Adrienne Rodney is leaving her job as Brooke’s assistant and decided to talk about what she is doing and how she is going about it.
Adrienne: When I started working for Brooke almost three years ago (April 2010) it was under the condition that I would look for something new by the end of 2011. Brooke hired me to help with No Shortage of Work, our sister project Questions for Colleges and other tasks related to the company we work for. The idea was that by the end of that year-and-a-half I would have figured out what I wanted my next move to be, and used the experience I gained from NSoW to get there.
I love my job, my coworkers and my boss. I know they enjoy having me around. That’s why I am still here a year after I was supposed to leave. It’s going to be hard to go, but I’d relish the opportunity to work in a marketing or PR role, and unfortunately, our company doesn’t have a need for those things. So it’s time for me to find a place that does.
Plus it gives Brooke another chance to do what he loves most: helping others find work. In this case, that’s me and my replacement.
NSoW: So how is it that you can’t grow in this position? And if that’s the case, why would someone else want to take it?
Adrienne: Brooke and I have always been honest with each other. He knew that I was a novice about finance, that I had college debt that stymied many opportunities. I knew that he wanted me to use this job to strengthen my writing, editing and research skills for my next endeavor.
As Brooke’s assistant I work on the trading desk he heads.
I have a daily routine that gets me in at 8AM to start our computer systems and check that we are ready for the day and at the end of the day I am in charge of some processing and record-keeping. On a normal day this doesn’t take more than two hours, but over the years I have learned a lot about finance.
Once the needs of the business are met I am free to work on Brooke’s many projects, such as No Shortage Of Work and Questions for Colleges.
If you take my place you will have considerable latitude to make this job what you want it to be. You can use it as a stepping stone as I have, and Brooke will encourage you to find your passion and work at it.
NSoW: So what are you doing to find your next job?
Adrienne: I’ve applied for a couple of jobs online, using my LinkedIn account (which a lot of companies are using now to find employees). I am also gathering names and numbers of people my coworkers think I should talk to, but I won’t be asking them to hire me. I want to have a conversation about what it takes to succeed in their chosen field. Maybe they will know people who are hiring. Perhaps there is a way I can be of help to them, and I can learn something new.
NSoW: Are you really willing to help others find work when you’re in need of a job yourself?
Adrienne: Yes, because I care about people.
If I hear about a position that isn’t for me, but it turns out I just had a conversation with someone looking for work in that exact same field, I will feel bad if I did not tell him or her about it. Our economy is strong when more people are working, so I want people to be working, as I understand the hardships of unemployment; I dealt with it for almost two years. If I can save someone from that burden I will.
I also learned a long time ago that finding joy instead of jealousy in others’ success makes for a much happier life – and it brings good karma.
NSoW: What advice do you have for someone who wants to be your replacement?
Adrienne: Be yourself. Be honest. Be ready. Brooke doesn’t hire someone unless he knows their true selves, and they know him. He found that when he’s completely open and honest other people offer him the same courtesy.
There are days that are routine: get the trading systems ready, work on NSoW or Q4College projects, write an article, remind Brooke to do something 10 times, set up a meeting, shut down the trading systems and then go home.
There are other days where you can expect the unexpected. I’ve been to job fairs and conferences, both to represent NSoW and gain self-fulfillment. Brooke and I spent a weekend doing Startup Weekend, a 54-hour intense workshop for creating new businesses. I’ve interviewed people in finance, gaming, education, tech and fashion. I’ve spent hours, days even, editing video and audio interviews and vignettes.
Be ready to try a million different things (as Brooke has a million different ideas) and be forthright, ethical and kind-hearted. These things actually matter on this trading desk, and to Brooke.
Adrienne interviewed Brooke as well on his thoughts on the role of his assistant.
NSoW: What made Adrienne the right person for the job?
Brooke: Well, I’ll tell you what got her the job offer… I was looking for a superb writer and I asked her for some writing samples so she sent me a few pieces she’d written for grad school. They were OK but not great and I told her that if she got a grammar book and a style book and sent me new samples then I would judge her on her new work instead of the original submissions.
