Perhaps the most dreaded phrase today is “We’ve sold the company!” What happens after that may be well-known to most employees—those who survive a merger and those who don’t. If you are older and staring a layoff in the face, you know that it may be difficult to find another job quickly because of pervasive but subtle age discrimination. Can you write a scannable resume that will put all of your experience into a database? Are you a single parent in need of a job with no work experience? Is your supervisor stressful? Do you have a mentor? Do you need venture capital if you have an entrepreneurial spirit? We too were caught in mergers, layoffs, downsizings, restructures, and the other over-used euphemisms and wrote about it to help others. You may find yourself and your manager (competent or otherwise) within this book. You are a uniquely talented individual—do not diminish your talents.
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Barnes and Nobles
Philpott - Author
Great News We've Sold The Company covers most aspects of getting employed, getting re-employed, or staying employed depending on your current and/or future status. We have run the gauntlets of sending countless resumes to the Human Resources Departments of small and large companies in response to ads only to have our natural rhythms rudely interrupted with a very occasional kinder and gentler letter of rejection. The rejection letters are usually so kind and gentle that somewhere in the flowery and superfluous rhetoric was an inference that some other candidate got the job.
Some rejection letters go into detail, i.e., “your experience does not meet the situation in our industry at this time,” or the worst and most often used phrase in the job world – “You’re over-qualified!” The next time some Human Resources Representative uses that term on me, I hope to vomit on their desk or fake a heart attack in their office. A statement such as this usually means they did not realize how strong a candidate you are and they are worried about their own position. This could be grounds for a complaint of discrimination since it seems to go against the law about hiring the person best qualified for the job. Are you in a protected class? Are you the best qualified? Check it out!
I have often worried about being over-qualified or even just being qualified for the position. But at my age, I don’t want to be under-qualified. My resume seemed to fit what the company was looking for and that’s why I mailed or emailed the damned thing to them for consideration. You assume the employer would prefer someone over-qualified rather than barely qualified.
Ever received a flowery rejection letter? If so, this book’s for you. If not, there’s one in your mailbox. It’s for you anyway, as you may need to know how to read, write, and interpret a rejection letter if you should end up in the Personnel Department. As “Dirty Harry” Callahan (Clint Eastwood) said in one of his productions, “Only assholes work in Personnel” – he was being sent there for punishment for wasting some armed robbers in a liquor store.
For openers, we begin with a section about Writing Effective Resumes that will get attention. We have considered that a Resume may be read by a cold and heartless electronic scanner to a Resume that may be read by a cold and heartless Human Resources Representative, or, if you really luck out, a Human Resources Clerk. I can say this because I used to be one of those Human Resources Representatives, however I had a heart, a conscience, knew the laws governing equal opportunity, and had a sense of fair play. Plus, I understood the laws to mean that you hired the person best qualified for the position without regard to his or her age, religion, race, national origin, handicap, veterans status, or any other legally protected status. That is the reason I now have the opportunity (a euphemism for being unemployed) to write this book.
During the recession of the 1980s the Wall Street Journal had an article about joblessness caused by the oil bust and there was reference to a group called MADMUPs. This was an acronym for Middle-Aged, Downwardly-Mobile, Underemployed Professionals. Then it was cute, but now that I am a non-paying member of this organization, it ain’t so damn cute.
We have blended some of our real-life experiences, from the sublime to the outrageous, to inform, educate and provide support to anyone “clawing their way into or out of middle management.” We included concepts as abstract as Equal Employment Opportunity, occasional Equal Employment Opportunity practices, interviewing and discharges. We have even included questions that you may be asked and questions that you may want to ask during an interview. We also discuss the concept used by very weak and inept management called “At-Will Employment.”
We discuss compensation, overtime, and some of the laws under FLSA that help regulate these areas. We discuss some of the pitfalls of taking cash for work performed so you can “cheat the government” and how that practice will come back to eventually bite your buttocks leaving nasty scars.
Ever had deductions made from your pay because someone else stole cash from the cash box? We cover it. We even tread the thin crust of performance reviews and merit reviews and some of our experience in this area and how management has been ill prepared to meter out either.
If you have ever been injured on the job and the office culture indicated that it would be prudent not to file a claim, we discuss the pros and cons of filing a First Report of Injury and the consequences to the employer should they decide that your filing constitutes a “foul ball!”
If your age has plateaued at one of those magical, mystical and imaginary levels as ours did, then we have something in here for you. You don’t have to give up the ship yet – as John Paul Jones said, “I have not yet begun to fight!” You don’t have to start a fight, but if it comes to a fight, you do want to be able to finish the fight.
