On hiring: Puzzle pieces & how to fit them

The discovery problem that Silicon Valley — and tech hiring in general has — relates to an issue of finding the right pieces.

Right now, the methodology goes something like this. Somebody stumbles upon a good idea that gains traction. Hell, maybe it’s a bad idea that gets traction and succeeds. Investors like the gold rush flood in seeking to see if that market bears anymore gold or whether they need to seek out a new mountain. Sometimes, they find more gold. Other times, you have to go elsewhere.

Jigsaw puzzles are fine if you like doing them. Depending on how big, they can be a challenge. What happens when you’re about to complete a puzzle and you’re missing a piece? What do you do? Search for it? How long do you search before you give up? Even if you complete the puzzle, what is your next task? Either get a new puzzle to complete or dismantle the one you’ve put together and start again.

I think of tech hiring in a similar way.

We’re really comfortable putting together puzzles that are challenges, so long as all of the pieces are in the box where we need them.

Solving your culture problem

Organizations like to manufacture excitement because they don’t trust their own people to create it organically. We feel like we need to create events to bring people together without thinking about how people are already talking in the cubicles, in meetings and through their natural work together. In big organizations, all huge interactions do is create tension and anxiety. It’s akin to a musical chairs exercise where the favorites always have a seat at the table and the unfavorables are always scrambling to find one, jam their seat that the table and sit there awkwardly, hoping that someone will talk to them and that they can be part of the conversation too.

The myths of meritocracy

The One True Pairing of hiring.

“No one goes to the Golden Corral buffet to stuff themselves with lettuce and quinoa.”
Ty Tashiro, The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love

In fan-fiction circles, OTP is the ‘one true pairing‘. It’s your favorite characters that you think ought to be together. It’s apparent from job descriptions that companies think they’re going to find their own OTP.

Look, it’s important to communicate your culture and what makes your company stand out. The hottest job seekers can choose where they want to go and you’re trying to find them, so you want to use rhetoric that attracts them. But a quick scan of job descriptions

make a difference in an exciting industry; if you like the idea of developing clean, lean solutions to tackle problems that have never been solved before; if you love to learn, have a passion for your work, and enjoy being part of a small, family-oriented environment…help small businesses inspire the world to experience life-changing adventures…

Our people are technically exceptional, but more importantly – built to the core to wow our clients and coworkers as to how helpful we can be. If this is the sort of culture you look for in an organization we want you as a part of our team.

Are you a Mobile UX Superstar who wants to be on the ground floor of a startup focused on social change? If so, read on…

The OTP problem isn’t confined only to jobs. These days, it seems like everybody wants to be the VP of their own startup that simultaneously make them rich while enable them not to feel bad about it through a social mission or talking about how their work will “change the world.” I’ve advised people who only want to work at “the best” companies and find themselves shocked when those companies aren’t interested. We’re often focused on becoming, rather than being.

There is no perfect company. There are no perfect candidates. Keeping your expectations checked is a good way to avoid disappointment and yet, you have to start somewhere. Companies often do, as do people. It just seems there are better ways for us to match without feeling like we’re settling.

 

The Fallacy of Data Meritocracy

So hiring is hard. No revelation there, but how do we fix it? We can rely on data, right? Not if that means taking people’s ability to value what the firm needs out of the process.

In his provocative book, To Save Everything, Click Here, Evegeny Morozov has a chapter on algorithmic gatekeeping. There’s a theory in both hiring and college admissions that we can use algorithms to make decisions better than humans do.

“Being objective is hard work; it doesn’t just happen naturally once all the important work has been delegated to the algorithms.”

For decades, the highest level of college football relied on human polls of media members & coaches to select a national champion. Not surprisingly, this process came fraught with biases that often created mixed results — or several national champions — due to split opinions. A few years ago, they allowed computer rankings to be mixed with human polling. This created better results, but required tweaks every year to achieve a semblance of approval and ultimately scrapped in favor of a playoff that was decided by a panel of humans and no computers.

Having a pulse on the organization enables us to monitor what makes sense and what doesn’t. Paper applications, results and test scores might be an entry point to filtering candidates, but there are people arguing for entirely different methods to review candidates like this NYTimes op-ed from a UPenn professor explaining the assessment center method.

Hiring in flyover country

 

Flyover country startups have an additional challenge that their partners on the coasts lack. That’s in addition to finding a critical mass of talent, they have to compete with far more ‘desirable’ places to live to get people to settle in. They often pay less, but will tell you “how much cheaper it is to live,” and when you find the right cultural fits, using family as a draw, it can work.

