From the archives

Here’s a post I wrote late last October, when I was in my receptionist job. I was working on perfecting this when I got laid off, at which point it seemed irrelevant. But I’m posting it now as a record of what that job was like.

I’m six weeks into my new job.

At first I was really happy: having a real job made me feel needed and valued, and it was really good for me to have a legitimate reason to get out every other day. I was no longer isolated and felt like I had a purpose, however minor my contribution.

There is still some of that left. I like having the external direction and purpose. But what I thought was going to be a really friendly, laid-back atmosphere has turned out to feel like a collection of middle-school cliques. This is no doubt aggravated by the fact that most of us are in the same 20s & 30s age demographic. I am constantly made aware of my place: I am not one of the cool, popular kids. It’s in the condescending way people talk to me (when they do deign to talk to me). It’s in the way people walk past me in the hallway without even looking at me, much less saying hi. It’s in the way I sit with a group at lunch, and no one says a word to me, and my attempts at joining in fall utterly flat. It’s in the way that people passing by will interrupt my conversation in order to talk to the other person, without so much as acknowledging that I’m there, or that I was in the middle of saying something. It’s in the way the entire office will go out for an afternoon ice cream treat, all walking right past my desk, and hurry out the door without anyone asking if they can bring anything back for me (since I can’t leave the phone).

I know, I’m just a receptionist. And of course it’s going to be humbling for me to be in this role after being used to the status/cultural cred of being a PhD student. Many, many people could do what I do, and it’s the type of job that no one actually notices until you’re not there. I just hadn’t thought that people would be this concerned about status. Everyone in my grad program is really friendly to our admin assistant (even though she’s a huge grump). And everyone, from grad students to full professors, pitches in to get her a generous Christmas present every year.

It’s certainly not everyone who treats me like this: out of about 50 employees, there are definitely a few who are friendly and nice and seem not to mind talking to me.

The person who I have the most contact with, ST, is not actually my boss, but she is the one who tells me everything I’m supposed to do. She used to be the only receptionist until they gradually started moving her into more behind-the-scenes, operations stuff. Then they hired one part-time receptionist, and soon after that brought me on too. So it makes sense that ST should be delegating responsibilities to me since she knows best how to do everything.

From my first day, she was very stand-offish to me. For the first few weeks I refused to take it personally, and was sure that she was just getting to know me, and it was fine if she didn’t have bubbly, friendly personality. But now that I’m in my 7th week and she’s more or less the same as she was at the beginning, I’m pretty sure she just doesn’t like me. It probably has nothing to do with me per se: I think she just has her whole life and identity tied up in her job and can’t handle the fact that someone else is replacing her, even if she is getting a promotion in the deal. She wants to micromanage everything I do and needs to be the final authority in even the most insignificant decisions.

I can see all these inefficiencies and inconsistencies and ways things can be improved. But ST, the only person who I’m allowed to speak to about anything*, is, as a rule, uninterested in anything I have to contribute.

*Literally. She chewed me out one day for sending one of the big bosses too many emails–quick, short messages in which I tried to clarify the inscrutable directions he’d sent me.

I’m really glad that my time there was limited, even if it wasn’t my choice to limit it, because it probably would have dragged me down a lot emotionally and mentally. Plus, it’s been a helpful experience to have had for my current job search (not because of my role, but because of the industry) and it makes job-searching feel less strange than it otherwise might if I hadn’t had this real-world experience. And I have enough references from other jobs that I doubt I’ll have to use this one, so I don’t think it will come back to haunt me at all.


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