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Posts Tagged ‘Work’

I met a goal!

I met a goal!

That may not seem like much to you, but for the first time in my life, I’m in a position where I’ve actively researched, targeted and used my networks to gain a job. Previously I’d always fallen into a position with relatively little knowledge of what was involved, motivated mainly by a need for money and a desire to have a job, any job. More recently this has been “any job that isn’t shitkicker for Toenail Branch at the Dept of Silly Walks”, which led me to the interesting but not too successful stint described in recent posts.

I’d become quite depressed in the previous role – partly because I wasn’t doing very well at it, but also because I couldn’t see any way to a better position. What further education should I do? Is there anything that even interests me? I had a mini- meltdown at my desk, and was rescued by exec assistants bearing tea and biscuits (I love youse guys). They suggested urban planning, which does interest me, but triggers my commitment-phobia – I really, really like keeping things open-ended. Not that that’s why I have a liberal arts degree – that’s just another example of falling into a situation without any planning.

But I’m currently employed in our Not Stepping On The Cracks In Case The Bears Get You branch. I’ve been grilling people from Bears branch for months now, asking them about their day job, how they got here, what the branch does and so on. The position became available because the person in it got promoted, and when I came down for the handover I realised I’d already met him at a function for our clients, which I’d attended to learn more about our crack-avoiding activities. So it was quite exciting to see how all my loose ends were tying together.

Even better, I got the position because I literally wandered around my office saying “you want policy officer? I got briefs and corro and MS Project.” One of our exec assistants (a different one to my knights with tea and biscuits) heard of this at the same time that Andy got kicked upstairs, and left me a post it note with his phone number on my monitor. The rest is yahda yahda yahda. Yes, I have given her a box of Godiva. Be nice to your secretaries! They know where the bodies are buried, and whether they hide pirate treasure.

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Many good things have happened here at the Ministry of Silly Walks.

In the darkest days of my Shuffling Drone-dom, a god-like hand reached into my black pit of despair and offered me a band-aid position covering for an AWOL employee (“he went mad and we shot him”). A job in a real actual Minister’s office! Paid at the Mumbling Troglodyte level! Working next to real actual policy! It was like those old wives’ tales about how if you sit at the end of the aisle in the cinema a drug dealer will come along and inject you with heroin and you’ll get addicted. Except good, and except it actually happened.

And, OK, not the most flattering way to get a job – I was only approached because the 27 other people they asked didn’t want to do it, and then I got the job because no-one else was available. But it got me out of Toenail Branch – so called because it’s dead skin and likely to be cut off soon –  and into the central nervous system. I was finally working with the people who actually decide what Silly Walks does and how it will do it, from the Minister herself  down to my fellow Mumbling Troglodytes. The fact that I had no idea what I was doing, had barely touched a brief since the end of my graduate rounds and knew almost no-one in my Ministry would be no obstacle to success!!!

… which, of course, it was. My knowledge of procedure was not only extremely poor, but so poor that I struggled to crowbar it all into my tiny brain, making some fairly egregious errors. Not all of them were my fault, of course – at least one was because of a rather violent disagreement between the Minister’s staff and the policy branch over mailroom procedures which I’m still too traumatised to talk about. But ultimately I had to interview for the position, and although the interview went about as well as they ever do for me, they decided not to give me the role. The manager of the Ministerial support branch advised me that staff members “said when they were giving you instructions you looked like you weren’t listening. And then you did it wrong.” Not a ringing endorsement.

The upside of this rather intense experience was that I got to polish my Networking skillz – not a skill that comes naturally to me the way, say, important research points embedded in 800-page non-digitised tomes come up and start eating out of my hand. Because of this unnaturalness, I had to be pretty calculating – I basically identified the most common names on the briefs that were coming in, called the extension number listed and said “Hi, my name’s Grace Forthright and I’m your Ministerial Support Mole. Would you like to do coffee and tell me all about everything your branch does?”

