Late last week or early this week – I have too much free time and frequently lose track of it moment to moment – I received a Facebook IM from a friend of mine, a former co-worker from the good old days of Chris being employed. We talk semi-frequently this way and it’s nice to keep a little more in touch than just reading someone’s Facebook feed, I also run into her a couple times a year; just randomly in the Pearl District as she shops or runs errands and I…change things up from my normal routine of sitting around and venture outside.
This particular message was especially intriguing. She was asking what one does when offered a job you don’t want or when you get an offer that isn’t what you expect. Compared to my current job search norm, I think this is a good problem to have…so this was a meaty dialogue. We traded a few messages and she suggested we meet for coffee.
And meet we did.
We met up at Sisters Coffee House here in The Pearl, which turned out to be full of people proudly out doing what I normally do all day – sitting around on their computers – so I assumed they were all homeless, since I can do that at my condo. Unshowered and, if I can stand the sight of myself, in my loungers or undies. But all these people sitting alone at tables for two or four kind of pissed me off, since it left us to the sidewalk seating.
It was 45 degrees yesterday.
So, when she told me her story, I was cold and in a “Screw that, say no” mood, but I made myself filter my frustrations. As chance would have it, a seat inside had opened up. Plus, there’s no reason my EOG should negatively impact the lives of any innocent bystanders. Particularly when they have sought out my advice on an issue.
I totally get where she was struggling, too. We’re both at a point in our lives and careers where we expect certain things from employers and situations. When we don’t get them, it raises a red flag. We’re also alike inasmuch as we come from a time when we took a job offer or didn’t. More often, we took it, because it was just what you did. Worked.
Then the 80s happened and people started negotiating their worth during the job offer process. It was really all kind of downhill from there, since now people don’t negotiate their worth as much as they simply don’t seem to deign to work at all in exchange for the rate of compensation they negotiate for themselves.
All things considered, I think I would rather live with Harvest Gold and Avocado Green kitchen appliances forever in exchange for a return to a true working class population like we had in the 70s…where we also worked for a whopping $2.10 an hour minimum wage. Today, it seems we all think we’re going to be millionaires and are prepared to offer zero effort in return for anything less.
It might be worse in Portland, famously described by someone as “Where young people go to retire”. So true, but not as unique to Portland as one might think.
Anyway, my advice was being sought and after listening to her story I told her about what my dad said to me when I started looking for work, “Don’t take a job you aren’t going to be happy at”. And I absolutely hate that it’s so challenging to find such a simple sounding position, but absolutely love that I am fortunate enough to have parents that say something so awesome and then consistently point me back to that when I get frustrated with my job search.
She completely understood that sentiment and shared that she was kind of in the same place; after all, her job had just ended in December, so she’s only six or seven weeks into her Unemployment Insurance. This particular offer was less money than she had been making and below the market value for the position and only had five days of PTO. She’s looking for a job she can offer a five year commitment before joining her husband in retirement, how hard should it be to find a place one can be happy working for five years?
What must she give up?
She’s mature enough to carefully weigh what it means to pass up a job even though she admitted that she’s never really been in that situation before. Nor had she ever negotiated, so this was a brave new world for her, career-wise. She had been granted an extra five days of PTO in her job offer but had decided to counter with the pay she expected – which was on the low end of the industry average – and ask for an additional five days of PTO prior to meeting with me. I wholly supported that move and openly supposed that she would probably get the money but not the PTO, which sounded like a blessing since it provided her a legitimate reason to decline the offer. The worst possible case I could imagine after hearing her story was the owner coming back with everything she asked for and she still didn’t actually want the damned job.
Then she’d be in a pickle.
One other thing that I asked her after hearing her story, was whether she thought this was the employer putting his best foot forward, which gave her a good chuckle. Her offer was from a small company, six people including the owner. We worked together at a once-great small company…only 75 stores when I joined up back in 2009, and still family owned for the most part.
Since then, we have both aligned ourselves with smaller outfits, so the dysfunction she shared during her story was familiar and cringe inducing territory for me: irrelevantly good people who kinda sucked at their jobs. Great…it’s a small company, it should have character like that, I guess. It’s one of the things that gets lost in a larger corporation: personality. But on the flip side, those larger corporations have the ability to withstand someone who isn’t the most competent at their job making a mistake. Not so in a six million dollar company. Someone fucks up and people lose their jobs. Back at the job I accepted in 2013, separating me from my work life with this particular friend, the controller made a $600,000 mistake and 10% of the company’s employees lost their jobs. Me included. And that was a twelve million dollar company…which frankly surprises me with its persistent survival.
