Sunday, December 1, 2013

A New Beginning

I've been working at a part-time temp job for a while now, and on Tuesday, November 19, I got an offer for a full-time temp-to-hire job. As long as the first 90 days go well, they're planning to hire me! I'm so excited and anxious and sad to leave my old job all at the same time...

When I first started my part-time job, I didn't know anything about the company. I got a call from a temp agency back in August asking me if I'd be interested in the job. I had a very brief phone interview with my future supervisor and she asked me to come in the next day. I was so excited, but also really scared. I had never worked in an office environment before. Since we only spoke briefly on the phone, I didn't get a sense of the workplace culture that I would normally get in an interview. I mean, I once interviewed with someone who said that you had to be thick-thinned to work for their company because the boss was very critical and made people cry and lots of people left after a few weeks because of it. Without a normal interview for this company, I had no idea what to expect. When my supervisor explained what the job entailed, I honestly did not understand what I would be doing. I was just praying that I would be able to do the work.

Everyone was really nice to me on my first day. The first thing my supervisor did was introduce me to everyone in the office. My neighboring coworker said that I could ask her any questions and that I was welcome to the coffee she made every afternoon. I followed instructions, but didn't really understand what I was doing. I was so scared of getting something wrong or not being fast enough. I had a huge stack of bills and I was pushing my absolute hardest to go as fast as I could. I actually came home with a sore back my first day because I was too focused on all the paperwork to adjust my chair to a more comfortable position.

My coworkers welcomed me to eat lunch with them. My supervisor was really nice and was always trying to calm me down in the beginning, telling me that it was okay to take a break. She never got angry when I made a mistake - she would just tell me what the mistake was, and I'd fix it and make a note of what to do next time. There were a couple things I kept mixing up, but I eventually figured them out.

As scared as I was in the beginning, I got the hang of the job after a short time. I soon realized that the work was backed up when I first arrived because the last person had left; I would never again have as much work as I had in the first few days. Once I was caught up, I rarely had enough work to fill my 20-hour weeks. I would ask my supervisor if there was anything else I could do, and a lot of times there wasn't anything. My supervisor gradually gave me more responsibilities, which made me feel good. I got the hang of things and could anticipate what needed to be done. Sometimes I got carried away with trying to do things on my own - for a long time I was typing in journal entries before I had the invoice numbers in order to save time, only to learn that my supervisor had to then go through them line by line to change the invoice numbers. Another time I accidentally put $38 on an envelope with our stamping machine and had to go to the post office to get it reversed. But for the most part, I kept on top of things and my supervisor appreciated what I was doing.

Talking with my coworkers, or even just listening to them talk to each other, was very therapeutic for me. When I was in college, people talked more about school than I ever wanted to. Graduate business school really turned me off to the business world because all anyone talked about was getting a job. You didn't hear about the fun things that people did over the weekends or personal problems that had nothing to do with work or school. My grad school was big on pushing students into these huge accounting firms with lots of overtime during tax season. They made the entire working world sound harsh and competitive. They made me think that jobs are only for people who are willing to do anything it takes to get a job or get promoted. To hear my coworkers talk about their personal lives during the work day, to have my supervisor (who is a controller) talk to me about her favorite amusement parks really put my mind at ease. It sort of reminds me of when I read Cosmopolitan  magazine when I was younger and decided that I never wanted to have a romantic relationship because I didn't want to do any of the things that Cosmo described, but now that I have a boyfriend and more life experience, I can recognize that a lot of that stuff is BS. A couple years ago, I had taken a quiz that said I was a slacker who didn't do any work or care about accomplishing anything. The problem was that the quiz didn't ask anything about what you actually did at work - all the questions were like, "How many hours of sleep do you get each night?" "How often do you watch movies?" "How often do you visit out-of-town friends?" indicating that if you do all these things in your personal life, you must not be focusing "enough" on work. At the time, I proudly answered all of these questions honestly and wrote in "And I don't ever plan to change." I come from two schools where everyone bragged about how busy and fast-paced their lives were, when my goal is to NOT be busy. If I don't have time to get enough sleep or watch movies or visit my friends, then that means something is wrong with my life. (It's not just about one quiz - this quiz was the impression I got of the working world when I was a student.) Well, I took that quiz again now that I have a job, and all my answers are exactly the same. Except this time, where it said that I was a slacker, I wrote in, "My coworkers would beg to differ!" I'm sure there are plenty of companies and career paths that are as harsh as my grad school described, but there are also places like my company. I knew now that I could find that warm and friendly work environment that I was looking for - I just had to look closer.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling like a temp. It didn't matter that I couldn't open the front door by myself.  I got along well with everyone, and everyone treated me like I belonged there. Certain coworkers and I liked to talk at lunch. On Halloween, my supervisor wore her costume to work and was surprised that I hadn't dressed up too (which I didn't know we were allowed to do). She loves Halloween and we talked for a long time about what we did. She showed me pictures from her family Halloween party, and later that day I showed her pictures of my Halloween party on my cell phone. On my first day I wouldn't have known if that was okay or not, but at that moment I knew it was fine. When I first started working there, I had this sense that we weren't going to get very close because everyone tells me it's not okay to share personal stuff at work, but little things like this just made me feel really connected.

