The late morning air clung to me like a hot, wet blanket. A bastard of a late May even by Virginia standards, the humid, poisonous air clawed its way harshly down the nasal passages. The line stretched around the block. A thousand people, queued up in the bastard sun, sweating beneath layers of black or dark grey wool blend, awaited a chance to work for the Marine Corps at Quantico, VA. It was the first gauntlet on an arduous hiring process of the type only the government can create.
They called it a Job Fair, but jobs were few and fair was not the word I would choose to describe it. Three hours in the hot sun; the ultimate reward? A piece of paper that told you the next line to stand in. This was but the initial hurdle. A low-level HR drone awaited to confirm that "yes indeed you are an Engineer, you may now talk to the engineering people." The line stretched in the bastardly heat and the job-seekers of Northern Virginia, never a place known for comfort, joy, and good tidings towards all, were more disgruntled than normal.
The path of least resistance would be to join them, skowl, curse silently at the inhumanity. But no. There was only one thing for a true *punk to do in this environment, that one act guaranteed to shock, confuse, and upset the cart of NoVA culture: I smiled.
Yea, I went there. I was joyous, courteous. I made brief chats to my linemates, made friendly eye contact. And I stood out. Why wouldn't I? In a sea of dark business jackets and pant suits I wore a more practical shirt sans jacket. I wore my white straw Fedora, keeping the intense sun off of my head. I wore not the usual uniform of the middle-management drone, the blue shirt, yellow tie, but a beige shirt with my favorite flying boat and palm tree tie. I was relaxed, at ease.
I had the advantage of not needing the job, which certainly aided the relaxation and poise, but still, I was determined to bring a bit of Decodant Class to this depressing depression-era breadline of a hiring process.
Three hours later I was in the sterile environment of flourescent light and AC. Most were curt with the poor HR stiffs at the desks, taking out their heat-induced frustrations on them. I was upbeat, polite, and friendly, and possibly the first person to coax a smile out of the threadbare old woman at the desk all day. I got my purple piece of paper attesting to the fact that yes I was indeed an Engineer as I claimed and not a Logistics, Admin, or Manager as I hadn't, and moved on to Line #2 so I could wait a few more minutes (this time thankfully indoors) to be sent to the third line.
Line three I chatted with my line-mates, tempers now down since the earlier ordeal was done. I showed off my son's pics on my cell and laughed ironically at the insider jokes government workers can only enjoy and got my pre-pre-interview screening. My experience sold me, but my attitude undoubtedly helped. I screened Benny Goodman in my head to get the mindset right and evoked that old Deco-era Manhattan mix of class, casual manliness, and laid back inclusiveness. I swung it, baby.
It was a natural.
I made the initial hurdle. Out of hundreds, I entered the dozens who got to pre-interview the following month. Such is the government.
Which brings me to last Thursday. An office complex north of Quantico. The pre-interview. Another chance to look over my resume and meet and greet.
These, at least, were hiring people.
The atmo here was a few notches better than that late May cook-a-thon, but still, nervous sweat under black and dark grey wool. I stood out. I wore my black wide brim straw, as it worked well with the getup, including a Italian Silk tie, a gift from my Sensei.
The Pre-interview went swimmingly. I was relaxed, chill, collected. I made eye contact, made firm handshakes, and I did it all real and earnest, rare in this age of Corporate false sincerity and focus-group perfected stock handshakes. They were impressed...I was a "unique case". I'd hear back in two days if I would get the "real" interview at Quantico itself. On the way out, the one interviewer told me "love the hat!"
Which brings me to today.
Q-town. Hospital Point, jutting out into the Potomac. I got there early, amazed that the traffic had been so light. I wore the white hat again, and this time the late morning temp was just about right. The air was clear (amazingly enough). A bald eagle flew by in the perfect positive omen.
The place just jived with me. The facade of official Marine Corps Process had been torn away and I glimpsed directly into the reality of good people working hard and proud, happy and satisfied with their choice of occupation. Several dimentions away for the disgruntled cement halls of downtown DC.
I spoke with two groups. Both were populated by great people I jived with immediately. The work sounds interesting, challanging, important. They loved the hat.
Three hours later I'm back home, sipping a neat Buhnnahabhain single malt, toasting dad's memory. I have my choice of two job offers from two groups. The future looks bright.
Now, my experience and skill set are ultimately was got me the job, I must admit, but I honestly feel it was the attitude that set me apart from the others with similar skill sets. It was that old class, that jazzy jumpin' joie de vive that seperated me from the hordes of Acceptably Corporate Clad seething seekers raised in a Motivational Poster Culture of Powerpoint Slides and Pre-Pre-Meeting Telecons.
And had the job been such that a Diesel-Era attitude would be considered a hindrance to hiring, then it wouldn't be a job I'd likely want anyway.
"Be Yourself" is a trite cliche, but one that holds some truth. "Dress for Sucess" is another.
The real deal here is "Dress and Act with the same class and swing you carry inside...if they matter, they'll notice".