It’s a real head-scratcher.
On the way home from this coffee date, I was thinking of the Silver Fox. He was given early retirement at the beginning of 2015 with a fantastic severance package and a one-year non-compete, which he thought was no big deal since he was retired!
A few months in – and I swear he came by this on his own, even though we were spending a lot of our mutual free time together – he had decided he needed to go back to work. He wanted to. For his peace of mind. I think he had always planned to continue working, but I was making unemployment look so glamorous that he simply had to try it out.
Anyway, there he is, putting out feelers.
He starts getting the passive-aggressive attention I’ve come to love so much about looking for a job: being ignored. This is one of those things that prompted me to write in my original Great Job Hunt that Human Resources is one of the most worthless parts of any organization. It’s not like this is a hard part of their job, they tend to have rather expensive Applicant Tracking Systems to allow them to manage what anyone who has ever hired off of a Help Wanted ad will tell you is a potentially overwhelming influx of applicants.
That said, each of these systems also has an automated Thanks For Your Application email as well as canned Thanks, But No Thanks emails that can be sent to applicants you aren’t interested in…the latter just takes the click of a mouse.
People who can’t manage that low-bar job expectation have jobs and I don’t.
And some will judge that this is my expectation of employer behavior and not what should be expected.
Of course, I disagree.
My thought is, these software designers didn’t think, “Hey, this function would be cool!” and just put it in. They got feedback, gathered data and were likely encouraged to include such a feature allowing for easy communication with applicants. Regardless, though, I think if you are going to ask people to apply to work for your company, it’s the right professional behavior to repay that effort. It’s the right human behavior to show that minimal amount of respect to your applicants. Again, these people are probably customers of your business in some way, shape or form. If they aren’t, you’re probably likely to be snubbing someone who works in the industry your business does its business in and unlikely to not cross paths with these applicants at some other point in the future. Who wants to go into that situation at a disadvantage because someone thinks your organization isn’t?
Back to the Fox, he had been approached by some folks in his massive network about a position in his industry. For a non-profit. A religious non-profit.
We all know what I said.
My knee-jerk reactions to that information notwithstanding, he felt the same way. Being the mature person he is, he took a couple of meetings about it and learned things like the expectation is that each meeting begins with a prayer. Led by the person calling the meeting. Him. Surprisingly, he still ultimately interviewed…walking away with the impression from the President that it wasn’t as bad as it sounded, she herself not being “that religious”. So he ended up being kind of jazzed about the opportunity.
Naturally, nothing happened.
But, the President did at least call him to explain the final decision, which was professional of her.
It reminds me that the interview process is very similar to dating. How you act could and should determine the future of any level of relationship you have with the other. Personal or professional. If someone asks you out for dinner and then doesn’t even show up or acknowledge that you did what they asked…instant jerk status, right? Why would a potential employer be any different? They place an ad asking you to apply, invite you to meet with them and then you hear nothing after?
I’m glad that wasn’t the Fox’s experience. They were slow, but at least someone reached out and thanked him for his time and effort.
What my coffee date reminded me of was that there’s pros and cons to any situation, but also ultimately that my dad is right…I shouldn’t feel like I have to take a job just to have a job.
Last October I applied for a job with Target. It was the second time I had applied for a job with them, earlier in 2015 I had applied for a Store Team Leader (just a store manager job, but look at them being all precious about it) job with them and interviewed with a great person in their corporate HR department. We discussed my flexibility about working either in Portland or Seattle and she put me forward for both markets to speak with people in the respective markets face-to-face.
And nothing happened.
Then The Broken Poet applied for a job with them. Just as a cashier, but still, he had essentially zero qualifications for the job. He had a 13 minute interview and left with a job offer.
Let me say that again: a 13 minute interview.
No reference checks.
No second interview.
Simply 13 minutes of Hot Seat questioning and then a “Please, come handle part of our $30 million in sales transactions every year, WhoeverTheHellYouAre.
He never showed up. He was busy having a melt down and fleeing the big city for the dustbowl he called home. Again.
Given their strict standards, once TBP had up and left me again, I applied for the next Store Team Leader position I saw posted…bringing us back to October of last year.
I got to speak with my buddy at Target corporate again. She’s sweet. She remembered me. Then told me she was definitely putting me forward to meet with the Portland leadership.