When my coworker had a death in her family and was out for a week, I asked my supervisor if I could take over any of her work so that she wouldn't be in a mess when she got back. I wasn't trained in my coworker's job, but my supervisor gave me everything that I could do. In the following weeks, I continued to take over some of my coworker's duties while she was catching up. These were probably the most meaningful work weeks for me. I didn't know her very well, but I was really glad that I could actually do something to help.

Sometime later, our CFO left the company, and he left behind instructions for an Excel function that my coworker did not understand. My supervisor asked if I could take a look at it. I didn't understand what the CFO had been doing, but I asked my coworker what she needed to do on the Excel sheet and I played around with it all day until I figured out something that I thought would work. When I got to work the next day, my coworker and my supervisor were very appreciative and said that my method worked and was easier to understand than what our CFO had been doing before. They were going to use the method that I came up with! (My coworker eventually figured out our CFO's method, but my method worked to keep them from falling behind).

Something changed after that. I was really proud that I had helped fix their problem and that I'd contributed something beyond just keeping up with my regular work. It made me feel like I was more than a temp. After that, I was rarely waiting around with nothing to do because my supervisor and coworker started finding more things that I could help with. They could rely on me, and that felt really, really good.

A couple weeks later, one of my coworkers gave her two weeks notice that she was leaving. We were all really happy for her. That same day that she gave her notice, my other coworkers started talking about me filling her shoes. Her job was similar to mine, but she had more bills and full-time hours. I was excited at that prospect and decided to bring the subject up the following day. Before I had a chance to mention it, my supervisor asked me to speak with her in the conference room. My heart was racing. I knew what this was about. My supervisor told me about the open job and asked me if it was something I'd be interested in, that my coworker could train me before she left. I could work full-time and split my hours between my current job and my coworker's job. The only problem was that it wouldn't be permanent - they couldn't hire me as a permanent employee until they had hired a new CFO. This new CFO who didn't even exist yet had to make that decision, and they might decide that they didn't need me. I was kind of disappointed - I was really hoping they would offer me the permanent job, or at least the chance to apply for it. But still, I was psyched to get more responsibility and have full-time hours. I was sure that they would hire me for real if I did well - I just had no idea how long it would be.

The next day I started learning my coworker's computer system. I watched her go through the process and took lots of notes. The day after, I asked if I could try it on my own. I wanted to practice while it was fresh in my mind and while she was still there to help me. I spent my entire mornings practicing my coworker's job and did my own job in the afternoon.  I wasn't getting through my work as quickly and usual, but I managed to stay caught up. The following week would be my first full-time week. My coworker would be with me Monday through Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday she had off, so I'd get to try it on my own. I was ready.  I was really sure that I could handle both jobs for a number of reasons:
1. I used to work only three days a week. Spread over five days, my part-time job wouldn't be as much work.
2. I was doing extra things because I had extra time, like making copies and filing for my coworker. My coworker would understand if I had to cut down on stuff like that because I didn't have extra time anymore.
3. My supervisor always said I was fast and that we were paying our bills early. So even if I couldn't be as fast as I normally was, it seemed like I had a long way to go before I would seriously fall behind.
4. My coworkers would help me if I needed it.
5. Ultimately, my supervisors wanted me to do both jobs because it was easier than them hiring another temp, so they would understand if I couldn't keep up with everything like I had before. All I needed to do was ask them what my order of priorities should be and follow it.

I was totally pumped to show everyone that I could do both jobs at once. Then they'd have to hire me for real.

