Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Work Habit: Rabbit or Turtle?

Something that is slowly being lost and may never be recovered: The Work Habit.

We can all think of a person we know who gets up at 5:30 am and gets to their job at 7, works all day, every day. Or, someone we know, starts work at 8pm and works the night shift. How do they do it? How do they avoid the drinking at night that makes them oversleep in the morning or stay clean all day so that they can go to work in the evening? How do they do it everyday, for years?

The answer is The Work Habit. Some people(more in earlier generations than we see now) leave school and go directly to their career. They have had a habit of keeping regular hours for years and they continue that. These people become the backbone of the workforce. Even though they may have less education and tend to be unimaginative, they get promoted because they are dependable. The Work Habit serves them well, in place of the traits that might make them more productive workers(like the rabbit and the turtle). These people are the turtles and they usually win the race.

What has happened in the last generation is that we have favored the rabbits, the academic stars who "have it all". They accumulate a ton of education, get praised for innovation, and excel early in life because their natural tendencies give them an advantage in our dumbed-down education system. Most college classes start at 10am and if one is missed, its no big deal. If they miss too much, they can make it up with "extra credit" done on their own time schedule. Rabbit learn how to game the system but they fail to learn the Work Habit.

After school is done, reality comes to visit: employers expect people to show up on time, everyday. There is no "extra credit" in the workplace. If a person had trouble making it to a 10am class on time, starting work at 7am is going to be very hard. If a person is accustomed to putting off projects until the last minute and then depending on the grading curve, deadlines are going to be very hard to meet. Despite an excellent education, the rabbits fall behind in the real world because they never learned to embrace the basic Habits that make a good worker.

Employers can sort the turtles with the Work Habit from the rabbits that lack the Work Habit and tend to choose the turtles as employees. We see it all the time--young people with great educations who can't get a job.

The signs are always there for the employer to see:

The rabbit shows up last(maybe even a few minutes late), with a cup of coffee--this person chose a stop at the coffee shop over showing up to an appointment early. The turtles showed up for their interviews 10 or even 30 minutes early.

Rabbits have had heavy class schedules and also have huge education debts. Turtles have the minimum requirements, plus internships and have worked all during college. They tend to have much lower debts.

The rabbit has a flashy resume that is heavy on academics but light on experience and recommendations. The turtle has an industry standard resume that exactly meets the expectations of the interviewer and is heavy on experience and recommendations.

The rabbit knows the industry he is interviewing for and can impress the interviewer with past projects and accomplishments. The turtle knows the company he is interviewing for and will impress the interviewer with company-specific information. Rabbits show up for interviews. Turtles prepare for interviews.

The rabbit is time conscious(he may have another interview the same day or other plans after the interview.) The turtle devotes all of his attention to the interview as if he knows he will be hired.

After the interview, the rabbit moves on to his next interview. The turtle follows up(maybe 2 or 3 times) and knows who to talk to when he calls to check on the hiring process. The turtle may even continue to follow up even after the job is filled to try for the next opening with the company or in case the first hire doesn't work out.

Rabbits jump from interview to interview. Turtles get hired.

All of the things that make the Rabbit excel in school; being faster, being smarter and being able to change directions on the run, fail in real life.

All of the things that help the Turtle finish school; showing up on time, every time, finishing projects, following through with plans, and planning ahead, favor the turtle in real life.

Show me a recent grad who has had 10 interviews and no offers--Rabbit. This is also the person who, while being unemployed, stays up late, gets up late and has no direction other than showing up for interviews. This person doesn't even attempt to create a Work Habit to help him be a better employee.

Show me a recent grad who had 3 interviews and is working--Turtle. This person works at getting a job, gets up at the same time everyday, limits late nights, volunteers while he is waiting to interview and keeps in touch with the people who can get him a job. This person creates and maintains the Work Habit which will make him an excellent employee in the future.

Tips to getting a job

Whole books are written about how to get a job, many of them leave out the basics:

Teach yourself the Work Habit by establishing regular work hours in your life. Get up and go to bed on a regular schedule. Be ready for work during regular work hours. Continue honing your work skills while unemployed.

Research the companies that you want to work for and focus on a few: Refine your goals from, "I want to be a Programmer", to "I want to be a Microsoft Programmer." Hone your resume to appeal to the company you want to work for.

Refocus your resume to address the company you interview with.
Learn about the company before the interview.
Show up early, ready to work.
Wear clothes that are appropriate to work in, as if you will start working directly after the interview.
Do not schedule any other appointment for the day of the interview.
Do not look at the clock like you have someplace better to be in 5 minutes.
Leave your phone at home, in the car or turn it off as soon as you enter the place you will have the interview.
Bring only what you need for the interview, no coffee, no toys, no other distractions.
If you don't really want to work for the company, don't schedule an interview and waste the interviewer's time.
Follow up within 24 hours of the interview.
When it is apparent that someone else got the job, inquire about internships and other job openings within the company.

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