The Ten Worst Science Fiction Jobs of All Time

Science fiction fans tend to want to live in the worlds they read about and watch in books and movies. They forget that Han Solo was a glorified space truck driver, or that Captain Kirk spent most of his time doing paperwork.

Here are the ten worst jobs in science fiction (multiple spoiler alerts):

Official Government Alien Abductee
From: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Let’s say after you graduate from college you spend an extra – what, 6 years? – getting that Ph.D. And don’t forget about those student loans. But it’s all worth it, because when a shadowy international agency receives the first genuine alien message from space, it’s you to whom they turn. And when they choose a small, select team of men and women to travel into space with the aliens, they pick you.

So you train, and study, and undergo rigorous testing. It’s like the astronaut program, except secret. When you’re done you get your snazzy red jumpsuit and dark glasses, because who would want to accompany aliens on their intergalactic concert series without a snazzy red jumpsuit and dark glasses?

They fly you out to Devil’s Tower (or you ride out there in a Piggly Wiggly truck, the movie’s not clear), and witness the first human contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Then, after a brief religious service (which is pretty silly – any advanced spacefaring civilization will be atheistic – don’t argue, you know it’s true), you’re marched out to meet your interstellar destiny.

Except the aliens don’t take you. They take some wacked-out high school graduate telephone repairman from Podunk, Indiana with a beer belly and a mashed potato fixation. And you get left behind, choking on mothership exhaust.

So you spend the rest of your life in a bitter alcohol-induced stupor, annoying your relatives with tales of how you were supposed to go live with the space aliens, and shooting out the screen of your TV any time ET The Extraterrestrial comes on.

Death Star Contractor
From: Star Wars (1977), Return of the Jedi (1983)

Kevin Smith already covered this one, but of course he was right. Kevin Smith is always right.

You’re one of the millions of laborers brought in by military contractors hired by the Galactic Empire to build the first Death Star. It’s a lot of hard work with low pay and bad working conditions; and the job becomes ten times as dangerous after they switch on the artificial gravity. You try welding girders when you’re a mile up!

Then the damn Rebel Alliance shows up and blows the whole thing to smithereens. A million innocent people are killed. (Yeah, yeah, I know – Alderaan. So what? Big deal.) Fortunately, you were down on Yavin at the time, picking up donuts for the team that was installing proton shielding on the main trench exhaust ports.

As the sole survivor of the first Death Star, you had little trouble getting a job as foreman on the second Death Star. The project was much bigger, but the budget much lower – the Empire took a bath on the first Death Star, and it was difficult to raise money for the second. Plus, the Emperor himself showed up to oversee operations. It was a total clusterfuck, especially considering that Palpatine wanted the main superlaser finished first, even before the living areas and outer shell were completed. That meant months of dealing with porta-johns.

And, you were ordered to build a bottomless pit right in the middle of the Emperor’s quarters. What the hell was up with that?

Then the Rebels, and some teddy bears, attacked a second time, and you were killed. Your last thought was, man, this job sucks.

Away Team “Red Shirt”
From: Star Trek (1966-69)

So, after four years in Starfleet Academy you’re an ensign. You always wanted to serve under Christopher Pike, but by the time you’re assigned to the USS Enterprise, Pike’s been turned into a Dalek by delta radiation, and you have to serve under that preening, egotistical asshat James T. Kirk.

Still, it’s a cool gig – you travel the galaxy with a ship full of hot female yeomen in mini-skirts, and there are all the multi-colored cubes you can eat.

Until it comes time to go on an away mission. You saw Mathews and Rayburn killed by an android on Exo III; O’Herlihy killed by Gorns and his twin brother Rizzo slain by the dikironium cloud creature; Grant got cut down on Capella IV; and Hendorff got capped by a pod plant on Gamma Trianguli VI.

And how does Kirk react when all these young, talented Starfleet professionals get slaughtered? Just send down another one!

In fact, today you’re supposed to beam down to Argus X to take over for Rizzo. The dikironium cloud creature already killed one obligatory red shirt – I’m sure you’ll be fine!

Commercial Mining Ship Warrant Officer
From: Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), Alien: Resurrection (1997)

We don’t know much about life in the 22nd Century, except that working class people live in plastic capsule hotels, work for massive 80s cyberpunk-style zaibatsu, and pilot colossal mining ships with literary names that take weeks to travel between planets, so their occupants ride in suspended animation because sitting around for weeks would just be cruel.

