Burning Bridges

“Burning bridges” is a tired metaphor that corporate shitheads like to throw around in order to maintain control and some semblance of order over the drones.  It’s designed to instill fear, that if an underling “burns a bridge,” his name will forever be carved in stone as persona non grata.  For example, you might hear this bit of advice:  “When the HR drone and your manager tell you that you’re being laid off, simply smile and thank them for the opportunity to work with their wonderful company.  Sign the documents you’re presented with, walk away, and only say good things about the people who eliminated your position.  You don’t want to burn any bridges!”

What a bunch of shit.

More often than not, bridges are torched from the other direction.  At my first full-time job, I had an awful micromanager who was also a completely repellant human being.  Just by way of example, she cornered one of my coworkers and demanded to know why he spent “so much time away” from his work station.  “You’re away from your desk at least every hour!  Why?  What are you doing?”  He turned about 3 shades of red and explained that he drank a lot of water, and therefore, had to get up to use the bathroom frequently, as well as to refill his bottle.  “Well try to coordinate your trips!”  [The entire company was crazy.  There was one time, in the era before email, that the management team had an emergency meeting to decide if they should go to Staples to buy more fax paper, because there was none in the office, and the Big Boss wasn’t there to tell them what to do.]  She kept a steno pad in her Sanford & Son cubicle, and wrote down the arrival, lunch, and departure times of all of her reports.  If you were traveling on company business, you had to call her three times per day to “check in.”  She was pedantic and condescending, and she sucked in general.

One day, a few years back, I received a call from a head hunter about an “exciting new opportunity.” I sent over my C.V., and received a call from the corporate recruiter.  The conversation went something like this:

Recruiter:  I see that you worked at XYZ Crappy Company from 1995-1997.  I don’t know if you worked directly with Madame Assclown Manager while you were there, but I need to inform you that she is the hiring manager for this position.

Corporate Drone:  I would rather rifle through a dumpster for food than to be subject to her insane micromanagement again.  Thanks, but no thanks.

Recruiter:  I understand.

Corporate Drone:  I’m sure you do understand.  If you would, could you please relay a message for me?  Please tell her that I said “I still hate you, you overbearing, intrusive, bad bleach job, no-talent.”  

Recruiter:  Uh.  Well.  Yeah.  Well.  I can’t really say that, but I get where you’re coming from.

Corporate Drone:  Best of luck in your recruiting efforts!

This idea of bridge burning is always being presented in terms of you, the underling, not pissing off the overlords because some day you might need something from them.  Well, some day, the former overlord might need something from you too.  Someone told me that Madame Assclown Manager has been underemployed for the past five years, and is presently working as a medical billing coder or something.  There’s probably lots to micromanage there–she is in her element, and she finally has a position that is in line with her own incompetence.


How Do You Know if Your Manager Sucks

Being a sucky manager is much more complex than you think it would be.  See, it’s not just about being an asshole and a complete moron, although those usually go hand in hand with bad management.  Let me be clear; a lot of these management gurus will posit that one can be an asshole and still be a great manager.  We Drones know that this is untrue, because when you’re an asshole, the Drones will not go out of their way to help you, because they hate you.  

So how do you know if your manager sucks, other than his completely repellant personality?  Here are a few clues:

  1. Micromanager.
  2. Completely hands-off, only talks to you when urgent, or when she needs your monthly report.
  3. Secretive; doesn’t tell you what’s going on, refuses to confirm or deny rumors.
  4. “Manages up,” i.e., kiss ass.
  5. Is not interested in your company’s products or services, and has no interest in how those products/services solve customers’ problems.  Only cares about the revenue.

Dear Corporate Drone

Dear Corporate Drone:

I have been looking for a new job for a few months now, and I’m confused.  I’ve been on a few interviews where I know I have all the qualifications that they’re looking for, and yet I don’t get the offer.  More often than not, I don’t even get a follow-up telling me that I’ve been excluded from candidacy?  What gives?  


Frustrated Job Seeker

Dear Frustrated Job Seeker:

The first thing you need to do is to banish from your mind the idea that employers hire the most qualified candidate.  That is a myth.  Employers hire the person they think is the best “fit” for the job.  How they determine fit?  Who the hell knows.  It’s one of these intangible things that is total bullshit.

