Social Working

7 Days

I’m watching vintage Anthony Bourdain — 2003 — and he’s in Vietnam and being very Anthony Bourdain.  He’s a fish out of water, but eager to learn; he’s caustic and classic but a much younger version of the person we see today. It’s fun to point a finger and say “ha, ha, isn’t he awkward!”, right up until he gamely eats the half-matured duck egg (complete with duck fetus) and can appreciate it as a culinary event instead of the classic “ew!” that 99.9% of folks I know would engender. Including yours truly.

It’s been a busy week.

A week ago tomorrow, I sat in a large dining hall at the Seattle Westin.  My brother and husband were there. My best friends were there. Some of my more colorful (and worldly) friends were there.  While I’d love to say they were there for me (and in a way, they were, and it’s wholly flattering), or that they were there for Team Read (and in a way, they were, and that’s wholly heartening), they were there for Nancy Pearl. Nancy Pearl was our guest speaker and let me tell you, it’s one thing to hear her on NPR. It’s quite another to see her in person. But of course, the real stars of the show were our teen tutors, who consistently impress me with their maturity and aplomb.  At that age I was snarfing pop tarts and hiding my grades from my parents. These kids are getting work experience and teaching 2nd and 3rd graders to read; they are looked up to not only by their tutees but also by a room of 300 adults, none with a dry eye at the end of their presentation. I’m proud to be a part of the Team Read team and looking forward to my next role as I step down from chair to secretary. And I’m eternally grateful to M who introduced me to this organization.

Last weekend, I had dinner with friends at my house — relaxing and informal; I also learned to do a gluten-free chicken parmesan (hint: garbanzo bean flour) and my sister’s banana nice cream (OMG coco whip is the secret!!)– and then on Sunday my best friend and I decided to do the Hot Chocolate 15k.

The Hot Chocolate 15k promises a lovely hoodie and all kinds of chocolate-based goodies along the raceway. It also sends you smack up the 99, up three hills, and back down them (and up them). We were walking (thanks to my recent injury) but it’s a small solace. It is 9.3 miles of sheer discomfort and as we got to mile 6 and saw the uphill slant of Aurora (the last uphill, right after you have shoved 3 or 4 chocolate marshmallows into  your face and you’re ready to play chubby bunny and you’re feeling pretty good and then you see the last, huge, uphill of Aurora and you want to say the F-word but your face is full of marshmallows) and remembered that type 2 fun doesn’t come easy. You cross the finish line, get your medal, and then get a cup of cocoa, some chocolate dipping sauce, and a bunch of stuff to dip into said sauce.

But Candie made it up to me, because we got to have breakfast at the 5Spot.

The 5Spot is in Seattle and I couldn’t find it on my own because every time I go to Seattle I get lost (this is not an exaggeration).  Our waiter had amazing purple lipstick and beautiful eyes and there’s a shirt there I like; the food was wonderful and the coffee was intense and I will go back. I also heartily approve of their attitude.  I ate and ate and ate and yet came home with leftovers (which the boy promptly ate).

Tired yet? I was, but it’s only Sunday in this chronology. Yeah, I’ll speed it up.

Monday and Tuesday was all day in an Economics class: take people whose WHOLE JOB it is to do research (with an economics or machine learning bent) and of course they are world-class (the class was run by Glen Weyl and Preston McAffee had a prominent course) and put them into a 3-day course (yeah, I only got three) and add in snacks and coffee and Q&A and stick a fork in me, I’m done. The syllabus alone is enough to make me jabber at the husband, who still gives me that little smile as he listens.

And so we find me at today. Wednesday.  I had an all-day conference on Leadership, full of those cringe-inducing group efforts that somehow were ok, and I find I am glad.  Still so much to do, but all in all a good week. There’s no big political missive here, or commentary on the state of things. Just gratitude.

Except for that friggin’ hill on Aurora.  I could do without that again. I don’t care how many chocolate marshmallows are in the offing.

 

 

Off

Greetings from my week off.  This is what it takes to get blogging time.

I have discovered that you really and truly can over-commit yourself, but more often what actually happens is you don’t manage the commitments you have very well. When I went to take this week off — which started at 3:30pm Friday April 1st, something heralded as an April Fool’s Day joke by those that know me — I would have said “I’m over committed and I need to step back”.

Three days in and I’ve already discovered part of my problem: my phone.

In order for this week off to “work”, I had to do two things: I had to arrange for Outlook (my mail service for work) to *not* automatically open when my laptop boots (done) and I had to detach my work email from my iPhone. The last time I did the latter was my wedding week in August of 2014.

