let’s talk about kindness at work — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

I graduated college right before the ’07/08 financial crisis. I had no practical experience/internships and didn’t find an office job; I fell into service work in restaurants/cafes and stayed there for years, burning out. No temp agency would take me, because the financial collapse flooded temp positions with overqualified people. Then, I’d been working in the service industry for years, and no temp agency would take me because of that.

I was a professional mess at that point, burned out from service work and stressed to high heaven. Interviews made my anxiety go to Level 10. I had no idea what my skills and weaknesses were. I didn’t know how to dress for interviews, write a resume, or write a cover letter. I was absolutely broke and couldn’t afford resume or cover letter help. I had absolutely no common-sense instincts (it would be years before I found this blog) and all these things combined made my self-esteem rock-bottom when looking for jobs.

I randomly lucked into a temp job at a cool college, working in the ID card office, making IDs. I stayed at the temp job for a few months, then got what I thought was my dream job: a full-time project-management position, union with benefits, working for several deans across the college. I was through the roof with joy. I just had to go through a three-month trial phase and then I was in for good.

In retrospect, there were red flags everywhere. I had five bosses, and they all had different ideas of what my duties were, and which were most important. (Spoiler: the work that boss wanted done was always most important.) One of my bosses would hide in her office from people she didn’t like and pretend not to be there when they visited. Nobody knew anything about the office (it was my job to know, but the previous person hadn’t left notes.) I had absolutely no idea how to act in an office and did my best, but I’m sure I was talking too much and vibrating with intensity like a golden retriever in a room full of snacks. I wanted so hard to succeed there.

I had a great review halfway through my probationary period by my “ultimate boss”, but was let go a week later while Cowardly Boss hid in her office. Security walked me out of the building, and my bosses never gave me an explanation. The only thing I can think of is that my intensity for the job, and lack of experience, translated into a personality clash between me and one (or more) of my bosses. It remains a mystery to this day.

I was absolutely crushed. Six years of struggling, and my one opportunity had failed.

Then, one day a few months later, my old boss from the temp job contacted me and told me a job was opening up in his office, and that he would send me the description. I read it and called him back and told him I didn’t have the qualifications (Excel, etc). He persuaded me (!) to come in and interview anyway. I went to the interview, feeling like I was walking the plank, rehearsing a stump speech about why I could succeed despite all odds. He opened the interview by saying “So here’s the pitch for why you should work here” and gave me a very straightforward rundown of the perks and drawbacks for my career of taking the job. I was stunned. There were no normal interview questions. I accepted on the spot.

He had to fight a lot of red tape to be able to hire me, because the office that fired me was in the same building. They finally allowed it, but made him promise that I “wouldn’t cause any incidents”. (Honestly, I have no idea how weird I came across. I have not had this issue in any jobs since.)

For the first few weeks, I was desperately anxious. It seemed too good to be true. My mind would go blank when asked to do anything, and I spiraled about how I was going to be fired again. Then I started leveling out, and a month in I felt much more confident. One day he turned to me and said, “You know, when you started, you were on another planet, but you’re doing much better now. Just don’t go belly-up on me.” The fact that he spoke his mind was a relief.

I spent four wonderful years there. He turned out to be a chill (and very blunt) boss, and my shoulders slowly came down from around my ears. Years of terrible service-industry bosses had warped my mind, and I became accustomed to sanity in the workplace. I went on from there to a project-management job, and then to a software engineer job, and now do technical project management for almost 3x what my original salary was.

He and I haven’t worked together in almost 10 years, and he’s retired now, but we still catch up over text from time to time. He changed my life.

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