The more I learn, the less I know. I've felt that way a long time, but especially the last couple years. Over the past two and a half years I have gone to more companies and talked to more people about jobs and office environments than I have in my lifetime. And that's saying a lot since my previous jobs required me to meet and talk to a lot of clients.
The usual chain of events I've experience in job applications is:
Hear about an opening/opportunity.
Talk to somebody in HR or someone you know at the company; or
Phone interview with HR or the hiring manager or their designee.
In-person interview with HR and/or the person who will be your manager.
A second interview with the people who will work for you or with you.
A third interview with the hiring manager and a bunch of people who work in other departments.
I haven't gotten past this phase, yet, but I'm told it's where an offer is made.
I am fortunate, a lot more fortunate than other people in my situation. I'm getting interviews. There are companies interested in me. And from what I've learned, HR people seem to really like me. I've had a couple HR managers apologize to me for "the lengthy process" that didn't end in an offer. "I feel you're the strongest candidate, but the manager of the department is looking for a specific personality dynamic..." that isn't me.
I get rejection emails daily. Why? Because I apply to every and any job I hear about. I typically apply to four - five jobs/day. Many of them are long shots - I'm way overqualified or not "right" qualified - but I apply anyway an spin my experience to the job requirements. So I'm not surprised when I'm rejected for those jobs, and it's not surprising that I receive several rejection emails a day. They're proportional to my number of applications. If you apply to 40 jobs per week, you're probably going to receive at least 10 or 15 rejections per week.
But let's talk about the successful applications, the ones that result in an interview. Like I said, I'm fortunate to have been offered interview opportunities. I've gone on at least two/month over the past two years. That's a lot of interviews. And a lot of rejections. It was obvious at many of them that it was a numbers game for HR. They were bringing in several candidates to justify their own role in the company. "See?! I'm bringing people in for interviews! I'm doing my job! See?!" I understand that. And I figure, "Hey, one of these might turn into a fluke of luck job offer."
So far that hasn't been the case.
So far, I get through the third or fourth round of interviews. That the final heat where it's down to me and one other candidate...and I don't get the offer.
What "gets" me about all of these interviews is that right from the get-go, at the phone interview, I'm told some variation of, "We know you're qualified. We wouldn't be contacting you if you weren't precisely qualified for this position. We have many highly-qualified candidates, so we're looking for a good personality dynamic." Basically what they say is, "You're qualified, you can do the job, we're confident of that, but we have hundreds of other candidates who are qualified, and we have a close-knit team/ballbuster senior manager/diverse department/difficult clients so the personality is the deciding factor in filling this role."
It's not about the ability to do the job, it's about your personality.
I appreciate the candor of HR and hiring managers, but, because they offer absolutely no clue as to what personality dynamic they're looking for, candidates are flying half-blind at the interviews. I would rather be ignorant of the fact that they've established that I'm qualified to do the job and are only judging my personality.
I received a rejection email this morning that exemplifies this. Last week I had the last of four interviews for a very specific, niche role. I was exceptionally qualified for the job. Exceptionally qualified for a weirdly specific job. But, from the initial phone interview, the recruiter stressed that the tight-knit team wanted a very specific personality to join their group. So I knew, even though I was exceptionally qualified for a weirdly specific role, personality was the key factor in the decision. However, I was given no clue what personality traits they wanted. Even after directly asking them what characteristics were crucial to the team, their clients and the success of their projects I was given vague, nebulous responses with furtive glances exchanged around the conference room. They were either scared or secretive, and yes, in the big picture I don't want to work with a team like that or at a company that perpetuates that type of culture.
I really wanted that job. I would be good at it, I was excited and enthusiastic about the potential of that job. I had a lot to offer them. "Fine," you say, "their loss."
Yeah, I suppose that's one way of looking at it. And yes, ironically, there have been a couple incidents where companies have called me back after a few months stating, "The candidate we chose didn't work out...and we're re-examining the role and the team dynamic. Are you still interested?"
What do you say to that? In a normal world, where jobs are easier to land, you think, "Whoooo, sounds like they have a personnel or management problem there. I really dodged a bullet! I don't want anything to do with them!" But this isn't a normal world, there are not many job openings, and the few openings there are have hundreds, thousands of candidates and getting hired is very difficult. So, against your better judgment, with antennae twitching and intuition screaming, "Run! Run! These people are nuts!" you smile and graciously accept the second shot at a job you were deemed inappropriate for just a few months ago. And most likely get rejected again. Or maybe that's just me.
