Thursday, May 28, 2009

Employment Drama, Part II

Part I is here.

So, there I was, in my temporary decent hours although feeling somewhat underemployed at my perfectly nice although job-posting-challenged Suburban Library System, and buckling down for at least the medium haul there since the coveted Big City Library System had announced a hiring freeze this January, when...

Big City Library System posted a job.

And not just any job. A cool, interesting, challenging, unusual job, working not at a reference desk but out and about with members of marginalized communities, especially those who might not ordinarily be inclined to come to the library. That kind of job could be really bad news if if's not well-thought-out, and/or if the Powers that Be aren't supportive and expect the moon and let librarians burn themselves out. But I didn't get that sense in this case. Just before the job was posted, in fact, I'd been to a workshop presented by members of the team doing this job, in which they'd talked candidly about the difficulties and frustrations as well as the rewards. I came out of it excited and energized and inspired and wishing like hell my job was more like that.

Then, the next week, the posting went up, an exception to the hiring freeze because this area is a high priority for the city.

I pulled out all my notes from my last debriefing and applied them: added more items to my resume; went over the posting and highlighted the important buzzwords; pounded out the most impassioned cover letter I've ever written, without even bullshitting.

The next week I got an email asking to schedule an interview for barely a week later.

I went into a flurry of preparation. I'd started a temporary once-a-week gig at BCLS for a month or so, filling in for another librarian who hadn't started yet. So the week before I had the interview, I spent some time at the end of the shift talking with the person in charge of the program, who confirmed my sense that it was well-administered, that the supervisors had a clear idea of the potential toll and issues and worries people might have about it. I left her office feeling even more sure that not only did I want this position, but I could do a good job at it.

The weekend before the interview, I spent a day putting together and practicing my assigned presentation, running questions with RW, and henna-ing my hair.

And the interview was great. I knew and liked the interviewers, and I felt prepared to answer the questions. They kept nodding and scribbling things down, and they were engaged during my presentation. The written question was on a totally unexpected topic, but once I took a few minutes to absorb it, I wrote like crazy and pulled up ideas I hadn't even known I had. I didn't come out of it feeling like I'd nailed it, but I felt like I'd done pretty well and even sort of had fun.

I didn't think I would necessarily get the job, though. Since seniority goes by hours worked at that library system and not by months worked, or by years of overall professional experience, even a new graduate who'd worked at BCLS as a student could leap right over me with the 10% seniority boost.

Which, as it turns out, is exactly what happened.

It was close enough that just a day before the "you were not the successful candidate" call, Human Resources phoned me to get information about more references, and close enough that both my interviewers went out of their way in the following week, both during the debriefing and at other times, to tell me how well I'd done and what a good addition I'd be to the library staff, and to urge me to hang in there and wait for the end of the hiring freeze, probably in the next year. HR even offered me an eight-month full-time position , which I turned down after agonizing about it for a few days, since the end of that temporary term could leave me without steady employment at all if the freeze didn't lift.

All of which was reassuring, and lovely for my ego, , but somehow I've taken this whole process harder than any of the others. Maybe because the job was so unusual and exciting, or maybe because the interview-preparation process was so particularly demanding that I got even more invested than usual. The fact that I've been working regularly at the library during the whole process, and getting to work with some of the players in a regular day-to-day way, might have something to do with it, too. Or maybe it was just that it was so very very close.

Anyway, it's not such an exciting story to anyone else: I applied for a job, I didn't get the job. But I feel almost like I did at the end of summer camp or the high school play or even a crush. It was an intimate experience. Even though I didn't talk at all about my personal life during the application process, what I said during the interview and wrote on my cover letter and in the interview written portion tapped into some of my deepest passions. I barely know them, but the people who read my application and saw my interview got to hear and know me in ways that not a lot of people do, and that was fulfilling all on its own; who doesn't want to be heard, known, appreciated?

And now, you know, that's over. The show closes, and you go back to barely saying hi to people in the halls. Camp ends, and maybe you write to a couple bunkmates every once in a while. And now that someone has been chosen for the posting, the job of the administration at BCLS is no longer, for the time being, to hear and know and appreciate me; they have lots of other work to do.

So, things go on. Eventually, the hiring freeze will lift. Eventually, I'll accumulate enough on-call hours at BCLS to have some chance of having seniority on my side, though at the rate I'm going, it will take a long time. Or maybe eventually the other finalists will blow their interviews enough that if I do really well I can beat the seniority advantage. Or someone at Suburban Library System will retire, or move, or maybe even another job will be created there, and I'll have a good chance at it. Whichever system finally does offer me a permanent job in my specialty, that's probably where I'll be for a good long while.

