Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Unemployment Activities

My friend Cara writes a blog. It's better than mine, so you should probably read it.

I'm linking to it today because one of her posts and a conversation I had with a friend earlier this week popped in my head while I was walking home from the gym were the generation of this particular post. Just under a month ago, Cara wrote about the 5 stages of her severance, which almost perfectly matched the five stages of my unemployment from last year. Then the other day one of my fraternity brothers called looking for a little career advice. He has a solid job but it's getting kind of soul crushing and he wants out, but he's not sure how to handle a career change. Career change has pretty much been the story of my life the last couple of years (that and all the bars I loved in NYC closing one by one), so I think he called the right guy. I'm going to run through Cara's stages of severance/unemployment, how I went through them and maybe throw in a little advice along the way.

I definitely wasn't shocked when I got let go from my past job. My boss had pretty much told me it was probably coming for a week or two prior. He was trying to fight it, but I had a pretty good idea it was going to happen. We were a recruiting group that specialized in placing individuals with derivatives experience in large banks and hedge funds in New York City, and I was the new guy. Whether it was in January or December, my being let go was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Advice: Keep your head on a swivel. Especially now. I don't think anybody's job is truly safe. And if things don't seem good, be proactive. I completely wasted those couple of weeks where it looked like I was probably going to be let go. I don't recommend it.

But even with all that, when you walk out of that office for the last time and know you're not going back the next day, it's very strange. And for me, having only been at the job for five months, there was definitely a sense of failure. I had taken a chance on a career that didn't match my background, and I went down in flames. So I was all set up for the next step:

Those first six weeks or so after I was out of my job were not so great. I went on a couple of interviews, but nothing was panning out, but the going out with no concern about when I had to get up the next day was kinda nice at the time. They hey jerk grow up moment was after spending my entire Saturday out in dark bars for friend's birthday parties, I took a cab home with a couple friends and only realized when I was getting out that I only had 2 dollars in my wallet. The next day I posted an apology on my friend's facebook, and quickly got the "that's nice, but you didn't take a cab home with me" response. Oops.

Advice: Some self medication is necessary, helpful even. But try and keep cognizant of who you're riding home with.

Well this kinda goes with the self-medication thing.

Advice: A large glass of water and 3 aspirin before you go to sleep. A big bottle of Gatorade G2 and some sort of greasy breakfast sandwich (preferably bacon egg and cheese) in the morning.

Oh Hope, you've almost become a cliche in the age of Obama, but you are an actual emotion. Everyone gets to a point where they are sure good things are coming their way any second now. I, for example, TURNED DOWN a job offer because I thought the owner of the company was a little sketchy and I wasn't sure about staying in recruiting. Turns out I was right, but I had to be swimming in a sea of Obama scented hopeitude to turn down a job offer. I had another potential offer that fell apart after I completely BOMBED a phone interview. But who cares! Something else was sure to come along! The birds were singing and the beer was flowing at the beer garden! No problems.

Advice: Now here's where I talk to the career changers. I fully support taking a chance and trying something different, but especially in this kind of job market, you've got to be ready to hear/read a lot of "We'll keep your resume on file" type responses. With things how they are, employers don't need to take a chance on somebody who looks good on paper but doesn't exactly match what they are looking for. But, stay in the hope phase as long as you can. Something good will happen eventually (I am generally an optimist), and hopefully for your sake it will happen before step 5.

Hope's asshole of a brother that kicks you in the face when you least expect it or need it. I left the Hope stage when there was still some doubt as to whether our Hoperific President would actually be our President.

I had an interview at a legal publishing company for a account manager type position. The job would have basically been to travel to a bunch of law schools in the midwest, meeting with professors to make sure they were going to keep using the company's books and soliciting feedback on what the company could do better. I had some sales training from the recruiting job, I had the J.D. and would have loved to BS with professors all day. This job had everything I thought I wanted and the first interview went really well. Then another phone interview was coming and I wasn't going to bomb this one. I read up on how to prep for phone interviews and felt much more comfortable having the first one down.

And I was sure I nailed this one too. The conversation flowed well, I didn't babble or talk too fast like I did in the last one. I felt really good about this. And I've always been a good interviewer. Unless it's getting a girl I'm interested in to see that going on a date with me wouldn't be a completely fruitless endeavor, I'm usually pretty good at getting what I want out of a conversation.

But I didn't get it, I got the "we decided to go in another direction phone call." That was a total soul-crusher. I wasn't expecting it at all, but there it was.

