April 18, 2008
A decade ago, I wrote two columns which posed the question: are employers really desperate for workers? They may be found here and here. In those columns, I explored how employers said they wanted qualified people to fill open positions but then seemed to go out of their way to ignore those who were clearly qualified for the positions. Apparently, in ten years time, that situation has not changed. The adages of working hard, being indispensable, upgrading your skills, and a whole host of other phrases employers and recruiters use to describe what skills a good employee, or prospective employee, should have, are essentially worthless.

Don't take this as gospel. Some of what I am going to say might not apply to every job but it will apply to the vast majority. Also realize that there are exceptions to every rule. There are those among us who have worked hard to get where they are and they deserve to be congratulated. To the rest, sycophantry and being able to sell ice to Eskimos in January comes to mind.

Working Hard

By working hard I don't mean putting in 70 hour weeks (you're stupid if you do anyway), but rather, accomplishing many jobs every day, keeping your workplace up and running, taking initiative and in general, trying to be the best you can. Today's employers, whether public or private, do not want hard workers. What they do want are people who can follow orders without question, have no independent thought and aren't ones to rock the boat with ideas of improving efficiency.

Today's marketplace puts a premium on people who get just enough done every day to keep their jobs and look like they accomplished something, but who otherwise pose no threat to those higher up the food chain. If you're the kind who wants to get as much done every day, to keep your workplace functioning smoothly, you will not be rewarded with promotions.

Some might say that instead of working harder one should work smarter, but that too is a fallacy. If you work smarter, you endanger your career by making your co-workers look like incompetent baboons. Further, if you can expend less energy accomplishing the same tasks that someone else does, which causes you to have free time, you don't have enough work to do which means you are no longer needed. The pink slip is in the mail.

Being Indispensable

If you think being the only person in the office who is able to successfully operate a piece of equipment or can resolve any issue in a short time is a good thing, think again. You are just as expendable as the newest hire. Your knowledge, insight and ability to find solutions where others fail is not, and will never be, what employers are looking for. After all, if you know something that no one else does, it can't be that important, can it?

Employers don't like you knowing something they don't, even if you've explained to them how you successfully accomplish your tasks several times before or written down step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish the task. If you know who to call to push the paperwork through to complete a job, then someone else can do it as well. Granted, it might take them a few months to figure out which part of the world to call, who to talk to and the right phrase to use when trying to discuss your problem, but that's part of the learning process. Which brings me to the next point. . .

Upgrading skills

Do you like to learn something new every day? Do you like going to training classes so you can be better at your job? Do you list as one of your career goals as challenging yourself? If so, boy do I have a job for you. It's called the one you have right now. Look real hard around you. This is where you will be until you retire.

Learning is the new dirty word of employment. People who want to learn, who like to learn, are threats to employers because they want to expand their minds so they can provide a better service to the customers. And that is a bad thing. Under no circumstances should providing a quality product or service ever be allowed to happen. If you, as the employee, can quickly diagnose problems by being better informed than your co-worker, pretty soon all your customers will expect the same level of peformance from the other employees. And that just can't be allowed to happen.

There was an episode of Star Trek:The Next Generation in which a derelict satellite is found with cryonically frozen humans aboard. Several bodies onboard were able to be revived and the remainder of the show revolved around how each person adapted to their new environment. One man in particular, Ralph Offenhouse, who had been wealthy in his former life, couldn't understand what motivated people centuries in the future if not to accumulate wealth and power. Captain Picard tells him: "The challenge, Mr. Offenhouse, is to improve yourself. To enrich your life. Enjoy it."

Sadly, that is science-fiction fantasy at its best. Improving yourself through continual learning is a no-no. You cannot be seen to wanting to enrich your life at your employer's expense.

Adaptability

Adaptability somewhat falls under the Working Hard category but deserves a few moments by itself. If you're the kind of person who can be thrown into almost any situation, grasp what is taking place and change your plans on a dime to fit circumstances, you might want to reconsider your ways.

Jack of all trades are a dying breed. Employers want their employees to do one thing, and only one thing. Under no circumstances should you be allowed to know about any other process of your employer other than your own. Nor should you help others complete their tasks if you can provide insight into an issue beyond your job description. You have one job to do. Put the blinders on and do it.

So how does one get ahead in life? How do you become a tour-de-force, a shining example of the American dream? If you fit into any of the following three categories, you'll go far. As always, exceptions do apply.

Be attractive

Study after study has shown that the more attractive a person is, the more successful they are compared to those considered less attractive. You don't have to have any actual skills, so long as you look good.

Case in point, Tila Tequila. Big brown eyes, long luxurious hair, pouty lips and a pair of breasts round and firm enough to be obviously fake. Yet, despite her complete lack of talent in anything, she has succeeded BECAUSE of her looks. She has her own show on MTV where, from what I gather, she attempts to whittle down a list of men and women to one final contestant. The show involves sleeping and cavorting with each person in turn, all in an attempt to. . . well, I'm not sure what the end game is but it probably involves marshmallows and bunnies. Or maybe armadillos. Since I don't watch the show, perhaps someone can enlighten me. But it must be something worthwhile, otherwise, why would MTV continue to show her irrelevancy to society and lack of anything remotely redeeming? Oh right, she looks good. Gotcha.

Sell ice to Eskimos in January

I have had the unfortunate pleasure of working for such people. To everyone but themselves and those who hired them, they come off as condescending and dismissive of anyone's ideas other than their own. But hey, they have the corner office and you don't so shut up and do what they say.

There is an art-form to these types. They adhere to the "talk a good game" philosophy but when it comes to actually doing something, you can be rest assured they have no clue as to what they are doing. They move from job-to-job, listing each one on their résumé as a badge of honor but leaving out the part where the projects they worked on were riddled with cost overruns and delays.

All that matters is that they are able to sell themselves to the highest bidder. Once they're hired, they don't worry about their incompetency and lack of organization being discovered because they can always. . .

Blame someone else

Ah yes, the tried and true measure of greatness. Under normal circumstances, blaming someone else for your shortcomings makes you look weak and pathetic. Except when it comes to moving up the food chain. If you are able to combine the above quality with this one, you'll go far.

Is progress on assignments you've delegated to your underlings not getting done on time because you keep changing plans at the last minute? Blame them for your lack of organization. Equipment not in place and ready when the timeline said? Not your fault you told the installers to put the equipment in the same place as a wall. Earnings miss the mark? Blame people shorting your company's stock even though you're paid 238,904,761 times what your secretary makes because the final decisions rest with you.

I know what you're thinking. Much of what I have said reminds you of Dilbert and to some extent, that is true. Scott Adams has been writing about this kind of nonsense for years. I'm merely condensing the rules for you so you are an informed minion. Having read this, you can no longer complain when, no matter how hard you work or what you do, you are always passed over for promotion and accolades.

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