Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 7

The longer I worked in Vivian's *new* office, the more I came to like Elizabeth. Of all the new people, she was by far the most similar to me -- even compared to the girls in my own age group. We just... clicked. Sometimes these things can't be explained.

Elizabeth lived in the same area of the city as me, and she had two children, aged 6 and 10. Now, not to toot my own horn, but I am good with kids. I love them, they love me - it just works. Vivian had seen this first hand when she brought her own children into the office. It wasn't long before she was suggesting to Elizabeth that Elizabeth might like to use me as a babysitter one or two evenings a week, you know, since we lived so near each other. Before the words were even all the way out of her mouth, Elizabeth was nodding her head in agreement. It seemed a natural progression to our working relationship.

When I told my mom later that day she was adamantly against the idea. "Jane," she said, "Obviously you're not a mom so you can't completely get this, but women are crazy about their babysitters." She tried to impress upon me that women become possessive of the babysitters that their children adore. She had seen it on the playground when she was raising my sister and me. And, if we're being completely honest, maybe she was one of the crazy women herself. Actually, forget maybe. She definitely was one.

But I had an easy solution to this problem! I would make sure Vivian knew that I still cared about her children as well as Elizabeth's. I would babysit for both of them. This was easier said than done: Elizabeth lived in the city, but Vivian lived out in the suburbs -- not nearly as convenient a commute. But still, I was willing to do it, and Vivian was eager to have me spend time with her children. I carefully arranged with her a date during the week when I would drive all the way out to the boonies and spend an afternoon looking after her kids.

And so I did. I borrowed my mom's car, plugged her address into my GPS, and drove an hour out of my way to pick her children up from school and make them dinner. Granted, I DO love spending time with children, and her children are awesome. So this wasn't necessarily the most horrendous chore in the world. In fact, Vivian's daughter reminded me a bit of myself as a preteen, and I had fun talking to her about her adorable boy problems, and friend problems, and general drama. And the rest of the afternoon was spent watching her and her brother show me tricks on their trampoline, helping with homework, and figuring out what the heck to make for dinner.

Vivian came home from her tennis lesson around 8 o'clock that night -- not late, especially for a babysitting gig, but I did still have to drive home. I let her know I should probably be getting along soon-ish, if she didn't mind. She looked at her watch and said, "Oh! Yes! Of course, we don't want you to get home too late." Then she turned to her kids, "Jillian! Ben! Did you thank Jane for visiting? Please say thank you to Jane for coming all the way out here and visiting you!" They both mumbled their "thank yous" in that 'someone else is making me do it' awkward way. I smiled encouragingly at them and then turned expectantly to Vivian.

"Well," She said, "I better go take a shower! Thank you again for visiting, Jane! Can you see yourself out?"

"What??? OH! Yes, yes of course. Anytime guys! Thanks!" I tried to sound absolutely as neutral as possible, and not at all surprised, while I grabbed my coat and made my way to my car.

Once I was seated behind the wheel, I sat still for a moment, a little stunned, and then I started laughing. What a fool I am! I had just babysat for free! FOR FREE!!! Even now, I still don't know how I could have handled that situation better. Obviously I wasn't about to say what I wanted to say: "Wait!! What about, uh... compensation for my hours of labor?" I couldn't do it just like that, to her face, in front of her kids. But. On the other hand. Oh my God! Who doesn't pay her babysitter?!

Maybe it was my own fault, I reasoned with myself as I drove home. I hadn't solidified an hourly wage with her beforehand. I hadn't been 100% clear with her that I considered this a job, and that I wouldn't normally drive an hour out of my way simply to "hang out" with children half my age.

But it was also becoming increasingly clear that, with Vivian, money was going to be a bit of an issue. After all, I HAD been, in my eyes, VERY blunt and aggressive in my attempt to get paid for my internship -- almost awkwardly so -- and yet I was still waiting on my first paycheck.

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 6

Over the course of the previous summer and my January internship, I had considered Vivian a very kind and gracious woman. She had, after all, offered me the opportunity to work for her, and then work for her again. And when I returned in the winter much less healthy than I had been, she encouraged me many times to take better care of myself. I still have on a shelf somewhere the book she gave me, called something to the effect of: "Taking Better Care of Yourself." Yes, she seemed genuinely concerned. Maternal even.

However, as time continued to pass and winter became spring, a few things happened that began to change my perception of her dramatically.

