Interview don’ts for women

I’ve been reading/seeing/hearing a lot of information about how women unconsciously undermine themselves at work recently, and I see some of it in practice too. Partly because I’m job hunting and partly because I’ve reviewed a couple of CVs for friends lately, I started thinking back to the last interview I had. It was for an internal role that I did not get, and at the time I was fine with that. I knew I didn’t have much experience, the role would have been a step up for me, and I was looking forward to working with someone new that I could learn from.

Scroll forward a few month and now I’m witnessing the entirely mediocre performance of the person who did get the job, and I’m feeling the burn. It goes along the lines of ‘How did I lose out to that?’ and all I can think is that they talked a great game and I did not. So I offer this up in case anyone can learn from my mistakes. I’m not saying that I’d have gotten the job if I’d take a different approach, but I do think I could have been a stronger contender. Instead, I downplayed my own abilities because I knew going in that I didn’t tick every box on the list.

  1. What I did: because it was an internal interview, I assumed an element of familiarity –  I figured that the interviewers would be aware of both my past career history and my history within the company. I thought that this conversation was part of an ongoing discussion about opportunities for development within the company. (I still think it should have been, but that’s a different story.) What I should have done: Put on my best game face and treated it as though it was an external interview.
  2. What I did:  downplayed my own management experience and talked about the fact that I still felt I needed to learn more formal managerial skills to help me have better conversations with a team. What I should have done: Talked up the fact that since joining the company, I had rounded out my considerable existing experience with the in house training available, although, of course, as a manager you never stop learning.
  3. What I did: let my awareness of what I didn’t know overwhelm what I did know. What I should have done: Focused on everything I did know about the business, my stakeholder reach, my industry knowledge. Unless a role demands a specific technical skill, then say ‘The rest is just common sense, isn’t it?’ Because mostly, that will be totally right. I have yet to have a job that at base, is any more complex than that.
  4. What I did: Fail to make the most of the interim role I was doing. In retrospect, I think I was almost apologetic about stepping up. What I should have done: Owned my own capability.
  5. What I did: Felt like I was getting a favour by even being at second interview and that maybe if I was lucky I’d be given the chance to develop into the role. What I should have done: Recognised that I had every right to be there, based on my existing professional competence and acted like it.

I did what I think a lot of women do – I focused on my weaknesses, and not my strengths. Because we don’t think we’re good enough, right? And that can become a self-fulfilling cycle because we’ve sabotaged ourselves.

So next time I interview, I have promised myself that I will go in saying ‘I am good enough.’ No apologies.

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Let’s get this show on the road

First week back at work under my belt and I am not exaggerating to say that on the way home from my first day in the office, I stopped and bought half a case of wine. The next morning, the cats woke me up at 5am and I failed to get back to sleep for the next two hours because I was worrying about work. When I sat down to work at 8am, I immediately wanted to go back to sleep. There is a little knot of something hiding just behind my ribs, to which my response was not ‘Oh what’s that?’ but ‘Oh, it’s back.’

I thought that the way I felt at the end of last year was due to it being the end of a stressful year. I had a solid break at Christmas, I didn’t get ill, I barely left the house, I slept and read and relaxed and did a pretty good job of losing track of the days and living in the now. My main concern was ‘Is it too early to open Prosecco?’ (Of course not, it’s never too early to open Prosecco.)

So I just about have enough critical distance left to hold my symptoms up to the light and say ‘That’s work related anxiety, that is.’

And it can fuck off. I’m not having it. It infuriates me that my job, which is essentially a transactional relationship, can have such a negative effect on me. It feels very much like the oldest profession in the world: I get fucked over and then paid for it. You might say that I work in the corporate world so I asked for it. I couldn’t say you’d be wrong. The salary and the car allowance and the bonus package are what I get for continuing to participate in an abusive relationship.

But, the salary and the car allowance and the bonus package don’t cut it any more. Last year, alert to the fact that I’d be very lucky to match that deal even in London, I panicked and stayed put. This year? I’m older and less risk averse. So I’m thinking, suck up the pay cut.  Could I work part time? Could I get my own business of some kind off the ground? Can I build a portfolio career that keeps me afloat and lets me work from home most of the time? And if I try it, and fail…? Well, then, so be it.

So: I’m registered with recruitment agencies; I’m heading to a networking event in a couple of weeks; a friend has put me in touch with one of her friends about one of the ideas I had, and my sister has a contact for me too. It’s not coincidental that I’m tapping into a network of capable and competent women, because they are the people who immediately come up with the practical and actionable advice.

It could be a year of big change. It could be a year in which I fall hard, and retire to lick my wounds. But if I’m going to suffer anxiety anyway, then I’ll damn well inflict it on myself.

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Life lessons

So, Charlie-with-the-broken-leg is now out of his cage and under house arrest. It’s been a week so far and I can see him getting stronger every day: he’s gone from limping a little and being uncertain about some jumps, to bounding wherever he feels like. He got out one night by going through an open window and down a sheer, 8 foot wall. A couple of hours later, at the sound of the snack packet, he came racing across the lawn to me.

