Networking as a Guy-Friend Girl

A guy-friend girl could basically be summed up in two words: Sarah Miller. I served my time with the female population at a single-gender high school, and while I love my lady friends, there really is nothing so pleasant as a great bloke friend. This is basically what my bloke friendships entail: beer, and banter. This is why I love them so much, because my diarrhoea mouth that runs on sarcasm generally leads to pissed off lady friends, but is just taken as face value crap by dudes. That rocks my socks. And my lady friends who get me are the absolute loves of my life, because they’re smart self-assured diamonds in the rough.
It’s not so great for networking though. It’s especially not so great for work situations, like those where the women gather to discuss children, relationships and specific to Singapore, managing their maids. Pass me a beer and point me to the closest bloke please.
But then comes that awkward moment when you approach a few men to join their conversation, and they graciously allow you to join, with the most uneasy look on their face. They’re so uneasy in fact, you can tell this is the face they used when they introduced their brother to their brand new mother-in-law, and the brother happened to be Bernard Black from Black Books.

Honestly, I don’t know if it will ever get better for me. LIke does there get a point where I’m unattractive enough that I can be straight but accepted like some asexual unicorn with absolutely no threat potential whatsoever? I will have to re-assess this in 20 years time. I do honestly wish I could be in the boys club though. Y’all get to talk about such interesting things, keep each other to a code of decency, and party hard without constantly assessing each other’s reputation – I want to go to there.
Don’t worry though. Despite the awkwardness and raised eyebrows, I still say screw it and speak to whoever I like. And Lord help me if I have to speak about one more diet and exercise regime while waiting to make my move to the other side of the room. For the record, small chat topics I will indulge in include: tv, movies, tv, celebrity dirt, Youtube viral videos, annoying people on Facebook, stand up comedy, real politics, and cooking. Small chat topics that turn me into Ron Swanson from Parks and Recration include: weight, domestic duties, shopping, celebrity PR, tabloid politics, and anything approving about pop music that’s not ironic (in the hipster sense of irony).
On a momentarily serious note though, this whole crap vibe of ‘appropriateness’ of women speaking to men is yet another reason that the glass ceiling is continuing to break birds’ necks.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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Graduates are Responsible for Their Career Outcomes, Not Universities

Do you know one of the easiest ways to piss me off? Exhibit external locus of control traits*. Blame anyone and anything else for your failure, and I will no longer respect your opinion. Wow, I don’t make statements like that much, I’m so hesitant of possibly alienating others. But that is one core tenet of my world view – I am all about personal accountability. And so with this background, I proclaim:

Graduates are responsible for their career outcomes, not universities.
Please refer to point 2 of the illustration to the right with the catchphrase “No one ever taught me how to write a goddamn cover letter!” to which I reply, “Yeah buddy, that was your responsibility.”

My apologies to Richard (@HRManNZ) and Amanda (@Sterling_Amanda) for my over-the-top passionate response to their musings on a young HR Pro’s opinion that he was not prepared for his job by university. You can see the storify of our conversation here and the original article here.

The idea that universities should prepare graduates to actually perform their job is absurd. We’ve got the purpose of our educational institutions all fucked up. The skills we need to do a job come with experience, not theory. That’s the main difference between vocational education (i.e. trade schools) and university. While you are learning at a vocational institute you are experiencing that skill. Uni, however, is about learning how to learn that skill, and you generally have to finish the learning before you can actually practice the skill. And when we get to practicing that skill in an office, do you know what we meet? Budgets, timelines, personalities, public images, feelings and conditions of service. All that crap that takes a beautiful theory, steps on it, takes a dump on it, rains on it, picks it up and asks “do you still hold up?” It’s no wonder that in a graduate’s first six months of their ‘real job’, they feel overwhelmed and underprepared. They go into the game thinking they know the rules, but are missing the skills to play. That’s not anyone’s fault though, that’s simply graduates lacking experience.

I had the big-education-doubt about 4 months into my first managerial position. I emailed one of my professors and anxiety-attacked “do I need to do my Masters, did my Bachelors actually teach me anything?” He honestly said that my Bachelors should give me everything I need until I get to the point of requiring an MBA. His advice has proven very accurate so far. I had gotten exactly what I needed – I learnt to think like a graduate and can research, prove/disprove and argue accordingly.

However, if you’re really keen on making the university to work transition smoother, then I suggest:
  • attending networking events;
  • gaining industry experience;
  • reading industry journals;
  • participating in industry online forums;
  • holding down a (any) steady job; and
  • being prepared to use nothing you have actually produced in your study, but knowing how to produce similar quality work on any topic thrown at you.

And if you are 100% sure you are not getting what you need from your degree, you have three options of:
  1. dropping out of tertiary education;
  2. staying at the university and capitalising on the brand name of your school; or
  3. changing universities.

University students are purchasing a product, be it training or association with a brand name. They are not purchasing personality traits like initiative, humility, or drive. So don’t expect that when you graduate, and don’t expect it from your graduate employee. The only difference between a graduate with 1 year of work experience and a non-graduate with 1 year of work experience is that the graduate has learnt to argue about their area of study really well – it’s up to their individual personalities to differentiate who can actually do the job.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

*On a side note – did you go to that linked article? I had a good chuckle at “A downside of an internal locus of control is that, in accepting responsibility, the person has to also accept blame for failures.” Is that really a downside, or could it be a good way to avoid a CEO of a bank still getting a bonus while the bank receives a taxpayer bailout?

