Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Human Resources and my crisis of (employable) self: A Lament.

Recently a friend of mine (who I hope is still my friend) tried to throw some work my way.  He knew my current situation, and his offer of help was sincere and very much appreciated.  The work involved was with an important auxiliary operation of one of Chicago's main hospitals.  The pay offered was admittedly low and the job was part-time.  And, given that the minimum qualifications required only a high school diploma, I was obviously overqualified, but the thought was a) to get me out of the house and ease me (and my puppy) back into the workaday world and b) that perhaps it would lead one day to something else at the hospital.  These were worthy goals, and, despite any apprehension I had with working for a friend, I was enthusiastic about the opportunity.

That was until I went through the Human Resources process of an organization whose requirements were like nothing I had ever experienced.  Their policies and procedures sparked a crisis of self-worth that has been seething just beneath the surface over these last 18 months of unemployment -- a crisis exacerbated by the realization some time ago that I have no clear, discernible path to a work-life that is post-architecture, the profession for which I was most recently trained.

Going into HR, I knew -- this being a hospital (and in spite of the fact that I would be nowhere near an actual patient) -- that I would have to submit to a physical, a drug test, and a TB test in addition to the more quotidian hiring application and hurdles.  After the official interview went fine and all my professional references checked out (thank you, everybody!), I was offered the position...pending the receipt of infancy Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR) immunization and documentation proving I had graduated from high school.

I didn't expect that.  Not being quick on my feet (damn my genes!), I stumbled through acknowledging that I would figure out how to find these things.  It was only after the fact that I processed the feeling of what the fuck!?  Upon reflection, I could sort of understand the MMR documentation, but honestly:  do you know where your MMR records are?  It occurred to me that I might have needed them when I was submitting health records the last time I entered graduate school...13 years ago.  But would they still exist in the files of my last university?  And, if they didn't (or were never there to begin with), where on Earth would I look?  There's no way my mother would have them, and how exactly do you go about requesting late-60s-era records from a hospital you cannot remember in Buffalo, NY?

What really steamed my clams, however, was the high school documentation.  I was told by HR that my college transcript or one of the transcripts from my two graduate programs would suffice in its stead.  Really? You think??  My self-righteous indignation was slow to rise; but, once it did, it had no bounds:  you have got to be kidding me!  For a part-time, $10-an-hour job, I have to prove I graduated high school when my resume -- confirmed by my professional references -- clearly shows a college degree and two Master degrees from some of the most prestigious schools in the world!?  WHY!?!?

My Irish now irrevocably up, I shared this indignation with both my friend (and, until the very moment he finished reading the message, my potential, future boss) and the really-quite-innocent HR lady.  And, well, you can probably guess the rest....

When I woke up the next morning, after little to no sleep the night before, I knew I could not pin this on HR policy and procedure.  My injured pride had roots much deeper than what the hospital had required of me; they just happened to provide the back-breaking straw.  I now understand a little more about why the hospital needs these things (though I still think the high school bit is the height of absurdity), but the bigger -- the real -- problem is figuring out what I'm supposed to be doing with myself.  It's the eternal question for a natural-born dilettante like me in a world that makes you choose.  And that's something I could not and cannot blame on HR or anyone else.

My only consolation is the hope that I've dodged a bullet, and my friendship will live another day.  This is a huge relief, but the larger work still looms....