This Corruption Is Institutional

, , , , | Working | July 2, 2018

(In Germany, there are well-established networks that place young people with social, cultural, or environmental institutions as full-time volunteers for one year. Everyone involved knows that the volunteers are basically cheap labour, but many of the institutions, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and museums, would not be able to operate the way they do without them. The year after my graduation, there is an even higher need for volunteers than usual; the Parliament has decided to no longer draft young men for compulsory military service, which means the end of the alternative community service that tens of thousands of men do to get out of military duty. With no indication if enough men that would normally be drafted will volunteer for the networks without the incentive, many institutions worry. I decide to apply to a cultural volunteer network. Even though it is volunteer work, the volunteers do get some benefits. In that network, the institution pays for the volunteers’ insurance, provides either a place of living or financial compensation for rent, and give a monthly allowance of 300-350 Euros. In order to volunteer, you have to fill out an application online. Then, you get a list of institutions that match your profile, and you pick those that will be given your application. If the institution is interested in you, they contact you to set up an interview. After I submit my application, I am contacted by the network with a list of institutions very similar to the ones I chose that had gotten very few applications, asking my permission to send my application to them, too. One place I applied to is a well-known concentration camp memorial, [Institution #1]. On the second list is another camp memorial in the same state, managed by the same public agency, but way less known. I decide to apply to them, too. A while later I get a call from them.)

Woman: “Hello, this is [Woman] from [Institution #2]! We received your application and wanted to invite you to an interview!”

Me: “Great, I would love to! Since I am from another state, would it be possible to arrange something for [date]? I already have an appointment with [Institution #1] that day.”

Woman: “Sure, no problem! It’s only about 30 minutes by car from them to us! When is your appointment?”

(We agree on a time that should give me plenty of time to drive there after my first interview. On the day of the interviews, my mother drives me to [Institution #1]. The employees I am interviewing with lead me around the memorial site before settling into an office.)

Employee: “There are four volunteer spots. One day a week, the volunteers will man the information desk, after solid training, but the other four days you would work in a department of your choosing. After six months, we would like you to consider giving one-hour tours to tourists once or twice a week, but if you are uncomfortable with that, we can figure something out. We have a flat in town that our volunteers share. It’s only ten minutes by bus from the flat to us here. You would also get a public transport ticket that covers [most of the state] and an allowance of 350 Euros, as well as insurance.”

(At the end of the interview:)

Employee: “Before you leave, I wanted to tell you that we really liked your application. Yours was one of the few ones we got that really gave some insight into the applicant, instead of just standard answers, and it was a joy talking to you. There are several more people we will see the rest of the week, so I cannot guarantee you a spot, but you will definitely be on our shortlist!”

(I return to my mother with over 45 minutes left until my second interview. I really like this first place and the interview went great, so I am in a good mood. However, it soon turns out that the travel time the second place gave me was wrong. A few minutes before my interview is supposed to start, we make it to the town, but the navigation system is directing us out of it again, so I give them a call.)

Me: “Hi, this is [My Name]. I am afraid I will be late. The drive took longer than expected. I am at [Location] right now; I’m not sure how much longer it will take.”

Woman: “Oh, that’s no problem. You just came from [Institution #1], didn’t you? People are often late when they come from there. It should take you about 20 minutes to get to us from where you are right now. See you!”

(I am now really annoyed. This is clearly the same person I talked to before, that gave me the 30-minute estimate. In reality, with no traffic worth mentioning, it has taken us over an hour. When we reach the memorial site, there is nothing but fields in the middle of nowhere, with one single building in the middle. I enter and wander around for several minutes before I find an occupied office. The woman inside turns out to be my interviewer, and the person I talked to on the phone. While my first interview turned into a pleasant conversation that touched on all the topics important for both sides, this one is way more sterile.)

Woman: “Great, you finally made it. I have your application right here, so let’s get started. So, as you can see, our facilities are mostly underground in the mines below us, with a small surface exhibition here in the building. As a volunteer, you would be trained for seven to ten days before you start as a guide yourself. Only small two-hour tours for the start, but a month after the start of your training, you would lead the full-scale tours, ranging from four- and five-hour tours to whole-day programs, on your own, six days a week. I know it’s a bit more than the work at [Institution #1], but it is really rewarding to know you are really needed, isn’t it?”

(The last sentence is said in a tone that sounds rather condescending. I am a bit dumbfounded, both by her tone and her demands, but even more by the fact that I have not even had the chance to say a single word, other than my name when I entered the room. I am even still in my jacket, so little time has passed. The woman waits for an answer to her last statement, so I say the only thing my stupefied brain can come up with:)

Me: *quietly* “I guess?”

Woman: “As for the benefits, we will cover your insurance and give you an allowance of a total of 300 euros a month. There is also room in a flatshare in town that we provide! I assume you have your own car?”

(I stated in my application that I have no car, and nowhere in their profile has the need for one been even hinted.)

Me: “No, I was not aware I needed one.”

Woman: “Oh, well, we are not connected to public transport, so you will have to find a way to work on your own. You can use a bike, I guess; on the road you got here on it should only take about 40 minutes from the town centre. It could be a bit problematic in winter when it snows, but I guess we might be able to arrange for someone to give you a ride with their car if it gets too bad.”