She did what I asked without being offended.
I say, “Attitude and aptitude trump experience and education” and Adrienne is a stellar example. My granddad ended his formal education at age 14 and started a career in journalism. He eventually rose to the highest ranks at United Press International. Early on he would get mad at his editor for re-writing his work. Eventually he blew up, and the editor said the problem was that his grammar and style were terrible. So my granddad got some books and within a few weeks his work was no longer being re-written.
Being a good journalist is about getting the story; not about writing well, and there are many fine journalists who cannot write. But many of these people will not take advice; Adrienne does.
Other things I look for are authenticity, a good heart, and a giving personality. When you tell some people to relax and just be themselves they are at a loss for what to do. Most job candidates know how to be themselves but don’t think they are allowed to during the hiring process – which is silly because who else do they plan on being after they get hired. Early on I introduced many of my candidates to each other and suggested they help each other find work. Even though I told Adrienne early on that I did not think she was the right one she helped everyone else anyway – so she wasn’t just trying to impress me. It took me a few weeks to realize my first impressions were wrong, as they so often are.
NSoW: What qualities does her replacement need to become the “right” person for the job?
Brooke: I am glad you asked about qualities rather than education or experience because, as I said, I care more about attitude and aptitude than almost anything else. Regarding aptitude, the closer you are to 800 verbal SATs the more likely you’ll have aptitude. Training as a good writer and thinker would help. We could use someone who knows how to build a website, create a blog (not just write one), edit photos, video, and audio, etc. However I cannot afford the perfect person, so it is almost a job requirement that you NOT know how to do some of these things so you have things to learn on the job. Jobs where no learning goes on are pretty awful.
I wrote an essay for my management once about job descriptions, and it all boils down to one words: ” Care.” Everything else are just tasks, but no matter how good you are technically, you cannot do a good job if you don’t care.
So it is important that we care about the same things, and that we care about each other. Some people think you shouldn’t have to care about your job; that it should be good enough to put in the time and make money so you can do what you really care about. I can’t argue against that, but I only ever had one job that didn’t involve caring and it lasted one day. In college I landed a night job packing trucks in a warehouse and the thing that killed it for me was that I wanted to do a good job but nobody around me cared and they resented me for even wanting to.
A few years ago I set a personal mission for myself, which is to be of meaningful help to “my people” who I define as over-educated Westerners. So it would help if you had too much education for the job I’m offering because that way you’ll understand my mission. Caring about Westerners doesn’t seem to be a popular thing these days, but that just means the market is wide open. You don’t need to be a Westerner, but you do need to care about them – kind of like how if we were trying to help children in Asia you wouldn’t need to be a child, or Asian – but you would need to care about them.
Rather than get into specifics, it would be best if my candidates looked at No Shortage of Work (www.NoShortageOfWork.com) and Questions for Colleges (Q4Colleges.com). It would be great if they “get” what I’m trying to do, and have lots of suggestions for improvement. I’m also co-authoring a book with high school guidance counselor about what you need to know that you don’t learn in school (and probably not from your parents either). We’d like someone who can help organize, edit, and market that.
It would also help to have a sense of adventure. For example, remember when you and I got together three other people and did the StartupWeekend.org event? It took all weekend, and I don’t think we had any idea what we were getting ourselves into. Someone who sees that as an intrusion on their personal time will probably not be as good as someone who sees it as an opportunity for adventure.
This is just the tip of the iceberg – and there is also our on-going trading operations which I haven’t even mentioned.
NSoW: Why do you love helping others find work?
Brooke: Some people collect cars and other people collect stamps. Around 10 years ago I decided to begin collecting heartfelt “Thank-You”s from strangers. One of the best ways to build your collection is to get someone a job because you get “thank-you”s from both sides.
Actually, some people make it painful to help them. They are lazy and under-qualified. They feel entitled, and if I let them, they would put more effort into criticizing my efforts to help them than they put into helping themselves. If you want to help these kind of people then knock yourself out, but I’m not interested.
