Whistle while we work…or hum

We’ve finally crossed over from the ridiculous to the sublime. I miss those days of yore when deadlines used to go hand in hand with deliverables. Now deadlines loom ominously over a weekend and threaten equanimity while we wonder what the deliverables are.

There’s uncertainty about when the break came, crept up like most things in life. Like a Pavlovian schedule where the dog starts salivating merely at the sound of a bell we are now required to scroll down and across a spreadsheet and back again with an earth-shattering intensity; it isn’t important enough for anyone to enlighten us about the mysterious thing that is due on a certain date, all we need know is that ‘a’ thing is due, that we might be working nights, days, dusks and dawns since the time crunch is IMMENSE.

The immensity of the time crunch will no doubt prompt required inanities from boss to subordinate and will sound like, “How is it coming?” A question that may be answered with a naively sarcastic “How’s what coming?” leading inevitably to a situation tantamount to an escort out the front door, coffee mugs, shoes, jackets and miscellaneously expropriated goodies stuffed in a little brown box…

…It’s conceivable…or perhaps avoidable with a stoic approach to spreadsheet scrolling and trawling to the accompaniment of the slave song a certain six year old insists we hum as we do her bidding around the house.

Bring it on, je suis prêt!

Coming Up for Air

Last week I worked like a maniac. I have never spent so many hours on the job. I was working round the clock and every milestone I thought I achieved ended up being a mirage, an illusion. The powers that be changed their minds constantly and the work I was doing appeared to possess a built in obsolescence. I didn’t see how I would ever get ahead and I was seriously questioning my decisions and the choices that have led me here.

Reading this, one might notice the past tense. My near and dear ones, those who are sympathetic to me or have missed me while I had my head buried in the sand would be relieved at the use of the past tense in this writing. But it’s the optimist in me that has chosen to relate it in this manner.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I am trying hard to believe it won’t be more of the same. I am hoping a prickly sensation won’t spread underneath my skin at the sound of a word like “scenario”. I have to tell myself it is just work, nothing more, nothing less and it shouldn’t under any circumstances suck the joy out of life…like a dementor!

An Interview: The Other Side

He arrived wearing an ill-fitting suit, sweating profusely. He forced himself to smile and the handshake was just short of being firm.

I led him into the conference room and asked him to take a seat. He managed to squeeze his considerable bulk in the chair I indicated and smiled as he mopped his brow. I asked if I could get him a glass of water but he said he was fine.

I had an HTML version of his resume in front of me and asked if he had a clean MS Word formatted version of the same. But he couldn’t have given it to me if he tried, he had arrived empty handed. And my request for it made him even more ill at ease.

I tried to allay his fears and gave him my business card asking that he send me one as soon as he got home. Then I asked him to talk to me about his work experience. He started his story from the time he was a desk clerk at a major national newspaper, seventeen years ago, and ended with the senior manager position from which he was downsized seven months ago. He was extremely proud of his accomplishments and even grew misty-eyed as he spoke with pride of the increasing levels of responsibilities with which he was entrusted over the years. Several awards, rewards and certificates later he had been told that the company no longer required his services.

Nothing in his experience was commensurate with the kind of job I expected my ideal candidate to be able to do. I searched long and hard for similarities but was hard-pressed to find any, especially since he had already stated that he wasn’t a “numbers” person and the person I needed had to be able to write MS Excel macros in his or her sleep.

So I decided to tell him about the company, the job, the prerequisites and then asked him if it sounded like something he could do. This sympathetic question, however, served as a trigger for a catharsis of sorts. He told me,

“Look, I’ll do anything! I am a quick learner. I haven’t done any of what you described but I am confident I can do it. I have been job-hunting for seven months now, there is nothing out there for me. This newspaper was the only employer I had ever known. I never thought they would discard me in this manner. But I am certain I can do this job. I’ll need training, but please, I can do it!” Desperate promises, heart-rending in their intensity.

My heart went out to him. I wanted to say, “Here, the job is yours! I’ll train you. You’ll do well, I am sure!”

I had been in a similar situation myself, my unemployment had lasted six weeks and I was hired back by my former employer. But those six weeks had made me feel like I had entered the bowels off hell. I had lost my sense of purpose, my self-esteem and my sense of self-worth. I must have appeared like desperation and anxiety personified, it surely must have overshadowed every other personable trait I had. Sweating, yes. I remembered sweating, the fine beads forming on my skin inside the formal interview jacket I wore, could they smell it? No I couldn’t smell it on him it was masked by an overpowering cologne.

But I couldn’t as an employer, do what my heart told me to do. I couldn’t hire someone who didn’t know the job, who would be “grateful” for the opportunity. I don’t know how long gratefulness lasts and try as I may, I couldn’t ignore the fact that he was downsized by his former employer, why him?

I asked him if he had any questions for me and instead of asking about the job, the company, the structure, he asked me about the salary, the benefits and the vacation schedule! Exactly the things one cannot ask at a first interview. Clearly, he had no experience interviewing. His former employer had rendered him unemployed and unemployable.

I bade him farewell with a promise to call after we had interviewed other candidates. I returned to my desk, feeling awful, breathing in the traces of desperation and hopelessness, intermingled with that cologne, that his handshake had left on my fingertips.

Holidays? Well this is the holiday season and I met him again at a publishing industry get together. He was nursing his beer in a corner of the room, many of us had skirted around him after a quick nod of greeting. I couldn’t even bring myself to do that.


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