Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How to get a good job, in 10 easy, self-effacing, identity-denying steps!

As the holiday season recedes into memory (or it would, save for the budget-busting bills now arriving en masse) and we forge into the bountiful promise of the New Year, here are some tips on acing a job interview from our ever-helpful friends at AOL. Predictably, the advice unfolds as a list of "don'ts" that, in sum, deny just about every single element of individuality. My personal favorites are 3 (e.g., "have the body language as well as the facial gestures of a serious professional"), 5 (e.g., "In all interactional situations in professional life, you defer to the ones with the most power"), 7 (e.g., "Should [the company] invite you to assess [its] challenges, proceed with diplomacy"), and 9 ("you must speed read the environment and mirror how the players are behaving, ranging from their body language to their pace and volume when speaking").

To which I would add a few tips of my own:

1. If you have kids, and especially if you're a woman with kids, consider euthanizing them before your job search. After you do the deed, be sure to allow a reasonable amount of time to elapse so that the emotions aren't so fresh and near the surface. After all, you want to seem like an upbeat, positive team player.

2. Once you've whittled your list of prospect companies down to your ideal first choice, do some background research in order to find out whom you're apt to be interviewing with, and what he/she looks like, physically. Consider plastic surgery that will maximize your resemblance to him/her, inasmuch as research shows that we're more comfortable with people who "look like us." (NOTE: If you have several ideal prospects, have several surgeries in turn that enable you to look like your several interviewers. Just let yourself heal in between so that the scars aren't visible, because today's employers dislike imperfections.)

3. WARNING: R-RATED CONTENT (and probably puerile content at that, but it makes the point that needs making). When the interview is about to conclude, offer to suck the boss's dick on the way out; chalk it up to "employee engagement." (Bring along a nice dildo/vibe combo, too, in case the boss is female.) Assure your prospective employer that this is a one-time deal, however, since further, post-hiring intimacies might constitute the makings of the dreaded hostile environment.
I have other tips in mind, but I'm afraid they might sound a bit, well, over the top....

Folks, I'm sorry ... When you interview for a job, there should be one thing, and one thing only, on the table: How well can you do the job? All other factors are extraneous and irrelevant, or ought to be.* (Keep in mind that I'm putting my money where my mouth is: As it happens, for the first time in years I'm considering giving the 9-to-5 world the benefit of my talents; I refer to SHAMblog on all resumes and other materials, and I'm well aware that employers these days routinely check out a candidate's "online persona" before making hiring decisions.) For five years we've been talking in this space about self-help. What could be more central to that notion than the freedom to present yourself to the world as who you really are? So be yourself, dammit.

This goes back to a discussion we had a long time ago re Barry Bonds, Priscilla Presley and a transsexual teacher named Lily McBeth, of all people. Is the goal of self-help to turn you into a clone of everyone else who's (supposedly) "successful"? To incubate a nation of like-thinking, like-speaking, body-language-mirroring zombies? Is that really what all this is about? What's that you say? "You're talking about human nature here, Steve. That's just how it is. We hire people who look and act the part." Oh, is that so? I seem to recall that it used to be "human nature" for many companies to not hire blacks or women. We addressed that, didn't we? And it was "human nature" to specify "front-office appearance" in jobs that sought a knockout, big-breasted receptionist and wouldn't even consider anything less. And it was "human nature" to discriminate openly against older people or younger people or single mothers or gays. Seems to me we scotched all that, or at least we've been trying. These things are not human nature. They're socially ingrained. And they can be un-ingrained, too, as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and others have shown in their own hiring practices ... at least once upon a time.

So if you're an employer who's reading this, let your employees be themselves. Is the work getting done? Is the company prospering? Then forget the rest of it. It's literally none of your goddamn business anyway.

* unless you just finished a 15-year stretch in Attica after killing your previous boss. And even then, I'm not so sure. When you've done your time, you've done your time.


a/good/lysstener said...

Steve, I LOVED this! It's so true. But face the fact, you are way too "dangerous" to ever get hired in a 9 to 5 job! ;-)

Cosmic Connie said...

I agree with Alyssa, but I wish you luck in your quest, Steve, if that's what you really want. I too am seriously annoyed by the rote advice given out to job seekers in order to turn them into success-obsessed robo-professionals (with "success" never really being clearly defined).

Here's the one thing I've long wondered about: I would think that human resources folks and others who are responsible for hiring would be keenly aware that this kind of advice, usually doled out by folks who would probably be unemployed themselves if they hadn't found a niche doling out formulaic advice -- is so commonplace. So wouldn't the interviewer(s) be able to see through the act anyway -- all of that calculated body language and those careful, corporately correct responses to questions? Who's fooling whom?