For the most part, this was a fairly successful strategy. It helped me understand the arcane information reaching my desk, which I was supposed to help clean up before it reached the Minister. It enabled me to understand what the hell Silly Walks actually does, what its structure is, how it interacts with other departments, and how I can get free tickets to fun things because Silly Walks provides funding for activities such as pogoing and Calvinball.

When I didn’t get the job, I returned to Toenail Branch. I diligently performed my duties, which involved arranging tea-parties, folding origami dancers and replacing photocopier cartridges. I cried myself to sleep at night, masturbating furiously (in the public service we call it “insourcing”) and dreaming of a role that would justify the $25K worth of student loans looming over my head.

And I continued the networking. I spoke to anyone who would catch up with me, and then I asked them who else would be willing to talk to me. And I found out all sorts of fun stuff about Silly Walks, and our extensive Vertical Folkdancing section, and Pogoing, and Not Stepping On The Cracks In Case The Bears Get You. I applied for jobs in these areas, meeting the policy officers who worked in my area of interest. I grilled my friends in internal departments about how to interview and how to get around the fact that I know very little about pogoing or vertical folkdancing.

And it paid off, in a rather odd way. Suffice to say I now have another band-aid position in our central policy branch. When I started I already knew several of my cow-orkers through my diligent coffee meetings or other job interviews. It’s a temporary position, but hopefully it’s my ticket out of Toenail.

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The other day I wrote about working on a doomed project. It’s not a worthless project – it’s about improving services, always a worthy aim – but for various political reasons not able to be mentioned here, its future is already limited. 

But pretend for the sake of argument that it’s not to meet an untimely demise soon, because I think it’s good to improve services. I am the most junior person involved with this project. We hired a contractor for a sum that is just shy of the amount where we would need to get our purchasing unit involved ($100,000.00). This contractor has done the project that THEY wanted, not the one we wanted. They were hired to undertake some internal research for us, and when I received copies of the proposed research in my email, I immediately identified that there were some problems, which I brought up with our divisional director. The director thanked me and wrote back to the contractor to advise some changes. In the meantime, some additions were made to the project, which *should* have required changing the marketing and management of the research to correctly target the new stakeholders. This was not done, so the new stakeholders were being spammed with requests for information appropriate only to the original stakeholders. Quite rightly, the new stakeholders were not that interested! 

To make matters worse, the original stakeholder management was… poor. We did not do the work of getting the support of the higher levels of management of the stakeholders we were asking to help us, and unsurprisingly, these people were anything from unsure if they should co-operate with us to outright hostile at being approached directly. My immediate manager was complicit in this as she sent spam emails to the new stakeholders that did not differentiate in their language from the spam emails sent to the original stakeholders. Did I mention we spammed our stakeholders? 

So, we’ve got a project that no-one from the most senior management down to the most junior shit-shoveller (ie me) believes in, where the groundwork of people management hasn’t been done, and where we’re doing acts I find morally reprehensible (spam). I have mentioned my concerns to my oboemaphone-playing HR person, who said “Did you say something to your manager?” And the answer is no, I did not, because I did not feel that I could do so or that I would be listened to. You wanna know what I did? 

I hid. 

I put off doing my tasks (like calling stakeholders to ask why they haven’t answered our spam… uh, because it’s spam, maybe?), did them in a half-arsed way, avoided them, and just plain didn’t do them. 

That’s probably not the professional approach to take in this situation. One day I will be in a job interview where I am asked “Tell us about a time where you identified a problem, and talk us through the way you solved it”, and I’m going to freeze up because I’ll remember this project and say “I hid”. 

What have you done in this situation? What could I have done to change anything? Anyone about to write “You should have spammed the people just like you were told to do” should keep in mind that one day I’m going to be interviewed by one of the people I’ve spammed, and they’re going to say polite words to the effect of  “I remember you… your project sent us that bullshit survey spam and kicked up a stink when we told you to get stuffed”.

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