Advice: It's really easy to feel sorry for yourself at this point. But try not to. Basically, my advice is don't be like me. I stopped going to the gym, started eating really bad food and worst of all, actually occasionally recorded The Bad Girls Club and watched it instead of looking for jobs. Please, for the sake of humanity, don't do this to yourself.

But I can't end this on a bad note, because in the end it all worked out. I have a job that might pay a little less than I was making before, and doesn't have some cool title or whatever. But it's a gig with cool people at a company that seems to recognize and elevate talent. Right now, that's all anybody can ask for.

I was going to write something about how good The Wire is and how you all need to watch it, but as soon as I publish this I'm going to watch the 3rd episode of The Duel 2. This means I have no standing to comment on television.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Location, Location, Location

Where you work can obviously have a huge effect on how much you enjoy your job. Personally, anybody that knows me knows that I want to get back to NYC at some point. But I could be in worse places than Jersey, and I'm actually not even talking about the city or the state where you work. One of the biggest factors that can effect your day to day work life isn't where you work, but where you sit at work.

My best seat situation at work was when I first started at the NYC mega-firm after law school. I was on the 24th floor, right by the door. This meant that I could slide right from the elevator into my office, and only really had to worry about the random chance meeting in the hallway with a co-worker if I was running late. But that was extremely unlikely because the rest of my group was all on the 25th floor. I never saw ANY of them unless I was going upstairs to see someone about a project.

I also wasn't very busy when I first started my job, so once we got our blackberries and I could answer e-mail from home, I pretty much did whatever I could to not have to get into work on time. I only lived about 3 blocks from the office, so instead of making sure I got there at 9:30, I'd get ready for work and sit on the couch watching TV and checking my e-mail and voicemail every couple of minutes. Once something important came in on e-mail or I got a voicemail, I'd hustle up to the office and just say I had stepped away from my desk or whatever. I was able to see plenty of Saved by the Bell re-runs and quality morning talk show garbage this way. I was only freaked out once when I was watching something awful and then heard a voicemail from the overall very senior partner in my group. Had to run to the office because I thought I screwed up or something, turns out that the purpose of his call was to see if I was interested in changing practice groups because they didn't have a lot of work for me. Considering I heard his message at home at 10:15 because I had zero incentive to go in any earlier, I'd say he had a good handle on the situation.

In my new job, my seating has been a bit of a mixed bag. My first spot was a bigger cubicle than most other people because it was available. Multiple people made comments about my big cube, and I'm pretty sure there's one girl at work who didn't like me because of it (like it was my choice, but whatever). I didn't want this place though, because of where it was located. I was stuck with my back to one of the main hallways that people (especially the main bosses of the office) were always walking through, meaning there were countless times each day that I could have been caught on facebook, checking my fantasy baseball team, sending personal e-mails or doing one of the countless other things I do other than actual work on any given day.

From pretty early on, people in my group were saying I needed to move because I was separate from everyone else. In reality, I was literally about 10 feet from the people in my group, but because I wasn't in the little row of cubes where they all sat, it was liked I was in another building. That changed this past Thursday though, when I switched to a new spot. Even if the cubicle is smaller, I'm closer to the rest of my group, and most importantly, I'm out of a high traffic hallway and in a location where my boss may walk by a couple times per day but that's it. Now I'll be able to become a fan of people, places and/or things, write reviews and e-mail about Lost in peace. And, on occasion, do my job.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My first foray in to "big" corporate DRAMA

Yeah, I don't update enough. If you're one of the three people reading this, my bad. My schedule blows right now, most nights I don't get home until after 9pm. After then eating some quickly thrown together dinner, I'm not really interested in writing when I can be watching The Wire or trying not to think about the fact that the first two games of this year's Yankee season have been less than good.

But, here we go with the writing again. I don't want the title to suggest that this was big drama, like a merger or something. I mean big among individuals, like my boss had to go talk to somebody on my behalf big. I still feel like this could make a good script for an episode of The Office. Here's how it all went down.

Not long after I started, a cork board was put up outside my boss's office. I heard a couple of people talking briefly about what it was for, but I didn't pay attention. That's not my deal. I go to work and do work. I'm friendly and I talk to people but I have no concern for office drama/gossip unless I'm forced to (quick bit of minor foreshadowing, I was forced to). Well then randomly a month or so ago I get called into a meeting with 2 other people in my department (for name purposes let's call them Dwight and Pam) and 2 team leads (my direct boss and another guy).

