Friday, October 5, 2012

Free Milk

I may be paraphrasing here, but recently a very dear friend (and former supervisor) of mine said to me over a glass of red wine and maybe some bourbon or mezcal, "I wish you could be as confident in romance as you are in the workplace."

I must've seemed particularly desperate in my blogs and Facebook posts to bring this on.

"I'm telling you this because I love you..."

Yeah, yeah, I know. "But I'm a lot better than I used to be..." I protested. And it's true. But romantically, I've come from such a low place of taking-what-I-can-get that even dramatic progress puts my romantic acumen way below the level of my professional success.

But I'm getting better still. I'm letting people go. I can't beg someone to love me. I can tell them to stop calling at 2 a.m. I can be alone forever, if I have to. I can still live my life, even without a partner to share it.

This conversation has been on my mind lately because I'm looking for a job, something without which I unfortunately cannot live my life. And looking for a job turns out to be much more like dating than like...working.

At work, I can redline contracts and negotiate the you-know-what out of a business partner, fight legal battles, collect amounts receivable, proofread the comps and QA the apps like nobody's business. I am in control. I know what to do. I don't question myself. But in the job search process, it's hard not to feel like you're asking to please be liked, as though hiring you would be some kind of favor to you. And when you need a job - and when you want a particular job - you have to do whatever it takes to get the job offer: be polite, dress nicely, speak softly, respond thoughtfully, ask (the right) questions, avoid sensitive topics...

But if you're not supposed to dole out free milk without some sort of relationship commitment, how can you be expected to put out during the job interview process? I mean, how much actual work can they expect you to do before you even have the job?

I say this because one week ago, I sent a letter to the hiring manager of a company I'd spent seven hours with across three interviews, stating that although I was still interested in the position, I would not provide any further proprietary documentation of my methodology or develop any new strategies without compensation, as he had requested me to do. I knew I was probably taking myself out of the running without literally withdrawing my candidacy, allowing for the slight chance that standing up for myself might earn me the respect necessary to tip the scale and secure an actual job offer. A week later without a response, I think it's reasonable to expect I'm off the list.

How much does a company have to try out the goods before they commit to it? Isn't there always a certain risk that they don't know exactly what they're getting themselves into? How much of yourself do you have to give before you get anything back?

When I'm interviewing for a job, in order to actually get the job, do I really have to do anything they ask me to do during the process, even if it means working for free?

Or can I stand up for myself, insist on being wooed, and keep some of the good stuff to myself until some kind of promise is made?

Nothing is forever. I was relocated to LA by a company that laid me off three months later. In this and several other states, unless you have a contract, you can quit a job for any reason, and you can fire someone just because you don't like them (as long as they're not pregnant, old, disabled, or of racial or ethnic minority status).

So is it too much to ask for someone to take a chance on me, to give me the opportunity to really prove myself with some sense of security that it's not all for nothing?

And in the spirit of reciprocity, don't they have something to prove to me?

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