Monday, February 24, 2014

Results pending

Last week, a lot of the people in my office were sick. By which I mean they were obviously, volubly sick, and yet they were still in the office. Lots of coughing and lots of hoarse voices, all around me. In an almost infinitesimal way, this was kind of a relief, because I tend to cough a lot at the office and feel self-conscious about it. Between my allergies and the generally poor air quality here in the Big Gray, plus whatever bugs and blergs my brood manages to collect and pass on to me, my lungs are just constantly irritated and making said irritation known to anyone within earshot. But last week, instead of breaking the otherwise omnipresent near-silence of the cubicle farm, I was just one of many voices in the Hack-a-lung-up Chorus. The solidarity was a refreshing change of pace. But as I say, that was a minor comfort alongside the much more significant exasperation that everyone was bringing their miasmas into the office and I was at great risk of coming down with something more debilitating than my usual low-grade breathing difficulties.

I blame the system more than I blame my co-workers. I mean, I blame my co-workers somewhat, they are all grown-ass adults who should understand that exposing their colleagues to actively infectious plagues is both not cool and completely within their power to avoid, via simply taking a sick day and staying home. But the system (the hybrid corporate/government world, the capitalist society we live in, call it however you see it) plays its own outsize role in making people feel like they don’t have a choice, or at least not a very good one. We all get a limited number of days off per year (“paid days off” might be more accurate, but trying to take additional days off as unpaid leave is almost always more hassle than it’s worth) and if you use those days when you’re a little bit sick you might not have them later when you're very sick, or later when you want to go on a family trip, &c. &c. If offices just shut down for a few weeks or a month every summer so that everyone could follow their bliss, and sick leave was essentially unlimited, we’d be living in a much better world. (Or possibly France? I’m under the impression that’s approximately how it works in France.) But we’re trapped in this system instead, with few compelling alternatives.

And for now I’m trapped in this specific cell of the system, as well. My interview last week went pretty well, I guess. Or so I hope? I got there early, my contact in the HR department met me in the lobby on time, and I found out I’d be sitting down and talking with three different people. The first person was the actual manager hiring for the position who would be my boss if the job came to me. She spent most of our allotted 30 minutes explaining to me how the job worked and how she ran her team, all of which sounded more than good enough to me, but also confused me slightly. As I think I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on interviews before where the stars have aligned well enough ahead of time that the interview itself is a final formality, as the company is interested in me and therefore needs to sell me on the position so that I’ll accept the offer. Which was very much what the first installment of my interview felt like, despite the fact that in all other regards, throughout this entire months-upon-months epic process, I’ve been under the impression that I really am fighting upstream to try to get them interested in me. Still, I wasn’t about to complain about the half-hour of “this is why you want to work here” subtext. I’m pretty much in agreement on that point, thanks to my buddy who already works there and has talked up the perks and such.

So then the second segment of the interview was with a more technically-oriented member of the team. My aforementioned buddy had assured me that the chances of getting any prove-your-knowledgebase kind of technical questions in the interview were practically non-existent, so of course the very first question this interviewer led with was a technical one. It threw me for a loop for that reason alone, and then on top of that it was an incredibly abstract question. It was kind of like being asked “What are the steps you would take to solve a math problem?”, which is trickier than it sounds because on the one hand, it depends: addition problem? subtraction problem? word problem? trigonometry function? And on the other hand, it’s not all that often that I think about breaking my job down into steps. I usually know the answer and know what to do and go about doing it without delineating “first I need to do this, then I need to look at this and compare it to this, then I need to run it through this over here.” It’s the difference between summing up 599 and 2325 and 710 in my head, which I can do, or explaining it as if to a child with all the lining up the ones places and carrying tens and so on and so on. Which I can definitely also do, of course, but it brings me up short and of course in the context of an interview that whole feeling can throw you into a tailspin where you don’t want to look stupid floundering at something simple and also don’t want the person interviewing you to think you assume they’re stupid by the way you’re overexplaining, and it all gets worse from there. I think I managed to thread the needle after a slight stumble-and-recovery, but of course it’s hard to know.

And then finally the third segment of the interview was with someone who herself had only been hired about four months earlier. No surprises in that one, and in fact she had some personal interest in some of the specific highlights of my resume, and I got through that part without any missteps (or so it seemed to me, again, hard to know.)

So half an hour not doing much but listening and nodding enthusiastically with the occasional affirmative interjection, half an hour second-guessing my ability to prove that I’m not a fraud in terms of the technical expertise I claim on my resume, and half an hour chatting with a relatively new hire and asking some questions of my own which I hope made it clear that I’m very interested in the job and capable of some insightful thoughts about it from the get-go. And then that was it and I was on my way home. When I got home that afternoon, I e-mail my HR contact and thanked him for arranging everything on my behalf. A couple of days after that, I e-mailed the hiring manager and thanked her for her time and expressed again my interest in the job and willingness to answer any other questions she might have. Annnnnnd … that’s pretty much it. Haven’t heard a peep from anyone over there since my interview concluded.

That’s not necessarily cause for alarm, of course. This company did take a full week to contact me from the time I submitted my resume, and then a full month from that initial contact to get the interview scheduled. Assuming they are interviewing other people as well, and as always taking into account the paradox of hiring people because they’re overworked but not having time to make hiring decisions because of same overworkedness, it could be a while before I hear from them, if at all, either way. Misgivings about the middle third of the interview aside, I think I made the best case for myself as a candidate I possibly could have. I backed up what was on my resume and I displayed the friendliest, most collegial aspects of my personality. I didn’t show up to the interview reeking of alcohol or flaunting any visible hate-group tattoos. (On the other hand, I’m a middle-aged white dude applying for a job where I’m sure they’d be thrilled to hire more women and/or people of color - and more power to them for that - but no point dwelling on what I can’t change.) It’s really out of my hands now, and all I can do is wait and see what happens.

And maybe anonymously dump a bag of cough drops over the cubicle wall into accounting.

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