I changed jobs a while ago. The restaurant I had been working at for a couple of years decided, amongst other poor decisions, to ignore the advice of the Department of Health. “I’m going to come back here sometime in the next few weeks,” the health inspector said, “and if I don’t like what I see …” then the restaurant’s C grading would stand. For anybody that doesn’t know, all New York City restaurants are given an annual rating of A, B, or C. So the restaurant changed nothing, the guy came back, was like, “are you kidding me?” gave them the C, and left. As punishment, the general manager came downstairs in a cocaine-fueled rage, fired the closest busboy, screamed out something like, “and there’s more where that came from!” to the rest of the staff and then disappeared.
So I figured, yeah, you know what? As much as I adored my indentured servitude, maybe a change of scenery would do me some good. But I wasn’t sure. I needed to make a list, some pros and cons. OK, so, pro: all you can eat ice cream. Believe me, I took advantage of that one. Pro: Only tourists came in, meaning no regulars, meaning if I didn’t feel like acting nice I didn’t have to, because even if they did complain, pro: the managers didn’t do anything except hide out in the office, and wouldn’t know how to deal with a pissed off guest anyway.
But the con side of the list brought everything into sharp relief. No benefits, no regular schedule, constant yellings and screamings from the psychotic GM … whatever, I don’t feel like reliving my lousy job by complaining. I do enough of that in real life.
So I went online and checked out some job listings. One restaurant immediately caught my eye because they offered benefits, something pretty rare in the service industry. I walked in, went through the interviews, and here I am, new job. My old job didn’t take it so well. Even though I gave a five-weeks notice, the general manager looked me square in the eye and told me I’d never work in the restaurant industry ever again. Seriously, what a nut job.
The only problem I had in switching, and it sounds like a minor detail, but there is always so much time spent waiting around while you’re filling out applications. It’s almost enough of a deterrent in itself to actually finding a new job. I walked in the door of the new restaurant. I had to introduce myself to a hostess and tell her I’m responding to the open call. She gives me an application and tells me to take a seat somewhere to fill it out. There are like two hundred other people filling out applications. First of all, I don’t get this application stuff, because it’s all right there on my resume. Why don’t you just take a copy of my resume? Everybody puts so much weight on the resume, but every single time I’ve interviewed somewhere, they always make me waste twenty or thirty minutes refilling out everything by hand on some generic application form.
Whatever. I filled it out. I handed it in. “Thanks a lot, somebody will be with you in a second.” And I hate to ask, but I know from past experiences that I have to, “Where should I wait?” because if I don’t ask, I’ll just kind of wander around aimlessly and try not to look like I’m too worried that I’m waiting in the incorrect area. And then the waiting starts. People are being selected at what seems like totally random to sit down and chat with somebody in a suit. I wonder why people who came after me are being interviewed first.
I tell myself, don’t think about it Rob. Get out of your head. Just act natural. But acting natural only works if you’re not thinking about it. And if I really wanted to act really natural, I’d be at home on my couch taking it easy. That’s a little too natural. So I always engage in an anxious type of weird self-coaching. Sit up straight. OK, not too straight. Stop furrowing your brow. Stuff runs through my mind like, where do I look? I want to look engaged with the world but not scatterbrained. I want to look focused on something without staring off into space. I don’t want to seem fidgety, but I don’t want to be like a statue.
Finally I got called. The manager gave me a brief interview, looked at my then-current former job and said something like, “Wow, you must love it there. That place is really busy. Why are you leaving?” and I have to make up some crazy sounding answer about wanting more flexibility or growth opportunities or something like that. Nobody wants an interviewee to start badmouthing their current job. You have to stay positive. So the manager tells me to hang tight while he gets some more papers for me to fill out. More waiting.
Maybe fifteen minutes later he comes back with a personality test. It was one of those “1 for strongly disagree, 5 for strongly agree” type of tests. Stuff like, “I just hate being bossed around by women,” and I’d mark a number one. My thing is, even if you’re the biggest sexist on the planet, can’t you see right through that question? Don’t you realize that any job is going to want you to say, “no problem?”
I fill out that test. Then came an intelligence test. Then they set up another interview. Then another one. Then a uniform check. I get through all of them. What I can’t believe is that I made it through the waiting in between each round. Just showing up at the restaurant, I’d immediately be directed to a seat to wait. Indefinitely. Then someone would come with something for me to sign. “I’ll be right back to take that from you.” Half an hour of more waiting.
I got to thinking that all of that waiting had to be a part of the interview process. They had to be looking specifically for people that could go for long periods of time while sitting still. Anybody who knows me knows that that’s not who I am. So I just had to fake it. I had to clench my fists as tight as I could while trying not to go for my phone every ten seconds to check if that email wasn’t maybe something more important than one of the twenty-five emails Barack Obama sent me asking for some more reelection campaign money.
I got the job. All is well. I just feel like a lot of what inhibits me from going for new jobs is stuff like spending hours waiting around doing absolutely nothing. I know it’s incredibly shortsighted to not want to go out there because you’re afraid of waiting. But can imagine how awful I would have felt if, after all of that sitting around, they just left me there? They wouldn’t even tell me I couldn’t work there, they’d just ignore me, keep me waiting, the restaurant getting busier and busier until finally, a hostess or a waitress would come up to me and be like, “Can we help you?” and I’d try to explain that I’m waiting for somebody to come back with some papers, but they’d never show up. The dinner rush would end and finally someone else would come by and be like, “We’re closing up. Locking the doors for the night. Let’s go.”
And none of that happened. But it all went through my mind as I was sitting there, wondering what was taking so long, hoping I didn’t misunderstand some social cue, worrying that I’d somehow been overlooked or forgotten about.