Let’s look at the example of one Ellen Ripley, a college graduate (she got her Engineering degree from Aeronautics University in New York City – is that accredited, or is it the 22nd Century version of DeVry?) who worked her way up to Warrant Officer for a commercial mining ship owned by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. If Ripley’s experiences are representative of the career of a Warrant Officer, and I believe they are, then I would not suggest this career for anyone.

First Ripley tries to enforce standard company rules regarding the quarantine of infected away team personnel, but her mildly retarded captain violates policy. Also, a robot that looks like Bilbo Baggins tries to kill her with a rolled up magazine. What’s really surprising here is not that everyone but Ripley is murdered by a rampaging xenomorph – it’s that in the year 2122, someone is still printing magazines.

Then Ripley is involved in some kind of bizarre escape pod accident, and returns to Earth to discover her daughter has died of old age. It’s similar to the Twin Paradox, except it makes less sense. Ripley is then convinced to return to the xenomorph moon, which is like convincing Natasha Richardson to go back to Mont Tremblant. What, too soon?

Everyone there gets slaughtered except the hunk, the kid and half the robot – oh, but they’re all killed during the opening credit sequence of the next movie. Ripley shaves her head and jumps into a pool of molten lead, because she saw the rushes and realized the movie was a piece of shit.

Then her half-alien clone kind of makes out with Winona Ryder, which is the high point of an otherwise disastrous career.

Not every Warrant Officer has to go through this kind of rigmarole, I suppose. Still, clearly the best career choice in the Alien films is ship’s cat, because that’s the only character that doesn’t eventually die in a horrible, horrible way.

Unless the cat was put down after Ripley never came back from LV-426. Yikes.

Communist Space Saucer Saboteur
From: Lost in Space (1965-68)

It’s 1997, and the United States is preparing to launch its first interstellar mission, a five-year mission to Alpha Centauri. This is bad news for the workers of the world – if the bourgeois Capitalist exploiters cement their control over outer space, the freedom-loving Socialist peoples will be forever subjugated by the Imperialist American running dogs. Something must be done – and that something is sabotage!

Fortunately, a fifth column of Communist sympathizers exists within the United States, including some inside Alpha Control (the space agency). One, an idealist and hero of the proletariat, Dr. Zachary Smith, volunteers to sneak aboard the spacecraft and sabotage it. As an expert in “intergalactic environmental psychology” (intergalactic?) and cybernetics, as well as a medical doctor, Smith is uniquely placed to get close to the Jupiter 2 and its nepotistically selected crew (it’s typical of Capitalists, to place familial ties ahead of selection based on merit).

Smith manages to get aboard and reprogram the ship’s B-9 Model Luke H Class M-3 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot, giving it the free will to throw off the chains of its oppressors and destroy critical systems eight hours after launch. But Smith is trapped on board, and soon the Jupiter 2, shoddily designed by a for-profit contractor with no love of country and with oppressed, non-unionized employees, veers off course and is soon lost. In space.

So far, things are not so bad for Dr. Smith. He has successfully completed his mission, and the crew of the Jupiter 2 can’t prove he is a saboteur – they have no way to punish him, anyway. There are even two hot chicks and a MILF on board, if he can get rid of a couple of square-jawed farm boys first.

Unfortunately, the Jupiter 2 lands on a series of unidentified alien planets, and poor Comrade Smith’s woes really begin. His only friend is a young boy; coupled with Smith’s own effete manner (absorbed from years of living amongst the decadent Capitalists), this leads to speculation that Smith’s sexual proclivities are decidedly non-reproductive, in violation of basic Maoist principles. Furthermore, Smith is hectored by the constant intrusions and suspicions of the Robot, whose loyalties have somehow reverted back to bourgeois principles.

Furthermore, Smith’s natural generosity in a crisis, to encourage others to serve the workers by facing danger rather than stealing the glory himself, is misinterpreted by his presumed comrades as cowardice. Imagine! And finally, Smith must encounter countless absurd alien beings, from green-skinned salad-headed women to talking carrots, none of whom are interested in discussing intergalactic environmental psychology, cybernetics, or dialectical materialism.

So our beloved Comrade Smith, the People’s Hero and the Heir of Gagarin, is doomed to a lifetime of ridiculous adventures in space accompanied largely by a precious tow-headed lad and a “nickel-plated nincompoop” of a robot with zero points of articulation. When the Soviets recruited Smith out of the Intergalactic Environmental Psychology Program at UC Santa Cruz, he should have insisted on a rider specifying no kids, pets or robots.

