Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Job Hunt: First Steps and First Interview

I RELAXED THIS WEEKEND. Aside from an unnecessary parley with an inept florist, I did very little requiring mental effort. I knew I would have an eventful Monday.

My company provided those laid off with a month of services from a career-development firm. I signed up last week to have my first visit, and I learned that they had an office not 15 minutes from my home. At least this saved me a trip into the city. I chose this past Monday to stop by for an orientation seminar, because I wanted to set a structure to my week as early as possible.

Monday morning rose dim and grim under cloudy skies. I felt a bit congested, and I hoped it was allergies and not the cold of one of the poker regulars from last Thursday. On the chance that it was a cold, I deferred my scheduled gym visit and instead got a little more sleep. This seemed to help, as did eating and a long shower, and as I got dressed, I wondered if I would instinctively leave the parking lot for the transit stop two blocks away, as I had done for the past 7+ years.

The appointment was at 10 a.m., well past rush hour in my neck of suburbia, so my drive was short. I'd long been curious about the large office building where these offices were housed, having passed it numerous times. It turned out to be a clean, multi-suite affair surrounding an atrium with well-tended houseplants. I envied a giant Monstera, and I wished my environment were either brighter or more tropical so I could raise one of these titans to its full scale.

The agency's offices themselves were rich with new-carpet smell and, like the building, very tidy. Most of the employees I saw were wearing suits. The invitation had requested business casual dress from participants, with which I had complied. I signed in up front and was led to a conference room. As often happens, I was the first one there. I am such a geek. At each seat was a hefty stack of reading materials, including a cellophane-wrapped bundle of trade paperbacks containing course material that, I assumed would comprise our homework.

A total of seven "students" were in attendance for the orientation, and the speaker began promptly at the appointed hour. Like P., the man who had visited our office in November, E. was of retirement age but still fueled by passion for what he was doing to continue to assist others who had endured a layoff. In his case, he was a lifer salesman at IBM, laid off shortly after his sixth (!) child was born, and even though he continued to consult for Big Blue, he had lost his passion for the business. A desire to help people in transition led him, as it had P., to his current position.

We filled out a short sheet of cues for our current profession, duties, career interests, and objectives, and then went around the table to read these out. E. jotted down a few points as we went, and I was gratified to see that my points about securing a position more resistant to outsourcing, and the possibility of freelancing, made the board. Unlike the seminar that P. ran, this one was only scheduled to last part of the day, because E. and one of his colleagues planned to set dates for one-on-one meetings with each of us. The main point of today's meeting was to introduce us to the written and online materials available through the plan. With only 30 days of service, I appreciated a dive-in philosophy.

The books turned out to hold a 12-phase (I don't want to call it a 12-step) program that worked closely with online seminars and conference calls to position a candidate more securely in every aspect of the job hunt. The books referred to tools available through the website, such as doing company and industry research, answering frequent interview questions, developing networks and contacts, and the like. This clearly took into serious account the fact that most folks don't constantly probe the market, put out feelers, or contact hiring managers before they need the next job. As a culture, we're still weaning our way from the idea that we will work a job for decades until we retire, and the materials seem to offer tools to keep this complacency from hamstringing candidates in the clutch.

We also took some time to log into to the system and register. I signed up for a seminar to teach us how to use the system itself, figuring it would save me some time flailing about in search of the tools I really needed to proceed. I do feel very aware of the clock ticking on this opportunity, a point E. stressed with me when we sat together to set a consultation. This was originally going to be Friday, but as I was typing this, he called to reschedule, and now I'll see him tomorrow afternoon. I actually prefer to get his input earlier rather than later, as it may determine the sequence in which I take some of the online courses.

While taking a break at the facility, however, I got a call from my boss at my old company. She said she had received a note from a former member of the department, now with a prominent professional science-journal publisher, who was looking for a production editor. I told her I certainly would be interested in speaking to this person, and to send the information along to my email address.

Upon returning home (not before detours to the Panera Bread and the Apple Store outlets in the strip mall next to the office park), I read the forwarded note. The candidate in this position would assist the second-in-command of production in that department, doing multipage layouts in InDesign, using Illustrator and Quark, and interacting extensively with other departments (presumably for copy, ads, art, cover design, and the like). I also noted that they wanted to fill this position by the end of this week. Not sure what sort of leverage this would give me, but it was good to know. I emailed the person who used to work at my company to let her know I would send my resume to the production person to whom I would report. She sounded excited in her response, citing the fact that she would get a finder's fee were I to be hired. I felt mentioning this was a bit unprofessional, but I let it slide.

