Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Six Months Goes by Quickly These Days

I've been at my "new" job for six months now. I think I can stop saying I'm new. Although when I attend company offsites (like I did last week) where some of the people I'm meeting have been with the company 9+ years, you do feel like a newbie.

I met some friends for dinner before we left for Tofino and they asked me how it was going. We all grew up in the agency world together even though we've gone our separate (work) ways, so they've known me since I first started out in this career. We've seen each others' highs and lows. When I told them I really liked what I was doing they looked at me skeptically. Than one of them said, "wow, I've never seen you so excited about a job this far in." Sad, hu? But good too, because it's the truth - I really do love my job.

It's funny because in the agency world when you interview - as much as the company is checking you out - they're also trying to sell themselves. With the exception of my first job as an Account Coordinator, I've been very fortunate in that I've never been desperate for a job so you'd think I'd put a more critical eye toward the sales pitch. Unfortunately, there's something ridiculous that happens to me when I'm interviewing: I totally buy-in to the bull I'm being spoon fed. It goes a little something like this:

Your agency is better than my last agency?
Everyone here gets along fantastically?
This is a drama-free zone?
You truly, honestly, really believe in a work-life balance?
That all sounds wonderful. Where do I sign up?

For as cynical as I am about everything else in this world, I want to believe that my next job will be a great one that will inspire me, make me want to deliver great work, give me an opportunity to work with smart, amazing people that are as dedicated as I am ... while at the same time paying me what is a fair wage for what I deliver. Historically, PR is a very low paying career with a lot of underhandedness so more than once I've had to really push for a salary that's on par with my skill and level and that just sucks. I don't want to constantly have to ask for more money because you're not paying me what my friend down the street with fewer years of experience is making. Money conversations suck.

Along those lines, when going in to a job I don't want to haggle about anything - whether it be job responsibility, who I'm going to manage, or what I'll be paid - until we're both so broken down from the process that one of us caves. That creates ill will from the get-go on someone's part, and it's usually the candidate. On your first day do you really want your new employee to be thinking about how they got shafted, but they'll try to make it work because the boss was really sweet during the interview? Do you really want your new hire to be thinking about the other job that offered them $2k more and whether they made the wrong decision.

Let's be honest - money matters. For all the reports out there that say that it's not the most important thing, I say it's one of the most important things. If I can't pay my bills because you're not paying me fair, that's pretty damn important. If I'm just starting out in my career but have to still live with my parents because I can't afford an apartment like the rest of my professional friends, that's pretty important. If I'm 30 and am still renting while all of my friends own homes because I don't make enough to cover a mortgage, that's pretty important. Salary matters and to anyone who thinks you can short-change someone because it's good for your business, you're kind of a dick. Pay people a fair wage without them having to ask and treat them well and see how quickly morale and motivation spikes.

While pay is certainly a huge factor, so is respect and recognition, especially for people that have been doing what they do a very long time and have been successful at it. Not to brag, but the PR programs that I've led have gotten companies purchased. I know this because the clients - and the purchasing company - have told me. And with respect comes title.

On the same day I got my current job offer an agency that I'd been interviewing at for over two months offered me a job at a much lower title than what we'd discussed (and even lower than I'd had for the previous nine months). I was okay with the pay, but they refused to budge on the title, giving me one excuse after another as to why. I never would have interviewed if I had known I'd be taking two steps back in the process. They wondered why I was offended but I had learned they'd never had approval for my level. The whole time I was interviewing for one role they were going along with it in hopes that they'd get me excited enough to take something less once the offer was presented. They failed to show me proper respect and I walked.

What was funniest about this whole situation - when I wasn't fuming mad at someone trying to take advantage of me - was that they were shocked when I told them that I knew many people (people I had recently managed) with three years of experience at that title and that if they wanted someone with eight years of experience, they'd have to give the appropriate title. They didn't have their pulse on the industry and because of it, they lost out on a good candidate. Even worse, now if anyone asks me about the agency, I'm going to give my honest feedback about their hiring practices and what I consider poor ethics.

In this scenario while I stood firm at the moment it mattered most, there were so many red flags along the way about that opportunity that I brushed aside. I wanted to believe that everyone I spoke with was a good, honest human being and that we were all in it for the same reasons. But we weren't. For them this was a business decision and it didn't matter if it was me or someone else - they had what they had and that's all they were going to give. But for me, what I do is such a huge part of who I am and my life that it was personal. I'm sure this isn't individual to PR. I'm sure that's the name of the game everywhere. Still, having seen it for the last eight years, there's still a part of me that wants to believe.

Which leads me back to my current job.