I have had the most fulfilling, relaxing yet-personally-productive, best-sleep weekend. I had no insomnia Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights. I got a bunch of projects done around the house, I have taken time to actually thoroughly read my Economist (instead of jumping to the bits I usually read and then, if time permits, reading the rest). The best part of this is knowing that if I had had to go to work today, it would have been okay: I actually unplugged this weekend.

Here’s how this has worked historically: I use my phone the way many of us do; I have my Evernote for shopping lists and recipes etc., and my fitbit tracker, and my weather app, my stock market ticket and texting (the tether to my offspring these days). I use it for a variety of things, the least of which appears to be actually as a phone, and most prevalent is for email. Being the checklist-y, anal-retentive person I am, I really do not want to see the little red notification bubble on my mail that I have unread mail. It bothers me. It’s less clean looking. I could turn off the notification badging for email but that would be problematic during work hours (or on working days). So I roll over in the morning, check the phone and oh, there’s email: better answer that. I stop at the grocery store on my way home, and there’s email: better answer that. I pop open the laptop to get that recipe for dinner tonight and there’s email: better answer that. On weekends it would be get up, go to the gym, check in to the gym with my app and there’s email: better answer that. Stop by Home Depot, get those plants I need, let me cross that off my Evernote and there’s email: better answer that.

All of this email of course is not in a vacuum: answering email is step 1 and usually steps 2-48 involve updating some documentation, or sending another email to another person about the email you just got, or doing a power point presentation based off of the email you just received or the email that is due in a couple of days, or updating the excel spreadsheet so you can email the person with that and a link to the other thing about this particular thing, which reminds you about a third thing that you’d better send an email about.

It is a seemingly ceaseless stream if ingress and egress, with me as the human compute between the two; normally I like this but I’ve realized just how much it has taken over my life.  My first inkling was in checking my Delve numbers — my first instinct after seeing them was to be upset my coworkers aren’t as responsive as I am and my second was to realize I could never share these numbers with my husband else I’d get lectured.

The lesson of all of this is that I will make an effort to detach work email from my phone on weekends — or at least occasional weekends — going forward. I can commit to email — but I need to re-establish ground rules.

 

A Holiday Wish for Facebook

It’s that time of year again, when the man-child and I count the number of houses with holiday lights we see from the roundabout at the south end of East Lake Sammamish, to our turn off (on Inglewood Hill Road). It’s about five miles, give or take, and we chart how many houses we count over the weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. We have been doing this for about six years, and tracking it for the last 4. Every year we add the data to a spreadsheet, when he graduates we will publish a paper. (NB: any holiday lights count — any color, any presentation, etc.).

It would appear people are rushing it, this year.

I can’t say as I blame them. Election years are as hysterical as a Kardashian without internet, and people need something cheery to cling to. As much as people want to point to the blatant, extensive commercialism that is the Holiday Season, at least there is (supposed to be) an overriding veneer of well wishing to our fellow humans.

When I log into Facebook the current top 3 news leads are: someone looks like Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian can’t have a 3rd child per her doctor, and Eva Longoria is engaged. I was all snarky about this on social media — I am neither immune nor dignified — until I realized that the alternatives are the seventh level of hell that is ISIS/terrorism, the xenophobia that is ripping through the world, the dysfunction of some aspects of the government, and the realization that there are people locally and globally in need who are not served by the apoplectic screaming of those with the microphone.

I use Facebook to keep up with my friends — and that is a loaded word these days. As with most people I have varying definitions of friendship. And you do, too. (If you will insist that you don’t, I invite you to consider what happens if you find yourself in a jail cell for whatever reason at 2am on a Sunday and ask who would bail you out with no questions asked, and then you will understand that “friendship” is a thing with  layers.)  To that last parenthetical remark, I point out that I have some friends who would bail me out at 2am, and some who would do it without question, but it’s a Venn diagram.

(No, that hasn’t happened yet. But I’m young — give it time.) (Hi, mom).

I do not use Facebook for news of the world. I use Facebook for news of my friends– friends I have worked with and some I still do, friends I had in High School and some I still see, my best friends who are painstakingly building their home from scratch, my sister who started her practice, a couple of people I have never, ever physically met but should they show up on my door in need of a bed and a meal I’d make them Mexican food and proffer tequila (hi, Magnetarball and Goliard!). I use it to see how the next generation is coming along (for many of us have offspring) and live vicariously through friends who do the things I would never, ever have the guts to do (so, Sdiver with her Heli-Skiing or rafting down the Colorado River on a dory she hand-built, or Mr. Crampy who had major heart surgery and something like 10 weeks later did an Iron man (or his wife for that matter, with whom, if you were in a dark alley, you could be confident)). I use it to check in on folks who have moved away (hi DJ and my first Boss At Premera and the Family Firehouse!) and my family that I haven’t seen since I was 12 (Hola Carla y Sylvia, besos y abrazos). I use it to keep track of former coworkers (the ones I really got along with and admired) (hi Expatriates!). I use it to keep tabs on folks I don’t talk to at all anymore but still share memories of, to follow my favorite authors, and to get Life Hacks and my F*ing Loved Science. I use it to keep track of friends I see but oh-so-rarely, because life and work and school and boy etc.

