Sunday, January 23, 2011

How to Get a Job, According to Last Night's Dream

Last night I had a dream in which I was walking around an outdoor shopping center.  I came to a store that was closed and locked up, with the lights off and no one inside.  I looked through the window and saw that it was a store that sold nothing but socks.  Then I noticed something on the wall next to the door.  It looked like a fire alarm.  It was a small glass box containing a small ax, with a tiny hammer hanging on a cord from the box.  There were words printed on the glass box.  The words were: DO YOU WANT A JOB HERE? or DO YOU WANT TO WORK HERE?  Something like that...I can't remember exactly now.  Then my sister came walking by and I showed her what the box said.  She said, "Hmm...I guess go for it.  Why not." (or something to that effect).  So I took the tiny hammer and shattered the glass box, removed the small ax and used it to break the lock on the door.  I opened the door and went inside, and suddenly the lights were on and a woman was inside working behind the counter.  She introduced herself as the manager and was very friendly.  She asked me if I wanted a job there.  "It's only part time," she said, "and it's only $9 an hour, but I think it's a very pleasant and relaxed working environment."  "Yes," I said, "I would like to work here part time, that would be great."  She hired me on the spot, after filling out some basic paperwork.  She told me that I just need to walk around and help the customers, and keep an eye out for anyone trying to steal anything.  "No problem," I said.  Then suddenly it wasn't a sock store anymore, it was a jewelry store.  She asked me if I liked jewelry, and I said yes.  I walked around the store to familiarize myself with the merchandise, and some customers came in and I greeted them.  Then suddenly it wasn't a jewelry store anymore, it was a clothing store.  It may have been the Gap (I worked there back in high school).  Suddenly I wasn't the only employee anymore, there were about ten other people working there as well, mostly teenagers, and there was now a co-manager as well, a man who looked to be about my age. Also, the size of the store had greatly increased.  The manager had us all go around and introduce ourselves.  I said I was a poet, an artist and a musician.  The co-manager excitedly said to me "I saw where you went to graduate school on your resume!  That place is awesome!"  I think we both recognized we were about the same age, while all the other employees were teenagers, so it seemed like we'd probably become friends.  Then the manager gave us all some free clothes, including a puffy black wintry vest and a red sweater.  I didn't like the red sweater and later on when I left work I realized the security tag was still on it.

...More happened in the dream, but it's not relevant to the topic of jobs...

...Sooo...I guess, if you want a job you have to break the door down...?

A Sad and Discouraging Dream About a Job

I posted this as a Note on Facebook on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010, 6:22pm.

Last week I had a dream that I was beginning my first day on the job as a front desk person for a school.  I arrived at the school and I opened the front doors.  Immediately upon entering, I was struck by the length of the front desk.  It almost took up the entire length of the large lobby, almost went wall to wall, but missed by a few feet on either side.  I saw two women behind the desk, off to the left side of it, and I walked up to them.  I didn’t know either of them from my interviews or correspondence.  I told them my name and told them that I was beginning work today as the front desk manager.  One of the women, who seemed to be in charge, told me that she would be training me.  She told me that the other girl was a part time assistant and was still in college.  She told me that I was taking over her job as front desk manager because she was going to work somewhere else.  She showed me a few things behind the front desk, such as pencils and paper, and I thought that seemed like sort of a petty thing to be showing me in light of how many responsibilities belong to the front desk manager, but I figured I guess she wants to start with the absolute most basic things.  I thought, At this rate, the training will lag on for months.  She then showed me a tv monitor hanging behind the desk, which showed a constantly streaming live video surveillance from the roof of the school building.  She said that they have a problem with kids going up on the roof when they're not supposed to, and she told me to pay special attention to the monitor at all times.  I understood the importance of keeping the students off the roof, but their intense attention paid to watching the monitor seemed like an immense distraction from them being aware of their surroundings in the actual lobby and seeing what’s going on from different ends of the extremely long front desk.  