Okay, it wasn't quite going to be a full-time week because I had an interview for another job on Monday morning; I had still been applying to other positions since I was unsure about whether my temp job would ever become permanent. I wasn't holding out hope that I'd get the job I interviewed for. I'd been interviewing for months and they always want someone with work experience I didn't have. But I did my best at the interview. They asked me to talk about something I did that I was proud of, and I told them about fixing the Excel method at work. I normally had trouble with questions like this because I had never done anything very challenging in a work setting; this was the first time I genuinely felt proud of something I had done at my job. When they asked me about my current job, I mentioned that I was getting promoted. I did my best at the interview, but my heart was back at my own company. I was so sure that would be where I stayed for the next few years. When I got back to work that day, the IT person met me and asked me to give him the password I wanted to use. I was getting my own username and password for work. No more standard temp email address. No more logging in under someone else's name. I was almost a real employee. That night, I called my recruiter at the temp agency who had been trying to reach me during the day. She told me that she had gotten very positive feedback and was calling to thank me. I thanked her and told her that I loved the people and was psyched to be getting promoted and that I would definitely take the permanent job if they offered it to me. I went to bed that night feeling really good.

The next Tuesday morning, I did my first check-run under my own username. Just before lunch, I noticed that I had a missed call from the job recruiter for the interview I'd had the day before. I tried to call her back at lunch but couldn't get a hold of her. It was always really stressful having so many recruiters calling me during work when I couldn't call them back, and it would be hanging over my head all day that I needed to deal with them. I couldn't wait to become a permanent employee and tell all the recruiters that I was no longer looking for a job.

Later that afternoon, my supervisor was in a meeting and my coworker had gone home early. I had more than enough time to finish my work, so I went downstairs to the break room to give my recruiter a quick call back. She told me I had the job. Had it. Right then and there. I didn't know what to say. I was so torn - I was really set on getting the job at my own company, but I didn't know when that would happen and I knew this new job was probably the better choice. It was a bigger company with a lot more people my age. The starting rate was higher. There was enough growth potential that I'd probably stay for a long time, whereas I would probably only stay at my current company for a few years. The people seemed really nice there. There were some downsides, like it was twenty minutes farther away than my current job and days were 8:30-5:30 with an hour lunch break (my current job was 8:30-4:30). But most importantly, this company intended to hire me permanently, and I didn't know if my own company ever would. I told my recruiter that I needed time to think about it. She said if I didn't act fast, they would assume I wasn't interested and hire their second-choice person. I told her I'd call her back the next day with my answer. I went back up to my desk not knowing how to feel. I called my mom and talked to her about it for a while. I found myself trying not to cry while I filed the bills. I remembered sitting in this exact spot on my first day, being so scared and not sure I could do it, and now I was stepping right into someone else's job. I knew which cities were filed under different names. I knew what to do with every paper someone dropped on my desk. I had grown so much here. I didn't realize it, but all these little things just made me feel so settled. I couldn't imagine wanting to go somewhere else.

When my boss got back from her meeting, I asked her if she knew when they might be hiring a new CFO and when my job might become permanent. She said she wasn't sure. She asked me if I was getting other offers, and I told her that I had one and didn't know what to do. She sat down next to me so we could talk about it. She's really caring and has a motherly instinct; I was really going to miss that if I left. I told her about the job, how I wasn't sure what to do, and that I had to give them an answer by the next day. She told me to follow my heart. She also spoke with the other controllers and confirmed that they had no idea how long it would be before they'd hire a new CFO, and until then, they couldn't hire me permanently.

That night I talked it over with my parents and my boyfriend, and I realized that the new job was really the better choice for me. I told my supervisor the next morning. I didn't make a big announcement to everyone, I just went to her quietly and said that I decided to take the other job. She told my coworker and pretty soon everyone was running over and giving me lots of hugs and saying that they were so happy for me. Word spread fast. People I barely crossed paths with came over to congratulate me. Meanwhile, my supervisor was meeting with the other controllers to decide what they were going to do now that I was leaving.

This job was temporary. I knew it. They knew it. I'd been applying to other jobs the entire time that I was there. But I felt really bad leaving after they had started to train me, after they were counting on me to take over my coworker's job. It hurt me to leave just after they gave me a username, after they thought of me first for my coworker's job, after I was really starting to feel attached.

I wanted to do something extra for them, something to make their transition easier, something to show them that I cared and that the experience had meant a lot to me. On my first day of work, I was very stressed out when I had to file bills by city and couldn't find a lot of the cities because I didn't know that certain cities were filed under different names. I've also called vendors to ask for paperwork, only to realize that I didn't know our fax number, my work email address, or the number of the phone I was calling from. I had always had in mind that I would leave the next person with a list of contact info and things that are filed under unusual names.  After I typed out the list and pinned it to the bulletin board, I didn't have anything else to do. I was only working a full day so that I could train for my coworker's job, which I wasn't going to do anymore. My supervisor would probably let me go home early, which I didn't want to do. I flipped through all the notes I had taken in my first days and decided to type out all the procedures for the next person. I wrote the procedures for the two computer programs I used, and daily procedures including where everything gets filed. No one asked me to write this out, but I just wanted to leave them with something. I pinned all of the instructions to the bulletin board at the end of the day.