We discuss the “culture” of some companies. This is a just another way of telling you how management personalities within a company behave or misbehave. There is definitely life outside the corporation, so keep on trucking! You are not allowed to park yourself on the shoulders of the highway of life.
Even though we are not behavioral scientists, we discuss how to keep your cool and maintain a professional demeanor while your immediate supervisor(s) loose all semblance of their kinder and gentler behavior and reveals his or her true personality traits.
We have seen people hook their career wagons to others that seem to be rising above the din of the monotony and tedium of everyday corporate life and then begin to burn up when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere after their star begins to fall.
We go where the faint of heart dare not go and talk about motivation. We talk about what it is, who creates it, why, or vice versa. We tell what some companies do to promote motivation within their own ranks whether or not it works.
It is said that the topics of politics, religion and sex within the corporation are to be avoided. Moreover, you are not allowed to quote any lines from Seinfeld! We know that and we have some interesting views and experiences. These actually come from large national corporations that say such behavior is not to be tolerated – it is an issue of respect! That is what is taught new employees during orientation, however, as they work themselves into the culture, they begin to see the opposite is true.
We have included a number of stupid human tricks for your own reading enjoyment. You could call it humor without uniforms, but we all wear a uniform whether is real material or just the thin veil of the corporate culture. To paraphrase FDR, “The only thing some companies have to fear is hypocrisy itself.”
The Corporate Culture got us in more trouble than we could ever discuss or even want to discuss in written format. You cannot be yourself at most places of employment unless you work at a fish market in Seattle.
You will find that the good parenting skills that your parents used on you are not worth spit (according to the corporate culture) - Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book about raising children can be officially tossed. He didn’t have any children anyway. It is easier to direct the activities of others especially if you have no practical or real experiences, and when you have no clue about the long-term effects of your wise counsel.
After you have read this tractate by us redactors, you will have increased your word power and your knowledge of how some of America’s finest corporations and people really operate.
Since we have only been displaced by a few companies we cannot provide you with an all-inclusive view of the dark side of people or corporate life. But we feel corporate life is pretty much the same regardless of the corporate name and logo under which you are employed.
You can spin off the ladder and land on your head or your feet. You can get fired, and discover that it was the best thing that could have ever happened to you. We discuss some of the angst that you may feel while “between jobs.”
We discuss how to negotiate a severance package for yourself and what rights you will have to give up in order to get a deal that you like, or that you may not like. Good or bad deal – it all depends on your circumstance and your status as a member of a protected class.
We included a section about Unemployment Benefits & Unemployment Hearings and, worse case scenario, appealing a Disqualification of Unemployment Benefits.
And finally, we discuss your life after corporate America has left you standing on the side of the highway of life with a cardboard box of your favorite possessions in one hand, scratching your head with the other, and wondering what the hell just happened. The odds are that you did not do anything wrong, you just happened to be in the way of someone else. You have options and you have activities to begin, so put your nose to the grindstone and brace yourself. Now is the time your resilience and bounce will be severely tested so stick out that hitchhiker’s thumb and get with the program – your own program.
So, Why Do SOBs Rule Corporate America? Vanity, ego, control freaks, power crazy, money crazy – these are only clues that I am providing, only they can answer that question. The rest of us that have survived our time in Hell can only speculate as to what drives them to screw up our lives. They don’t care who or how many they hurt, or what the consequences of their decisions are. Their sole purpose for living, as they see it, is to improve the bottom line of the company and the shareholders’ equity at any cost so that when they are given their pink slip they will find a golden parachute attached to it. The corporate bottom line becomes more important to them than your life.
WHO / WHAT ARE CORPORATIONS LOOKING FOR?
Some large companies may no longer want experienced employees as managers because their length of service may have created higher than average wages, and more costly benefit and retirement packages and if a company is trying to posture itself to be sold, one way to appear attractive to another buyer is to have low payroll costs. Companies are also concerned about greater risk of major and/or pro-longed illnesses with older employees.
However, these same companies hire their retirees as “provisional or temporary employees” because they provide a reliable and experienced workforce at drastically lower payroll costs and without the expense of company-sponsored benefits.