The first was something I discovered while talking to the two other girls about my age, Edith and Erica. They both had the same title as me, "Intern," but over the course of our conversation I learned that they were PAID interns, whereas I was working for free.


I decided that, since I was staying on past January, I should get paid as well. I remember fretfully attempting to compose an email, both my parents sitting over my shoulder (helicopter parenting for the WIN!), and trying to find a way to say, "I would like to be earning wages, please," that didn't sound.. pushy? Aggressive? Obnoxious and entitled? It was a fine line. Razor fine. When I had finally written something to my liking, I still had to close my eyes when I hit send. It was, for me, THE MOMENT OF TRUTH.

However, things worked out better than I could have hoped! The very next day, Vivian called me into her office and agreed that I should be paid for my time, like the other girls. Though, she said, perhaps a little less than them because they were a year older than me. Whatever! I said. That sounds reasonable!! It was all well an good as far as I was concerned. I had succeeded! I had stood up for myself and it had worked! Achievement.

It took a few more weeks (Yes. Weeks.) for me to realize that.... Yes, she had said she was willing to pay me, but somehow that hadn't materialized into actual payment. Another night of fretful email writing ensued. How do I find a way a casual and light way to say, "So... Uh........ About that payment?" Is it even possible to be casual and light about that sort of thing? I tried to make it seem like I just hadn't gotten the tax forms yet, so if I could just grab those from her the next time I was in the office, I could have them filled out in a jiffy! No problem.

When I was next in the office, Vivian wasn't there. It was one of her "work from home" days. But! There was an 1-9 and a W-4 sitting on my desk with a post-it that said to scan and send to the accountant when I was finished with them.

So... Mission accomplished! I hoped.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 5

When I arrived for the first day of my January internship, it was to a completely different office from the one I had left behind. Savannah, my friend and coworker, had left New York and returned home to Arizona. With her went the team dynamic we had cultivated, a dynamic that only once it was gone did I realize had a huge impact on how I felt about work.

Of course, there was a new girl in Savannah's place, Erica, but I would never work as well with her or like her nearly as much. In fact, there were several new people in the office. Another girl, Edith, was solely responsible for producing the PowerPoint presentations Vivian needed for her Training Programs. And, the most important new addition, Vivian had taken a bold step and hired a partner-figure, Elizabeth. Like Vivian, Elizabeth had worked as a Recruiting Director at several large, well-known law firms, and had signed on to help Vivian grow her business.

And so it was a hectic and confusing first week back as I tried to grapple with so many new people and such a different office environment. I found myself longing for the days of the summer when I had understood my place in the team. Now I felt insecure and uncertain about where, if anywhere, I belonged.

Erica managed the administrative duties: phones, calendar, email, expense reports.

Edith did the training programs and special projects.

Elizabeth worked with Vivian on business development and company strategy.

Even though Vivian had welcomed and encouraged my return, by the end of my first day I was wondering if there was anything left over for me to actually do.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, my mom was trying to convince me to take a semester off from school. After such a disastrous fall, I still wasn't completely 100% well, and my mom felt that going back to school again so quickly would further damage my still-fragile health. I brushed off her suggestions for the most part. I didn't want to postpone my college graduation; it didn't sit well with me to put it off.

But then something unexpected happened that changed my life again. On a snowy night in the middle of January, I slipped on the sidewalk and broke two of my front teeth. I cannot stress enough how traumatic this was for me. All of my previous injuries from the past few months seemed impermanent in comparison. My surgery wounds? They healed eventually. The infection went away and the rash faded. But my tooth? My tooth would never be the same.

I would also like to add, as an aside, that I have extremely large and prominent front teeth and I have always been rather fond of them. Even before I broke my teeth, I would have said that breaking a tooth topped my list of "worst possible fears." And then I broke a tooth! And as it turned out, the reality was just as bad as I'd imagined.

Ok, perhaps that last sentence is a big of an exaggeration. After all, five dental surgeries later and you would never know the difference. My dentist was so thorough that he even managed to get the slight discoloration at the bottom of my fake front teeth to match the real ones. However, the breaking of my teeth, the culmination of what can only be described as a Series of Unfortunate Events, was also, as they say, the straw that broke the camel's back. Shortly after it happened, I determined that I was not yet emotionally or physically ready to return to college. My mom was right after all. I would take a semester off from school.

