Thursday, April 15, 2010

Back to work!

Okay, when we last left off on the work history blog series we were on our way to Oregon from our brief experiment of trying to live in New Mexico again. Instead of talking about the job in this blog I am going to talk about the job interviews. I will devote a blog to the job itself tomorrow. I am thinking I have three more after this one to complete this series...yikes!

So as you can imagine the last place I wanted to work when we moved to Portland was a car dealership so I started looking for anyplace else. Played up the full charge bookkeeping and office manager aspects of my resume, down played the auto specific items and started the search. In the end it came down to two choices. One was a temporary agency, but not working as a temp, working in their office as one of their in house bookkeepers. The other job was working for an advertising agency as a full charge bookkeeper/office manager. In one week I had first and follow up interviews with each company. I am going to describe them as they happened.

First off was with the temp agency. They decided that even though I was going to be in house they would put me through the same screening tests that they do for all of their clients. Basically they wanted me to understand what they do as a company, how the system worked and to show off a little how effective they were at placement. So I had a preliminary interview with the company owner and she explained their great system and their success rate. She briefly talked about my resume and experience but really wanted to save that until after the testing. Then I proceeded to take 3 hours of psychological and skill based tests. I met again, briefly with the owner who said they would call me for my follow up interview to go over the results and how excited they would be to show me the findings and how great I would find it all to be. All told it was over four hours of testing and interviews. When Brent got home that night and asked me how it went, I had to tell him I had no idea. I had never left a job interview feeling less like I had been interviewed before.

So the next day I have an interview with the ad agency. I meet with Tracy who is currently doing the job I am being interviewed for. We sit down in the conference room at this gigantic table and I have a copy of my resume and she has a copy and I wait for a beat for her to start asking questions or talking about the job or anything. Anything at all. And nothing. So I ask if she has any questions for me. And she thinks for a second and then says..."I don't have any idea what I am doing here. You are better equipped to ask the questions than I am" So I was a little taken aback but we go. So I start asking about what accounting system they use, when she would be leaving, how much training I would get before she went. And what I found out was on one level hilarious and on the other level a little frightening. Turns out Tracy was a kick ass media director who happened to be married to the last bookkeeper that the agency had. When her husband James finished up his CPA license and went to work for a big CPA firm in town and Tracy came off of maternity leave the owner of the agency needed a bookkeeper more than a media person so he put Tracy in that position. The logic being media is just numbers, bookkeeping is just numbers and anything Tracy didn't know how to do James could teach her.

Well, yes, media is numbers but they are completely different numbers than bookkeeping. Buying a TV schedule is nothing like billing a client. Having lunch with media reps is nothing like listening to your receptionist cry because she is having a bad day and can't focus and the phones keep ringing and no one understands. Tracy was in over her head and sinking fast and she knew it. She had convinced the owner that she needed to be back in media and he needed a real bookkeeper. The ad went out in the Sunday paper and my resume was the first one on the fax Monday morning so she took it as a sign. And she decided right away that she liked me in the interview (Really still not an interview) so she was recommending me to the owner and would I like to meet him? Umm...okay...

So I am introduced to the owner and I think, now the interview will start. I go into Jack's office. Shake his hand start to say something like, "Pleased to meet you.." and he cuts me off. Tells me Tracy likes me so that's a good start, but he has no clue what I need to know to do the job, gives me a phone number to call to meet with his accountants and tells me if they like me and think I am qualified THEN he will talk to me, but doesn't want to waste his time now if I am not the right person. And I am dismissed. When Brent got home that night he asked me how it went. I had to say again that I had no idea. I told him I wasn't sure if there was something in the water but Portland job interviews were the strangest things I had ever seen.

So the next day I had an interview with the CPA firm from the advertising agency in the morning and a follow up with the temp agency in the afternoon. So I meet with the CPA that handles all of the agency monthly items. And this is a real interview. How long have I been a bookkeeper? Do I enjoy it? They checked my references and they all came back very positive. She detailed what I would be doing in my daily work and what they would need from me monthly. They handled all of the tax issues so I wouldn't have to worry about those items. They would give me the adjusting entries every month so I wouldn't have to worry about anything other than posting those either. She was pretty sure the software they used was agency specific and would be easy to learn. She asked me what I thought about Jack and I had to answer that I really didn't know yet. She said that was a great honest answer and shook my hand and I left.

