If it's a story about me, then I'll say so up front.

This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Try Not to be so…..You.

I was headed to a job interview for a position that I was excited about. My friend, Professor Robert Littman, was giving me advice. “Try Not to be so....You.” I knew what he meant. I am unique/effective/charming/nuts/in-your-face/funny/weird (you choose – they all apply). I like to think of myself as just having too much personality for one body. But in a job interview, I should temper my sense of humor. I need to talk more slowly. I need to wear subtle colors and be careful not to overshare.

In the end I, of course, ignored his advice. Because if they had hired this serious, subtle, unassuming, low-key persona, in a few weeks the real me would have slipped out. I like to think that it would have been a lovely surprise for them but maybe not everyone would agree.

Do you know that if you Google “How to behave on a job interview,” you get 222,000 results? Really! There are whole articles written about how to dress, controlling your body language, never using slang, employing the proper handshake, the use of eye makeup, and correct nail polish colors.

You can hire a consultant to use for practice sessions. You can take multi-level courses on interview techniques, learning inside hints such as the initial interview is probably with a low-level HR person designed to weed out unqualified candidates so gaining “rapport” is a waste of your time. You learn how to cock your head ever-so-slightly and arch your eyebrows so as to appear "interested" in what the interviewer is saying. One special tip is to carry a thick portfolio with the client’s name on it, inferring that you have done a lot of research on their company. (It can be filled with blank pages – it’s the impression that counts.)

Sometimes the advice is contradictory. “Never cross your legs or your arms. Sit straight and at attention.” “Be careful not to look too stiff or uncomfortable. Crossing your arms just at the wrist conveys a comfortable but businesslike composure.” “ Smile; it’s a fact that smiling makes other people happy and comfortable around you.” “Don’t smile too much. It may look like you are not taking the interview seriously” Whew!

There are a lot of rules about your attire, too. Dress slightly better than the interviewer. Men should always be clean shaven. Never wear more than a watch and one ring. (Women are allowed to wear earnings that are small and do not dangle.) Never show any piercings and be careful to cover all tattoos. (Here in Hawaii, to comply with that last rule, all interviews would have to be conducted in Hazmat suits.)

If everyone were to follow even the basic advice of the “experts,” we would all end up looking and sounding like Stepford interviewees, rolling off a conveyor belt direct from the factory.

When I first moved to Hawaii 15 years ago, I tried very hard to fit in. Back in 1994, a potential employer actually suggested that I would do better in the job market if I would dye my hair brown and learn a little pidgin. More than one headhunter recommended that I “dumb down” my resume so as not to intimidate potential employers.

I finally had to give it up. In the words of cartoon character Popeye, “I yam what I yam…” I am a successful businessperson who is terminally haole (Hawaiian slang for Caucasian), terminally optimistic, terminally unique and I decided that those who couldn't handle that really shouldn't have anything to do with me. (There is a reunion of people who choose not to deal with me each year. It fills Aloha Stadium.)

It’s tough times for job interviews these days. There are so few jobs and so many candidates. And I worry that all of this interview advice is bad for everyone involved. Each side is trying so hard to put on a “good face.” Don’t kid yourself – the employers are doing the same thing. Employers are glossing over their financial difficulties (I have had some experience with this one) and purposely failing to disclose arduous job expectations in an effort to lure the best prospects.

Transparency is more important today than ever before. This corporate culture demands an almost unrealistic work output in order to keep afloat (unless, of course, you work for the government or a bank). We just can’t afford to play games with each other in the job market. Both employers and employees have a right to know what they are getting themselves into.

So if you interview me over the next few months and you frankly don’t feel up to handling that much personality without a couple of stiff drinks, just warn me and I’ll try not to be so, you know……me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Share the Knowledge – There’s Enough to Go Around.

There was a period in my life where conventions and groups flew me all over the country to speak on the topic of how to bid production contracts correctly. Inevitably, after every seminar, someone would come up to me and ask, “Why is someone as smart as you sharing this information with your competition? Your knowledge is your bread and butter. Why give it away?”

Well first of all, when you’re as naturally blonde as I am, it’s always shocking when anyone accuses you of being smart. Usually people want to come up and tell me the joke about how you can tell when a blonde has been using your computer (answer: Whiteout® on the screen). But secondly, and more importantly, my answer always was and still is, “What’s good for the industry ultimately benefits all of us. Competition ups the ante and brings out the best in everyone. It keeps us sharp.”

Besides which, I don’t want some bozo to win the bid because he/she didn’t understand the process and then, after having gotten the job, went into panic mode with the client. Clients have a bad habit of lumping the idiots in with the blondes, oops… I mean professionals, and it makes us all look bad. Just because I taught someone how to do it properly, that doesn’t mean he can beat me at my own game. I’m not THAT blonde!