I emailed her two weeks later to ask if the position had been filled, because I hadn’t heard from the locals. She replied 10 days later, asking me to complete a fresh assessment, since they had changed in the month since my application was submitted.
She sent me the wrong link to the assessment.
I said she was sweet, I didn’t say she was great at her job.
I emailed her with the issue and she never replied.
Until a couple of weeks later when she called out of the blue to ask if I was still interested. Now, admittedly, my interest was waning. However, my need for a job was not, so I stifled my grumpy old man schtick and eagerly replied in the affirmative. She told me to expect the process to move quickly and to be prepared for a Portland person to reach out and set up an interview and a job shadow for the next week, with a job offer to follow shortly thereafter…not a promise of employment, just filling me in on her timeline.
A timeline that had me starting the week before Christmas in a thirty million dollar store. But I was definitely not intimidated by that prospect.
Then, wait for it…
In the middle of the second week of January I got an email from Target asking if I was interested in a job shadow two days later with an interview the following week, at 8:00 in the morning on my birthday.
So at 3:30 the day before the job shadow, I get the details and go meet a lovely, peppy and significantly overpaid for her age Store Team Lead. Thirty miles away from my home. Why would it be convenient at this point in the game? We spend a few hours together and this job returns squarely to the “Fuck yeah” list of jobs I want. It was a really good experience.
The next week – happy birthday to me – I have a phone interview with the District Team Leader (District Manager to all us unfortunate, non-Target retail slobs). It also goes great. Nice way to begin my birthday. At the end of the conversation, she tells me to expect corporate to reach out within the next two business days to set up a FaceTime with her boss and probably the VP of HR. After that, the guy who is responsible for all Target stores in the top half of the US will call me, but it will all happen quickly from this point.
See, that phrase…I just shoulda known.
Nothing happens that Friday.
At 3:00 Monday, I’m thinking about emailing my corporate contact, but decide not to.
She calls at 3:30 my time. From the Midwest.
She’s all excited. Thanking me for my patience, acknowledging the length of time I have invested in the process.
And then kicks my balls and tells me that she’s super sorry but they went with another candidate.
I soccer mom the grumpy old guy residing within, cooly and professionally “admitting” that I’m both surprised and disappointed to hear that outcome.
She digs down a little deeper with some assurances that the next opening is mine – which does sound pretty close to a promise of employment; pulling the dirt in after her by telling me that it was an internal candidate from somewhere else in the country that they were hiring.
My inner soccer mom steps aside and lets the grumpy old Christopher take a head run at her with, “Well, if the team in Portland would have been on top of their game back in October, I could already have my first Target Christmas under my belt…come to think of it, had this internal candidate even expressed interest in the position in October like I did? Because fair is fair, and I’m pretty sure that I was first. Again, if the locals could perform their jobs effectively, this internal wouldn’t have an option here.”
I feel bad, because she’s stammering and I know she feels bad, but that empathy doesn’t get me a paycheck, does it? Ultimately, since she wasn’t watching her open job requisitions or enforcing the expectation that the locals follow up on the candidates that she put forward…well, she kind of made her own pain.
I’ll bet next time she simply sends an email.
While sobbing a little inside.
I’ll also bet she doesn’t call me for the next opening. Just a hunch. But Target has crash landed itself in the list of companies that I don’t want to work for now. After my time being underemployed, I know that I want to work until I’m 70. Screw my fantasy of retiring at 50, I need to work…it gives me a purpose, not just a paycheck. Spending the next couple of decades wallowing in dysfunction without the ability to make an impact isn’t a job, it’s a sentence.
No thank you.
Going back to Applicant Trackers and Human Resources…well, whose job do you suppose it is to keep track of open job posts? Yup…HR. They’re supposed to be watching them and making sure they are opened when needed and are actually worked with urgency. Their department name pretty much predicates that they are responsible for making sure stores are staffed appropriately with managers and sales associates…the literal human resource all companies need to succeed.
Here this peppy, sweet person is letting a job post stay open for 90+ days. That’s just not acceptable.
Again, and I don’t have a job.
Nor does my coffee date friend from yesterday. At the end of the day, she decided to pass on the job and sent an email to the owner of the company honestly and professionally explaining her decision.
And I think we need more of that respectful and open communication in both corporate and every day America. Not having it has gotten us Stainless Steel kitchen appliances, which is awesome. It’s also gotten us Kardashians…which is decidedly not.