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Archive for May, 2009

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I’ve been doing some heavy-duty job hunting for the past few months. A big part of my quest for re-employment has been figuring out which of the skills that I used in my past work lives in real estate, journalism, and photography, will translate well to different careers. I’ve learned to think outside the box and have constantly reiterated to all my networking contacts that I would take “anything.” Today I learned that while I actually WILL take almost “any job,” I’m not quite desperate enough to work for “any boss.”

I’d had an inkling of that after a certain interview a while back, but the thought hadn’t really completely formed in my mind until my second such experience … the one today… and that was the ah-ha moment.

A few weeks ago two high-profile real estate agents were looking for an assistant. These are women whose smiling faces you see sparkling at you from ads in glossy magazines all the time. They’re the high-dollar dealers who do the big sales that make the kudos pages of the business section. When they called me to interview they asked to meet at the coffee shop of a local bookstore. At that point, because I had replied to a blind ad and didn’t know who they were, their choice of location only made me think that  A) maybe, like many agents, they worked from a home office and, understandably, didn’t want strangers coming into their home right off the bat or B) they were just really sociable people who liked the idea of doing a low-key interview over coffee. Well, I’m always up for a good coffee, so O.K. I went.

They were sitting in a corner booth where they couldn’t be seen unless you really looked for them, and when I sat down they leaned across the table and spoke in hushed voices. Odds are good that the other patrons thought they were conducting some sort of illicit business over there in the corner… which, as it turns out, in a way they were. Although the job description in the blind ad had sounded challenging and interesting, they left out one little part: the reason they were meeting people at 30 minute intervals in the back corner of a bookstore’s coffee shop was that their employee of 15 years… the one I would be replacing … had no idea she was about to be unceremoniously dumped out into the worst job market that this country has seen in many decades.

Wow.
That’s cold.

As soon as they explained that, I looked at them differently. The flashy jewelry and clothes now looked cold and ostentatious, the smiles fake, the long manicured nails lethal, the head-tilt and interested eye contact rehearsed and false. What kind of people were these two that they would handle this in such a manner? It reminded me of what I’d learned about men: If he’ll cheat on her, he’ll cheat on you.  A person isn’t sneaky or disloyal in certain degrees; they either are or they aren’t. So sitting across from these two, I knew immediately that they were not to be trusted and no matter how many mortgage payments I had missed, I wanted no truck with them. But I had been so aggressively interested via email… how was I going to backpedal out of this?

At the end of the interview I threw out a deal killer, pretending that the prestigious location of their office (which they seemed to consider a perk) was not good for me, too far of a drive. Later I wondered “Why did I do that?” I rationalized that I was just too stunned to come right out and say, “I don’t want to work for you knowing that after 15 years you might stab me in the back!” But somewhere deep inside I wondered if I really wasn’t just being cowardly.

When I got home from that interview I had the unpleasant task of calling the water company … who PS – had turned my water back on after I explained that I had this almost-a-sure-thing interview coming up and really needed to be able to shower and wash my hair in the morning. (I know, wasn’t that great of them? Unfortunately they don’t have any job openings there.) I was so disappointed about the job and so distressed about knowing I wasn’t going to be able to set up a payment plan to keep my water on that I just blurted out exactly what happened. Amazingly, the customer service gal was totally simpatico; she had taken a huge pay cut when she left a company whose tactics made her stomach churn and took her current job with the water company where she was surrounded by like-minded people who shared good work ethics and kind hearts. And she said it was worth every budget cut she had to make.

So that story ended well and … except for the kindness of my new friends at this utility company… I kind of forgot about it. Until today.

Just like a lot of other unemployed people, I consider job hunting my full time job. I spend all day every day networking, interviewing, and making the rounds, and every night searching on the internet for work, polishing my resumes, following up on past email contacts, etc. I read a LOT of job ads, most of which come to me via email from the various job boards I’ve signed up on.

