Tag Archives: HR

Take a Risk, Take a Chance, Make a Change*

* Yes, the title is from a Kelly Clarkson song.  I’m not ashamed.

During the summer before my senior year of college, I did an internship at a large investment bank in New York.  To get the job, I professed my love for DCF models and calculating betas.  I made myself sound like the most interesting person in the world: “I enjoy reading Reuters.com, making data tables in Excel, and taking nonlinear walks along the beach.  I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer A&W.  That company’s got quite the cash flow.”

I suppose it worked.  I accepted an offer from a prestigious bank in midtown Manhattan, working in equity research for the summer of 2006.

salesI thought I would need a few weeks to determine whether I’d find my calling in finance.  But after just a few days, I already hated it.  I hated the dress code, the formality, the hierarchy, and the Big Brother-ness of it all.  I hated the work, which teetered between mundane and soul-sucking.  Most days, I just felt like a highly-paid supermarket cashier, plugging in numbers and being rude.  I quickly learned that there were three tenets of business: 1) Jerkiness is a coveted personality trait…  2) “Fuck” can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, insult, directive, and occasionally, term of endearment…  3) Lastly, in order to fit in, you have to be strongly opinionated about HR, women leaders, and taxes.  (The opinion must also be negative, although you can “support them in concept.”)

Throughout the summer, I felt like I was part of a giant sociological experiment, where you throw fifty impressionable college kids into (what I would consider) the worst job in the world (except, maybe, dairy farming) and record their reaction.  The people who loved it also seemed to hate it as well, but they had all accepted that hatefulness was part of the job — therefore it was palatable.  And for a summer at least, it was palatable, especially given the fact that we were well-paid, well-fed, and living in New York with an unlimited reign over the four-letter word dictionary.

lincolnNearing the end of my two-month stint, I had to meet with HR (ugh) to discuss full-time opportunities.  The bank was well-known for only hiring first-years from its summer intern class.  Even though I knew, deep down, that I didn’t want to do this for two full years, I still wanted to get an offer.  I still wanted to have a job lined up, even though I swore I wouldn’t take it.  I wouldn’t.  Even though it was a prestigious firm.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d built up a strong network.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d get to live comfortably in New York City.  I wouldn’t.  Or would I?

During my session with HR, I was bombarded with a barrage of questions that I hadn’t prepared for: “What are your three biggest weaknesses?  What would you title your autobiography?  Which historical figure do you identify with most?”  To the last question, I blurted out “Abraham Lincoln,” after a long, awkward silence in which I contemplated whether Chairman Mao had any redeeming qualities.  (For some reason, he’s the first “historical figure” that pops into my head.)  After trying to justify to HR that Abe was a perfectly legitimate answer (“I see myself in him through his honesty…his passion for humanity…his log cabin roots”), I realized that I would always be better at BS-ing about Lincoln than modeling cash flows.

So when I got my full-time offer, I turned it down.  I took another job, still in finance, but at a media company where I could learn to hone my creative talents.   And now, two years later, as I’m coming to the end of my term, I have to make another decision — whether to stay in my backup plan, or to go ahead and do something crazy, like compare myself to Abraham Lincoln.  Like eschew a stable finance career for the peripatetic life of a starving writer.  I’m leaning towards the latter, because I’m finally ready to give it a real shot now.  And I do truly believe that all things will work itself out in the end…

After all, the full-time offer I turned down, in the winter of 2006, was from Lehman Brothers.

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No Pity For Old Men

In 2006, I did an internship at a now-dead investment bank in New York.  During my first week in orientation, I remember sitting in a large auditorium with the rest of my summer analyst class.  We had just endured several hours of listening to men in ties drone on about insider trading, compliance issues, and SEC regulations.  Finally, a woman stepped up to the podium… hello, HR!  We were talking about sexual harassment.

bclinton-lewinskyAs interns, we would only be at the company for ten weeks… but apparently, we all needed a lengthy lecture about appropriateness in the workplace.  The sexual harassment talk is akin to the private parts talk that mothers give to their five-year olds: “If someone tries to hug you, run away… No one should ever touch you there, except for the doctor… If someone does try to touch you, tell the ombudsman immediately!”  We listened to the woman outline the company’s sexual harassment policies, then went off to happy hour next to a strip club for drinks with our new managers.