Turns out the purpose of the board is to illustrate our company's five Core Values. And the three of us are going to have to develop something to put on the board once every couple of months for each of said values.

This is the last kind of thing I ever want to do. Do companies really need these? How about one Core Value: do your job and we'll be cool to you, but if you don't you're fired. But I'm ready to suck it up and put a good face on things during the meeting. My boss, however, has no problem openly making fun of this thing and how he finds it completely ridiculous. I was doing my best not to laugh in the face of the other boss who seemed to love this thing, but I was in no way completely successful.

So now we start to have meetings among Dwight, Pam and I to discuss what we should do. I basically say nothing because this is not how my creativity works. I think of funny ways to tell dumb stories, I don't come up with a way to visually represent boundarylessness. We ended up coming up with a pretty good idea, and was all set to get it going, when we got sidetracked. DRAMA

As we were coming up with the idea, I realized we could use another co-worker's help because they were really good with photoshop. It was going to take what could be a decent looking thing and make it really good. Since the Core Value we were showing off was Valuing our People, wouldn't we be exemplifying that by taking advantage of another co-worker's skills to make our project better? Well, just when everything was set to go, the co-worker's boss said she couldn't help us out. For some reason, we couldn't have someone help us out with the execution.

Dwight (now you'll see why i picked that name) FLIPS. Out of nowhere he's ready to curse out his boss and possibly go over everyone's head to the boss of the whole building to raise hell. Really? I say just deal with it and move on, but I have to calm this kid down. If he goes nuts, I get involved and I don't want that to happen. So I calm him down (I think), and the work day continues.

At that point I pretty much checked out, I was starting to get busy and didn't have time to deal with something. A week or so later we find out that it was a big misunderstanding and we can use the co-worker to finish the project. Yay, we finalize everything and we're all set to go.

Then we get an e-mail from the team lead that thought the Core Values board was great. Apparently that person's boss asked about the board so he wanted to know if it could be done by the next day. I get ready to jump into action.

If there's one thing my lawyer days taught me, it's how to deal with semi-annoying requests from superiors to get something done by a deadline out of nowhere. It's simple. If you can get it done, (which we could) just say so, boss is happy. If you can't, you better have a good reason why, and make it clear you'll do everything you can to get it done. I immediately write the other 2 people and tell them I'll take care of it. Before I can finish the e-mail, Dwight writes back "I wasn't aware there was a deadline."

Dude, shut the f*ck up! Who gives a crap if there is, we can do it? Take the easy opportunity to make yourself look good. I then quickly write back as though the deadline e-mail was never sent letting the guy know that we all signed off on the finished product today and there was no reason why it couldn't be done by tomorrow. The boss even writes back "That's great. Thanks for the update."

Now, stupid Dwight loses his shit again and decides to tell off his boss in the middle of the work day. How this guy still has a job I don't know. He basically belittled his boss with tons of people around to hear. I figure, whatever, no skin off my teeth, I did what I needed to do. Next thing I know now Dwight is asking us to help him put stuff on the board. Why? Because the boss's response to his little temper tantrum was "ok, tomorrow is a problem, get something up today douchebag." (Note: I doubt he actually called him a douchebag, but it would have been deserved.)

Now I'm stuck in the middle of putting up something that looks like absolute garbage in my name because someone else is a moron. While all this is happening, Dwight is continuing to bitch, complaining about his boss out loud while several people (including my boss) continue to walk by. I basically stay out of it and just want to get back to my desk asap and get this over with. It gets done and I figure everything is fine until we can make it right tomorrow.

Then a little later my boss comes by. Here's the deal with my boss. For the most part, you'd never know that he's ex-Marine. But everyone once in a while, somebody (luckily so far not me) does or says something he doesn't like, and the Marine comes back out. He looks at me and just says "I'm going to talk to Dwight, he used to work for me and he needs to know he can't talk to my people that way." I tried to say it was no big deal, but there was no point. About an hour or so later, my boss comes back again "You shouldn't have anything to worry about." At this point, if Dwight was found headless in the parking lot, I wouldn't be surprised.

But he is in fact very much alive, even though he not only won't speak to me but pretty much won't look at me at this point. It appears that in a matter of two months I've made my first work based sort of enemy. Which should be fun, especially since I have to work with this guy directly on a every other month or so basis over the next year. Maybe working in an environment where hardly anyone gave a crap about you or any Core Values so long as you were willing to work 100 hour weeks and do whatever was necessary for the almighty client (i.e. a big law firm) had its positives.