Facebook, as a PM and one who uses you daily, I ask: can I please configure the trending feed to the right to be what is trending *only* in my network? I can filter your trends by “politics” or “entertainment” but the truth is I don’t want to hear about what Donald Trump says (mostly, ever) and I don’t want to know what any Kardashian is doing, ever. I want to know how my friends are doing, in all meanings of the word “friend”; I will get my “news” from credible sources.

Please. It’s all I want this Holiday Season.

Ever yours,

b

 

 

Elephantine

“You’re like an elephant,” she explained to me. “You walk in to the room or you say something and everyone notices, because it’s very forceful. Not everyone can handle that. You need to learn to change your communication patterns.”

That was real-life advice I got from a real-life professional.

The year was 1996, and I had just moved to San Diego to be with my then-fiance. He was in the Marine Corps, and I was a recent college grad, with a degree that could get me $7/hour at Scripps or $10/hour temping with my typing skills. As the Marine Corps enlisted man gets paid atrociously small (I think it worked out to $5/hour or something because the Corps assumes that until you are married, you live on base with their provided food and housing) it was unfortunately a no-brainer. (There are times when you have those late night “what-if” conversations with yourself, and mine start with “What If” I had gone to Scripps instead and resolved to eat beans and rice every day).

One of the temporary jobs I had was with a company that had a rigorous FTE hiring process: you were welcome as a temp with whatever the agency said you could do, as an FTE you had to go through a Myers Briggs assessment and a 1-hour coaching session to determine your personality type. It wasn’t the first MB I had taken and would not be the last (I’m an ENTJ, in case it wasn’t horribly obvious). From the coaching session the quote above is what I remember the most.

In the spirit of the recent articles on how women couch their conversations differently in the workplace (to their perceived or actual benefit or loss), and in particular of memes like this, I’ve got a couple of things to say.

I do it too. I try hard not to, and I’ve found that when I get on a roll — of not apologizing, or not being “we-centric”, etc., I get a different reaction. For the most part, stuff gets done.  And for the most part, I don’t have any lingering perceived/actual issues with coworkers.  I know however it would come as a shock to some friends and family to learn that I have learned to be hyper-deferential. For the person who had to take a whole Traci Mercer class on the art of saying “No” without *actually* saying “No”, this is a surprise.

Then again, I just had that conversation with my boss: namely, he suggested that everyone should be aware of how they are perceived, and maybe that should be my goal (?) for the year (?).  My boss has 3 female employees, none male. All but four of the 25-person engineering team is male. One of my coworkers and I were in a seven-person meeting the other day and she had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a word in for about 3 exchanges. I finally had to do the “rude” thing and speak up and say “hey, I believe [A] has something to say… [A]?”

I shouldn’t have to do that.

In the hallway after the meeting, she and I were talking, and she noted that even I as the “brash American” in the group had to try more than once to get the sentence out or the point across. It stung me, because it made me realize that 1. I’m still coming across as brash, but 2. that’s somehow considered a bad things, and 3. whyinhell are we still fighting for a say at the table?

The real kicker is, I would bet you any amount of money you care to that no one else around the table even noticed. And by “I bet they didn’t notice”, I mean all of it: that we were trying to say something, and that I had to get forceful to say it. (Incidentally, yes our point was taken, yes it was considered valid, and yes it shaped the meeting: we were not dismissed.)

I am not entirely sure what my boss was driving at — and I was very conscious that we were ending the meeting in two minutes because he had another one, and I suspect that if I had pressed the conversation would be longer than 2 minutes.  I’m also not entirely sure I want to entertain it any more than as a casual mention of one thing I could pay attention to during the course of the year. For someone newly promoted, with a whole sheaf of new responsibilities, with the volume of work I have and need to help facilitate, I don’t think that my best efforts for shareholders and coworkers and customers alike should be me sitting and worrying about how others perceive me. While I agree that work is not just about what you do but how you do it, there are multiple ways in which to provide feedback to someone, and the only constructive feedback I’ve had in this position to this date is that there was one time a customer got me riled up too easily and it showed internally to the group. (Not externally to the customer). Save that, everything else was positive.

In the light of all of the recent articles this is forcing me to think about it as, “would my boss have said this if I had been a man?” In other words, would my focus for the year have been “how I am perceived” if I had been male and the brashness and posturing that is/does come with that socially were expected? I honestly don’t know (and since we don’t have a male counterpart, will not know).

