Stop Hurting Yourself!

Okay, I admit it, I have been guilty of this in the past.  I have made my brother, my kids, and several other people over the years beat themselves up with their own hands.  It’s not a fact I am proud of, and I never took it too far, but yes, I have been guilty of that all-too-common means of torturing someone weaker than myself.

That also includes myself.  I have hurt myself in so many ways, literal and figurative, over the years, and I am still bearing the scars of many of those hurts.  And I am not alone.

So many of us have hurt ourselves in one way or another – most of the time not even realizing it until well after the fact, if ever.

There are a lot of possible ways to shoot oneself in the foot.  A Business Insider writer pulled together some imaginary interviews with the terribly fictitious Betty Boss, compiling a couple of articles which basically provide a top ten list of why you didn’t get that job:

  1. I never saw your resume
  2. I didn’t understand why you were applying for my job
  3. Your resume didn’t grab me
  4. The interview was (merely) a nice chat
  5. You never said you wanted this job
  6. I heard back from somebody else first
  7. I’m looking to build out the team with a variety of perspectives
  8. I’m looking for somebody with a different industry background
  9. We haven’t had success with that profile in our organization
  10. I’m looking for somebody with more experience

Unfortunately, this list rings very true – I’ve heard several of these from external recruiters (who always seem more willing to tell you straight-out what the trouble was than an internal HR person or hiring manager might).  Those I have not heard make a whole lot of sense.  Not that I agree with them, but I could very easily see these things happening.

The trouble is, a lot of them are beyond our control.  I can’t ensure that the hiring manager sees my resume, or that they’re looking for the kind of perspective that I would bring to the group.  My industry background is my industry background, and my “profile”, whether it would be truly successful at your company or not, is what it is, and will not be able to escape your prejudice.

Some of these I can control – making you understand why I applied for this job, telling you I want this job, and making sure you hear back from me first – but are out of my comfort zone.  I am not a pushy, in-your-face kind of person, and these activities are tough for me to follow-through on.  Okay, I can work on those, at least.

Cover of "Body Language"

Cover of Body Language

Some others that are under my control, even if not the easiest things to rein in, are included under the category of Body Language:

  • Handshake – firm (yet not crushing), confident and dry
  • Face touching – just don’t
  • Arm crossing – even worse than face touching
  • Staring – don’t be creepy
  • Being a bobble-head – respond vocally occasionally, okay?

While you’re focused on not committing these sins, let’s add a couple of vocal faux pas often committed during interviews:

  • Don’t talk about how great the job would be for you.  But based on the top ten list above, do make sure you communicate both how much you WANT the job and will benefit the company
  • Don’t badmouth your last job or boss.  No matter how awful they were, put a spin on it.  Remember, if you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.
  • Don’t mention religion, politics or personal philosophies.  Everybody has an opinion, just like everyone has an, um, elbow.
  • Don’t talk about the rest of your day.  Really, the fact that your interview is approaching the time for your bikini wax appointment is not a reason to cut off the interviewer, no matter how desperate the situation is down there.
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to ask questions.  We’ve addressed this in prior posts, but yes, you get really odd looks if you don’t ask questions.  Keep a couple of stock inquiries in your pocket, in case all your opportunity-specific ones are actually answered during the interview.
World of Stupid on DVD.

World of Stupid on DVD. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of this seems like nit-picking, doesn’t it?  And it is.  With so many viable candidates out there, hiring managers are desperate to find some means of making a decision, even if it means looking for the tiniest of mistakes.  But some mistakes loom larger.  Of course if you are a complete moron, you might make some of the most egregious mistakes possible, landing yourself on this list of Ten Dumb Things Said During Job Interviews:

  • “I’m in anger management because I hit a former co-worker.”
  • “Oh, that’s because I just took a Xanax.”
  • “Just a little itch.”
  • “I locked a mentally ill patient in a room to teach him a lesson.”
  • “Oh, he was killed in a drug deal.”
  • “Well you’re cute, too.”
  • “My old boss was a monster, and it’s really scarred me emotionally.”
  • “My apologies for being late, my husband and I were fighting.  It happens all the time.”
  • “That other guy you are interviewing?  Think twice.”
  • “Sorry, I’m having a hot flash.”

