Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Grown-up Job: Pt-1.

4:01 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
One of the greatest anxieties of my final months at school revolved around a very simple question: What the devil comes next?

I had toyed with half a dozen ideas, but was not particularly optimistic about any of them. The thought of going back to school immediately I had simply written off. I did not want to be forever a student, never moving on to the next thing. I was ready to be productive, and I was weighing my options.

My favourite was sitting the Foreign Service exam and becoming a world renown diplomat. I have not ruled it out entirely in the long run, but in the mean time, I cannot take the exam until February, and even then, only one in every hundred is accepted, and almost no one on their first try. So although it was one of my favourite solutions, it was not a short term answer to what I would do after College. Should I just sit on my keester for ten months? I think not.

I could have stayed on at Penney's. I would have had a good shot at promotion, and it would not have been terrible on my resume. There might have been additional management experience in it, but there would almost certainly have been a lot of soul crushing days ahead of me. In the mall. It just was not an option I fancied.

I thought about looking for a job waiting tables. This was seeming like a much more practical short term solution, and would have been better pay, more likely than not, but it did not satisfy my need for a big boy job.

I will not dwell on the reasons I needed a grown-up job, but I had them and they were compelling, so I started to look at jobs with companies that I did not necessarily feel I was qualified to work for.

The jobs I felt most qualified to apply for were the paralegal jobs,  but I was not actually thrilled with the prospect of getting one, having seen my sister's experience. I did not need anything to make my hair fall out any faster.

I applied for positions with firms that handled logistics, with C.H.Robinson and BAX. Either of which would have been ok, and both of which promised a continuous and heavy load of what my brother in law termed as the white collar equivalent of manual labor. It would have been more satisfying and definitely would have given me a new skill set, but would not necessarily have been my choice.

The last class of jobs I applied for were those for which I felt least qualified. Jobs with Northwest Mutual, Wells Fargo, and--my favourite of the unlikely options--Lincoln Financial. These were jobs that I could actually see developing right into a career. They were all with companies, and in positions, that would surely go to some yappy business major.

But that was not about to stop me. It sounded good, so I took my Resume and my liberal Arts degrees and asked around and put in my applications. In the end, I had a chance for interviews with two of the financial services companies, as the others had not really panned out. I had an interview with Lincoln Financial, and was preparing to set one up with Northwestern, where I had received a glowing reference, for which I am still grateful.

However, the interview with Lincoln came first. How I got to that first interview is still a mystery, and hangs largely with the fact that someone named Sarah Wilson decided she liked me, in spite of the fact that technical difficulties screwed up a solid part of my video interview, at which you got one shot, and which left me a little flustered for the latter half. I did not think there was any way I was getting a call back, but I did, so I was practically giddy the morning before.

I decided to dress casually. Play it cool.  So, after getting up three hours before my interview, eating breakfast, and drinking my coffee, I walked out the front door in my favourite suit and tie, wearing freshly shined new shoes, and sporting a new haircut. No way I was going to blow this again. I got to the Harrison entrance of the Lincoln building, which looks rather palatial. It was just enough to keep my heart rate a touch above normal. Then I walked into the atrium for the first time, which was all sandstone and marble; I had to work there.
You may not be able to see it in this picture, snapped while I was waiting to be summoned for my appointment, but the walls were covered in a hundred years of etched names? I was sitting in Lincoln's hall of heroes, with the names of the most honored forerunners carved into the stone for the perusal of lesser men that came after, but also with space reserved for future heroes.

After a few minutes of sitting, Amber came out to get me.

Amber has one of those dispositions that can make it difficult to know whether she is joking or deadly in earnest. She can deliver, and was delivering, some pretty decent one liners with all the gravitas of a senior undertaker, dispensing with the mask every once and awhile to reveal a warm smile. She led me up through the middle of the busy operations and into a conference room where I sat at a table with a fantastic view out the window of Downtown Fort Wayne. Amber sat across from me, and was soon joined by Heather, who identified herself as a one time English major. Heather was tall, blonde, bespectacled, pregnant, and always smiling.

The interview lasted over an hour and a half, and it was the most fun I have had in an interview. Heather and Amber played off of one another, working to put me at ease, while also clearly just being the way they usually are with one another. The English person and the Math person. Tall and short. Dark and light. Our conversation ranged all over, going from my school and work history, to Amber's new car and how to spend time downtown. It came out that Amber would be my boss, were I hired, and I was totally ok with that thought.

I left feeling good, and Sarah called me two days later--right before I went to help Emma feed the poor--and told me that I had the job.

