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Our Take: It's Not About You

You'd never walk into an interview or start a new job wearing a sign on your forehead that read, "I don't belong here." Yet, that's the attitude some people seem to bring to the job-search process.

In response to my Sept. 25 column about professionals who publicly admit settling for jobs they consider less desirable, an eFinancialCareers user posted this skeptical comment:

"So we can assume that every executive needs to be absolutely enthralled and 'passionate' about, say, ACME widget corp? Or working at American Standard's urinal division? Online Phonebooks.com?" The commenter, whose handle was "Drew", added he's known lots of successful, effective leaders who manage to execute and move product without being gung-ho 24-7 or "doing cartwheels on the way to every meeting."

The answer to Drew's questions is a straightforward "Yes." Most employees at the firms he named probably are very enthusiastic about their company and its products. That's certainly true of executives, even middle managers, and anyone in sales. If they didn't believe in what they were doing, they could neither get nor adequately perform their job.

If You Don't Feel Passion, At Least Fake It

Most eFC users are mature enough to chuckle at the notion that there's something inherently uncool about working for a company that sells "widgets" or bathroom fixtures. Indeed, recent events make it painfully clear that many people hold financial services firms in contempt akin to what Drew feels for bathroom-fixture makers. Such people are free to not work in our industry - just as Drew is free to avoid working for companies that make widgets, bathroom equipment, online phone directories or women's magazines, or in any employer's human resources department. (His comment concluded with a disparaging reference to the Ladies' Home Journal and the HR profession.) That's the beauty of capitalism: No authority tells you who to work for.

Even if you're not passionate about a particular job, it's wise to act as though you are. That goes triple when you're not already on the team, but are seeking to join it. "Passion" (for the industry, the company and the job) represents 40 percent of what hiring managers rely on to choose among candidates they've interviewed, IT leader Todd Zebert wrote recently. Cultural fit makes up another 50 percent. So when you walk into that interview, you'd damn well better be gung-ho.

You needn't take Zebert's or my word for it. Just ask management guru Tom Peters. In Search of Excellence, published more than 25 years ago by Peters and co-author Robert H. Waterman Jr., convinced the world that a strong corporate culture is critical to the success of any large company. To see how important corporate culture is today in separating winners from losers, just compare Goldman Sachs with Citigroup.

Work Is About Satisfying Other People

Of course, even if you show passionate commitment to a current or prospective employer, you can't count on them to reciprocate. The paternalistic corporation, which espoused some family-like duty of loyalty toward its staff, vanished decades ago. Yet managements never stopped expecting employees to profess loyalty to their company.

I'll bet Holden...oops, I mean Drew, finds that gap disgustingly hypocritical. Good: That makes one less person out there who can realistically compete with you for an open job. His attitude qualifies for the career-management equivalent of a Darwin Award, handed out each year - usually posthumously - to people who improved the gene-pool by accidentally removing themselves from it.

Never forget that obtaining and performing a job isn't about you and your needs. It's about anticipating and fulfilling the needs of others - specifically, your manager, work group, and the entire organization.

Here's a final bit of anecdotal evidence relayed by Mark Feffer, eFC's U.S. managing editor. Many years ago, he heard of a woman who accepted a great job offer from Gillette. After shaking hands with her manager-to-be and walking to the door, she casually remarked, "I never thought I'd end up spending most of my career hawking deodorant."

The job offer was withdrawn.

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AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • Jo
    Jon Jacobs
    29 October 2009

    Alex,

    Your question isn't off-topic. Yes, we have looked a little bit at the question of alternatives to interviews as a selection method. Unfortunately, the alternatives look even worse than interviews, from the candidate's standpoint.

    Most people I've seen who dismiss the value of interviews (in Web articles and comments, at least) are "pre-employment testing" vendors tooting their own horn.

    They're not urging employers to focus on skills, though. After all: employers are their prospective customers; and no one who enjoys food and water ever tries to tell their customer how to conduct business. No, these testers fall right in with the employer's agenda to select for personality and congeniality and cultural fit and other psychological factors. They hire a team of shrinks to write tests that claim to measure those things. See: Psychological Testing: A Primer for Job Applicants.

    The other main alternative is the job "try-out," which you alluded to. Let's hope the balance of power won't continue to move so lopsidedly against job seekers that this intolerable arrangement can gain ground. In my opinion, only if the recession becomes permanent could employers reasonably expect candidates to accept offers of "jobs" on a trial basis with any frequency.

    - Jon Jacobs, eFinancialCareers News staff

  • Jo
    Jon Jacobs
    29 October 2009

    Drew,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, which marks something of a historical first. It's far more typical to see someone called over an initial snarky comment respond not with serious observations that add value to the discussion (as you just did) - but with more snark.

    Perhaps the 50/40/10 scale, with just 10% for "ability" (as fleshed out in Zebert's blog post and in our first headline link under "Related Content"), exaggerates the weighting that hiring managers assign to fit and passion. Perhaps not.

    Your suggestion that hiring authorities' obsession with factors other than ability is materially harming actual corporate performance is an interesting one - perhaps worth examining as a contributing factor in the financial system blowup.

    Remember, though, that the dominance of "office politics" - personal agendas, "fit" (sometimes a euphemism for race, gender or age discrimination) and small-group allegiances - at the expense of pure technical skill, has been drawing notice (and complaints) for longer than anyone can remember. It's here to stay. And as a career management site, we aim to help our users not only endure it, but (with apologies to William Faulkner) prevail.

    - Jon Jacobs, eFinancialCareers News staff

  • Dr
    Drew
    29 October 2009

    I'm certain you won't print this comment, either, but if hiring decisions are "40% passion" and "50% fit" then approximately 10% is left for all other factors such as education, training, experience, ethics, honesty, skills, endurance, discrenment, industry-specific knowledge, and professional contacts.
    Small wonder so many corporations are having problems with execution, if the above statements are true. Perhaps this is the true Darwinian struggle - the passionate versus the cognizant?

  • Dr
    Drew
    29 October 2009

    I think my comments were misinterpereted, and I certainly shouldn't disparage the HR departments that recruit our talent, protect us from lawsuits, and administer benefits to our people and their families. My apologies to the hardworking, highly qualified people who manage those critical tasks.
    Perhaps analytics and quant modelling, which is my field, emphasizes a dispassionate, critical look at data, facts, and results, rather than outward personas or motivational mantras.
    Obviously it's a bad idea to be glum, negative, or in any way offensive, and it certainly makes it difficult to get through a long day if you don't have some belief in yourself, your company, and your people.
    But technical qualifications, scientific rigor, and skills matter. And all the passion, commitment, and drive in the world won't shield us from office politics, bad economies, lawsuits, or incompetence.
    Holden Cauffield completely lacked skills that anyone in Finance should possess, and obviously (as a troubled teen) would've made a bad employee. But like many of us, he could suss out disloyalty, dishonesty, and fluff - hopefully he found his passions later, along with some usable skills.

  • Wi
    Win Sheffield
    27 October 2009

    As Jon's story illustrates, ignore how you feel about a job at your peril. Most of the time it isn't so dramatic. I see the other end of it when a new client comes to me and says, "I have been getting interviews, but no call backs." When I ask them what they have been applying for, I get an answer like "Well, in this environment, anything I can."

    The problem isn't usually that they can't do the job, it's just that the other candidates can do the job AND they want the job. Employers want employees who want to be there; among other things, they are more likely to stick around.

    Your passion for a job is a competitive advantage. It is worth developing. In this environment, we need all the competitive advantages we can get.

    Win Sheffield
    Career Coach
    www.WinSheffield.com

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