After everyone left for the day,
I dressed for an previously scheduled interview later that morning. It is the first call-back I have received. It is not exactly a perfect fit. It is for a Junior Engineer, which I am about ten years beyond, but it is the only bite I have gotten since I started. I must start again somewhere, and I promised myself to stay optimistic. I put on my black suit and low heels. Careful on the make-up. I do not want to be too feminine. In the workplace, especially my profession, there are more men than women. Just like every other woman, I must toe the line between power and femininity.
I have not been on an interview for a while. I was with my last job for almost ten years. Last time in the market for a job, I had just graduated with my Master’s degree and I was still in my twenties. I feel that a lot has changed, and I may be a little rusty, but I should still remember the way around the obstacle course.
As I wait for the person conducting the interview to fetch me, I look around the office. Something seems different with my surroundings. I can’t quite put my finger on it. All the people that I can see are young, but young people do tend to have entry level positions so I push the thought aside. In the silence, I find myself questioning again. What is off about this place?
“Jane,” a man’s voice interrupts my thoughts. “Jane Jennings. We are ready for you now.”
I stand and reach out my hand. I am met with silence and left dangling with no hand to grasp. The man looks at my outstretched hand, and then straight into my eyes. After a few moments that way, I gave up and put my hand back at my waist.
“Just a word of advice,” he says to me, “do not shake Mr. Saunders’ hand.” I open my mouth to ask why, but he quickly escorts me into a room with over a dozen people staring at me from a table.
“Mrs. Jennings,” the man in the middle of the group says to me. “Thank you for coming. Please have a seat.”
I look up at the gentleman expecting business attire. A suit, a tie or at least a dress shirt. Instead I see a man dressed in a Snoopy t-shirt. And do I see flip-flops hanging out from under the table? I feel pretty silly, and the rest of my confidence just flew the coop like Woodstock in the middle of the man’s shirt.
“That was a total waste of my time,” I say out loud to no one as I unlock my car to leave. Despite my hesitations, Mr. Saunders believes my qualifications fit his company. No surprise there, since I am overqualified and overeducated for the position. He offered me the job before I left the interview. He could have a highly-qualified engineer in a junior position and pay nothing. It is a win, win, win situation for him, but besides the pay-cut, the people are unique. Although the work atmosphere seems unusually laid back, the other employees seem utterly terrified of their boss. Something was off, but I cannot put my finger on it. It is more intuition than anything else, but do I really have a choice in not taking the job? Jack has been working extra to make up for my lack of income, and he says he’s fine, but the credit card debt is creeping up regardless. Plus, no one can be Superman for that long. The irony of thinking my husband as being a superhero does not escape me unnoticed.
I bang my head on the steering wheel of the car a few times. Thinking of Superman just reminds me that I am failing at everything I have attempted to do in my life the past few months. I wanted to make a difference, so I became this version of a superhero, whatever she is. The truth of the matter is, I have not successfully saved anyone in danger since I started doing this late-night charade. The only thing that it helped was to get me out of the fog at work. I realized I no longer wanted to work at a horrible company that did not invent products to help people. Becoming a superhero was an outlet for me at the time, and it gave me the courage to finally quit a job that I despised. Now look where I am. Two months later, I am still looking for a job, and the only thing I can get is a Junior Engineer making half my previous salary. Life is just looking dimmer and dimmer for me.
I turn the key in the ignition and put the car in drive. May be a stop at the coffee shop on the way home for coffee and a muffin would make me feel better. I pull out of the parallel parking spot I am in, and stop at the red light ahead of me. I take a deep breath and try to re-center myself. “You can do this Jane,” I repeat to myself over and over.
The light turns green and I slowly shake myself back to the present to get going. Just then I get thrusted forward from a thud behind. “Great,” I say to myself. “This day just keeps getting better,” as I realize I have just gotten rear-ended by the car behind me.
I slowly pull out of the way of traffic and the car behind me follows me over. I get out to assess the damage, because although it is the other person’s fault, I do not know if I am up for the whole calling the police/insurance company routine right now. It may just take every last bit of hope I have left.
As I inspect my rear bumper, the person in the other car comes over. “I am so sorry,” he says. “That was totally my fault. I will pay for any of the damages. I take full blame.” Then the man stops talking when he looks up and sees me. “Jane? Is that you?”
I look up at him. “Mark? Wow. Nice car,” I say as I also take a mental note of my 12-year old POS I am driving. “You left the company for greener pastures. What are you doing now?”
Neither of us worried about the minor car accident, we continue to talk about our lives now. “After I left,” he began, “I started working for the government. My team and I have been working on a project for food distribution. I am sorry, but that is all I am allowed to say. As you can imagine, everything with the government is top secret.”
“That is wonderful,” I say to Mark. “It seems the job is treating you well though.” I indicate the make and model of the fancy high model car that you just know cost a fortune.
“The job is great! Very rewarding!” He elaborates. “I finally feel like I am doing something that helps people instead of pads other people’s pockets.” Mark left it unsaid, but I knew he was talking about our mutual job at the previous company that I left for the same reasons. I just left without something better waiting for me. “Although I cannot say that it has not been a little lucrative for me. How are things with you? How is the job going?”
“Oh,” I realize he does not know. Why would he? I have not seen Mark since he left the company almost a year ago. “I quit a few months back. I could not handle the soul sucking anymore.” I say with as much humor as I can muster.
By this time, we are just using our vehicles as a perch to lean while having a conversation. “Interesting,” he says to me. “What are you doing now?”
“Nothing,” I respond. “Maybe soul searching?” I try to sound optimistic. I elaborate due to his blank look. “That is where I was just now. An interview.”
“At that place?” he asks pointing to the place I just left. Unable to speak the sad truth, I just nod. “You are way too talented for that place. They only hire hippies and college graduates with no other options. You have to have another option.”
I heave a heavy sigh knowing I had no other option at this moment. “I have an idea,” Mark continues. “I am so busy with our current project right now. I could really use a set of experienced hands I know I can trust. What would you think about consulting with me and the government?”
I am not sure if I could describe in words how shocked that proposal made me. That never happens to me. I am usually the person in a job getting taken advantage of then passed over for a promotion and raise. Stupid gender gap disparity.
“Mark,” I speak as my brain finally starts working again. “That is a really nice offer. I do not know what to say.”
“Say yes Jane!” Mark says. “It really would take a huge load off me with you around. They already said I could hire someone to help for a while, but I do not trust many people to pull their weight. I know you, and I know you will do what needs to be done. It is not a permanent position, but it could hold you over until you find something better than that place.”
Once again, he is gesturing towards the building I just left. “Just think about it. Talk it over with Jack.” He hands me his business card. “Call me when you decide. Trust me, this is a win, win for you. You never have to set foot in that building again, and I promise to pay you what you are worth.”
He begins to walk back to his car to drive away. “Oh and the accident. I will pay for all the damages. Just get a quote from your mechanic. At least this way I know you will have to call me one way or the other. I mean it Jane. I want you to come work with me. It should be for about a month or two. Talk to you soon.” And with those words he pulls away while I am still staring between his business card and the building I just walked out of.
What is the worst that can happen? I get back into my car, tuck the card into a secure spot, and drive away to go get that coffee. I have some things to think about.
To Be Continued…