By Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal
It took me roughly 12 years into my career to REALLY become a “boss.” Before that, I managed interns and freelancers but in terms of being the one in charge of hiring/firing, approving vacation time, giving out promotions and basically serving as a de facto mother/psychiatrist/referee? That didn’t happen until 2012 when I became the site director of OK! Magazine’s website. There’s a lot more to say about how I was hired, how/why the company gave me a ton of money to not only build out the site to stand apart from the print edition but also hire my team . . . and why American Media is one of the most two-faced, disloyal companies you could ever work for (as proven when I was laid off at six months pregnant) . . .but I’ll narrow my focus in this post to my tenor as a manager.
Since my very first job at CosmoGIRL!, I reported to a wide range of managers so I had a cross section of styles to model my own approach on. My points of reference included:
- The hard as nails media veteran whose brand of tough love often brought me to tears
- The micromanager who didn’t care what I did—until someone else showed interest and suddenly I couldn’t pee without her permission
- The wannabe power player who was MIA, lazy and ONLY interested in stockpiling underlings to do her dirty work. She actually hired for me for a job that someone else already did (and had done quite well for YEARS) to serve her own need for power. So, basically, she put me at war with my fellow colleagues.
- The gossip who had a knack for tricking me into spilling my guts. It took months to realize that she never reciprocated and often used the scoop—scoop I unwittingly gave her—against me.
- And yes, I also had amazing bosses who supported me, believed in me and looked out for me in ways I never fully grasped or appreciated until much reflection and “aha” moments later on.
So, as the boss, I wanted to be approachable and forward thinking. I wanted respect but I also didn’t want to be intimidating. I wanted my team to sing my praises behind my back, never say a bad word about me and want to work with me forever and ever . . .amen. I was living in a fantasy world—but as I started the hiring process, I knew I had time to pick my management style and develop it.
You see, my first task was to fire the skeleton team that was already in place and then hire, train and manage a brand new team—never mind that I was brand new to the company. I had no parameters around who I could hire and what positions I filled. I literally had a budget and that was my guide to figure out the amount of staff I needed and make up whatever titles/positions that I thought necessary. I could set up meetings with whomever I pleased—and if it was someone I KNEW I wanted to hire, I usually could make them an offer by lunch with their paperwork drawn up by dinner time. It was not normal—if you’ve ever applied for a job before then you know the norm is usually “hurry up and wait.” This was an insane version of “Supermarket Sweep” where if I didn’t rush to set up meetings and hand out jobs, my budget was in jeopardy of getting “reassigned.”
Again, let me reiterate—THIS WAS NOT NORMAL!
Though my Spidey sense was tingling, I ignored it. This was a rush I’d never felt before. Being bestowed this power to hire was exhilarating and frightening. People’s career trajectories were in my hands. I had control over whether or not they could pay their rent or upgrade their wardrobe. And on the flip side, this new superpower to give people jobs was beckoning people of the woodwork. Ex-boyfriends, enemies, favorite former colleagues, former colleagues I was positive hated me, people I was Facebook friends with and nothing more — they all approached me like their BFF who always loved me, loved my work and would do anything to join my team.
It was a weird mind fuck. Yes, 60 percent of those I heard from were full of BS, trying to butter me up. But, it didn’t matter—these flattering ego boosts were like a high I couldn’t get enough of. Then I ended up “stealing” staff that currently worked for some of my ex-bosses . . . well, it goes without say that it was a power play that I rather enjoyed experimenting with . . . though I must make it crystal clear that it was a happy accident as I was truly going after talent that I really did want to work with.
When I finally finished recruiting and assembled my team, I then had to BE the boss . . . and I’ll explore the mistakes, missteps, regrets and overreaches I made in part two of this blog post next week (throwing parties for every tiny milestone, pizza lunches when I thought everyone was mad at me are just a few things that were fun but hurt me whenever I had “serious” parts of the job to execute).
For now, here’s what I learned about the hiring/recruiting process for those of you currently in that position or aspiring to get there one day soon:
- MEET EVERY CANDIDATE IN THE FLESH: NEVER hire someone you ONLY interviewed by phone. A junior editor who had just graduated college was highly recommended to me—problem was she was living at home—in another state. I realized how lucky I was that I was able to move to NYC without a job—despite my living situation and challenges that come from being unemployed, 22 and living in NYC. So, I gave her a chance and made her dream of moving to NYC come true. Except she repaid me by showing up almost an hour late on her first official day with the excuse that she overslept because she didn’t set her alarm. Would I have known that would happen if we met in person? Probably not. But, I would have gotten a much better sense of her personality and work ethic and seen that we were not all that compatible. And, her first day lateness did set the tone from there. . .
- GO OUTSIDE THE BOX TO FIND CANDIDATES: Give your neighbor’s boyfriend’s third cousin’s childhood bestie an interview. Discover new talent, rather than recycling the ones that everyone fights to hire because finding hidden gems is a talent unto itself. It’s what sets you apart and takes you away from being an average, run of the mill boss who goes through the motions to earning superstar status in your industry. Here’s the trick: you must hire people that make you look good—don’t be intimidated or afraid it’ll diminish your role or lessen the credit you receive. You hired someone who does amazing work? Well, you discovered them. That will elevate your profile and strengthen your reputation for having spot on instincts—making YOU a desirable candidate to lead/build other teams in the future.
- ZEBRAS NEVER CHANGE THEIR STRIPES: If someone was rude, whiny, unreliable and entitled at their last job . . . the odds are in their favor that they’ll be the same way at their new job too. And, if you witnessed that behavior yourself BEFORE hiring them? Well, then you only have yourself to blame if/when things go awry. On that same note, if you’re hiring a former colleague with a great track record—you MUST do more than just ask if they’re okay reporting to you. They might say “yes” because they want the job but you must discuss—in depth—your work styles and how you’ll compliment each other—or clash. It’s okay to decide it may not be the right fit and too weird to move into a boss/employee dynamic. In fact, it’ll save you a lot of heartache, tension and stress.
- FIND YOUR BALANCE: I thought I needed a big staff so I hired about seven editors. The issue? I only had one senior level editor and as “partners,” we did not mesh. Give yourself the gift of a strong number two that you wholeheartedly and implicitly trust as your surrogate. And, if that means forgoing a position or two below to have the budget for a worthy candidate—it’s okay. By hiring a predominantly junior/ intermediate level team— I unwittingly assembled a mini sorority. They bonded together when times were tough (i.e. when I had no choice but to layoff a third of the team) and they made it their main order of business to black ball me. I felt like the den mom versus a boss some days. And not the cool den mom either . . . more like the one they pranked with saran wrap on the toilet and Nair in the conditioner bottle. Bottom line? Less is more to create a balanced team. You don’t want people overwhelmed with work but you also don’t want two people essentially doing the same exact thing. You need a number two to keep you out of the day to day nuances and keep your focus on the bigger picture plans for the team too.
So, what are your rules for hiring? And what mistakes have you made—and learned from—as a hiring manager?
Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal is the Storyteller-in-Chief of her site The Not So It Girl, sharing lessons learned from her career in media as a writer/editor (and more) over the past 20 years. She gets real about her experiences at outlets ranging from CosmoGIRL! and Glamour to MTV and Sirius Satellite Radio—and recounts painfully true stories (such as how/why reality stars got her fired and declaring bankruptcy at 30) to dole out career advice and create camaraderie. Follow @thenotsoitgirl on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—and read my full bio here!