I run across people for years who don’t fit the prototype. Maybe they didn’t graduate from the “right” schools,” perhaps they had families early and got into the tech game late. Whatever their reason, our processes are broken because they assume there’s an ideal candidate that fits a certain methodology and if we can just crack that code, we’ll find good people.

Whether our biases are geographic, we’re all too reliant on referrals. We want our friends, our colleagues or whoever else inhabits our circles to tell us who we should choose. These blinders cost us millions each year, because we’re failing to identify the right people and spend lots of money targeting the wrong candidates, hiring them and in the event we get lucky, paying them to leave us when they’ve reached their apex.

 

For years, I’ve been assembling teams for startups and even launched a conference based on the idea that so many off-the-beaten path places I’d go had these micro-communities surrounding their startup cultures, but nothing in the way of cohesiveness because people want to be in charge of their own destinies.

Making your puzzle work

Finding the right mix of a team is difficult work. Especially trying to move outside of your comfort zone or network to fill a team is a challenge. It’s still a worthwhile task that can have dividends on your bottom line.

1. Go beyond referrals in your immediate network.
It’s tempting to let people in your own world influence who you work with. After all, if we’re going to stake our work on somebody, we need to know they’re the goods. While this is useful, it assumes your company can’t benefit from outside perspectives well beyond the people you know. Be willing to give people a real shot at breaking through.

2. Test your own culture.
Let your people conduct the interviews. Watch them and see how they react. Do they speak the values of your firm without being coached? Is the way they approach the process consistent with how you’d do it? If not, why? The best ways to understand what people have learned is involving them in game-changing decisions involving outsiders and seeing how they perform. It’ll tell you more about your company than hiring a six-pack of management consultants.

3. Tear up your job descriptions.
Rather than hire for a specific role with lots of bullets of what you need, pair back the content and see what types of replies you get. Too often, we get caught up in envisioning an OTP that must exist for our firm, because the world is large and lots of people want jobs. The reality is, hiring is like dating and finding the right person is a mix of science with a heavy dose of luck. You have no idea who might apply under these conditions.

What I learned in the shoe business

I once started an athletic shoe line.

Trust me, this is just as weird for me as it is for you. I almost never put it on my resume and since I don’t carry around samples anymore, it’s not even a conversation that comes up when people stop into my office.

The story of Omnivore went something like this. A Chinese firm was looking for a U.S. partner to market shoes after a major brand left their factory. I was not looking for a shoe deal, because that doesn’t make any sense. I was instead looking for a company to manufacturer Tennis Polo racquets, since in those days that was my big thing. The sport was only about a year old and I thought it’d be cool to see if that were possible. After a few negotiations and the timing of a kind investor, we had ourselves a shoe company and nary a toccer racquet.

Can’t win ‘em all.

I poured myself into the business. I learned more about supply chains, pricing and the marketing of athletic shoes to fill a MBA student case study. Not surprising, the exercise was doomed from the start because there’s a reason startup shoe brands don’t crop up very often and it comes down to capital and the fact that most brands here spend billions on marketing. We even signed up for shoe exhibitions with major brands and people from shoe stores were actually really good at giving advice. Any aversions I had to cold calling were exorcised that year.

Failure is a tough thing to talk about. I don’t shy away from it, it’s just feels less relevant in a world where everybody likes talking about their wins. Part of why I’m dredging this story up, is precisely because I think people need to tell their paths even when it resulted in them not winning.

The hardest part of talking about failure is figuring out where it fits in the grand scheme of your course. So for years, I just left Omnivore off my resume and rarely talked about it. It felt weird to talk about “co-founder of an athletic shoe startup,” because here I was working in a completely different market doing entirely different work. It was before the time when everyone was building an app, so I wasn’t as comfortable trying to explain it to people. Plus, I just felt weird because I’ve always tried to divorce my athletic pursuits from my professional ones so people don’t see me as a “former athlete,” which as a young black guy made me uncomfortable.

What helped me get some perspective were coworkers in these jobs. In the first few years of my career, I’d bring a few pairs of the shoes to decorate my office which led people to ask me about them, but save for those conversations it never came up.

Why?

Omnivore 5G (2005)

For a long time, I just didn’t think people would take me seriously.

The thing about so-called imposter syndrome isn’t this feeling that you aren’t good enough. It’s that other people are better. That your path to where you’ve landed isn’t as good as other people’s path and therefore, it gives me the platform to judge you as lesser than.