Right now I am on my day “off”, and I’m working on some metrics and analysis — my “comfort” work, if you will. I like data: it’s clinical, it’s discrete, and it can help frame decisions and actions. I’d much rather live there than this current world of “how am I perceived”. In my mind, though, I’m conflating the two, and thinking about requesting a change to our internal anonymous surveys: to ask everybody if they have ever been TOLD to consider how they are perceived, and to ask them if this actually is forefront in their mind.

I’d bet it would be illuminating.

Get Ready… to Get Busy

This week is a series of “strategy” sessions at work, at Team Read, and at my son’s school. Three different days, three different sessions, with three different outcomes, to be sure, but all in the same purpose nonetheless: the brief-but-effective review of where we’ve been, a lengthy-and-detailed review of where we are going to go, and an even lengthier discussion and documentation of how we’re going to get there.

Inasmuch as these things tend to be annual — the Board Retreat for Team Read is an annual event, the Long Range Planning meeting at work is (theoretically) an annual event, and Curriculum/Back To School is an annual event — there is an overriding reassurance that we’re not doing this once and dropping it. Oh no. There are meetings scheduled throughout the year, there are metrics (donations/students served, legitimate scenarios satisfied for customers, grades), there is inherent and ongoing accountability.

As a slightly OCD, check box-oriented, black-and-white mentality, I find these meetings extremely validating and reinforcing. We will have a Plan, everyone will know what the Plan is, we will all agree on how we Measure the Plan, we will all agree on who is Working the Plan, we will all agree when the Boxes are Checked. The meetings themselves typically offer the ability to plan for the meeting itself– meta-OCD, for the win! — and involve lots of discussion and interaction and cooperation to get off the ground. I thrive on all of that. One of the reasons I like my job, and I like Team Read, and I am getting to like my son’s school more (especially as I learn what words to say and who to go to to actually implement stuff), is that beyond the “annual” cycle, the interim meetings, and even days, all carry this reinforcement of Plans and Expectations and Actions.

As a person who expects everyone to operate in the same hyperactive, insomniac, black-and-white world I operate in (to the admitted dearth of personal time, which those around me politely point out when it gets bad), these meetings come with a tinge of apprehension and dread.  What if we set our expectations too high, or too low? What if we don’t all come to consensus (or politely agree to disagree on some points and actually come up with a working plan)? What if I talk too much or not enough? What if people get bored?

I once sat in on one of these meetings, back in my Expedia days, in a beautiful conference room in Montreal. It was a series of speakers — speaker A spoke for an hour, speaker B spoke for an hour, etc. ad nauseam. The meeting lasted all day, as they do, and it included boxed lunches and bio breaks and the like. During one of the breaks — probably 3 hours in — my coworker to my left turned to me and asked, “Can you literally not sit still?” I had been bouncing my leg, making notes (about the meeting and not about the meeting), asking questions, making more notes, etc. pretty incessantly. I was not completely bored, but I was not fully engaged.

Books upon books, and now blog upon blogs, have been written to avoid meeting boredom. The advice varies from the basics (be brief, use lots of different media to get your point across, avoid Death by PowerPoint) to more rigorous applications (if it can be handled in email, don’t meet; if it takes longer than an hour, then set up follow-on meetings, etc.)  No one seems to have cracked the meeting code, although for several-hour-long meetings I think breakout sessions and interactive pieces are imperative.  What is invariable is the desire of the meeting host(s), or attendees, to make the most productive use of their time.

In the meeting I had yesterday — the final, and longest of these, the Board Retreat for Team Read in which we mapped out the actual implementation plan for our Strategy plan — we spent a good deal of time talking about how we would work together, both for the day and ongoing. We laid out the things we felt it important to note and be and have in our meetings and our interactivity, such as responsiveness, initiative, debate, etc. At one point the entire left side of a 16′ long whiteboard was filled with requirements and aspirations for meetings and basic work.

I’m not going to list them all out here. 🙂

However, I am going to take the time to parse some of them out and elaborate on my view of each of them, one post at a time, over the next few months. I think there’s value in some of the “A-ha!” moments of the day, and I think the primary value is how to remove the apprehensive, or dread aspect, of meetings.

Pockets

Right now my life is all about finding pockets of time in which to get things done, or, more rarely, in which to opt to do nothing. They’re everywhere, like the air spaces between those metal ball bearings in the glass beaker that your 7th  grade science teacher made you put in there. Then she or he made you add sand to fill up the spaces, and then you added water to fill up the microscopic spaces between the granules of sand.

Teeny, tiny pockets of productivity or reflection.

I write this sitting as I do, lately, in a Starbucks on M street in Auburn, WA. It’s a nice Starbucks — it’s kept quite clean, and there’s a nice set of leather-esque chairs that, at 7pm on a Tuesday, are blissfully free in their little corner by the window. The wifi is Google and the tea is hot.

