porcelainandporcupines

Aside

Posted on: May 7, 2012

Last summer there was a new position created at the Illustrious Institute, and since I, had all gone as originally designed, would have no occasion whatsoever to interact with the people hired to fill this position, I got to sit in on the interviews. As my own job hunt had been not so long concluded, I felt no small amount of relief to be sitting on the other side of the table, even if, at the same, I realized with no small amount of panic that the hiring of somones new meant that I would no longer be the new hire and that the novelty of Amy was about to wear off, had it not already done so. However, despite my insecurities I was intent on hiring not someone who would only make me continue to look good; I focused, instead, on listening carefully to the candidates answers to make sure the person hired would, in the long run, prove to be the most beneficial for the Institute at large.

I kid! Obviously, I continued to think mostly about myself throughout the interviews. At first I tried to imagine how I would respond to the questions we posed; however, once I realized that had I undergone this round of interviews – which were far more, well, let’s say involved than my own – I never would have been hired, and thoughts of continued or fresh unemployment were depressing, I decided to switch my focus to what was wrong with the questions.

The first question with which I took issue was one to which we, from the first few candidates, got terrible, confusing answers that nearly derailed the interviews as the puzzled interviewee, well aware that their initial answer didn’t quite hit the mark, went on and on in an attempt to answer a question they didn’t understand. The spirit of the question is probably one that gets asked in every customer service type interview – how do you handle interactions with difficult patrons? – but because of our rather specific use of “escalate”, it made it sound like we were asking people if they ever needed to start screaming at or get physical with problem patrons, rather than if they’ve ever had to call for back up. On this realization, I took charge of asking this question in subsequent interviews, avoiding the problematic vocabulary word, and generating much better responses from the interviewees because of it, I am sure.

The second question that bothered me was one pertaining to email, and the reason that it bothered me was because the answer was very clearly “email.” How to keep up to date on the day-to-day goings on in the library when you work evenings? Honestly, in 2012 (or, I suppose, it was 2011 at the time) is there anyone who’s not going to mention carefully reading their email? It’s the way information is conveyed, regardless of when you work; I suppose someone who didn’t mention email in their response would have been weeded out right away, but they probably wouldn’t have been considered for the position in the first place, what with their application having been pressed into clay tablets using a stylus and then delivered by pony express and all. Not that we have any objection to cuneiform, mind you, but with the strict new guidelines determining what qualifies as a service animal and what doesn’t, an equine-based delivery service could cause a real problem.

I did ask, after one particularly contentious interview (fun fact: one of my coworkers passed me a note in the middle of said interview, eloquently stating “I think I may hate her;”), if the desirable answer to the question was, in fact “email,” why were we bothering to pose it; there was not a satisfactory answer to that, or any answer at all that I recall, but it was enough to convince me not to ask about the third and final question that struck me as less than fully utile : how do you deal with problem coworkers?

Admittedly, there is a greater variety of acceptable answer to this question than there is to the email question; however, the unacceptable answers to this question are all known – no one is actually going to answer that they have a terrible temper and will start screaming at their coworkers at the drop of a hat (which rarely happens inside a library); that they’ll seek out other coworkers who also dislike the difficult person and gossip maliciously – but also truthfully – behind the difficult person’s back; or that they’ll silently fume in the presence of that coworker before taking to the internet and starting a blog where they can eloquently chronicle the details of their overwhelming and completely justified dislike for this person.

However, despite the suspect quality of the answer, the question is not entirely without merit, it just needs a bit of polish; how you deal with difficult coworkers is less important, I think, than finding out who are the people you find difficult to work with. And, even though I am no longer the candidate being interviewed, I do know how I would answer that question:

1. People who think they’re the only ones who do anything – I haven’t had an especially varied job history, but I have worked with a lot of different people over the years, and through those people I have come to realize that the people who go on about how they’re the only people who do anything around here tend to have three very important things in common:

  1. They have a limited understanding of the overall functioning and goals of the organization;
  2. their position within that organization tends to be entry-level;
  3. they are, otherwise, almost completely full of shit.

Seriously : there is no way an organization of any size at all can flourish on the strength of only one person. There is a store in my neighborhood that all they do is sell pickles. That’s really it – pickles. And I guarantee you that, despite the serious hedgehog-like concentration on doing one thing and doing it well, there are a number of people involved in the success of that venture, and that if the person sitting behind the counter starting bitching about how he’s the only one doing any work, the Pickle Master (which is not a title I have verified but one I ardently hope is printed on a business card somewhere) would storm into the tiny storefront and hurl some raw asparagus in that guy’s face and yell “Oh yeah? Pickle that, asshole!” Because the Pickle Master is salty and has no time for your vanity and tomfoolery. And also because if you really think that the entire business is running on you, you’re kind of a self-involved little dink.

2. People who do nothing – despite the undeniable truth of point #1, the larger an organization is, the more likely it is to have acquired a little dead weight over the years, in the form of people who do nothing at all. My problem with these people is not entirely on principle; if you work for a large enough corporation that it doesn’t notice you’re taking them for a ride, good for you, I suppose. And the fact that you feel no pressing need to do something more worthwhile with your time than nothing means all the more for me to do, which can work to my advantage in terms retention and promotion, as well as life-long learning and other assorted goals.

What I do take issue with is that people who do nothing are generally not honest about it, and while I suppose you want to keep it under wraps from higher ups that  you’ve spent the entire day checking the weather and reading articles on Slate because it’s still 1998 and you spend all of your time indoors, I am not going to play along with the charade that you’re too busy to do something. Especially because, often, what you’re too busy to do is help patrons achieve their library-related goals, and you sitting around like a lazy lump of bog mud can give the rest of the library staff, most of whom really do want to be helpful, a bad name to the very people we’re hoping to help. So, to sum up, if you want to do nothing, that’s fine, but don’t get any of it on me.

Of course, those are not the only two types of coworkers I find difficult, but one thing I learned on the job hunt is that you don’t want to come across as too negative, so it would probably be good to follow-up with a word or two about the kind of co-workers that I do enjoy. The next time we have a round of interviews, I’ll put a little thought into that.

I’m sure speaking in generalities will be fine

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