The two women then continued to talk to one another and ignore me.  I tried to interrupt them in order to ask what they would like me to be doing or what I could be learning about, but the woman kept motioning to me with her hand to go away.  Obviously this was very unprofessional, but was also not entirely shocking.  I saw a young girl of about eight or nine approach the other end of the front desk, so I went over to her and said Hello.  She said hello and told me, "I'm here to pick up my 'equestrian tee shirt'.  We got tee shirts for participating in riding the horses," she said.  "Oh okay," I said.  "I just started working here today, so I'm going to go find out about that for you.  Hang on a minute, ok?"  I said.  I walked back over to where the woman was speaking with the other woman at the other end of the desk, interrupted them and told her what the girl had asked me.  "Oh yes, they're over there on that table by the front door," she said.  "They came from Fed Ex, they're all in envelopes with their names on them."  "Okay," I said, and I walked back over to the girl and showed her to the table with the envelopes.  I thought it was strange that they had left them all out in the open like that, on a table right near the front door.  There seemed to be a lacking in supervision and attention going on, and I worried that the packages were easy for someone to steal.  I asked the girl her name and she told me and showed me her student ID.  I found the envelope with her name on it and gave it to her.  She asked me if I could open it for her and handed it back to me.  I told her "Sure" and I began to unseal the top of the stuck-down envelope flap, by trying to tear it back with my fingers.  (Those plastic shipping envelopes are always difficult to get into without scissors.)  Then I heard the woman yelling and saw her running towards me, shouting, "No!  No!  Don't open it like that!  What are you doing?!"  The woman came over, holding a giant pen, about a foot long, inside which one could see the giant tube of ink.  She picked up the envelope and punctured it by sticking the tip of the pen into and through the plastic envelope.  She then pushed down on the back end of the pen, which caused the ink to slowly leak out of the pen and be injected into the envelope.  The envelope began to swell more and more with the steady injection of the ink.  The pen seemed to contain an infinite amount of ink.  The envelope bloated beyond its capacity to contain the pressure of the great amount of ink and the envelope began to burst at its seams.  Ink sprayed everywhere, including on the woman, myself and the little girl.  The woman then gave the envelope (absolutely sopping with black ink and messily busted open) to the girl and harshly told her, "Here you go, it's open now.  Go take your stuff somewhere else and clean it up.”   

Then I woke up.  :-(

The harsh and unfriendly (bizarrely so) attitude of the woman toward the little girl reminded me of the attitude of a boss of mine at a prior job at a tutoring center, where I worked last year for a short time...This is not the small tutoring company I mention in other posts, it was one center location of a large national tutoring company, whose name I won't mention on the blog.  I'll write about that story soon...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Short and Non-Sweet Anachronistic Story

A little while after graduating from college in 2004, I went for an interview at a temp. agency.  The interview was pretty typical, I took some computer skills tests, editing tests, and had my resume reviewed.  Toward the end of the interview, the woman interviewing me told me, very seriously, that I "need to, from now on, when going on interviews and going into work, adhere to something [she] refers to as The Three P's: Pearls, Pantyhose and Pumps."  I was shocked! Come again?  What year is this?!  A woman is actually telling me, basically, never to wear pants?  Otherwise..what?  I'll never get a job?  So bizarre!  I think my response was probably just an "Um, okay." (with absolutely zero intention, of course, of listening to her "words of wisdom").  I felt sorry for this woman that she was still abiding by totally outdated concepts and I felt even worse for any woman that actually took her advice and believed it to be the only right way to do things.  A couple weeks later, a friend of mine went in for an interview at this same temp. agency.  I had told my friend this story and was curious if she would be told the same thing.  My friend ended up  meeting with the same woman, and yes, the woman told her the same anachronistic and sexist mantra: Pearls, Pantyhose and Pumps!  So strange.  So sad.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Good Job and a Funny (Sad) Anecdote