I should be at my son’s Scouts meeting. But as my son’s Scout meetings usually entail him meeting with other scouts and not with me, and as I now have a Very Important Partner in India, well, I filled that particular pocket.  There’s no wifi at the church my son’s Scouts meeting is held at, so to Starbucks I go.

Thanks to the recent time change though, my Very Important Partner needed to bump our call a bit later, and I find myself with a pocket. I’m using it to blog.

I haven’t done much of that lately. The last time my blog petered out — not this one, the other one I did when I was a Freewheelin’ Divorcee — it was because I had no more dating drama to write about; I had Found Myself and (mercifully) found I wasn’t an asshole. More specifically, I had discovered that I didn’t, actually, need to waste time on people not worth it, which in turn means you have a lot less to bitch about. Bitching is entertaining, if done well, and so it was cheap and easy content to create; in the absence of something to bitch about there was a period for about a year where I had nothing to say.

This blog is not about bitching (you may have noticed). Or not much. It’s mostly about reflection, and it’s a soapbox; if you’ve read it you have a very good idea where I stand on some things (education! food!) and have no idea where I stand on others (vaccinations! gmos!). (Incidentally, it’s not that I don’t care about those things — I do, although my opinions may surprise you — it’s just that I think they’re so damned evident or so not worth arguing about that they get no space between my ball bearings here).

I digress…

The issue I seem to be having of late — and it would appear it’s not just me — is that I am very “busy”. “How are you doing?” people ask (most of the time it’s a set of symbols delivered as a greeting: most people really don’t want to know exactly how you are doing when they ask that), and the inevitable response is “Good, good, been busy…”.

This business is not a lie, for any of the people who regularly state it (including myself). Although it is often, I think, exaggerated. There’s work and school and home and errands and social stuff and community stuff and the unexpected things like auto repair and failed septic systems. You can take a step back and attempt to cull some of these in order to be less busy — but my question is, to fill it with what?

Case in point: I could, for example, bump my Very Important Partner call to Thursdays (and… I may). This would free me up to be at the Scouts meeting, right? Where I will…

Sit. Maybe stare at my iPhone. Once a month there is a Scouts committee meeting, for a board I am not on, for things that it is nice to know but are typically on Facebook and delivered via email and on the Scouts website. I could attend that, but I’m not sure that I add any value, and in any event, sitting in a room separate from my kid is only slightly more removed than sitting on the edge of a large room where my kid sits 50 yards away discussing the relative merits of waterproof matches.

I could use that time to knit — and indeed, I did for a while — but knitting is “busy”, too. (The husband person says that “knitting is fidgeting that produces clothing” and he’s actually right, at least in my case).

So we come back to how I use that pocket. And we come back to the Starbucks, where I can work or do board stuff or blog or research grey woolen flats that are alas unavailable in my size.

Yet I know I will wake up tomorrow, not feeling productive or content, but feeling like I’ve dropped a ball somewhere, forgotten to check a box, or left a productivity pocket unfilled.  The thing is I know I have enough time for All Of The Things, and I know it can all get done. I just need to figure out a way to pour water into the beaker.

On the Naming of Me

My name is pretty unusual, in and of that I’ve been challenged by telemarketers, customer service people, and baristas alike that “That can’t be your name” or “What’s your real name?” (As if the sort of person who gives out a fake name would abruptly turn around and provide a real one). My name is in fact Bobbie, although legally it is Roberta; the only people who call me Roberta are telemarketers, teachers, and attorneys.

Per Wolfram Alpha, fewer than 200 people each year are given the name Bobbie (as a given female name – and yes it does say it assumes Bobbie is female). Less than 1 in 3331 people have the name, and the most common age for a person with the name Bobbie is 76 years. (Roberta clocks in at much the same, with 1 in 1823 people having the name and the common age is 57 years).

So it’s safe to say “Bobbie” is an unusual name, and that is that.

Over the years my name has been mangled quite a bit, from the masculine “Bobby” to the alternative female “Bobbi”. I also oftentimes get the email typo of one more o, one less b; for the most part I choose to ignore these and hope the sender goes away. That said, I wasn’t really particularly particular about how people spelled my name (with the exception of that last) until I read Freakonomics.

Freakonomics has a pretty good chapter on Correlation vs. Causality, particularly around naming conventions. The main anecdote is about a man who named his sons Winner and Loser, and the indication that the son named Loser had an extremely successful life, whilst the son named Winner had an extremely unsuccessful one. There is no causality in naming. However it also had a second anecdote, and a study, around names given to female children. Specifically, names that one would associate with strippers.

