Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Now, Take My Job... Please!

Today, I started my new job. Not my new job, really - it's my NEW new job. Not my old new job. That one ended abruptly when ("we love your work, babe") they ran ("been great having you here") out of ("we just don't have any more big") projects. Fortunately, I am resourceful: I jump-started the job hunt I'd shut down a couple of months ago in order to take my old new job and landed a series of interviews. And today, I went to work. Yay.

In an earlier post, I likened job hunting to dating. If there's any accuracy in the analogy, it stands to reason that taking the job is like getting married. As it happens, I think that's not too far off. All of the acrobatics you perform in the interview process to find out exactly what you might be getting yourself into seem never to be enough. No matter how many different people you talk to, you just can't fully tease out the political environment or the working conditions. For my line of work, they usually bring in some other worker bee who will be one of my co-workers if I end up taking the job, and I always (naively) try to find out how they like working there. Naturally, I can't ask that precise question in those exact words, because we're invariably sitting at a table with their boss. Instead, I make steady eye contact and ask them something about their "typical work day" or some other vague question, all the while telegraphing through my facial expressions and subtle eye movements that it's okay, they can drop the hints about what it's really like. I won't tell anyone, I promise. I'm not a spy. I'm one of them. I look for the signs that they're about to crack under the pressure of keeping a positive facade: is that a genuine smile? Or have they had the sides of their mouth pinned back like the Joker to make me believe that they're happy there? But I can never quite tell.

Lately, I've just taken a more blunt approach, asking about things like work hours and flexibility. I explain that I'm a single mother, and that I don't want to take a position in which I would disappoint them or myself if I can't meet the (ridiculous) expectations. (Is it a bad sign that people are storing rolled-up sleeping bags under their desks?) I'm not trying to avoid working. It's just that my children don't actually live at their school, contrary to what it seems.

This was how I handled the interview for the job I started today. In spite of all that, I was rather surprised by the not-so-subtle indicators I encountered throughout the day that this wasn't exactly an ideal place to be. The word "micromanage" came up more than once today. This was on the heels of a meeting in which a weary systems administrator explained our new procedure for checking in our code (okay, now you know that I'm a programmer) in a way that will hopefully avoid breaking everything while we're hastily dealing with emergencies. I also found out that there's an honest-to-goodness time clock in the office (which allowed them to track everyone who stayed until 8:00 last Friday to release a last-minute enhancement). So much for flexibility. Incidentally, the clock sits on one of the desks of the two company owners who sit facing the developers who are all lined up against the wall, like some kind of reverse firing squad. When I interviewed, there was a lot of talk about how "exciting" things were at the start-up. In reality, I'm beginning to think the sentiment is much less like "Hooray! How exciting!" and more like what you feel just before you're hit by a semi or when your hair is on fire.

At this point, I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude. On the one hand, I'm happy to have a job. As long as they're paying me, it pays good money. (Let me say that I'm not at all confident that I won't show up, one morning, to a vacated office.) Like marriage, there are some nice perks. Unfortunately, it's also like marriage in that I've already experienced that "Are you really the same person(s) I interviewed before committing to this?" feeling. "Did I really agree to live here? And with you?" Most jobs I've had at least had a honeymoon phase. This one appears to lack that feature. On the bright side, there are no rose-colored glasses to get in the way of seeing things for what they really are. Plus, it's all uphill from here, right? Right? (You don't sound very convincing.)

I'd better hit the sack. I need to get up and go to my new new job, assuming it's still there. I do think I want an open relationship, to date other jobs. Maybe I can trade jobs with someone else, from time to time, like job swinging. (An all-new way of managing human resources, perhaps?) It's not like I want to be promiscuous, but I have needs, right? I'm definitely not so sure this was a good choice (also like my marriage). Probably a good thing I didn't sign a prenup.

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