I Am Not Coal

Today, I am not proud of myself.

As of late, I’ve been looking for a new position. I loathe to admit that the situation at my current place of employment has depleted my morale considerably, and I can’t deny that this loss has affected my better judgment. It has been almost two years since I’ve been on the job market and there were certain lessons that have been forgotten since my last foray.

A little background to understand my situation. I work as a Software Developer. The field is in considerable demand, and the nature of the workplace environment has given rise to the business of recruiting. Thus, once a programmer places their resume for display, they are often swiftly besieged by phone calls and soliciting emails. Swarms of headhunters descend upon us, individuals with no concept of timing or personal space. There are only a couple, and I strictly mean only two, whom with I’ve developed any rapport. That is how rarely it is to be treated well in the placement industry.

Last week, I took the call from a random recruiter I had never met before. Out of the many, this one proved tenacious in speaking for a particular client, insisting without modesty that everyone placed under this employer never quit, the turnover nonexistent. When I tried to discuss salary, my position was battered down to the absolute minimum of what I would accept. I eventually agreed to be submitted as a potential candidate.

The recruiter, with unyielding optimism, took it upon herself to insist that I maintain a positive attitude. This sentiment aggravated me, but I said nothing.

I was submitted and the day hadn’t passed when the client showed interest. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to a phone screening with the manager. The process took roughly 40 minutes, and I nothing about the call bothered me. I actually wasn’t dissuaded by the manager, which piqued my curiosity about the job in question. I agreed to a face to face.

But shortly after, there were red flags. The first interview had to be postponed due to a patch release. I understood. Server updates aren’t always routine affairs and there are plenty of possible pitfalls. But I perked my brow when the recruiter emailed me asking how the interview went, oblivious to the rescheduling.

The weather and other circumstances caused a series of rain checks. And each time, the recruiter contacted me again, hoping for a placement and the resulting commission. The manager, it seemed, excluded her from the loop, and she further taxed my patience with prods for updates. But the man seemed determined to meet me and persevered.

At last, I went in for the face to face. To their credit, the commute was not bad. But the moment I entered the office, I immediately felt a sense of dread. The lighting was paltry. Entire hallways were converted with incredibly small cubicles, where the cramped employees sat with their backs turned, and their monitors for all to see. There was not even a modest attempt to feign privacy. My spirits sank even further when I entered a conference room barely bigger than a full bath, and was seated sandwiched between the wall and table.

I hadn’t even begun my employment and I utterly detested the work environment.

Are they going to fit you and a laptop in a shoebox? A voice in my head seethed. Did you see those other employees? Droning away in this hole as co-workers pass by, walking this labyrinth of close corridors. Denied sunlight and quiet.

As the interview began, I was informed the process would take two hours, to which I shirked and said that I only had time for one. And the questions immediately started on the wrong foot, as they asked for details of the smallest features that developers use and never really think about. On the job, we never really worry about this issues because the answers are just a Google search away or consorting through Stack Overflow questions. A good developer is heuristic.

Let me get this straight. That voice echoed in my psyche again. They’re expecting you to fight, grovel and struggle to prove what you know, just so you can sketch out an existence in this shit hole? For less than you want?

And no matter how dark that voice sounded, I realized it was right. I could sit there and smile, nodding my head, wasting time in my ever dwindling life, scrapping my brain to obtain answers for something undesirable. Or I could take a stand.

I stopped the interview. And I told the manager, point blank, that I didn’t want to work there.

The manager, who needed perhaps two seconds to get over his initial shock at what is effectively a powerful insult, responded tactfully. “That’s fine. It’s best not to waste either of our time.”

He of course showed me the door, guiding me with both swiftness and silence to the office entrance. He didn’t even bother to escort me back to the lobby. As I walked out of the building, I sent the recruiter an email informing them that the interview went south. She responded with an immediate phone call, completely failing to understand or even listen to the problems. All she knew were the statistics, how no one placed in this agency was ever dissatisfied. And of course when I told her what had happened, she informed me that her recruitment firm could never represent me again.

I asked her if she had even been to the site. She said she had not. When I tried to explain my grievances in detail, she ignored them, screaming over the phone, “You burned bridges!”

Then let them burn, the voice responded. To her, you’re nothing but coal she’s shoveling into the furnace anyway.

At this point, I told her to go fuck herself, and hung up.

My disappointment with myself wasn’t because of how the interview went. Or even my handling of the recruiter. It was because I let myself be dragged into this situation. I should have listened to my gut and told the recruiter no. I should have known that the eternal optimist is often terrible at empathy. I’m tired of not caring.

And honestly, I just want something I can be passionate about again. I won’t allow myself to do this again. But I also won’t be put in this situation again, either.

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3 responses to “I Am Not Coal

  1. I have been through a similar situation a few years ago, though my circumstances were different, I was just made redundant and I needed a job pronto.

    This recruiter caught you with your guard down, keep your hands up.

    • Thanks for the encouragement Manuel. I guess it gets me that recruiters constantly ask us to do what they themselves can’t or won’t do. I know they’re as human as you or I, but it becomes difficult to remember that sometimes.

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