My point here is: don’t be stingy with your knowledge. There’s plenty to go around. Competition is a good thing.

My father owned a couple of small dress shops in Ohio. Whenever a new dress shop opened in the neighborhood, my father always sent a big spray of flowers for their opening. He actually helped a young couple get started with credit from vendors. He had another competitor with whom he regularly ate lunch and traded advice. When I questioned it, he assured me that anything that helped draw customers to that end of town was a good thing. Anything that kept potential customers from driving into Columbus or Cleveland or Cincinnati to buy their clothes helped keep home court advantage. And in the end, he was confident of his position in the marketplace. The attraction of a fresh store may bring the customer into town, but in the end she will wander down the street to see what is new at “Soldan’s” and he’d have more merchandise and better selections than the new guys so he’d inevitably end up with the sale.

My father was smart that way. He was lousy at raising a strange, quirky daughter but he was a terrific businessman.

I believe in healthy competition. I believe in sharing the wealth. I believe in love….no, wait, that’s a Beatles song. I am competitive. I want to succeed but I want to succeed because I’m smarter and deserve to succeed – not because there was no one to compete against. No one wants to win by default. Sure, it’s better than not winning at all, but the victory’s not as sweet and in the end, it makes you soft and lazy.

So go out there and help a competitor. Don’t help him/her a lot, mind you; just enough to make you feel superior and maybe just a little bit blonder. :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

“Ya gotta dance with them what brung ya.” (A Treatise on Loyalty in Business.)

It’s cheaper to get your printing done in China or Hong Kong. Even non-union shops can’t compete with Asian prices. So in a tough economy such as this, doesn’t it make sense to go for the lowest bid? I don’t think so, but I am in the minority. And that worries me.

I happen to live in Hawaii. I have been surprised to learn that this blog is read by people all over the country. Maybe not a lot of people, but still…. The concept of loyalty in business applies anywhere, it is just that in Hawaii we are so isolated and insular that the obvious often seems easier to recognize.

I am careful to bank at one of the few financial institutions that is 100% locally owned. My bank is not a wholly owned subsidiary of an international financial conglomerate. There are no absentee shareholders screaming for dividends. A Chinese family that understands the unique needs of the neighborhood and has a deep investment in the community’s future has owned it for generations. They have no plans to move their customer service department to Indonesia.

I try to buy my fruit and vegetables at the local farmers’ market. Not only do I get to choose exactly how many tomatoes I want (no prepackaged 5 lb. quotas) but I support a hometown family who will take my money and put it right back into the community through neighborhood purchases and state taxes. We grow avocados right here in the islands; why do I need to buy avocados from California? Furthermore, by buying locally, I reduce the environmental impact caused by fuel to ship fruit across the ocean.

I purchase my office supplies exclusively at Fisher Hawaii. Their d├ęcor is not as pretty as Office Max (boy, that’s an understatement!) but the money stays right here in Hawaii, and that’s important to our economy. Also, it must be a pretty good place to work because the employee turnover is zilch and whatever you’re looking for, they can quickly find it. It may be coated with five years of dust (both the employee and the item) but you name it and they’ve got it.

Sometimes I have to shop at Home Depot, but only if City Mill doesn’t carry what I need. Not that there is anything wrong with Home Depot; they seem to be a conscientious company that provides a lot of local jobs. It’s just that their profits (which were up in both the first and second quarter of 2009, by the way) get shipped to the home office in Atlanta. Now there is nothing wrong with Atlanta. It’s a swell town if you’re not trying to find an address on Peachtree Street (there are 71 streets in Atlanta with a variant of Peachtree in their name). But those profits aren’t helping build the infrastructure of Hawaii, and I live in Hawaii.

A number of years ago, I was the speaker at the local Ad Federation luncheon. I used to produce television advertising and I took advantage of my speaking opportunity to annoy several ad agency executives by publicly noting that while a recent Hollywood-based film was shooting on Oahu, a number of no-name imported California actors had been cast in local commercials. These were not actors with special talents. They brought no “star quality” to the spots. In fact, the parts they took were minor roles with a minimum of one or two lines, any of which could have been handled nicely by at least 10 competent local actors who weren’t working enough to be overexposed; but the clients paid a premium for out-of-town talent.

“What’s the problem?” someone in the audience challenged me. Well, here’s the problem: Those actors were already drawing a paycheck from the film. Shooting a spot on the side was just “gravy” to them. The residual checks were sent to their homes where they paid their rent (in Los Angeles), bought some groceries (probably at Ralph’s) and gassed up their cars at the Slauson Avenue 76 station. In other words, it generated absolutely no economic impact in Hawaii.