Now, as for why you didn’t get the job, the reasons are many and varied.  Here is a sampling of some real reasons that you might not be getting hired:

  1. Hiring manager doesn’t like your alma mater.
  2. No degree/you have an advanced degree/you hold too many degrees.
  3. You express irritation at stupid, irrelevant questions such as “if you were a tree, what kind would you be, and why?”
  4. You remind one of the interviewers of his Uncle Jim, who was a mean drunk who could never hold down a job.
  5. You are a man.
  6. You are a woman.
  7. You haven’t spent the last five years doing the exact same job at a direct competitor.
  8. You’re too well known in the industry.
  9. You are unknown in the industry.
  10. Hiring manager recognizes that you are smarter than she is, and she perceives this as a threat.
  11. You refused to disclose your current employer’s proprietary information, and, therefore, you must not be a “team player.”
  12. You are openly gay.
  13. You are openly straight.
  14. Employer prefers to hire someone who has 500+ contacts in the industry, an MBA, CPA, and JD, and who is fluent in both Cantonese and Latvian.  Working knowledge of Sanskrit a plus.  You do not meet these minimum qualifications.  Commence whining on the part of the employer about not being able to find qualified candidates.
  15. Employer doesn’t like where you live, thinks it’s too far, too close, not fashionable enough.
  16. You remind the interviewer of the Mean Girl from high school.
  17. You are a woman who has children still at home.
  18. You are over age 50/”overqualified.”
  19. You dressed too fashionably for the interview.
  20. You dressed to casually for the interview.

This represents just a few of the reasons that you may be disqualified and kicked to the “thanks, but no thanks” pile.  Notice that none of them have anything to do with your ability to perform the job, because that is pretty irrelevant when it comes to hiring.  It is a numbers game, and eventually you will get an offer.  But when you do get an offer, think carefully about whether or not you want to accept one from a company that would ask you to name a song that best describes you, or some other such nonsense.  Ridiculous, inane interview tactics are a strong indication that incompetency runs amuck.

The Entertainment Industry

One of the perks of going off to cubicle land M-F is that you get to interact with and observe some of the most bizarre specimens that humanity has to offer. I always wonder, if they’re this nuts at work, what are they like outside of the office?

Case in point–I had a coworker who, despite being born and raised in California, chose to speak with an affected Chinese accent. She would wear a knit woolen ski cap inside the office, and, after losing a good bit of weight, used a rope to secure her pants around her waist, rather than purchasing clothing that actually fit. She also would tell you that the leather pouch she wore around her neck contained the cremated remains of her dog. Another colleague remarked that he was a volunteer for a mental health crisis center, but that this woman was crazier than anything he’d ever seen there.

Then there was the guy whose real name is Andre GermanSoundingSurname. Apparently “Andre” was deemed too difficult for him to work with, so he employed a nom de plume for using with clients. In email and on his VM, he was “Bob Clarke.” But everyone in the office called him Andre. He also would visit Colombia a few times a year, and purchased an apartment in Bogota. I speculate that any of the following could be the case: 1) running coke; 2) joined an expat Nazi community; 3) sex with underage girls/production of child pornography.

And then, there was the batshit crazy broad who hoarded a menagerie of rodents in her cubicle. Gecko. Guinea pig. Mice. The gecko ate live crickets, which you can apparently order and have shipped in bulk to your workplace. I know this because one weekend, the crickets got out, and Monday morning there was a plague upon us. When she would be out on PTO, someone else would have to feed/water her rodents for her. But what’s most bizarre is that this was a multi-billion dollar multi-national company. Management knew about the pets in the cubicle, but did nothing. I violated my own rule of never talking to HR by telling HR how fucked up this was. Nothing happened, which of course confirmed that talking to HR is totally useless.

Stop Annoying Me via LinkedIn

Today I received an email that a coworker’s “work anniversary” is coming up.  He’s on vacation in Europe right now, so I forwarded him the email and told him that I’ll wait until he gets back before I get him a cake.  He advised me to save the cake for when he leaves to go to a different job.

This afternoon, I was notified that someone posted something in my alumni association’s LinkedIn group.  The entire message was, “Does anyone have any professional contacts at the University of Pennsylvania?”  There was no introduction, no context, and no explanation of what kind of “professional contacts” she was looking for.  She is listed as “Client Relationship Manager, Institutional Investments, Vanguard Group.”  I assume she wants to try to sell UPenn some kind of crappy financial services products and get them to switch their 403b plan.  Multi level marketing at its best.