Today's rejection is especially difficult for me because I had a lot hinging on it. I wanted that job. I really did. Like I said, with each passing interview I had visions and ideas about what I could do to help them dancing in my head. I was excited about it. But I knew, right from the initial contact, that it was about personality, not skills and qualifications. The HR person liked me because she quickly, enthusiastically moved me to the next interview phase. The hiring manager liked me, at least I think he did, we talked for 2 and a half hours in a lively give-and-take conversation about the job and their clients and quickly asked me to return to meet with the team I would be working with/managing. The team I would be managing seemed to like me - I think, I dunno, they seemed friendly and responsive toward me. I was asked to return for a fourth interview so they must have liked me, right?
But apparently it fell apart at the fourth interview. I'm pretty sure I know where I lost the job offer. There was someone from another department who sat in on that fourth interview because the two departments work together on certain projects. The only words I can use to describe this person are combative and defensive. Other people in the room openly winced at some of the statements - statements, not questions - this person spit at me. I listened, smiled and responded professionally.
But apparently that wasn't what they were looking for. Apparently they wanted someone who would handle that combative and defensive person unprofessionally. Because, as they stated from the start, it's about having the right personality. And apparently I don't have the right personality because the first business day after that interview I received the rejection email.
"This is a unique opportunity and we know you are uniquely qualified. But as we discussed it's about finding the right team dynamic. Good luck in your employment endeavors."
That's it. That's the sum total of the rejection email. Which is fine, better that than the usual form rejection email. But it stings. What they're saying is, "We don't like you. You're freakishly qualified for this weirdly specific job, but we don't like you."
I'm feeling particularly "weird" about this one because I interviewed there on Friday and Saturday morning I sent thank-notes to all 12 of the people who were in that meeting. The rejection email arrived at 8:42 this morning (Monday). I'm guessing those 12 people hadn't received, or were just opening, the thank you note from me. I don't care if this makes me the laughing stock of their break room. I did the right thing by sending thank you/follow up notes. But. The timing does make me feel "weird" and begs the question, "Why did you bother to have me jump through all those interview hoops? My personality was fairly obvious by the second, or at least third interview. If it came down to dealing with the combative, defensive team member, then why not introduce me to that person at the first or second interview?
This one hurts. A lot. Not just because I was excited and enthusiastic about the job, but because it was a last-chance for me.
I returned to Chicago in January planning to "finalize my affairs." My mortgage company has been stalling in forbearance, which is "nice" of them. (read: They don't want to get stuck with a condo they can't sell.) But as my lack of steady paycheck drags on, they're admitting defeat. They offered me a last-gasp offer of refinancing at an extremely low interest rate if I secure a full-time job by March 30. When this weirdly specific job opportunity for which I am uniquely qualified presented itself, and the interview process commenced, I thought, "Well, okay! If I get this job I can keep my condo and at a lower interest rate, too! The timing is fortuitous! Maybe things are finally turning around..." And then I thought, "Whoa, do not allow that kind of thought process, you'll jinx yourself."
Sometimes I wonder if hiring managers understand how crucial a job offer is to some (many) of their candidates?
I'm pretty sure the people at the company I recently interviewed for do not realize that the job offer was the difference between me and homelessness.
I don't discuss and divulge that sort of personal information at interviews. I feel it's unprofessional and of no relevance to the task at hand - finding the right candidate to do a job.
But maybe I should.
Maybe I should beg and cry and plead my personal issues. Maybe desperation and a guilt trip would swing the jury my way. "I need this job! I'm going to lose my home and I need another surgery on my foot and I haven't had a meal with any redeeming nutritional value in over a year. Hire me and I'll be eternally grateful, you'll be getting a qualified candidate and please hire me!"
I'd say I'll try it next time, but now the end is near. Without proof of a full-time job by March 30 my mortgage company is going start the eviction process and send the Sheriff over to padlock my condo. From there...well...I'm not sure. I can stay with my mother until she moves into a senior citizens home in May, and then...I dunno. I really don't have a clue where I'll go or what I'll do.