What’s funny about this — and what got me past this idea — is realizing that by diminishing myself, it gave people the chance to just take what I wasn’t saying as canon. In other words, by cutting out full parts of my professional experience, people would simply take stock of what they knew and make the assumption that I didn’t know as much. I’ve always viewed variety as a strength.

I watched Eddie Huang’s talk from #bigomaha in 2012 and he really doubles down on this idea of having lots of different hustles. I appreciated it, because even the people in the audience seemed to struggle with his narrative of having success being multifaceted in a world that tells you to pick a lane, stick with it and never ever deviate.

Your path belongs uniquely to you. Trying to fit your pathway into the way others have done it, will likely yield very different results. More importantly, I’ve learned that you just have to own the wealth of your experiences.

Rather than diminish what you’ve accomplished, figure out how to make sense of it and make it important within the context of where you want to be. The extra legwork can seem like a hassle or a distraction sometimes, so it can be a lot easier to just do what I’ve done in the past and just don’t talk about it. The greatest contributor to impostor syndrome is failing to give ourselves the license to thrive. In an effort to protect others from our bright light, we do everything we can to hide and diminish it.

I’ve become stronger and more empowered when I’ve taken stock of my contributions and share them with the people who are interested.

Your job descriptions are terrible

Can we talk about job descriptions for a second? If there’s anything the internet age hasn’t gotten rid of, it’s terribly written, nondescript job descriptions that fail to really drill down what you’re looking for or what you want out of a person.

People don’t do a great job of asking the right questions when they apply for a job, but part of that is not knowing whether after weeks of waiting for a reply whether they’ll get a callback or not for even the most pedestrian of offerings. There are two sides to this discussion, but I’m just talking about it from the perspective of a startup denizen who has had to actually hire people and has managed success doing so.

I ran a consultancy called Synonym and we posted an ad on Authentic Jobs that yielded an impressive list of candidates. So much so that after we dissolved — economic crash was not our friend — a few of my team members suggested I’d be a great recruiter. I do think I’m pretty good at bringing people together, but in this case it was simply one ad on one site that wasn’t even as big at the time as it is now.

So what did we do right?

  • We   made sure it was short.
  • Didn’t ask for a resume (it was optional. Some folks sent them anyway.)
  • Specific about our needs.
  • Made the process relatively painless for the person replying.
  • Included a link so they can find out more about your company or at least, an email where they can reach out.

A lot of what worked for us, would be a lot harder for a larger company. You only get a few words to give people insight into who you are, what you’re looking for and why they’d want to come join your team. The other thing I learned is, you’ll usually get your best candidates in the first 10% of the emails you receive in response to your job ad. This isn’t a scientific study, but it’s happened enough time that I tend to believe it. I’m not sure why this happens and sure, I’ve seen good people come through a few days after seeing the ad.

The most important tenet is getting rid of the superfluous noise that proliferate most ads. Heck, you can even dispense with the stuff you’ll never pay attention to. Resumes? In 2015? They’re still needed in a lot of cases, but given how little people read them, it’s a wonder we’re still asking for them as anything more than an exercise.

I’ve been in interviews where people are actively reading the resume during the interview trying to glean things from it. Worse, I’ve been hired for jobs only to have bosses later come back and ask me critical things that made it clear they’d paid no attention at all to my background.

Know what your organization is looking for before you start, so when the search process begins you’re not just posting a job, but filling for a position on a team.

Confronting the secret menu

For over a decade, I’ve been ordering a blended strawberry lemonade off the menu at Starbucks. As a bonafide tea snob, I don’t drink much coffee. I graduated from it after my teen years drinking it with my grandparents, so when I go to a Starbucks because it’s close or in a new town, I have a standby drink and it’s that one.

One problem. The blended strawberry lemonade isn’t on the menu. It’s a non-dairy substitute for the Strawberries & Cream drink they have. How did I find out about it if it’s not on the menu? An employee at a Starbucks in Connecticut 11 years ago told me about it and ever since, I’ve been ordering it.

Within our companies, we have our own versions of the hidden menu. Unlocking these special words can open up an array of possibilities up for the people who actually know them. Where are the secret menus hidden within our organizations?

1. Longtime employees

Some people master the politics of their organizations well. Where you have problems, they seem able to deftly navigate the waters no matter how rough. These people are the ones to watch from and learn when they’re working. You’re not going to extract from these wise souls the keycodes to the company, but you can learn how to position yourself to master the political waters in your own ways.

