In the first parts of Downton Abbey’sThomas Barrow’s job search, we saw Thomas’s frustration coupled with his lack of preparation. Fortunately, in the series finale, we discover that Thomas’s job search was “successful,” to the extent that he found a new job, but that ultimately he was able to finally land back “home” at the Abbey in a position he will truly enjoy. The journey provides some additional messages for job seekers, extracted from Thomas’s experiences in the early 20th century, but relevant for all job seekers in today’s environment. Related: An Interviewing Lesson From ‘Downton Abbey’ The second interview we see with Thomas is very different from the first and Thomas’s assertiveness is to be praised. Obviously seeing a visual difference between the condition of the estate and the advertisement for the job, Thomas assertively asks “Perhaps you could tell me more about the job?” When Sir Michael Reresby ignores the question as he tours the dilapidated Dryden Park estate with Thomas, Thomas persists, again asking for “more about the job? How many staff do you have?” It is obvious that Thomas decides to move quickly to get away from this situation, finally taking himself out of consideration with “Maybe I’m not quite up to it?” Job seekers today, like Thomas, need to assertively inquire about the real expectations of the job. And they need to be willing to walk away from a job that does not meet their expectations – even if the need for job is great – which is exactly the situation Thomas sees. In the same episode Mr. Barrow responds to Carson’s comment on his sullen attitude: “I can’t see the future, Mr. Carson. But then I suppose, none of us can.” This is an interesting comment because it is so important for job seekers to be looking at the future, in determining the vision for their future and in the need to monitor the trends of the job market and job search techniques. In the series finale, the story returns to Mr. Barrow’s job search with the early scene of his announcement that he’s found a new job, working at the estate of Sir Mark Styles, with Mrs. Jenkins and a maid, Elsie, as the only other staff. Unfortunately, we are not treated to any details of how Thomas interviewed. He is offered the job via a letter. But we do learn very quickly that it’s a pretty safe assumption to conclude that he took this job under the pressure he was feeling to get a job, any job. And that makes it equally easy to conclude that no matter how the interview went, Thomas endured it under that pressure. One online review site summarized Thomas’s new job perfectly. “Barrow landed a job at another Yorkshire estate, working for a dull old couple who would have caused the statuary to keel over from boredom.” It is obvious from every scene with Barrow at his new job that he’s bored and hating every minute of it. Perhaps Thomas is reflecting the frustration of the 70% of employees today who reportedly are “disengaged.” When prompted by one of his former co-workers from Downton Abbey to get along with everyone, he responds “there isn’t much of an everyone to get along with.” But the final scenes of Downton Abbey bring Thomas Barrow back to Downton Abbey in the esteemed position of Butler, replacing the seemingly irreplaceable but ill Mr. Carson. And in this final moment, there two outstanding messages for job seekers. Barrow’s job searches and short experience with his new job with the Styles have demonstrated to him how good his job at Downton was. A colleague e-mailed me with a perfect description: Barrow now has an “attitude of gratitude” that shifted his whole being making him a much more “likeable” character. When he is at the wedding and volunteers to serve champagne during the crisis he did it out of true commitment and concern which is not the Mr. Barrow we had come to know and love (conniving and manipulating). The truth is HE CHANGED which changed his whole perspective and hireablity AND made him the right candidate for the Downton job which he would have never had been considered for previously. In today’s competitive world, several top companies have realized the value of recruiting from former employees. I’m familiar with a top U.S. company which actively recruits from “alumna” and has found that when these former employees return, they have noticeably stronger attitudes, higher retention, and lower absenteeism than employees who’ve never left. I had a student several years ago who actively contacted employees who left on a regular basis, offering strong incentives to return, with excellent results. The final point from Downton Abbey is a solid point for all job seekers. Barrow has clearly earned this job based on his job performance – his selection for the position is easy. Even though he’s left – for a very short time – it’s really an internal promotion. His performance, over ten plus years of service, is known. His flaws are known, his growth as a person is known. Plus, when Mr. Carson is asked if this is OK with him, his response is clear: “Of course, sir, I trained him.” It is the challenge for every job seeker today to make their performance known, in the interview, on the resume, and on the LinkedIn profile. It’s performance, clear accomplishments, that distinguish top performers, not skills and experiences.