He’s got another 10 days in the house before he’ll be back at the vets to have the pin removed from his leg. Then normal life will resume. I’m looking forward to that, as he’ll be so much happier being allowed outside; but he’s taken to following me around and I’ll miss my little shadow.

Meanwhile, my other cat barely comes in the house because she no longer recognises Charlie. When I do lure her in, usually with food, she’ll tolerate him for as long as it takes her to eat, then resume growling before making for the nearest exit. I’m hoping the trade off for seeing less of Charlie will be that Belle feels comfortable in the house again.

With all this cat care going on, I’ve been at home a lot more. I haven’t done any overnight stays away and I’ve been working from home as much as I can. I’m at my laptop by 8am latest, but as everyone who gets to skip their commute knows, you get to sleep in, do a fuller day’s work and still have more of an evening. So for me, despite working longer days, it’s felt like something of a holiday simply because I only recharge by being at home.

I hadn’t realised the extent to which I had gotten into the habit of looking at the various locations ahead of me during my week and thinking ‘Just got to get through it.’ Or the extent to which a constant low level of tiredness and stress was delimiting my ability to relax in what felt like very limited time in my house. The balance was off and although I knew some of the negative effects, I hadn’t appreciated all of them. There’s a pretty long list:

  1. Not getting time for lunch at work, so 3pm lunches of popcorn and granola bars, plus too tired to cook proper evening meals.
  2. Not drinking enough water
  3. Drinking too much tea, I think, and therefore over-caffeinated and twitchy
  4. Plus tired and unable to concentrate properly, so too much time on my phone
  5. Therefore internet shopping and then wondering where my money goes
  6. Not enough exercise
  7. A bit of not-exercising guilt
  8. General sense of should be doing something but failing to tackle any of the above because tired and lazy

And the big one, not feeling as though I had any time. Which is different to not actually having time: if I had any time at all to read Popsugar then I certainly had time to make decent food or practice yoga. It just didn’t feel that way because I had trapped myself in an apathetic circle of lethargy.

Now, I am definitely busier when I’m commuting, and I had been spending a couple of nights away a week. So it wasn’t all perception. But the situation wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, either. It’s just taken a bit of critical distance for me to be able to reassess the situation. I’ll have to get back to a more normal working pattern, but there are still steps I can take to keep some balance:

  1. More driving, fewer hotel stays. Not that more miles on the road is ideal, ideal but it’s the necessary swap for me to be at home where I can relax.
  2. Less time on my phone. I don’t think it’s a smartphone addiction, I think it’s a lazy habit (I can stop any time). Right now, I’m not sure where my phone is, but it’s definitely not within arm’s reach.
  3. Yoga. I’ve found a great yoga studio about half an hour away, and I’ve been trying to go to at least one class a week. I’m going to try to start a home practice, which is something I’ve never been successful with before.
  4. Water. I don’t understand why I struggle with this one so much. I spent Monday with a self-induced dehydration headache and it’s still hovering in the background, waiting to come back if I’m not careful. I can drink tea by the bucket but even with a water bottle on my desk, I can fail to take a single sip. I know all the benefits, I know from experience that I feel better if I’m hydrated (no shit, Sherlock) so why am I punishing myself? Argh.

So that’s kind of my promise to myself. Nothing huge there and yet, in small ways, life changing.

In which I have a new job

In fact, I’m four weeks in. It’s a new role within the same company, but for the first time in my entire career, my job has nothing to do with either content or digital. This job is a further big step on the trajectory away from publishing and towards who knows what?

So now I’m working in the team responsible for coming up with new products and propositions. There’s a commercial aspect that I’ve never had before, and since delivery of any new product depends on lining up the customer care and field ops support as well, there’s another whole different area of the business to get my head around. All this was part of the appeal. I work for a big company and there are vast swathes of it that I never got a look at in my old role.

Just to complicate matters slightly, the hiring manager left before I started, her boss leaves at the end of June and as far as any of us are aware, there aren’t any replacements lined up. Mine is a new role in the team. I have no direct reports but 10 people junior to me who need varying degrees of management. A new product launch is looking like it will be 3 weeks late – I swear this is coincidental.

In all this, I’d say my comfort zone is a short drive away. Right through interview, I still thought that my publishing career was the bedrock evidence of what I can do. But that’s no longer the case. I was hired on the basis of the last three years, not the however many before that. I feel as though I swapped firm foundations for a high wire. As I don’t actually know what my job is and there’s no one to tell me, I’m doing whatever the hell seems to need doing. Every day, I’m flying blind. I’ve put out a lot of fires over the last few weeks, I’ve U-turned on a couple of decisions when I got more knowledge and thanked people for telling me. I don’t know how I’m doing, so I come home some days thinking ‘I got this’ and others thinking ‘What the fuck happened today?’