2. Asking questions

There is a desire sometimes within companies to seem like you have it figured out. I know early in my career, I had to learn that asking questions wasn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, some managers demanded you have questions to be sure that you were paying attention. It’s through this process of asking questions — maybe not the ones you’re expecting — that will help you better understand where you fit within the hierarchy.

3. Solving problems

My MVP Starbucks employee told me about the blended strawberry lemonade when I was asking for a different, discontinued cold drink. He could’ve apologized, said sorry and I could’ve driven down the road and picked up a Slurpee from 7/11. But he took it upon himself to provide insight that has benefited the company’s bottom line. Not in a significant enough way to impact the balance sheet, but I’m simply a customer who would not be a customer without this customized solution that meets my needs.

Last year, I was initially frustrated by the layers of bureaucracy that impeded the kinds of progress I’d been convinced we’d achieve when I took over a new role. After spending some time working with my team and honing our processes internally, it became pretty clear there were lots of issues within our organization that we could solve without having to break the upper layers of the process bubble.

In less than six months, we found a major systemwide project that’d been out of compliance for five years. If we’d been audited, it would’ve cost the organization tens of thousands of dollars per day for being out of compliance. After an initial meeting with stakeholders, we scheduled a smaller meeting with the project lead and developed a custom solution within a few weeks. We went from out of compliance to receiving calls from around the country wondering how we built it and how they can replicate the tool.

Learn the process. Repeat. 

In the early years, I’d go places and they didn’t know how to make it. I remember being at a rest stop Starbucks on a road trip across the country in Iowa and teaching the woman working there how to make it. Years of getting the same drink and watching them make it will do that for you.

These days, I have no problem finding a place to get one, as it seems the drink is popular enough that most places have at least one person who know 1) how to make it and 2) how to find it on the cash register to charge for it.

In the same ways, my team have managed to replicate our process across the system. I reached out to senior leaders from different departments to find out what their unique challenges are and those of their direct reports.

What we uncovered were dozens of “wants” that were simply not being tended to. A lack of personnel is a big part of it, but we’ve since managed to include some of these projects in our workflow and tackle a number of them months after discovering they were a problem.

For organizations, it’s important to make sure that transparency is our first order of business to prevent secret menus from cropping up. While it’s inevitable that processes develop from years of doing business a certain way, we have a responsibility to ensure that our procedures can be replicated to impact the bottom line positively.

The best meetings…

My team knows this about me, but you dear internet user might not be as aware. So let’s just get it out of the way now.

I hate meetings.
Let me clarify. I like productivity. Meetings are often necessary and I’d prefer one long meeting to get everyone on the same page than seven or eight short meetings that sets a project backward.
In large organizations, I learned quickly there was no such thing as a meeting that went on too long. Whether it was the highest ranking person or the lowest person on the totem pole, it was pretty clear to me that people were not experienced in the art of running meetings.
I’ve been running meetings for a long time. I learned Robert’s Rules of Order in high school as a debater and have been everyone’s favorite meeting organizer since those days. Here’s the biggest reason I don’t like meetings and why I make sure I keep them short.
I respect people & their time.
 
If anyone ever asked me what’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in professional life, I’d say hands down it’s respect people’s time. I used to really enjoy meetings with mentors and folks of that ilk, because the joy of picking their brains can be really invigorating for someone just starting out. (Or any phase of your career, really.)
Except, I learned pretty fast that you can’t monopolize the time of people at the top because there is always a more pressing issue than the one you’re bringing to them. The military is good about teaching this lesson, but it has not translated well to the corporate world where leadership can often be too distant from the front lines.
One of the best team building tools I’ve exercised as a leader is the art of the short meeting. For whatever reason, telling people that I respect their time and that we won’t go more than 30 minutes always seems to build a kind of engagement that I’ve not seen other leaders get out of people.
Especially in cross-functional team meetings, it’s important to recognize that not everything on your agenda matters to everyone in the room and there are lots of ways to ensure communication to get people the information they need.  I’m obviously not talking about big issues and let’s face it — meetings are part of work. But there are volumes of books devoted to making meetings more productive, so this isn’t a topic out of left field.
1. Have an agenda
Nothing is worse than going to a meeting where we spend forty minutes talking about what everyone had for dinner, what shows they watched and so on.
2. Cover the relevant stuff and only the relevant stuff.
Yes, it’d be fun to talk about every random topic under the sun in the hopes that you’ll cover all of it. But unless you’re going away for a long time, it’s better to schedule a short meeting and cover the topics at hand first. People only have so much capacity, so get out of them what’s most critical.
3. If it’s gonna be long, be sure to schedule breaks. Otherwise, let everyone know ahead of time.
Nothing worse than the stand up meeting that turns into a 90 minute meeting. I let folks know ahead of time if we’re going to go the full hour. In the off-chance that it’s an all-day affair, I ensure there are ample breaks in the schedule.
These few ideas are standbys no matter where I go and lead to more engaged meetings and it starts with a simple word.
Respect.