Then, at least every third time I log in, the photo of a Complete Management Fraud/Jackass pops up as someone I might know.  Looks like even more of a clown in the photo than in person.  Now I have confirmation of my long held suspicion that this guy is a chronic internet porn masturbator; the photo leaves no doubt.

I Don’t Care if You Don’t Like It

A few weeks ago, I ordered a pizza for delivery. Twenty minutes later, my 14 YO dog was jubilant at the arrival of the pizza, and came to the door to greet the delivery guy, who looked to be a college kid. She gave him a perfunctory, 10 second sniff, and then was totally focused on the pizza. The delivery guy gave an exasperated sigh, and shot her a dirty look.

Now, here’s the thing. In order to earn money, you often have to put up with things you don’t like. That could range from the inconvenience of being chained to a desk for 8 hours, to irksome business travel, to stinky coworkers. If you’re taking a job as a pizza delivery guy, then dealing with people’s pets is one of those inconveniences that you need both to expect and to tolerate. And truthfully, being sniffed for a few seconds by a friendly geriatric dog is probably not the most irritating thing you’ve encountered during your shift. If it is, you have a serious problem. When you’re working for tips, it does not serve you well to express indignation or annoyance toward your customers, no matter how irritating you might find the situation. Plus, if you’re a 20 year old college kid, old people like me have no patience for your irritation with anything.

I ordered a pizza again last night. This time, I held the dog by her collar while I answered the door. Different college-age delivery guy, who responded with, “Hey pup! How ya doin’?” I explained about the previous encounter, and told him that’s why I was restraining her. “Oh no. I love dogs. That other guy sounds like an ass.” Exactly. Last night’s delivery guy got an extra $5 tip. It’s what Management likes to call KYC–Know Your Customer.

Weirdest Interview Ever

I know a lot of Drones are out of work right now, and these are tough times for many. Employers hold the cards, and the stories I’m hearing from friends, colleagues, and people I don’t even like indicate that employers feel that they can abuse, infantilize, and demean prospective employees. The tales range from the ridiculous, to the petty, to the offensive.

However, the most bizarre interview I’ve ever had was in 2005, so this was before the economy, and the job market, crashed. I received an email inviting me for a phone screen with the HR drone of a small, boutique consulting firm (translation: no recognition in the marketplace, and no one has ever heard of them). I had spent a number of years at a huge, ginormous consulting firm that everyone knows of, so I figured I knew the drill.

I remember that the HR drone portion of this story went on for an exceedingly long time–maybe close to an hour–and that one of her “questions” was, “talk to me about teams.” I must have come up with some kind of bullshit response to her line of bullshit pseudo-interviewing because at the end of this non-conversation, she asked me if I’d like to come in, not for an “interview,” but for “career day.” WTF is career day, you ask? Well, I asked the same thing. Career day is when potential recruits come in and spend half a day with the team, and ostensibly learn about this fine organization, and vice versa. Ok, what the hell, I’ll come in for your career day.

I was then informed that I would need to prepare and to deliver a presentation to the first group I’d be meeting with. I merely updated some existing slides I had, threw in some management bullshit, because consultants live for that kind of crap, and, most importantly, made sure that my slides had animation. Animation is key to the success of any presentation. People like pictures. Think of it as Corporate Cave Drawings.

I show up, meet with the first group, who seem to be the type who really enjoy a good PowerPoint deck. I’m thinking this whole thing is a bit hokey, but I’m here, so WTF.

Now here comes the pinnacle of the day. After the PPT session, I’m placed in a little room where I’m instructed to read a faux case study, draft a plan, and come back and present it to the group. At this point, my ire is beginning to flare. (Here’s a hint employers: you’re going to piss off good candidates if you make them do academic work as a trial during the interview. I don’t care what your b-school professors told you. This is a bad idea on your part.) I read the case study, and now I’m wondering if this is for real, or if this is a joke. The case study is about a fictional nation called Trevonia (so named because one of the managing directors had a kid named Trevor–the name itself was so stupid that I had to inquire). Trevonia is plagued with problems. It has a high rate of illiteracy. There is poor infrastructure, and roads are crumbling and public transportation sucks. It’s also been at war with a neighboring country, of an equally stupid name which I now forget, for years. Trevonia’s GDP is in the shitter. However, Trevonia is strategically located and is rich in natural resources. If I were advising the Trevonian government, what would my top-level plan of action to turn around the GDP be?