The idea was thus: if I name my daughter, say, “Bambi” or “Sugar” or something like that, am I dooming her to life on the pole? The short answer is no, you are not. By virtue of naming your daughter anything like that (there is a third indication of a daughter named Temptress who indeed had a pretty name-similar life) you are not going to ensure she ends up with a job whose uniform consists of two ounces of elastic and slightly more than that of glitter. But there’s still a good chance it will happen. Why? Because the parent who names their kid something like that is also probably not going to make sure she gets home in time for a curfew, or is getting her homework done. It’s the correlation – the fact that a parent who names their kid something like that isn’t likely to be hammering on the grades – rather than the causality that drives the preponderance of “Crystals” and the like to the pasties.

As part of this chapter in Freakonomics, there is a list of the top 10 names found amongst strippers at time of publication. The name “Bobbi” – with an “I” – is on that list. The name “Bobbi” with an “I” has a common age of 39. That means those Bobbi’s were born in 1975 or thereabouts, and Freakonomics was published in 2005, with data from studies probably the year previous, and so I think it’s entirely reasonable that their stripper population was about 29 at the time.

Since reading that I’ve made it a point to educate people on the value of the “e”. I don’t look good in glitter.

Free Premium

I recently posted about LinkedIn and how I use it; I recently was the recipient of a FREE month’s worth of LinkedIn Job Seeker Premium, and this post is about my experience with that. (NB: I am not paid by, or influenced by, anyone at LinkedIn, save possibly Daniel Tunkelang, who is their Head of Query Understanding and a wicked brilliant person. And no, he didn’t pay me to say that. It’s just that he’s an “influencer” of mine on LinkedIn).

The short of it is my free Premium Membership ends in four days and when it does I will let it end (or more accurately, I will proactively kill it). Much like other “free introductions” the feedback loop is a negative one: the assumption is if you don’t actively end it then it continues on, and bills your card appropriately.  I am letting it end not because I do not feel it is a good program, but because it is not particularly useful for me.

First, the basics: LinkedIn Job Seeker Premium has a check sheet of the advantages of paid membership here. At $25/month (billed annually, so $300/year) it provides you with the ability to see who’s looked at your profile (the regular free membership shows you a subset), you can see full profiles of people up to 3rd degree, you can leverage LinkedIn’s “In Mail” and receive a bump of introductions, and a few assorted other UI niceties (up to 250 results per search, etc.).

whodatFor me the attraction was the ability to see everyone who has looked at my profile, and here’s the rub: it does show you everyone, but only if they want to be seen. For example, if someone has not logged in and/or is surfing anonymously, with Job Seeker Premium you will see an individual, faceless avatar saying “someone” looked at you; you will have no idea who they are. So if 12 total people looked at you and 3 were not logged in and/or were surfing anonymously, you see 9 photos/bios and 3 blank avatars. This is frustrating for someone who wants to inspect the inspectors, but totally understandable from an execution perspective: LI has no idea who you are until you are logged in, so there is no way to let someone else know who you are, either.

Then there’s the fact that I now know that “12” people looked at me, instead of “5”. I also get handy “last 90-day” graphs with informational snippets like “7 viewers had the title of Technology Manager” or “16 viewers work at Microsoft”.  I can also parse out how they found me: search, 2nd or 3rd link, etc.

icon_gold_inbug_74x74As part of Job Seeker Premium you get a little yellow and white icon in your search results (when people search for you, that is) that indicates you’re on Job Seeker. This should be a very large flag to any potential recruiters that you’re open to inquiry, and the inquiries just come flooding in, don’t they?

In my case, not.  I did get one offer of a contract for Salesforce Development (something that is not anywhere on my profile; I have worked with SF developers on getting two Salesforces (Salesforceii?) to talk according to a set of business rules, but haven’t done it myself, thanks) in another state. For someone who has been Manager and above titled, etc. it was an odd request and reaffirms my belief that people don’t actually read.

The other thing that messed with the experience is that I used this opportunity to update my profile and add on consulting work that I have been doing on the side (for about a year) and the recent appointment to a non-profit Board. This generated a bunch of “Congratulate Bobbie on her New Job” notices to those I was linked in to, and when your own best friend emails you to ask about your “new job” it’s time to add a control to the announcement features, methinks.

The rest of the features offered by Job Seeker Premium were unused and I’m not entirely clear how someone looking for a job would actually use them. To wit: as a free member, I can send in-mail to anyone I’m linked to, and can “hack” that by attempting to link to someone I don’t know (e.g., recruiter) and putting my introductory email in that “link to me” email.   If I’m looking to get a job, rather than find someone for a job, I don’t know how useful it is for me to see the full profiles of 3rd-level linked people; I’m more interested in the recruiters seeing me.  I’m not sure how the ability to see up to 250 people per search is useful, unless the proposition is that I will try to boost my 1st-linked numbers while job searching; even then, if you can’t find someone you worked with or know in the first 100 records then you have to question if they’ll even link to you.

