Of the two interviews I went on in the last month, I’ve received one “we regret to inform you letter,” and one call back for another meeting. Based on my experiences with Uncle’s hiring process, that’s actually a decent result. The call back means I most likely was at the top of the list after the interview process and stood a 30 minute sit down away from getting an offer. Normally I’d feel good about that… though of course you and I know I always prefer to do things that hard way.
The first email out of my box this morning was a quick “thank you for the opportunity to interview, but I no longer wish to be considered for this position.” I was more flowery and diplomatic than that, but the end result was the same – I put a knife in what was just about a guaranteed path out. It’s an uneasy feeling, especially knowing that it may very well poison that well for a long time going forward.
Still, I know taking myself out of contention was the right decision. During the interview, the panel chair mentioned a two word phrase that filled me with an unholy dread – noting in his introduction that the position for which I was interviewing was designated as a “team lead.” Now I can tell you right from the jump that ol’ Jeff doesn’t like the sound of that one little bit. I’ve done my stint as an honest to God supervisor and the very last thing I wan to do is step foot back on that slippery slope. It’s doubly true when that lowest rung on the management ladder comes with all sorts of responsibility but none of the actual authority. Worse, it comes without even more than a nominal bump in salary.
More headache for the same money is bad math no matter what way you look at it. That’s what really drove me to put an end to it. It doesn’t put me in an better a position than I was in a month ago… but it also doesn’t make things even worse so we’ll just call it a draw.
I had another interview this afternoon. Different job. Different organization. Still in roughly the same geographic area I’m in now. It seemed to go well enough, though I may be a spectacularly bad judge of that sort of thing. I generally count not tripping myself on the way in the door as a personal victory.
What I’ve found in interviewing for positions in the local area is that you tend to run into some of the same people. Repeatedly. In both recent occasions, I’ve known at least one of the other people interviewing for the position. Some people would find that awkward. Maybe I should be one of them, but I’m not. One of the helpful skills I’ve developed over the last decade and a half is that I just don’t take any of this stuff personally. And for the most part it really, truly isn’t personal – because the bureaucracy just doesn’t have the time or inclination to care about you the individual. That may sound negative, but with hundreds of thousands of moving widgets it’s generally just a function of trying to find the one that appears like it would mesh best with the other cogs that are already in motion and then cramming it into the available opening.
Look, I’d rather get offered one or both of these jobs than not. I mean I wouldn’t have bothered putting on a tie if I wasn’t at least interested. What I’m not doing is giving these decisions a lot of life or death credibility no matter which way they break. I’d like the chance to do some different work and if neither one of these pans out it seems like I’ve at least cracked the code on getting my resume in front of the people making decisions. Having sent out hundreds of resumes in my time with Uncle, I’m secure in saying that’s easily 95% of the battle.
The other 5% is about selling yourself like a used car. If you’re feeling a little dirty when you’re done, you’ve probably done it right. Talk about life skills no one ever bothers to teach you.
There are times in my career I’ve struggled mightily to extract myself from a less than desirable job. One of the perks of working for Uncle is that, like Visa, he’s “everywhere you want to be.” I’ve known for some time though that I don’t particularly want to depart the sunny shores of the northern reaches of the Chesapeake. That said, the day in and day out of life as a glorified wedding planner doesn’t feel like something I can see myself doing for the next 17 years, 6 months, and 13 days.
Unlike some previous occasions when getting on to something new was the only priority, this one has been more of a slow burn – sending out feelers here and there as opposed to an approach to sending out resumes that was more akin to carpet bombing. I didn’t so much want to just run away as also make sure what I was running towards was something of a right fit. Being in a position of not desperate to escape definitely helps set a tone where one can be a bit more selective.
That’s a long way around to saying I’m currently waiting to hear back on a final time for an interview later this week for a gig that sounds a lot like a better fit than this current situation. Maybe it’s frying pan/fire territory, but a change of scenery would probably do me a world of good. As my past experiences with hiring freezes and months spent sending out hundreds of resumes to anyone who vaguely sounded interesting has proven, there are hundreds of vagaries and problems with Uncle’s hiring process – not the least of which is actually convincing someone they should give you the job.
Still, I like to think once I’m in the room, I’m pretty good at selling myself… although it’s been a while so I guess we’re going to roll the dice one more time and see what happens.
I had an interview this morning, a something a few of you might have guessed by the fact that I had bothered to put on a tie. Generally speaking a tie is only something I wear when it can’t otherwise be avoided. As a rule of thumb, that means when the number of stars in the room is equal to or greater than five – Five one star generals = wear a tie; A three star and a two star = wear a tie; Reanimated corpse of Douglas MacArthur = wear a tie. It’s a simple rule that I adopted years ago to prevent any confusion about what to wear and when to wear it.
Breaking with that longstanding custom today made me feel a little awkward. After all, two of the three people on the interview panel were people I’ve worked with for the last four years. Surely by now they’ve caught on to my basic reluctance to willingly put my neck in a noose each morning. With that, wearing one today felt like something of a cop out, a unilateral caving in to the throat constricting requirements of social convention. It made me feel a little dirty and a lot like a sellout.
Interviews are always a roll of the dice – especially since this is the first one of done live and in person since July of 2000 when I was hired as a first year teacher. All my other jobs over these last 14 years have been gotten as a result of phone interviews or directed moves into new positions. That being said I think I answered all their questions effectively and efficiently, while interjecting my own brand of folksy humor and sarcasm at appropriate points. How well that translates into the live interview process remains to be seen.