After I had made my decision, I told Vivian that I would be sticking around for the following few months and would love to keep working for her, if possible. She said she would be delighted to have me stay on at the office, part time. Again I was relieved. I felt that, if I needed to take time off from finishing my college degree, at least I would be working toward a successful future.

And so the winter began thawing into spring.

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 4

After a remarkably pleasant and easy summer, the fall of 2010 was unexpectedly difficult for me. Ok, that might be an understatement. In fact, that might be an ENORMOUS understatement. I don't want to go into too much detail about it right now because that's not what this story is about, so I'll try to sum up quickly:

1. In September, my boyfriend of 3 years broke up with me (we're back together now).
2. In October, I got appendicitis and had emergency surgery (I'm only 90% sure there's no correlation between that and the break up).
3. A week or so later, one of my incisions became infected.
4. I got a prescription for antibiotics that I didn't know I was allergic to. I proceeded to get a horrible rash covering my entire body, from the shells of my ears to the palms of my hands to the soles of my feet and everywhere in between.
5. I was given a prescription for steroids, to combate the reaction, which made me absolutely hysterical. If someone so much as said "hi" to me, I would start sobbing.
6. My suite, which I shared with three other girls, got bed bugs. At this point, I was basically living in the health center so I didn't mind too terribly much, but it was still a problem.
7. My friends and suite-mates turned against me. This is probably because I became totally self-concerned over the course of my many illnesses.
8. And! In the background: more boy drama, friend drama, general college drama. SO MUCH RIDICULOUS DRAMA. It all seems just a little bit absurd in retrospect.

Honestly, I am still 150% amazed that I managed to claw my way over the finish line of that semester. My mom begged me to come home on multiple occasions. The nurse at the health center, who had become one of my BFFs, assured me I could take incompletes in my courses, I could finish at home on my own time, I should be relaxing and taking care of myself above everything else. She let me know several times that she would personally sign off on my medical leave. Please. Just go. But I ignored all of that. I was determined to get this semester done, over with, behind me. I wanted nothing more than to come home for Christmas without another worry in the world.

Also, I still had my internship to look forward to. I had cleared it with my college, which meant I would get credit for JanPlan AND be able to stay in New York City for the month of January (readers of my blog will know how much this meant to me). I just had to get through the last few weeks of school, and my path would be clear. I wasn't going to let anything get in the way of that.

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 3

The summer went by in a flash. I worked for Vivian five days a week, 9am to 5pm. I found that I didn't mind working in an office at all, though I also discovered that a lot of the work we did was relatively boring and mindless (especially compared to my academically challenging school work). But I loved my coworker, Savannah,* and as the only two people working in the office, I got to know her fairly well very quickly. We were a dynamic team. Example A: Vivian gives a lot of talks around the city (she calls them "training programs"), and we would bang out PowerPoint presentation after PowerPoint presentation like a well-oiled machine. We had a system: I did all the writing/editing, and Savannah did all the formatting/detail work. Together we were the whole package, and we had that office running like a hamster on a wheel.

Vivian herself only came in to the city three days a week. On the days that she was in the office, we would work non-stop on various projects. The phone would be ringing off the hook and people would be coming in throughout the day for interviews and meetings.

But on the days she didn't come in, the phone was usually dead silent. Savannah and I would work for a couple of hours and then chill out for many more. We would talk, go on facebook, check our personal emails. Somedays I would even bring a book -- it was that awesome.

I found myself thinking often that, if this was the real world, I could definitely handle it. I might even like it better than college.

And so the summer ended much too quickly. On my last day of work, Vivian called me into her office and thanked me for all the work I had done over the past few months. Then she, quite unexpectedly, gave me a check for $500. Given that I had signed on as an unpaid intern, I was ecstatic. I knew this meant she thought I had exceeded expectations.

At the end of our conversation, I told her that my school has a *thing* called JanPlan, a month outside of the semester system in which you take only one course, or do an internship, or go abroad for four weeks. I asked her if she would be willing to take me back, if I could come work for her again. She agreed immediately, telling me she'd love to have me intern again. I was thrilled, and somewhat relieved. I knew then that I had passed the first challenge on the path to getting a job and a career.

When I left for my senior year of college, I felt as though my future was more secure than it had ever been. I felt almost... maybe... ready to become an adult.

