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Gen Y “Unprofessionalism” – It Takes Two to Tango

By Vinda Rao

This morning I read a re-post of a Come Recommended article titled “College Grads Are Getting Really Unprofessional at Work.” It’s predicated upon research from the Center for Professional Excellence and argues that Gen Y-ers are guilty of “excessively utilizing social media at work,” texting “at inappropriate times of the day,” and wearing inappropriate attire to interviews.

I wrote about misconceptions regarding Gen Y/Millennials last month and the intrinsic problem with blanket generalizations. I don’t actually feel that the Come Recommended article is off the mark. The issue here is a matter of unaligned expectations. Startup success stories, or at the very least startup antics, dominate the headlines. The most financially-successful entrepreneur of our generation wears hoodies to business meetings…and while he might draw snarky remarks from the press on a slow news day, it hasn’t cost him anything. Regardless of how you feel about Facebook’s IPO, its outcome will not be influenced by dress code.

The social media criticism is a double-edged sword. Many Millennials are being hired precisely for their technology skills and savvy, and one of the advantages we bring to the table is our level of comfort with social media manipulation. Granted, if a 28-year-old actuary spends all day tweeting out celebrity gossip he or she should be fired forthwith. But if you’ve been hired as a social media, communications, or marketing specialist, navigating and exploiting Twitter is part of your damn job.

The problem with criticizing Gen Y for their lack of professionalism – while I agree wholeheartedly with the accusation – is that we’re getting mixed signals. Professionalism needs to be taught and modeled. Startup culture thrives on being casual and 100% dedicated to one’s company, and one consequence of having employees eat dinner at work and come in every weekend is that they’re going to be wearing jeans and texting their families and friends. When working hours are cleanly defined and there is a clear separation of work and home life, professionalism (as defined by the article in question) is much easier to demonstrate.

By no means am I insinuating that a 22-year-old should get a free pass for looking sloppy at an interview. However, unlike 50 years ago, employers don’t all subscribe to the same definition of “office appropriate.” For my first real job interview out of college I showed up in a Tufts sweatshirt, jeans, and sandals. I had asked my interviewer what I should wear and he told me to be casual. I ended up getting the job and working for this wonderful company for five glorious years. Still, in retrospect, I know my choice of attire was foolish, and I’m thankful that the company’s owners judged me purely on ability and potential.

Ultimately, Millennials need to unlearn some of the behavior that shaped their college experience (dressing poorly, drinking heavily, obsessively staying connected to friends). But for professionalism to truly make a comeback, people need to tone down the hype around get-rich-quick startups. There is zero incentive to adhere to conventional corporate rules if college grads are convinced that they can code a mobile app in their spare time and become millionaires. This wave of amateurishness is a result of the digital economy.

With all that being said, employers need to evaluate applicants not as “recent grads” but as potential assets (or hindrances) to their workforce. If your employee texts his friends during meetings with the CEO and shows up to client events wearing jeans, your problem isn’t that you’ve hired a Millennial. Your problem is that you’ve hired a jackass.

Sensational Headline that Intrigues People

By Vinda Rao

In actively pursuing a new job opportunity, it’s rarely – if ever – an advantage to be humble.

And sadly, there are many cases in which competing for a coveted job involves no meritocracy. Instead, those who shout the loudest, who win social media popularity contests, who pander to the latest fad, stand out from their competitors by literally dominating the headlines…status updates, connections to distant acquaintances that are suddenly “close friends,” even fabricated qualifications.

In today’s job market, sensationalism trumps pure capability (hence our headline). Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater just means that you get coverage in news outlets. Say you did it as a social experiment and suddenly you’re a genius, as opposed to a public menace.

When narcissists ace job interviews and extroverts dominate leadership positions, it’s time to take inventory of the recruiting process. Especially if a company’s goal is to hire people who are right for the job, not just those that talk a smooth game (unless the job function directly involves talking a smooth game…shout-out to my friends in sales).