We get it. Looking for work can be scary, especially if you’ve been at it for a long time and haven’t gotten any results.
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Work is important to a lot of us. And we all have egos. The trick is to balance our own view of work and success so that the ego remains a helpful source of support and not a tyrannical master. One is the road to relative contentment, the other to continued misery. Have you struck the balance?
We particularly need to know we have the balance as close to right (for us and others at work—everywhere!) especially given the likely turmoil and stress employees, colleagues, leadership, and ourselves may feel because of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding us right now.
Why do I even write about ego and why should any of us in business care about it?
To understand the influence of our own ego at work, let's first get a working definition of what ego is. Oxford Languages defines ego as, among other things, ‘the part of the mind that …is responsible for reality testing.’
So, what does reality testing look like on the ground? How do we implement reality testing at work for us?
Our Internal Rule BookBigstock
Through a rule book. Our own internal rule book. An individual set of rules we each carry around inside our heads for how we deal with the world including at work.
Everyone has their own internal rule book. Your job is to make sure that your internal rule book continues to support and serve for the benefit of all including your stakeholders, your colleagues, your team, your company, and yourself at work.
We all have this internal rule book for all parts of our lives. So, our internal rule book pervades our waking moments including at work.
Almost from birth we acquire, adopt, and develop our own set of rules which drive what we expect and therefore what we impose on others and ourselves as a way to decide what is going on—that is we are reality testing.
For instance, simple rules picked up through experience like if you pay a baker for a bread roll you expect them to hand over a bread roll. If they don’t hand over a bread roll then you start reality testing. In this example, where the baker didn’t hand over the bread roll as you expected (rule about exchange) you might immediately reality test the situation by asking ‘Did I hand over the money to the baker’ or ‘Did he hear my order correctly?’
You see how the rule book works—it's reality testing what you expected. You expected a bread roll after handing over the money (a rule about exchange), yet the baker didn’t hand over a bread roll. So, you try to understand what happened given your rule explains there ‘should’ have been an exchange. You could call this sort of rule a ‘standard rule’ as many people follow it. In this scenario, the rule of exchange is a standard rule because it is widely followed and understood.
So, applying the rule book to work, if you delegate to someone and then they don’t meet your expectations...here is where things can get interesting. Remember our internal rule book guides and drives our expectations.
Your rule book is active 24 hours, 7 days a week in your subconscious, whether you’re at work or not, and whether you are always aware or not. The application of our rules often happens on ‘autopilot.’ Remaining mindful of how you apply your rules will increase your likelihood of successful interactions and activities at work and in general.
Because being mindful means you are in that very moment, live, and you are adjusting to the actual, live situation and the interaction or person in that very moment. Rather than applying the rule when it may have first formed for you.
Remember, right now, people may be in a heightened state of stress for other reasons than the immediate interaction with you. So make sure your rule is the best possible fit, in the moment, to that situation and people.
This mindful assessment of the ‘best fit’ of your rule in the moment will lead to better, healthier, more successful interactions and outcomes the more you can do it.
Remember: a negative emotion you may feel during the day at work, with others or during an activity you are doing—e.g., reading a work email, for instance (anger, frustration, annoyance)—is a pretty good indicator that someone or something has tripped over one of your rules.
This is then a split-second opportunity for you to grab hold of how you are feeling, and then recognize that it’s actually because of a rule you have in play. You then have the immediate opportunity to do something potentially different to how you would ‘normally’ react.
This can lead to a different (and possibly) better outcome for you and the person or situation than might otherwise have been the case.
Let’s continue with the example mentioned of delegating work to someone. You have more choices in this latter example scenario of delegating work to someone which is of course more complex than a simple transaction of buying a bread roll—obvious right?
