Job hunting for renaissance people
I’ve long joked that one of the reasons I have to start my own companies is that I’m virtually unemployable. The joke stopped being funny when I realized it might just be true.
Quite a few people believe in hiring people with T-shaped skills. I do, too, as it happens, but the problem I have is that my T is extraordinarily weird-shaped. To use the T-shape analogy, the cross-beam on my skill-set is is extremely chunky, while the beam it rests on is esoteric. I may very well be one of the world’s foremost photography experts, for example (as witnessed by the stack of books I’ve written on the subject), but I long since decided that photography wasn’t the right vector for improving the world, and unless you are specifically in the photography industry, it’s not that helpful to be able to explain in painful detail what a hyperfocal distance is, and how you use it.
Whenever I’m working as a coach or advisor, my ridiculous “Jesus, Haje, is there anything you haven’t done” vibe is helpful. When hunting for regular jobs, not so much. The phrase ‘renaissance man’ or ‘polymath’ have become all but swear words in the job market — which is extraordinarily unfortunate when that’s what you are.
I recently lamented that with a resume like mine, it is hard to apply for jobs, because it’s kinda hard to see how my work experience and past job titles come together into a cohesive whole. Not least because I’ve had the ‘CEO’ title quite a few times, and that can mean wildly different things from company to company — and even at different times in the same company, depending on a company’s growth and evolution.
A close friend recently challenged me to write a job description for ‘my perfect job’. I think the title of this job is Chief of Staff, but it could just as easily be ‘head of special projects’ or heading up a division within a bigger company. This doc is an attempt at writing one of those job descriptions.
The Venn Diagram of Interests
My particular interests mean that I am particularly drawn to a cluster of companies that do something in the following spaces:
- Mental Health — treatment, awareness, mindfulness, self-care, community-based mental health work… You name it. In addition to the wider picture of mental health, I have a particular interest in Psychedelic medicine — I believe that psychedelic medicine can have enormous healing potential, and I’d love to help normalize and develop that.
- End of Life — or helping humans transition through a change in general — think from single life to a relationship, from marriage to divorce, from bachelor to parent, or from being alive to, well, not.
- Education — I don’t particularly see myself as a high school teacher, but one of the red threads that have run in my career is that I’m a life-long educator. A stack of books about photography, thousands of articles, all over the web, and the Photo School I founded, which has taught 10,000+ people the basics of photography, may all have something to do with that.
With those broad industries in mind, the ideal org for me would have a few attributes and values…
There is no plan B for our planet — we only have one, and if we burn it to the ground, we don’t get a spare. In addition, I have a strong distaste for companies that see humans as disposable resources. One lens to see this through is the triple bottom line; Planet, People, and Profit, more or less in that order.
To me, that means that the ideal company for me would…
- Work toward improving the future — I would value companies that are future-focused, and end up on the right side of history. Solar over petroleum; public transport over personal car ownership; prevention over cure.
- Environmentally conscious — Don’t make a bunch of plastic rubbish that is the flavor-du-jour but ends up in landfills within 5 years. Be at least carbon neutral. Either directly or indirectly have a positive impact on the environment. Don’t mandate travel for meetings where a Zoom call would suffice. Commuting — do we have to? Care enough to say so, and then practice what you preach.
- Be socially conscious —In the US in particular, corporations play an important role — and have the opportunity to be leaders in social change. Talk the walk and walk the walk.
- Invest in people — Certainly directly (with its own staff), but preferably indirectly, too (with its product and/or services) help people pull themselves upwards. Have robust growth plans for your team members. Help people up-skill. Your staff will eventually leave — and that’s okay — send them on their way with kindness, compassion, and an excited story to tell about what you do and why. Invest in social programs, don’t shy away from ex-incarcerated people. Be aware around BIPOC folks and minorities, LGBTQI+ groups, etc. Be sensitive to people’s mental and physical health.
- Be remote-friendly — For many reasons — but not least for environmental and mental health reasons — my next dream job will likely be remote-only, remote-first, or at the very least remote-friendly.
The deal breakers
There are a few companies that seem to tick many of the boxes above, but that are still out of the running. I hasten to add that I don’t hate the people who work at these companies — they have different priorities than I do, and that’s cool — but for me, there are things that make it really hard to consider a role. Recruiters from Facebook and Lyft have been on my case for a while, for example. Is flattering to be contacted, but on reflection, I don’t think I can work for a company that isn’t a Force for Good in the world.
Must, on balance, be a force for good: For better or for worse, in the US, corporations have a huge amount of power. With that power comes great responsibility. In the case of Facebook, I think the algorithms and policies that are in place have made the world a much worse place. Between Cambridge Analytica, and the many tiny pockets of misinformation and echo-chambers the company facilitates, I think we are far worse off with Facebook than without it.
People’s wellbeing needs to come first: In the case of Lyft, I abhor what they did with Prop 22. Lyft, Uber, Doordash, and a few others, paid $100m to strip workers of their rights to protect shareholder value. If you’ll forgive the language — they can fuck right off. Investing millions of dollars into protection shareholder value over the backs of the very people who make your business possible? That’s late-stage capitalism at its worst — profit over people, in the loudest, most callous way possible.
Different ‘levels’ of Chief of Staff
Chief of Staff — like CEO — is a really nebulous job title. This issue is so prevalent that one of the main websites for Chief of Staff roles created a ‘leveling framework’ with five different levels. The job ranges from a Personal Assistant with a fancy title (‘level 1’), to a role that is very close to ‘deputy CEO,’ (‘level 5’) where the Chief of Staff can take meetings on behalf of the CEO, and in some cases make decisions on behalf of the CEO.
When I am talking about a Chief of Staff role, I’m talking about levels 3 and up — ideally starting at whatever level makes the most sense, and working my way up the levels. I want to be an instrumental part of the decision-making process and have strategic influence over the business. At levels 1 and 2, I fear I would get bored and/or feel under-utilized, neither of which is a Haje that anyone should employ.
In this document, the assumption is that the role is “chief of staff to the CEO”, but I would equally easily enjoy being a chief of staff to a business unit or another member of the C-suite — COO or CTO being the most obvious candidates.
OMG, Haje, I know just the thing for you!
Amazing! firstname.lastname@example.org is a great way to get a hold of me for an introduction or a conversation.