Errors might not be nearly so obvious, though.  Check out this list compiled by, titled 11 Surprising Ways To Hurt Your Career:

  1. Not taking your education seriously.  Yes, your parents and guidance counselors were right – getting good grades and advanced degrees do help.  They’re not the end-all and be-all, but they do make a difference – even if it’s just an extra $1K in salary at the beginning of your career, it could mean larger growth, promotion opportunities and more over the course of your career.
  2. Not having a plan.  Now it always annoyed me, interviewers who would ask where I wanted to be five years from now.  Part of life is seeing where it wants to take you and exploring those options.  But have a general direction at least.
  3. Lying.  After all, I may have been a Navy Seal in my own dreams, but that kind of stuff is easily verified these days.
  4. Sullying your reputation on Facebook or Twitter.  No surprise here, I suppose, but do be careful out there.
  5. Not respecting professional boundaries.  TMI.
  6. Gossiping, slandering and excessively criticizing.  Not only does nobody respect the perpetual Yenta, people don’t really like them either.
  7. Having an inappropriate relationship with your boss.  While this seems to be the way to reach success at one of my old jobs, having worked for several people there, it really is a road fraught with danger.  And despite the protections offered by sexual harassment laws, it’s just bad practice to dip your pen in the company ink.
  8. Not controlling your alcohol intake or libido.  Nothing kicks off the rumor mill faster than the company drunk at a Christmas party, or the colleagues having sex on the copier after hours.
  9. Job hopping just for the money.  At some point you do need to show you are willing to commit to something, to someone.
  10. Losing touch with references.  This is more of a long-term thing, made easier in these days of social networking.  But trying to go back to a former boss for a reference five or ten years later is a whole lot easier if they remembered you before your kind email asking for their help.
  11. Leaving a job on bad terms.  This is not always a matter of choice, but keeping up your work ethic and enthusiasm until the bitter end is important.  Last impressions are just as important as first impressions. does come back and advise on six ways you can sell yourself in every job interview:

  • Be the solution
  • Be specific
  • Prepare sound bites
  • Prepare to talk about your resume
  • Be aware of nonverbal communication
  • Be positive

Together (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Success these days is all about relationships, for better or for worse, so making sure you are not sabotaging your existing relationships is just as important as finding and nurturing new ones.

But sometimes it’s tough – when you are unemployed, or underemployed, just getting up in the morning to face the daily grind (be it filling out applications, dealing with an unpleasant colleague or simple putting on a suit and a smile) is tough.  It can be tough to manage your own feelings sometimes, but the Harvard Business Review does give some good advice:

  • Be your own good manager.  Everyone responds better with good management, and who knows better what you need to motivate you than yourself?  Go out there and lead yourself to success, following the best practices of good leaders.
  • Don’t just sit there, do something.  Ennui is a dangerous bedfellow.  Find something to do, even if it is remotely productive – building up some momentum can go a really long way when you’re feeling down.
  • Multi-task, don’t ride the rollercoaster.  Try to avoid the up-and-down inherent in single-track thinking.  Keep multiple projects and opportunities in the air – if one crashes, then the heartbreak is much less, just being a percentage of the eggs in your basket.  Besides, you’ll be too busy to fret, already on another task.
  • Keep to a routine.  Back to the momentum, a routine helps ensure that even in the toughest of times you have a plan to follow, you have a goal to reach.  Even a minor goal such as shaving every day, or reading the Trades (or might be enough to keep at least a part of your psyche on your goals.

Now all of this is great – a whole lot of don’ts for you to focus on.  Great.  But what next?  Isn’t there any positive advice out there?

The Business Insider compiled a list of 22 executives sharing the best advice they ever received.  Not all were inspiring to me, but they were to these folks, so they might be to you too:

