Okay, let’s get back to the subject at hand. I was in the process of giving the young-uns sage advice upon how to act in the office (once they get to that exalted spot). So here’s lesson #2.
How To Not Be Hated By Everyone In Your Office (Lesson Dos)
7. Know when to not look at your Blackberry - Newbs typically are pretty fired up to get their ‘berries – maybe not so much anymore as everyone and their brother has some kind of phone that is also a camera, television, sewing machine, etc. But back in the day it was a pretty big event. (When I was getting started on The Street, I got one of the old school assed Blackberries that looked like pagers and showed three lines of text. And yet somebody figured out a way to play Donkey Kong on that tiny mofo. Donkey Kong! Okay, it was a poor facsimile, but a strong effort anyway – a step up from upside down 58008 on your TI calculator. And those little Chunky bar-sized motherfuckers were awesome, fitting seamlessly on your belt. The new ones definitely destroy the lines of your outfit, if carried in stylish belt holster.)
While your Blackberry can sometimes by useful, it should ultimately should be seen as an electronic slave collar, leash or catheter. You are suddenly at/near work, 24 hours a day. Which is awesome. Dinner with your parents who flew in from Ames, IA? Better have your shit on vibrate so you can bounce to the office if some important analysis is required on Friday night at 9:30 PM for a Saturday internal call. But that hardly ever happe – actually, it hardly ever doesn’t happen. There are no excuses once the thing is on your person – 2:00 AM emails should still be read when you are low man/woman on the totem pole.
Aside from all the standard smartphone usefulness, probably the greatest attribute of the Blackberry is its functionality in helping you avoid awkward small talk. Are you stuck on the elevator with someone you either barely know, cannot stand, hooked up with or combo platter? Whip out the ‘berry, make a disgruntled face while uttering a barely audible mild profanity. Then start frantically typing. Continue doing this until said person exits, someone you desire to communicate with enters or the awkwardness melts away from disinterest and lack of eye contact.
Keep in mind that people senior to you – no matter how senior, one day, ten years, it’s all the same in the “business world” – need your undivided attention when they are speaking directly at/to you or are otherwise confined in a room with you. Seniors frown upon Blackberry use by juniors in their presence; they strongly prefer a grapes/palm frond/averted gaze approach. So use a little common sense – when stuck on a conference call with the notoriously dickish MD, don’t pound away on your friggin Blackberry. You will either be eviscerated on the premises (to the delight and amusement of all the other unlucky souls stuck in that office of horrors) or have a virtual knife implanted in the small of your back. This is not a great outcome. If you are really working on something important and have a certifiable need to check your email, then grimace (for all to see), leave your materials at your spot at the table (but take a pen and paper with you) and urgently (yet quietly) exit the room and take care of business in the comforts of your own cubicle. Check espn.com while you’re there – make the most of your momentary freedom.
One exception to any of this is if you are playing Brickbreaker; if you’ve got a strong game going, fuck it. Once the man starts beating you down, you show him you’ve got 750,845 points and 127 men left. That will earn you more respect than merely doing a good job and working hard. In fact, you should always have a game going, it really improves the quality of life on those elevator trips (when you should be shutting the fuck up as per #4).
8. Be careful with the Bluetooth headset – I have a Bluetooth headset; I wanted to get the full disclosure out of the way upfront, cuz that’s how I roll. When I put on the Bluetooth, I look like an asswipe. I realize that. It’s a sacrifice I have to make sometimes because my SO’s apartment gets ZERO cell phone reception, and certain of my retarded friends insist on calling me rather than text, email, registered mail, courier pigeon, etc. But at all times I am aware that I look stupid.
One thing you Paduans will quickly notice about the business world is that self awareness is in very short supply. Most of the folks you will encounter have an image of themselves that’s vastly different than the way they are actually perceived in the world. Career success and the monetary rewards that go along with that success often have unsavory side effects, such as self-unawareness. So prepare yourself to deal with a lot of sleeve-rolled-up, headset-wearing nimrods pacing around their office and randomly barking banker-sounding jargon into their headsets, just as they’ve seen done in the movies. (Wait a second – why would they have Bluetooth headsets in the office? Wouldn’t they just use one of those telemarketer headsets? Brace yourself, but some dickbag tech company came up with a Bluetooth headset that also picks up landline calls – it was the biggest development in office douchiness in 2007-8).
You will see a few of those guys. Don’t be that guy. Only wear a Bluetooth outdoors and only when absolutely necessary – and take that shit off when you aren’t actively using it.
9. Don’t go overboard with speakerphone – You may also wonder, why doesn’t Bluetooth Guy just use his speakerphone? Because speakerphone has a way of pissing off people very quickly, that’s why. Let’s run the math – the typical industry group at a bank has probably 110 people or so in some ghettoish common cubicle area - they will try and spruce it up with a nickname like “the bullpen” or “downtown Baltimore” but don’t believe the hype. I’m sure other office environments have similar setups. You will become very, very familiar with all those surrounding colleagues during your career. I could identify probably 30-40 different people solely by their gait and the sound of their footsteps during my cubist period, I shit you not. I could also identify about 75 different personal phone conversations just from hearing a snippet of one side of the convo fifteen feet away – “Farsi baby talk? Neeraj asking parents for a loan til bonus hits.” My point being, you hear way too much from other people.
So if you are listening to an hour long earnings call on speakerphone, that means 10-15 colleagues are also hearing that shit. Keep the volume down very low if you’ve got to go that route, or don the dreaded telemarketer headset. (I never wore one as a matter of principle). I have seen homicidal rampages ignited by a very loud (and even work-related) speakerphone conversation between two people who were about twenty feet apart, causing thirty people to endure their stupid argument over what multiple to use when they could’ve just quietly discussed at one or another’s desk. When in doubt, walk over and talk to the person. Better yet – email! (I always tried to minimize the actual human interaction to the extent possible – less chance of getting the flu.)
10. Carry a pen and notebook with you everywhere you go - I know you are probably thinking “this old fucker has straight lost his damn mind, pen and paper?”, but this is something that needs to be strictly adhered to. See, when you are a junior person, people senior to you think of you as a “resource.” That may sound okay to you, but the type of “resource” they consider you is more a fax machine or coffeemaker than an elite member of the Army Rangers. Consider yourself a very basic resource, like say an adding machine – all cogent thought and input comes from the user, the machine itself merely provides an orderly, legible represention of the requested information.
When senior people see you, what you think they think, and what they are actually thinking, can be quite different.
Fiction: ”Say, isn’t that Donald Markson, the bright young man who fought his way from Purdue all the way to Wall Street? I’m gonna check in and see how he’s doing, just to make sure he’s set up and getting off on the right foot.”
Fact: “Is that fat kid the one who was in my office with those other gimp on that Sears acquires Intel pitch? What is his name? Why doesn’t he get a haircut? Fuck it, I’m gonna have that bushy-headed fucker go through every retail or semi M&A proxy from the last ten years and conduct a synergy analysis as part of my unrequested followup materials package.”
Translation: On your way from your desk to the printer, you can expect 3-4 people to stop you and ask you to do shit for them. You won’t remember it all, and if you don’t carry around something to write everything down, you will be fucked. Burning bridges before you even get started is poor strategy. I recommend a small notebook and a Zebra pen – thank me later.
Damn, I’m rambling again, this is too long. Gotta break it off, guess there will be a lesson #3 at some point. Feel free to fire in your own thoughts on office do’s and don’ts.