Image: Steve Parker/Flickr, adapted by Bruce Kasanoff
Rule #1 in finding a job is People Hire People They Like.
Rule #2 is: Re-read Rule #1.
This rule is not written down in any employee hiring manual. You won't find it in any job description or ad. When the media interviews leaders about how they hire, they will say, "Blah blah blah we hire the best blah blah blah..."
But I am telling you the truth. If a hiring manager doesn't like you, they are highly unlikely to hire you.
Let me translate this a bit. If you are any of the following, you won't get hired:
Yes, I wrote entitled twice.
According to many of my friends who hire, they are tired beyond words of candidates who think they deserve a job because they have checked off all the qualifications. On paper, such a candidate is perfect. In person, they are insufferable.
This does not mean that every candidate has to be the same. Some hiring managers are aggressive, driven, intellectually demanding, or even themselves clueless. You don't have to be someone that anyone would like; you just have to be likable through the eyes of the person or people who have to say "yes" to your hire.
You also shouldn't over-inflate my rule. You don't have to be someone's new best friend to get hired. You just have to be someone they are willing to have around every day for the next 1,000 days.
Here's what shocks me: the number of job candidates who think that the hiring process is some sort of hermetically-sealed, principle-driven meritocracy in which they alone are destined to succeed... because they have already deemed themselves the best candidate.
People hire people.
No matter what a company's policies say, you must always remember that in looking for a job you are engaging in a process driven by humans.
So how do you act on what I'm saying?
Before you lay out your qualifications or pursue any opportunity, remember that your first goal must be to connect on a human level.
Your first job is to help other people. Your second is your actual job. The better you are at #1, the easier #2 becomes.
When you think about your career in this manner, nearly everything changes.
Job #1 forces you to value relationships and be other-centered. Instead of thinking first about your own self-interest, you think first about the interests of others: clients, peers, and even your boss.
"How can I be most helpful?" becomes the core of your actions. You constantly look for new ways to add value, and in the process, you become much more useful to the people around you.
For example, with clients, you become a person who serves their interests, instead of a pushy, aggressive type who is always selling something they don't need.
Job #2 is how you get paid, feed your family, and pursue the agenda of the people who hired you.
This is where many altruistic types fall down. They are so eager to help others that they forget about their own agenda. Instead of organizing that critical meeting, they end up spending all morning calling neighbors to see if anyone spotted the lost cat that may - or may not - have been wandering on the edge of their neighborhood.
You want to be helpful, but not hopeless.
This is why it is so critical to understand that you have two jobs. Your second job has specific, practical goals. It has deadlines. It probably even has some elements that don't always make sense to you and that may even drive you crazy. ("Why does my boss make me send him a report every Friday afternoon, even though we meet every Friday morning?")
The critical insight...
Job #1 does not compete with job #2.
Job #1 makes you much better at job #2.
It builds stronger relationships. It connects you more strongly to others. It teaches you to pay attention to the people and the world around you, helping you to perceive how things are working independently of your own narrow agenda.
This only works when you view job #1 as a job in its own right. If you only help people who can help you in job #2, you will soon be revealed as a superficial and somewhat manipulative person. You know the type... someone who is eager to help you when you have a big job, but who won't return your phone calls when you are looking for a job.
Don't be that person.
Take both jobs seriously. Invest equal energy in each. Pursue job #1 with passion, even though it doesn't pay you in cash money.
Not every reward is financial. Some actions feed your soul, enrich your community, and model the sort of behaviors you want your peers, friends, and family members to emulate.
Take equal pride in both jobs. If you are a to-do list person, make to-do lists for both jobs. At the end of each week, month, and year analyze your performance and achievements in both positions.
It's not enough to succeed at the job that pays your bills. That is simply too narrow a vision of the reason you are here on Earth.
Every time you encounter another person, think: help this person. It's not altruistic. Nothing else can so quickly supercharge your career and improve the quality of your life.
When you walk into Starbucks for a coffee, think help this person about the barista who serves you. Instead of being frustrated that he isn't moving fast enough, see if you can make him smile. Better yet, tell him to keep the change.
When the phone rings on a busy day, don't get frustrated by the interruption. Think help this person while you answer the phone. Doing so will change your demeanor, your thought process, and the entire interaction.
If you have a subordinate who isn't pulling her weight, instead of criticizing her, every time you see her think help this person. This doesn't mean let her slide, or ignore her shortcomings. It means help her either improve her skills or find a position better suited to her strengths. But don't just brush her aside; really help her.
