A friend sent me an article from HR Magazine, which is produced by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The author, Jennifer Schramm, cites studies that consider the impact of pay inequality on worker moral. Where job security was recently the leading driver of job satisfaction, it is now compensation. Schramm notes that CEO-worker compensation has shifted from 20-1 in 1965 to 265-1 in 2013. What are companies doing to address this problem? 42% are offering “financial literacy training” and 25% are offering budget training.
These measures would be great if workers who are often living from paycheck to paycheck had anything to save or budget. America needs a raise. It’s not just an issue of low wage workers. Middle class and even some executives have been receiving small/no raises for the last decade. The drum beats for changing are getting louder.
The Internet is a wonderful tool for learning more about any topic. It’s also the greatest megaphone in history for repeating and magnifying bad ideas. One of these bad ideas in the field of career planning has been “follow your passion.” Don’t get me wrong, I want my clients to find work that is meaningful and makes them happy (and provides a good living). I don’t like the “passion” plan because it’s very hard to define and turn into a realistic job search strategy.
I’m not alone in this belief. Cal Newport takes the passion-driven career apart in a Huffington Post essay. Newport cites a TED talk by TV host Mike Rowe that looks at dirty jobs, hard work that still makes people happy. Few of the people Rowe profiles went into their jobs with a sense of passion. They do work others don’t want to do. Still they find a way to happy. Rather than look for passion, these people found value in their work through what Newport calls “competence, autonomy, and impact.” In other words, they feel they are doing work that has value in the world (impact), work they are good at (competence), and work that they can do their own way (autonomy).
When you have a minute, read Newport’s article and watch the video of Mike Rowe’s talk. Happiness at work is never found through an easy formula like “find your passion.” I tell my clients that you have to be doing the right thing at the right place with the right people. That’s a very tricky combination. You can find the right kind of work and may even be working at the right company, but if you are working for a bad boss or stuck with a group of the wrong kind of co-workers, your job will not be passion. It will be misery.
Find the job that is right for you. Start with what you like to do, the kinds of action and thinking you will perform on the job. Then it gets harder because you have to land a job at the right kind of company where you will work for the right kind of boss with co-workers that fit with you. It’s not easy. But, if you have the right goals in mind, you can find the kind of job – even a dirty job – that makes you happy.
In a time when it is difficult to find a good job, it might seem funny to say something like, “Thank goodness I didn’t get that job.” A client made this comment a few days ago, and I immediately agreed with her. When I was last looking for work in 2000, I interviewed with a company that I thought I really wanted to work for. The person who would have been my boss was sarcastic and disrespectful throughout the interview.
At first, I felt bad when the company didn’t offer me a position. Then I thought about what it would have been like to work for such a person. Sometimes the best jobs are the ones we want but don’t get. They let us find the places we should be working and the kind of people we should be working with.
Several pages in today’s Chicago Sun-Times were devoted to honoring Roger Ebert, who died yesterday at age 70. One especially touching editorial talked about how Ebert was lucky to do work that he loved. In part, it was luck. However, it was also a matter of skill and good career management.
Too many people float from job to job without asking the important question: What do I want to do? When I coach clients who are thinking about changing careers, I ask them to think about those skills that they most enjoy using on the job. These skills are best thought of as “gifts.” The better we can align where we work with our gifts, the more likely we are to be happy on the job.
After you define your gifts, the next step is to identify positions that require those special skills. Then start to identify companies that are potential employers and begin to search job boards. The job search is never easy, especially for people trying to change careers. If your goal is to be happy at work, make the effort. Employers do not care if you are happy as long as you do your job. You have to be responsible for your own happiness at work. If you’re not happy, start looking – now.
Can you protect yourself against taking a job where your boss is a bully or a tyrant?
Not fully. But you can learn as much as possible about this person before you take the job. How do you do that? Interview a prospective employer as carefully as that person interviews you.
Start by doing research. Ask for the name of the person who will be interviewing you, and look her up on LinkedIn and Google. You should also do a Google search on the company, especially if it is not established and well known. What you learn might help you make a better connection in the interview. The Google search might also help you find negative comments by former employees. For example, a restaurant in my neighborhood stopped paying its employees. The chef posted this news on his blog, and a neighborhood new blog covered the story about other employees. In these time of employment insecurity, it is important to have as much information as possible about prospective employers.
Step two begins when you arrive at the interview. Look and listen. What does the office look like? How are the people dressed, and how are they treating each other? Does the layout of the office and the furniture look like a place where you would want to work? Does this look and sound like a place where you would want to work? Would you want to come here everyday?
Now the work begins. You have to interview and evaluate your potential employer. Make sure you know who you are talking to and what that person’s role is. In most companies, HR will conduct screening interviews, which will assess you as an employee, not in your professional skills related to a specific job. HR interviews are very important, but the person conducting this interview usually will not have a day-to-day impact on your job. The people you really need to engage during an interview are potential supervisors, people to whom you will report.
Here are a few questions you can use to evaluate a potential manager:
What are the top three challenge I’ll face in this position?
The answer to this question will tell you two things that are important. First, it will lay out what your boss thinks will be the most difficult parts of your jobs. Second, the answer should also give you some sense of how much this person will support you. Listen for tone. Will this manager be supportive or distant? Does she sound like she’ll face the challenges with you, or are you alone?
Describe someone who has been successful in this position?
A good manager should be able to answer this question quickly and with a sense of confidence. If not, you might be facing a boss who isn’t happy with any of her employees. Or you might be going into a new or poorly defined position. In either case, don’t expect your tenure at this job to be long or happy.
What has to happen for you to know you’ve hired the right person?
This question probes the hiring manager’s priorities. Some could lean toward a technical skill set or professional experience. Others might focus on soft skills like leadership or team building. Use this question as a way to know what this manager is looking for, and follow up on the answer by affirming that you can deliver this quality.
What do you like most about your job?
I recommend that this question be asked last. Listen to this answer carefully. Does your prospective boss sound happy and enthusiastic? Generally speaking, if your boss is unhappy about working for the company you will feel the same way soon.
More than any other factor, the person you report to on a daily basis controls how happy or miserable you are at a job. Make the effort to find a good boss – if you want to be happy at work.