A Word to the Wise – Chapter 4, from 10½ SKETCHES: Insights on Being Successful Right Where You Are

I could ace this. I was sure. owl 2 snowy-white-owl-913-1559
The cheery interviewer directed me to a little room with a computer desk and chair. I was about to complete the final step of the interviewing process.

“Your English is excellent,” she had complimented me earlier. “I don’t foresee a problem with a placement if you pass this test.”

I was at an employment agency in Toronto, being screened for my first official job in Canada, and I was ecstatic to go back to work in the professional world. The University of Toronto had assessed my degree as being comparable to one earned from a Canadian university, and my application to teach was being processed by the Ontario Teacher’s College. In the interim, I wanted something to do.

I listened to the interviewer’s instructions carefully and noted the time given. Then came the question of application: Word Perfect 6 or Word 7?

The higher number sounded smarter and my answer came easy. “Word 7.”
I had never worked on Word 7 but it couldn’t be so different from Word 6, could it? I had used Word 6 but that was not an option at the employment office.

Insight: Don’t try to impress or show off at an important first time event. Be especially mindful of time and place.

I clicked the START button. All was well until the warning came up that I was to use another method and not the shortcut menu I had used for the previous two answers. Pointing to the toolbar, I picked the corresponding option from the Home menu. Two questions later I was requested to use yet another method.
Another method? Whatever happened to knowing one method and sticking with it?

Insight: If no alternative is asked for, default to a particular way of doing things. This will allow you to save time or use other resources more productively.

I did not know the keyboard shortcuts. I was not familiar with some of the new elements of Word 7 that formed the majority of the test.

Insight: There’s a very short distance between brilliance and stupidity and it takes a nanosecond to plummet to the stupid end.

My palms were sweaty and I hated the computer at that moment, but more than that, I loathed the creator of the new version of the software. I could not figure out the new changes to the menu as the clock ticked. Cruel slave driver! Time ran out before I could finish the typing test.

Throughout the tests, I had wanted to call the instructor, but for reasons that were not test-related. I’d need a taxi as I felt certain I could not drive myself back home in the heavy afternoon traffic in my thoroughly humiliated mode. And humiliated I was with a 65% score.

The interviewer’s tone was gentle. “I’m sorry but I can’t place you until your test marks are over 80%.”
“Do you have jobs that don’t require Word?” I hoped someone was hacking version 7 then and there.
“I have one in a mail room but that’s not a good fit for you. You are too well-dressed to move dusty boxes.” Her eyes took in my tailored blazer and pointed tipped sling backs that were my customary mode of dress as a teacher in Trinidad.

“I have old clothes at home.” My information was ineffective as damage control. The impression had already been made.

Insight: Even though it appeared to not work in my situation, attempting damage control is a positive step.

“It’s not a good job for you,” she repeated, clearly having caught a glimpse of my crestfallen face. “The boxes are heavy. You don’t belong there.”

I wanted to interrupt, to tell her I belonged, that I could lift boxes, but I waited until she was finished.
“We’ll find you the right placement.” She smiled her reassurance, one I was not feeling, and then I spoke.
“I’m accustomed to lifting heavy things. My baby weighs 31 pounds.”

Insight – Offering family information is not advisable. New mothers may require more time off than another employee and that could jeopardize chances of employment. (Note – this did not affect my eventual placement.)

Her eyes narrowed slightly before she continued, “The boxes can weigh a lot more than that. You fit better with corporate and we’ll find you a placement there. Why not go home and practice some more and call me when you feel you are ready for another test?”

I went home but did not practice. I reflected on the over-confidence that had been my downfall. I was used to pushing myself, going after higher, trying to raise the bar. But that had worked against me this time. And even if it had cost me a job, I was NOT changing the way I dressed. Three days later, I booked another appointment. I also changed my mind about my clothes and wore what I perceived to be appropriate attire for the mailroom.

Insight: The maxim, “Keep your words short and sweet in case you have to eat them” is sound advice. Words like “not” or “never” can cause indigestion pretty quickly.

Dutifully, I selected Word Perfect 6 from the list of applications, glaring balefully at a certain option with a higher number. Okay so far. My typing speed fell below the 40 wpm but my accuracy was 100%. Then came the results.
“93%. You’ve improved a lot and quickly.” The inflection in the interviewer’s voice indicated incredulity. And admiration. I explained the Word Perfect 6 versus Word 7 fiasco then inquired with trepidation about the mailroom job. The executive excused herself and returned with a colleague. Again she reinforced that I was too skilled for the position in the mailroom. Her male partner nodded his agreement. I wondered who had asked him his opinion.
Her next sentence dashed him and his opinion totally from my mind.

“Will you be able to pick up a temporary post right away?”

Would a fish like water? I nodded my head up and down, up and down, my smile wide. I couldn’t speak for a few seconds, a rare phenomenon indeed.

I imagined my eyes were shining and I felt good that I had dressed down that day. She had changed her mind about the fit because I was looking the part. I envisioned myself lifting 40 pounds up and down, up and down, until I mastered the mailroom.

“It’s only a two-week placement, but it’s a starting point.”

I took in her coiffed hair, flawless makeup and the kindly smile that stretched from her pink lips to her blue eyes.

“The company will send weekly reports of your performance and if the reports are favorable, I’ll place you elsewhere as soon as another opening comes up.”

The company. I had not asked which postal location I’d be sent to. Nor had I thanked her, for that matter. I expressed my profuse gratitude, much to the amusement of the male partner. As I was feeling much more kindly towards him, to the world, I included him in my thanks. Then came the details of location.

“You’re going to the airport,” she explained. I still considered myself new to Canada, and airports housed shops, hotels, car rentals and just about everything else. A post office did not seem unreasonable.
“Lester Pearson Airport. The Human Resources (HR) department of Airport Group Canada needs someone immediately for two weeks. You’re the right fit.”

What? No post office? Involuntarily, I looked down at my jersey cardigan, trousers and flats. As if sensing my thoughts, she added, “What you are wearing will be fine for the job.”

I quickly assured her that I would be dressing as I had the first time we met. She nodded ever so slightly and I felt an increased desire to want to make her proud. I would do my best indeed.

Insight: First impressions count. When unsure of the dress mode, the best idea is to dress business formal and adjust after.

Away I went to my first job. The two-week placement as administrative assistant in Human Resources stretched into summer employment that turned into permanent full-time work as Coordinator of Training and Customer Service. Fifteen months later, I left HR for teaching with solid references under my belt.
I had successfully handled my first job in Canada.

Insight: Consistently being one’s best is critical because references are needed. Take the high road if needed but never burn bridges.

God has Word too. And His Word is perfect. It was here long before the information age, and its reliability is assured. It needs no update and I can count on acing with Him anytime. Not in my strength but in His, and for His glory. Dressed up or down, in rags or velvet, in pigs’ mess or whale’s vomit, He sees us for our worth.
“Come as you are.” He invites. And reaches down to pull us up to heavenly places. High. Permanent. For eternity. The only requirement being that our names are written in Heaven’s payroll in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. Psalm 19:7-9

Low Res 10 Sketches Cover Lo 31 Oct. 2014

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