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Advice and Corporate Survival

Being Fired

When you think you're about to be fired (article)

For specific advice, you can attend a meeting or a seminar.

Career Advice

This means doing what you need to do in order to take care of yourself, instead of putting the company's or someone else's needs before yours. One of the Fairies tells us a story about the broken fish filet, and it's great! She said that she was making fish filets for dinner. One of them broke in the pan when she flipped it with her spatula. So she cooked them both, put them on plates, and was faced with the dilemma - should she give the less than perfect filet to her husband, or eat it herself? Of course, if you're female, you gave the good one to your spouse and ate the broken one. Now, when men are asked about this, they say it doesn't matter. They state that they a) wouldn't notice if they got the broken filet and b) didn't ask for the perfect one in the first place - so why are you so upset that they didn't acknowledge your sacrifice? This is where the whole concept of paying yourself first comes in. The company you work for is that guy. They are not going to acknowledge the hard work you put in for them. Or the way you reorganized the files. Or those little extra steps. If you still want to take them, do them for you. Otherwise, do like all the guys around you are doing. They are putting forth maximum effort only for those activities which will pay off for THEM. Feel free to do likewise. That's what human liberation is all about.

When you're looking, but don't want to be caught at it

You should have a cell phone and a pager so that recruiters can get in touch with you during the day. Speed of response is important. Keep that pager on vibrate and ensure it's tucked in a pocket or your purse. No need to tip your hand. Favorite strategies for returning calls during the day are heading down towards the deli on the first floor of the building, hiding in a stairwell (check for other people, sound really carries in a concrete stairwell) or other less trafficked areas, returning all the calls, then actually heading into the deli, getting a fruit juice and returning upstairs. Lunchtime is great; make sure you head off in a direction away from where you usually lunch with co-workers so you're not overheard. Even better is to stagger your lunch earlier or later than usual. You'd be surprised at the percentage of recruiters who take lunch during lunch hours, and leave promptly at five.

How do I predict change?

"What will the stock market do?"
"It will fluctuate." - Financier J.P. Morgan

Faced with the inability to predict specific change, but with the certainty that change is inevitable, what are your strategies? The acquisition of information is a good start. Sign up for e-newsletters with technical news. Read the newspaper daily - starting with the business section, then the front section. This will give you a micro-climate view of your area, and an overall view of the U.S. economy. Watch either the broadcast news or CNN - daily if you can. This way, once you've planned where you are going, it's not as difficult to correct your course should economic conditions change. Usually, when things start to go sour with the economy, you cut back spending. However, the one exception is spending on education, especially professional courses such as Advanced Unix or the MCSE classes. These have an investment effect - when you take them, you are worth so much more the next time you go to look for a job than the amount you spent on the course(s). You can hold off on the new car, but upgrading your skills is always worth the financial gamble.


Confront peers that cause trouble immediately. If you let any time lag between the time they step over your boundaries to the time you enforce them, then they'll do it again. It's just like when a spouse beats you or cheats on you. How do you confront them? Carefully. Please attend one of seminars on Reducing Workplace Insanity and Conflict. Oh, and let's be clear here. You're not going to be reducing conflict in the entire workplace. You're just going to learn how to ensure that the price of confronting you is higher than they can afford - and that they know it.

Cubicle, Sweet Cubicle
Maintain a minimal desk configuration

This is not home, sweet home. You are here to do work. You should have nothing on your desk except what is absolutely necessary to do your job. You don't need photos to do that. You don't need to buy your own desk accessories. This is one mistake that several of the Job Fairies used to make. Then, when there was a sudden downsizing, they got fired, or they wanted to leave with minimal notice, it was difficult to remove all their things. Especially when you want to leave your job, and you have a new one and you don't want to tip your hand - don't have a lot of things on your desk or hanging from your walls. Nothing signals change to the wary-eyed manager that the employee is about to bail when their posters and/or certificates start to disappear. You should not get psychologically attached to your office space anyway. It isn't yours. The computer isn't yours either. None of it is - so don't dress it up. This makes it easier to accept better offers without remorse. The company would have hired someone better than you without a blink had there been a better candidate at the time of the job vacancy. The Shocking Pink Fairy says that setting up her own home office eased a lot of the craving for cubicle personalization. She has all the tools she needs to work from home, and often does.