But what if you’re not in sales, marketing, communications (where you have to be schmoozy to do your job) or software development (where you should be receiving an offer letter in 3…2…1). Then what do you do?

The answer is not “write a great cover letter,” because sadly hiring managers rarely read those. It’s not “have glowing recommendations from your past supervisors” because the people you offer as references are generally people who like you. And it shouldn’t be – not saying it isn’t – about your Klout score.

It’s about showing off. Specifically, showing off your skills in action.

The job application process is starting to look a little too much like the college application process, which has gotten competitive to the point of being buffoonish. We have kids joining every extra-curricular under the sun for the sole purpose of impressing admissions officers. Why? Because admissions officers have stopped looking for applicants who are well-rounded and strong. Now it’s about having a hook.

The more creative and immediate you can be in showcasing your job skills (within reason of course, don’t try to pull this one off), the more likely you are to at least get in the front door. It worked for this guy. And for these people. It seems to work especially well if you’re a designer.

And remember, we mean “skills” – not desperation.

Follow @seriousvinda and @fitiseverything on Twitter.

The “Millennial” Problem

Read the full post

By Vinda Rao

Oh, the Millennial. Not since the Baby Boomer has a demographic been so arbitrarily judged and interpreted solely for the means of purely unscientific entertainment. If you’re tired of reading articles on how to attract and retain Millennials, and why Millennials are spoiled and lazy, and what unbridled stressors were thrust upon them to make them so hardworking/worthless, I breathe alongside you a sigh of contempt.

Can we please stop making normative judgments on a diverse generation of individuals based on pop culture and social media proliferation? I came across a piece in TLNT called “5 Ways to Beat Google, Apple, & Facebook for Gen Y Talent” on recruiting Millennials (in the article, those born between 1977 and 2002 – because the past 35 years are apparently just one giant blur) seemingly hoarded by these popular companies. Paul Dinan, author of the article, who is presumably writing for recruiters older than 35 (hence not part of the generation dissected), contends:

“What’s striking is how Gen Y talent is genuinely motivated in different ways than other generations, and how practical, creative and mature many of their suggestions are.”

Wow! You don’t say. We’re motivated differently than other generations? Agreed – we’re certainly not disillusioned by losing 9 million of our peers in the Great War nor are we actively engaged in building the foundations of industrialization. We’re not the product of any post-WWII baby boom and in no way are we “Silent” or respectful of circumstances beyond our control. Dinan continues:

“For years organizations have paid lip service to the ‘soft stuff’ like values and culture, while investing the real dollars in ‘hard stuff’ like pay and benefits. While writing a bigger check was often a powerful (if ultimately unsustainable) acquisition and retention strategy for Gen X talent, it’s not going to work for Gen Y.

"As authors Strauss & Howe explain in their powerful book, Millenials [sic] Rising, Gen Y are likely to be the Hero generation who solve our current global problems and make the world a better place. They want to build communities, not dominate them. They’re more attracted to big brands with powerful ideas than nation states and jingoistic patriotism.”

That’s a valiant, flattering and overly optimistic estimation of what motivates us, sir. And since there are thousands upon thousands of people both criticizing and ingratiating themselves to Millennials as though we were some type of singularly-minded band of hyper-social robots, I can safely assume my refutation of this account will carry no weight at all.

