Landing the Job
So my new prospective employer, FinancialCompany, has me flown out from Denver, CO to Boston, MA for a full day of interviews.
My first job, I talked to three people for a total of an hour and a half and that was it. Ridiculously simple.
This place? Not so easy. They set up an obstacle course of meetings for applicants to deal with. Nine hours of hell, 8AM straight through to 5PM, covering lunch.
Over that span I met with ten people, including the CIO. During the day, I adopted the best possible version of my personality and displayed it without cessation. I wasn’t showing them plain old regular black-and-white livingafi. Nope! They were evaluating livingafi, in full technicolor glory. By the end of the day, I swear my tail muscles were sore from keeping my peacocking feathers spread out for so long.
I told people for hours on end that I loved pretty much everything. I loved the job I was leaving. I loved working with customers, and solving problems, and filing bugs, and making suggestions on how to improve the product. I loved teamwork and collaboration. I loved synergy and liaising and outside of the box thinking and win win situations.
First on the agenda was my prospective manager. He seemed fat and happy. I remember how he continually talked about the company culture in reverential tones that most people reserve for subjects like religion or their favored political party. The culture this and the culture that. In fact, during our interview he barely asked any technical questions, although he did want to know how I felt about trying to get a job with ‘the big boys.’ His ego is kind of oozing all over the place, and I can almost feel it spilling onto me, puddles of it collecting between layers of clothing, making me feel sticky and a little gross. It’s pretty clear that he’s a product of self-congratulatory old-school male business-world entitlement, but I try to push these thoughts aside for the time being.
Because, you know, I really want this job.
I’m surprised at how relaxed I am. I’ll say one great thing about working for SoftwareCompany — four years of talking to customers on the phone all day changed me for the better in a critical life-skill area: it forced me to pretty comfortable talking to strangers. Like, face-to-face and everything.
Mr Manager’s only serious question for me came out more like a statement.
So you’ll be moving to Boston for more than just the job.
Yep, I really want to be closer to family and friends in the area.
Great! When we source people from out of state, we always want to hear they have incentives for moving outside of working for FinancialCompany. The ties that bind.
It registered somewhere in my brain that Mr. Manager was talking as though the position was already mine — a good sign.
After a couple more interviews with mid-level managers, I have lunch with two of my future teammates at a local restaurant range chain, Legal Seafood. It’s my first chance to meet them in person.
They’re both in their mid-30s, perhaps ten years older than me, and they’re super eager to get another competent teammate to help offload responsibility and support. They make plenty of cynical jokes about working, reminding me of a slightly younger version of Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets, who just sit back and make fun of everything.
Toward the end of lunch, the two of them approach the most important question.
Statler: You gonna be OK with weekend work?
Me: It won’t be all that different than on-call duty that I did for SoftwareCompany. I’m totally used to it.
Waldorf: That’s good, because you’re about to get a whole lot used-er to it.
In Unison: Hahahahaha
Me: Ha. Ha, ha…. Ha?
Statler: But seriously. We like you. We want you to finish the day and join the team.
Waldorf: The last three or four guys we tried to get in here were tripped up in the afternoon.
Statler: Well, either that or they got smart and ran the hell away.
Waldorf: The big key with the rest of the interviews is just to keep telling people how awesome this place is and how much you want the job.
Me: No problem. It’s what I’ve been doing. And it’s all true, so I’m just saying what I actually believe.
Statler: Hah! Did you get that? This guy thinks there’s nothing like working here.
Waldorf: True enough — there’s certainly nothing to like about the work here!
Statler: I see what you did there!
In Unison: Ahhh-Hahahahaha!
Me: You guys are kidding right? Ha ha and all of that, yeah?
With great comedic timing, instead of answering, they ask for the check.
I make it through to the last interview of the day, only to discover that it’s with the Chief Information Officer himself.
Apparently it’s policy for him to personally review all candidates for open positions. If things are going well, you’ll talk to him as the last hurdle to an offer. And if things aren’t going well, you catch a cab to the airport ahead of schedule to see if you can move your flight up.
So at four o’clock I find myself sitting in a corner office on the fortieth floor of a Very Important Building for a Very Important Company talking to a Very Important Person about the Very Important Open Position.
He asks why I want the job. Somehow his eyes pierce through me and I decide to not give him the bullshit line I’d been giving to everyone else throughout the day. You know, the spiel about having a ton of respect for FinancialCompany and my innate desire for hard work and challenges, all of that. I had this odd sense that this was a man who would see through any fakery. So instead, I tell him the truth.
Honestly? It pays more than my current position. A lot more.
Thankfully, he laughs.
That’s a better reason than most of the crap people tell me. Here’s what I really want to know. Will you do a good job for us?
Yes, I think so. I’m a reasonably good fit and I’m very motivated to figure out the bits I don’t yet know, learn them, and get positioned for success. Nobody knows everything they need prior to taking on a new role.
How about commitment? We want employees who are fully invested in their work and their relationship with the firm.
All relationships begin and end. That being said, I’m interested in this one lasting a long time. The most meaningful partnerships are symbiotic. When there’s give and take on both sides, that’s commitment. That’s the foundation of a real bond.
And what about the future? Surely you don’t want to do technical work forever. What do you see your next steps being, maybe five or ten years down the line?
I wouldn’t consider myself ambitious exactly — but at the same I’m driven to always do an excellent job with the work I’m given. Honestly, my first objective here will be to become a top-tier technical contributor to the company. It’s only after I’ve achieved this goal that I’ll concern myself with the next steps. I’m not a climber by nature, but when it’s time, I’ll look for the next rung.
That’s unusual. We have a lot of climbers here. We see it as a good personality trait to continually expect more from yourself professionally, and that usually means looking for promotions. Let’s move on, though. What do you think about everyone you met today?
People seem nice enough here, but it’s also clear folks are a little on edge, a little stressed. I suppose that’s to be expected, though, given the high-stakes nature of the firm. I’m not worried about getting along with folks or adapting to the culture. It seems like a very interesting place to work and contribute and I’m committed to making the adjustment. And trust me, I’m no stranger to stress, I can take a lot on my shoulders.
You’re observant and forthright. Ambition aside, I think you’re going to do just fine with us.
Five minutes into the interview and he’s made his decision. There were no further questions on the subject of employment. Instead he reclines in his chair, and starts going on about trivial personal stuff — recent vacations to skiing resorts, his third home, a love of classical music.
Then — and I find this bit of our exchange absolutely surreal, looking back — he launched into a monologue about how at this point in his life (he’s in his mid 50’s) he’s much more concerned about time than money, because he’s not going to be on this planet forever and so the remaining years are quickly becoming more valuable than his earnings.
I see clearly now, with hindsight on my side, that he had the same desires and dreams as everyone on the FIRE path — to leave the rat race and pursue his own interests. The CIO of a major financial company had just discreetly revealed that he was bored with his job and had thoughts of leaving soon. I’m sure he made over 500K a year after various bonuses — perhaps much, much more. Absolutely nuts.
Incidentally, he did retire five years later, in 2008, at age 59. If things go according to plan, I’m going to beat him by 21 years. Not that it’s a competition or anything, but still.
At any rate, I’d made it through the gamut. Relieved, I hail a cab to Logan airport and head home.