Blade Runner
From: Blade Runner (1982)

Let’s begin with a comparison.

It’s 1982, and you’re a cop in Los Angeles, California. You have been assigned to take down a gang of criminals peddling drugs on the streets of the city. As part of the Drug Enforcement Task Force, you have access to an entire team of detectives, uniformed officers and forensic specialists; a large cache of weapons, from service pistols to automatic weapons to sniper rifles to a limited supply of explosives; you are supplied with various types of body armor; and you have a tank. That’s right, a freakin’ armored vehicle, which you use to penetrate fortified crack houses.

On the other hand…

It’s 2019, and you’re a former cop in Los Angeles, California – but in 2019 the police act like the military in 2010, or the mafia in 1990, and just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in. You have been assigned to find and destroy, by yourself, four super-strong, super-fast, super-intelligent android replicants from space. The replicants look just like ordinary people, and can’t be detected unless they volunteer to sit still for a complicated personality test conducted using a device like an e-meter with a bellows attached to it. Your tools for this mission are a pistol and a flying car, the latter of which you only get to use when Admiral Adama is done with it.

No fellow officers – last guy assigned to the case was shot through a wall. No advanced weapons. No armor. No tank. Just you against four super-robots. Well, and a Voight-Kampff machine and some kind of advanced photo analyzer.

Oh, and it’s raining. All the time.

Plus, your girlfriend is a robot – and acts like one, generating all the sexual heat and feminine charm of a Dyson Ball upright vacuum. And just to fuck with your head, you might be a robot.

And finally – and this is the kicker – it turns out all four of these robots are programmed to drop dead just a few days after you’re assigned to kill them. So if the cops had left you alone and just waited 72 hours, the problem would have solved itself, and you wouldn’t be nursing a fist full of broken fingers.

If blade runners have a union, you need to talk to your rep about this shit.

Precrime Precog
From: Minority Report (2002)

If you live in a world loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story, it’s a pretty good bet your job sucks – whether you’re a blade runner (see above), a split-personality undercover drug cop, a memory-wiped agent of a ruthless Martian dictator, a memory-wiped reverse engineer, an alien-created terrorist mole, or a precognitive Vegas magician.

But the worst job in the PKD oeuvre (as portrayed in film to-date, anyway) has to be Precrime precog. You’re the mutant offspring of drug addicts, a psychic with precognitive powers troubled by visions of future violent acts. You have been kidnapped by the government as a child, stripped naked and forced to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week semi-conscious in a bathtub, foreseeing future murders and having your predictions recorded by a computer so advanced it uses billiard balls as part of its user interface. Wait, what?

There are only three of you on the planet, yet the government plans to expand your “precrime” purview to include the entire country, which makes it pretty unlikely you’ll be seeing a vacation any time soon.

By the way, you’re looked after in your high-tech bathtub by a creepy technician, which really sucks if you’re Agatha, the one female precog – you just know that guy has been “taking liberties,” if you know what I mean. Eww.

Of course, it all works out in the end, right? Tom Cruise saves the day and the precogs are freed, permitted to live “normal” lives in a cabin in the middle of nowhere… except some people think that’s a fake ending. Tom Cruise stays in prison, and the precogs remain moist slaves. Oh well – bet ya didn’t see that coming!

Jurassic Park Employee
From: Jurassic Park (1993)

For all you Libertarians and Republicans out there who insist on the fantasy that government regulation is a bad thing, let’s take the example of a certain amusement park and resort located 87 miles northwest of Costa Rica. As it was on a private island located in a third world country, it’s safe to say that Jurassic Park was an unregulated workplace.

Which sucked for the mostly brown-skinned employees of park operator InGen. For instance, your workplace probably has policies to prevent workers from being maimed and eaten by Velociraptor mongoliensis. I mean, it’s never happened where you work, right?

And your employer probably has a decent monsoon evacuation policy, at least I should hope so. Jurassic Park didn’t. How about network security procedures and failsafes that prevent all computer-controlled systems from failing, especially the ones enclosing deadly saurian macrofauna? Perhaps ones that can be reactivated by qualified park personnel, rather than by a pre-teen female hacker?

Then there’s the fact that your workplace most probably doesn’t conduct secret, unlicensed, non-peer reviewed genetic experimentation in the first place. Just try to get away with it, and see what your boss says!