I can speak only on behalf of a hundred of us Millennials (whose opinions I know are reflective of mine), but please understand that:
— We realize that we’ve had it very, very easy, and we acknowledge that we are incredibly entitled…so entitled that we don’t really know what normal thinking looks like and therefore cannot successfully practice it.
— “Values and culture” are critical elements of workplace fit for more generations than just ours, but make no mistake – “writing a bigger check” is also an EXCELLENT way to attract and retain us.
— Some of us want to solve the world’s problems. Some of us can’t identify Canada on a map. Some of us are saving lives and indelibly improving society. Some of us are totally self-centered and useless.
— We don’t seek out instant gratification because we think we’re special. We do so because it’s all we know and we therefore expect it.
— Plenty of us want to both build communities AND dominate them.
— Doing work that interests us is a pleasure and a privilege, and a rare one at that, but we are not all Kumbaya-chanting love-children who don’t care about salaries and promotions. Some of us are driven solely by the desire for money and titles.
— We’ve been systematically desensitized to what many other generations would consider “shocking” or “rude” behavior because we see it so often and have learned to tune it out, for better or worse. We’re not trying to come across as selfish and ignorant, and yet we do so very well.
— We like “big brands with powerful ideas.” We also seriously dislike them – especially when they become too preachy and totalitarian. The fact that we’ll gleefully go to work for said brands is testament to our love of paying rent and eating food.
— “Jingoistic patriotism” won’t die out with our generation. It will never die out.
— Google, Apple, and Facebook are exciting places to work, offering numerous learning opportunities and a vast landscape for creative/intellectual expression – they also pay well and offer phenomenal perks.
— Idealism is inversely proportional to financial and familial obligations.

Thanks for listening!

Yours sincerely,
A Millennial person

Let’s Get Real

By Vinda Rao

Employees and employers do not see eye-to-eye. In fact, it seems like they don’t even see eye-to-face.

According to a survey of 175 U.S. employers and 240 working professionals conducted by Bernard Hodes Group and reported on ERE.net, company management has a vastly different interpretation of what makes an employer brand attractive to talent. The most startling findings include:
• 25% of employers find compensation important to their brand image versus 64% of employees who feel that it is
• 21% of employers consider job security to be a significant factor in brand integrity compared with 41% of employees

Obviously there’s some “la la la I can’t hear you” dynamics at play amongst the employers in the survey. These organizations are undervaluing clearly attractive brand attributes because they cannot, or will not, prioritize them. After all, as long as they say that compensation and security aren’t important to their brands, talented applicants will take the bait, right? I can’t speak for what motivates strong candidates uniformly, but unless I’m interviewing with a bootstrapped non-profit, getting paid a competitive wage and not getting laid off within a month of joining are pretty damn important considerations.

However, these findings are symptomatic of a far more pervasive problem within the traditional job application process framework – so pervasive, in fact, that one of our primary goals with theFIT is to overhaul employer-candidate communication. Consider the current standard: jobseekers evaluate corporate brand values based on a canned company description peppered with meaningless keywords for search engine optimization. How many times have you read that a company “has a fast-paced, exciting work environment,” or that it “values employees like family.” Or that the company’s success hinges on “collaboration,” “a lack of hierarchy,” a “roll up your sleeves” approach to working, and “high energy” amongst its employees.

Having launched theFIT only a few months ago, employee responses to our workplace culture questions already indicate that the more generic the corporate descriptor, the less progressive the company. What makes me so passionate about theFIT is that I once accepted a position based on an inspiring corporate blurb – “fast-paced,” “dynamic,” “collaborative,” “genius,” “dedicated.” It turned out to be a demoralizing, tremendously misguided decision. Sure it was fast-paced. So fast-paced that people were burning out like moths drawn to a flame.

With theFIT, we’re trying to help companies realize that poor employee alignment costs more than salary and benefits; it can destroy teams, derail development schedules, and damage people’s health. Despite the perception that employees are just in it for themselves and that company management is just trying to cut corners, everyone can benefit from being loyal to each other and being loyal to an organization’s goals. They key is having all the resources to make an informed decision…and find your fit.

Attitude Problem? You’re Hired!

By Vinda Rao

This morning I read an article by Raghav Singh on ERE.net, “Planet of the Apes: Narcissistic Behavior Allows Candidates to Ace Interviews,” and it reminded me of why we started theFIT – to cut through a veil of dishonesty that shrouds interactions between applicants, employees, and employers, and provide an inside look at the workplace.

A study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln placed 72 people with varying degrees of narcissism in interview situations and had their performance evaluated by 222 raters. The raters consistently preferred the overt, self-aggrandizing narcissists over people who made an effort to be humble. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. The defining element of narcissism is self-love, and to deeply believe in one’s own worthiness/superiority is to maintain at least a convincing façade of confidence. A sense of entitlement alongside a proclivity towards arrogance means that, when challenged or refuted, you’re damn right narcissists will fight back.

