Woman being measured by a seamstress

Get a Creative Class Job Through Manipulating Your Images, Part 2

E. Forrest Christian Careers Leave a Comment

Since several people have commented that yesterday’s post was snarky, let me explain that manipulating your presentation of self is something that we all do. We use images and techniques to demonstrate who were are through affiliations, allegiances, beliefs and dogmas. Just because the Creative Class think themselves so smart that they don’t do this (thus explaining AdBusters) this doesn’t mean that they don’t. And because they don’t have a conscious ability to recognize that they do it, you can manipulate their symbols and their foibles to get a job in a depressed market.

Many of you don’t live in Creative Class Centers (CCC) so don’t understand what all this is about. I live in an God-blessedly totally uncool place, northern Indiana, where we like Country Music, farming, NASCAR, the WWE and the UFC. But I used to work in a tier-2 CCC and worked in a CC industry. Reflecting back, using these methods would have been more successful.

All of this is written for some thankfully uncool readers who asked a specific question: How can I increase my chances in executive interviews? The answer depends on industry but it always comes down to this: You have to look like one of them.

I don’t think that’s all that revolutionary. What is revolutionary is the changes that the Millenials and the GenXers have brought to the job market. In my old industry, wearing a suit would go far to destroy your chances or make you look like a low-level “technician”. People destined for upper-management had to look like it, and that meant looking “cool”.

The problem is that “cool” is always shifting and the difference between “cool” and “poser” is subtle. But so is being a good manager vs. being a rotten one (according toFirst Break All The Rules: What Great Managers Really Do by the guys at Gallup Research). You’ve figured out that out so you can probably game this.

Remember: you only have to game them for awhile. You don’t have to sustain this beyond a few months. After getting the nod or high-five of inclusion into the Acceptable Person group at the new job, you can start slowly introducing your weirdness.

The reason why you have to go to these lengths to act like something that you’re not has to do with something Elliott Jaques talked about: almost all personnel evaluation methods are rot. The problem is confounded in the Creative Class jobs which by definition are defined cleverly as to a large extent unmeasurable, or completely unmeasurable except by those who have already been given the nod. In other fields, earning money would allow you to jump over cliques. In CC jobs like Science (always, always spelled with a capital “S”), there is no evaluation except by those who are already in the club.

This creates problems of circularity. You know that someone is good not because you have read their output but because of where that output has been published. A variety of studies that have all had problems getting published have shown that there was and still is substantial (but not overwhelming) reviewer bias. That is, a totally horrible piece won’t get published, except inSocial Thought, but choosing between the deserving shows strong bias including in areas of “did they cite me, since I’m so brilliant?” Biotech is changing some of the rules for this because they have to make money, which is leading to pressure on places like the particle accelerators to be more industry-friendly. The Europeans are doing much better than the Americans, where High Energy Physics is probably destined for the dustbin.

Software development is hard to measure for most managers. At least it is unless you take a total lifecycle point of view and that leads you down roads of simplification like CMM which makes the output consistent and spec-meeting but eliminates the Hero and Genius from the equation. It ends up being measured not by even managerial judgment but by perception.

Look, I’m not a developer. I used to manage developers. So I was the pointy-haired boss. I learned pretty early on that (a) I didn’t want stars but a team and (b) one of the best ways to evaluate people was on whether or not their code went through the final QC. SCRUM, eXtreme Programming and many other Agile methods are efforts to eliminate the need to judge a worker’s output, since most managers aren’t up to it.

You end up judging everyone by how they appear. And appearances mean managing your presentation of self so that you look like someone who produces good stuff.

If I weren’t writing for people who are hidden high potentials, I wouldn’t be saying “you got to manage appearances”. But you already get things done, work hard and continue learning. You do something that obviously sends everything forward tremendously and you get hammered for it, because you aren’t working for a Real Boss nor are your work peers really your peers.

You have to play to appearances and look like they do. Blend in. Buy some North Face jackets. Wear whatever brand of sneaker is in.

Look the part and they will assume you are it.

Image Credit: “Zuschneidewerkstatt in Cottbus”. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-43049-0001 / Schutt, Erich / CC-BY-SA.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

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