wherein i learn i’m unprofessional. i’m so ashamed.

this is long, but this blog is for journaling my thoughts and experiences more than for providing pithy banter for any possible readers. although the latter does occur. (well, the “banter” part at least…i’m not known for being concise.) these details are being recorded for posterity…mostly my own.
where i work, you accrue vacation constantly. but there is a maximum value, which is based on your length of time with the company. once you hit the max, the vacation time you earn just disappears and you stay at the max. i’ve had this happen several times, sometimes for several months. kind of stupid of me, but sometimes i feel like i have work to do and shouldn’t be taking time off. shrug anyway, i’ve been maxed for a while, so i took thursday off to make 8 hours’ space in ye olde vacation bank.
a few weeks ago i was contacted by a recruiter for a large bank who shall remain nameless. he got my info from monster.com, because i figure if a perfect job is looking for me it should be able to find me, even if i’m happy enough where i am. i wasn’t confident about [big bank] or the job (first, it’s a big corporate financial entity; second, it sounded more o/s intense than my current experience), but i figured i hadn’t been on an interview in years and how do you know until you try, so why not? in our phone conversations i explained my background, my current skillset, my preferred work environment, etc. the recruiter went ahead and set up the interview. not by accident, i chose thursday afternoon.
i decided i’d do as i had done when i interviewed for my current job — dress like i’d normally dress for work (since presumably i’d be coming from work). that time, i’d worn doc martens, blue jeans, and a knit polo shirt untucked. this time i wore black motorcycle boots (the only shoes i wear), blue jeans, and a cream long-sleeve pearl snap western shirt (tucked in, which i usually don’t do).
my thinking on this is that i’ve already got a job i’m comfortable with, and since i am not doing a sales job, most if not all of my interaction is with fellow employees and computers. i’ve found that computers don’t care how you dress. i’m pretty sure they don’t even mind if you’re completely naked. (fellow employees, on the other hand….) do i understand much of corporate america, like the general public, judges based on artificial and arbitrary antiquated standards? gee…ya think? but my opinion is that i should present myself as i am, and i should be judged for my skills, my communicative abilities, whether i’d fit in, etc. if that’s not how someone else sees it, so be it. i’d probably rather not be working for them anyway.