Why doesn’t your job break any of these rules? Regulation. The last thing your boss wants is OSHA breathing down his neck, just because a Tyrannosaurus rex ate the company lawyer while he was in the port-a-john.

Torchwood Operative
From: Torchwood (2006 – 2009)

The Torchwood Institute was established by Queen Victoria in 1879 to defend the Empire against extraterrestrial threats, and to acquire and reverse-engineer alien technology. Throughout most of its history, Torchwood was rather… ruthless in achieving its goals.

In fact, considering the danger inherent in the investigation of alien and supernatural threats, along with Torchwood’s propensity for hiring rather violent individuals, it not surprising that most Torchwood operatives do not survive into old age (one notable exception notwithstanding).

The entire staff of Torchwood One, the linchpin of the organization, was massacred by the Cyberman and Dalek armies in the Battle of Canary Wharf. Likewise the entire crew of Torchwood Three (immortal operatives exempt) was slaughtered by their insane leader in 1999.

And as far as individual characters, the roster looks like this:

  • Suzie Costello: suicide; brought back with the Risen Mitten, killed with its destruction
  • Lisa Hallett: assimilated by the Cybermen; killed by Torchwood Three team
  • Owen Harper: shot dead on duty; brought back with the Risen Mitten; killed in nuclear meltdown
  • Alex Hopkins: murdered all of Torchwood Three team, and then killed himself
  • Ianto Jones: deadly alien virus
  • Toshiko Sato: shot dead on duty – during a nuclear meltdown

At the end of the Children of Earth mini-series (which is brilliant, by the way – even if you’ve never seen a single episode of Torchwood, go rent Children of Earth), the last time we saw the Torchwood Team, out of all the known Torchwood operatives, two were left alive. Two.

And this is an organization with the ability to bring people back from the dead.

If you want to travel the UK, meet exciting people, have a lot of sex and screw around with alien technology, you should become a Torchwood operative. But if you’re concerned about your health, maybe you should try UNIT.

Research Scientist
From: Various films and television programs

In the real world, research scientists make an invaluable contribution to the world, in fields as diverse as medicine, physics, chemistry, materials science, geology, archaeology and many more. But it’s hardly a dangerous lifestyle.

In science fiction, there is no job more dangerous. Ask Bruce Banner. Victor von Doom. Jonathan Crane. Victor Fries. Alex Olsen. Walter Bishop. Emmett Brown. Victor Frankenstein. Henry Jekyll. Herbert West. Seth Brundle. Eric Vornoff. Charles Forbin. Peter Venkman. Edward Morbius. Eldon Tyrell. Doctors Moreau, Griffin, Phibes, Totenkopf, and Rotwang.

In science fiction, working in the research sciences can get you mutated, exploded, intrinsic-field subtracted, genetically crossed with a housefly, lost in space, lost in time, lost in parallel dimensions, turned into a plant, turned into an animal, turned into an alien killing machine, driven insane, killed by your own hideous creation, given godlike powers beyond your ability to handle, duplicated, split into good and evil halves, devolved, evolved, kicked out of academia, spurned by the medical community, spurned by society and lynched by mob of torch-wielding villagers.

Also, locked up in prison, trapped forever between dimensions, eaten by virus zombies, shrunk to microscopic size, exploded to 50 feet in height, transformed into a grotesque parody of the human form, gender switched, swapped bodies with your kid, metamorphosed into a floating disembodied brain, badly burned, fused with an alien intelligence, fused with a machine, fused with a Brundlepod, converted into binary digits and forced to compete on the Game Grid, atomized by your own self-destruct device and ejected into the vacuum of space.

Seriously, is this why you spent eight years in college?

Q: When Should You Work for Free? A: Almost Never

Originally published on EmploymentCrossroads on 8/20/09.

For a nation supposedly built on the backbone of Capitalism, we sure have a lot of companies who want you to work for free.

If you are (1) a recent college graduate, (2) a creative professional (artist, writer, web designer), or (3) trying to break into a heavily-impacted industry (entertainment, fashion, advertising, music), then someone is going to ask you to work for free. They may call it an “internship” or an “apprenticeship” or “on spec” or a “contest.” But the practical upshot is that you work, the company makes money off you, and you get nothing.

You’ll be told that you will gain experience, and will expand your reel or portfolio. This is true. But people who get paid also gain experience and a thicker portfolio. So when should you give away your work?