I don’t go far out of my way to help random people get jobs, but I won’t hire you until I have at least three candidates who I care about. Because that leaves me with a surplus of people I care about I usually try to find them work elsewhere. By the time I would consider hiring someone I’m convinced they are amazing, and if they don’t have plenty of job offers already it is usually because they suck at finding a job. But who cares? “Finding a job” is not in the job description of any jobs, so if I’ve done all the work to find a hidden talent then lots of employers will jump at the chance of not doing all that work over again.
NSoW: What do you hope (advice, skills, lessons learned) Adrienne will take with her when she leaves this job?
Brooke: There is no shortage of work. If your boss goes away for a month and doesn’t leave you any instructions, you should be able to accomplish more than if she or he were interrupting you with projects all the time. A manager I know says that when he lets people go, they often say, “But I did everything you told me to do.” He says, “If this company has to thrive only on the ideas I come up with then, boy, are we in trouble.”
If you ever again find yourself unemployed during a shitty economy, remember that when the money dries up the work piles up. When I’ve been unemployed during recessions I’ve landed fine jobs by learning new things and proving myself before being put on the payroll. I’ve even gotten two job offers at companies with hiring freezes. Bad times discourage so many people that the reduction in competition improves your odds so much it actually becomes easier to land work. If you have the right attitude and aptitude, that is.
Problems are good; they are the spice of life. If you work really hard on at least one problem you will be too exhausted to worry about any others. Other people’s problems are the best; people will even pay you to solve their problems – they won’t pay you to solve your own.
Write early and often. By that I mean that when you face a problem begin writing about it. You cannot think through a complex problem without writing down words any more than a mathematician can do math without writing symbols. I once wrote an essay that said that if you can’t write, you might still have thoughts, but you don’t really know how to think. A woman wrote to me and said she spent all weekend formulating a letter to tell me I am wrong but eventually the exercise made her realize I am right. Read Writing to Learn by William Zinsser.
NSoW: What do you want to teach your next employee?
Brooke: I want to teach them electronics and the Morse code because I am a ham radio operator and there aren’t many of us left. Just kidding.
Of course this depends on who I hire. I’d love to hire someone with tons of education but a feeling that they are victims of a dysfunctional educational system and job market because, frankly, those things are dysfunctional. I want to teach them how to transcend those problems and then instill in them a desire to teach others to do the same. While it might be nice to find someone who can do that already, I can’t hire them because they are already working on the problems and I don’t want to take them away from that.
NSoW: What role do you want your next assistant to play?
Brooke: We’ve talked almost exclusively about my side projects about which I’m passionate. But those things don’t pay the bills. Our employer, Maple Securities, hires us to run a trading desk that I built. As founder, they give me tremendous latitude in what things I do on the side, but half the job is supporting the business operations. You’ll need to arrive at 8AM and get everything ready for the day’s work; turn on computers, run reports, check that things are OK, etc. This is usually done by 9:30. You’ll have similar tasks mid-day and at around 4:00. You can usually be done by 5:00. Anyone could do this work, but the thing is that it is critical and not everyone can remain conscientious for years as you have. The key is to care, and in this case, the only reason you would care to do a good job is because if you don’t it well it will hurt the other people in the group. That is why you’ll need to meet everyone else in the group and get to know them. They will show you what the work entails and then you’ll decide if you would like helping them in that way.
In short, there are two things you need to care about: my causes and our people.
NSoW: If a candidate has an interest in finance, particularly trading, is this job a good stepping stone for them?
Brooke: It could be a great stepping stone, but not in trading. The rest of us have math, computer science, business, and trading backgrounds and we are definitely NOT looking for someone like the rest of us in terms of temperament, skills, or ambition.
Julia, who did the job before you, has an undergrad degree in Psychology and a Masters in Buddhist Philosophy. She went on to work for the President of our firm in compliance and ethics – a job she never knew existed in our industry, and that makes use of her training in how to distinguish right from wrong.
From this job you could go into writing, editing, journalism, education reform, marketing, or you might become an entrepreneur. But if you aspire to become a securities trader than this is not the job for you.
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