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Opinion Editorials

Harsh but honest letter to HR: I just want to do my job, not kiss your a**

(OPINION) Some people are great at pretending they want to talk for hours about the company’s future for a job. Me, I just want to get my work done. 

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Woman holding head in hands in front of laptop frustrated with job seeking.

The following is an anonymously written letter from an AG reader to HR teams across America, and to business leaders who lean on the following behavior all to frequently: 

There’s a cliché diatribe in Fight Club that bros love to chime in with: “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake; You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else; We are all part of the same compost heap; We are the all-singing, all-dancing, crap of the world.” And while it’s become a tangential piece of American lore for better or worse, this is how I feel about a job at your company.

Working in the tech industry, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: it loves self-important bullshit. 

Outside of Hollywood and politics, no other line of work loves to pat itself on the back more than tech. They love “buy-in” and “bleeding edge adoption,” and they love when they can jump on the cloak of a founder and obsess over their every word as if it came from Mount Sinai.  

Give some dude who hasn’t seen the sun in a few years a couple of bucks to make his streamlined toaster app a reality. Soon this nerd is going to think he’s a fuckin’ genius for his “char to sourdough ratio” algorithm, all while pretending he’s Gandhi or some nonsense, preaching about love and peace and transparency, all while ripping lines of blow off the bar after hours. What’s worse is people get in line because he’s playing well with that funky bread cash. They believe the bullshit. They become “champions of culture.” People become obsessed with “culture fit.”

Every day, some person from some company passes off the party line on values, leadership, and magical bullshittery to make a candidate think that their mundane self-service software will change the world. Here’s the thing, it might make people’s lives easier, it might give you a nice paycheck, but you know as well as I do, it’s all performative Grade horse manure.

I’m not a problem employee. I do my job. I want to be left alone. I don’t want to pretend I care about someone having a baby. I don’t want to stick around for board game night. I want to beat traffic – and I certainly do not want any part of another “virtual” happy hour. Just for the sake of clarity: I like collaboration. Am friendly. Will always take someone for lunch on their birthday. I don’t want to make your product my life. I don’t want to “own” anything. I want to do my job.

What sucks is there are a lot of people like me, and all of us get sucked into being involved in “culture” in-person or remote. Some people are great at pretending they want to talk for hours about the company’s future. Me, I just want to get my work done. 

Frustrated job seeker in front of mac computer.

I recently went through multiple rounds for a job that I was very much qualified for and ultimately didn’t get. Why? Because I was honest. I’ve been freelancing for a while, but I’d like to jump back into a full-time position. I have kids, and you know what, insurance would be excellent. I wouldn’t mind a little of that 401K action, either. After a few rounds of talking with the team, I thought this was a lock. I would get the job. It paid well, and I knew the market. And then, I got an email letting me know they were moving forward with different candidates. 

Miffed, I asked what could I have improved upon? How can I get better? This is a teachable moment. Even if you’re senior and don’t get the job, ask why you didn’t make the cut – make HR sweat a little.  

The paraphrased response was that the team felt a stronger connection with other candidates. It seemed like I would take the job for the salary, without being heavily involved with the team and owning the entirety of the experience. 

I can handle losing. May the best person win. What I don’t truck with is “owning the experience.” This is a JOB. We have a set of skills, and we do them to make money. What was my answer when asked why I wanted to leave the world of freelance? Why was I interested in the position?

Stability. I want a steady paycheck. I’m tired of chasing money, chasing clients. I want to clock in and clock out and not take work home with me. I want something nice and reliable. I didn’t offer a colorful read-through of my love of their product. I don’t know it. Why do I have to kiss every inch of the company’s ass and pretend I think your Saas tool will alter humanity and that I’m excited at the chance to make my mark? Dude, I just want to pay rent. I’ll do my job. I’ll give you results, what does “owning an experience” even mean?

People on teams expect you to be blown away by the opportunity to meet with them. We’re just looking for a job. We skimmed the description and five minutes before the call. We look at your website, that’s it. Some of us are better at lying than others. It’s no different than school: some know how to take a test.

We don’t ask plumbers their opinion on pipes. We don’t ask a carpenter what they think about wood. We don’t ask a foreman, “why’d you apply for the job?” That’s bush league psychological garbage folks love to trot out because they read it in a book written by a guy who sits amongst the 56 others just like it. 

HR people, leaders, headhunters, circus clowns –  whatever your role is – stop looking at candidates like we want to be in your cult. We don’t. We want to get paid. If the resume stands up, that’s what matters, not how much smoke we blow.

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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Opinion Editorials

How to sound more confident in your next interview or office email

(OPINION/EDITORIAL) After COVID, collectively, our social skills need a little TLC. What words and phrases can you use to sound more confident at work?

