quickly forming, but the author’s books are nowhere to be found. Even though the delivery service confirmed delivery. What happened?”
Me: “Ummmm…maybe the store manager received the delivery and accidentally put all the books out on the shelves for sale?”
Her: “Possibly…but, no, that’s not what happened. What happened?”
Me: “Were they delivered to the wrong location?”
Her: “Could be…but no.”
Me: “Okaaaaaaaayyyyy…” Awkward silence.
Her: “What happened was another manager had put the box of books in a back storeroom, but didn’t tell anyone.”

More awkward silence. Me nodding, with a perplexed look on my face trying to appear engrossed. The storeroom, you say? Fascinating.

After I’d miserably failed her whodunit caper, and she realized we were coming up on our hour time slot, this is how she chose to end the interview:
Her: “You know, I don’t think you’d be a good fit here. We need someone who can be a leader, not a follower.”
Me: “And I’ve given you the impression that I’m not a leader?”
Her: “Let me put it this way…if you came to work one day and you saw one of your coworkers wearing a black leather mini skirt, fishnet stockings, sky high stilettos and a dog collar, I think you’re the type of person who would come to work the next day wearing the same thing.”
Me: “A dog collar?”
Her: “Yes, that’s what I think.”

I could have told her she was wrong (which she so obviously was). I could have tried to defend myself. But what was the point? She was clearly the type of person who was quick to judge and yet a terrible judge of character. And not only that, she thought it appropriate to voice that judgment to me. After allowing me to utter a grand total of about 7 words during the entire “interview.” You may think I’m exaggerating when I say the only questions she asked me revolved around the “mystery of the missing books.” But I’m not.

So why would I  want to work for someone who took so little interest in me, but was ready and willing to trash me as a person? All that mattered is that I knew she was wrong. I couldn’t have cared less if she knew it. I would be successful – and happier – without her. This laughable misjudgment on her part would, ultimately, turn out to be her loss. I was a mere infant in the professional world, but I had enough respect for myself to realize that.

And you need to realize that, too. Even when you’re just starting out. When you’re nervous about your first real job. You’re scared no one will hire you. You’re intimidated or worried about how you will be perceived. The whole weight of this “grown up” thing is bearing down on you. Believe me, kid, I’ve been there. But keep that respect for yourself. You have a tremendous amount to offer. You are smart. You are accountable. You are hard working. You are kind. Know your worth. If they don’t see it, then it’s their loss. And don’t let ANYONE disrespect you. Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior. I don’t care how important their title may sound.

So, instead of launching into a passionate defense about how I would never be a follower – how I always strive to be a leader and encourage others – blah blah blah, I simply thanked her for her time (knowing when to pick your battles is another lesson I need to teach you). She smiled, walked around the desk and held out her business card for me to take. I smiled,  took her business card and crushed it in my hand.

Dog collar, my ass.

Love, Mom

Don’t Be an A**hole at the Office

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Dear Soph-
I’ve worked in the corporate world for some time now…it can be an interesting place…full of interesting people. Whatever career you embark on after college, Corporate America or not, these tips will serve you well.

Cube Etiquette: Take your private calls on your cell phone – outside
I’m not saying you can’t call a friend (or your mommy!) from your desk; however, if you think there is even the slightest chance that you may raise your voice – or if you’re talking about something that you really wouldn’t want your coworkers to hear, then take a walk.

I sat next to a woman a few years ago who was always having inappropriate conversations at her desk. And when I say inappropriate, I mean yelling profanities like she was at a boxing match. She provided a fair amount of gossip fodder for the ol’ water cooler, but the time that takes the cake was her screaming battle with the poor folks at her cable provider. If I remember correctly, she was trying to get some charge reversed on her bill and having little luck.

They kept putting her on hold and passing her from one representative to the next, because – I can only assume – she was so verbally abusive to each person who picked up the phone.

“I can’t keep holding,” she seethed through gritted teeth, “I have a f*cking JOB!”

“Do you understand what that means? Or do you not understand because you’re just a f*cking customer service rep?!”

“Don’t put me on hold again.”

“Don’t…don’t put me…DO NOT PUT ME ON HOLD AGAIN!”

This went on for the better part of a half hour.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. I just stared at my computer screen unable to concentrate on my work. I half expected John Quinones to pop over my cube wall with the What Would You Do? camera crew in tow.

“Now, Emily, tell us why you didn’t step in here.”

“Well, John, because she’s batshit crazy.”

Email Etiquette: Think before hitting send
First and foremost…go easy on the “Reply All” option. We recently endured not one, but two, instances where someone sent an email to a group list (of several hundred – if not several thousand – employees) by mistake. I opened the email and realized, within about an eighth of a second, that it was an accident and was not meant for me. So I deleted it. What followed started off as funny and then just became sad. Hundreds…and I mean HUNDREDS…of people hitting “Reply All:”

“I think this was sent to me by mistake.”

“I don’t handle X, Y and Z.”

“You have the wrong John Smith.”

“Please remove me from the list, I don’t support this area.”

“Hey everyone, stop replying all!”

“STOP REPLYING ALL!!!!!!!!!!”

“This was sent to me in error…I’m not on that team.”

“Seriously just delete these emails…STOP REPLYING ALL!!! You are clogging up everyone’s email boxes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The irony was completely lost on all these people “replying all” and then angrily typing “STOP HITTING REPLY ALL.”

At some point, some jokester sent a picture of a goat to everyone and then the “reply all’s” seemed to die down. Good times.

Another thing that really grinds my gears is when people leave me hanging. I understand people are busy; I understand you might not be able to get back to someone right away or you might need a day or two to look into a request. But if someone sends you an email asking for your help at least let them know you’re working on it. Have the common courtesy to say “Hey, got your email…need to look in to this…I’ll get back to you by Friday.” Don’t leave anyone hanging. It’s unprofessional. And just plain rude.

Meeting Etiquette: Get in, get out, get on with your work
I’ve sat through A LOT of meetings. Some are extremely productive…most are not. Thankfully, I have found myself working for a leadership team that seems to know the difference and has narrowed down meetings to only the essentials. But when you find yourself in one of those pointless, agonizingly long and drawn out, seriously-just-send-me-an-email-instead-of-making-me-sit-here meetings, please keep the following in mind:

Do not ask a question just for the sake of asking a question and do not speak just for the sake of hearing your own voice. Nothing irritates me more than someone stating something blatantly obvious or paraphrasing the speaker’s words right back at them in an effort to appear more engaged or insightful than the rest of us who are probably glazed over staring at our blank notepads. Believe me, no one is sitting there thinking “Wow, John is so insightful…what a great question.” Instead, they’re thinking “Awesome…thanks for making us run over, John.”

If you are hosting a meeting that involves any kind of projection or technology – GET TO THE CONFERENCE ROOM EARLY AND SET EVERYTHING UP BEFORE THE MEETING BEGINS. Seriously.

If you are given a work phone, do not bring it in a meeting and if you do, do not sit there emailing. Unless you are working with a Vice President or above – or you are the Vice President or above – it can wait. I highly doubt the company will fold if you need to wait an hour to respond to an email.

Try to avoid using buzzwords. If I hear “low hanging fruit,” “quick win,” “value add” or “bandwidth” one more time…

So there you have it, kid. I could probably blather on here, but I figured I’d give you the three most important ones in my book. Oh and if you’re going to talk trash about someone, don’t do it over email…do it over coffee. Never leave a paper trail.

Love, Mom