The next morning, my supervisor was very appreciative of the instructions I had written, and she told me that she was happy about my new job. Since I wasn't training for the new position anymore, my supervisor told me I could leave at noon that day (Thursday), and I had Friday off and half-days the following Monday through Wednesday (just before Thanksgiving). My supervisor said she didn't see why I couldn't take over my coworker's job for those last few days since I knew how to do it, but the other controllers wanted to get a new temp in quickly, before my coworker left for good.

You know how sometimes when you miss a place, you start to miss all sorts of little things that didn't actually matter to you when you were there? Normally I would be thrilled to go home early and have a day off, but seeing the little bit of time I had left at my company reduced to practically nothing made me feel empty inside. I wanted to be back at work. I would never have said that if I were staying, but knowing that I was leaving, I just wanted to be back there. I kept replaying all the mundane tasks I had to do everyday, realizing I was actually sad to never get to do those things again. I met my boyfriend for lunch that day. After lunch, I called my temp agency to make sure my notice had gone through (I technically worked for the agency, so I had to give my official notice to them). They told me it had, and that they were actively working with my company to find two new temps to replace me. That made me feel better.

The following week was really hard. With every task I did, I just felt so sad that I'd never be doing it again. I'd never be there again. Without realizing it, I had started to feel at home there. It was first time since high school that I had felt so attached to a place and such a strong sense of belonging. On my final day, my coworkers were really psyched for me. The new person who was filling my coworker's job wished me luck at my new job. I wished her luck and told her that everyone was really nice. I talked to my coworkers a lot, more than I normally would during the work day. I told them how sad I was to leave, and they all agreed that I was doing the right thing. I gave my supervisor a thank-you card saying how much the job had meant to me and how nice everyone had been. My coworker gave me her own pencil mug as a parting gift, the mug she had at her first-ever job. She remembered what it was like to be just starting out and wanted me to have something personal to put on my desk at my new job. She wrote "To Nicole, Best wishes! Love, [name]" on the bottom. I hugged her and tried not to cry.

My coworkers went to lunch at 11:30. I was supposed to leave at noon and not take a lunch break, but I decided to go and eat with them one final time and just stay later afterwards. We talked about how long I had been there, how I started back in August when we used to eat outside together. I only took a few bites of my sandwich. I didn't feel like eating.  After lunch, I kept working until absolutely everything was finished, at about 1:30. I left a sticky note on my procedure instructions for the new temp saying, "All of these instructions are saved on Word docs on this computer. I wrote these for your convenience, so feel free to add or change anything that works better for you. Best of luck!" I asked my supervisor one last time if there was anything else I could do, but she said that I had gotten her all caught up, ahead of schedule. I went around and said goodbye to my other coworkers. I came back to my supervisor and my main coworker, the one who had given me her pencil mug. They both hugged me and I told them how much I would miss them. They walked me over to the fridge and told me to take one last bottle of free iced tea. My supervisor walked me down to the door and told me to take care of myself and to use her as a reference because I had been a great employee. I told her it had been a great experience.

I started crying the moment I stepped out the door and cried all the way home. I did my errands as soon as I got home and started packing my things (we were going to my boyfriend's grandparents' house for Thanksgiving weekend). I got on the computer and deleted 700+ job-search-related emails. It wasn't so much a cleansing ritual - it was a way of assuring myself that I had done the right thing, that I had a real job now, that I may have waited months to do this if I had stayed where I was. I had written an email to my most persistent recruiter when I first accepted the new position, for the same reason.

I start my new job tomorrow. Everyone seems very friendly there, and I've gotten a positive vibe. My parents said I'll fit in and make friends more quickly because everyone will assume I'm going to stay there. There are a lot more people at this company and more people my age. I feel like it won't be long before I'm not the newest person there, before I start to feel at home there. I'm on a 90-day probation period, but I know it's going to be okay.

What I learned at my first real job goes beyond work experience, beyond anything I could list on a resume. I learned what I'm capable of when I'm in an environment that's right for me. When you spend too much time in an environment that's bad for you, you can get a warped perception of yourself. You start to think that you just aren't good enough, even if you know logically that you just don't like your situation. Working with all of the kind, encouraging people at my company reminded me that I am good enough. In time I'll start to feel at home in my new job and I won't miss my old one anymore. Wherever I end up from here, I will never forget where I started. I love you all.

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