Monday, September 6, 2010

In which I work for a crazy boss

I know, I know. Everyone has a crazy boss at some point and I should consider myself lucky that this boss, Crazy Cathy, was only a short-term boss in a temporary employment situation. I was considering going into the Peace Corps and didn't have a whole lot vested with CC, but it was still a pain in the neck.

I was in Austin and had finished my MBA. Unlike my wiser fellow students, I had made no effort whatsoever to find gainful employment before graduation. I was aloof, sure that I would escape the corporate rat marathon that everyone else seemed so eager to run.

Ha. Stupid me. I forgot the part about how if you want to make a decent living, you have to work for your money. As in, they don't pay you the big bucks because it's fun to go to the office every day; they pay you because it's hard and you have to deal with idiots. Not all of us can be major league ball players or actresses. We don't have the talent to be athletes or the photogenicity to be on film. That leaves corporate cubicle dronedom, unless of course you are a trust fund brat and inherited wealth is a whole separate category that I won't address here as I have no experience with it, except that it wasn't until I got to college that I first encountered people who were from another socio-economic strata from mine. Most families on military bases are about the same income level and even if someone has wealth from another source, you wouldn't know because base housing is assigned by need and rank, not by wealth. One of my college classmates was getting some fancy car, though, and his dad was having it custom made. Actually, even being around students whose parents were paying their tuition and giving them spending money for beer was a novelty.

But I digress.

He who wants to eat must work and eating is my favorite hobby, which means work is a necessary evil.

Still, I didn't want to go back to another big company because I had just left a big company. I had this vision of working for a small company where life would be all rainbows and unicorns. So I waited until after I had graduated, then spent the rest of my savings on a ten-week traipse through Europe, Turkey and Israel, before I commenced my job search.


Nobody was hiring in the summer of 1992. At least, they weren't hiring me.

I started networking, as rumor has it that is how one finds a job.

I contacted former clients from when I had worked for the insurance company before grad school. One of them, Crazy Cathy, owned a small company with her husband. When I asked her to keep me in mind if anyone needed to hire someone such as I, she asked if I would do some work for her. Her human resources director had quit and she needed to hire a replacement. Would I go through the resumes and screen the candidates?

Sure. Piece of cake.

But there was more.

Each candidate in whom she might be interested had to be tested. If the person passed the test, CC would interview him. I graded the test as the candidate waited and knew right away if he would proceed further.

But CC wouldn't let me tell people that they were out.

I had to leave them hanging, which as anyone who has ever looked for a job knows, is a horrible feeling.

I myself had to take the test. I missed one question out of 20 or so. What do you call the person who runs a factory or an apartment building? Apparently, the answer was "superintendent," but considering I had never lived in New York* and every person I have ever heard of running a factory is called a plant manager or the like, superintendent was not the word that sprang to mind. CC said I had one of the highest scores she had ever seen. Whatever.

Once a candidate had passed the first test, he had to take a second one - a personality profile called the Birkman test. This test is not supposed to be used as a hiring tool, but that did not stop CC. She fancied herself a psychologist.

Here's the rest of it: the first test was an intelligence test.

In the state of Texas and I know this because I called the Department of Labor and a friend who used to be an HR director for Kraft and who had worked in Texas, it is illegal to give an intelligence test as part of the hiring process. Or, probably, it is illegal to consider the results of an intelligence test in hiring someone unless you can prove that intelligence measured in that way is a necessary part of the job.

I was quite uncomfortable with doing something illegal. I thought maybe CC just didn't know, so I mentioned my call to her. She was furious. How dare I! How DARE I?!

Yet I continued to work there. CC, who showed up a few hours a week, would call for me while I was away from my desk (OMG! I went to the ladies' room sometimes!) and would be livid when I returned her call. Where was I? Why hadn't I been at my desk?

She paid me to feed their cats while they were out of town, which was just fine except she charged those hours to the company instead of paying me out of her personal funds. Tax fraud. And - they paid their employees below-market salaries because they (claimed they) had profit sharing. Profits that were artificially diminished because she was charging her personal expenses to the company.

None of this was the last straw, though. It wasn't until the head finance guy had me go through all the customer files to identify California customers and their 1990 purchases so the company could remit sales tax to California that I lost it. It wasn't pulling the 1990 purchases - it was after I had spent three days going through every single customer file to make a photocopy of any California customer purchases, the finance guy said, "Now do the same thing for 1991."

"But why didn't you just ask me to do both of them at the same time?" I sputtered, incredulous.

He shrugged. "You're being paid by the hour, aren't you?"

"I'm not being paid to be bored and inefficient," I shot at him.

Then I burst into tears. "I used to make $75,000 a year and I had my own secretary!" I sobbed as I left his office, furious. Nothing more humiliating than crying at work, in front of a jerk, over something so stupid. He was right. I was being paid by the hour. I should have welcomed the extra work, no matter how excruciatingly dull it was.

Three hours later, the finance guy showed up at my desk. "We won't be needing your services any more," he announced. He waited for me to get my things and walked me out. Because you know, I was going to trash the place. I couldn't believe I had been fired from such a corrupt place. I should have reported them to the IRS and the Department of Labor. Jerks.

* Which was why the taxicab medallion example made no sense to me in Econ 102, and yes I should have raised my hand and asked what the heck a medallion was and why it had anything to do with supply and demand, but I was a timid thing when I was in college and my professor was intimidating.