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Interview with woman and a man opposite as they each sound more confident/

In-person work communications are on the rise, and it’s no surprise that, collectively, our social skills need a little bit of work. CNBC shares some examples of common phrases people tend to use when uncomfortable – and what you should use to replace them to sound more confident in your next interview or office email.

After explaining a personal philosophy or situation, it’s all too common to say, “Does that make sense?” Aside from occasionally sounding patronizing, this question more or less implies that you believe your worldview or lived experiences to require validation. CNBC suggests saying “I’d like to hear your input” or – if you’re in an inquisitive mood – asking “What are your thoughts?” instead.

This invites the interviewer to give feedback or continue the conversation without devaluing your own perspective.

CNBC also recommends getting rid of weak introductions, listing examples like “For what it’s worth” and “In my opinion” in order to sound more confident. Certainly, most of us have used these phrases to recuse ourselves from perceived criticism in meetings or emails; the problem is that they become an indicator of lacking self-confidence, at least for employers.

Simply jumping straight into whatever it is you have to say without the soft-paws introduction is sure to be appreciated by higher-ups and colleagues alike.

Passive voice is another thing you should remove from your communication when trying to sound more confident. For example, saying “I performed this action because…” instead of “This action was performed because…” shows ownership; whether you’re taking credit for an innovative decision or copping to a mistake, taking responsibility with the language you use is always better than removing yourself from the narrative.

“I’m not positive, but…” is yet another common phrase that CNBC eschews, opting instead to start with whatever comes after the “but”. It’s always good to maintain a certain amount of humility, but that’s not what this phrase is doing – it’s getting out in front of your own process and undermining it before anyone else has a chance to evaluate it. Regardless of your position or responsibilities, you should always give your thoughts the credit they deserve.

Finally, CNBC suggests removing perhaps the most undervalued phrase on this list: “I’m sorry.” There is absolutely a time and place to apologize, but “sorry” gets thrown around the office when a simple “excuse me” would suffice. Apologizing in these situations belies confidence, and it makes actual apologies – when they’re necessary – seem hollow.

The language people use is powerful, and as arbitrarily contrite as the workplace may inspire many to feel, humility can absolutely coexist with confidence.

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Opinion Editorials

10 tips for anyone looking to up their professional work game

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s easy to get bogged down by the details, procrastinate, and feel unproductive. Here are a few tips to help you crush your work goals.

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work productivity

Self-reflection is critical to a growth mindset, which you must have if you want to grow and improve. If you are ready to take your professional game to the next level, here are some stories and tips to help you remain focused on killing your work goals.

1. Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, as the quote goes. And, in the workplace it’s bound to make you second guess yourself and your abilities. This story explains when comparison can be useful, when to avoid it, and how to change your focus if it’s sucking the life out of you.

2. Burnout is real and the harder you work, the less productive you are. It’s an inverse relationship. But, there are ways to work smarter and have better life balance. Here are some tips to prioritize your workload and find more ease.

3. Stop procrastinating and start getting sh@t done. The reason we procrastinate may be less about not wanting to do something and more about the emotions underlying the task. Ready to get going and stop hemming and hawing, you got this and here’s the way to push through.

4. Perfection is impossible and if you seek this in your work and life, it’s likely you are very frustrated. Let that desire go and learn to be happy with excellence over perfection.

5. If you think you’re really awesome and seriously deserve more money, more responsibility, more of anything and are ready to drop the knowledge on your supervisor or boss, you may want to check this story out to see if your spinning in the right direction.

6. Technology makes it so easy to get answers so quickly, it’s hard to wait around for things to happen. We like instant gratification. Yet, that is another reason procrastination is a problem for some of us, but every person has a different way/reason for procrastinating. Learn what’s up with that.

7. Making choices can be a challenge for some of us (me included) who worry we are making the wrong choice. If you’ve ever struggled with decision making, you know it can be paralyzing and then you either make no decision or choose the safest option. What we have here is the Ambiguity Effect and it can be a real time suck. Kick ambiguity to the curb.

8. If you are having trouble interacting with colleagues or wondering why you don’t hear back from contacts it could be you are creeping folks out unintentionally (we hope). Here’s how to #belesscreepy.

9. In the social media era building your brand and marketing are critical, yet, if you’re posting to the usual suspects and seeing very little engagement, you’ve got a problem. Wharton Business School even did a study on how to fix the situation and be more shareable.

10. Every time you do a presentation that one co-worker butts in and calls you out. Dang. If you aren’t earning respect on the job, you will be limited in your ability to get to the next level. Respect is critical to any leadership position, as well as to making a difference in any role you may have within an organization, but actions can be misconstrued. There are ways to take what may be negative situations and use them to your advantage, building mutual respect.

You have the tools you need, now get out there, work hard, play hard, and make sh*t happen. Oh, and remember, growth requires continual reflection and action, but you got this.

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Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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leadership Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are maybe a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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