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Office hours in corporate America

Office Hours

What did I miss during Office Hours?

What are University Office Hours?

I am a bit embarrassed to say that I just learned about the real benefits of a professors office hours in the college and university systems.  If you were to think that I didn’t take advantage of office hours in college, you would be correct.  What really sucks about my lack of learning is that I also just made the connection as to how the learning about office hours in college could make a huge difference in corporate life.  Better late than never.    

I just got done interviewing a recent college graduate who had listed National Merit Scholar on their resume.  In an effort to get the candidate to talk about something they were comfortable and proud about, I tossed them a softball.  “I see you have National Merit Scholar listed on your resume.  Can you talk to me about this?  What does it mean and how did you accomplish this?” 

Her answer shocked me.  It was a revelation. It was a Malcolm Gladwell moment.

The first half of the candidates answer the question didn’t surprise me as I hear some version of this on a regular basis.  “School was easy for me.  I got a 3.6 GPA and it is easy because it is laid out.  You know what you have to study when papers are due and exactly what you are going to be tested on.  If something is laid out for me like that, I can do very well.”

For the record, the above answer isn’t going to gain you any points in an interview situation.  If you are going to say something is “easy” in an interview, then you should have aced it.  In other words, you should have walked away with a 4.0 GPA. 

Even if you got a 4.0 and said it was “easy for you”, then you should have cured polio, put a man on the moon or learned how to juggle 5 balls at once(anyone can juggle 3).

What she said next turned me upside down.  “If you go to the office hours, the professor will work with your grade.  You won’t go from a D to an A, but even if you don’t do well on the tests, going to office hours shows that you are trying and you will receive a better grade.” 

Whooaaa!  For me, this wasn’t a great answer either and on a couple of different levels.  This answer told me that this candidate figured that if she showed an effort that was enough.  Here at ACME Publishing, we are running a business and effort doesn’t count.  We need fricken results here people, not effort.   No trophies at this company for showing up.   

But I had never heard of this “go to the professor’s office hours and get a better grade” insight.  I never went to “office hours”.  I literally asked the candidate “wait a minute, back up here.  If you show up to office hours, you get a better grade?”

The response wasn’t just an embarrassed or meek “yes”.  Her answer was an “Oh Yeah”.  It smacked of “Duhhhh OMG YEsssss”.  This answer was an eyes-wide-open, head shaking up and down, all teeth showing, enthusiastic “YES”!

I took a few notes and then moved on to the next question. 

Then it hit me.  This wasn’t just a single class she was talking about; this was her entire academic career.  She was jacking her grades every quarter, with every class.  This wasn’t the occasional single class going from a B to a B+ once a year.  This was every class, every quarter, for 4 years. 

A single class with an improved grade isn’t going to change an overall GPA over the course of 4 years, but with every class, every quarter, every year.  . .  that could be the difference between a 3.2 and a 3.5.  That is significant.  That is the difference between listing National Merit Scholar on your resume and “not”.  I have to admit, this is “Nasty”.   

I then went on to ask the candidate “What do you do in Professor Office Hours?  How long do you stay there?  What do you ask them?”  For the record, this wasn’t a coed in an extra short plaid skirt, white knee socks and ponytails sucking on a lolly.   

Yes, some could say “If you spend time with your professor, you are probably more interested in your grades, care more, and it is THESE qualities that translate to a better grade”.  This is NOT what she was saying.  What I heard, what she clarified was that grades were being jacked because the professor knew who you were.  Because he knew your face and could identify you he would “work with you”.        

3 classes a quarter, means she is spending a grand total of 1 hour a week in Office hours to jack her grade by 10%.  Let’s call it 90 minutes a week investment with travel time.    

As a guy who grew up in a culture where you don’t question your elders, you try to do everything you can to figure it out on your own, this just wasn’t something I would even think of doing.  I come from a background where you use available resources.  You do not waste the valuable time of your elders. . . . Even if I thought about Office Hours, I wouldn’t have gone.  Well, let’s face it, I didn’t.   

I literally asked her:  “How did you know to go to the Professors office?  How did you know that this would help your grades?  Did you go to a private high school where this was acceptable?”

I was trying to figure out where this behavior evolved.  How did she figure this out?  What lucky Darwinian “zig” did she make where I obviously “zagged”?  I was close to being eliminated from the gene pool I hadn’t even realized how close to Cro-Magnum extinction I was. 

Even if the professor said in class, “I hold office hours, and will answer any questions”, I wouldn’t have shown up.  I know because I didn’t show up.   I struggled through the books and if it took reading something 10 times to understand which way was up, that is what I did.

I was thinking about my high school career, and there was no “staying after class to ask questions”.  The bell rang and we had 5 minutes to move to the next class.  This was a system of efficiency designed to keep students from loitering in the halls of my inner-city high school – an environment where guns and weapons were not uncommon and didn’t go well with loitering.  Visiting the teacher was because you did something wrong and were being punished.  Visiting the teacher after hours was not for higher learning.   

What the candidate said next made complete sense and I realized how effectively this could and does transfer to the business world as well. 

There are 200 students in a class and the professor isn’t going to get to know you if you do not go and visit them.  They don’t know you from anyone else, and they don’t know that you are trying or interested.” 

Again, I came from a background that really didn’t care about the effort.  My parents cared about the bottom line, the final result and nothing more.  I could have spent 50 hours a week studying for a single class.  B+ equals FAIL, and I had my fair share of failures.   

The benefit of Office Hours

What I quickly realized was that this behavior could be directly transferred to Corporate America.  Had I gone to professor’s office hours, who knows where my grades would have ended up?  I probably would have been more inclined to go to visit with the first few managers I reported to when I got to corporate America.  I may have learned to work with them as an ally instead of being afraid of them or questioning what I didn’t understand in a negative way.  I am confident I could have saved the proverbial 20 hours a week studying for the single college class and saved more time when working on a simple project in corporate America.  I reached out to peers who were usually also struggling.  These were like-minded peers, who shared my mentality.  They didn’t take advantage of office hours.   

As a guy that has seen employees and manager interact across multiple org’s of all sizes, both public and private, trust me on the following:

Employees that make an effort to get to know their manager do better.  Employees that find a commonality with their managers do better. 

I honestly believe that the skill of visiting the professor and jacking grades can be directly tied to meeting with your manager on a regular basis and growing your career or salary.  More about this to come.  

You can say it is because the employee that visits their manager cares about their career.  You can say the employee is just sucking up.  Or you can think what I do.  It is human nature to like someone you have something in common with.  I think that its human nature that if you like someone, you will probably help them.  If you don’t share a commonality with your manager and don’t make an effort to get to know them, it will probably be a tough road.  You took responsibility for YOUR grade, and you approached your professor.  Take responsibility for your career and approach your manager. 

When you get along with your manager, things go easier.  “I’m just saying.”   

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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