About two years ago, right when the recession really hit hard, I applied for a job I found on Craigslist.  It was a data entry position for a machinery warehouse that's been in business for 100 years!  The warehouse is located right down the street from me, but had previously been located in downtown Manhattan.  I have a ton of data entry experience on all different programs, and because the warehouse was located right down the street, I figured I had a pretty good shot at getting a call back.  Well, I did get a call back, I went in for an interview with the assistant to the manager/owner of the place, and he hired me on the spot.  He toured me around the place and showed me the database he had going and showed me what needed to be done.  They had about fifty boxes filled with invoices going back years and years, and they needed me to input all of the hand-written invoices into the database.  I was being hired as an independent contractor to complete this job. Great! The next day I went in to work and the manager was there and we met.  He was a nice guy.  Now here's the funny anecdote: He told me that he received hundreds of applications for the job, and that multiple stockbrokers who had recently been laid off due to the recession had applied to this job(!) and that I had beat them out.  He had picked me not only because of my data entry experience, but mainly because I live right down the street, as I had figured would be in my favor.  "You beat out stock brokers for this job.  That's how crazy everything is.  Stock brokers are applying for a freelance data entry job for $10 an hour," he said.  Indeed.  Crazy.  In this case, fortunately for me, a crazy thing that worked out in my favor.

Okay, I'm writing this stuff down.

Friends have been telling me for years that I should be blogging about the various disappointing, bizarre and sometimes totally unbelievable experiences I've had with job hunting, job interviews and jobs themselves.  I was originally going to call this blog "So Sad I Laugh", but I decided to go with a trusty analogy, one which many other people use for various situations: The Twilight Zone.  You're on Earth, going about your normal business and activities, and yet...something  This can be said of many things in life, but the job hunting/interview/job experience, especially increasingly so over the past few years, mostly feels very,  By off I mean: Things are not functioning in a logical, honest and down to earth way.  They are functioning (?) in a mostly (and increasingly so) illogical and inhumane way.  Communication (both written and in person) seems to be breaking down more and more.  Yep, I definitely think it's because of technology.  We're not naive to this.  My cover letter is expected to be in perfect grammar, written with compelling yet straightforward language, clear, professional, and perhaps even with some charm, tailored to respond to each specific job ad, each specific company or individual.  This is expected and I think that is perfectly right.  It should be expected.  However, when the response is often an email from a recruiter or employer, written in incomplete sentences, with no capitalization, and even misspelling my name...Well, it's frustrating, angering, disenchanting and discouraging to say the least.  This blog is a collection of such experiences, every strange, frustrating, angering, bizarre, etc. job-related experience I can remember, going years back.  I should have started writing this blog a long time ago, but here it goes...

Part Time Front Desk at a Yoga Studio

Here's a memorable story from a few years ago.  I was looking for a part time job to supplement the other part time job I had.  I found an ad for a part time front desk position at a yoga studio.  You didn't have to have any knowledge of yoga, but be willing to learn (I was.  I had recently completed a pilates class and I next wanted to take a yoga class).  The other requirements were to have had prior office and front desk experience, answering phones and being a first point of contact (which I had), to be computer savvy (which I am), and to be willing to do cleaning duties (which I am).  I applied, and several days later I got a call to come in for an interview.  It's always amazing when you hear back from any job.  The number of applicants keeps rising, and HR (or whoever)'s patience to sift through the massive number of applications keeps dwindling.  Communication and courtesy is also continuously on the decline, in this -as we all know it to be- increasingly virtual world, in terms of communication and interaction.  Anyway, all of that is a post (actually, a book I should maybe write) in and of itself.  It's something that will inevitably be woven all throughout the posts I write.

So anyway, I went in for my interview and the manager of the yoga studio, a woman probably in her late twenties, a couple of years older than me at the time, met with me in her office.  She asked me about my experience, my skills, why I thought I would make a good front desk person at the studio, typical questions.  She was pleasant, a little standoffish, but whatever.  Then at one point she asked me "If [I] would be comfortable answering the phones and talking to people on the phones all day."  I said absolutely, that I had previously worked as the front desk manager at a small tutoring center and that I had spoken to people on the phone all day at that job and at other jobs as well, such as when I worked at the IT help desk at a college.  She then said to me (paraphrased), "Well because I can hear you have an accent, and ya know, they tell you that if you're going to apply for jobs doing phone work that you should really work on accent elimination.  I did it too, because I'm from Long Island.  I went to acting school and they taught us to listen to newscasters because those people need to speak without any accent, and you can practice and you can learn how to speak without an accent."

