The Pressure in The Haystack

©2019, MJ Ostrander

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For any astrology aficionados out there, I’m an Aries.  We’re supposed to crave undying attention.  Friends would tell you I’m a human disco ball, a living breathing neon sign that says It’s All About Me.  To be sure, I’m not shy.  But I’m not comfortable with the feeling that every word I say, every movement I make is under scrutiny.  I’ve seen videos of myself and there I am, babbling away with the ease of a Broadway sensation.  It’s mostly a carefully practiced act.  Beneath the veneer, I can’t wait to get home, get out of the downtown clothes and makeup and curl up with a book.  Myers-Briggs would have a field day with me.

Interviews have often been worst-case scenario for the introverted me.   They take an odious toll, all that subjective assessment.  I have been known to blame the audience.  They cramp my style right out of the box with “Tell us about yourself.”  They ask me questions that seem to border on lunacy.  My greatest weakness?  Strength?  Tell us about a time you had an issue with a co-worker and how did you resolve it?  Are you a team player? How do I deal with stress?  What would you do if you were cornered by a gorilla?  There go my moorings and mains’l.  My witty repartee dissolves and I want to boogie the hell out of the room.  I feel that at any moment I will rise from my chair, lean into the interviewer’s face and go way off script.  “I don’t fucking know the answer!  I can’t even breathe, and you expect me to have answers?”

The pressure can be heavy.  If you have a loathing of being judged, interviews can feel deeply personal.  They’re not.  Some interviews are piercing and rapid-fire with good reason.  There are positions that require you deal with anger, grief, or relating detailed information quickly and accurately to save another’s life.  Sometimes it’s just an inexplicable, meaningless penchant on the employer’s part.  Be as choosy as you can afford to be before accepting an offer that is not right for you.  I have grabbed at offers which were unsuitable for me which only proved detrimental to my psychological happy place. 

Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.  The next time you self-sabotage like a pro, pick up a notebook at the same time you purchase that comfort bag of mini donuts on the way home.  There are many reasons a conversation can turn sour, but if you’re pretty sure it was you and not them, there are things you can try the next time you’re put on the rack.

In my bot-like travels across the netiverse I’ve come across information ranging from the great to the absurd.  The best advice has been about preparation.  Grab that notebook I mentioned and visit the company’s website.  I jot down the year the place was born, whether it’s a local, regional, national or international concern.  If the site gives a bio on the CEO, scribble down his or her name, key elements of his or her mission statement for the organization, and one or two other tidbits that prove you’ve done some homework. 

I peruse not only employee reviews but customer evaluations.  I throw out the best and the worst.  This is important.  Before accepting any offer, I want to be as confident as possible that a given company treats its employees and its customers fairly and professionally.  It’s essential for me to know how I am likely to be treated post-hire and how they stand up against competitors. 

Then I turn to those panic button questions I find the most challenging and literally write down my answers.  Practice interviewing does not work for me, but cheat sheets do.  When I was in school, I discovered last minute cramming for an exam served me best, and I’ve integrated this into my preparation, studying my notes before I leave for my appointment and once again before I enter the arena.

Creating a list of relevant questions to ask the interviewer is paramount.  I would not and should not expect a call back if I show no interest in the company or the desired situation.  I also use a subtle form of reverse psychology.  I pretend to be on the other side of the desk and ask myself what I’d need to hear from an applicant to move them to the next round.  This carries some obvious risk, but if all I accomplish is staying in the moment and feeling I have just a bit more control, it stands to reason I will fare better.  There are no guarantees, but I view preparation as a best bet. 

I have written this series to help the older job seeker overcome the common pitfalls in the struggle against ageism.  However, the realities for all of us are sometimes harsh.  If you are one of the many hard-working, highly experienced and dedicated senior candidates that will receive offers of employment in the new year, be prepared for the offer to be much less than your previous job salary in the same or similar capacity.  I recently viewed an opportunity on one of the many sites for people over forty years old.  The position was for a legal administrative assistant with at least ten years of experience.  I viewed three job search sites for the prevailing wage in the state I live.  Salaries for persons with a decade of same/similar experience ranged from $40,000.00 to $75,000.00 per year.  The ad I saw was offering $12.75 per hour or $24,480.00 per year.  Depending on your age and whether you currently receive Social Security benefits, this may not be a bad thing.  But if you’re too old to rock and roll, but too young to die, this is yet another blatant example of age and wage discrimination.

Be prepared to report to supervisors, managers and executives that are much younger than yourself.  One of the fears in otherwise age discrimination-free organizations is that we can’t take direction from the youngin’s.  While I think that kind of behavior is a natural tendency in tribal elders, we must curb that urge whenever it arises.  In doing so we will teach those younger than ourselves that we are there to work hard, learn new skills and grow professionally versus making their lives more stressful.  Take a reasonable amount of condescension from twenty-somethings with a grain of salt and a secret smile.  At the end of the day, your cell phone battery will still be at one hundred percent and you’ll quite possibly be the person in your department not reliving eight hours of drama.

Next month I will be interviewing for a full-time position.  My skillset and experience are nearly verbatim for the employer’s needs.  If I am the successful contender, I may be able to work to full retirement age and beyond.  But if I am not, I plan on applying for Social Security at sixty-two.  I will rewire job search for part-time only, work hard at helping to develop this blog and produce new art.  Whatever the outcome, I believe it’s the best plan I can make.

I wish everyone good fortune in a world which too often discards us as irrelevant, wrongfully designs hiring practices which are geared for us to lose and gravely pursues a mindset that age equals lack of competence and the inability to learn and grow.

But we know better, don’t we?

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