When I was interviewing, I kept telling myself that it sounded too good to be true. Whereas it had taken weeks to set up an interview with the agencies I was talking to, within five minutes of finding out about the job, I was on the phone with an SVP. He heard my background, liked what I had to say, and within a day I was scheduled to speak with another SVP. That conversation was great too and the job sounded amazing. It was the perfect mix of all of the work I'd been doing for the past four years or so, in a field where I had a lot of experience. But I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop (as much as I didn't want it to). And then I spoke - by phone - to the Big Boss Man and I liked him so much. He was smart, but humble. He knew what he wanted, but he needed someone like me to make it happen. He seemed like the type of person that would hire someone for their skills, and then let them lead the program the way they wanted. Still, I kept telling myself it was too good to be true. I ended up interviewing in person with him 1.5 weeks later - during this conversation he told me they'd like to hire me for the position. He never mentioned pay or other details, just that they wanted me to take the job and that I could work from home. I spoke with the HR person and it turned out the job rec hadn't been approved yet.

Ah, the sound of a shoe dropping. 

I turned down the other offer emphatically, all the while knowing that this one might not work out. But still, I was hopeful. Because apparently even though the job hunting process is a rude one, I remain ever hopeful that things will work out in the end. I kept in touch with the HR person and we had a very good conversation where she provided me with information on what the job offer was, even though it wasn't technically approved. The offer was the best I'd ever heard. I'd be getting a raise. And would be part of a quarterly bonus program. And I could work from? A day or so later the rec was approved, I was given the official offer and I accepted without negotiation. Some might say that I should have asked for more money, or more vacation time, or a larger bonus plan. But why? What they offered me was more than fair. I was happy with what they gave me, why be greedy about it?

And the best part? Whereas I'd interviewed for the other position for two months, this one happened in two weeks from start to finish.

But then another shoe dropped.

A couple of weeks before I was set to start the HR person called me again and said that there'd be a change in my reporting structure. While I'd still work very closely with Big Boss Man (BBM) and ultimately he'd be my boss because he's the whole organization's boss, his chief of staff would be my day-to-day boss, overseeing all of the administrative items that come with managing someone. I was disappointed and scared that I'd walked into yet another shit storm where people say one thing when they mean another just to get you in the door. The worst part? I had never met the person who was to be my new boss. I'm sure we were both thrilled by this prospect.

A couple of days before we went to Hawaii, I drove down to Santa Clara and met with him while he was in town for another meeting. It was a fine meeting, but it was really awkward because he was asking me interview questions - what's my process, how do I do x, what do I think of y, etc. I'd already answered these questions for three other people and they'd found my answers more than acceptable. Why was I having to go through this again? Would there be a possibility that the new boss wouldn't like me and I'd be out a job? It was all very stressful and I was worried that I'd been duped again. But at that point, I was willing to give it a shot and see how it panned out.

And here I am six months later and things are going really, really well. I genuinely like everyone that I work with. With a few exceptions, they recognize the value I bring to the organization and they let me do good work. Unlike clients I've worked with in the past, they understand and accept that none of them have communications experience, and that I have years of it, so my input is highly valued. I'm brought into important conversations to give my recommendation. And in six months I think I've really changed a lot that was broken. My job doesn't feel futile. I don't feel like my 60 hour work weeks are going toward making someone else rich (or not).

People have told me the BBM is doing a great job of communicating with the organization and they can see a difference. Others have told me that they can see my stamp on the quarterly updates he delivers. And, unlike executives I've worked with in the past, BBM is genuinely appreciative of the work I do for him. I make his life easier and I make him and the org look better - exactly what I was hired to do. He says please and thank you. He's reasonable. He's never demanding or rude. None of his staff are. And because of that I feel good about waking up and walking to my desk each day.

And without twenty hours of meetings to attend every week, I'm more productive than I've been in years. I look forward to new challenges, instead of dreading whatever fire drill is going to be in my inbox in the morning (or at the end of the day).

And for once, I feel like I'm at a place where I belong. I'm not trying to be someone I'm not. I'm not putting on a fake smile while I pretend to be perky and young and hip because male clients like perky, young, and hip. They say that PR is one of the most stressful careers out there. It is. The work is hard. You're constantly on and you can never be wrong. When you are wrong, you better hope you have a team that's willing to take a sword for you instead of throwing you under the bus. If you don't, it's even worse. (I was fortunate at one point to have a team that really looked out for one another and to this day we're all still friends, but that's not always the case.) When you add all of that stress to the stress of being someone you're not, it becomes taxing. But that's all gone. I've never felt freer in my career than I do today.

In all, I really love my job and that feels awesome.