Don’t participate in “contests.” This scam is especially prevalent among web sites and online t-shirt sellers. You’re asked to design web graphics or a t-shirt, and then submit your work as a “contest entry.” If you win, you get a “prize” — like one t-shirt, or $50. Meanwhile, your design goes on to make the company a ton of money. You have just gotten screwed. Never fall for this scam.

Don’t do free work just to get an interview. Lots of job ads out there now require applicants to actually do work on their behalf just to get an interview. Your existing portfolio is not enough — the ad describes a specific assignment the company wants you to complete and submit before they even look at your resume. This is unethical, and blatantly exploitative in the current job environment. You do not want to work for these people — they will never value your time, energy or talent.

Some internships can launch your career. If you’re trying to get into fashion or publishing, you may have to just bite the bullet and spend six months or so working for free. Make sure the internship is with a reputable firm, and find out what happened to previous interns. Were they offered jobs? Did the firm give them a solid recommendation? Only work for free if there’s good reason to believe the donation of your time and talent will turn into a real job, either with this company or another one.

If you’re trying to get into the entertainment industry, be very careful. Once you establish that you write scripts on spec, or work crew in exchange for lunch, you’ll get nothing but offers for free work until you get sick of it and go back to Nebraska. Don’t work for free for the same person twice. Donating your labor is a favor — and eventually, you need to expect the favor returned. Remind producers and filmmakers that you helped them out, and now you need a paying gig.

What about giving my own work away for free online? Absolutely do this. Work on your own projects and make sure people see them. It’s your own work, and you’re giving it away of your own free will. No one else will make a profit off of it without sharing a cut with you. Look into Creative Commons licensing. But if someone steals your work and uses it for profit, make a lot of very loud noise. Even if you can’t afford a lawyer, the Internet community may very well rally behind you.

Got any more advice for readers contemplating internships and spec work? Let us know in the comments!

Unemployment Benefits — Keeping People Out of Cardboard Boxes Since 1932

Posted on April 20, 2009 on

Unemployment check.It’s funny how some people decry higher taxes, paycheck withholding, and government “entitlements,” until they’re out of work.

Then it’s “hey, where’s my check?”

Some things to keep in mind when living on the dole:

Apply for unemployment benefits the moment you get laid off or fired. You may consider waiting until your savings begin to run out. But if there’s going to be a problem with your benefits, such as your ex-employer refusing to pay, you need to know right away.

Provide the UI office with complete, accurate information. Don’t do anything that will slow down processing. This is no time to be careless. And, some government bureaucracies look for ways to deny you service — don’t give them the ammunition.

If there’s an in-person meeting or a phone interview, be on time and make it a priority. Rescheduling these things can be difficult or impossible, so don’t risk it.

Fulfill any job search requirements. Some states require you to apply to a certain number of jobs each week. Don’t cheat, just do it. If they call you, go to the interview. If they offer the job, take it. If you’re offered a job you really don’t want to take (let’s say, it’s a half-time internship, and you’re a former C-level exec), talk to the benefits office. Sometimes they’ll let it slide, and you won’t have to take an unsuitable job.

Again, don’t cheat. Follow all UI regulations. If the benefits office thinks you’re doing something skechy, they’ll launch an investigation — and refuse to pay benefits until it’s settled.

Check to see what other benefits, besides checks, are available. The state may offer job search resources. They may have programs to help you survive financially. And they may offer free training — not just typing classes at the local community college, but real, career-enhancing high-tech classes at major learning institutions.

If you’re turned down for benefits, appeal, appeal, appeal. Don’t freak out — find out what you have to do to fix this mess. Make a list. Then do it, methodically and calmly. Chances are, whatever problems exist, they can be solved. Always deal with everyone — the UI office, your ex-employer — politely and professionally, no matter how awful they are being or how angry you get. You will get nowhere by being furious, or snippy, or aggressive. It’s impossible for a bureaucracy to say no to someone who is diligently following procedure.

What’s Your Email Address?

Posted on March 12, 2009 on

Woman with computer.Here in the first decade of the 21st Century, we may lack flying cars, personal teleportation and household robots. But what we do have is the Internet, which is taking over every aspect of our lives.

That’s why today, if you’re going to hear from a recruiter, you’ll most likely have your first contact by email, rather than by phone. Your email address needs to be on your resume and cover letter; it must be associated with any info you have posted on job search sites or company career pages; and it should be on your personal web site.

You don’t have a personal web site? What are you, Amish?

But it’s important what email address you provide to possible employers. Create an email account specifically for your job search, separate from any other accounts you use in personal life or your work.