But I guess many of you do not know what the job is. At the moment, I am something of a supercharged customer service person. I will have calls that I answer, some from customers, but mostly from agents, other institutions, and our own internal problem solving. I will also document and process contract changes and withdrawals, I will apprise people of tax and other financial implications of their actions, and do research projects. The way it was put to me, this was a very good place to start--whatever my ambitions within the company--because our licensed annuity dudes and dudettes need to know everything. As I have learned in my first weeks while shadowing people who are working, when financial advisers do not understand the investment instruments their clients own and how they work, they talk to us.

In order to perform these tasks, we are expected to participate in and complete a rigorous training program, starting with an intensive aimed at preparing us to pass a Series 6 securities licensing exam. I was again somewhat nervous when I arrived for the first day of training. I had no idea what exactly was waiting, but I was eager to get started with my grown-up job. I walked into the atrium again, this time to find that there were several people waiting already, and more trickling in as the minutes passed. In the end, 16 of us were seated in the atrium, and Amber came for us shortly thereafter.

There was a little bit of chat amongst the group as we went, but it was kind of quiet. I think most of us were bracing ourselves for what we new lay ahead: processing, and the obligatory corporate on-boarding presentation.

Our fears were met, when minutes later, we found ourselves led down the stairs, deep beneath the sunlit streets of Fort Wayne, and into the department of Human Resources. The processing had come. We were to be filed and photographed. The others were made to sit and watch as each was called, verified, and photographed. You sat for your picture in plain sight of all these strangers who would be your coworkers, and who watched with amusement as each person smiled at the camera; it was slightly awkward.

Thankfully, this whole thing went rather quicker than anticipated, and we were headed back upstairs soon enough. Our elation was soon to be drenched, however, when we walked into a room...with a projector! (Sinister music)

Before any of us had time to slip back through the door, a tall woman in a tasteful--actually, downright cute--skirt and jacket with an abnormally wide, bright smile and expensively styled short blonde hair stepped into the gap. She beamed at us like we were her long lost children and seemed constantly on the cusp of taking us all up into her arms and giving us a good squeeze. Here was one of the chiefs of HR. A person so brimming over with love for mankind and vivacity that they, and only they, can routinely look for ways to 'downsize' without it breaking their spirit. The kind of person who will get a smile out of you, whether you want to give it or not. Who makes you wonder where their draw their energy from, and leaves you with a sneaking suspicion that they suck it from the people around them.

This last hypothesis was almost certainly confirmed when she started the presentation on Lincoln Financial Group. The first part we were all kind of interested, because it was the history of Lincoln, its business profile, and especially the history of Lincoln in Fort Wayne. We made it through just fine. The next segment, which was longer, contained words like Vision, Excellence, Commitment, Synergy, Diversity, Enterprise, and Innovation. As this presentation dragged on she only seemed to get more energetic and excited, even as heads drooped around me.

Things were looking grim, and I was worried that none of us would never leave that place, as our host was practically bursting with excitement as she drained the last of our vital energies, when the door flew open and Amber walked in with four other people trailing behind her.

They were managers, they said, and HR lady could not have us any longer, each of us was to go with our respective managers and never return to that place. HR lady would probably have fought them for us, but their numbers were too many, and Amber can seem pretty formidable, so she surrendered us over to them.

The managers led us back into the light, and we all split up and went on our tours, during which time we found ourselves reminded that Lincoln has the inhabitants of a small town--2,300--and that it houses the amenities to keep them comfortable, including a massive--and rather decent--cafeteria, an equally impressive gym, a convenience store, a coffee shop, and various break and reading lounges spread around the building.

Soon, however, we found ourselves led to a room where we would spend much of our time for the next several weeks. The training room was equipped with desks, each boasting its own impressive computer with dual hi-def LCD monitors, office supplies, projector, white boards, fax  machine, printers, and comfortable chairs.

I was not a bad set-up, for which I am most thankful. The rest of our first day was spent on icebreakers and getting to know each other in that room. We had to fill out questionnaires, just to have in front of us, and then tell other people in the room about our favourite movies, what superpower we would choose, how we like to spend our spare time, a little bit about our family, etc. It was surprisingly effective, and people were not just presenting, but talking to each other by the end.

We learned at the end of our day that our training would begin in earnest the next day, We were given a text-book, the codes to access a bunch of online materials, including texts, videos, and thousands of sample questions, and a schedule of what our next two weeks would be; it was going to be busy.

(To be Continued)

1 comment:

  1. HR Lady as power point succubus.... I like this.