Great, feeling a little more confident I head down to the temp agency for my follow up with them. And things got really weird. I walk in and the first thing that happens is the owner introduces me to the other bookkeeper in the agency who I would be working with. And he says, "Oh is this the anomaly?" Pardon me? Is this the what? Well it turns out that I am not a bookkeeper at all. That's what all of their tests showed. Psychologically I do not have the right personality to be a bookkeeper and I would be a miserable failure at it if I were to choose it as a career. BUT...and here is the part that is freaking them out, I am a bookkeeper. An excellent one, with outstanding references who also aced all of their skills tests for the job. So what are they supposed to do? I have just taken their entire belief system and trashed it. Everything they have put stock into says that I am not a bookkeeper, yet my resume, education and job experience says that I am. So what they want me to do is explain to them why I am a bookkeeper.

Seriously. They want me to justify my career choice to them. So I do. I tell them I got a practical degree that would ensure I could get a job no matter where we were transferred while Brent was in the Navy. And...and here the owner interrupts me to tell me that I am wrong, my test scores show that I should have chosen a career path in the creative arts, or public speaking NOT bookkeeping. I told her that though those would be very interesting choices and probably a lot of fun, they weren't as practical and likely to be available no matter where we lived. She again let me know that I couldn't have made the choices I did based on my psychological profile. But I did make those choices, I pointed out. And she said, well yes, she knew I had, but I shouldn't have been able to!

This went on for another hour. Them questioning every step I had taken that led me to this interview. My answers on their tests. The fact that they have never had someone skew so drastically different from what they "should be" doing to what they were doing. And they just couldn't understand how I could be successful, even though apparently I was. So after awhile we pull the interview to a close and they let me know they will be back in touch. I am thinking, oh no you won't, and I really don't want you to anyway!

As I was leaving there my cell rang and it was Jack from the ad agency wondering if I had time to come for another interview right then. Well I was already downtown and my day couldn't possibly get any weirder so why not. I go in to meet with Jack, the receptionist had to leave early that day so he actually greeted me at the elevator when I got there. Shook my hand, told me how impressed his accountants had been with me and ushered me into his office. So much different than the brusque guy I had met the day before. So his main concern was with my resume. He pointed out that I had had a lot of jobs, but had never just quit or been fired, it was always because we moved. He wanted a guarantee that if he hired me we wouldn't just turn around and move. I told him I couldn't promise much but Intel had just moved us up there and I didn't see them moving us again anytime soon. I said, I will give you two years for sure. He warned me that it would be a lot of work, a real challenge, there hadn't been a consistent bookkeeping presence in there for over a year and things would need fixed and that no one in the agency knew enough about it to be able to help me. Then he told me he was going to think about it, wanted me to think about it as well and he would get back to me.

So that night I told Brent well...the jobs are down to one I couldn't possibly be qualified for and can't possibly do successfully even though I had been for years, and one where no one would be able to help me out or even understand what I was doing and the biggest concern is that I will leave. And honestly I hadn't even gotten solid offers from either of them so I would start over again tomorrow. I was just a little rocked. It had been such an odd day. I thought it couldn't get weirder. I was wrong.

The next day the temp agency called me back in for another interview! This time they made an offer. They wanted to hire me so they could watch me do the job and try to understand how I could possibly be a success at it with my test scores. I said, you want to hire me as an experiment? The owner said, "well no..."then she said..."well sort of yes. We can see you are good at this job, but we also can see that you shouldn't be so we would like to watch you work and see what coping mechanisms you utilize to make yourself good at the job and accommodate your personality discrepancies." I remember just laughing...I think I have personality issues? Oh my...She gave me the hours, benefits, salary range and told me to think about it and get back to her on Friday. This was Thursday. I left there thinking, this is just nuts.

Friday morning comes and I am thinking, do I take the offer from the temp agency? The pay and benefits aren't bad. Do I wait to see if I hear back from the advertising agency? Seemed semi-promising when I left, but I hadn't heard from them since Wednesday. Or do I just start over again with the Sunday paper? Then the phone rang. It was Tracy from the ad agency, she was so sorry that she hadn't called me before, but her baby had gotten sick so she went home early Wednesday and wasn't in Thursday, but Jack really liked me and she really liked me and could I possibly start on Monday? The pay and benefits were fairly comparable. The temp agency paid a little more actually so there was that to weigh.

But it came down to did I want to be someone's freak show or did I want to be someone's bookkeeper? I had a chance to make a difference for the ad agency, I had a chance to be different at the temp agency. As you all know I chose the ad agency and that ended up leading me down many different career paths at a later date. But at first I was just the bookkeeper/office manager/den mother. And that is a blog for another day.

When I called the temp agency to turn down the job, the owner actually asked me if they could check in with me here and there for the next little bit to see how I was doing in my latest bookkeeping job. I politely refused. Though I do wonder now if maybe I should have listened a little more to what their testing said I should be doing, might have saved me a lot of time in the continual debate of "what do I want to be when I grow up?" But it also would have prevented me from holding my next few jobs, which would have been a real shame.

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