Absolutely DO NOT use your current work email. Not only may your company be monitoring your email, they actually own any information you share via that account. Also, if prospective employers see you using your current company’s email for job searches, they’ll assume you would do the same thing to them.

Who hosts your email is important. If you have your own web site, let’s say, then having the email address is pretty impressive.

If you can’t host your own email, the only real option for a free account is through Nobody will think less of you for using Gmail.

But on the other hand, DO NOT use any address. People who still use email come across as unprofessional. Maybe your grandma still uses AOL, but professional people do not. If you are still, for some unfathomable reason, using AOL as your service provider, then use AOL to sign up for a Gmail account.

Make sure you choose a professional-sounding email address. You’re not going to get an interview if the recruiter has to type in “” in order to contact you. Likewise, no one wants to hire spongebobfan@ or tonylovessylvia@.

Stick to your real name: johnsmith@, john_smith@, johns@, jsmith@. Lots of people like to add their birthdate (johnsmith1963@), but are you sure you want to advertise your age up front?

Don’t get cute. The address might get a laugh – and then your resume hits the round file. Keep your email address short, easy to spell, and directly relevant to you as a professional.

Good luck with your search!

How to Use Bullet Points in Your Resume

Posted on Mar 10, 2009 on

ResumeFor my entire career, I’ve broken down the job descriptions on my resumes into bullet points. I had no idea I was starting a trend.

Today, job search consultants are really pushing the bullet-point resume. The main advantage is that it makes your resume easier to read, and it’s much easier to get across the most important points across to the reader. No one facing a stack of resumes to read wants to have to dig for the pertinent information.

So if your resume looks like this:

President of the United States
Washington, DC
1/2001 – 1/2009

Served as chief executive for world’s most powerful country. Presided over two foreign wars, and was Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Served two terms. Spearheaded use of executive signing orders; ordered the curtailing of civil liberties. Misplaced a city in Louisiana. Imprisoned thousands in foreign jails without trials or due process. Supported financial deregulation that led to worst financial disaster since the Great Depression. Enjoys clearing brush, reading to children.

.. then it’s time to change it up. Don’t list everything you did on the job — just list the most important and impressive accomplishments, starting with the best:

President of the United States
Washington, DC
1/2001 – 1/2009

  • • Elected twice to highest office in land
  • • Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in two wars
  • • Appointed two Supreme Court justices
  • • 90% approval rating after 9/11 attacks

As you can see, no negatives are listed. And there are only four bullet points — include too many, and it’s just as hard to read as if it didn’t use bullet points.

If a potential employer wants to know everything you did at a previous job, they will call you or bring you in. The resume is your opportunity to just get across the most important points. Besides, if someone is looking at your resume for a job you’ve previously held, then they already know what that job entails.

The resume is your first and best chance to impress. Use it!

Interviewing? Don’t Worry About What You Can’t Control

Posted on February 12, 2009 on

Worried woman.So you’ve got that big interview for a great job.

You know exactly what to do — research the firm, dress appropriately, bring with you everything you need (including a pen and extra resumes), show up on time.

The interview goes great. You’re confident and have answers prepared for the toughest questions. You’re able to show off your knowledge, your skills and your personality. You get a great vibe from the interviewer(s). The meeting is actually fun.

It’s your best interview ever!

You go home, send a thank you note, and then wait. You worry — did you come across as confidently as you felt? Did you say anything foolish? Did they really like you?

Then the bad news comes — they gave someone else the job.

The worries turn into self-incrimination. Obviously, you did screw up, right? Or you would have gotten the job!

Wrong. You gave a great interview. You couldn’t have done any better. The fact is, when it comes to getting a job, there are far too many factors outside of your control.

Maybe it was a so-called “courtesy interview,” and they never had any plans to hire you. Or they might have already chosen someone internally, but company rules require a certain number of outside interviews.

The position might be canceled, or delayed. And of course there’s office politics. Mr. Smith wanted to hire someone last year, but got shot down — so now he’s sabotaging Ms. Jones’ attempt to hire you.

The truth is, you have no way of knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. All you can do is give a great interview and hope for the best.

It’s hackneyed but it’s true: accept the things you cannot change, have the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Don’t Let Illness Derail Your Job Search

Posted on February 16, 2009 on

Depressed?It’s just an unavoidable fact — the stress of a prolonged job search can cause physical illness that makes it even harder to find new work.