And the real question, the one that's implicit in this post, is this: How does good performance in interviews really predict actual job performance, unless the job is to be a corporate b.s.'er (e.g., PR or marketing)? I'm reminded of the line repeated by Joe Banks' obnoxious boss in "Joe Versus the Volcano": "I know he can GET the job. But can he DO the job?"

I have never fit in with 9-to-5 culture myself, though I made noble efforts to do so in the past. But the only alternative, besides freelancing or being "independently wealthy," is a McJob, and the "culture" in the latter is even more demeaning to employees than the 9-to-5 grind.

PS ~ You already have a "platform," Steve. I know we've discussed this before but I think you could do well as an independently published author if you're willing to promote yourself. You could even consider expanding your repertoire and writing fiction or other creative works. I'm not just blowing smoke up your a$$; I just think you're way too talented to be confined by some corporate gig (though if you could manage to nail something corporate and steady as a lucrative side gig that would be very cool).

RevRon's Rants said...

Good points all, Steve. But I still recommend that you go heavy on the bran muffins before going on any interviews. :-)

And yanno, it's funny... there was a time in my life when I'd have absolutely welcomed being "victimized" by a female superior. Hasn't happened since I left the Navy, where I developed a real fetish for nurses, though I don't think it was that much of a factor in my good evaluations. :-)

Frances said...

That #7 was mentioned in the original article as "a test of your emotional intelligence"

I was suspicious of Daniel Goleman's groundbreaking book from the moment it came out in 1995, and it seems a lot of my suspicions have come to pass.

What has always been the portrait of a person with good emotional intelligence, in especially those who took Goleman's ideas and built a cottage industry around them? Just so happens to be someone young, white, rich, good-looking, and just the right narrow level of positivity and sociability! Pretty much by definition, the "emotionally intelligent" worker will be incapable of doing anything but prop up the status quo.

And we wonder where all the qualified people and innovative thinkers have disappeared to. I know exactly where-- on the wrong end of a workplace personality filter.

So emotionally healthy people don't dissent, attempt to liberalize cultures, or ask too many questions? So if we do these things, our very neurologies could be called into question? Scary stuff.

Stever Robbins said...

A friend of mine went through four rounds of interviews for a job. After the last round, the HR person wrote her and said, "The last interview seemed a bit strained. If there's a problem with our interviewing process, please let us know." My friend, sadly, told the truth (the interviewers all seemed to be interviewing for different jobs, she was given contradictory information about what the job would be about, etc.). The HR person's response was, "Thank you, you're no longer in the running. This job requires good people skills and you're too immature."

From the studies I've read of hiring practices, in-person interviewing is not a predictor of success in a job. We do it because it makes us feel like our decision is higher-quality. That's not so. Apparently, you get better hiring results by using a process that scores strictly on past behavior and achievements ("behavior description interviewing") and treats all candidates identically until the choice is made.

Frances said...

In fact, I bet a TON of real, live discrimination based on age, martial status, sexual expression, religiosity-- pretty much everything but race-- goes on in workplace decisions; because all you have to do to achieve legality is frame it as an issue of attitude, cultural fit, or even qualifications.

Preferring to hire religious people, but can't overtly under the law? It's easy to fix that! Just assume they're happier and more positive, citing just a few of the many studies asserting exactly that. Because naturally, the opposite must also be true: non-believers are more likely to be negative and thereby depress the morale of the entire organization, because emotions are contagious and all it takes is one bad apple to spoil everything.
Ditto for married people: they are more socialized, healthier, and happier than unmarried people. So you save on health insurance and preserve your workplace's collective "emotional intelligence" in one go!

The worst part of all this is, it really IS backed up by rigorous scientific study... so those of us into hard facts really don't feel as if we have a leg to stand on. We just feel something is terribly wrong... but we can't challenge it without being labeled cranks and malcontents. As if we've been beaten at our own game...

Steve Salerno said...

1. I don't think I'm "dangerous." I've paid my dues; I have certain experience, aptitudes and ideas that equip me to provide a unique value to a very special company. Just don't ask me questions if you're not prepared to hear the honest answer. (see 4 below)

2. I know that I have a platform, of sorts. In fact it just occurred to me late yesterday, when I agreed to do a nationwide phone hook-up tonight to discuss the role of narcissism in these latter-day tragedies (a la Tucscon), that I am quite probably the go-to guy in any given situation where the media need an authoritative quote on self-help and related matters. There are just things going on in the background that demand a major infusion of cash, and I'm not sure I'm able to generate all of what's required through my normal activities as an independent. So if someone is willing to pay me the big bucks I think I deserve, I'll go back inside. If the situation is right.