What may be less obvious is that you and the person you delegated to don’t just have standard rules (i.e., widely followed and understood what is expected). We all have non-standard or individual internal rules as well. In other words, everyone has a standard set of rules that are widely followed and understood by others and non-standard rules where expectations between people might vary.
It’s also worth thinking about how you apply your rule book in say, difficult work situations like distressed projects and teams (see "6-Point Checklist For Taking Over A ‘Distressed’ Project Or Team" for more on this).
Let’s say in our delegation example you explained to your colleague that she keeps you in the communication loop on the progress of work you delegated to her. Let’s say she doesn’t copy you in on an update email and you find out from a colleague instead how the work is progressing.
This is the second time you have found out indirectly rather than directly from the person you delegated to. Do you apply a rule that says this colleague cannot be trusted or is slack or absent-minded? Or could it be that your rule instead interprets your colleague’s behaviour as they are purposely leaving you out of the loop.
What if her behaviour of leaving you off the update email is actually because she is continuously overworked and doing her very best and slips up sometimes because of how busy she is?
Take your pick of how you respond in this scenario.
Your response is driven by your internal rule about what you expect—in this scenario, what you expected when you delegate work to someone. So, when your expectation wasn’t met, your internal rule book kicks in (to reality test) and then reacts by judging the situation (and the person).
Remember that our rule book is built over time and evolves through observation, our own experiences, as well as our beliefs—a topic for another (many!) blog series.
How much you check, question, and validate your own internal rules that you use and apply to a given situation, such as the example above, will potentially influence your attitude and behaviour towards this person as well as similar scenarios in the future.
Tips To Make Sure Your Rulebook Is A Healthy, Balanced One:Bigstock
Ask yourself, ‘Do my rules...
- Serve me in regards to my work?’
- Serve my stakeholders including my team, direct reports, sponsor, and colleagues?’
- Place onerous hurdles that serve little purpose except to continually reassure me?’
- Need to be removed in some areas?’
- Hinder or support fast progress at work?’
- Need streamlining, changing, revision, updating, editing, or deleting?’
I’ve barely mentioned ego throughout this blog yet that’s where we started. We could spend a lot more than my 1200-word limit allows. So instead, I focused on a practical example of what is driven by our ego—the internal rule book.
At its most basic, our internal rule book is there to protect us and reassure us that we are in control as we deal with and decide what is going on around us at work (and beyond).
It’s important you place as much effort as you can muster into making sure, especially in today’s uncertain work environment, that the application of your rule book (i.e., in situations with stakeholders like colleagues, employees, or leadership) remains as balanced and unemotional as possible, no matter what is going on for you and your stress levels. Not an easy ask I realize—but I know you can do it!
The tips I provided aim to help you recognise and understand your own internal rule book, the one you apply at work especially, and help you ensure it remains supportive rather than one that drives unhelpful behaviours that can make things worse for you and those around you.
Remember the ultimate aim of our internal rules is to help not hinder.
Would love to hear about your internal rule books and how they serve you or how you review your rules regularly to make sure they continue to support you.
In today's job market, your resume is the most important document you have to get your job application in the hands of the hiring manager. If you can't get your resume past the ATS, it doesn't matter how much experience or how good your cover letter is. That's why you need to be strategic and intentional about the words you include in your resume.
The Importance Of Powerful Resume Words
When a hiring manager is seeing the same old resume time and time again (which includes the cliché words and phrases such as "highly dedicated individual" or "great team player") you are guaranteeing that your resume will be tossed. Not only is it probably not optimized with the right keywords, but by taking up space with subjective statements, you're missing out on the chance to quantify your experience, skills, and accomplishments on your resume.
Poorly chosen words and clichéd phrases can destroy the interest of the reader. Powerful words, when chosen correctly, can have the opposite effect of motivating and inspiring the reader.
Here are the most powerful resume words you should use to stand out from the competition and increase your chances of getting hired...
Top 100 Powerful Resume Words
The next time you're writing your resume, be sure to include some of the powerful words above. Your job search depends on it!
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This article was originally published at an earlier date.