Monday, November 18, 2013

Pause and reflect

So apparently interviews do not always mean what I have come to understand that they mean from my own personal experience.

Let me back up a bit. Way, way, way back when I entered the full-time salaried working world, it was a very smooth transition. I had been temping in a fairly small office which had one director, two middle managers and an office manager and between the four of them they decided it would be a good idea to hire me away from the temp agency and make me a regular employee. I accepted the offer and worked there a couple years.

Then when I felt it was time to move on I started looking in the classifieds and saw a job listing at a company where I knew a college friend of mine happened to work (though not in the department that was hiring). He put in a good word for me with the person in charge of filling the position, and I submitted my resume, and then I went in for an interview and was offered the job. It was a fairly menial entry-level administrative assistant job - with all due respect to people whose calling is in the admin field and would bristle at me calling it “menial”. Perhaps I can offset the underlying arrogance of that descriptor by pointing out that I was barely qualified for the position with my starry-eyed B.A. in English and a couple of years of this-side-of-unemployment admin experience under my belt. At any rate, the point is that almost anyone could do the job, and I qualified as “almost anyone” plus I had a personal in-house recommendation working in my favor, so I believed that being called in for an interview meant I was very close to being hired, so long as I made a good impression in person. Which, presumably, I did.

I managed to work my way into different job titles (both sideways and upwards) at that second job, and who knows how long I might have stayed there if the company hadn’t basically driven itself into the ground, putting all of its eggs in the basket of one project which was cancelled when the tech bubble burst just after Y2K. Instead of continuing to climb the ranks I was laid off (along with everyone else) and spent several months idly unemployed while the dust settled from the economic implosion.

Then I got myself a job teaching software classes which was frighteningly equivalent to working in fast food, in terms of pay, hours, mental exertion and respect I was accorded. I lasted there about a year. Despite what an utterly crap job it was, they didn’t so much interview people as audition them, to see if they could actually teach to and engage a room full of adult students (or, I guess, if they got stage fright, had a speech impediment, or some other disqualifier).

I ran into another college friend of mine at a party, after I had been teaching about a year, and he and I got to talking about work and he nonchalantly steered the conversation toward more or less offering me a job, since he needed to hire a programmer and knew I had (eventually) worked in that capacity at the job I was laid off from. I told him I would send him my resume, and he told me he would look it over and then maybe we could schedule an interview, but I definitely had the impression that the job was mine for the taking. So much so that I quit my teaching job and made arrangements to move (I had been living with my mom in NJ while I was teaching, but I was visiting friends in VA when I went to the party where the job-oriented conversation happened; the same friends I was crashing with for that visit were the ones I ended up renting a bedroom from for the better part of a year) . And sure enough, I set up an interview with my friend, met with him and a few of his colleagues, and was offered the job on the spot by the end of the interview. The point of the interview again seemed to be to give me enough rope to hang myself with and all I had to do was make sure I avoided low-hanging branches. My friend’s colleagues were also given their one and only chance to voice any concerns or objections, so that there could be no accusations later on that my friend just gave the job to someone he knew for unprofessional, nepotistic reasons. (Does it still count as nepotism if it’s the old boy system of fraternity brothers? I’m assuming it does.)

So I worked there for five years and then yet another college friend of mine reached out to me because her sister was trying to fill a vacancy on her government contract and I had the requisite skillset. I sent the sister my resume and she asked if we could get together and talk, and that interview consisted mainly of her trying to sell me on the job, describing the duties and not so much trying to determine if I was qualified to execute them but asking if I’d be interested in doing so. The potential new gig was a significant bump up in pay so I was in fact interested. I got a formal offer letter via e-mail not long after that, and I made the move, to the job that is (give or take some contract-jumping) the job I have today.

In other words, whenever I’ve been on the hunt for a new job, and sometime when I haven’t even been hunting at all, I’ve managed to find prospective employers where I knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone, and that carried me pretty far. I’ve produced resumes on demand and sat across a table from someone answering hypotheticals intended to illuminate my professional temperament, but in general I’ve done so when there is a case of great need to plug a warm body into an org chart and I’ve managed to position myself as a particularly compelling drone with a pulse. All of which is a (typically) wordy preamble for acknowledging that, in recent weeks when I’ve been talking about having irons in the fire and potentially gearing up to make some career-altering changes, there has been nothing like a done deal in place, not even remotely. And yet, I’ve been at the same point in the current process where, in Processes of Job Searches Past, it was all down to formalities. I have a friend now who works somewhere I want to work. My friend set up an informal lunch with one of the higher-ups at the company and himself, where I explained who I was and what I was looking for and the higher-up advised me to submit my resume because there was a good chance I would be a good fit for their current needs. Said needs are many, varied and urgent, as the company has recently gone through some big changes at the top and the effects are shaking their way down rapidly. I did in fact submit my resume. My friend also hand-delivered my resume to one of his colleagues who might very well be looking for someone like me. It took a couple weeks of e-mail tag, but I finally set up a time for a phone interview and spoke for about half an hour with this person … at the end of which she informed me that she was sorry she didn’t have any positions open right now.

But, she was quick to add, she believed another colleague of hers did have more positions which aligned with my current goals, and she promised to pass my resume along. Once she did that, she sent me the contact info for this new potential hirer, and I pinged her once, heard nothing back, waited a respectable interval, pinged her again … and got a response saying that she didn’t have any positions open right now, but might after the holidays.

At least I was spared the nervous anticipation of a phone interview the second time.

Looping back to the idea with which I led off this post (if you can remember back that far), my experience has always been that once you get to the point where busy people are arranging their schedule to block out a segment of the day to talk to you, they are gearing up to hire you. If they didn’t like what they saw in your resume, they simply would toss it. If they liked what they saw, and were inclined to bring you onboard, the interview would be a chance to ascertain your intangibles, make sure you wouldn’t be an annoying nightmare to work with on a personal level, &c. In theory, it might also be a case of having multiple qualified applicants for a position, and using the interviews to decide among them, but honestly I don’t think that has ever been a situation I’ve found myself in.

But I’ve also never found myself in the position of going through interviews for openings which are not, in fact, open. Nor have I had a friend tell me “My company is ramping up new projects and staffing up like crazy, you should get in on that” only to have the actual people in charge of hiring indicate a very different version of the future outlook. Until now.

So, not the first time, I may have been jumping the gun a bit. The job I was angling for is so attractive on various levels that I am perfectly willing to wait and see if they do have more openings after the holidays. At the very least, it’s easy to adopt that stance because my current gig doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and it’s not as though very many companies do a lot of hiring during the holidays anyway. Thus this will probably be the last job search post on the ol’ blog for the next couple of months. I will put my head down and hang in there at my current gig, despite now being acutely forefront-of-consciousness aware of the myriad shortcomings thereof. I will attend the office Christmas parties, and enjoy my weeklong paid vacation between Christmas and New Years. And then come January either the sparkly new job I had been eying will become less mirage-like and more attainable, or else I will circulate my resume far and wide in search of something else. For now, though, I’ll have to give Mondays back over to griping about my irksome cubicle-mates and the like.

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