But wait a minute – I know what some of you are thinking. What about the people who take credit for other people's work? What about the rich and powerful who have gotten that way by crushing others? Doesn't their success prove me wrong?
Not at all. Sure, there are some people who take the exact opposite strategy. But it takes real skill and focus to succeed by being evil, and most of us just don't have the fortitude to pull it off. For those of us with a soul and a heart, the only real choice is to succeed by helping others.
By first thinking help this person, you will change the ways that others perceive you. There is no faster or more effective way to change your interactions and relationships. You will be viewed as a positive, constructive, helpful and dependable person. People will think you are more perceptive, attentive and understanding.
That's why this way of thinking is not altruistic; it is selfish, in the best sense of the word. The single best way to help yourself is to always be looking for ways to help other people. Sure, you'll be making the world a better place, and in the course of your life you will help many thousands of people. But don't do it because you ought to, or because it's the "right" thing to do.
Think help this person because you're selfish and proud of it.
1.) Careers do not come with instructions. There are no "hard and fast" rules, no simple formulas for success. This is because you will work for - and with - other human beings, and people are complex and confusing creatures.
2.) Your job is to work well with other people. Yes, they may be confusing, but figuring out how to interact with people is your #1 one career challenge. It's tempting to think your job is to be an accountant or a brand manager, but it's not.
3.) Develop a skill that other people value enough to pay for it. If you lack such a skill, do nothing else until you master one.
4.) Don't depend on one skill. Once you have a valuable skill, people will want you to use it again and again and again. If you keep doing this, you will eventually get bored and you will never increase your value in the marketplace. So after you master one skill, learn another skill on the side, until people are willing to pay you more to use that one.
5.) There are other forms of payment besides money. You can also work for satisfaction, pride, ego, fame, mastery, enjoyment and intellectual challenge.
6.) Don't undermine your own value. If you love your job so much you would gladly do it for free, it is best to not mention this to your boss.
7.) Work two jobs. Your first job is to help other people. Your second is your actual job. The better you are at #1, the easier #2 becomes.
8.) Without confidence, most of your competence will be wasted. Do whatever it takes to build self-confidence, even if it means confronting your worst fears.
9.) Never lose perspective. Your worst fears are nothing compared to what some people face each day just to find clean drinking water and enough food. Toughen up.
10.) Without competence, self-confidence is a self-delusion. Don't stop working until you deliver actual results.
11.) Confidence + competence = career success. This is the killer combination, the closest thing to a sure-fire ticket to everything you ever wanted.
12.) Failure is temporary, if you never give up.
13.) 13 is a lucky number. If you insist on believing in luck, believe in good luck.
14.) Retreat, then charge again. "Giving up" for a weekend or a week can be a good way to realize you're not ready to give up.
15.) Be prepared for your moment of truth. There's no way to schedule (in advance) your big break. Wake up every morning with the understanding that lightning could strike, in a good way.
16.) Pay attention. The more often you are "present," the higher your chances of spotting opportunities and minimizing risk.
17.) Dismiss trivia. 90% of the stuff that drives you crazy does not matter at all.
18.) You can change your reality. Nearly everyone feels stuck in the middle, even the people at the top. You're not stuck because you're in the middle; you're stuck because you're waiting for someone else to initiate change. Don't wait; do it yourself.
19.) Be grateful. Gratitude is a far more effective strategy than criticism.
20.) Be clear and truthful. The clearer you are at saying what you want, the more likely you are to get it.
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I once worked for a company that was designed around six reports. By using these six reports, the owner of the firm could manage his $300 million business, and avoid most unpleasant surprises.
One year, my division's goal was to generate revenues of $100 million. We generated $100,010,000. To come that close to the owner's goal, we had to push two weeks of customer shipments into January. Yes, we deliberately slowed shipments so that the owner could have a company whose sales he could predict with great precision.
I left this firm after three years, because I did not enjoy a job in which my main task was to manage my desk well.
To please that sort of an owner, managers had to:
a.) Spend 97% of their workday in the office.
b.) Be incredibly organized, and maintain a fastidious filing system.
c.) Be tough as nails with suppliers and employees.
d.) Do everything the owner said, even when he was insulting and rude.
Perhaps you've worked for such a boss? One who values results more than people, who abhors chance and wants to reduce everything down to proven formulas?
Truth be told, this approach can work. It's not dissimilar to the way assembly lines work.
I just don't like it. Life is too short to reduce it to numbers, tickler files, and an empty Out box.
