This was an interesting week. Following the successful score of “awesome!” on my assessment test for one potential employer, I waited patiently for a phone interview. It came on Wednesday. It was more nerve-wracking than I thought and I didn’t think it went that well from my perspective. I think it had to do with what I’m going to call Fear of Prima Donna syndrome, for lack of a better word.
I have a lot of experience from my years in the drug industry and I even managed to get promotions(!). Imagine that. I think that had to do with the fact that despite my lack of a PhD, which seems to be maniacally important to the drug industry these days, I managed to overcome the fear of learning new things. This is something I frequently saw did not happen with some PhDs I worked with who seemed to want to hide the fact that they didn’t know absolutely everything when they sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus. Not all of them were like this but a fair number appeared to be hiding behind their comp exams and not engaging with the new stuff in front of them. I had no such qualms. I fully admitted up front that I didn’t know everything and the more I knew, the less certain I was that I knew everything. So, when someone threw me a new application or problem to solve, I figured I might as well try it as not. What’s the worst that could happen? Ok, I almost lost a protein we worked 6 months to grow and harvest but I pulled out a miraculous save in the lab that day and all’s well that ends well. We got a paper out of it.
Anyway, I digress.
My point is that when a prospective employer sees that level of experience and the salary that went with it, they start to assume that you’re 1.) going to be an ego driven prima donna and 2.) you will think the compensation they’re offering is going to be too low so that 3.) you will leave for greener pastures at the first opportunity.
The phone interview was an exercise in trying to dispel those notions. But the reason I am HERE in Pittsburgh and not chasing research positions in Cambridge or San Francisco is because I did a cost benefit analysis of running from start-up to start-up in the current drug industry environment without a PhD and thought it was a losing proposition. By moving here, I structured my lifestyle in such a way so that I would have the freedom to learn new things in a new industry and not feel like my livelihood (or my house) was always one paycheck away from ruin. That is not to say I am not going to be extremely cautious from now on. For example, if I get the job, the first thing I’m going to do is start saving my six months salary in case of a future layoff. I have learned my lesson and the economy will feel the impact of the thousands of us who have been burned- repeatedly.
The Fear of Prima Donna syndrome hypothesis got another data point when another prospective employer sent me an email that said, in effect, “Um, we can’t possibly pay you what you were making previously. You do realize this is an entry level position, don’t you?”. I had a good laugh over that one. Yes, I am working part time and without health benefits but if you offer me a full time job with insurance, I am going to refuse it because you are unable to pay me my customary $92,000/year + 15% bonus.
Silly, silly, people.
There is one employer in the area that I have decided not to pursue any further and that is UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. They post a TON of administrative assistance positions on their sites and I have applied to almost every one of them. But I never hear back from any of them. I don’t even get rejection letters, which is what I have received from other institutions. This is not the University of Pittsburgh, by the way. It’s the hospital system. It’s a shame because I had heard from the career counselor that it was a reasonable target employer. However, I have met some recent employees of UPMC, both former and current, who say that they tend to discriminate and layoff based on age.
And, this is interesting, these employees also say that the age discrimination is related to UPMC’s desire to save money by not employing anyone in their 50’s due to the cost of a healthcare insurance policy. This is a strange thing to say since UPMC *is* an insurance company. You’d think they’d discount their employees. If it is true, then Obamacare didn’t take care of this problem, apparently. I don’t have any proof that this is the case but when I first started to apply to UPMC, it was the only employer that specifically asked for a birthdate on their online application form. Someone must have complained because they have dropped that. But it is the employer that now asks if the applicant has been unemployed for more than 30 days and in this modern employment environment, I think that bar is set too high for most people looking for work.
I’m pretty sure my rejection is not due to my qualifications. I have applied to senior admin positions as well as those that require a year or less experience. With my proficiency with Microsoft Office, coupled with my experience running the administrative tasks for the hardware team at my previous job for many years, I should have more than enough in the way of qualifications. But I hear nary a peep from UPMC. I have no idea why they have excluded me from even a phone interview. It could be that I don’t know any insiders at UPMC or that they’re just posting pro-forma jobs while they plan to hire internally anyway. I have no clue or data to help me retool my strategy. So, I am dropping them from my list of potential employers.
Next week, there is a career fair featuring some local employers. I plan to go. I think it helps if they see you in person to get rid of some of the silly notions they have in their heads about your temperament (much better), sense of humor (I’m going to write a satire someday), team player quality (I swear, I don’t want to direct), physical fitness (superb!), etc. At least I hope this is the case. However, if there is real discrimination going on based on employment status or age, it’s probably beyond the scope of an applicant to address. It will take investigation and legislation for that. Given the number of us who are underemployed and have many years to go before we get to social security age, I wouldn’t put it off if I were congress. Sooner or later, something will need to be done. Either we get a champion now so we can support ourselves or we will end up costing society more as we age when it will be forced to support us.
And the employer who called me for the phone interview is not out of the picture, but I’m not buying champagne yet. There is still at least one more trial to overcome before I get the grail in that quest.
Total applications this week (end 09/13/2014): 7 (cutting out UPMC dropped this number considerably)
Total applications since the beginning of this project: 42
Total number of phone interviews: 1
Total number of calls for on-site interviews: 1
- Temp agency: 1
- Direct position: 1
Total number of assessments taken: 1; Number passed: 1
Total number networking contacts: 3