Thursday, September 13, 2007

Nothing Ventured

In spite of my misgivings, I accepted the job at Venture Magazine. “You’ll love it,” said the woman at Human Resources. “They’re a very close group in that office.”

Well, she was half right.

I found the job by reading the Jumbotron on Kadena Air Base as I drove past at 50 kph.


There’s probably a lesson to be learned here, about the advisability of taking jobs advertised on large electronic devices. But I didn’t have my Hindsight Glasses on that day and so, balancing a piece of paper on the steering wheel, I jotted down the phone number.

In amazingly short order, I’d had an “informal” interview and an “unofficial” job offer. (You’re right. Both of those terms should have told me something.) The job was at something called Venture Magazine, generated by the Marketing Department of Kadena Services. The use of the word “magazine” implies that the publication involves actual journalistic content. In reality, the product is a 48-page glossy advertising supplement designed to attract members of the Air Force community to on-base locations at which they can spend their money. There was no actual writing involved, and precious little editing. My job was to take the material forwarded to me by the account reps (a handful of 20-something young women kept constantly busy making phone calls and generating email and promotional posters and buying each other lattes at Starbucks), edit it minimally to match the format of previous issues, and proofread the final product.

The work turned out to be a lot more interesting than I’d guessed, although the magazine only took up about half of my time. I could occasionally actually write something for the Services segments in the base newspaper, even though it had to involve selling a Services event. Every week, I also put together the Weekly Highlights email: truncated slugs of text headed with clip-art animation. I had great success with the blurb for a Seafood Spectacular dinner, which I headed “Bite Me!” with an animation of a crab. The Officer’s Club manager liked it so much he wanted to print it on paper lobster bibs, although I believe he was talked out of it. But into every happy marketing garden a little rain must fall. My particular cloudburst was the oldest of the Account Rep Girls.

“Maybe you recognize her?” the manager said to me when he introduced us. “The host of the Services Highlights television show?” Um, no. The show doesn’t run off-base. But she was obviously the Big Fish of the staff (every office has one). And it was pretty clear that she didn’t exactly warm to me. Surreally, during my second week in the job I was talking to a manager at one of her accounts who said to me, “You’re a lot nicer than I thought you would be. When I asked about you, she said, ‘Oh, her, nobody likes her.’” Really? It took me a lot longer than that to realize that I didn’t much like her, either, and even then I omitted the step where I spoke badly of her to people with whom she worked. Maybe that was in the Phase 2 Customer Service Training class that I didn’t get to. Ah well, I thought. I’m 15 years older than she is, I didn’t go to either of the drink-until-you-puke celebrations after work, and I’m not all that interested in the affordability of plastic surgery in the Philippines. We just don’t have a lot in common. Foolishly, I relied on my previous professional experience, which led me to believe that you don’t have to be best friends with your coworkers as long as you conduct yourself professionally and courteously. What was I thinking?

My eminently sensible plan of doing my job well and treating my coworkers like professionals was completely derailed by my ignorance of the Avoid Conflict at All Costs school of management. As it turns out, in the metrics of the office as high-school microcosm, one irate Girl Bully outranks a newly hired pseudo-writer/editor, no matter how professional. With a refreshing lack of ceremony, I was fired. Here are the official reasons: I didn’t consult sufficiently with the advertising reps (well, it’s true that I did decline to let Fish Girl decide how to do my job as well as her own), and I wasn’t creative enough (I’ll let you be the judge of that).

So. Did I gain valuable real-world experience from taking this job? Truly, yes, I did. I learned a lot about how a monthly glossy magazine-substitute is made, about format and layout and graphics. I also learned a lot about what an office looks like in the absence of actual managerial oversight, which is not a pretty thing. And I learned that being good at your job is often not what, in the end, you may be evaluated on. Now there’s a Real Life lesson worth the pain of admission!