Humble interviewees, on the other hand, demonstrate a willingness to be proven wrong and to retreat politely when confronted by an authority figure. It’s a sign of respect and compromise, but in short interview settings lacking proper context, it can easily be interpreted as incompetence or weakness. That deference is penalized in job interviews is symptomatic of a much larger problem; it means that the smoother a talker you are, the more likely you are to get a job.

What happens to a company’s culture when it’s filled with narcissists? Nothing gets done and no one gets blamed.

The reason we’re so proud of theFIT is that it circumvents appearances and focuses on inspirations, goals, and abilities. It provides employers with a genuine look into what drives and motivates employees/applicants so that they don’t need to resort to snooping on social networks or falling for an easily manipulated snapshot. In striving for authenticity we’re prioritizing values over artifice.

From theFIT Work Personality Quiz on Facebook: 66% of people would miss their spouse’s company holiday party rather than bail on their best friend’s birthday party…are holiday parties serious business at your workplace? Let us know!

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From theFIT Work Personality Quiz on Facebook: 66% of people would miss their spouse’s company holiday party rather than bail on their best friend’s birthday party…are holiday parties serious business at your workplace? Let us know!

Run a Red Light or Get a Flat Tire?

By Vinda Rao

theFIT’s new Work Personality Quiz on Facebook – Would You Rather? – is as much fun as it is educational. Sure, we’ve designed the questions to be great ice-breakers and entertaining ways for you to learn more about yourself and your friends, but they also reflect your most dominant personality traits. The purpose of these subtle analyses is to determine what drives you and help you find workplaces in which you’ll thrive. We have dozens of questions on Would You Rather and are continuously adding more, but we’ve already seen some surprising results that underscore how we’ve changed as a workforce.

One result that caught my eye was for the Rather scenario, “run a red light or get a flat tire,” and after several weeks of voting the average is currently at 64% opting to run a red light, and 36% choosing a flat tire. While we’re first to admit that getting a flat is an expensive and thoroughly inconvenient problem, when we saw that the vast majority of respondents would rather run a red light than deal with a flat tire, we were curious – and a little concerned. Running a red light puts the driver in control, no doubt, versus a flat tire which is an involuntary circumstance. However, running a red light also endangers the lives of everyone within the immediate vicinity of a stoplight – other drivers, pedestrians of all ages, pets, construction workers. Getting a flat tire will put a hurt on your wallet, but running a red light could kill you and others.

The question made us think about the vantage point of respondents, and try to understand why so many would choose the red light option. The most likely explanation is that being behind the wheel gives people a feeling of control over their surroundings, as though they know that running a red light is bad, but if they’re driving they’ll make sure to do it “safely.” Others might assume that running a red light means gunning it just as a yellow light turns red. In that scenario, other drivers would still have their feet on the brakes, at least for a few more seconds. But the image we use suggests a static red light, a light that would cause law-abiding drivers to come to a stop.

Either way, the red light situation is an issue of both safety and control, and people seem to prioritize the latter above the former. The question could be rephrased as: “would you rather be inconvenienced or potentially kill someone?” But that assumes the worst of human nature, and it’s an unfair judgment. There’s yet another way we could look at interpretations of the Rather scenario. When does the tire go flat? Is it in one’s neighborhood at 20 miles an hour, or on a highway at 80 miles an hour? How likely is it that someone whose tire blows out at high speed on an interstate could lose control of the wheel and crash into another car? Given that the rest of the cars on the road are also moving at a high speed, would a two-car collision spark a wave of crashes that could harm people? Is that a preferable option to running a yellow light that turns red quicker than expected?

The purpose of theFIT is not to be the judgmental schoolmarm of the Internet. We’re here to consider multiple points of view and analyze what each one reflects about a person’s work goals and behavior, using this knowledge to identify companies whose employees think similarly. Adhering to that philosophy, the most “obvious” answers are usually the most telling.