Last January, when I started my full-time job, I had to watch another sexual harassment tape.  (Companies must hire the same video production company to produce their ’80s-style anti-groping propaganda…  Every single video has at least one woman with frizzy hair and Coke-bottle glasses who serves as the object of a mustached man’s affection.)  I also had to fill out several online forms, in which I answered survey questions like, “Should Bob put his arm around Sue?”  And, “Is Sue allowed to kick Bob in the groin?” (My recollection is fuzzy on the exact wording.)

lettermanSo, given my extensive immersion in the rules of sexual harassment, I figured that other places would have similar policies.  Like CBS.  Or, ESPN.  Or… the White House.  Then again, who can say no to Dave Letterman, Steve Phillips, and Bill Clinton?  “Yes, Bob, please put your arm around me.  And more.”

Then again, after witnessing the indiscretions of my fellow summer analysts with their bosses/mentors/HR reps in those ten weeks, I suppose the harassment talk didn’t serve as much of a deterrent during my internship.  And in my current company, work couples (or “inbreeders”) are common.  In fact, if you aren’t dating a colleague, then you’re likely to get laid off; as they say, it’s all about who you know.

brookephillips.jpgClearly, sexual harassment education isn’t working.  We’re still seeing predatory white-haired males hit on chubby young females.  We’re still  dealing with desperate, ladder-climbing women trying to leapfrog from cubicle to front office.

So, what can we do to reform the system?  Should we ban hugs from the office?  Give philandering men an attractive, no-strings-attached, government-sponsored public option?  Or maybe we just need to make better sexual harassment videos… Well, I hear that a writer, a production assistant, and a former TV host (Mr. Personality!) are all looking for jobs… Once we find an unemployed, mustached predator with white hair, we’re golden.

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Work Diary, Sept. 22, 2009: Old School Pants Day

Female, 24, Midtown Manhattan, working in corporate finance.  Career schizophrenic, occasional train wreck, and solicitor of any advice that convinces her to leave finance.

8:15 AM – I wake up late to a John Mayer interview on the radio. I can tell this day is going to be terrible already.

pants8:45 AM – I still haven’t done laundry, so I’m forced to wear a pair of black pants that I’ve probably had since high school.   The pants are made of a lovely rayon/polyester fabric, and they’re from Old Navy.  The bottom hem is completely worn off, but I’m not going to spend more money on a tailor than I spent on the pants.  So, my solution has been to staple the hem together.  Today, I check the pants to make sure the staples are still in (they are!), and I’m good to go.  I always manage to pull off that classy work chic look.

9:00 AM – While I’m walking to work, I often check myself out in the windows that I pass by.  I don’t really know why I do this at all.  I mean, I just saw myself in a full-length mirror 2 minutes ago, when I left my apartment.  Nothing has happened since then.  And it’s not like I’m going to see my reflection in the window of Bagel Stix, become startled at the look of my makeshift stapled pants, and then turn back home to change.  It’s not gonna happen, even if it should.

Chitty9:30 AM – At work today, I have to train a group of IT folks on one of the weekly reports I put together.  When I was in LA, I had to train two Indian gentlemen on how to run expense reports.  It was going fine… until one of them told me that he used to go online and pretend to be a 15-year old girl.  It was hard to concentrate on T&L after that.  So needless to say, I’m pretty wary when training people.  However, no one seems all that creepy today, even though there is one guy whose last name is Bang.  I wonder if he’d ever name his child something like “Big” or “Chitty Chitty.”

healthychoice4:15 PM – I miss a meeting to discuss the company’s changing healthcare plan.  But apparently, the new benefits plan is called “Health Choice.”  Is it just me, or did we get lazy when naming this new plan?  Will we be getting medical advice from Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her Tomato Chicken Café Steamers?

5:12 PM – My co-worker informs me that it’s my turn on Facebook Scrabble.  I have six vowels and an G.  Could this day get any worse?

6:49 PM – Before I leave, I forward along two resumes to my HR rep.  Misery loves company.

TOTAL: Six IT professionals trained, three incidents of near violence due to work frustration, one sweet respite thanks to Facebook Scrabble, one old healthcare plan replaced, one new Healthy Choice plan gained, and zero staples lost, all in a day’s work.

 

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Breaking Down the Professional Learning Curve

When you start a new job, you’ll always have a learning curve. For the  most part, regardless of where you work and what you do, these curves take on the same trajectory:

This is HR.

This is HR.

