Senior Editor at Esquire, columnist at Entrepreneur…Ross McCammon has a career that many people dream of – and he’s earned every bit of it! We were delighted to find out that the author of the new book, Works Well with Others, was willing to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions. Working his way up from fact-checker at Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine and making his way from Texas to New York City have given Ross great insights into navigating the winding roads of career building. In Works Well with Others, he talks about the insecurities and anxieties that plague so many people in the workplace and how to both accept and work through them. It’s the perfect read for anyone starting a new job, making a big life transition, struggling to feel like they fit in at work…having difficulty acclimating to a new work environment…trying to handle a difficult coworker…
It’s basically the perfect read for anyone.
Keep reading to learn more about his new book and find out what he thinks is the #1 piece of advice for students or recent grads.
Q: You went from working as an editor at an in-flight magazine, to working as an editor at Esquire! Since then, you’ve released a book focused on best practices for business interactions and life. Tell us a little about what got you to this point. What has the journey been like?
A: The book combines two important parts of my career: the business etiquette column I’ve been writing for Entrepreneur for four years and the experience of starting my job at Esquire after getting a call from a media recruiter out-of-the-blue ten years ago. I think the book is equal parts memoir, how-to guide, and humor book. It combines my experiences the last ten years at Esquire, the things I write about in my Entrepreneur column, and a sensibility that takes a “career” seriously while acknowledging that the workplace is an absurd and strange place.
Q: You’ve discussed going to your Esquire interview without a suit jacket. Looking back, were there other times in your career during which you wish you had the sort of advice you share in your book? Did those experiences influence your decision to write a book dedicated to providing career guidance?
A: This book is the book I wished I’d been able to read early in my career. It’s a letter to myself ten years ago. All of the mistakes I made at Esquire early on either inform or are described in the book. Although I offer ways to avoid making the kinds of professional-social mistakes that I made, the key is not avoidance as much as acceptance. We’re all going to screw up in our careers—especially in new jobs. If you don’t find that you feel unfamiliar or even a little terrified, then you probably aren’t challenging yourself enough. This book isn’t about “fitting in” or “acting normal.” What a depressing idea. You don’t have to metaphorically “wear a suit jacket,” but I think it’s helpful to understand what the expectations are so that you can ignore them deliberately instead of accidentally.
Q: In big bold letters, the introduction of your book states, “Hugely important rule: Everyone is weird and nervous. No matter how famous or important, everyone is just really weird and really nervous. Especially the people who don’t seem weird or nervous.” At what point in your life/career did you realize this and how has it helped to propel you forward?
A: I think that what you realize as you move through your career is that successful and “important” people are often very odd. And a little restless. Somewhere between skittish and manic. These are qualities you see in almost every “important” person.. And this relates to a fundamental theme of my book: that it helps to be a little scared, it helps to feel like a bit of an impostor to become successful. Those feelings can turn the volume up a little and make you more focused. I think successful people acknowledge these anxieties but use them as fuel for success. And I think the often awkward moments in business that this book is obsessed with—at lunch, in a meeting room, in the restroom for that matter—are opportunities for people who feel like outsiders at work.
Q: You have so much great advice, both personal and job related. Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you stay on top of constantly coming up with new material to dive into?
A: I don’t know how else to answer this question other than: I go in to work every day, like millions of other people. Maybe I’m more observant than most people? But a lot of the advice in this book comes from simply working in an office and being curious about the customs and weirdness of the workplace.
Q: How did the process for writing the book, Works Well with Others, differ from your process for composing magazine articles? Do you have a preference?
A: Well, I’m an editor, so I don’t compose articles as much as I help the writer compose them and then figure out a way to present the writer’s story as effectively as possible. Still, so much of what I do at Esquire helped me write this book. One of the things I’ve always loved to do in Esquire is present instruction in amusing and surprising ways. I think you see a reflection of that in the lists and quizzes in this book. Chapter 3 is a quiz titled “Should You Keep Reading This Book?” That is pretty Esquire-y I have to say.
Q: How much research went into Works Well with Others, and how much was based purely on your own experiences?
A: Hard to say. I hired a researcher for the book and she provided research briefs on almost all every chapter. Her work informs the book even if I don’t explicitly mention a study that applies to what I’m writing about. So much of the book was based on my own experiences—in many cases, I describe my own experiences in detail—but it was important for me to complement my own observations with academic research. Otherwise things can get a little, uh, self-obsessed.
Q: Did you always plan to write a book or did you reach a point where you just knew you had to?
A: I’d been vaguely interested in writing a book for a few years, but couldn’t quite figure out the right approach. I have never felt like I “had to” write a book though. That might be because I have a day job that I love very much. Writing a book feels like having a second job to me. I am so happy to have been given the opportunity to write it, but it was a little tricky working out the writing schedule.
Q: You talk about the major transition from attending the University of North Texas and working at a small magazine in the state, to moving to New York City to work for Esquire. You mention feeling like you didn’t fit it or didn’t belong there, which is something plenty of students and young people can relate to! Do you have any words of wisdom for those making a similar transition?
A: I think the number-one misconception about being on the “inside” is that it is filled with people who self-identify as “insiders.” I’ve found that the inside is full of outsiders, or at least people who feel like outsiders. The outsiders are what make the inside so rich and interesting.
Q: We love a good recommendation! What are you reading right now?
A: I am in between books at the moment I write this. I just don’t have the time or focus right now to give any book proper attention. But the last book I read was Paddle Your Own Canoe, Nick Offerman’s first book. I swear this is not a plug for the imprint that publishes both our books. I sense you don’t believe me. Swear to god. And the book I’m about to start is Chrissie Hynde’s new memoir Reckless. If I had to choose one genre: rock bios. I have never been disappointed by a rock and roll biography. You want a satisfying, inspirational, entertaining, and often redemptive read? Look to the rock bio.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing for students or soon-to-be grads to know when entering the workforce?
A: That so much of being successful in your career, and a first big job for that matter, is how you navigate mistakes—social mistakes, task-related mistakes, so many mistakes. It’s amazing to me think of all the little failures that make up a day at work, a year at work, and an entire career. So, so many mistakes must be made to become successful. I think it’s important to accept that you will screw up in lots of ways. The point isn’t not screwing up, the point is handling the screw-up as its happening. Because you will screw up a lot at any job that is a good job for you. You have to. Otherwise you’re overqualified for it. And that’s boring. And being bored at work is worse than almost any other professional condition. The worst.
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Be sure to pick up your copy of Works Well with Others at your Barnes & Noble College campus bookstore. Or, order it online here!