On (Subjective) Victory and Defeat

By Vinda Rao

I recently read Josh Linkner’s transcendent article for Fast Company titled “The Dirty Little Secret of Overnight Successes.” In it Linkner points out that many of today’s prominent startups like Rovio and Pinterest as well as established brands like Dyson and WD-40 took years of constant development before achieving mainstream consumer adoption. To insinuate that their founders became rich without trying and that some concepts are just destined to be viral is disrespectful to the thousands of entrepreneurs and inventors who toil for decades before finally giving up on realizing their dreams.

There’s no doubt that luck plays a huge role in determining whether a product or company finds its audience at the right time. However, dogmatic perseverance despite all arrows pointing downward separates the most successful business leaders from those who are disheartened enough to quit the game. You don’t know when your combination toaster-lithium ion battery charger invention is going to make it big, but if you push it to enough people and stalk enough influencers over a long period of time, you at least raise the odds a bit.

What Linkner’s article ignores, for all its value as an excellent pick-me-up, is the inexplicable. There are good – actually great – ideas that fail. There are visionaries who work unprecedented hours and struggle to pay rent and keep their basement lights on just to bring their idea to fruition, ethical and generous people who lack charisma or who just aren’t quite savvy enough to understand what motivates VCs and customers. There are those who will struggle their entire lives to manifest their passions, and they will be ignored, laughed at, belittled and forgotten by history. You can be the most dedicated and good-hearted of souls bringing a universally-beneficial product to market and you can still fail, and it can knock the wind right out of your sails.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s important to reassure people that even companies that seemingly sprouted out of nowhere necessitated a solid amount of hard work and energy. It gives hope to all of us and legitimizes today’s startup stars – they weren’t handed millions of dollars, they worked for it. But the ultimate reality is that budding entrepreneurs must be comfortable with the idea of continuously failing forward for just a chance at achieving success. But that chance – that distant chance – is what keeps us going.

The Inevitable Demise of the Corporate Lifer

By Vinda Rao

Fifty years ago, being a “job hopper” was a sure indicator of unreliability, untrustworthiness, and immaturity. Jumping from opportunity to opportunity with no plans for building any sort of real tenure was the bane of the unfocused. To stay with the same company for 20+ years was a sign of honor and success; employees were judged by the increasing quality of their corporate loyalty gifts – an expensive watch for 10 years, a set of cultured pearls or diamond cufflinks at 15 years, and onward and upward.

When I discovered that ~70% of theFIT.com members didn’t see themselves at the same company beyond a few years, my initial reaction was “what the hell?” Specifically, “what the hell happened to ‘being a lifer?’”

Three things, actually: the proliferation of consumer technology, a romanticized view of startup culture, and the birth of the “me” generation – the innovators and shapers of the new digital economy. A counter-culture revolution of “us vs. them” provoked by the chokehold of McCarthyism, the Civil Rights movement and the cruelty of the draft forced the U.S. (by no means the definitive arbiter of workplace culture but an accessible subject of study) to release the artifice of “Leave it to Beaver”-like white picket fences in favor of frank, unpleasant reality.

The idea of a single path in one’s career was confining, an instrument of patriarchal hegemony, a value system that stifled freedom and looked down upon creative pursuits. Generation X came to define a more inclusive, merit-based society where those who were previously disenfranchised could compete for the same recognition and opportunities for success. Growing up with Barbara Billingsley serving cookies and lemonade was not the background of everyone – or really anyone – and a willingness to get real and acknowledge society’s flaws empowered new generations to work on tackling these problems.

Changing social mores following the glitz, glamour, and unprecedented excess of the 1980s’ moneyed set undoubtedly contributed to this phenomenon, and not necessarily in a good way. A desire for social progress started disappearing from media headlines, replaced by the joys and exploits of young, sexy, educated financial mavericks making their own rules, ethics be damned.