Make sure that files are copied off your computer no less than weekly

As stated before, the computer at work is not your computer. The company owns it. Your friends should not be sending you humorous e-mails at work. However, if they do, save it to diskette and bring it home. Don't forward it through the company e-mail system. It's all logged. If you acquire pictures, documents, status reports, files that you want to keep on a personal basis, save them to diskette and bring them home. You should be able to go into work on a Friday morning, knowing that if you were to be let go that afternoon, that you would only have to gather up your few personal items, your coffee cup and head out the door. No incriminating evidence to be left behind! Make sure your cache is always cleared. Don't have such incriminating evidence on your hard drive as files on how to crack credit card codes! Every week when you send your boss your status report, make sure you send yourself a copy to your home e-mail using the BCC function. If you have a collection of bookmarks, copy them to diskette and save them. If you code, save relevant examples for either your portfolio or for future code library use. If you're to be let go, you may not have much warning, and you won't be able to get it later. Save it discreetly, but save it now, and get it out of your workplace.

The psychological importance of keeping plastic bags in your desk drawer

Shocking Pink: "I keep several plastic grocery bags in my drawers at work. Why? Because it reminds me that even though I have a "permanent" job, there is no such thing. I have brought a couple of things to work in the plastic grocery bags, and their presence in the drawers every time I open them to get a folder or pens reminds me that I shouldn't get too attached to the place that I work. It keeps me mentally prepared to move onto the next job with a minimum of fuss. Also, it helps me keep workplace issues in their proper perspective. For instance, if a co-worker is being a pinhead about something, I could get upset. Or I can remember that in the grand scheme of things, I am not going to be in this spot all that long, and neither are they. Plus, when I do get downsized, I just plop my things in the bags and sashay out the door. I'm prepared."


Age discrimination (article)

Dealing with discrimination is simple in concept. If you can find a better job - do so as quickly as possible. You just get branded a troublemaker if you stay and make a fuss. Let someone else be the martyr and deal with the stress. Fighting discrimination takes an awful lot of effort and family support. You may not have such resources at your disposal. It's best to pick your battles wisely. You're not Meryl Streep's character in Silkwood. You do not have to correct the injustices of this world. However, if you've got enough at stake, you can't get another job because of economic conditions, or you think you've got a good enough case - contact a lawyer first. Make sure everything that has happened has been documented. See if your witnesses really will stand up for you. Contact the Department of Labor in your state and ask to speak to one of their investigators. It will be you versus the entire company. Companies protect their managers, right or wrong. Even if you're in a union, it will be tough going. Fights like these can cost you in terms of health, your marriage, and your bank account. Make sure the battle will be worth the price that you will pay.

Listening Skills
No one gives a damn about what you have to say

Let's be blunt about it. You can't hear or overhear what's going on if your own yap is flapping. Shut up. That's step 1. Step 2 is to ask questions about your co-workers. Note personal photos, artifacts or any sort of personalization that has been done to their cube. Like the same sports teams they do. Admire their ugly spouse and misbegotten offspring. Let them go on and on about their lives. Nod approvingly. Encourage their loose lips. Don't respond with a similar incident in your life that is like theirs, because this is a different social construct. This person is not going to be your friend. Since you will not be true friends with them (although you may change this stance as you are about to leave the company), what you are trying to do is train them to feed you information. When they tell you things, you reward them with undivided and eager attention, big smiles, and encouragement. Keep it fairly low-key, however, or they will certainly suspect. However, most people have such huge egos and such a need for attention that they will actually believe that you genuinely want to hear what they have to say. Find some situation in which they can be the expert and you can come to them for advice. It doesn't have to be work-related - in fact, often it's better if it isn't. It's a great way to let them feel like a prophet. Just take care not to ask the question in a way that implies a weakness on your part, as in "How do you handle an unruly child"? Better is "Biffy is considering Odyssey of the Mind or Advanced Honor Orchestra at school. Which do you like better"? Remember, whatever you say can and will be used against you in a court of corporate politics.

