The Interview

I was finally called in for an interview last month.

Finally.

Thank goodness.

I may be of some use to this world after all.

It was a part-time office assistant gig. I had all of the necessary skills. And then some. It was close to my home, the hours would have allowed me to continue supporting my young family when they need me to be around. It was in a field that interested me. Perfect.

But not.

It’s amazing how quickly something can go off the rails. Even as I write this, a month later, I’m uncertain as to how I might have handled things differently. Or even if I should have.

I was blessed at birth with a loud face. After 21 years of marriage, my husband refers to it as my “big eyes face”. If you see this face coming, then something has offended me, upset me, or I simply think you’re wrong and you’re about to hear why. I’d love to change it, but I am what I am, and have mellowed to a reasonable level of diplomacy in my 40s. Besides, the threshold for the face is high – you’ve got to be pretty far out of line to get my eyeballs popping. So of course this is not even on my mind as I attend my first job interview in 10 years.

It should have been. Also, it probably wasn’t helpful that I’d just finished my coursework on Manitoba’s Employment Standards and how they apply to hours of work. But sometimes life just sets you up to win. Or not.

Office Manager: “So, when the Important Man of the Office is in town, you’re expected to volunteer in the evenings.”

Me: Cue eyeball expansion.

Office Manager: “You know, just come in and work for free at meet and greets and other events.”

Eyeballs have fallen from my head. Plop. Plop. While I watch them roll across the floor like meatballs that have fallen from on-top-of-spaghetti, I muster a response, something to the effect of how I’ve worked flexible hours in previous jobs, and have always been given time off in lieu of overtime, and am more than willing to enter a similar arrangement.

In my head there is screaming. I’m sitting in my Member of Parliament’s office. I am applying for a job I am overqualified for, and am being asked to work for free. This is my federal representative’s office. And his staff is casually informing me that working there would involve ignoring the employment standards that are in place to protect, well, people like me. There are legal ways to circumvent this legislation – a salaried position that dictates a flexible range of hours (paid at a lower rate, of course), or a flex-time agreement that gives me time off in lieu of overtime. But no. My MP’s office manager has asked me if I will work for free, and I have answered – incorrectly, it appears, as she proceeds to wind things up with chatter about her health concerns.

It seems impossible that the office manager hasn’t noticed that the office Pomeranian is snacking on my eyeballs under a desk. However, she asks me to come in the next day to meet the boss, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, with three letters of reference. There is hope.

Jump forward a day. Despite everything, I’m still optimistic. This job would work for me right now. I’d be great at it. It would be interesting. I’m confident that my MP would be lucky to have me on his team.

But within moments of sitting down, I know. The eyes spoke. He hasn’t even looked at my resume. He asks me questions that a cursory glance would have rendered obsolete. The only time I see him look at it is when I  mention that I have children, and he absentmindedly flips through my resume as though they are achievements I will have listed – after education, but before work experience?

It’s not a good interview. I spend most of my time listening to how difficult he believes this job is. The difficult people. I worked in customer service at Yonge and Dundas in the late 1990s. I’ve had people defecate in front of me. I’ve been verbally abused, threatened, pepper-sprayed, and spent two years serving women in crisis in one of Canada’s poorest postal codes. I get the opportunity to tell him none of this. By the time I rise to leave, the promise “We’ll let you know, either way” echoing in my ears, I know this was not an actual interview. Although I will spend the next few days mentally revisiting it, wondering where I could have saved things, I know.

Which is good, because in keeping with the integrity of the whole interview experience, I never did get called back. At two weeks, I sent an email, asking if there was a concrete timeline for filling the position. At three weeks, I left a voicemail asking the same. And after a month, I left another message, politely expressing my thanks for the opportunity, my assumption that they had successfully filled the position, and my disappointment that no-one had taken the time to get back to me as promised.

I guess my lessons from this experience are twofold.

  1. Wear goggles to job interviews to keep eyeballs in place.
  2. Once an employer has demonstrated a willingness to violate your rights, it’s a little silly to expect them to treat you with respect – even if that respect simply constitutes a 2 minute telephone call.