Today was the last of my weekly fill-in sessions at BCLS, though I'm still on their on-call list. The person who got the job started this week, so she was there, and I congratulated her, because it's the grownup thing to do, to pull it together to be warm and gracious to someone who beat you out for a job, because, you know, the professional world is small, and what else can you do? She seemed nice and smart and enthusiastic and I'm sure will do a great job. Really.

But still, I found myself unusually tired today.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Employment Drama, Part I

So. It's been an emotional couple of weeks, employment-wise. Facebook friends have already heard most of this, but just so it's all in one place, and for my own narrative satisfaction, here it is:

I have a part-time job at a Suburban Library System. It's not exactly what I want. For one thing, the hours suck. For another, it's not in the area (children's/teen svcs) that I love and am best at. And sometimes it's a bit quiet for my tastes.

But other than that, it's pretty good. The people are friendly and supportive and smart. The work is pleasant and not too hard. And, you know, it's a job. These days, a good job is nothing at which to turn up one's nose. It has benefits, and vacation, and they pay me and all. And until January, because I have a temporary appointment filling in for someone who's filling in for someone who's on maternity leave, I actually have a decent schedule rather than the crappy-shifts-no-one-else-wants hours that I will probably return to when the maternity leave posting ends.

So. That's the job I have.

Suburban Library System is pretty small, and because it's a nice place to work, people don't leave there much. There is a small number of youth lib. jobs in the system, and the librarians working in them seem quite happy and disinclined to go anywhere. Chances are, unless the Powers that Be create a brand-new position, it will be a matter of some years before I get a shot at a job I really want in Suburban Library System. I could be working my crappy-hours job there for quite a while.

So I've been applying for anything else that comes open, especially a children's or teen job. In the last year or so, I think I've applied for a dozen jobs, interviewed for most of them, and gotten two of them. Well, two-and-a-half: first the crappy-hours permanent job at SLS; then the better temporary posting I have now at SLS; and along the way I picked up an on-call substitute librarian position at Big City Library System.

Big City Library System is where, all things being equal, I would most like to work. And, until recently, it seemed like the place where I was most likely to get a job in my specialty. It has a lot of branches, a lot of staff movement, and a lot of funding for various initiatives.

As in Suburban Library System, almost all the postings at Big City Library are internal-- you have to work there already in some capacity to qualify. I applied a little over a year ago for a rare externally-posted position. I didn't get the job, but they hired me on as an on-call then, and I've been working there sporadically ever since.

In that time, I've applied for four other BCLS positions, interviewed for all of them, and gotten none of them. The rules at BCLS tilt the playing field heavily in favor of the applicant with the most seniority. Everything--resume, each interview question, the written portion (and there is always a written part of the interview, administered after the oral section)--has a certain point value, and the most senior finalist is given a 10% point advantage--a hard one to beat, considering that all the finalists are generally pretty good or they wouldn't be finalists.

Preparing for an interview for this library system is no small thing: the applicant is expected to hunt down their future supervisor and learn more about the position (unlike in most library systems, where applicants are discouraged from talking to anyone or trying to get an edge before the interview); there's always a "practical" or presentation component, which involves preparing part of a story time or other presentation, performing a portion it at the interview, and handing in an outline of the whole thing; and the questions are varied, unpredictable, and often seem to have little directly to do with the job in question. Between the unusual criteria--which screen for workplace-politics savvy and for knowledge of the system and its quirks as much as for more standard librarian skills--and the seniority advantage, it's not uncommon for librarians to interview three or four times at BCLS before landing a permanent job there, so my experience hasn't been totally out of line.

After my first failed internal application, and every subsequent one, I was offered a debriefing of the interview. This is as scary a prospect as you'd expect, but every time the debriefers have been practical, kind, and strategic in their advice, down to advising me of what buzzwords are important to refer to next time--and it's generally assumed that there will be a next time.

Back in January, I had an interview that was particlarly close, and my debriefer was very encouraging. I should definitely try again, she said, but might have to dig in and wait, as--due to the economy and the costs of preparing for an International Athletic Event in our region--the city had just imposed a hiring freeze.

So, oh, well. Such are the vagaries of public employment. I resigned myself to working Saturdays and weeding nonfiction at Suburban for the forseeable future, and trying again at Big City when the freeze lifted, probably sometime next year.