The hiring manager emailed me back and called to say she was interested in speaking to me. As it was 5:30 by that point (I didn't take the call; I was having dinner at my parents'), I simply emailed to say I would be in touch this morning.

I did some research on the company, including digging into the details of their publications, checking the job listing to see if there were any more details of the prospective position not covered in the email (the position wasn't even listed, so I indeed got the inside skinny on this — a fact that would please E.), tracking down their full ownership (I figured it had to be a division of some megacorp, and I was right). It was too late in the day to call another former coworker who had jumped over there in 2005 for some inside information to wow them during the interview. I did have a comprehensive list of questions for the hiring manager, some from a sheet a coworker had kindly given me shortly after learning of my layoff, some I came up with on the fly.

I was fairly calm this morning when I called in. The blurb had requested a salary range, a point I had danced around in my reply email. I had a feeling this was not going to meet my departing salary from the last job. Granted, I had been promoted, so I had reached a higher pay grade. But at this point, can I afford to put in two or three years of service, then hope for someone to leave the company? On the surface, the job looked like a step back. I had become complacent at my last position, neither being given any career-pertinent training nor seeking any out. Merely doing the same function for the next 30 years is no longer a realistic prospect. I need to be one step ahead of the next tectonic shift in hiring and retention patterns. So I called in with a sense that I was going to explore the possibility of working there, but not that I was going to take the first job that popped up.

The hiring manager described the position as spanning the production cycle from receipt of copyedited MSS to putting the jobs on press. InDesign would be the most frequently used application. Art was submitted by the copyeditor as conduit for the out-of-house editors and authors. I asked if this art was submitted according to any house specifications, and she said that although such specs existed, different sources heeded them to varying degrees. This is when Illustrator and Photoshop would be most commonly used; in the former, to add captions, modify color, or recreate art; in the latter, to verify image quality and to color-correct. It sounded like my relative inexperience in Photoshop versus my confidence in other Adobe products would not be a barrier.

What would be a barrier was the proposed salary range. She asked me directly what I was looking for. Seeing no way to dodge it, I told her a range $1,000–$5,000 above my last rate. This gave her pause, so I asked what the range was for this position. This turned out to be $15,000–$20,000 less than my departing salary. Even accounting for the position not being a senior or management slot, this was a crippling difference. With 401(k), taxes, healthcare, housing costs, and transit expenses taken out, less than a grand per month would remain. Out of this in turn would have to come car insurance, registration, holiday expenses, maybe some kind of vacation. . . . I had to decline.

The hiring person did say they offered transit assistance, as well as three weeks of vacation to start, 401(k), and so forth, but I told her this was unfortunately going to be a sticking point in my taking the position. It was a little nerve wracking to do so, because I could have had this position with little effort. Think of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction:

". . . So you're gonna go out there, drink your drink, say, 'Goodnight, I've had a very lovely evening,' go home and jack off. And that's all you're gonna do."

He knows that right outside that bathroom door, a tall, gorgeous, crazy, somewhat high brunette might fall into bed with him if he pushes in just the right places. The only problem is, said brunette also happens to be married . . . to Vincent's boss, no less. Vincent's touchy, patient-about-extracting-revenge boss. He realizes that, on several levels, this is the wrong move.

I know deep down that this is not the right job for me. I want to exploit the career-assistance program as much as I can this month, to determine exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life, not just for the next job. This is a golden opportunity, fully paid, and I won't get another like it. If it means declining the easy solution here for the right solution down the line, so be it.

Will I kick myself over this two months from now if I still haven't found something? Oh hell yeah. That's why I'm writing what I'm thinking now, here, where I can return to it and know I was right . . . especially if, in three months, I can say the same thing from the vantage point of the right job.


Felix said...

I just feel so bad for you that you're now in a 12-step without having had any three-day-long coke binges. Sorry, man!

Schizohedron said...

If only I had been in the advertising industry, I could combine rehab with re-employment. That's what they call multitasking.

Felix said...

And also, points for the PFRotD.