There Is No Prize For Being Twice As Good

I’ve been blogging since 2000 and this is easily the most difficult post I’ll ever write. 

I’ve gone on record (in a recent interview, in fact) as saying that if I didn’t start my career where I did — in Wyoming — after the military and college, that I would not have risen through the ranks from relatively junior employee to director early in my career. It was a confluence of fantastic mentors and people who managed to see things in me that I didn’t always remember about myself who empowered me to succeed, listened to my recommendations and frankly allowed me to grow into my role even if I made mistakes along the way.

My reality of being black and existing off the beaten path away from the coasts means that there are often people who haven’t quite figured out how far certain groups have come and find the oddity of a young(ish) black guy professing to know anything about web development, social media & technology as a whole to be something of a unicorn. I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience, only to mine.

The best part of this is, my problems never really existed in far-flung places not known for their diversity. It wasn’t until I showed up in places that have more diversity that people started treating me differently. And by “people” I mean a small minority who through their actions, not their words, consciously or otherwise made it clear that they couldn’t accept that I knew anything about what I was doing.

I’ve been aware of this long enough to make the subject a bit of a running joke amongst my friends, saying “Sometimes, you just get the distinct feeling people would be way more comfortable if you were the basketball coach than the web guy.”

Over the years, I’ve clung to the foundations that brought me here. Growing up in a place with people who were black in all sorts of leadership roles — school principals, tennis coaches, doctors — I never felt there was a governor on where I could go or what I could do. I’ve never felt the need to apologize or to inhabit a place that was lesser than, just to appease a particular faction who might not appreciate my appetite for getting things done.

I don’t attribute all of my perceived slights to race, either. I’m not exactly the quietest guy about change and I don’t do a great job of masking my frustrations with bureaucracy or inaction. I am action-oriented in all aspects of my life and it shows in my work and passions.

What I wanted to get out, is that none of the specific slights even matter that much. You can be told that something “isn’t in your wheelhouse” despite having a long career proving that it is. You can invite friends from around the country to speak to your colleagues and proceed to watch as they’re treated with the kind of respect you’d never seen before and just assume that it must be a faulty chip in your own processor that makes you unable to get such respect from the same people.

Or you can take stock of your own skills, assets and talents. You can prepare yourself well, reach out beyond your borders and keep growing your skills. There isn’t a bonus prize for trying to be the belle of the ball no one wants you to dance in. You have to find a place where you’re valued, where your talent is recognize and where you can thrive and grow unfettered.

I’m learning this and it’s made my life better.


I was the first in my family to go to college and even that path was a bit of a detour. I taught myself HTML as a teenager and part of the joy of working in a bookstore was getting free books to borrow like a library so I could augment whatever I was learning using Prodigy Web Page builder to reverse engineer websites I found online. I found all of this fascinating, but the only reason I’m here today is because in those days those free hours they gave you on discs gave me a chance to get online and when those ran out, friends who had accounts would give me an account under theirs.

After high school, the Air Force unit I was assigned to put me in the technology systems office of our small-ish 200+ person unit. In a crazy year, all of the office was deploying leaving me the most junior person by myself to figure things out. I’d spent years fixing the computers of friends when they were broken, so I knew software pretty well. But my first boss insisted I learn the hardware side too. By the time I got out, I was managing local servers and taught myself PHP at home.

College gave me a chance to spend my time learning. I wrote, blogged and coded my way into my future. Except, I never did any of it realizing that I could make a career of it. I was just curious, enjoyed doing it and liked the fact that I didn’t have to ask permission to buy a domain or anything. I could just put myself out there. I bought my first domain in the 90s via the mail since I didn’t have a credit card as a kid. My second domain I bought after maxing out the webspace my college gave me and have been running my own virtual server ever since — and hosting the sites of countless friends.

It seems fitting that the first thing I ran across this morning drinking my tea was an article about the National Hockey League’s first U.S. born black player, just the 7th black player ever to play in the NHL back in 1982. I think a lot about the topic of being an “only” or an other, so much so that I don’t really spend a lot of my time stewing over it. Still, I’d be lying to myself (and to you, dear reader) if I said that it wasn’t an ever present part of my professional life on most days.

