Our Take: It's Not About You

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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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