How we got into this position in Corporate America is not so complex and it may be based on the history of one of America’s largest corporations. Upon the founder’s death his grandson took control of the company and hired a man considered to be a financial genius. Later on this man and his buddies earned the title Captain Jack’s
Ivy-League Whiz-Bang Kids when he and his colleagues became Presidential Cabinet Members. This person brought in his own team of self-absorbed accountants / financial analysts / consultants and in a relatively short period of time changed the philosophy and the ethical conduct of the company, its culture, and the general direction of most large companies, i.e., producing “X” quantities must result in “Y” outcomes; acquire, be absorbed or disappear. They made a few mistakes in the selection process for equipment for which they had absolutely no first hand knowledge. Their arrogant attitude led to the deaths of many young American soldiers when it came to the M-16 Rifle and its ammunition. One of their theories was that shooting “X” number of
M-16 ammunition must result in “Y” numbers of enemy casualties. That may work in a sterile controlled environment but on the battlefield it won’t. He later wrote a book to apologize for his mistakes and probably another chunk of money because of his fatal mistakes – fatal for others. This could have been prevented if they had listened more carefully but then sometimes too much education, pride, power and arrogance gets in the way of right decisions.
The big question that was often heard when my employer was about to be consolidated, merged, acquired, etc., was this, “Is the new CEO an accountant/bean-counter?” If the answer was yes, then we knew that the only concern about the company was “return on investment – return on invested capitol - stockholder’s earnings” and a vast array of financial spreadsheets.” The people that made the company generate profits were often left in the dust cloud created by a whirlwind of planners’ spreadsheets, financial analyses, multiple scenarios of financial what-ifs and multi-faceted corporate reorganizations.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking that you are immune or possess some special skill, higher education or hold a title that places you in a different category than the other employees. We are all susceptible to systems employed by companies to increase the appearance of productivity and revenues, to make costs seem much less than reality (but 11 billion dollars – WorldCom accounting – only the United Nations can top this one), or to cut costs (payroll and benefits is usually the biggest cost for an employer), which equates to your existence as an employee!
Doing a good job is not enough! Being a nice person is not enough (being nice means you may never be able to merge into speeding traffic)! Being smart is not enough! Being well educated is not enough! To advance or even remain employed requires job knowledge, experience, skill and awareness of your surroundings and the players within it. In other words, knowing who can and will help you and your career; who can but won’t help your career; or worse, what person may deliberately attempt to sabotage you and your goals in order to further their own objectives.
The old school of The Golden Rule and other now apparently out-of-date concepts once taught to attain business success have evolved into a new and different type of ball game! The key for success is acquiring the knowledge necessary to survive in the midst of your equally ambitious co-workers and to be aware of the games that are being played.
Some of us have probably sat at the same desk in the same building for the last ten years, but have had three or more different employers; five or more different supervisors/managers that were usually a generation younger than ourselves, if we were lucky! And then maybe some of us got real lucky and were down-sized and forced to find a better job, or we created a better job or perhaps we opened our own business. Sometimes when a door is about to close or closes another door opens. Make sure you can see both when they happen and then make that leap of faith.
“Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick!”
- G.K. Chesterton 1874-1936
Most of us know what it is like to work in a department where you are twice or almost three times the average age of your coworkers. Your younger co-workers have no idea how silly and childish they may seem to you and vice versa. The more experienced the employee is the more emotional maturity they possess. Maturity usually manifests itself in regular attendance, dependability, productivity, responsibility, helpfulness, job-knowledge, consistent and solid ethical behavior.
If you have been laid off, down-sized, involuntarily early-retired, displaced, reorganized, right-sized, redesigned, restructured, retitled, reduced in force (RIFd), job-redesign; job eliminated, just plain fired, or your job description has been changed along with a reduction in your pay grade it only means that the Board of Directors, CEO or COO were not effective in their responsibilities. Usually their ineffectiveness costs you and many others their jobs. It may also mean that your CEO has a brother-in-law in the outplacement business. Or even better, the outplacement agency has your company’s Christmas party picture negatives.
“Don’t take it personally.” That is what I was told to tell people when I had the unfortunate task of being the last one in the corporation to speak to them while I walked them towards the front door with their desk toys in a cardboard box.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
I don’t want to downplay the importance of doing a good job, but sometimes knowing how to play office politics is more important. This is antithetical to what Peter Drucker was saying about “doing the right thing versus doing things right.”
Moreover, it may be more financially beneficial for you to learn and practice the politics of the corporate culture than to do a better job. That is a sad indictment for the workplace environment of today but in light of recent revelations from Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom, Tyco and others of their ilk, but perhaps the “shoe fits” very well. Would like to wear these shoes home?