Which by itself isn’t making me go home and cry in my sorbet. I mean, everybody has problems and issues and these are just the things I come to the grocery store of life with and it’s fine. I checkout and go about my business every day.

I’ve won national awards. Pretty much everywhere I go, I leave in better shape than when I showed up. The military — and hell, my parents — helped me understand the chain of command really well. I respect leadership and want to learn from and empower those above me to make the best decisions for the benefit of the organization. In fact, if I had to criticize myself I’d say I care too much about the company whether it negative impacts me or not. I just want us all to win.

What I’m learning, is the notion that you need to martyr yourself for the approval of others is bunk. You have the power to make your own choices and to structure your life in a way that gives you the satisfaction you seek. If where you currently exist in a professional setting makes you feel lesser than, you need to figure out how to get out of that situation.

There is no prize for being twice as good.

Things No One Tells You About Work: The Politics of Lunch

I don’t care what anyone tells you, navigating the workplace is hard. Maybe if you grew up with copious amounts of folks in your life with white collar jobs, it was easier to pick up social cues and navigate the things that no one tells you about work. Maybe an addendum to that title would be “Things No One Tells You About Work and that you’d feel stupid asking about.”

In this new series, which might extend and become the new name of my podcast series, I’ll begin by exploring the various topics that have vexed me in the past or continue to vex me. You’re welcome to send me your ideas or things you were always afraid to ask about, too. Tweet me @ronbronson.

I remember my first professional, non-Air Force job was about four years after my enlistment ended. In the military, if you’re junior enlisted and not married you usually eat at the dining hall. In that way, it’s a lot like college. When you get to college, if you’re not living off campus or some kind of cooking savant (I wasn’t the former, though I got way better at it over time…) then you ate at the dining hall too. (Especially if you had hilarious friends you only saw during meals like I did.)

So the topic of what to do for lunch, never came up. So fast-forward to my first day of work and I don’t really remember if I even brought lunch that day. I’m pretty sure I was broke because it wasn’t payday and the fact that I went from college student to employed person as fast as I did surprised me.

(Especially when I was pretty upfront about being okay with not getting the job in the interview. Seriously, wait until I do a series on interviewing…I was so bad in the early days…)

I think after the first day, I tried bringing my lunch for a few days because I didn’t really have the money to spend anyway and nothing was super close. I wasn’t gluten-free, so eating out was easier but I always thought the break to leave was kind of a hassle. But none of this is really what this post is about. You’re probably smarter than me and can effectively plan your lunch hour.

Here’s where the complicated parts are.

1) Invitations: This seems easy enough, right? Go to lunch with whoever you want. Or no one, if you want. Except, in some places that can get complicated. I’ve never worked for a mega corporation, so take this with a grain of salt maybe. But the factions that can form over lunches shouldn’t be underestimated. If someone invites you and you don’t find them loathsome, you probably ought to go at least once. If it’s a teambuilding opportunity, you should go more often than that. A lunch once a week can be the difference between bonding with your coworkers and being alienated when you might need them.

2) The pressure to eat: Look, we’re all different. I like food sometimes, but I am notoriously picky. (Just ask anyone who has to sit with me at a conference…) This was even before I had legitimately health reasons for being a stickler for what I eat, but here’s the thing, it’s no one’s damn business whether you want to eat grapes or candy. People can be super judgy about food and your habits with condiments. But so long as you aren’t making a scene with the ketchup or mayo, you’re entitled to your weird fry habits as much as the next gal.

Don’t feel bullied into eating stuff you don’t want to, simply because other people are confused by what you’re bringing in. Seems simple, but it’s not.

3) There’s no such thing as a free lunch: For real. Going out to lunch everyday gets pricey. I was once a consultant for a place and worked on site for a bit. They ordered in every single day and if you didn’t order out, they’d look at you like you were an alien. Plus, it would smell really good and it was heavily frowned upon if you walked out or left during the lunch hour. Provided you don’t work in a place like that (and if you do, just get good at bringing your lunch!) you should be okay with saying no sometimes. Your coworkers aren’t going to pay your bills if you end up racking up large lunch charges at places that you might never have a hand in choosing. This seems like common sense, a sensible “Sorry guys, those lunches add up and I’m saving for my trip to Fiji” could be a really snappy comeback when you’re being razzed about your seemingly cheapskate ways.