Co-workers are not there to be your friends

They are there to learn what they can about you and then take you out of commission. They perceive that this reduces competition. Getting work accomplished is the last thing on their minds, and for good reason. She who is in charge is she who makes the rules. And incidentally, orders others around to do the work. If you work for a non-profit, the politics are even more intense, despite the lower salaries. Beware of the oh-so-helpful volunteer. This happened to one of the Fairies years ago while working for one of these sweatshops for college-educated liberals. A volunteer came in, said they would work for nothing, and swiftly became the confidante of the executive director. Soon no one on the paid staff could do right in this person's eyes. Of course, the executive director believed the volunteer - why would one lie when not being paid? It didn't take long for the rest of the paid staff to either find another job or be canned. The new staff that was brought in to replace them didn't last long either. Once the executive director decided to move on to bigger and better things (at the volunteer's ego-stroking suggestion), guess who took the top spot? None other than the ever-present volunteer... who now pulls down quite an impressive little salary, and runs the whole show with a new hand-picked staff - consisting of close friends.

Office Politics

People will get rid of you because they're scared you'll be better than them. Fear is what drives most decisions in the workplace. When you read advice by Mackay, that's why it doesn't always work. There are other factors not taken into consideration. The technical environment is different in some fundamental ways from the sales-oriented market in which Mackay thrives. Plus, he gives advice from a CEO's point of view. But they have most of the power. faces career obstacles from a sergeant's perspective. Skilled enough to offer meaningful advice, but still hands-on and in the trenches. Surviving office politics is the subject of most Job Fairy meetings, where you can talk to those who have been there, done that. Or attend a seminar if possible. One book or website alone is not enough to train you on how to cope with the battlefield that is corporate America today.

On the Job Advice
The Five Finger Discount

If you catch your boss stealing or something illegal of that nature, keep your big trap shut about it. All the standard advice books say to go directly to human resources, but no one likes a snitch, and unless you can do it in a way that ensures you will never be caught, you are dead meat. Moreover, you'll be seen as the troublemaker. Look what happens to government whistleblowers - it's much worse in the corporate world. If you have the stomach to use it to your advantage, more power to you - know your Machiavelli thoroughly and make sure you get what you're after and that you can't be screwed over in return. What you really need to do is move on as quickly as you can. If your boss is unscrupulous enough to be ripping off the company, they won't even think twice about trying to pin it on someone else. That someone could be you. Find the first available job, leave with as little notice as possible, don't grant them an exit interview, and keep looking for a better job. Don't tell anyone that you're looking, either. You'd make the perfect scapegoat if your boss knew that you were on your way out anyway.

I have a jerk boss or colleague. Management does nothing about it. Why?

When bosses or colleagues are a**holes, it is no accident. They are that way because their behavior is valued. The corporate world is based on capitalism, which is a remarkably efficient system. In this model, behaviors which do not contribute to the organization are soon eliminated. Therefore, these traits serve a purpose. But to whom? To their supervisor. If your co-worker is a pain in your prostate, but has been at their job for a while, this is not a coincidence. Your boss values these traits. Either they accomplish something in such a manner that the boss' hands don't have to get dirty, or they are only competent enough to do their job without threatening the boss' position. If your boss is the schmuck, look to his or her boss. There are politics going on above them; enough to make your boss' boss pick a candidate that wouldn't be attractive to those at that higher level. Your boss may be a convenient scapegoat, a distraction that prevents notice of other less savory practices, or someone who can deliver a result even if it means massive turnover. Which won't be of concern to your boss' boss - the turnover isn't occurring directly under him...! Behaviors such as these never occur in a vacuum.