In other words, it’s standard new job stuff. The fear, the learning curve, the anxiety, the successes, the gradual build back up to confidence, to that state when ‘I got this’ is normal. Currently I’m at a low to moderate anxiety level, which is not only not a bad thing (temporarily), it’s what I went looking for. It’ll either all work out, or I’ll crash and burn. So, ok then.

10 things I have learned at work

  1. How to make tea without a teaspoon. There are never enough bloody teaspoons.
  2. Always make friends with security, the post room and the PAs. They are where the true power to make your life hard really resides.
  3. Lots of smart people together can make a whole lot of spectacularly dumb ass decisions; individually, they’ll all know it’s stupid but the Combined Stupidity Factor will out.
  4. In any shared space, standards will fall to the lowest common denominator. Thus, if you don’t have cleaners who clean bathrooms or kitchens on a regular basis, it will be like living back in halls of residence, only worse.
  5. The first 10 minutes of any conference or video call will be spent sorting out the technical issues and then waiting for the people who are late.
  6. Meetings that don’t have an agenda or minutes are a waste of everyone’s time.
  7. Buy your own stationery/as much kit as you can get away with. At least then you’ll have a good pen and a decent notebook, maybe even a workable phone and (holy grail) laptop.
  8. There is always more work. Put a hard stop in your calendar, go home and don’t check email.
  9. Play nice. Then grit your teeth and still play nice. If you really have to, remind people that you are, in fact, playing nice, and things could get a whole lot worse than this if they want? Then go home and pour a big glass of wine.
  10. This too shall pass.

In which there are swings and roundabouts

And it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, blah di blah di blah blah. Rhubarb rhubarb.

I’ve got a new job. It’s an internal move, so I’m not sure when it will start, but on Friday I drafted the job spec for my current role because I’m sticking around to help recruit my replacement. It’s an odd thing, writing a description of the job you do. The weeks mostly go by in a blur of meetings and emails, but you know what? I do a lot. At the same time, a cool reappraisal shows there are skills I don’t have that this role needs now. So it’s a good thing that I’ll be moving out of the way.

The new job is big and scary, beyond my experience and out of my comfort zone. That’s why it appealed to me and why I’m taking it. Hurrah for age and experience, because I may fall flat on my face and when I was younger, I wouldn’t have risked that.

This morning I got my car serviced, and as I’ve almost hit the mileage with about 18 months to go on the lease, I asked about changing it. Well. The story was not the one I wanted to hear. Turns out that there’s not a whole lot of an interest in a high performance car with 50k miles on the clock in under three years. I’m downgrading and I still have to put in a reasonable deposit to contribute towards depreciation and the gap between what I owe and what the current car is worth.

But. I can cover the deposit, and there were plenty of times in my life when that wouldn’t have been the case. Yes, it’ll be a hit on my savings but no one marched me into a Mercedes dealership three years ago and put a gun at my head to make me lease an extravagant car. I didn’t know then I’d be clocking roughly 20,000 miles a year.

So I write this on Saturday evening, sitting in the kitchen sink… Oops, I mean at the kitchen table, with a glass of wine. There’s a vase of flowers in front of me, bought for me because of a perception that I had a tough morning. I’ve got Thursday’s country music show playing while I cook dinner and I spent the afternoon reading a novel.

I’m a fortunate woman.

In which I’m getting educated again

One of the main problems I have with work, other than it makes you leave the house and talk to other people and sit there all day long, is that it’s a bit dull. Busy does not equate to intellectually challenged, it just means more to do in the same amount of time. My job is busy, but it’s not hard, so I consistently have all this mental capacity going to waste, and fuck me, I’m 45 this year and I can hear the high pitched whistling noise of years passing by in which I’m achieving bugger all. I’m too lazy to be an autodidact and I need some kind of framework to make me put the effort in. Periodically this general sense of ‘Oh my god, my brain is going to mush’, hits a peak and I buy textbooks and dig out my PhD application, and then realise it’s a house deposit or PhD fees and

 

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(Because it turns out free WordPress is a pain in the ass with gifs)

But then the country went mad one week (Brexit) and nothing made sense, plus work is an ongoing emotional maelstrom (which I’m observing in the way that some people chase tornadoes) and I suddenly wanted very much to have something that was cold and practical and fact based to hang on to. Then I realised also that really quite a lot of the population is largely either batshit (Brexit, Trump) or incomprehensible, and thought some way of explaining that might be good.

Thus, as a neglected girlfriend to her former lover,  I have fled back to the welcoming arms of the Open University and registered for a BSc in Psychology & Law. This makes no sense whatsoever against my learning profile, and that’s kind of the point. It’s way off base for me, so it should be more of a challenge. Unfortunately, the first year’s module is all online (what, no box of reading materials?) and because it’s only undergraduate I think I might have to talk to some of the other people on the course (what for?) but still. The old grey cells should get something of a workout for a change and I’ll have access to JSTOR again. Get in.