I'd much rather work in a culture in which people matter, and talent is something to be cultivated rather than rented. Growing by 12% a year, 20 years in a row is not my aspiration. Growing to my full potential - and helping others do the same - is so much more important.
For a time, my perception was that quitting that job was the dumbest thing I ever did. My entrepreneurial venture that followed was an up-and-down battle that never paid off financially... or even personally. But now it's clear that there was no other alternative. You have to know who you are, and I need human relationships more than a clean desk.
A few years ago, I solved the Messy Desk Problem by abandoning my desk entirely. At first, it served as a lovely place to store outdated digital devices, pretty rocks, and interesting toys. Then I just threw it out.
I now work out of the Eames Chair you see here. It has the advantage of lacking a flat surface on which to store stuff, which means I can't clutter it with, well, anything.
By the way, that's Hadley above, one of three 70-pound dogs I own. She's what my son calls an Aussieman, which is his made-up name for her dubious heritage as an Australian Shepherd/Doberman mix. She doesn't use a desk either.
When I shifted to my no-desk strategy, I also shifted to an all-digital filing system. All my articles, drafts, research, presentations, and speeches are in a neat (yes, neat) system that lets me find things quickly and easily. The best thing about this system is that iced tea glasses, lunch plates, review copies of other people's books, my extra jacket, and old newspapers don't fit into it.
In other words, I may be a bit messy on the outside, but inside I'm pretty focused.
This is the perfect balance for me, and perhaps for you, too.
In the real world, I can't control what people leave in my office (a lot). I can't always muster the energy to decide whether I might, possibly, maybe need a paper copy of the last 48 documents I signed.
In the digital world, my filing system expands endlessly but stays organized. "Clients" always contains one folder for each of my clients, and all their articles are in this folder. I won't bore you by going on and on, but it is EASY to stay organized in the digital world. For one thing, loose dog hair - which is everywhere in my real world - is nowhere to be seen in my digital space.
As a person with many different interests and modes, I thrive on this sort of distinction. My physical space needs to be relaxed and informal. But I can't tolerate imprecision when it comes to refining my work, serving clients, or simply organizing the ideas that matter most to me.
By the way, for those of you who think, "I could never just use a chair," think again. It changes the whole character of an office. People react differently when they enter. Your space becomes a social setting. Plus, instead of slouching at a desk, you can sit with your back supported.
(Personal plea: if Eames Chairs are bad for your back, or if they do not provide proper support, please do NOT tell me. I am very happy with the status quo.)
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Nothing limits your ability to achieve great things more than your desire to take credit for what you have achieved. This paradox is at the center of most problems that companies face.
It boggles my mind, for example, when some leaders take credit for the success of their organization. I think: you are already CEO, you already make $20 million, so why can't you empower the people who work for you instead of further inflating your own ego?
At many firms, employees spend more time worrying about who-is-going-to-get-the-credit than they do about the actual results. This is because compensation and promotion revolves around getting the credit, and also because if you don't get enough credit, then you might actually get fired.
But the fact is that you can accomplish much more, if you don't worry about taking the credit.
Skilled consultants know this; they gently nudge clients in one direction or another, making dozens - if not hundreds - of course corrections. When a job is well managed, clients think all the best ideas were theirs.
A few years back, I engaged in an extended experiment on this front. I have to keep the details fuzzy - because the participants were not aware of my strategy - but over the course of six months my goal was to maximize the impact of my actions while minimizing the perception of my role. In other words, I got a lot of stuff done without anyone realizing my orchestrations.
What amazed me was how easy it was to effect change once my goal was to NOT get credit for the resulting changes. Nudging someone in a certain direction is easy if your only objective is to nudge them slightly. You can share facts, ask innocent questions, and simply react most enthusiastically to the statements they make that support the change you favor.
Here's the cold, hard reality: the tough part about changing the world is getting credit. Just bringing about change is not that hard.
Here are a few places to start:
Set fires under people. Get them excited about their job, a new project, or simply a plan for the future. Again, bear in mind that you are not promoting your plan, but rather an idea that seems disconnected from you. There will be no obvious upside for you, and because of this your credibility will be greater.
Demonstrate by doing. Don't be a do-nothing leader; be a colleague who acts instead of just talks. Through your actions, allow others to see what success looks like.
Take joy in the success of others. Redefine success so that it does not entail a slap on the back for yourself, but rather the satisfaction of knowing deep inside that you accomplished an important goal by empowering others to do their best. This is not entirely altruistic behavior; you will be creating the type of world in which you wish to live, and people will eventually form a subconscious sense that everything works better when you are around.