3. Those are excellent points about the so-called "EIQ," Frances. A high degree of emotional intelligence tends to be a surefire recipe for tractability and the perpetuation of the status quo.

4. Re Stever's anecdote, I learned early on that "We want to know what you really think about this" translates to "We want to know what you really think, as long as what you really think happens to tally with what we want to hear." I have a pretty well-developed bullshit detector, and I won't again work for a company that operates according to those principles. I was twice a manager of fairly large staffs, and I used to tell my employees that at least once a day they were responsible for finding and sharing something they either (a) didn't like about me or (b) thought I was doing improperly or, in any case, less than optimally. They didn't take me seriously at first, and most were pretty guarded...but then they warmed to the task. OH, did they ever warm to the task!

Anonymous said...

well in the case of the portuguese president cavaco silva we could say all that but on houses and bank schams ;)

Steve Salerno said...

Not sure that last comment quite "computes" for me in terms of this post, but I found the link interesting anyway.

Mike Cane said...

Another excellent post. I see people on Twitter all the time wondering if they should rat themselves out in interviews about their online activities. I say the same thing you just did: Outside of the office is none of their damn business. They are employing your skills during certain hours, not buying your life.

idioteque said...

AOL articles seem to bring out the stupid in droves. And the articles themselves are pretty horribly written. With that said, I would love to point out this wonderful ad from Women's Day magazine from last year:

It's a REAL ad. I will always think of sandalwood-scented balls whenever I interview! YAY!!

Saving up and opening a business sounds A LOT more reasonable than applying for shitty jobs. Really. Especially since employers HATE anyone with a degree in the humanities.

Steve Salerno said...

Idioteque, you've really opened up a can of peas here, as it were--and I don't want to get too deep into matters of sexual exotica--but all I'll say for now is that the Women's Day method wouldn't work with this boss. ;)

Jenny said...

"Is the work getting done? Is the company prospering? Then forget the rest of it. It's literally none of your goddamn business anyway."

Steve, I just love the way you tell it like it is. :) Also gotta love the timing of you considering a 9-to-5 gig at the same time I'm starting out on a new venture as well. In fact, I talked a bit about narcissism in a blog posting just now. Also (related), I made a decision to remove myself, or my presence anyway, from Facebook, and for various reasons, one of them being how "exposed" I have become over there. Ew.

Dimension Skipper said...

For a possible celeb example of the work/personal schism, here's a post from TV reviewer Alan Sepinwall reporting CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler's response when asked about Charlie Sheen (at some current major TV networks press tour thingie that's been going on this week)...

CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler is known for having one of the better deadpan senses of humor in the TV business. So when her press tour session opened with a question about "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen's latest widely-publicized shenanigans, it wasn't surprising—but was still funny—when she replied, "Boy, I really didn't expect that question this morning. So I'm really taken by surprise."

Tassler's response to the question was prepared, but it was also remarkably frank:

"On a very basic human level, (there's) concern of course. This man is a father, he has children, he has a family, so obviouslly there's concern on a personal level. But you can't look at it simplistically. Charlie's a professional, he comes to work, he does his job extremely well. As I said, it's very complicated. But we have a very good relationship with (the show's studio) Warner Bros. I have tremendous trust and respect with the way they're managing the situation. On a personal level, very concerned. On a professional level, he does his job, he does it well, the show is a hit. That's all I have to say."

And that's really what it comes down to. CBS knows its biggest star is a complete wreck of a human being, but he shows up for work, and the audience seems untroubled in the slightest, based on the lack of any significant ratings erosion. And so long as the show isn't affected, they'll let the rest slide.


I'm guessing the attitude would not be as easygoing were Sheen trying out for a new show. There's a big difference between handling personal issues when a new project is getting off the ground vs an ongoing and still successful (as far as how such things are determined) project.

Christoph Dollis said...

"I was twice a manager of fairly large staffs, and I used to tell my employees that at least once a day they were responsible for finding and sharing something they either (a) didn't like about me or (b) thought I was doing improperly or, in any case, less than optimally. They didn't take me seriously at first, and most were pretty guarded...but then they warmed to the task. OH, did they ever warm to the task!"

Napoleon told his aide de camp not to wake him with good news because it could wait, but to wake him instantly with bad news because it might require his instant action.

He must have read The Secret.