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Cory Doctorow

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Five days ago.

Thirty three days ago, I was fired from one of my two full-time jobs. It was the better paying job, monetary-wise and health care benefits-wise; however, the 2 1/2 hour round trip commute and time away from my life partner were pretty big drawbacks to that job. So, for the past thirty three days, I have been one of the nearly 12 percent of Californians actively seeking a job.

The percentage above is taken from a sample. The government explains it more clearly that I can. I am not sure how exactly one tracks the "underemployed". In all honesty, my math mind falls apart at the merest mention of statistics that are any more complicated than Earned Run Averages. And the financial industry and insurance worlds of numbers? Duh . . derrr . .

So this post isn't about numbers. Liberals like me turn to folks like Nate Silver to make sense of the data. Conservatives have their own statisticians, too, though I'm out of my depth going there in this post.

It's not even about the search for a new full time job with benefits. With a four-year college degree and over 10 years (I'm not saying how far over) of work experience, the working world is like an English Garden where I just need to root around for that one "flower" that connects to me and vice-versa. My resume is posted on all the big job search sites, I apply for at least one job a day (if I was Spanish language fluent, I could double or triple that rate. Sadly, I could not ask for higher pay for that added skill. Another post for a blogger with a better perspective, perhaps?).

I have had only one legitimate job interview to date. The job opening for which I was interviewed was brought to me through a friend. I also have another possible opportunity through a friend of a friend, though the contact is affiliated with a temp agency. Still, it's pointless to dismiss anything out of hand before the agency/employer has the chance to pitch the job to me and field my questions about the job.

This long and winding post is, instead, about the other two times in the last thirty three days on which I strapped on a tie, polished my shoes and strutted out the door with resume, smartphone and business portfolio in hand.

It's disgraceful to employers who post job opportunities to call these other two events "interviews". I'll describe the scenario and just how the experience makes someone with my business acumen feel afterward. I also write this as a cautionary tale to those who are called by these types of employers so that you are made aware of the difference between a standard job interview and the slickness I encountered.

Here's how to know you are walking into what is, essentially, a sales pitch.

1) When you walk into the office/suite, the music is played loud enough to qualify the space as a coffeehouse or a nightclub. Seriously, outside of retail outlets, who plays music through a stereo with speakers any more? Retailers only play music in their retail space for one reason - to slow and confuse customers so they may buy more of whatever the retailer is selling.

2) You have an appointment time, yet at least two other people are in the reception area completing applications and you are not sitting in an office rented by a temp agency.

3) You are introduced to more than two people working at the company, not counting the interviewer. This happened only at one of my two experiences and, for the most part, the "employees" confessed to having worked for the company for "only a short time". At the same time, steps 1 and 2 above continued for still more applicants.

4) The "interview" consists of 5 questions or less. When I interviewed people to bring into a Customer Service department or assisted a manager with hiring, I asked 10 questions minimum. I watched body language and eye movement, delay time between question and answer and whether the answer is spoken like intellectual conversation instead of community theatre rehearsal.

5) Your interviewer is watching anything but your body language, eye movement and or response time and tone to the questions asked. To be generous, perhaps the interview is just anxious to get to their "second interview" with "those select few" that the employer "feels are a best fit".

6) The second "interview" includes you and at least two other applicants.

7) The second "interview" includes a PowerPoint presentation, something that approximates an orientation movie or both.

8) In the presentation mentioned in items 6 and 7, the interviewer (oh, let's call him/her what they are -- salesperson) tells you all you could ever want to know about how the company makes its profit and how you drive how much you earn. While this sounds like the employer is telling you that you have applied for a sales position with commission, you are told when you are called for the "interview" that they are looking not for sales people, but people who are "customer service oriented".

9) You are told that upward mobility in the company is encouraged in the company. Also, part of that upward mobility depends on how many other people you can manage to "work under you". Managers at these companies receive a percentage of each employees' earnings for each widget made. Both of my experiences had to do with personal finances; however, the exact description of the service offered is not important to the post. However, if you have been in the work force even a few years, the challenge to see this arrangement for what it really is only mildly engages you.

Now, here is what I have not read much about: how the people "invited" to these "job interviews" feel after the above experience. The last one I went to was this past Thursday. I went to the "interview" only because my life partner got the call from the employer and he could not recall what type of position the employer wanted to fill. As it turns out, I had visited this employer almost two years ago and was treated to steps one through nine. As the first visit to that employer was "after business hours", the vibe was more nightclub than coffeehouse. I only needed to get within 20 feet of the front door before I heard the boisterous conversation through the drywall and realized what, for the second time, I was about to endure. I did something this past Thursday I have never done to any job interview before.

I turned around 180 degrees and quickly walked back to my car.

I then turned to a tried-and-true way of dealing with the feeling of being a commodity and not a person of worth: a weekday afternoon matinee at a neighborhood movie house. I stuffed the burn and disgust with a large popcorn and complicated, fantasy plotline. It took a few hours to stop feeling like an interchangeable cog in a massive machine.

It took me five days to write about it without all of the emotions I was feeling ending in a keyboard thrown through a screen or a pad of paper scribbled and torn to shreds.

Please don't let this sort of experience make you feel like you are nothing more than dollar signs to a faceless corporation. I went through it and came out the other side of that far wiser and just a bit more calloused.

Yet not defeated.

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