Planning Your Own Career Path

Despite what your boss tells you, they do not have any interest in you moving up or moving on. This only creates a recruiting and training headache for them, because now they have to find someone with your skills who will probably want to be paid more! They are not in business to make life better for you - they are only in it for them. Refer to the career path planning section for additional help.

Red Flag Situations
  • When they promise to hire you by a certain time (contract to permanent) and it doesn't happen
  • When they do hire you, but at much less than previously discussed
  • Change of boss (you didn't initiate)
  • When you suddenly have a lot less work
  • When your supervisors tell you "not to listen to what's going on in the media about our company"
  • When you are selected as "Employee of the Month", your supervisor(s) do not tell you or invite you to the staff meeting where the award would be given, and you find out from some of your co-workers a couple of days later (true story from the Flannel Fairy)

In all of these cases, start posting your resume as quickly as possible. Don't wait too long, hoping things will change. These situations never work themselves out on their own. Get your qualifications out there, get interviews, get an offer and get out!

Starting A New Job

Keep a low profile when new to a job. Let them do all the talking. Stay under radar. Don't dress distinctively, don't do anything that gets you noticed. Fade into the background. Nothing breeds resentment more than the new guy who comes in with a big splash and he's going to kick some butt and take some names. How your colleagues will enjoy it when you trip up and fall flat on your face. People will be stupid enough to help you if they think you are no threat to their little fiefdoms. Identify the "big men on campus", those that are in favor, those that are in power, those that are NOT in power (avoid them like the plague; don't go to lunch with them no matter how nicely they ask), and the office a**holes. There are always a couple. Note who the boss depends on and how much they toady up to him or her. If a boss has a lot of eager brown-nosers on staff, then your new supervisor is the sort of person who encourages (or at least does not discourage) such morale-killing behavior and is insecure to boot. Unless you can accommodate such behavior, you will probably want to keep looking. Refer back to the advice about not quite taking your resume off the job boards until you're sure the job is a fit for you. You spend a lot of time at work; you're entitled to work where you don't dread walking in the door every day.

Status Reports

Keeping your supervisor up to date on your every move is crucial. Without such constant spoon-feeding of information, bosses can feel that you are not doing as they direct. Weekly status reports are a way to ensure that your contributions do not get lost in the shuffle. Take the text file of the status report, and take out the text after each project. Rename Project One, etc. to be the names of all your projects. Save this as a template in your e-mail, titled Weekly Status Report. For each project you are involved in, list all the meetings you attended, and all the tasks you completed. List all the calls if you want - whatever your boss is looking for. For the upcoming week, list only those meetings you want your boss to know about, and only those to-do items that are almost complete. Here is a good place to (discreetly) document that a co-worker's input is critical to your output. Consider this a public document that could get forwarded elsewhere, so no flaming. Spell check thoroughly and when you send it to your boss, BCC your home e-mail address. Months of these are useful fodder for the Accomplishments section of your resume when you go to look for the next job. (Yes, Virginia, there IS a reason why you go to all this trouble. Don't pay someone else without paying yourself FIRST.)

Tools Of The Trade

It's a good idea to have your own; never rely on your company's equipment when looking out for your own interests

  • Pager (with voice mail)
  • Cell phone
  • HTML based e-mail/Outlook Express
  • Regular e-mail with ISP
  • No AOL for techies! - use a Bigfoot account and redirect your mail to the AOL account so you look less like a newbie
  • Open Office is OK (and free) if you can't afford MS Office, but be sure to save files as .doc format.


Join user groups, such as Linux User Groups (LUG) - making sure they're the kind who post their message threads to the web - and ensure you post occasional pithy comments and technical solutions. This helps to build your "reputation". It's nice to have the image of a technical guru - just ensure you don't make the mistake most of them do and leave it at that. Most of them aren't getting paid squat. It also helps to create your own website with JavaScript or other code for people to use. Make sure your name is in the comments part, and ensure that you publicize the URL in your postings.

The Best Work Advice of All

If you're chronically late to your job, you hate it, whether you consciously know it or not. It is time for you to get another job.

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