so on thursday i rode my motorcycle to their building downtown. they offered parking validation, but the place wouldn’t valet motorcycles so i had to park in a nearby garage and pay for my own parking.
i walked over and met the woman i’d gotten information from via email (not the recruiter, who was/is male). she was already meeting another interviewee at the entrance (he was wearing a nice charcoal suit with a tie), so up the elevator we went. she sat us in a couch area in a typical cubicle farm, where there was another interviewee in yet another nice charcoal suit and a tie. (he was older and looked nervous.) she explained to the guy i came up the elevator with that there were a number of openings available so he wasn’t in competition with everyone he saw, at which point i said “right, for example i’m applying for the cowboy position” and smiled and laughed. he didn’t laugh, but she did and said “you’ll probably get it because i don’t think anyone else is applying for it.” dig or not (i’m still not sure), it was a nice, funny response. a little later, three more suits showed up, two male and one female.
still having not met the recruiter i’d been talking to, they put me in a conference room and i went through three one-on-one one hour interviews. the first was a technical manager. he was intelligent and personable, and we had a good conversation. he was white, with a beard, probably early to mid 40’s, funny and articulate. the second was more of a senior technical guy. he was pretty personable, although more of a worker than an interviewer. he was white, cleanshaven, probably in his early to mid 30’s, kind of the typical generic big business tech yuppie. (and the most candid about the environment.) i discussed work environment, hours, dress code, what i was wearing, etc., with both of these guys.
the third guy…he gets his own section. i couldn’t tell if he was incredibly intelligent or was just reading stock techincal questions. he was socially awkward, that’s for sure. he was a senior manager, middle eastern i think, cleanshaven, probably in his late 40’s.
as i had pitched it during this whole process (to the recruiter in phone conversations, and to each of the interviewers), my degree is in aerospace and i transitioned to being a unix admin, then shifted to where i am now where i do a lot of application level work. that means i don’t have a comp-sci degree, or some of the knowledge you’d gain from that degree. it also means i’ve had limited experience on a hardware level, and most of it was before my current job. i’m not sure the recruiter understood or cared as he was probably just trying to get some people in to interview, but the first two interviewers seemed to understand my situation and background.
anyway…this guy sat mostly silent for several minutes while he set up his computer and tried to find some form, read my resume, etc., then opened by thoughtfully saying “it doesn’t look like you have much solaris experience.” i responded that most of the systems i work on are solaris systems, and he said “well, your resume doesn’t make that evident.” funny how everyone else understood my resume. (i think now what he meant — based on the rest of his interview — was my resume didn’t show i was heavy in o/s level experience.) he went on to ask a litany of technical questions, half of which i think i answered adequately, 25% somewhat, and 25% only a little. he appeared to be looking for very precisely worded answers though, and felt the need to reword them even when i was correct (which is part of the reason i couldn’t tell if he was techincal and very intelligent, or if he was reading questions and expecting the answers written there). but he was generally somewhat abrasive and seemed to only care about what he himself thought about something, even when we were discussing my engineering work at nasa (which he obviously had no background with, and it was my life experience).
all that to say, we got to the end and he said “well, you’re intelligent, and you think for yourself, and that’s good. but obviously your unix skills are pretty light.” he then said “now, i’m not the one making the hiring decision, but…well, i’m not making the decision.”
while i understand what he was saying (or what he should have meant to say), what he literally said was fairly offensive. and in my opinion inaccurate. i don’t claim to be a unix guru or a kernel hacker or anything near that, but my overall knowledge of and experience with unix is not just “light”. do i work with hardware and o/s level stuff on a constant enough basis that i can regurgitate on command numerous protocols, terms, concepts, options, etc., related to hardware and lower level o/s specific tasks? no. am i comfortable working with unix and figuring stuff out? yes. can and do i write perl and shell scripts? yes. can i hop onto a unix box and do almost any level of normal day-to-day work? yes. have i worked on unix systems both as a user and admin, both professionally and personally, for over seven years? yes.
anyway, done, i went back to meet my recruiter. he smiled and talked to me, but it seemed a bit superficial or something. he walked me to the elevators, and on the way he asked how the interviews had gone and what i thought about the job. i told him i still didn’t really know what exactly the job or jobs were, and that the first two interviews had gone decent enough but the third was not so good. i said the third was very technical and not very personable and the interviewer had said my unix skills were “light”.
i think at this point he just had to vent some. he said “well, i gotta be honest, you coming in dressed like that is probably going to be an issue.” i smiled and said “oh, i understand that. it’s a choice i made. but to me it’s important to be myself.” i think it annoyed him i didn’t either get riled or agree, so he said “but this is big blue. banking. you gotta do what it takes to get the offer, then you can do whatever. it wouldn’t have taken much effort to put on some khakis at least.” i said “i’d have to buy some khakis first. plus even if i put on some khakis or a suit, i’d still have a bushy beard and ear rings. i understand what you’re saying, but i just feel like i need to represent myself as honestly as i can, and not show up later and say ‘now here’s the real me.'” he said “well, when you came in it was quite the topic of conversation. and they said ‘coming in dressed like that, he’d better be d4mned good at what he does.'” i smiled and laughed. he added, “you think i like to dress like this? i’d rather wear jeans and a t-shirt.” i was afraid i was going to get the lecture about growing up and learning to compromise to get the things we want (then i’d have had to choose whether or not to use the classic immature “you sold out to the man!” retort, or maybe “hey, at least i wore a dress shirt…and i even tucked it in!”), but fortunately he didn’t go down that path. i did get the obligatory “i used to have long hair” bit though. rolling my eyes (now…i never rolled my eyes or said or behaved disrespectfully toward him in our conversation.) he said he’d explain my position when they sat around to discuss the interviewees, but it was probably going to be an issue. he also said he was telling me to help me in the future. uh…yeah. thanks for the revelation. like i haven’t figured out that whole judging and expectations thing during the last 25+ years. 😉
friday during lunch, the recruiter called and told me “well, we’ve discussed things, and they’ve decided to pass on you, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. you had low skills, and obviously your lack of professionalism was an issue. and for the record, your skillset would be a level one [his emphasis] here at our company. i’m just letting you know that so you can maybe use that as a positive in your future searches.” such a thoughtful guy. but isn’t it funny how his helpful advice seems to be presented?
anyway, i was jovial and polite on the phone, saying “yes” and “thanks” and “okay”. i didn’t put up a fight or act offended. after all, i had been myself and been honest and comfortable about the whole process, so i didn’t have anything to be uptight or sorry about. (since my “lack of professionalism” is generally confined to areas i don’t consider be a part of my profession.) i also lost nothing by them passing on me. plus he was probably just peeved because he got ribbed for being the recruiter to bring in someone like me, and he had to use passive/aggressive techniques to snipe at me a little to feel better about it all. poor guy. at least he has power and money and a name tag from [big bank] to help him feel better.
when i talked to a co-worker about the experience, he said he wanted to call them up and tell them what goobers they were for drawing such ignorant conclusions about me and my skills and making such stupid comments, but then he said on second thought the place i work should be happy [big bank] thinks that way.
so what can i take away from all of this? big corporate banks don’t have positions for cowboys.

3 comments on “wherein i learn i’m unprofessional. i’m so ashamed.”

  1. EXCELLANT!! screw the man…
    ugh, i am not looking forward to my near future.
    gotta love the pompous you must do this to get a job attitude…when you are sitting there WITH A JOB!!
    i really enjoyed your story…now back to work.

  2. Given your dress style, you are better off for not getting close to a job at a financial institution. There are few places more image-conscious than these. It’s part of their normal business practice to dress up, so I’m not surprised that they made it an issue.

  3. I too enjoyed the story and my last 3 jobs were obtained wearing the clothes or uniform of the job I currently held. More people just need to stop lying with their clothes about who they are. Just make sure you spell words correctly on your resume/application, right Raj?

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