If you become aware that a target may have been nailed to your backside, or that your work is suddenly under closer than usual scrutiny, go with your hunch. A co-worker/friend/new manager probably nailed a target to your back and you may have little time for loyalty to anything or anyone except yourself. Besides, loyalties went out during the 70s when the “me-first” generation entered the workforce. Now may be the time to cut a deal for a severance package with the corporation if you feel it may be possible. If you know when and how to”hookup and stand in the door” (airborne), you will survive the drop and the walk through the valley of long corporate shadows.
Learn to develop a keen sense of timing; it will never let you down. Once an authority figure begins to question your presence on their payroll, it is time to hookup, stand in their door and see if there is some way to negotiate a departure (I leave now and you make me an offer of severance). And if it looks to them that if you may be leaving, they may actually appreciate “what you are doing for them!” Remember this, after you have had some real life experience and have gained some pretty good insight about the corporation for which you work - go with your hunch!
Having survived several (not all) of the aforementioned and being the recipient of some “fragging” incidents, several fellow veterans of the corporate valleys of long shadows and I decided to share some of our experiences.
You may call them “the good, the bad, and the ugly” with anyone that may be learning about corporate gamesmanship, or that may experience it in the future. And if that don’t fit your pistol, you may call us the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I had a coffee mug that had a very prophetic message printed on the side (where else), “The time to look out, is when things look up!” If I could attribute this to someone, I would.
GROWING IN WISDOM
When your hair has grayed, you’ve put on a few extra pounds, and your immediate supervisor is old enough to be your youngest child, your career may be wrapping up sooner than you desire. It’s time to take the bull by the horns and work out a deal (negotiate for some severance pay and some extended benefits if possible) with the people you have made successful. Take what you can and move on. It will be their loss, not yours. Plus, they may want to hire you back because of your job knowledge and the fact that you won ’t require any training time.
Their loss could become your gain. If you have become “irreplaceable” and have done an outstanding job in your position you may now be “un-promotable.” So much for loyalty. As my late grandmother would say, “Here’s to me, and here’s to you, and here’s to a world of laughter. I’ll be true as long as you, but not a moment after!” An honest and more prophetic statement may never have been spoken.
Several years ago I was asked, during an interview, what I thought about the lack of loyalty in today ’s workforce. I said, “As long as employees perceived (perception is stronger than truth) that the company was being loyal to them; they would be loyal to the company.” That interviewer was looking for a more politically correct answer or the answer that fit his own definition of loyalty. Open mouth and change feet one more time. As it turns out this rejection was in my favor as this company and two of its competitors were acquired by another company and most of the administrative and executive staff were laid off within three years, even though the seven people that I interviewed with gave glowing reports about the growth strategy for the company. They did not realize HOW the company was going to grow as the owner had “forgotten” to include them in planning his growth strategy.
Loyalty – a short and cold definition: I work for you for a week and you pay me for that week of work. We are now even – the slate has been cleared. One hit, one run, and no one left on base. The game is now over.
Employees and employers often confuse obligation with loyalty - loyalty can be subjective and an abstraction.
This may be how it is with some employers or this may be how it will be in the future. You work for me and I pay you for your work and that is all there is to the equation – we are even. This would be the no “frills” approach to employment – kind ‘a like flying on Southwest Airlines. Did you get your bag of pretzels? Want another one or will you first need some milk?
I had one of those “organizer/timesaver notebooks” paid for by the company ($400 for a loose-leaf notebook/calendar and attendance at a one day seminar to learn how to use it – a bargain at twice the price!) that was supposed to help you organize your time. Each page had a catchy saying written at the top and a lot of lines for keeping all those important appointments, meetings, lunches, and what does my wife want me to pick up at the store on the way home? One of those sayings at the top of the page was attributed to the late Dag Hammarskj öld: “Never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny your own experience or convictions.”
If you do what Dag suggests you will probably land outside the main office doors on your face and headed towards your car with your personal effects inside the cardboard “departure” box. “Wisdom” phrases such as this may be antithetical to the real direction of your boss or the culture of your department or your employer.
Plus it smacks of individualism and may be seen only as a challenge to their limited authority. It sounds good, but only on paper or after you have retired (or have been “early” retired). Plus Dag’s phrase may be understood to be contrary to “team-work” and downright revolutionary and un-American. But wasn’t Dag Norwegian?
Teamwork can work as long as all involved are willing to contribute to the overall goals without the ever-present ego creeping into the scene. It’s difficult to separate your own individual growth plans and career goals when you are trying to be part of a team. We all want credit and recognition for our efforts but as a team member
we also need to give up some of our self in order to satisfy the team goals. An experienced and mature manager can operate effectively within this paradox. If your supervisor has difficulty working within this paradoxical envelope and you have better things in mind for yourself and your future you should seek another venue for employment.