Furthermore, each job that went to one of these out-of-towners deprived a local working actor of his livelihood. Who knows? That might have been the month that the local actor couldn’t make his rent and was forced to quit acting to sell Hondas at Pflueger Auto. Why should the client care? Because next month he will need to shoot another spot, and that California hottie will be long gone. By the way, so will the local actor. The talent pool just got smaller and the client will have no one to blame but himself (or herself). Either way, everybody lost.

Investing in your community is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity. Frankly, we need the tax base. Tourism is down even worse than it was last month. The Lord helps those who help themselves. Encouraging local prosperity is just good business. Think about that next time you reach for those raspberries grown in Peru. Papaya tastes better anyway.

Monday, September 7, 2009

When Immediate Gratification Isn’t Fast Enough

Email, Facebook, Twitter, Tweets, LinkedIn, Texting, Skye, PDAs, wiki, blogs, Ryze, Tribes.net, Jabber, IRC, etc. The hottest topic in business these days is the importance of leveraging social networks as a business tool. It seems imperative that we join groups and communicate RIGHT NOW!!! I can’t help but wonder, is this really a good thing?

True story: I was editing a job at a video house in Los Angeles a few years ago, and I took a minute to run down the hall to the bathroom. Three minutes tops, I swear. When I got back to the editing suite, I discovered that a Hollywood producer had called my cell phone and was livid when I didn’t answer. Not annoyed - livid! I immediately returned his call and got an earful. “I went to the john. Did you really expect me to take my phone into the stall?” I joked. Yes, he did. I believe that his exact words were, “Your bodily functions shouldn’t be an inconvenience to me.”

Now admitedly, this was Hollywood, where everyone has an inflated opinion of the value of their self-worth. But still…..

My husband and I have a friend, several friends actually, who upon failing to reach one of our cell phones immediately calls the other to ask, “Where is Kay/Brad?” My mother used to do this constantly, hunting me down like a bloodhound on an escaped convict. When did it get to be my responsibility to be available to everyone 24/7?

I understand the concept of social networking. I’m trying to embrace it – really I am. But it’s getting to be a fulltime job.

E-mail is bizarre; even with my spam filter, I get about 60 to 70 emails a day. Those are divided fairly evenly between

1. opportunities to get a Ph.D. using only my “life experience,”

2. notifications of terrible deaths of government officials in Nigeria who have inexplicably left $6,000,000 of absolutely legal money and desperately need to run it through my bank account and, finally,

3. friends who send me jokes, YouTube clips, photos of cats, links to newspaper articles and, very rarely but occasionally, some actual information of interest.

I have a question: Does getting a link to a YouTube clip constitute legitimate social networking? Even if it is that really amazing clip of Chris Bliss juggling to a Beatles medley? I doubt it.

Facebook is an actual social network although it’s awfully time-consuming and I’m not sure just how it’s going to help me further my career.

I still don’t get Twitter. Although I actually do tweet from time to time, but I’ve never learned a single interesting piece of newsworthy information from a tweet and I’m beginning to think it’s a complete waste of time (please don’t tell Aston Kucher, though). And if you’ve got a PDA, you can text your tweet to Twitter. Furthermore, my friend Kathy Kamauu (who is an expert in this stuff) assures me that I can automatically update my LinkedIn status every time I post a tweet in Twitter via a Ping.fm account. Because it’s terribly important to revise my user timeline faster! Faster, faster, faster….

Why? And at what cost?

Lots of employers will now only accept a resume via email. Remember when you agonized over which paper stock would make your resume stand out from the crowd? Forget that now. You have lost control over how your resume will look or how their particular printer will format the pages.

A few years ago I was between gigs and already had a big trip to France planned and paid for so, on a lark, I applied for a temporary month-long telemarketing job. I scored well in the written materials but during my face-to-face interview, right out of the gate the guy asked me, “Quick, what is your worst fault?” I paused for a moment because, frankly, I have an array of crappy attributes from which to choose and I was trying to decide which was my most despicable. After exactly five seconds (he was keeping track) he told me, “Never mind, you already failed the test. You can leave.”

“Gee, what just happened? I wanted to give you an absolutely truthful answer.”

“We don’t want a truthful answer,” he explained. “We want a fast answer. If they have even five seconds to think, they might realize that buying a timeshare on Kauai is probably not a practical thing to do. We don’t want ever want you to stop to think because it allows them to think, and thinking isn’t good for business.”

In other words, thinking is a bad thing. Speed is a good thing today typing w/out capitals or punctuation is faster UR seeing the future of tomorrows business letters LOL