The employment-agency counselor got up from the seat and closed the door to the tiny windowless interview room. She sat down again and looked at me intently.
“If you don’t go on the second interviews that our clients request,” she said, “the agency will drop you. We won’t represent you. And I could lose my job.”
I thought she was conning me. “Oh, come on,” I said. “That’s ridiculous. It’s a waste of your time to send job-seekers on interviews they don’t want to go to for jobs they don’t want.
Anyway, what about my time? You’re not paying me. I’ve spent hours on buses and trains this week. Don’t I have any say in the equation?”
“No,” she said. “You don’t.”
She looked at me, and I saw something naked and scared behind her eyes.
“Then I guess you’ll have to send someone else on those interviews,” I said.
The employment agency lady’s shoulders shook. She started crying.
“Don’t!” she said. “I’m a single mom. I have a one-year-old baby. I have to keep this job. I can place you in one of these jobs. That placement will make this month’s quota for me.”
I couldn’t speak. I didn’t understand what she was saying. “Wait a second,” I said. “They actually tell you to strong-arm people like me to go on interviews for jobs they don’t want?”
“Of course,” she said between sobs. “That’s our business. I have to tell the applicants to take any offer they get.”
“That creepy guy at the print shop in the South Loop,” I said. “He’s a lecher. He’s gross. He doesn’t want a Gal Friday. He wants a playmate. Why don’t you send a male applicant down there?”
“The client specifically asked for a girl!” she practically wailed. “I don’t know anything about your job,” I said, “but isn’t that illegal?”
“Yes,” she sniffed. “It is illegal. But my boss says ‘He’s the client. Give him what he wants.’ The last girl quit because the guy wouldn’t leave her alone. That’s why I hate this job.”
I had seen criminal activity before. I had worked in restaurants and bars. I saw a guy get shot and killed on 42nd street in New York in a drug deal.
I knew that people did illegal things. I just didn’t know those things happened in offices, such that sweet single mothers would have to choose between breaking the law and feeding their babies.
“Why don’t you tell your boss that the horrible companies didn’t want me?” I suggested.
“My boss talks to the clients every day,” she said. “She’s going to hear about it if you refuse a job interview.”
I was angry. I didn’t understand why I bore the brunt of this screwed-up situation. I tried to think of a solution, but I couldn’t focus.
“I have to go home and think,” I said. “Maybe something will come to one of us overnight.” I was disgusted, and exhausted.
The next morning my counselor called me at home, excited. “I just got a job order in,” she said. “It sounds perfect for you. It’s a greeting card company, very fun, growing fast. We’ve put other people in there. It’s a customer service job for four seventy-five an hour.”
I went on the interview and got the job. I called the employment-agency lady to tell her the news and to thank her. The woman at the front desk of the employment agency said “She’s gone. She left. She quit an hour ago.”
“Get the job offer, no matter what” is the worst job advice one person can give another. If your mom or dad gives you that advice, we can give them a pass because they love you and their love can manifest as fear.
If an employment-agency person or a job-search counselor or someone who’s supposed to have your back advises you to be someone you’re not just to get an offer for a job you’d hate, I recommend that you get your advice somewhere else.
When you tell a person to ignore his gut and do or say things he’d never do or say just to get a job offer, you’re doing him a horrible disservice. You’re saying “You don’t deserve to get a job that deserves your talents. You don’t get to make that choice. Go undercover, instead. That’s what it takes to earn an income.”
Don’t let anyone dampen your flame like that. You have to say no to the wrong things in order for the right ones to come in. When you tell the universe that you’re a victim, a sheep, and a person without choices, you set the tone for the way your life will go. Run away from people who advise you to shut down your sturdy gut and your six senses. Those people are not your friends.
I started my customer service job the following Monday, a lovely fall day in Chicago. The company grew, I became an HR person and I never heard from the agency lady again. Nevertheless, she’s a patron saint in the Human Workplace.
She and I pierced the scaly hide of Godzilla together, just a tiny prick but a momentous event. We did it in a windowless conference room in a joyless office where greed had overcome humanity.
She told me the truth about her struggle with Godzilla, and I’m grateful to her for that. Sometimes it’s enough just to know that it’s not you, that you’re not crazy, that people around you really are doing and saying things no person should do or say.
We need to give each other that reinforcement whenever we can. That’s how we’ll keep Godzilla at bay until our collective Human Workplace flames drive the monster back into the murk he crawled out of.
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