Monthly Archives: April 2013

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”!

The Lies They Tell the Young

I saw this article in the Huffington Post a few days ago.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/employers-college-graduates-educated_n_3054028.html

When I read it, my immediate thought was, “now that’s a pile of shit.”

I say that as a Drone who holds an M.A. in a humanities discipline, and who has been at the Hive for nearly 20 years. Back in the early 90s, there were companies who looked to hire young grads who were smart and well rounded.  That has all changed. What employers want now is an army of automatons that can “hit the ground running” and who require no training or investment.  They whine about the nonexistent “skills gap,” in which they want that elusive purple unicorn candidate–the one who is a finance whiz, who can work in Dream Weaver, has a great presentation style, can write technical specs, can deliver new products, comes to the job with a following of 500 accounts, and can speak Mandarin and Latvian.  In other words, they want one person who can do everything.

What this means for liberal arts grads is that the deck is stacked against you, more so now than ever before.  The skills you bring to the job–clear communication, research skills, critical thinking–mean nothing to them.  It will be incumbent upon you to help show them the money.   First, you’re going to need more than just a one-semester internship.  You’ll need at least two semesters of internship, and those done full time at a recognized company are the best.  Yes, this might mean having to suck it up and miss a full semester of liver damaging binge drinking, but it will be worth it in the long term.  Second, you need to think about where you plan to live/work after graduation.  If you want to move to New York and work in advertising, then you need to go to New York and do an internship in advertising.  Don’t do your internship with an ad agency in Harrisburg.  Madison Avenue won’t care about that, and they will have other applicants who have more impressive internships.  Third, get some kind of crappy job while you are in school and use it to your advantage.  I worked part time in an office for 2 years while I was going to graduate school, and that experience, not my degrees, led to me being hired into my first full time position.  Yes, employers now want experience even for entry level candidates.  A friend’s daughter finished her M.A. in French last May, and still has no job prospects.  No experience, no job.

Think about how your skills, internship, and job experience relate to the position for which you are interviewing.  Whatever you do, DO NOT go to an interview and talk about something like the content of your thesis.  Yes, we know you are proud.  We know you spent a lot of time on it, and that it is your opus.  But you don’t go into the interview and discuss Goethe, the Boer War, or gender based poetics.  No one cares.

Most importantly, you need to lower your expectations.  Your first job is going to suck.  You’re going to be doing stuff that you don’t want to do.  You might find it demeaning.  You will be paid crap.  You’re going to be bored.  You’re going to think that maybe you should go to law school.  Get over it.  This is how it is.  You do not need a degree of any type in order to do most corporate jobs.  Most jobs  could be performed by a trained circus monkey.  But the degree is a filter that an employer applies to screen people out.

Not only are articles like this one from the Huffington Post irresponsible in that they are giving young people false hope, they are patently offensive!  A fellow Drone pointed out that, immediately following the article, there’s a slideshow about the most sought-after college majors.  There are no humanities disciplines listed at all.  In fact, when I first saw the title of the article, I thought that it must be from The Onion. 

Passion

Most of us have something which inspires us, and motivates us to strive to improve ourselves in some (often intangible) way.  We relentlessly pursue it.  It is our dream, our passion.

Passion is not missing from the life of the Corporate Drone; it’s simply that we drones find our passions outside of the walls of our cubicles.  Management types, however, love to go on and on about “passion,” and how “passionate” they are.  Let me make this very clear:  when someone tells you that she is passionate about branding, sales enablement, IT infrastructure, data analytics, financial modeling, project management, digital hierarchies, or any related topic, that is your proof that you are talking to a total fraud who also has a high likelihood of being a complete asshole.   “This increased functionality is very exciting!”  No, it’s really not.  But the fact that you just uttered that line of bullshit makes it perfectly clear to everyone that you are a jackass.

Can you find passion in your work?  Absolutely.  Some people who are passionate about their work include actors, artists, carpenters, chefs, hair stylists, massage therapists, glassblowers, scholars, museum curators, research scientists. . . .because these people have jobs that matter to the universe.  Do you notice what’s missing?  Corporate functions.

For drones, I suggest dismissing the idea of being passionate about your work.  It will only lead to disappointment.  Instead, pursue your passions elsewhere, because your employment really has no karmic purpose other than providing for you and your family.  I am passionate about clear communication and good grammar.  I’m passionate about lying around on the couch and reading novels.  I’m passionate about going for a walk with my dog.  None of this translates into bottom-line strategy, and that’s just fine.

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