Into the Fire

Being “the new guy” can mean many different things.

In any case, you’ve been selected to come in and fill a major hole, replace someone else that’s been lost, and, most likely, to solve problems.  Think of a typical NFL offseason, for instance.  All 32 teams in the league–even the good ones–have at least one substantial weakness somewhere, and the offseason presents a couple of opportunities to address such deficiencies.

First, there is free agency, the annual frenzy beginning in late March that offers teams the chance to fill holes with established veterans who happen to be between contracts.  Inevitably, the first several days of the free agency period will be marked by desperate teams overpaying players to be the cure for whatever is ailing them.  Need a better pass rush?  Sign Defensive End X, and move on to the next problem!  The results of free agency are always mixed, and that’s probably being generous.  Few things set franchises back further than committing large chunks of their salary cap to players who prove to be far less effective with their new employers.  One of the most notorious examples occurred nearly a decade ago, when defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth parlayed a few solid seasons with the Tennessee Titans into an astronomical 7-year, $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins.  He lasted there for two forgettable seasons before eventually getting traded for a late-round draft pick.

Next comes the NFL Draft about a month later.  To the league’s credit, it has done a wonderful job building up and promoting this process into a highly-anticipated event, one that has many of its fans salivating over a handful of prospects who are also perceived as the potential solutions to their team’s problems.  Even drafting the least glamorous positions on a team–think offensive linemen–can get fans wildly excited and overly optimistic about the season their team is about to have in a few months.  Sometimes it only takes a year’s worth of faithfully watching one’s beloved team struggle mightily with either run blocking or pass protection for even the average fan to realize that a severe upgrade along the offensive line is needed.

But much like free agency, the draft has always proven to be nothing more than a crapshoot, even despite the countless hours of willful player analysis that the Mel Kipers of the world devote to projecting success at the next level.  Each player selected is a lottery ticket, and much like the actual lottery, there are tons of losing tickets just waiting to be bought.  Thirty-two prospects are selected in the first round, each one generally representing what some team considers to be the best available player for them that’s still on the board.  Yet every year, at least half of even those top selections will fail to carve out a professional career anywhere near the level their teams and hopeful fans envision for them.

With free agency, there are always questions about new acquisitions that can never be fully answered until after a player has signed with his new employer.  How will his new team use him?  Will he fit in with whatever scheme his new team’s coordinator operates?  Is he sufficiently recovered from a recent injury?  How much does he have left in the tank?  But for all of these questions and others, one known quantity about a prospective free agent to be signed is that he has already proven capable of playing the sport at a professional level.  Some are stars, others are backups and role players, but all have at least shown themselves to be competent at whatever role they’re expected to fill.  Rookies come with no such guarantees–all that is known about them for sure is that they performed at a high level in college, mostly with and against inferior players who will never become professionals.  Whether such performance will translate to success at the highest level is always the million-dollar question (or really, multi-million dollar question) that is always asked but rarely answered with any degree of confidence.

 

It’s been a little over a month now since the first day on the job with my current employer.  I was reminded of this fact a couple times this week, as I only became eligible to sign up for health benefits a week ago, and I just received my first direct-deposited paycheck yesterday after two paper checks that actually required a brief stop at the bank.  I’m still another two months away from completing the probationary period and being able to request vacation time.  Suffice to say, whether you might consider me to be an incoming rookie or a veteran free agent, I’m still a pretty new acquisition for this company.  My past reputation–formed with both a resume and an interview–was enough to get me in the door and convince this employer that I could indeed be the solution to one of its problems, and now it’s on me to prove them right.

The problem, in this case, was caused by the promotion of an employee into a supervisory role in another department.  As a result, a “team” of accounts payable specialists that processes sales and marketing invoices consisted of just two overworked women who had been putting in substantial overtime in effort to cover the work of three people.  Each person on the team is assigned a roughly equal share of hotel vendors to work with, so the departed employee’s vendors had to be divided up among the two ladies that remained.  They needed help, badly, and I was chosen to provide it.  Of course, as an outside hire, it would be unreasonable to expect me to come in and immediately replace my predecessor’s production–there would need to be some training involved on exactly how they operate.

Fortunately, I’ve accumulated a wealth of accounts payable experience in my past, even if it’s been nearly four years since working in that role.  But having spent eight previous years working for a leading online travel agency, I also bring with me a strong knowledge of the hotel industry, particularly as it relates to third-party billing.  My previous job, documenting commercial loans for a regional bank, came with a much steeper learning curve that was really still in progress right up until my departure a year and a half after I started.  Here, I already feel very much like a regular part of the team, which is not to suggest that this job is easier, but is does reflect the depth of my prior knowledge in the field and how it applies to my current position.

 

The vendors that were handled by my predecessor have already been reassigned to me, and I’m receiving minimal assistance from my two teammates who trained me.  I think the company expected to ease me into the position more than what has proven to be necessary, and they’ve all been extremely impressed by how quickly I’ve been able to assimilate and truly take over the work.  But in this department, the workload continues to grow as more hotel vendors sign on as partners, and it’s looking more and more as though even the current three-person team may no longer be large enough.  I, too, expect to be working a fair amount of overtime for at least the next week, maybe more, to help catch things back up again.  In the short term, I have no problem with this, as a little extra income is always welcome.  Should overtime become the norm, I will eventually become less receptive to it.  For now, though, it’s proving to a great fit for both sides, just as everybody hopes once the deal is made.

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