Always read the job description
I like applying for jobs. I love the idea that in 3-6 weeks you could be doing something completely different with a whole new group of people, hell even in a completely different country. I love the challenge of matching myself to the impossible profile (I always ask – who has this amount of experience, like ever?) and even during interviews, I get a kick from the challenge of wooing the interviewer. Just like dating really. Luckily I’m a lot more successful with interviews than with dates.
But it wasn’t always like this. As with most things in life, I got good by being really really bad first. Then slightly less bad. Then eventually.. years later.. it gets better. Two things I learned that I never forget: Always have a clear idea of what you can do, what you are willing to do, and what you’re expected to do. And always, always read the f-king job description.
My first office job
It sounded good. A holiday job during college summer term working for the courts (not washing dishes or serving pizza!) from 8-5pm. It paid my rent and enabled me to actually pay down some debt, making me less scared to pick up the phone or pray when using the ATM. I wasn’t sure what it involved and the lady had just mentioned ‘paperwork’ and some phone calls. I figured I’d be typing or filing or some nonsense. The first day I realized that the job was a doozy. Just typing up and mailing out letters to people.
Except... the letters let them know they were being evicted from their houses in 5 days. And 3 days. And tomorrow. On Tuesdays I would get to man the ‘inquiries line’ where I was asked to not provide any legal advice (like I had any?) or assure people that there was a short cut to avoiding eviction (something I was told to make me feel better about doing this, but a simple fact I was not allowed to relay). On Tuesdays I got to listen to people weeping on the phone, tales from 7 month pregnant women with 3 other kids who worked in diners and gas stations. Men who had broken parole to see their kids or whose employment was contingent on them having an actual address. I got to listen to them all day and give them no information other than to tell them to seek legal counsel. I then got to mail them their scary red eviction notices on Wednesdays through Fridays.
Lets just say I was on Paxil by the third week and I realized there are jobs you can do, but jobs you don’t need to do.
Internships in the UK are relatively rare. There are few, they pay extraordinarily well and competition is fierce. But I’m a dogged bitch and so I wasn’t surprised to hear that I’d be shortlisted for a marketing internship at Rolls Royce. I could picture it – me, walnut interiors, leather seats.. marketing a classic English luxury ? Yep.. it was going to be tough.
Except… Rolls Royce also makes aeroplane engines. Which I didn’t realize until I showed up for my day long interview. Which means that all of my knowledge, my passion for classic cars and all things automotive was pretty much useless. Within the hour I had to present to a group of 10 executives my thoughts on the history of the company, explain how a jet engine worked (this was in the days before the internet) and the key selling points of their product. I still don’t know to this day how planes even get off the ground.. so you can imagine how eloquent and informative that speech was.
But it got worse.
I also had to take tests in physics, aerodynamics and advanced math PLUS draw the interior of a jet engine. I had, at this time, been on a plane once. I knew that an engine was the thing attached to the wing, but other than it being circular… no clue?????
Lets just say my knowledge of 6 cylinder engines and walnut interiors didn’t come in very handy and I don’t think that the interior of any jet engine involves derailers or chain rings as my illustration showed. How they didn’t fall about laughing at my description of how a jet engine worked I don’t know. 24 years later I still want to die when I think of my rotational arm gestures, sound effects and I think I may have even jumped in the air at one point to illustrate lift.
Not sure I was marketing much beyond stupidity at that point.
My first adult job
In my final year at college, I was sure that I was heading into Marketing. Marketing was sexy, cool and after my 6 month internship with Unilever, I was sure I had a job locked down. When I found out the job wasn’t mine, I decided that management consulting was a good next step. It was kind of like Marketing right?. It involved ‘blagging’ about stuff, putting a good spin on things. And older gentlemen did always find me endearing. I was sure the CEO of Shell Oil would find me charming as I shared my thoughts on company strategy and marketing effectiveness. I mean, consulting was just stating the obvious wasn’t it?
On my first day, the first speaker at orientation rose and said with a laugh ‘ Now just let me check – do we have anyone in the room who thinks that they’re going to be sitting down with CEOs?’
Peals of laughter ricocheted around the room and I shrank 3 inches in my seat. What in hells name had I a signed up for if it didn’t involve boardrooms and CEOs? Flashes of my Rolls Royce interview bombarded my brain. Oh shiiiiiiit.
Turns out ‘management consulting’ is actually a whole lot of math. And computers. And coding. And more math. And logic. And sitting in basements with 100 other drones trying to make code ‘compile’ at 11pm. No CEOs in the basement. In fact no CEOs for 10 years…And at 41, I’ve still not sat down with the CEO in the boardroom and told him my thoughts on his strategy.
My entire career.. build on a misunderstanding of what I thought I would be expected to do.
But I still work in consulting and I do love what I do. Plus these days I get to look around the room during orientations to see the ‘me’ who’s just realized she won’t be sitting at a walnut table with a grey haired executive any time soon.
And there’s always one. Bless.