I work with at least half the people in the running for this gig. They’re good people with solid resumes and every bit as reasonable a claim on the job as I feel I have going for me. I’d like the chance to do something different without traipsing halfway across the country to find it. I’d definitely like the grade and corresponding income bump. Still, knowing who else is in the running I won’t shed bitter tears if I didn’t make the cut on this one… though that’s no promise I won’t be more sulky and irritable than usual for a while if the vote breaks against me.
There’s a good chance that when I’m sitting in an office alone with the door closed I’m doing something important and I don’t want to be interrupted. The closed door should have been a dead giveaway. The shake of my head when you peered through the window could have been another good indication. The look of disbelief followed one of smoldering hatred when you walked in and started talking about getting your timesheet signed should probably have stopped you dead in your tracks. But no, despite the voices coming out of the speakerphone middle of the table, I actually had to tell you that I was on a teleconference and that no, this wasn’t a good time for us to discuss it. Actually, I think the exact phrase was “Christ on a crutch, I’m on a call here. Get the eff out.”
Fact is, I was doing a phone interview for a promotion with a different big government agency. If I don’t get the position, I know who I will forever blame for it. If my boss was sitting behind closed doors, wandering in just to discuss routine operational questions would be the furthest thing from my mind. The door’s closed for a reason. If it’s critical, I’ll make my own decision, leave a note, or send an email, but unless the fence line is about to be overrun by shotgun toting rednecks, I’m not taking it upon myself to decided whatever’s on my mind is more important than whatever the boss happens to be working on.
Good judgment, I suppose, isn’t something I should expect… but the ability of people to operate without me at my desk for 30 minutes seems like something they should be able to manage. Or not.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
Since I had them scheduled anyway, I decided to keep two interview appointments I had made for this afternoon. All I can say is that I hope I didn’t disturbe anyone with the strangled gurgle you heard coming from West Tennessee. That was surely my ferocious choking during a job interview with a federal department that rhymes with Domeland Obscurity. It. Was. Painful. I’m only blessed that I didn’t really have to listen to myself give the answers. Once I realized I’d completely lost the bubble, I stopped listening to myself and was focused on keeping my answers as short as possible in order to put the interview to rest with some semblance of dignity. Lord. It was just brutal.
The first question was ok. The second question is where the wheels came off. I don’t even remember what the topic was… and halfway through answering, I realized that even as I was giving an answer, I didn’t remember what the question was. The answer ended up being a series of vaguely interrelated partially developed thoughts as I mentally groped for the thread of the conversation. Needless to say, I never found the thread and never recovered my equilibrium after that. Running out the clock was really the only option I had left.
I knew I was in the deep grass when the panel leader closed up with “Thanks. I think you have some adequate answers there.” Adequate. Wow. Ouch. At least I didn’t drool on myself. Without a question, that was the most painful 25 minutes in recent memory. It was a shitshow tempered only by the fact that it was the second of back to back interviews and the first went remarkably well. It’s the carnage of that second one that’s going to stick with me, though.
It seems that federal civilian agencies like my resume alot more than my brethren in DoD. Not surprising, I suppose, since we’re arguably the most un-military organization in the Army. As of this morning, that means 19 active referrals out of 365 total resumes sent out… giving me a return rate of 5.2%. I’d rather be at something like 10%, but it’s good to know that at least one in twenty actually ends up sitting on someone’s desk. Apparently opting for the even-wider-net approach has met with some limited success. Now if I can just get a few of them to call me for interviews and bump up the odds a few more points. One agonizingly slow step at a time, I suppose.
Given the volume of jobs I’ve applied for in the last eight months, I was under the impression that I’d come across very little that would surprise me. That was until the fine people at TSA invited me to schedule an appointment this weekend at a third party computer center to come in and take their skills assessment. Seriously, TSA? You want me to take a two-hour test just to get through to the part where an actual person reads my resume? Yeah, as interesting as that sounds, I think I’ll be taking my chances that one of my other 360 resumes out there is going to find its way onto the right desk. I wouldn’t object to the process if I were, you know, applying for an entry level job somewhere in a field office, but since I’m angling for a senior analyst slot at your headquarters, I would think that you’d be able to sus out the key information you need from the dozen or so pages of resume, undergrad and graduate transcripts, and personnel records that I sent you. So, yeah, TSA… I appreciate you getting back to me, but I don’t think your agency is the right fit for my skill sets. Thanks now.
If anyone is following along at home, tonight’s update is just a brief note to say that this morning’s interview went well. That is to say as well as an interview can go when the prospect of the interviewer being able to make an offer anytime in the near future is completely unknown. Like all my other sit downs with selecting officials from across the Mid-Atlantic, this office is also subject to my nemesis the hiring freeze. That unfortunate circumstance notwithstanding, I’m comfortable that I delivered the best pitch possible… and now we’re back to the waiting game. That’s progress.
And so we’re moving along tomorrow to interview #3, which is a good thing. Of course it’s also an Army job, which means it’s probably subject to the hiring freeze just like the others. That’s the part that’s less than good. In keeping with my casting of the wide net, I can only speculate that the more interviews I have between the now and when our dear friends lift the freeze, the better the opportunity that one or more of them will come in with an actual offer in the fabled land beyond the human resource permafrost. If not, getting the occasional interview gives me the illusion of actually making progress. In the absence of actual progress, I’m good with the illusion… for now.
P.S. Selecting officials, if you’re poking around the internet doing an informal review of names on your referral lists, please take note of the single minded determination I’m showing at achieving this objective. It’s this kind of fortitude and commitment to mission that I can bring to your office and put to work for you.