Into the Den of Inequity

Retracing your employment history can be an emboldening exercise–reminding you of where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished, and all of the experiences that have brought you to this moment.

A moment that quickly devolves into you defending your rationale for wanting Job X, and why you really don’t care that you have an advanced degree, because, well, the economy has been in the shitter and you’d just like a paycheck, please.

Eyebrows raise.

Uncomfortable, stilted chuckles punctuate the awkward silences.

But you keep smiling, if for no other reason than to prevent yourself from screaming and throwing the tragically upholstered chair you’re sitting in out the window.

After all, it’s not the chair’s fault.

You knew this was going to happen.

***

We’ve all experienced Battered Employee Syndrome–the sense that a work experience or situation isn’t the fault of our crazed employer, but our own.

We apologize.

Run back.

Hide the emotional damage they’ve wrought with plenty of smiles and “yes, your right”‘s.

Sometimes, though, we need an intervention. Like the one I had several years ago at the dismal conclusion of my graduate school experience.

And yet, yesterday I found myself walking onto an academic institution’s campus, feeling that same sense of dread creeping up inside me, crushing the breath out of me like ten cats eating the face off of their dying cat lady owner.

But as I waited outside prior to my interview, I chided myself.

They’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. It’s nothing like Chapel Hill. That was four years ago! Snap out of it, already! Plus, this is on the other side of the fucking country!

Deep down, I knew better.

Because, as much as I hate making gross generalizations, there’s always been a thematic thread stitching together every academic institution that’s become a part of my personal history.

And that lone thread makes the whole sweater itchy and uncomfortable and stifling.

***

I put on my best poker face, walk through the door, and immediately feel uneasy. And not just because I have to ask a David Bowie doppelganger for directions while navigating through the labyrinthine auditorium to the office.

Soon enough, I’m in the lioness’s den. And her cubs pull and tug and twist my resume and experiences as much as they can–tenderizing everything before she goes for the jugular.

Still, as I sit there bleeding out like a disfigured antelope, I defend her–try to rationalize away her repeated bites. Which keep coming as my head spins.

“So, I mean, you know this isn’t, like, an education role. You’ll be doing really low-level stuff.”

She motions toward the administrative assistant at her desk.

“I understand the role and its components, and I’m fully prepared to take it on, regardless of the level of work required.”

“But, you have an advanced degree. And why in Anthropology?”

Hon, I ask myself that every single day.

“Well, I believe the positions I’ve held, whether in a volunteer or employed capacity, are thematically tied through public interfacing and outreach. Connecting with people and facilitating their needs through a variety of channels. And I believe, taken collectively, my experiences align with the skills required to perform the tripartite functions of this role.”

A quizzical, dismissive look and wry smile.

“I see.”

I long for a vodka cran.

***

One more interview later, I’m confined to a cubicle-like office to complete a few “exercises” to test my abilities. I look from the computer screen to the stack of exercise prompts, then my watch.

I’ve been here for two hours. I’ve interviewed with five people. And now I have four multi-component exercises to complete by 6:30 PM? Girl, please.

And I stare at the prompts, flummoxed. While I’m perfectly capable of learning Excel formulas in a short amount of time, I certainly don’t have them filed away in rote memory. The same can be said for performing some convoluted mail-merge exercise.

I try to open the Internet to search for the “how-to” functions, but access is routed through the institution’s portal.

Foiled!

So I complete the most difficult tasks–the ones that I feel speak more to my web-based capabilities than Excel functions that I can glean from an Excel for Dummies book.

Straighten my coat and tie. Get up. And let her know I’m done.

“Alright. You should be getting a call from me by the end of next week.”

I smile.

Shake hands.

And want to scream.

***

After Andy reassures me that I’m not nuts, that the process as I relayed it to him was really bizarre and not transparent, I hang up and drive home.

But all I can think about is the whole process.

How completely unprepared most of the interviewers were with their questions.

The accusatory tones of the senior staff’s fragmented questions.

The holier-than-thou academia-laden drivel they used to try and veil their social ineptitude.

And the kicker, from the lioness herself: “Well, your experiences are sort of all over the place. So what makes you think you are a good fit for this position?”

Y’all. The lioness poked the bear.

Because some of us haven’t been able to retreat within the confining walls of academia our entire professional lives. We haven’t been stunted socially, only able to interact with other socially-inept academics who have very little sense of self, and a high opinion of everything they’ve ever written. We’ve actually waded into the murky depths of the depressed job market, rather than orbit–like soon-to-be-retired planets–around the same dying star that academia has become. We learn from every new role. We do what we can to make ends meet. We do not quibble over job deviations from our former profession. We embrace change and do what’s necessary to make it in today’s world. We diversify our skill sets. Unlike you.

“This institution is built upon a diverse experience of the world, and I believe my diversified skill set is complemented and bolstered by my experiences in corporate, non-profit, and federal contexts, allowing me to exercise sound judgment and fulfill job expectations through informed, socially aware tacks.”

***

The vodka is ice cold. The ice cream is a little melted. The chocolate is dark and rich. Dinner is ready.

And Andy’s hugs are tight.

This, the present, is all that matters.

Not the battered past.

Not a skewed future blighted with malignancies.

Just this.

And that’s all the incentive I need to succeed.

2 thoughts on “Into the Den of Inequity

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