Luckily, I have much experience in creating effective solutions for these types of problems, because when I was an undergrad, I had a philosophy professor who was a huge Star Trek nut. He would make us watch episodes of The Next Generation and then discuss the ethical issues faced by Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise. Substitute “Trevonian” for “Cardassian” and it’s all pretty much the same thing. Don’t violate the Prime Directive; you’re only here to observe.

Good little Drone that I was, I came up with some tripe about investing in education because with an illiterate populace, you’re pretty much screwed. In retrospect, I should have said that the Borg was coming, resistance is futile, and the Trevonians will be assimilated!

I never heard back from these clowns, which was a relief. Don’t waste people’s time with your nonsense. Don’t ask them why manhole covers are round or what kind of tree they would like to be. Treat them with respect and courtesy. Most importantly, do not expect that candidates are going to respond favorably to your little “tests.” We won’t. We will be pissed off, and will be telling the story of how ridiculous you are some ten years later. And if, at some point, we might have occasion to hire a firm like yours, we will make sure that the engagement is awarded to Anyone But You.

The Chazz Bono Effect

Not too long ago, I was speaking with a fellow Drone about the sense of not belonging that I often feel when I’m sitting in meetings and people are discussing things that, though relevant to the business, I just can’t get myself to care about.  I likened it to that Sesame Street interlude, where “one of these things is not like the others.  One of these things doesn’t belong.”  My colleague said that she felt the same, and that this must be what it’s like to be transgendered and stuck in the wrong body.  Like Chastity/Chazz Bono.

Oh, how many times I’ve endured the torment of a Chazz Bono meeting!  Whether the topic being discussed was cost segregation models, tax structures, digital marketing, or client issues, my gut level reaction is always the same:  Oh my God, who gives a shit, can you please stop talking so I can be spared this torture.  

The Chazz Bono Effect is not limited to meetings, although that is where it is most prominent.  You will also notice the CBE at industry conferences, seminars, or when reading various pieces of “thought leadership,” such as white papers.  You might also feel the CBE at play when you’re at a social event, and a group of people is busy talking about Very Important Business Things. The CBE is ubiquitous and pervasive.  It has neither functional nor industry boundaries.

You can either pretend to be interested and fake adding something relevant to the discussion, or you can allow your mind to wander off to more pressing matters, such as your dog’s upcoming appointment for teeth cleaning.  Because a key part of being a successful Drone lies in your ability to fake it, the best course of action is to have something canned that you memorize and can add to the conversation.

I suspect that if you asked for candid responses, most people would be more genuinely interested in your dog’s oral hygiene than in the Strategic Initiatives That Will Help Move the Company Forward This Quarter.  But you need to play the game.

*Props to Drone PM, for coining the term “Chazz Bono Effect.” 

Dear Corporate Drone

Dear Corporate Drone:

I graduated from college three years ago, so I’m relatively new to the world of the Hive.  One thing that I find particularly confusing is the lack of clear, concise direction and communication that I get from Management.  For example, during my recent performance review, my manager told me that I need to be a proactive self-starter, who is motivated and works well under pressure.  I asked my manager to give me some examples of what she meant.  She did a lot of talking, and she was speaking English, but I still have no idea what she wants.

Thanks for your help,

Entry-Level Drone

Dear Entry-Level Drone:

If you have come to the Hive in search of clear direction and lucidly articulated performance expectations, you are sure to be disappointed and disenchanted.  I take pity upon you because you are young and still idealistic.  Do not fear; in a few more years, any idealism you had will be drained from you.  Anyway, back to your question.  What does your boss mean when she spits out this nonsense?  Well, let’s take a look at the specific terms she used.

Proactive.  This means that Management will provide virtually no direction to you, and you will have to divine what they want.  A synonym for this is “psychic.”

Self-starter.  This is very closely related to “proactive.”  Management will not only provide no direction, they will also not share with any Drones the vision or the big picture strategy, assuming that either exist outside of the world of a PowerPoint deck.  You will have to figure everything out on your own, and when it crashes and burns, it will be your fault.  The only time your boss will talk to you is when she wants your monthly report, so that she can copy and paste it into her monthly report.  As an aside, providing your monthly report to your boss is known as “teamwork.”