*Let's just get this out of the way, all the names in this story have been changed.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 2

As soon as I got home from Rachel's office, I looked up the name she had given me to contact. Vivian Warren.* I found that she had previously been the Director of Legal Recruiting at two top-ranked international law firms and that she currently owned her own recruiting agency, named after herself. This definitely sounded like a woman I needed to meet.

I composed an email that emphasized my eagerness and enthusiasm to learn more about her industry, and my hope that she would at least schedule an informational interview with me. And, ok, yes, I dropped in the name of my dad's firm and the fact that I had met Rachel. This was mostly to let her knew that I already knew something about the law firm world. Later I would learn from her only employee (who became my good friend) that that was pretty much the sole reason she arranged to meet with me......... Score!

Unfortunately for me, I had decided that law firm recruiting was my life calling at about EXACTLY the same moment that the economy took a turn for the very bad. I was angling to get an internship in the summer of 2010, which was one year after almost every law firm in the city stopped hiring anyone. Anyone at all. Summer classes at the biggest and best known firms went from about 70 people to about 10 people. Recruiting departments were cut in half. No one would even consider taking on an intern, they were all too busy watching their own backs. And that's even though I was willing to work for free!

During a winter break from college, I met with Vivian and she let me know how bad the industry currently was. She told me it was unlikely that an opportunity in an actual law firm would open up at all. BUT! She did mention that SHE might be willing to take me on, out of the goodness of her enormous heart. When I left her office that day, I held onto the dream that she would let me intern for her that summer. That afternoon, I composed a long and thoughtful thank you email that I hoped would secure my place in her heart.

I was in my college dorm room when she called to let me know that she had decided to offer me an internship. My excitement was palpable, even over the phone. I remember how effusive and enthusiastic I was: "This is so amazing! Thank you, thank you!!! I can't wait! Thank you so much! I am so happy!!"

I was determined that I would do the best job possible, be the most amazing intern ever, and leave her office with a gold plated reference.

Four months later, I would officially join her team as Summer Intern Extraordinaire.

*Name also changed.

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 1

I know, I've been gone for a very long time. But my absence can be explained! You see, I have been in such an advanced state of anxiety for the entire month of February that I have barely been able to function, let alone compose anything remotely entertaining.

Job hunting. Is. The worst. It's just, it's truly the pits. It's the pits of an enormous and extremely sweaty giant. And that's where I've been sitting for the past twenty four days.

But then suddenly, this past Friday, my life changed and changed again. I got an offer for a job. And not just any offer for any job -- I got an offer for the job I've wanted for the past four years. The job I was actually supposed to get almost exactly a year ago. The job of my dreams.

Where does this story even start? I guess technically it begins with a party my family hosted the summer after my sophomore year in college. Ancient history, I know. But in order to get to the end of this story in a way that is utterly satisfactory, I feel that we must begin all the way at the very, very, very beginning.

My dad is a lawyer at a big law firm in New York, and the long-ago-party in question happened to be for the summer associates at his firm. I love those parties -- they are all about meeting new and interesting people and eating good food. After 23 years of being me, if there is one thing I know for sure about myself it is this: I am an extrovert. Also, I love food. So I guess I know two things for sure about myself.

Anyway, I was at this party, meeting the people, eating the food, and all of the sudden my mom grabs my arm, saying, "There's someone you have to meet!" And she pulls me across the room to meet a girl, a few years older than me, very pretty, and she says, "This is Rachel,* the legal recruiting assistant at the law firm! She was just telling me about her job and I seriously think it would be perfect for you!" I turned to Rachel and said, "uh.. cool! Ok! So... what do you do?"

Legal Recruiting Assistant. I had never even heard of such a thing. But once I learned about it, I knew I had to do it. Not only do they get to plan events and a summer program, but they do campus recruiting, branding, career development. They plan the strategy for how many offers you give out to get the right number of associates; they figure out how to market the firm so that it stands out from all the others; and all the while, a core part of their job is meeting a lot of people and encouraging them to pick their particular firm. That part, at least, I knew I could do.

I met Rachel at her office the following week for my first ever "informational interview." She was extremely friendly and approachable -- not surprising, really, as I think you have to be to be a recruiter. When I spoke with her, she mentioned that she also had not known anything about the Legal Recruiting industry before she fell into it. During her job search she had met with a number of external recruiting agencies, and one in particular which specialized in law firm positions. "If you are really interested in pursuing this field," she said, "you should definitely contact this woman." She wrote a name down on her card, "she helped me get this job and I'm sure she could help you find an internship or something for next summer." I thanked Rachel profusely and determined that I would reach out to her contact later that same day. I was on a mission.