(The street she talks about was ten minutes by car, uphill, on cobblestone, only barely wide enough for two cars to pass by each other. I become even more shocked by her nonchalant voice when she says this, but manage to pull myself together enough to get through the rest of the interview. However, it does not develop into anything good. I return to my mother, still in disbelief, and tell her the whole story on the drive home.)

Mother: “Honey, if they offer you a spot, you’ll say no! I mean, I know very well that this is cheap labour, but what they are asking is insane! The other places were at least nice about it and offered you something in return; this is ridiculous! I do not know how they expect to get any of their spots filled like that, especially this year!”

(Several weeks later, I get a call from the woman from [Institution #2].)

Woman: “Hello! This is [Woman]! I would like to offer you the spot as a volunteer at [Institution #2]! Before you decide, I should tell you that [Institution #1] has already chosen their volunteers, too, and you are not one of them, nor are you on the list for substitutes should one of their picks decline, so do not wait out for an offer from them!”

(I declined, stating that I thought I was not a good fit for what they were looking for. She brushed it off, saying that she got the feeling I might not like being that far away from my family, and quickly ended the call before I could correct her on that. I never heard from [Institution #1]. I eventually decided to not volunteer at all, but went to university in the fall. While I have not regretted that choice, I grew more and more convinced that [Institution #2] wanting me for one of their volunteers had resulted in the agency that runs both places removing me from the shortlist of possible picks for the spots with [Institution #1]. When the children of family friends have applied via the same network in the years since, I have always made sure to tell them to avoid that second memorial site, and to not allow additional applications to be sent to small institutions that are in any way affiliated with any of their original pick. Doing so has very likely ruined my chance to work in a great place.)

Would Rather Not Go In His Hat

, , , | | Right | May 23, 2018

(I work in a staffing office. It’s a very professional setting, and I’m currently getting a younger guy checked in to interview for an employment position. The door flies open and an older gentleman in a cowboy hat bursts in.)

Cowboy Hat: “YOUGOTTAS***TERBACKTHERE?!”

Me: *taken aback* “Excuse me?”

Cowboy Hat: “YOU-GOT-A-S***TER-BACK-THERE?!”

Me: *pauses to process what he said* “You’re looking for a bathroom?”

(I give him directions to our restroom. The younger guy interviewing with me speaks up.)

Younger Guy: “I’m so sorry… That’s my dad.”

Hiring With No Great Agency

, , , , | | Working | May 22, 2018

I applied for a job online. The description said it was a language school, and everything else seemed legit: what I would be doing, working time, who I would report to, etc.

As they called me in for an interview at a specific time, I asked them to change it because I was currently working and needed to ask for a day off first. The caller was so surprised she actually was speechless for a moment and rambled incoherently, “Um… Oh, well…” Note: this was a senior position. She quickly got over it and we settled a date.

She also told me they were actually an agency, currently working on a project for that language school and another project for a financial company. If I joined, I would be working on both projects and have to work at two places; for example, Monday I’d go to the school at [Street #1], and then Tuesday I’d go to the financial company at [Street #2]. Both destinations had almost the same commute time from my house, so that didn’t sound like that big of a deal.

When I arrived at the office of the “agency,” it turned out that it was the office of the financial company. As I talked to the “director’s assistant,” the one I previously spoke with on the phone, she told me they own both the financial company and the school, not that those were their client.

There was nothing special about the interview, except they seemed to be looking for a person who could be a designer, a cameraman, a makeup artist, a video editor, and a sound editor at the same time, of course with the salary of only one position.

Needless to say, I never worked at that company, but I still wonder what exactly that company was. A school? An agency? Something else?

You Won’t Hear A Jeep Out Of Me

, , , , | Working | April 9, 2018

(I am interviewing for a field computer technician job. The job entails servicing customers at their locations. This area of the country gets heavy snowfalls throughout the winter. This is in the mid-1970s, before SUVs become popular, and before all-wheel and four-wheel drive are common on vehicles that aren’t trucks.)

Interviewer: “…and the job comes with a company car!”

Me: “I hope it’s a Jeep!”

Interviewer: “No, that would not fit with the company image. But you could buy your own Jeep, and we’d reimburse you for mileage.”

(I quietly imagine two scenarios. Scenario #1:)

Me: *on the phone to a customer* “Sorry your computer is down, but my Chevy Impala can’t get through the snow. You lose.”

(Scenario #2: People look out the window to see a Jeep, with a company logo on the side, churning up the snow-covered road coming to save the day.)

Me: *thinking, but keeping quiet* “Now, tell me again, which one is in keeping with the company image?”

Won’t Need To Wait All Night To Make A Decision

, , , , , , , | Working | February 23, 2018

I once went to an interview in a different department in the same company. I went to the manager’s office at the appointed time and waited about ten minutes. Then, the manager stuck his head out and said, “Sorry, it will only be a few more minutes.”

Ten minutes later, he finally emerged. He came over and began talking with me. Over his shoulder, I saw someone run into his office. He then left me and went into his office for another ten minutes. Then, he came out and resumed his talk.

One of the things he mentioned was that, in order to prepare for a monthly report to higher-ups, his department pulled an all-nighter to get the data. He said this with pride. Somehow, I kept my mouth shut while thinking, “If you had any organization, or better systems, you wouldn’t need to pull all-nighters to get the data.”

Thankfully, I did not get the job, because I had no intention of working for that manager.

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