"We think you're great and we'd love to offer you the job," the woman on the phone told me. She trailed off momentarily before resuming again, "but we're not sure there's any way you can take it. But, we thought, 'maybe she has a rich husband.'"
My friend Rebecca and I have an expression for when someone says something at work that immediately makes us react with defensiveness, anger, or frustration. We call it "getting a puffy tail." (Yes, we are cat owners). As in, "When my boss said I’d have to redo the report I just finished, my tail puffed so hard…"
It started with my interview, to which I wore a "nice" black T-shirt, jeans, and sparkly sandals that I borrowed from a friend of mine named Lessie. I was 22 years old and had no idea what I was doing.
"Why do you want to leave your current job?" my interviewer asked. I froze. It wasn’t a strange question, but I was 22, at my first proper interview for a job in the marketing department of a weekly magazine, and I had not prepared adequately.
In many respects, the skills that we learn in school are not very good preparation for work. Success at work often doesn't involve being obedient, following instructions, or even necessarily completing assignments on time (all the abilities that school achievement is built on). There is one way, though, in which being in school and being in the working world are quite similar: having to collaborate and work closely with different, sometimes non-compatible, personalities.
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg describes an encounter with a woman she works with: the women describes wanting a mentor that is willing to meet with her once a week for an hour to talk about her career. Sandberg responds: "No, that’s a therapist."
About five years ago, I was considering making a major career shift. I’d been working at a job I liked for several years, but the industry I was in did not excite me the way my volunteer work in animal rescue did. I’ve loved animals since I was a kid; the volunteer work filled me with a sense of purpose, and seeing the immediate outcome of my work (deserving animals going to good homes) made me feel deeply satisfied. It seemed obvious I should try to get paid to do it. I began looking for jobs at shelters and humane societies, but the more I applied and interviewed—even to the point of being offered a job—the less enthusiastic I became about making the change. I’d wanted this forever. Why was I hesitating?
I am a very self-motivated and occasionally anxious person, which means that at work I'm often in good shape in terms of my to-do list while simultaneously feeling quite worried about getting everything done. As I've gotten further into my career and taken on more responsibility, I've also worked longer hours, and have started to use more of my free time to think about work, to respond to emails in off hours, to delay outside interests, and to sacrifice good habits (like getting more exercise or making time for breakfast). This soothes the consistent feeling that I am somehow not doing enough.
Reaching out to complete strangers to ask them for help is something we all have to do from time to time.This essential skill is something few people feel comfortable doing. It can feel both futile and presumptuous. How do you get attention and input from a busy person who doesn’t know you?