Chasing My Tail

Last week, I sat with five total strangers in a dark classroom, taking a free adult education class on “Succeeding in Today’s Job Hunt”. Gathering what was left of my dignity, I followed along as we clicked through our personalized “Career Exploration” quiz. I tried to keep an open mind because occasionally these quizzes tell you something awesome, like which Disney Princess you are (Dory). If it gave me some winning Lotto numbers, I would also be content.

And bust my buttons, if it didn’t know me. There was nothing ambiguous about my results. I like working with other people to help them learn and grow. I enjoy teaching, giving advice (ahem), and helping and being of service to people. Also, I like positions that involve  leadership, risk taking, decision-making, and that can be done without following a set of rules.

I’ll take my tiara now, please.

“These types,” droned the heavily made-up teacher, “do not prefer cubicle jobs. They are up, on their feet, running to help someone. They are creative and innovative, and win the Lotto regularly.”

Maybe she didn’t say that last bit, but the rest is spot on.

Sitting a little bit taller in my plastic chair, we moved forward to the top ten job suggestions in our type. Eagerly, I scanned the list, looking for the magic door to my future, and found…my past.

Teachers Aid”, check.

Nanny”, check.

“Funeral Parlor Director”. Umm.

Morbid curiosity made me click the next link. It explained that, while I have the empathy, practicality, psychology and plenty of black clothing in my wardrobe, I also had to have a college degree and love the smell of formaldehyde.

For another minute, in the silence of my laboring colleagues, I saw myself in a funeral parlor, orchestrating floral arrangements, murmuring condolences, swaying a little to the soft Bach in the background. I saw myself writing obituaries that would make a gang lord weep. I watched myself lock up for the evening, toss my long black cloak over an arm, and slide behind the wheel of a chromed-up hearse. As I slow-cruised the boulevard, windows down, AC/DC blaring, I realized the hearse had hydraulics. I left the image hopping at the street corner.

After careful scrutinization of my past, I decided that – more or less – I could check this one off, as well.

“In today’s business world,” continued our fearless leader, “your interview is key to securing the job position. Here are the top five questions you want to ask during the process that will make you stand apart from the crowd.”

We watched a short Youtube video.

The suggestions were clever enough: use a bit of psychology to put your future employer on the spot in regards to the job description.

Having done a bit of hiring myself, I couldn’t stop seeing everything from the employer’s point of view. If an interviewee had asked me, “What, specifically, would it look like a year from now, that would indicate to you that I have exceeded your expectations for this position?”, my answer would be, “Specifically, you would not have been called into a closed door meeting and handed your hat.”

“Where do you see this company headed in the next three to five years?” the eager interviewee would ask, because companies with no vision may not be a good fit for you.

“I see us furthering the cause of the American dollar, with the person in this particular position sitting down and getting to work and not asking quite so many questions.”

I love the pro-active newby employee enthusiasm. You want to be a contributor. A hub. A pencil-whipper (I heard this phrase at a meeting once and fell in love with it). But most of the time, the employer just wants a cog in the wheel so things aren’t quite so lumpy as it turns.

When the video ended, I raised my hand.

I know. It explains a lot.

The other class participants had been quiet, slouching in their seats, faint perspiration appearing as we fretted over resumes and cover letters and websites and interviews.

They startled when my hand went up.

“I think what everyone forgets,” I began, “is that the interview is a two-way conversation, not an interrogation. You go in and sit down, and you’re nervous and you think you’ll forget everything you know or say the wrong thing, and maybe you will, but the person across the desk is just a worried as you are and that makes it a little easier to navigate.”

Just then, a presence appeared in the corner of our room. Completely unnoticed until now, a giant of a man rose from his seat. His frame unfolded to at least six foot six, and it was dressed in a blue suit that held his girth in check and topped by a balding head over a commanding set of eyebrows. He turned his gaze and a finger towards me and launched into a booming five minute speech in an academically intimidating accent.

Think Miranda Priestly meets Lurch.

He pontificated on my thought, adding the details that a prospective employer would worry about and the questions they wanted to ask, but couldn’t, and how very much at the mercy of the candidates they were to do the right thing for their company. He mostly talked to me, as half of the class couldn’t or wouldn’t make eye contact. My instincts were to curl into the fetal position under the desk, but it was filled with computer cables.

He introduced himself as the headmaster of the school, gave his best wishes for our job search, and left the room, audit complete.

Quickly, before anyone else could raise a hand, our teacher wrapped up the lesson and gathered her paperwork. I glanced to the student on my far left. Resuscitation is not something my job type prefers.

I left the room, chastised. I wondered two things: Specifically, where did he see his company headed in the next three to five years? Did it include our teacher, this class…maybe the cheeky student in the back row?

And also, would his coffin be grande, venti or trenta?

This can’t be happening…

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