Now, counterpoint and contrariwise: if I were not already gainfully employed (“Congratulate Bobbie on her new old job!”) and were actively networking and really trying to get employed, I would probably pay the $300 and then pay another $200 or so for a professional headshot, and possibly another $150 for a resume analyst. I would probably have a resume for every position type I was qualified for and interested in, and would make sure my LinkedIn profile was carefully agnostic (If you are angling for a Dev Manager job you probably don’t want to over-emphasize your writing skills vs. your coding skills).

This assumes that somehow I had the cash for that (remember it’s good to have a cushion for just-in-case) and have not been unemployed for some time.  To that end, if money’s tight, I’d stick with regular LinkedIn at the free level: if someone thinks you’re what they’re looking for, the presence of the little yellow and white “in” icon is not going to further attract, or dissuade, them.

Linking In

I am, to no great surprise, a fan of social media. You will find by me near-daily tweets, posts on Facebook, check-ins on Foursquare. Lately, I’ve been playing a lot on LinkedIn, trying certain features, and have been genuinely intrigued by some of the functionality that didn’t strike me (initially) as something I’d find on LinkedIn. To wit: a year ago, when I would wake in the morning and want to read the “news” — and by “news” let’s be honest, I mean “news Bobbie is interested in and therefore skewed toward 2 or 3 specific topics” — I would read my twitter feed (follow reporters AND the companies they work for), then I’d check mobile CNN, After looking at my Facebook feed, (oh, work email too), and maybe Twitter again, I’d check LinkedIn.

(Why all the checking? Not all apps update your alerts to the icon on your mobile phone screen. Sometimes you get the little red bubble of awesomeness, and sometimes you don’t.)

Today, the pattern is more likely Economist.com (mobile), LinkedIn, Twitter, work email, Twitter, and maybe one more round to LinkedIn. Why? Many reasons, mostly dealing with personalized news retrieval and access to information about companies, jobs, etc. that I wouldn’t normally have. But there are many misconceptions about LinkedIn, and that’s what this post attempts to remedy.

Wait, Isn’t LinkedIn for if I’m looking for a job?

Not necessarily. LinkedIn offers a variety of other services that you can use, regardless of your current job circumstance. There’s personalized news feeds, updates on your “linked” connections, and for those of us who are stats-centric, tons of little data updates. I recently tried playing with their business logic: changing my title (and ONLY my title, not dates, company, or description) from “Applications Development Manager” to “Manager, Applications Development” triggered a “congratulate Bobbie on her new job” notice to those I was linked to. Awkward, true, but interesting to note the sensitivity. My personal favorite is Pulse, their personalized news service. You pick themes or people who are interesting to you, and it does the rest. Daily updates of articles, and discussions therein with other people both in and out of your network.

But I’m only linked to people I work or have worked with, right?

No, no, and no. You can link to anybody. You will want to link to people you know, regardless of if you “work” with them. You’re on the PTA? Go find your PTA Board members, link to them. You’re on the board of a NonProfit? Link them. Went to college and remember some pretty cool people? Link, link, link. Met some great people socially? Link. Link to them all. You will get recruiters you’ve never worked with asking to link to you — proceed with caution. Do you do a lot of hiring? Then link to them. Do you want to get poached? OK, link to them. But if you’re an individual contributor who doesn’t want to move, tell them honestly and then link anyway — after all, a friend of yours may want to use a recruiter.

Hey, some of those people don’t work, or are retired, or are in a field I’m totally not in to. Why should I link to them?

You don’t know who THEY know. I’ll take the reverse-route on this and look at it from the “what’s in it for me” aspect; most of this logic works if you think of yourself as a relatively altruistic person. That stay-at-home-mom may know a double dozen people who would love to donate to your charity, or may know someone who works as a recruiter at a company you really want to work for. That artsy friend of yours who does installations at hotels may know someone who manages them, which may fit in with your marketing and sales job. You don’t know what you don’t know — the whole point of LinkedIn is to establish routes of communication. If you’re going to use it as a tool, use it properly.

OK but I should only link to “my level” of people or higher, right? So I’m a Manager, I will only link to Managers and above.

First off, this is just plain douchey, but let’s just assume you didn’t mean it that way and are looking at it pragmatically. You’re wrong, and that’s okay. We’ve all been there.

You will want to link to people, regardless of rank and title. Just like you, people will expand their horizons and grow. Some people grow faster than others, and to quote Sigourney Weaver in “Working Girl”, “Yesterday’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner”. Now, NO, people junior to you (real or imagined, rank or age, etc.) are not pricks. But the tenet is legitimate: you don’t know where their career will lead and if you’re going to pick people based on their success, remember you can’t know it. So link to people you know, and that you respect, and ignore their title (high or low). I know some people who give pause in the other direction — that maybe they “shouldn’t” reach out to that VP or that CEO. Do you know them? Have you been in a meeting with them, talked to them? Do they know you or have they worked with you? Then link to them. They may have something interesting to say, their company may want to work with yours, you may want to solicit a donation, they may want to read your white paper.

