After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pride and Paying Your Dues

By The Headhunter’s Daughter

Kaelan Ward is a 3-year professional, a legal business development coordinator, a survivor of more than one career risk, the founder and contributor of Posts on Post (urban etiquette for the modern misbehaver), and the product of 25 years of career advice from THE HEADHUNTER himself. Email Kaelan.

Though several of the elements may be the same (as evidenced in previous Headhunter Files post, We’re Talkin’ Romance), job hunting ain’t no love story.

Everyone graduates with a diploma and dreams of a job that rewards creativity and “great” ideas with praise, cash and prizes. And then they enter the workforce and make copies (if they’re lucky, coffee if not).

In our indulged, entitled Generation X, Y and Millennial society, where we’ve been overserved on ego, the corporate workforce is morally bound to keep us chained to a printer for at least two years to keep things in perspective.

The most common question asked in interviews for jobs that require between zero and five years of experience is the ever-dreaded, “Do you mind a small amount of administrative work?”

It’s a trick question because the amount of administrative work is totally contingent upon how much or little you suck at the job and company politics – if you’re terrible, get some orthopedic shoes because you’ll be running checks back and forth to payroll all day. If you’re great, your administrative work will be limited to “a whole lot.”

The fact is, you will likely spend much of your twenties snarking, “Good thing I got my college degree.”

After a few well-designed career moves, my current job only involves about 40% administrative work, allowing me to spend a small majority of my day doing things like thinking, writing and talking on phones. But this was no happy accident – during six internships I did everything from floral design to sweeping floors at various ad agencies.

Despite what your self-esteem tells you, administrative work isn’t beneath you. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t be too proud for administrative work.

·       Administrative work is the window to the corporate world. It may seem like just making copies, but what you hold in your nimble hands are documents that are either being distributed, circulated, or revised, pertaining to goings-on beyond your cubicle walls. Taking “the minutes” gives you access to high-level meetings, editing PowerPoints provides a mini style-guide for how the higher-ups work, and even the most pious employee takes a peek at the papers they’re shredding. Just because you’re not involved in the papers you’re putting together doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them.

·       People hate administrative work. I know that includes you, but your boss, who receives more than your six daily emails (not counting those from J. Crew about the upcoming 30% off final sale) really, really hates administrative work. By offering to bear some of his or her burden, you can kill an afternoon and show off your collating and color-coding skills to management.

·       Admins have all the good gossip. If you think Admins aren’t important to your corporate climb, try getting access to a partner’s life (and some helpful tips on approaching him or her) without approaching the powerful secretary. Administrative work – including expense reports, email organizing and copy-making – gives you the best window into who is moonlighting at a bar during his/her long lunch and who might be a bit of a pervert. Hey – you’re the low man on the totem pole. You’ve got time to kill.  Which leads to…

·       You are the low man on the totem pole and you’ve got time to kill. Sorry, sweetheart. We all know that you’re fully qualified to be two pay grades above your current position, but like it or not, this is your current lot in life so get comfortable in the cubicle until review season. That’s just not the way the world works. Someday you will look back at that cubicle and fondly remember leaving at five.

·       You need a job. It’s a jungle out there (didn’t you learn anything from CareerBuilder’s Super Bowl ads, you little consumer?) and you need employment unless your favorite roommates go by “Mom” and “Dad.” If you’re truly unsatisfied, keep your eyes open. But be warned – that “small amount of administrative work” is not your personal cross to bear, so don’t come crying to me when your new employer begins orientation with a tour of the scanner.

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