If you have ever been unemployed for more than a few weeks, you know what I’m talking about — cold and flu, depression, headaches, chronic tiredness. All these symptoms are triggered by the stress and worry of your job search, and the economic problems that come with being unemployed.

But there are ways to fight back.

Take care of your physical health. Concentrate on eating right and exercising. Take a walk every day — this will help with both stress and keeping your immune system strong. If you already exercise regularly, then keep it up! And eat right — this is not the time to be vegging on your couch eating Doritos all day. Stick to three healthy meals, and you’re likely to improve your health and save money in a difficult financial time.

Take care of your mental health. Stress reactions that worked so well for our evolutionary forbears on the Serengeti — panic, anxiety, fear — don’t help us so much with modern problems. It’s one thing to be concerned about your career and financial prospects, and quite another to paralyze yourself with negative emotions. Don’t pretend you can deal with this on your own. Talk to friends, family members, clergy or professional advisers about your fears. If it’s really bad, see a psychiatrist — you don’t have to be crazy to seek medical help. If your emotions are getting in the way of your job search, then please see a doctor. If you have no insurance or benefits, then look online for free help in your area.

Don’t exaggerate your problems. Yes, this is a very difficult time to be looking for work, and it’s not helpful to pretend that it isn’t. But if you convince yourself this is the end of the world, it may become a self-fulfillng prophecy. Commit yourself to your job search — work on it every day. Open yourself up to the prospect of relocating, or changing careers, or taking on work outside your field that you may see as beneath you, even if just temporarily. America will get through this economic downturn. Your family will get through it. You will get through it.

How to Tell You’re Going to Lose Your Job

Originally posted on Feb 17, 2009 on EmploymentCrossroads.

Getting the axe!In this economy, everyone is in a precarious position career-wise. But there are ways to tell if a firing or lay off looms on your horizon.

You don’t have enough work.

Symptoms: Your boss isn’t assigning you enough work to keep you busy all day. This could be because he or she doesn’t want to give you an assignment you won’t be around the finish. Or, maybe he or she no longer trusts you. Or the reasons could be innocent — maybe the whole company doesn’t have enough work. Perhaps your boss simply isn’t aware you have free time.

The cure: Don’t be afraid to go to your boss and ask for more work. Even if you really are on the short-list for a layoff, asking for more responsibility may change management’s mind. And if they won’t give you more work, it’s time to start updating that resume.

You’re out of the loop.

Symptoms: You used to get invited to all the good meetings. Your boss would stop by to chat. People asked for your opinion, and not just about whether last night’s Lost made any sense. Now, you’re not in the loop anymore. If you hear about important office issues, it’s through the rumor mill and not through official channels. You’re feeling isolated.

The cure: Again, go to your boss. Or if he or she won’t help, then your boss’ boss. Maybe there’s a good reason you’re out of the loop — to help give you more time to get your work done, for example. But simply asking to get back in the action may be enough to deal you back in.

Your boss gets fired, or quits.

Symptoms: One day you get to work, and your boss is gone. You’re assigned to a different supervisor (or if you’re very unlucky, multiple supervisors). But you’re still associated with your old boss, and to some people, this makes you expendable. And if they replace your superior with a new hire, he or she may wish to fill your position with someone of their choosing.

The cure: Communicate directly with your new supervisor. Don’t try to be “loyal” to your old boss — who does that help? Not your old boss, he or she is gone! Make sure your new boss knows you are on their team.

Your firm is recruiting to fill your position.

Symptoms: The company keeps bringing in people to fill a position suspiciously similar to yours. They may even ask you to interview the candidates! And if you’re skimming through craigslist and see your job up for grabs — well, how much evidence do you need?

The cure: Get out. Now.

Save Your Health — Eliminate Stress at Work

Originally posted on Feb 9, 2009 on

Auuuugh!US News & World Report published today a story called “Why Your Job Could Be Making You Old.” The story cites the claim that stress contributes to health problems and rapid aging.

Physicians have long observed that people with stressful careers and lifestyles tend to develop health problems–especially when their jobs carry extreme consequences for mistakes. According to a theory advanced by Michael Roizen, chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic and co-founder of, many American presidents have aged approximately two years for each calendar year in office.

The author, Emily Brandon, then discusses ways to to cut back on stress, and advises exercise and healthy living to to build up an immunity to stressors. She only briefly touches on employment stressors, so here are a few more valuable tips for avoiding stress at work.