Motivated.  “We value greedy bastards around here.”

Works well under pressure.  This one could have several meanings, depending upon the context of the particular Hive and its Queen.

  1. Because Management provides no direction, every project is a top priority.
  2. We have a skeletal staff, having laid off many other Drones over the last five years.  Most Drones now do the work of three.  See also, “overworked.”
  3. Your Management saves everything for the last minute.  For example, an RFP comes in on March 15, with a response date of May 1.  Think of the  RFP is like a fine wine or a stinky cheese; it must be properly aged on someone’s desk before it can be addressed.  On April 29, someone hands you the RFP, and compiling the 200 page response in 48 hours becomes a YP (Your Problem).
  4. We treat our employees like shit, and we have upwards of 50% turnover.  This place is a pressure cooker.

I hope this clears things up.  Welcome to the machine.  Resistance is futile.

Well aren’t you so smart?

We are taught to believe that it’s good to be smart, and that the smart people are the ones who get ahead, and who make a difference.  All of you Drones know that this is just simply not the case.  It’s not the smart people who are valued; it’s the ones who play the game.

Years ago, I had a boss who had a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia.  She was/is a brilliant writer, a no-BS type of person, and really funny to boot.  Her boss had a bachelor’s degree in nonsense from Big Football University in the south.  You know, that part of the country where “SEC” doesn’t refer to the Securities Exchange Commission; it means South East Conference.  This guy was as dumb as a bag of hair, which is slightly ironic because he was also completely bald.  I would often hear my boss shrieking when she would read his emails, wherein he would display his shaky grasp on the language through his interchangeable use of “to,” “too,” and “two,”, or “than” and “then.”

“He is incapable of writing a proper sentence in the English language!  Where is my Xanax?!?!?!”

My boss was obviously frustrated by working for someone who was so apparently stupid.  But how did he get to be the Big Boss?  Our group was tasked with writing and rewriting anything that came from him, so that it would be coherent–how did he even write a resume to send in, when he applied for the job?  How could he possibly give a lucid presentation, when he used “irregardless” and “conversate” as if they are actual words?  (As an aside, I find it very disturbing that the non-word “irregardless” does not render with a red squiggly line under it, both here, and in any Microsoft products.)  He said things like, “we need to market these products acrosst multiple line of businesses and get them in front of clients irregardless of their industry.”

Although the Drones saw him as a complete fuckwit, and in this case, my boss was one of the Drones, he seemed to have Management snowed.  How did this happen?  For starters, he had a wife, who was obviously the brains of the operation, and who took care of things like writing his resume, cover letter, and his emails.  So this created the initial appearance of intelligence.  However, his true skill was in being able to talk Big Ten Football with the Big Important Uber Boss.  Yes, it was as simple as that.

Because, my fellow Drones, to a large extent, the workplace is one big fraternity party.  My undergraduate institution had no Greek system, but I can spot the frat boys immediately.  The only thing that is missing is the keg and the red plastic Solo cups.  You will notice that there is also a sorority sister contingent alive and well.  These are usually thin, pretty, low or mid-level managers who cheer on the frat boys.  They do things for them like create their PowerPoints, or run special reports for them.  They’re Super Excited to be a part of the team!  The frat boys don’t really value their contributions, but like to use those contributions and pass them off as their own.

My boss was too smart.  She wasn’t a sorority sister, and she refused to dumb herself down in order to fit in.  She wouldn’t play their juvenile game, so she wasn’t part of the Popular Crowd.

The point I’m trying to make is that, as you’ve no doubt figured out already, being smart can be a burden at best, and a liability at worst.  Smart Drones need to lower their expectations and find creative outlets for their intelligence, because it is not valued at the Hive.  What a smart Drone should never, ever do is let an incompetent manager know that you know he’s a fool.  That is  a bad “strategic” move.  Always make the incompetent manager feel super smart and and the top of his game.  Remember, the mission of the Drone is survival, the continued collection of the paycheck, and the middle class lifestyle.  All Drones, including your author, should make an effort to play the game.  After all, there are few things Management loves as much as “enthusiastic team players”!