Sunday, February 7, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For, 'Cause You Just Might Get It

I work a 40-hour-a-week job at Target. Target is not a bad company. And my job is not a bad job. The hours suck (I wake up at 3:20am to get to work at 4) and it's physically demanding (lifting, bending, TONS of walking, reaching, carrying, pushing, etc), but the pay is quite good for retail and the people I work with are good friends. I like the fact that I can leave my job behind me at the end of the day. I like the fact that I can dye my hair purple on a whim and not get fired or penalized for it (Target celebrates diversity, and allows its employees to express themselves through odd hair color, piercings, tattoos, etc - as long as they aren't offensive or obscene). I like the fact that I can ask off, and as long as I give them two weeks' notice I'm pretty much guaranteed to get the time off. I like the fact that my bosses are willing to be flexible with me when it comes to doctor's appointments or scheduling around classes for school. I like not having to think what I'll wear to work (red and khaki - boring as all get out - but mindless, which is what I need at that time of the morning). These are all good things.

But I wish I had a different job.

Like I said before, getting up at 3am SUCKS. And worse, feeling at the end of the day like someone spent the last eight hours beating your body with iron rods isn't so grand either. I'm tired of being so tired all the time that my brain doesn't function at normal capacity. I'm tired of hobbling instead of walking, of aching muscles and throbbing feet. I wish I had a job at a desk, where I could do something on a computer, or call people on the phone, or file stuff, or make copies. I'd even make someone's coffee or pick up their lunch for them. Just something else, something different.

It was that thought that led me to perusing online for job postings. Craigslist was barren of any good news, as always. But when I went to my county's webpage and looked at postings for government jobs, one caught my eye: a posting for a library assistant, whose duties would include acting as kind of a floater, but would primarily focus on programming for the children's department.

I thought: This is it. This is my ticket out of Target. I filled out an application and crossed my fingers that I'd get the job.

Fast forward a few days, and I'm emailed by the library director to set up a time for an interview. I dress nice for the interview, though with my ankle still in a bulky brace I'm forced to wear a pair of flats rather than some dressier shoes I might have opted for. I go in, and things seem to be going well. I'm interviewed simultaneously by the branch manager (who would be my direct boss) and the children's department coordinator for the whole library system. The children's department coordinator (CDC) is probably a few years older than I am, but she looks about twelve years old in the business suit she's wearing - like a toddler wearing mom's high heels. The branch manager (BM) is a middle-aged woman with a harsh voice, a soccer mom haircut, and brightly-colored blazer with a pattern that looks like a fusion between a geometry lesson and a poorly-recreated piece of African art.

The interview goes amazingly well. I impress them with exercises in which they ask me to select books for certain age groups of kids. I whiz through computer tests. I gush about the Helping Haiti Heal fundraiser when they ask me about things I like to do in my spare time, and my enthusiasm is so infectious I swear the CDC plans on looking the whole thing up and possibly donating. Though I lack library experience, they seem to like the fact that my work with daycare and summer camp gives me experience with kids, while my time at Borders and the few classes I've taken in grad school show an understanding of what some of the basic functions of libraries are. This is going well. This is going really well. In fact, at one point in the interview I catch BM giving CDC a sideways glance and going, "I like her," in a stage whisper.

But what's that they say about things that seem too good to be true? Oh yeah. That they usually are.

One of my "tests" involves me going out into the actual library and organizing some books in order and reshelving them in the proper sections. When I come back into the room and sit down, BM suddenly launches into the following speech:

"We like you. We have to interview a few other people, but we really like you. But you're young, and you have to understand that people won't take you seriously. So I'm going to say this unofficially, but I think you should really bear it in mind: the dress policy for our library is business casual, but if we hire you I'm going to hold you to a much higher standard. I'm going to require you to wear more formal business attire, because parents need to have confidence that you know what you're doing, and because you're so young you really don't look like you do. I'm telling you this for your own good. You do understand that, don't you?"

I nod, but inside I'm thinking Whaaaaat!?

And she finishes by saying, "Oh, and your shoes are unacceptable. Totally, totally a horrible choice for an interview. You really shouldn't have worn them." When I lift my pant leg to show the bulky brace and say it wouldn't fit in any of my dressier shoes, she gives a gruff, "Well, you've got an excuse, at least." They shake my hand and I flash a fake smile, my stomach already turning sour as I walk toward the door to leave.

The next day after work I get a phone call telling me I have the job. But suddenly, I'm not so keen on it anymore...

So here's what it comes down to: The job I currently have? Wearying, not very rewarding, safe, unchallenging. But it's 40 hours a week, decent pay, nice people, friendly and flexible atmosphere. The job I thought I was dying to have? It's 15 hours a week at slightly higher pay (even so, I'd get nowhere near the same paycheck). Hours and days off are inflexible. And I'm guessing purple hair doesn't fall under "formal business attire."

Am I a fool to be upset by her closing remarks? I understand that what she's saying may be perfectly true, though I found that people at Borders who underestimated me in my jeans and T-shirt were quickly silenced by my knowledge of the books, authors, and subject areas they were interested in learning more about. The problem wasn't actually her remarks so much as the way she said it. It came out sounding very much like discrimination against me because I was young, and discrimination due to age - any age - is just wrong. Period.

When she called on Friday, I was flustered. Between sleep and work, I'd had literally two hours of wakeful life to even process what had happened at the interview. When she offered the job I just accepted out of shock. But they can't make anything official until I fill out paperwork on Monday. Instead of signing papers, I'm planning on calling them and telling them I decline.

I appreciate them taking a chance on an inexperienced young graduate student, but I don't like being discriminated against.

And besides, those shoes I wore? I really like them. So she can just take her opinion and shove it.

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