Monday, December 8, 2008

Polish Pride?

It's becoming increasingly difficult to be "proud to be Polish" lately.

For me, anyway.

Readers who frequent my blog know that one of my life's major stressors has been my inability to find a full-time job, an albatross weighing my neck down for upwards of a year now. I keep very accurate job-search records; to date, I've sent out over 700 resumes. So's not to pigeon hole myself into any narrow employment category type, I'm hitting a broad spectrum of industries and jobs of which I have the necessary skill set. I'm willing to work for a reasonable wage that still allows me to support my child, and I have a decade and a half of practical, valuable experience. My ideal situation now would be to work in an administrative/secretarial role within a medical practice or hospital, while receiving on-the-job training in a clinical capacity, with the five-year plan to include nursing school at night in order to earn my R.N. while I work.

My ideal job situation would also allow me to have a modicum of time to still assist with activities and responsibilities at my son's school, as I do now, and maintain my bi-weekly band practice and performance schedule, all while not having to trudge my son to through too many hours of before and after school day care.

Finally, the right job that satisfied all of these criteria presented itself. I'd responded to an ad on Craigslist for an administrative assistant/ophthalmology technician at a doctor's office on the Northwest Side of Chicago. While they required administrative experience, they were willing to train on the clinical side, which was perfect for me, seeing as most medical offices and hospitals to which I've applied require at least one year experience in either role within a medical setting.

The doctor phoned me to set up the first interview later one Sunday evening, while I was watching "Desperate Housewives" and making my son's school lunch for the following day. He was impressed with my resume and credentials and wanted to meet me early that week. The practice was not only brand new and starting from scratch, it was 6 blocks south of my house on the same street and had a very convenient work schedule. I scheduled my interview for the coming Tuesday.

The first interview went fantastically. The doctor was personable and gracious, and he reiterated his impression that I had a great resume and experience. I felt that I aced all of the pertinent questions and was encouraged by the dialogue he and I shared regarding the position. At the time, the doctor informed me that he'd received about 100 resumes, and had paired down the interviewees to roughly 20, and that I was the front-runner for the job after our meeting. So hooray!

The call to schedule interview #2 with the doctor's office came just two days later, which I found most encouraging. I researched "second interviews" on the internet and spoke with my mother at length, who herself has been the administrative assistant in a doctor's office for the better part of 20 years. I arrived promptly at interview #2 with my notebook and list of references, and was only mildly nervous because the doctor saw fit to have all of the interviewees sitting in his waiting room at the same time.

That seemed like an odd style, but perhaps the doctor had scheduling conflicts with patients or something. In any case, I felt like I was at an "American Idol" audition rather than a job interview.

Interview #2 went likewise swimmingly, and I arrived with some marketing ideas for the doctor's burgeoning Lasik eye business, as he requested at the end of interview #1, as part of my background is as a marketing and public relations assistant. During this meeting, however, the doctor said that the position would focus more on the administrative and clinical end than marketing, so my ideas, while appreciated were unnecessary. Fine. The interview also focused on a bit more about my interests and my 5-year plan, and other qualities that reiterated his impression that I was the front-runner for the job. I was then introduced to the other doctor in the practice, an old-as-dirt ophthalmologist in his mid 80's, and interviewed further with him. Then I met that doctor's receptionist, who turned out to be a friend of a friend, so we chatted for a bit about what a small world it was, etc. Back to the reception area where I sized up the competition, as it were, and filled out their standard job application. The two other candidates present were a young Hispanic woman and a young Polish woman. The Polish woman and I chatted briefly small talking about something that was on the television in the waiting room, and it was clear that she was a relatively new immigrant to this area.

Once my job application was completed, I left the interview with the impression that the other two candidates didn't have a PRAYER of getting the job over me, since my skill set, maturity, professionalism and sparkling (??) personality kept me as the front-runner. Plus, I can speak both Spanish and conversational Polish, which is growing increasingly necessary in our area due to the influx of immigrants.

The doctor asked me to come to interview #3 the following week (time TBD) with a list of questions about the practice that I wanted to ask him. Again, I sought my mother's advice since she's been the administrative assistant for a doctor in a private practice for almost 20 years. The third interview seemed more of a formality to me than anything else, and I surely didn't think that the two much younger, non-degreed applicants would outshine me.

The week passed, and even giving the Thanksgiving holiday, I found it odd that I hadn't heard the Monday following about interview #3. Cutting some slack, I decided to call about the job a few days later.

A young woman with a thick Polish accent answered, "Doctor's office, may I help you?"

She informed me that the doctor was at lunch, and when I inquired about the position, she indicated to me that it had, in fact, been filled. While she didn't say "BY ME, YOU LOSER!," it was clear that it was the same young, Polish immigrant girl with whom I hobnobbed in the waiting room two weeks prior.

So not only did I not receive the courtesy of a phone call from the Doctor himself notifying me that I didn't get the job, I was forced to call myself and speak to the woman who beat me for it, both of which did not sit well with me.

I was, quite honestly, trying to approach it with a "it's their loss" attitude, but the situation is growing increasingly aggravating to me. I'm sure the Polish chick, who was all of 20 or 21 years old, settled for a much lower wage than what the doctor and I mutually agreed was warranted, and I'm sure she speaks fluent Polish rapidly and sans any errors that might befall me as a non-native speaker. Plus, she was cuter than I was, so I'm giving an extra point in her favor for that one.

It apparently doesn't matter that I've lived in that neighborhood for my entire life, that I know the area backwards and forwards, or that I have a bachelor's degree, or that I've got an enviable, if not a tad colorful resume, or that I know Windows XP like the back of my hand, or that I get along with the elderly, or that I'm dependable, mature, friendly or freakishly intelligent and a quick learner. I'm not a first-generation, right off the boat Polish immigrant. And I hate to be salty, but they aren't appearing to have nearly the difficulty in this economy and job market as someone like me.

I told my friends and family, the only trouble I might have with Polish in this position was that I didn't know the medical terms for the parts of the eye, but I could've learned that as quickly as any other component of the job, as I have friends who are native Polish speakers who could've taught me. It's just majorly irritating that the Northwest Side has become Little Warsaw, and while it never bothered me logistically or culturally, I'm through with waving my Polish flag with pride, because the immigrants are flocking to this area and scooping up jobs that people like me are totally qualified for, purely because of the language barrier. These days, you can't go to the grocery store, or the bank, or the bakery, or, evidently, the doctor's office, without there being signage, literature or employees who speak BOTH Polish and English. It's an old argument and American cliche to wonder why immigrants can't learn to speak English, and America is still composed of a vast melting pot of different nationalities, blah blah blah. But they're taking jobs out of the hands of American-born citizens, applying for and receiving American public aid and Social Security and settling for lower wages and poorer working conditions than their American-born counterparts, setting in general a lower standard of professionalism and poise in my area of the country. And I've just about had it with that.

Pondering this very subject had me awake at 6:30 in the morning, an hour before I need to get up and get Luke ready for school. As we speak, I'm multitasking and reading the new batch of want ads on Craigslist and, and sending out more resumes and applications, all for jobs for which I'm qualified and capable. I doubt that any of this week's legwork will materialize into a paid full-time gig, but I keep hoping.

That said, I don't think pierogies and kielbasa are on tonight's dinner menu, and I'm reneging my membership in the Bobby Vinton fan club. Not a dzien dobry!

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