1987 managed to both introduce Gordon Gekko to the world and subsequently destroy his viability as a role model on Black Monday. Meanwhile, as startup success stories like Microsoft and Apple proved that betting the farm on personal computing as the next wave of industry was actually a really lucrative decision, founding and working at startups ignited the passions of a growing number of ambitious young professionals with their own disruptive ideas. The dot-com boom made many brilliant thinkers barely old enough to drink overnight millionaires, and initiated the idea of first-mover advantage, spurring the exponential growth of Internet businesses.

And even when the dot-com movement went bust, these visionary young entrepreneurs still maintained their greatest assets – a thirst for putting disruptive ideas into action and the energy to follow through on them. So what if your first startup folded? Chance has no memory. Pour yourself into another great idea, get money from VCs, and try again.

The rise of the Internet made the costs of starting a business extremely low and the potential payoff extremely high, supported by the fragmentation of media and democratization of journalism. Anyone with a 56K modem and chutzpah could now challenge veteran news organizations for scoops and influence. And now, niche bloggers can bring brands to their knees by leveraging the value of a captive, loyal audience.

Startup or no startup, people no longer need to feel quite so confined and ‘owned’ by a particular company. It’s possible, even encouraged, to have a career comprised of diverse opportunities and roles. Does your boss verbally abuse you? You can expose him or her in front of an audience of millions. You don’t need to stand for being belittled or ignored. The Internet makes everyone a potential celebrity, whether they deserve it or not.

There’s no doubt that freedom is grand. No one wants to feel trapped or permanently indebted to a person, company, or job description. The workplace transparency we have today is healthy and just. Why stay with the same company for 20 years?

Unfortunately, we’ve emboldened ourselves into another challenge, this time for employers. Forget 20 years, why stay with the same company for 5 years? Why stay with the same company next year? Why stay anywhere? People work longer hours now than ever before and are therefore entitled to have control over the own career path. Culture isn’t a science, and finding your ideal workplace fit can take several tries. Product cycles are so abbreviated now that an employee can be with a company for only six months and leave a lasting legacy – at least until the next rev.

As our FIT results show, employees love being free to pursue their dreams no matter the company. At this point, viewing different roles and workplaces as “stepping stones” is just how it is.

But the demise of the ‘lifer’ is a sad reflection on loyalty to a company’s vision and purpose. If working at a particular business is a means to an end and not the end itself, there will be no more retirement parties and 15-year anniversary gifts. No dedication to one’s company as an extension of oneself. Everything is transitory, and we’re all just here until we find something better.

Would You Rather…Play our Facebook game or visit theFIT.com? YES.

By Vinda Rao

Here at theFIT, we aim to make learning about your co-workers and workplace culture a fun, connected experience, sort of a virtual Happy Hour that’s both entertaining and thought-provoking. Answering anonymous questions about your company is incredibly valuable in helping people determine their ideal workplace fit, but our “Rather” section – where we present users with theoretical situations and have them cite their preference – helps you get to know your co-workers on a more personal level.

For instance, on theFIT.com you can play Rather against colleagues and find out if they prefer to vacation in Vegas or a national park, if they’d rather gamble on winning $1 million or take a guaranteed $10,000, and most importantly – if they’d rather rely solely on Facebook or Twitter. Rather is a great ice-breaker and a dandy way to build team morale.

And being lovers of morale in all its forms, we’ve introduced theFIT’s “Would You Rather” game for Facebook! Now you can play Rather against your friends, whether they work with you or not. See how you stack up against your college buddies; find out if something’s deeply disturbing about what your best friend likes to do; and spend a Saturday night with your special someone cuddling with a laptop. Or if that’s not your thing, cuddling with your significant other in close proximity to a laptop.

Want to spend your lunch break doing “serious research on interpersonal dynamics?” There’s an app for that. We add new questions to the Rather Facebook game and theFIT.com’s Rather section regularly, so keep checking back for fresh updates. And to find out what your co-workers collectively (and anonymously) think about your workplace – from salary to work-life balance and diversity – go to www.theFIT.com.

Here it is, folks. Let us know what you think! https://apps.facebook.com/wouldyouratherthefit/

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