Sigh.

 

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Rejection, how I’ve missed You

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In case anyone is keeping track, I’m still failing at wordpress. My followers are few, my posts sporadic, and I have yet to UPGRADE! my account to receive the bountiful pleasures that await me.

But not to worry – I’m failing elsewhere too – most importantly to me, I’m failing to keep what a former employer frequently referred to as a “PMA” or “Positive Mental Attitude”.

You see, I applied for a job. And not some random, off the cuff, “oh, I bet I can do that” kind of job, but rather a niche job with a weird skill set that matches my life and education, a job that I was asked if I had any interest in a couple of years ago – a job I once held.

It’s a job I didn’t return to, and at the time there were good reasons for that – first and foremost, the whole child-rearing/childcare debacle… reasons that hadn’t changed when I spoke to them the last time the position was vacant.

But things change, and so seeing this posting, and being in the position I’m in, I thought “Well why not. At very least, it’s an interesting conversation; I’ve got this knowledge of the institutional history, and ten years away from a place can really give some perspective! I’ll at least meet with them to chat.”

Or so I thought.

Days passed, and I didn’t get a call.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not so overconfident that I’d assumed the job was mine – I merely thought that I warranted an interview. I was good when I was in the role. It’s a hard skill set to find. They’d invited me to apply previously. And so, me being me, I called to find out why I hadn’t heard anything.

Cue the awkward conversation.

We had a lot of executive directors apply for the position”

(It’s not an executive director position)

“The job has changed a lot since you were here”

(Then may I recommend taking 15 minutes to update the job posting that I wrote ten years ago?)

“We just had some great applicants that have been… working for the past ten years”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when you should thank your lucky stars for the fates unfolding in your favour once again, and get on with it.

But of course I can’t. Because I have been working for the past ten years. The pay has been absolute crap, the benefits intangible, the hours hellish, but trust me, it’s been work. And the paid professional work I’ve done as a consultant in the last few years and the volunteer work for which I’ve used professional skills aren’t even a part of it. I’ve worked at parenting, at managing a home, a family, a budget, renovations. I’ve been a corporate wife, advising and strategizing. I’ve been many things, just not an employee.

Which brings me to the awkward part of what I want to say here – and what is going to cost me my followers, my wordpress credibility, and may even leech into my linked-in profile, ruining my tenuous chances of making those six remaining connections standing between me and success.

I’m a better parent than you.

No, I didn’t say that. But yes, I also-fucking-loutely did.

I know that parenting is a democracy and that everyone is just doing their best and that “HOW DARE SHE SAY THAT WHO IS SHE TO JUDGE I’M BLOCKING HER I HATE HER” but let’s just take it apart a little bit.

We don’t dispute that someone that spends their days counting widgets in all likelihood, is better at it than someone that does not. We don’t dispute that someone that has been “working” for the last ten years has had the opportunity to develop job skills superior to someone who has not.

And yet, as parents, we’re all equal. The fact that I’ve largely been home with my kids for the past decade IN NO WAY suggests that I might have skills beyond those parents that immediately returned to work. Because as parents, we are all equal. Put in a 3-hours-until-bedtime shift or 24 hours, seven days a week – we’re all doing it equally well. It’s a lovely double-standard that almost any trip to my local Wal-Mart gives me an opportunity to contemplate, never mind a volunteer shift in my children’s elementary school.

I’m better at parenting than you. I’m better at knowing when to take a hard line, and I’m better at holding it. I’m better at making the unpopular decisions tolerable, I’m a better motivator. I’m better at time-management, I’m better at multi-tasking, and I’m better at working with multiple bottom lines. I’m better at saying no. I’m better at those awkward conversations (see above). I’m better at conflict resolution. I’m a better listener. I’m better at choosing my battles. And all of these things, to the right employer, will be invaluable. Just apparently not at the *ahem* “Women’s Centre” I applied for a job at.