To be continued.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

MG Speaks: Three Stories

The Mermaid Girl has been talking fluently for almost seven of her almost nine years now, and for that entire time it has been like pulling the proverbial teeth to get her to spill more than a monosyllable or two about what happens during the day while she is away from us. Back when she was in preschool, sometimes her teachers would give us some good dirt, but these days we have to resort to sidling up to her friends, on playdates, and asking them what they did today, hoping they come up with a couple good nuggets of info before MG shuts them up.

Well. Today, I finally figured out how to get her to sing like a canary: Two Truths and a Lie About Your Day. We went around the table at dinner. When it was her turn, she put on her best poker face and said, "I watched TV at Rosita's, I got two new pencils at the book fair, and we had a substitute teacher." The watching TV was the lie. It was a very good one, since she knows we know that TV is the thing she usually loves most at her babysitter's.

She turns out to be extraordinarily talented at coming up with lies that sounded ordinary and likely, and weird truthful occurrences that sounded made up. And I now know more about what she did today than I know about any school day of hers in the past four years, at least. Like: She and her friend found an old rusty penny and worked on the "poison" they're developing to kill dandelions (we agreed that since it is made out of flowers and bark and dirt it is probably exempt from our town's new ban on pesticides); they had gym indoors and had to ride on weird scooters and play badminton, which she hates; her class did a reprise performance of one of their Reader's Theater plays from the Open House last night. There's even more, but I can't remember it; in fact, she insisted that we go on playing Two Truths and a Lie until RW and I begged off, insisting that we simply couldn't come up with one more thing that had happened to us today, never mind concocting more lies.

MG is just the way she is: she hates, hates, hates being coaxed or interrogated or pressed for information; but she loves the chance to trick us and make things up. I wish I'd thought of this years ago.

2. [swiped from Facebook update of a few days ago]

Me: "You just don't care about the dishwasher getting fixed because you aren't the one who washes the dishes."

MG: "I care as much about the dishwasher getting fixed as a potato cares about an onion getting sliced."

Right then. That would be a D for household responsibility, and an A for similes. I'm not sure if this says more about MG's own proclivities or the values we've transmitted to her.

Last night we rolled MG into bed early, after an eventful and meltdown-laden School Open House (two out of the three members of our family had meltdowns, in fact, so it was even more exciting than such events usually are.) Then in the middle of the night I was resting and reading and getting over myself when I heard her cry out loudly "Mama! Mama!" the Renaissance Woman, a/k/a Mama, was sound asleep, so I ran in to MG. Her eyes were closed, and she was lying down in bed, but her face was mobile and she was talking. "Mommy," she said, sounding frustrated, "I can't, I can't get the white won't...would you please just..."

"Sure," I said. "Sure I can. Don't you worry about it." I kissed her on her creased little forehead and she seemed to relax a bit. "Is it okay now?"

"Mmm-hmm." She nodded in her sleep.

"Okay. Goodnight, bun."

If only everything were so easy to fix. I wonder what she was talking about. She had no idea today, when I asked her.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

More Village: First Communion Edition

This afternoon the Mermaid Girl went out to the back yard to lean over the fence and heckle the little boys next door, as is her wont. (They have a thing going: she heckles them, they adore her, especially the older one. When I go outside without her, he's always asking me: "Where's MG? Is she coming home soon? Will she be home tomorrow? She can come over, if she wants..." it is somewhat inexplicable as she is quite bossy to them, but maybe they like that.)

Anyway, I went out to look for her so we could go out to dinner, and saw both boys outside in their yard, both looking quite spiffy in button-down shirts and ties. I complimented them on their outfits, and the older one said, "Thanks. It was my first communion today. The guests are coming over soon. This is a golf set. Want to see? Playing golf is really fun!" I congratulated him and he did a line drive onto his dad's shoes.

I rounded MG up and we left, with Chasmyn and her lovely family. "Where are you all going?" Older Next Door Kid called after us.

"To the Main Street!" I answered.

"Why?" he persisted.

"For food," I said.

"We have food!" he cajoled, but I said his guests would probably want the food, and off we went, first dropping MG off at the library to meet the Renaissance Woman, and then on to the restaurant.

After dinner, we walked back up the Main Street, and there in front of the fancy Italian restaurant up the hill was Ofelia, one of MG's school friends. I almost didn't recognize her; she looked like a flower girl, or even a bridesmaid, in a gorgeous, classy white dress and her hair all done up in ringlets. She was surrounded by friends and relatives.

The penny dropped. "Hi, Ofelia," I said. "You look so nice! Was it your first communion today?" She nodded happily, and I congratulated her, and we headed the few blocks back to my house to divide up the leftover Ethiopian food.