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Write the HR You Want the Next Generation to See

When the next generation of HR pros are finishing their HR degrees at univeristy, they are beyond mad keen to be entering this profession. For a few years they have listened to professors talk, researched, written essays and engaged in debates over the subject of HR. They’ve done Occupational Health and Safety, Industrial Relations, Organisational Behaviour, Strategic HR, and random crap like Knowledge Management. For those of us who were actually engaging with the business world, we were probably reading a shite load of business magazines, going to networking events with local professionals and attending career seminars too. 
During my three year degree, I spent six months in France studying in a business school with students from around the world. Somehow I was studying with European kids doing their masters, in my 3rd semester of university as some 19 year old punk. My nickname was Baby Sarah. And I got a fire lit under me as my fellow students were talking about internships they completed last summer that were beyond my wildest career ambitions.
I returned to Australia, aced Microeconomics, became a Microeconomics study assistant paid by the university, won a few business student awards, did a Global Experience Program and learnt skills like network mapping, resume writing and career management.
And during my last semester at uni I started a part time HR job that became my full time HR job after graduation.
At no point did I ever think HR sucked, needed improvement in its general definition, or was an inferior profession to train in than any other course available at the university. Yes, I do want to complete financial training but that reflects on my personal skill set preference, not on HR as a lacking profession.
So quit the whinging you role models!
You people writing with years of experience, wisdom and insight that I can only aspire to have – get over what HR ‘should’ be.
Talk about HR as it is, the challenges, the pitfalls. Talk about your skill set as it is, your future training ambitions, your weaknesses (not the profession’s). Talk about why you chose this career, why you’re staying in it, what future you envisage for it that encourages and complements our profession. Talk about our profession as a real profession.
Who cares what our professional bodies are like? They’re filled with people who are losing sight of what the young generation see. 
Who cares what our peers say about HR? They’re as intelligent on our practices, and expertise, as we are on other professions in the company that can be disruptive to our work (i.e. property maintenance).
Who cares what anyone says about us except ourselves?!
So write the HR you want the next generation to see.
Because the next generation are already highly trained, switched on and ready to go. They just need that opportunity to get in and do it. And when they arrive, let’s not piss on their party with all our misgivings over the profession. Let’s show them that they have arrived at a party with people happy to be there, and not at all intimidated by the parties being held by the kids across the road.
They’ve just been waiting to bring the salt and lemon to your very tasty tequila, and give a big cheers to doing something they see as worthy of a huge student loan debt with future career prospects.

Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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Your Ambition as a Young Professional Does Not Make You the 20-Something Villain of the Business World

We’re inexperienced, energetic, and keen to prove our worth. The perfect mix of optimism and professional aspiration to make poor judgements that go in favour of our employer. We often find ourselves acting as the gear stick of the business – happy to do the grunt work by making things happen inside the machine, but completely manipulated by a higher power actually operating the machine. 
So of course it’s us doing the hands on work when shit goes down, and we get portrayed as the villain for it.
The 20-Something Villain rears its evil head when:
  • They are a new supervisor brought in to ‘shake things up’ – often according to higher power’s vision; or
  • They are a sales executive for some harmful product – often under the direction of someone who made the decision to sell the faulty product: or
  • They are in a position to make decisions with complete authority – often given by someone who has complete authority over the entire section.

Are you getting the picture of the evil, ruthless 20-something professional, with no experience, expertise or morals guiding their path of destruction?
Now picture them again as a puppet with long strings going all the way up to the person who put them in that place.
Because what I see in most of the stories I read, is managerial laziness hand-balling responsibility to a 20-something employee – eager to please, desperate to keep their job and with little bargaining power other than to follow directions. It’s a win-win situation for the manager, and a win-lose situation for the young employee.
We are the perfect scapegoat for crappy tasks, and determined enough to weather the disgruntlement from more experienced employees’ who wouldn’t touch the task with a 10 foot pole. It’s great that we’re getting experience – it sucks that we’re getting it in such a compromising way.
But we are not the true villain if we are under direction. The villain makes the evil plan, the side kick helps them carry it out. And side kicks aren’t really any age, they’re generally just assholes with a weird secret crush on their villainous master. So unless you are choosing to participate in the evil plan with full knowledge, don’t buy into the evil 20-something plot.
Your ambition, enthusiasm and eagerness will mean you are taken advantage of at times. But it does not make you the bad person in this whole murky world of business.

Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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Has University Replaced Unions?

An article from Australia recently listed that “in August 1992, 43 per cent of male workers and 35 per cent of females were union members in their main jobs. The figure [in May 2012] is now 18 per cent for both male and female workers.” That’s a marked drop in union membership numbers, and it’s clear that the new generation of workers have even less interest in joining a union. Do we think our university qualifications have replaced the need for union representation?
Personally, I’ve just never known what the benefit was. I’ve worked in places where individual employment contracts were used, rather than a collective bargaining process. I have always perceived unions to be redundant for employees who hold degrees and aren’t public servants. I never knew what the benefit was.
Until I moved to Singapore.
Then it became very clear what the power of unions are. Because when they are effectively muted (i.e. Singapore’s ‘National Trades Union Congress’ is very good at running a supermarket chain, not so great at getting minimum wages for Singaporeans), workers are individualised and isolated completely. And it’s not like all the Singaporeans holding degrees are entering a better job market because of their qualifications. The absence of a minimum wage means the starting rate for a degree holder is bargain basement low.
Yes, there are very low participation rates in Australian unions. But they still hold power, and can create a voice that applies to employees who aren’t even in the union. No, I don’t agree that all union action is positive – I prefer people in jobs over meeting every principle of good employer/employee dynamics. But yes, I do attribute a lot of Australia’s workplace culture and rights to the work of unions.
A large number of qualified individuals may be effective at their jobs, but pretty useless at bargaining on a national level about their expectations of work life in general, unless they speak as an organised group. So although we may think we are powerful through our skill set, it’s clear to me that university most certainly hasn’t replaced the role of unions
Here’s to the minimum wage – it’s a bloody nice thing to have.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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