  • “You’re not going to do this forever. There’s a finite amount of time you’re going to be doing this. Do this really, really well. And if you do this really, really well, everybody will see that, and they’ll move you onto the next thing. And you do that well, and then you’ll move.”  – Terry Lundgren, CEO Macy’s
  • “My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me. I have fun running ALL the Virgin businesses — so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.” – Richard Branson, Chairman Virgin Group
  • “My friend Andre said to me, ‘You know, Marissa, you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself to pick the right choice, and I’ve gotta be honest: That’s not what I see here. I see a bunch of good choices, and there’s the one that you pick and make great. I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.” – Marissa Mayer, VP Google
  • “First, it’s good to solicit your people’s opinions before you give them yours. And second, your people will be very influenced by how you carry yourself under stress.” – Lloyd Blankfein, CEO Goldman Sachs
  • “You’ve gotta learn to listen!” – Maureen Chiquet, CEO Chanel
  • “Follow [your] instincts and take the risk.” – Tory Burch, Creative Director Tory Burch
  • “Find a way to say yes to things. Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learn something new. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job, and your spouse, and even your kids.” – Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman Google
  • “All that matters is growth.” – Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook
  • “you can tell a guy to go to hell tomorrow — you don’t give up the right. So just keep your mouth shut today, and see if you feel the same way tomorrow.” – Warren Buffett, CEO Berkshire Hathaway
  • “In graduate school at Stanford University, I had about ten different ideas of things I wanted to do, and one of them was to look at the link structure of the web. My advisor, Terry Winograd, picked that one out and said, ‘Well, that one seems like a really good idea.’ So I give him credit for that.”– Larry Page, Co-founder Google
    • “Warren Buffett has taught me a lot of things, but he got me thinking very early on that at some point I’d have the opportunity and responsibility to give the wealth back.  “And so, literally decades before the foundation got started I was reading about philanthropists from the past … what they’d done and how it worked.” – Bill Gates, Chairman Microsoft
    • “Jim Sinegal, the founder of Costco, gave me fantastic advice because we were going down the wrong track. We brought him in to look at our plan and he said, ‘You know, I don’t want to be rude but this is exactly the wrong thing to do.’ This was my idea, and he was right.  “His advice was the cost of losing your core customers and trying to get them back post-recession would be much greater than trying to find new customers, so we completely shifted.”  Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks
    • “My mom says, ‘You have to have alligator skin. You can’t believe the good stuff, and you certainly can’t believe the bad stuff’ and that’s something I’ve come to accept.  “So when I see someone say anything nice about me in a magazine or anywhere, I probably won’t read it, because I don’t want to be in a place where I start believing my own press releases.” – Maria Bartiromo, CNBC Anchor
    • “Buy low and sell high. When I went to Wall Street. Actually all the old guys used to say ‘Figure out the money and you’ll figure out what’s going on.'” – Jim Rogers, Chairman Rogers Holdings and Beeland Interests
    • “Just remember, it’s a small business and a long life. You’re going to see all these people again.” – Richard Parsons, former Chairman Citigroup
    • “Just do it. There’s no benefit to saying, ‘I’m just doing this because it will get me to this new place,’ or ‘I’m just going to go into this analyst program because it will prep me for X.’  “If you’re passionate about something, go for it, because people are great at what they love and when they’re the happiest.” – Jennifer Hyman, CEO Rent The Runway
    • “[My father] had the uncanny ability with just a couple of little phrases. One: ‘You know better… don’t you,’ and ‘you can do better… can’t you.'” – Edward Rust Jr, CEO State Farm
    • “Always have the courage of your convictions. Always state what’s on your mind. Follow your gut. And observe what other people are doing around you.” – Joe Uva, former CEO Univision
    • “I remember asking my father, ‘Why do we need four newspapers?’ He said to me, ‘Unless you read different points of view, your mind will eventually close, and you’ll become a prisoner to a certain point of view that you’ll never question.'” – Mohamed El-Erian, CEO PIMCO
    • “Surround yourself with good people. And part of that is surrounding yourself with people who think differently than you. Surrounding yourself with people who have different experiences than you. In business, it’s all about the team.” – Kenneth Burdick, CEO Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minnesota
    • “[My high school] coach, a 50-year-old named Jack Armstrong … would shout, ‘Remember—you’ve got to make your deposits before you can make a withdrawal!’ … “Coach Armstrong came to mind in one of my first weeks on Wall Street, 35 years ago. I’d stayed up all night building a massive spreadsheet to be ready for a morning meeting. … The partner on the deal, however, took one look at my work, spotted a tiny error, and went ballistic.  “As I sat there while he yelled at me, I realized I was getting the MBA version of Coach Armstrong’s words. Making an effort and meeting the deadline simply weren’t enough.” – Steve Schwartzman, CEO Blackstone Group
    • “The then-big boss asked me to go and do basically a turnaround job. And he said, ‘I don’t mind what you do, as long as you don’t do what we’ve done before.'”  Peter Swinburn, CEO Molson Coors
    • “Don’t take too much advice. Most people who have a lot of advice to give — with a few exceptions — generalize whatever they did. …  “Every company carves its own path, and [founders] are under pressure to make their startups look like the last successful company everyone remembers.” – Ben Silberman, Co-founder Pinterest

So, as Ben Silberman might advise, take it all with a grain of salt and figure out what is right for you.  We’ve all had the experience of “putting out fires” at work, so the best piece of advice this writer can think of right now comes from Smoky the Bear:

“Only you can prevent forest fires.  Only you.”

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  1. […] as in the Angry Birds franchise, there are numerous obstacles in your way, but if you keep an eye on them, they not only won’t hinder your efforts too much, they might […]

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