As a self-employed, independent contractor all my adult life, I hadn’t “job hunted” since college, and back then you went in wearing your best interview suit and had a face-to-face sit down meeting with The Boss or the H.R. person, who at that time took your resume from your hand and briefly reviewed it while asking questions and telling you about the job. But now even if a store has a sign out front that says “Now Hiring,” when you walk in to apply you’re told to go home and apply on the internet. If there’s an ad in the paper, the phone number it gives may well connect you with a job service of some sort rather than the actual employer. And most of the ads that ask you to fax or email a resume will also have a note that says “NO PHONE CALLS.”

The ad that came to me this morning via email from a job board  had an email address that included the name/URL of the company and it was a very brief ad without a lot of detail. It had been taken from a newspaper classified and apparently the advertiser had wanted to keep it to about 12 words. It I wasn’t clear if I was suited to apply or not, so … since it didn’t say NO PHONE CALLS and had the company name and URL right out there … I called. The woman who answered the phone was very pleasant but said she didn’t really know the answer to my question and would put me into the hiring person’s voicemail and was sure I’d  get a return call soon. I thanked her, left my message, and also sent an email telling what my question was so that if the interviewer… like me … preferred email to phone contact, she could just hit REPLY and tell me whether she wanted my resume or not.
Then I did my usual thing of researching the company and the hiring person … we’ll call her “M” … on line, finding a lot of surprising stuff including one thing I liked immediately: M’s Facebook profile stated that her “religious view” is “Love thy neighbor,” which I thought was kind of promising. (Of course at that time I hadn’t yet discovered that she is also an actress…)

I was still checking her out on line when my phone rang and there she was. I thanked her for returning my call so quickly but didn’t pick up on the fact that she sounded upset. She wanted to know what exactly my question had been to the woman who answered the phone.  I repeated it, thnking she wasn’t clear on what I wanted to know,  and learned that wasn’t exactly why she was asking: I had unwittingly outed M’s intentions to fire the woman; she was the one I would be replacing if I got the job.

An immediate flashback popped into my head of the Cheshire-grinning real estate ladies hunkered down in the corner of the coffee shop, and my stomach started to churn. I dumbly parroted to M, “So, you’re saying that you’re firing this lady and she doesn’t know its coming?” to which she snapped, “Well she does NOW! Thank you VERY MUCH!”

I’m not quite sure what she said after that, I was only half-listening because I was feeling worse by the second… not for M, but for the woman who I’d talked to and who had so politely answered what must have to her been a bomb of a question. I marvelled at how she had remained so polite and professional about the whole thing as it sank in that she was being fired.  And then I started to get mad.

The first time I encountered such an underhanded employer I had tried to rationalize it. Maybe the person was stealing from them. Maybe she just wasn’t right for the job. Maybe she was an absolutely horrible, nasty, psychotic employee. That’s all possible, right? Of course it is. But if she was stealing why didn’t they fire her or even have her arrested? If she wasn’t right for the job… for whatever legitimate reason … why wouldn’t they be decent about it and give her notice so she could find something else, or even give her a severance check and send her on her way?

When I posed these questions to a headhunter she just smiled and said, “Well I guess that says more about the EMPLOYER than the EMPLOYEE, doesn’t it?”

Indeed.

At the end of the call M said something to the effect that she would review my resume when she got to that part of the process, but this time I couldn’t let it go at that.  I wasn’t going to stay quiet about what I thought of her or how I felt about being the one who had unwittingly pulled the trigger of a situation she had loaded that then backfired in her face. 

I didn’t raise my voice or lose my cool or act rude, but this time I did what I should have done last time: I honestly stated that I had no desire to work for a company that conducted business in this manner.

We hung up and I continued to feel badly about the woman who had answered the phone. I wanted to call her and apologize but was afraid of making things worse. And I was really mad at M for having put that poor woman and me in this position. I guess the only good things to come of this are
1 – the soon-to-be-former-employee might find a position with a much more ethical boss
2 – I didn’t fall into working for a company that obviously isn’t trustworthy and
3 – If this is M’s idea of “Love they neighbor,”  thank God she doesn’t live next door.

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Footnote: On the bottom of my resume I include this URL:

www.doyouwalkthetalk.com

I figure if the employer thinks it’s stupid or corny they won’t call me.

(Good!)

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