Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chapter 1 - HELP WANTED: Tales of a Free Spirit Professional

Part 1 - The Corporate Challenge

I was 26 years old and sick of being broke. After a short stint in Atlanta as a waitress, a Fitness Manager and an office assistant, I was ready to make some money. I’d answered an ad for Executive Assistant and met Faye, my upbeat and very persuasive recruiter.

She was in her forties with brown curly hair, a great tan and a sparkly diamond wedding band that screamed, “I don’t really need this job, ‘cuz I’ve got a rich husband.” Faye was awesome and made me feel like I could do anything. She sent me on tons of interviews urging me to, “Go get ‘em tiger!” each time I’d check in beforehand.

She also taught me that positions in fashion, sports and entertainment all paid less because they were the “fun jobs” and Financial Services was where it was at. When she mentioned I could make as much as $80K in some jobs, I got over my fear of working in a stuffy environment and started dreaming about all the clothes I could buy with that money.

My sister, who was already in the corporate world told me that $80K for an assistant job was “combat pay” and that I should be prepared to work long hours and be treated like crap. I, of course, thought I knew everything and decided my sister didn’t know what she was talking about. I was going to be rich, dammit!

The combat pay job was for the CEO at Ernst and Young, a major accounting firm in midtown. I wore my best navy blue suit for the interview feeling a little like the classier version of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl as I showed up ten minutes early to make a good impression.

The elderly assistant interviewed me first and I assumed she was getting ready to retire simply because she looked to be around 70 with her light gray hair pulled back into a neat bun.

“Have they told you about Mr. Casey’s,” she paused. “….particular ways?”

I nodded enthusiastically and delivered the lines I’d practiced with Faye about loving a challenge and not being afraid of difficult people.

The assistant nodded, sizing me up as she went over the job duties and hours. After some time, she leaned in and asked, “Will it bother you if Mr. Casey comes out of the office and hangs up on whomever you’re speaking with because he wants your attention? Are you okay with yelling? He likes to yell. He also likes his food to be hot. If it’s not hot, he’ll throw it away and insist on something else.”

She was so calm and matter-of-fact in her delivery, it sounded like the easiest job in the world. But, thankfully, my sister’s words kept ringing in my head, “Combat pay. Combat pay.”

As I sat there listening, the honey-stained walls and plush leather couches no longer seemed as inviting as when I first arrived. The warm, study-like energy transformed quickly and I felt like I was in a stodgy men’s club where enthusiasm and individuality was met with sharp looks and icy stares.

I was too young and afraid to stop the interview right then and say, “No thanks.” Instead, I nodded and smiled going through the motions wishing the minutes away.

Afterward and on the street, I called Faye.

“How’d it go?” she breathed with excitement.

I wanted to please her, but I didn’t think $80K was worth getting beat up on everyday.

“I don’t think so,” was all I could say.

And, Faye - because she had that sparkly ring, I’m sure – was unfazed. “No problem!” she sang. “I’ve got something really great for you on Friday.”

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