Orientation: On Day One, you’ll fill out paperwork, watch a company slideshow, and get welcomed by smiling, amiable HR representatives.  Orientation is always full of enlightenment surrounding arcane company policies and sexual harassment no-nos.  Example: Hugs and kisses in the office are generally discouraged, although exceptions can be made for foreign clients and the CEO’s hot secretary.  Handshakes and man-on-man butt slapping are OK.  Catcalling and outright groping are cause for termination, except when it happens during sales meeting at Flash Dancers (then it’s just good business practice).

High on acronyms, integrity speeches, and excitement/nervousness for starting a new job… Low on actual learning

monkey

This may be you.

The Grace Period: In the first few weeks on the job, you’re allowed a certain grace period to become acclimated with what your role actually entails.  This may involve learning about VLOOKUPS in Excel, copying and pasting charts in Powerpoint, or working the coffee machine in the kitchen.  In some cases, you may think a trained monkey can do your work.  In other cases, perhaps a fifth grader with terrific Powerpoint skills would suffice.  Either way, by now you’ll be able to tell whether you’ll like your job, or if you’re going to hate your life.

High on Microsoft Excel/Powerpoint/Outlook, subtle recognition of official company colors and fonts, becoming acquainted with IT, and finding where the best lunch place is… Low on actual thinking

Settling In: It’s been a few months now, so you’ve become supremely aware of what your company actually does.  You’ve learned the acronyms, discovered the fastest way to the office, and categorized your co-workers: who is good at their job, who is bad at their job, and who will likely become the new sexual harassment case study for HR.  You’re working hard and hustling: it’s about getting noticed, getting praised, and getting paid.

High on productivity, systems and processes, boss’ personal history… Low on time spent with family and friends

buttslapSettling Down: By now, you’ve slogged through the 100-hour weeks, impressed your boss several times, and likely violated an HR policy during a company party gone bad.  You’re accustomed to all the random nuances of your day-to-day activities, allowing you to spend more time thinking about networking, promotions, and your next career move.  Or, for the less-ambitious types, this time affords you greater opportunity to procrastinate, go to happy hour, and talk about what happened on Lost.

High on drinking, Hulu, and visits with HR… Low on excitement

Once you’ve reached this stage, some might be content to stay in their current role, stake out a comfortable seat on the company org chart, and tuck in for the next 35 years.  Others may want to get a new job, get a new challenge, and go through this whole cycle all over again.  Personally, with my career schizophrenia and general aversion to settling down, I’m more inclined towards the latter right now.  I’d like to play the field, because I want to keep learning, keep hustling, and keep getting butt-slapped.  After all, it’s good business practice.

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When Your Job is Like an Episode of The Office

dundermifflinOftentimes there are moments at work when I think that I’m living an episode of The Office. Although I’ve never run an employee over with a car, embarked on an interoffice romance, or staged a suicide to rally my co-workers, I’d argue that some of these moments are Dunder-Mifflin worthy: (And sadly, they are all true.)

  • Forced to dress up a life-size, cardboard cutout of my former boss for Easter. I’m not sure what’s worse: A) Spent $13 at Staples to pick up markers and poster board… B) Spent $120,000+ on my college education, only to regress to fourth-grade arts and crafts… C) That my boss has a life-size cardboard cutout of himself.
  • Asked by a man dressed as a vampire if I wanted candy. In the office… in the middle of June. Apparently the people who run our employee blood drive have a strange sense of humor.
  • romance-novelGot hit in the face by a Frisbee. A director in my old group enjoyed knocking out light bulbs with Frisbees. One time, my face got in the way.
  • Attended an employee retreat where an HR rep told us, “The company owns you.” This was in response to a question about switching functions. Apparently it is not encouraged.
  • Found some interesting material left in the shared printer. It seems like one of my co-workers wrote romance novels while at work… with herself as the main character.

Given that art appears to imitate reality, perhaps there’s something to Michael Scott quitting his job on The Office in favor of a startup. Some worthy startup ideas in a recession?

  • unionratManufacture giant inflatable rats: With businesses cutting back on unionized (ie. more costly) labor, expect to see more inflatable rats appearing across the country. In fact, they might need a whole family of giant hideous rats to cover all of Detroit.
  • Invest in dive bars: We might be cutting back on clothes, entertainment, vacations, and even food, but people have to get their alcohol somewhere…
  • Sell your soul… literally: There used to be a kid in high school who would go around and buy people’s souls for $5. One time he even offered up $20. Although I never sold him my soul (I was holding out for $40), I’m sure plenty of people could use $20 in this economy. So if this kid isn’t living on the streets yet, I’d track him down…

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