I left her office feeling as though I had struck gold.

*Name changed

Friday, February 1, 2013

Things that really happened

I have been interviewing for new jobs a lot recently. I know I play it up on this here blog like pretty much all I do is lie around reading Harry Potter and painting my fingernails. But to be honest, I only spend about 80% of my time reading Harry Potter and 2% of my time painting my finger nails. The other 18% of my time is spend job hunting and interviewing. What did you take me for, a slacker!?

So, recently, I was invited to interview for a recruiting position at a very formal and fancy law firm in New York. The firm in question has an excellent reputation, full of prestige and grandeur -- very snooty patooty, as they say. Naturally, I was anxious to impress.

On the day in question, I arrived, early, in a reception area full of dark wood paneling and stuffy arm chairs, all facing expansive windows with a clear view of the Statue of Liberty. It was just the littlest bit intimidating.

In true interview form, I was wearing a full suit, a button down shirt, and a jacket (it is winter after all). Just before I sat down in a stuffy arm chair, the receptionist indicated a coat closet off to the side where I could hang my jacket -- which was a very business-y black wool. I did so, because I knew right off the bat that this interview was expected to take hours and hours and I didn't want to be hot. There would be tests -- Excel, Word, grammar. There would be a structured interview with HR. And, after all that, there would be a meeting with the Recruiting Manager. Hanging up my coat was practically necessary.

Then I had the tests, which I had prepared for in advance (over-achieving for the win!), the structured interview, which was pure torture and probably my weakest event ("What are your greatest strengths? What are your greatest weaknesses? How do you overcome a challenge?" Blah blah blah barf), and finally a meeting with the Recruiting Manager, which was a more casual conversation that, I hoped, went well. All in all, I was there for almost 3 hours.

Afterwards, I walked back to reception in a daze, my brain starting to crumble under the strain it had just endured. I walked, practically cross-eyed, to the coat room, grabbed my black-wool coat, paused at reception awkwardly before realizing that I had nothing to say to them, waved good bye, and got in the elevator to head home.

Thankfully, the 2/3, which is my (most favorite in the world) subway line, comes directly into the office building of the law firm. I made my winding way down the stairs, still frazzled, and finally arrived at the platform edge to wait for my train. I absentmindedly put my hand in my coat pocket and it was then I noticed for the first time that --

-- wait. These pockets feel nothing like my pockets.

Hang on, I don't have a hat, what is this hat doing here in this pocket?

Wait. Hang on. Hang on a second.

This isn't my coat.

And now that you mention it, Brain, it feels nothing like my coat. It is way to big and sitting awkwardly on my shoulders. How could I possibly not have noticed before?

I felt panic grip me as the realization struck. What if I had gotten on that train? I don't even like to think about it. What if someone noticed that their coat was missing? I couldn't let that happen. I had to get back upstairs as quickly as possible.

I raced and raced back through the windy subway maze to the lobby of the building, pausing impatiently to re-announce myself at the security desk ("ALL VISITORS MUST BE ANNOUNCED!!!!"). "I TOOK THE WRONG COAT AND I JUST NEED TO GET UPSTAIRS AND EXCHANGE IT!" I practically screamed at the guy standing behind the desk. He just stared at me blankly and, with about as much urgency as a turtle, printed another visitor's pass.

The receptionist was just a little surprised to see me when I practically fell through the glass doors of reception and announced, "THERE'S BEEN A TERRIBLE MISTAKE."

I stumbled towards her, "I took the wrong coat by accident, can you even believe this?!" Thankfully, she started laughing and assured me that no one had come in to claim that particular coat while I was gone. So, phew, it could have been worse! Maybe I would yet manage to survive this with some of my dignity intact.

In the coat closet, I found my coat almost immediately. It was carefully lined up with all the other black-wool coats that apparently everyone in the office had decided to wear that day. But still, I double checked the label at least fifteen times. I needed to be very, very sure. I couldn't make that mistake again.

When I left for the second time the receptionist was still laughing at me.

I'm gonna go ahead and say that I'm pretty sure I didn't get that job.

But I'm OK with it.