Allow things time to happen. Change takes time. Just because an idea enters your head does not mean that others will react immediately, especially if you are trying to effect change without taking credit. Be persistent but patient.
Remember this: the higher you are in the chain of command, the greater the impact you can have by sharing credit, or giving it away entirely.
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Our time is a gift. I worry that we take it for granted. Roughly 73,500 years ago, humans were migrating from Africa towards other parts of our planet. The Sumatera volcano exploded, changing Earth’s climate. All but a few thousand humans perished. Our race nearly ended, due to natural causes.
Our time is a gift.
In the whole of human history, people have never had it this good. In developed countries, many citizens control the climates within their homes and workplaces. We sleep in comfort, away from pests and predators, with plenty of food and pretty good medical care.
Even many of the less fortunate among us have access to public education and transportation, shelter, and enough food to survive.
Today, many eight-year-olds have free access to more information than the most educated leader of generations past. We also have a growing range of tools to help us gather, analyze, understand and act upon this information.
But we forget that change is everywhere, and we lull ourselves into believing that our safe, secure lives will last forever.
Our time is a gift.
My purpose is not to scare you into a cave. It is to remind you that the entire human race has struggled to get us to this point. We have an opportunity – and it may be brief – to make them proud.
We can think of ourselves as a single race united by mutual respect and common purposes. Or we can be selfish clans fighting for dominance while our opportunity ticks away.
We are a resourceful people. I have faith that all problems have solutions, and that our opportunities outweigh our challenges. But there is one thing we must never forget.
Our time is a gift.
We must be humble.
Generation after generation of humans believe they have all the answers. Sadly, many societies hate – and fear – ideas that challenge conventional thinking, the ones that provide a glimpse of what the future will truly be like.
In other words, those visionaries who can actually predict the future tend to be ridiculed, marginalized or murdered.
Just ask Galileo, who was sentenced to lifelong house arrest for promoting the ridiculous idea that the earth revolves around the sun.
Or consider our first American president, who was unfortunate to live in a time when bloodletting was a mainstream medical practice. In 1799, George Washington had a bad sore throat, and in treating this malady doctors drained roughly 125 ounces of Washington’s blood in 24 hours. (He died.)
I guarantee you that some of our mainstream practices will seem equally awful in retrospect; the problem is we don’t know which ones.
Approach life with an open mind. The greater your tendency to argue from a set position, the greater the likelihood that in retrospect you will be viewed as a well-meaning dolt.
Be generous and expert, trustworthy and clear, open-minded and adaptable, persistent and present.
Our time is a gift. Act that way.
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"I'm powerless, too." It's tempting to think your boss - or his boss, or her boss - has all the power. That's not how it feels to them. Everyone feels stuck in the middle. Even your CEO must contend with the board, investors, regulators, and the media.
"You confuse me." From time to time, you say or do things that baffle your boss, and probably the people around you. Perhaps you weren't paying attention until you had to speak. Perhaps you spoke without thinking, or without fully appreciating the gravity of the situation.
If this happens occasionally, no big deal. If it happens routinely, that's a problem. Watch for that look in people's eyes that says, "Huh?" It usually surfaces months before you get official notice of your tenuous status.
"You gotta do something I can't live without." To be secure in today's workforce, you must have a skill that your boss values enough to pay for it. If you lack such a skill, do nothing else until you master one.
But once you do this, people will want you to use that skill again and again and again. If you keep doing this, you will eventually get bored and you will never increase your value in the marketplace. So after you master one skill, learn another on the side, until people are willing to pay you more to use that one.
"Don't undermine your own value." If you love your job so much you would gladly do it for free, it might be best to not to mention this.
"Without confidence, your competence will be wasted." Do whatever it takes to build self-confidence, even if it means confronting your worst fears. The popular press is filled with potential tactics: fake it until you make it; adopt power postures; use self-affirmations; build a support group.
The truth is that people are different, so find a tactic that works for you. But don't waste your talent because you don't value it as much as others would if they could see it clearly.
"You have it really easy." Your worst fears are nothing compared to what some people face each day just to find clean drinking water and enough food. Even if you are underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated, you are blessed beyond belief compared to most human beings.
"Half the stuff I say is nonsense." Your boss is besieged by the same forces as the rest of us. Budgets shift, bureaucracy wins, the economy varies, technology advances, and sometimes people just flat out change their minds. At best, your boss is perceptively navigating a difficult path. At worst, s/he is lost beyond your worst nightmare.
But either way, your boss is just another person. Show some compassion, and hope that s/he does the same for you.