UHHHHHHHH... Okay, now, two things were going through my head. Well, three. Okay, one: The thing with my accent.  This is going to be a bit of a tangent, but bear with me...Okay, there's some kind of phenomenon that follows me around in my life.  Some people perceive me as having a MAJOR accent, which they usually define as a New York accent, but not any specific borough for the most part.  Some people perceive me as having a definite accent and they have wondered if it is: British? Australian? Israeli? and a whole slew of others.  Some people hear a little bit of an accent, but nothing really noteworthy.  Some people don't perceive any real accent at all and just think I sound like a normal non particular tri state resident, or a New Yorker, but not one with a strong accent. Others recognize it as a light impediment.  The truth of it is that I have a slight New York accent (which comes out sometimes more than others) and I also have a slight impediment, which makes my "r"'s difficult to pronounce.  Some people notice it A LOT and others don't notice it at all, it runs the whole gamut. That's why I call it a "phenomenon", because it's bizarre for me to have people occasionally reacting HUGELY to how I speak, and other times people don't notice it at all.  And particularly in interviews, being very conscious of this, I speak as articulately as possible.  So for someone in an interview to point it out as if it's a major accent is quite an unprecedented reaction (although not, because these weird things happen to me all the time). So anyway, what was going through my head. One: that it was weird that she perceived it as such a major accent.

Two: That she pointed it out was really rather rude and unnecessary, and it probably violated equal employment rights.  If she didn't feel I would do okay on the phones, she could have just decided that on her own in private and just not hired me, without ever saying anything to me about it.  When she asked me if I felt comfortable doing phone work, she knew my answer would be yes.  (First of all, I have phone work all over my resume. Secondly, I had already said in my cover letter (which she responded to by calling me in for the interview) that I was comfortable and experienced with phone work.)  But she wasn't asking me in order to find out my answer, she wasn't asking me if I was comfortable with phone work.  What she was doing was giving herself an opportunity/platform to tell me that basically SHE did not feel comfortable with me doing phone work. This is like saying, "Look, I wouldn't hire you and I'm not going to hire you, because I think you have an accent and I don't want you answering my phones. But I'm going to keep you in this office for the remainder of this interview anyway.  And I suggest you practice speaking by watching newscasters like acting students do before applying to any more jobs with phone work."  THANKS.  Was she trying to be an older sister type, giving me job pointers?  Did she think she was being nice and helpful?  Or was she just a stupid b!t@#?  Either way, it was unprofessional and rude.  Not to mention, I'm pretty sure it violates some kind of equal employment rights law.  I think I said something like "Okay, thanks" and then got out of there as quickly as possible, since I obviously wasn't going to get the job, right?  I could have responded to her by saying all of these things I'm now telling you here, but I was still sort of desperate for another part time job, so I didn't say anything to kill my chances, by responding like an actual feeling, thinking human being. I remained "professional".  But I'm sure I couldn't have killed my chances any more than I had apparently already done just by opening my mouth and saying a word with the letter "r" in it.  :-p

And the third thing I was thinking: In acting school they told this girl that she needed to work on accent elimination in order to get a job, and perhaps it's true that some jobs won't hire you if you have a strong accent and they don't feel comfortable with you working on the phones in the office, but one: that's not something you TELL the applicant, because it's technically illegal. And two: perhaps if you have a major accent and it makes people unable to understand you on the phone then it is at least understandable why you wouldn't want that person doing phone work.  But if it's a perfectly understandable accent, then it just comes down to an issue of taste - the employer doesn't CARE FOR your accent and doesn't want it as part of his/her business image. Fine, having an opinion isn't illegal in and of itself, but it IS discrimination and it IS unlawful if that's the reason you don't hire someone who is totally qualified.  So for pete's sake, at the very least, employers, don't be so arrogant and stupid as to TELL your applicant that you don't care for their accent, an accent that other employers had no problem with (I held previous phone heavy jobs), and an accent that does not distract from being able to understand me (my prior employers certainly didn't think so). Because most people don't notice much of an accent from me, I have had to conclude that people who say they can't understand me are either: extremely poor listeners (what I'll call having a listening impediment), drunk, or have a hearing impediment.

As expected, I didn't get called back for the job.