And on that note, I should probably just leave this here.

 

Welcome, community. I’d like you to meet my brand.

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Seriously, when I decided to do this, I figured “what the hell, a little time set aside for contemplation and thought, a place to vent and share my experience”. You might note that I did not think “A place to grow my brand, gather followers, and build a community”…. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m possibly a little naive – after all, I’m over 40 and this subsuming technological world is a bit mysterious to me. I eat meals without posting photos. I don’t curate images of vacations and adventures. Social media is, for me, still an afterthought. I’m not accustomed to considering myself a product that I must sell to followers and connections and friends online.

As a linkedin linker, I’ve failed. My network has failed to grow sufficiently to generate the opportunities I’m sure will reveal themselves if I can only make seven more connections. But it’s weird and a little uncomfortable – the person I am on linked-in is a bit of a stranger to me. She’s got these skills that sound impressive and articulate, and while they’re all true, at no time in my profile does the word “bitch” appear. (I guarantee you, if employers would just use that as a keyword in recruitment strategies, I’d be one hell of a hot commodity). I can still remember when my work-seeking self was simply a couple sheets of paper with relevant notes typed on it. Now, I’m a cross-posted on-brand compilation of searchable keywords, curated photos and connections on a million platforms and networks.

And despite the fact that this is only my second post, I have also failed at blogging. Where are my followers? My likes? My shares? Why, oh why have I not upgraded with wordpress to a premium account that will help me obtain all of these supremely important things? Why didn’t I read that article about monetizing my blog? How could I fail to share on facebook and instagram and snapchat (can you share to snapchat?).

I’m picking up a couple of interesting trends. Maybe understanding them (if not participating) will assist me in my job search. Or make a job out of my job search.

First, I’m supposed to build my brand. I’m supposed to develop a highly curated version of myself, and use it in the digiverse to attract followers, likes, and shares. This itself may not assist me in my job search, but it’s just how things are done now. I feel more relevant already having discovered this, and plan to spend the next week hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking, and working in a community garden to generate the images I need to populate my instagram feed. No doubt, this is what potential employers are looking for.

The next step is to monetize everything. Once I generate the followers and connections and friends and likes and shares I’m supposed to, then I can upgrade my blog (thanks wordpress, I did get your seven emails about this!), allow some advertisements on it, and watch the pennies roll in.

You’d have to be less relevant to the modern age than I, to not have heard about disruptors, about the side hustle, about all of the different ways young people are going about making a living these days. As I embark on this journey, sheltering myself from the bombardment of messaging about monetization, branding and upgrades, I’ve got to wonder – was participation in this online economy ever anyone’s intent? Or are people just falling into accidental (largely unpaid) employment, in which they are hard at work selling themselves as a product? And does it leave any time for looking for work?

 

Head Under Water

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I’m not certain where these images come from – but nonetheless, it’s appropriate. I’m going to opt to see this as the sun rising – just as my head goes under the water.

Because that’s honestly how I spend my days right now. Waking up in a panic, wondering what steps to take and in which direction. As a planner and a controller, it’s the type of freedom that’s oppressive, overwhelming, and that leads to dreadful self-doubt and uncertainty.

Background: for the last ten years, my husband has been employed in a lucrative and very demanding position in the mental health and independent living field. My role has been to be home and available to our growing kids (now 10 and 7) as his days were often long and unpredictable. It had been our plan for me to start law school this September, as the kids need me less and our lives open up a bit… But then health care reform swept our province, and  my husband’s job ended up in the dustpan.

And so I deferred law school. 3 years of tuition, books, and 0 earnings. It no longer seemed like a simple or positive equation. Especially considering my husband’s need to re-group and reconsider his direction in life. So I deferred my acceptance into school, and slowly waded into the formal job market.

I’m 42. A university graduate. I’ve done some contract work and volunteered over the past decade, but haven’t had a normal “job” since October of 2007.

It’ll be interesting to see what the world makes of me as I try to find something meaningful to apply my talents to. Scratch that. It will be terrifying.