No one really fills in all the portions of a profile, right? It’s not just me, right?

Of course not. I don’t have anything published (aside from this blog and another one) and so I haven’t got anything for that section. And so I don’t put anything there. I put in what I’ve got, and “curate” my profile as necessary. Sometimes that curation is to see what happens with the business logic because my business *is* logic, and data, and software, and how that rolls together. So I follow people in that vein and I play with my “persona” on LinkedIn to that end.

They offer a lot of stuff for a fee, is it worth it?

Recently I got an offer to try Job Seeker Premium for free. While I don’t think I’d use it just yet, I do know that free is better than not free, even if only for a month. If I ever do go that route rest assured I’d blog all the details, and with as much anecdotal evidence as I can provide.

But for right now, I’m content to get my news.

Be a Traci

Every year, about this time, I get a little hectic. I’ve decided it must be me, because every job I have had for the last ten years, regardless of industry or emphasis, seems to go absolutely crazy at this time, and it lasts right up until about Christmas or just before New Years’. In previous years I attributed it to planning, that process where you decide how much money a given individual is responsible for; in recent years I had attributed it to the frenzy of “finish what we said we were going to do by end of year”.

Now that I am in a Retail Organization, I realize that I was but a Baby Developer/Analyst and had No Idea what the Real World was like.

I am finding comfort, and redoubling effort, in light of something I learned at my old job: Be a Traci.

To explain:

Each year, at this time, in my old job, I was part of a process in which we divided up something on the order of 1 or 2 Billion Dollars (it changed over the years) to 8 or 12 individuals, in terms of responsibility for the coming year. In short: Jane Roe, Jon Doe, and George Smith, you are now responsible for $1bn/x for the next 12 months, and if you don’t generate that cash volume in your area the Whole Company will look down on you with a mixture of derision, pity, and disgust.

As you can imagine, having someone (especially a Dev Manager) tell you “Here is your number, based on my Excel spreadsheet and near-sociopathic bent for analytics, have fun with that”, is not fun. I got a reputation for being “apolitical” and someone took me aside at one point to tell me that “No and no” was not a reasonable response to email.

However, the mitigation for this at the time was to get all 8 or 12 people into a room, for 8-10 hours, with me, a laptop, a projector, and dubious catering service. In that meeting each person would grab their PowerPoint and their skills in persuasion to indicate to the VP’s that Be why they should be able to put 10, 20, or 30 million dollars back in to the pot. After two rounds, I could tell you, in advance, who was going to sandbag, who was going to like it and lump it, and who was going to knock it out of the park.

Traci always knocked it out of the park.

I met Traci formally in Las Vegas during one of these meeting events, she was responsible for San Diego and was an up-and-comer. Traci was a Manager at the time and therefore a bit more down the hill that these monetary expectations rolled down. The next year, though, she was one of the 10, and she grabbed her Power Point, her very cute shoes, and her Excel Spreadsheet, and did something remarkable:

She accepted her number, and said how she’d do it.

Her number that she was allotted was audacious. It was not easy. I remember thinking she had to have balls of solid steel to accept it, and this was in a meeting where at least three other people who had been Directors, longer, put money back on the table. She didn’t act overzealous, she admitted the number was aspirational, but she detailed her plan.

She made her numbers.

She made her numbers every year for five years.

She has been a VP for three years running at a Fortune 500 company,

When there is a problem to go solve, they send Traci.

And every time, she rises to the occasion, grits her teeth, and gets it done. In cute shoes.

There are relative few heroines for women in the working world, apologies to Sandberg and Mayer. The fact that I can only think of two off the top of my head (without getting political) is sad (note: I have a whole blog post about Lean In coming). And the fact of the matter is, Traci and I are worlds apart in the actual work we do.  But I cannot forget her tenacity, and I cannot dismiss the infectiousness of her attitude.

Traci once had a long conversation with me about the 20-odd ways there are to say “No”. I like to say “No” the way I learned to: “No”. But in modern business, you need to say “No” without actually saying it: “I need to review our resources”, “Perhaps XYZ tactic will work better”, “I will take that back to management and we can review”, and so forth. It was one of the best lessons I had ever had in management, and I use it to this day.

So these days, when I feel overwhelmed and like the Powers That Be are dumping more on to my plate than I can handle, I remember Traci, and that meeting in Vegas. I’m armed with my Excel spreadsheet, and my Power Point. Now all I need is cute shoes.