Build a Firewall Between Your Work and Home Lives

Allowing your work problems to follow you home can have a devastating impact on your home life, your family and relationships. It’s not the easiest thing in the world just set aside your work issues, especially if your job requires a huge time investment, or if your career is central to who you are as a person. But it is possible.

Likewise, stress at home can adversely affect your work. They key here is to remain mindful of your emotions. If you’re stressed at work, ask yourself if what you’re really upset about isn’t an issue from your personal life.

Maintain Good Communications with Your Superiors and Co-Workers

Work stress often comes from being in a position of ignorance. Does my boss like my work? Will there be layoffs? Will I ever get that promotion? Yet workers often don’t try to find their own answers to these questions, out of fear — fear of their boss, or fear that they will get an answer they don’t like.

Instead of wallowing in stress, just talk to your boss and your co-workers about your issues. Be professional, of course, and don’t ask inappropriate questions or spread gossip. But if you’re worried about how your boss perceives you, then ask. You may be worrying about nothing. But if you do get negative feedback, that’s good too — you need to know these things if you want to keep your job. Don’t wait for a performance review to find out how you’re doing.

Be reliable.

If you’re late for work a lot, or miss too many work days, then you’re creating your own stress. It’s not as hard as it seems to change your life and health habits so that personal issues don’t get in the way of your career.

However, there are issues — serious illness, family problems, etc. — that will affect your work, and you can’t do anything about. Or at least, solving the issues will take time. This is a common source of work stress, but it’s easily fixed. Talk to your HR manager. Your firm may have policies directly related to your situation, and might be willing to help you out with paid time off or extra money.

Even if your company won’t help you out, at least they’ll know your work is being affected by serious issues, and that you’re not merely irresponsible.

Got some advice of your own? Comment below!

Is Using Business Jargon a Good Idea?

Originally published 2/11/09 on EmploymentCrossroads.

Too much jargon!Businesspeople sure love to make up new words.

There is nothing wrong with new words, as long as they (1) fulfill a need, (2) don’t replace a perfectly good existing word, and (3) are clever and well conceived.

For instance, “emoticon” is a necessary new word, as it gives a name to something that did not have a name before. It’s easy to remember (emotion + icon) and describes what it’s describing.

But “irregardless” is a terrible word, as it means the exact same thing as “regardless.” This is a word coined out of ignorance, and it should be abolished from usage.

New words coined for use in business are added to dictionaries every year. But these words should be examined before we adopt them into standard usage, even at work.

For example, “actionable,” meaning “capable of being acted upon,” is a useful new word. There isn’t a preexisting word — one would have to say “this item can be acted upon,” rather than the shorter and easier “this item is actionable.” “Actionable” is also a legal term meaning “subject to or affording ground for an action or suit at law,” but it’s easy to differentiate the two uses in context.

As of 2009, if you use “actionable” outside of a work or legal environment, you’ll just sound like an ass. But in 20 years, who knows? “I want to you to go to the store.” “Well, I’m busy, but that’s actionable.”

On the other hand, there are absurd, unnecessary business words that just cause confusion. Like “buy-in,” as in “if you want to do this, you’ll have to get the boss to buy-in.” It just means the same thing as “agree” or “consent.” It’s unnecessary jargon, used in an attempt to sound smart. It fails.

Some business words make no sense at all. “Componentize?” As in “to make something a component?” Who uses this? What does it even mean?

Business people love to turn nouns into verbs. “Let’s dialogue with Joe about the projects he’s been tasked with managing.” What, business people don’t know how to “talk” or “assign?” Let’s just let nouns remain nouns.

Other goofy, unnecessary new words from the world of work include disintermediate, disambiguate, facetime, instantiate, mindshare, operationalize (gack!), productize (double gack!), and the entirely meaningless buzzword “value chain.”

Also, don’t misuse real words: paradigm, offline, proactive, synergy, granular, interface. If you want to meet with someone, then meet. Don’t “interface.”

In business communications, it’s a good idea to, as the saying goes, eschew obfuscation. If there’s simpler way to say what you mean, say it that way. Heavy use of jargon takes more effort, and will confuse anyone outside of your own profession.

That said, you can’t be ignorant of the jargon used by others in your work. If you don’t know what a commonly used business term means, even if you never use it, you’ll come across as if you don’t know what you’re doing. But the next time someone says “I’ll ping you with a value proposition that will drive our critical path to establishing core competancies,” just reply “yeah, you can email me with your idea how to figure out what the hell our company does.”