It makes me sad to think that I was so close to keeping my home, at a greatly reduced rate, at that. I frustrates me, even more than it has in the past two years, to know that just one job offer, one full-time job offer would keep a roof over my head and get me back on track rather quickly and the only reason I didn't get a full-time job offer was because one or two people didn't like me. If I wasn't qualified for the job, okay, sure, that's understandable, that's reconcilable. But when the only reason I didn't get a job offer, and consequently the only reason I can't salvage my home, is because one or two people "on the team" didn't like me, based on 45 minutes in a conference room on a Friday afternoon...wellllll...that stings. It adds an element of personal judgment and character assassination to it. What do I learn from that? How do I gain any insight from that? Even if I badgered them for information as to why they didn't hire me, what would I gain? Since it was all about personality (and not skills or experience), I would have to change my personality, fake it, to persuade them to hire me. I was given no clue as to what sort of personality type they wanted, so I could only be myself. And you know, I know I'm not perfect, but, I am friendly, warm and professional. I'm a nice, trustworthy, nonjudgmental person. People tell me they glean this from me - it's the way my colleagues and friends describe me.
I'm the type of person who, within 10 minutes of meeting me, people start divulging their deepest secrets and asking me for advice on complex problems.
People tell me this can be intimidating. I'm told people who are judgmental or deceitful get nervous around people like me. Okay, well, all right. But. What do I do to change the way I'm perceived? Come off as an abrasive, judgmental, unprofessional snob?
It's the whole "too nice" thing. That bugs the crap out of me. If the niceties are phoney and forced, then yes, I understand "too nice." If a person allows him or herself to be taken advantage of because they're too nice to stand up for themselves, then yes, "too nice" is problematic. But if a person is genuinely nice, a sincerely kind, compassionate, nonjudgmental person...without being a doormat...well...is that really a bad thing? I've never understood the plausibility of being "too" nice and why it's a bad thing.
And I'm pretty sure that's not the case here. No, I didn't cower under the combative, defensive person's affronts, but I didn't take the argument bait, either. I listened and responded professionally, diplomatically, which is exactly how I would handle a situation like that with a client or any other professional situation.
It's disappointing because I really wanted that job. I was eager, enthusiastic and brimming with ideas and solutions for some of the challenges they mentioned in the first few interviews. And on a personal level, the timing was perfect. I could have saved my home and salvaged my life.
And I'll just say it: My feelings are hurt. The fact that I wasn't given this opportunity because of "personality fit" hurts. I'm not exaggerating when I say I was freakishly qualified. There might be a couple other people, five or six at most, who have the very specific criteria, the experience and skill set the job requires. One would think they'd be thrilled to find even one appropriate candidate who can do the job, personality-fit be damned. But it's all about the personality fit. They like you or they don't, and that's how the hiring decision is made. It might not sting as much if so much of my personal life wasn't hinging on this last-gasp opportunity. Get this job: Keep my home. Don't get this job: Move into a homeless shelter. Kind of a lot of pressure, there.
Now I worry that my anxiety somehow seeped into my persona, that maybe I didn't come across as confident as I am, or that I seemed "beaten," or that my enthusiasm was perceived as desperation...on and on and on it goes.
I know it doesn't matter, it's a moot point, now. But. Because this opportunity came up just as I was thrown a mortgage life-ring it's difficult to not try to sort out what went wrong, what it was about me they didn't like. Because it mattered, big time - they didn't hire me and consequently I'm going to be homeless.
After two and a half years of this it's time to admit defeat. I have no clue what employers want. Skills and experience don't seem to matter. If they did, I would have had a job offer within a couple months of being laid off. Professionalism and a friendly, collaborative attitude don't seem to matter, either. Dedication? Leadership skills? Enthusiasm? Client/customer service oriented attitude? Irrelevant, apparently. And that's what I have to offer. All I have to offer. And it's not enough, or not right, or not something. The last interview process broke me. I didn't understand how people could just "give up" looking for a job. I understood being discouraged and frustrated, but giving up? I couldn't understand that. Now I do. You try and try and try and try again, put yourself out there, go to interviews enthusiastic and confident, knowing you're being judged, and then the rejection arrives...it's brutal. It really is brutal. I managed to keep at it because I have lots of experience with rejection. I know how to handle it, thanks to a lifetime of rejection I have a huge cadre of coping techniques.
But in my defense, the only reason I have dealt with so much rejection is because I try. I risk rejection, I put myself "out there" knowing I can, and probably will, fail. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so why not at least try? Well, now I've learned why. Because there's a point where your self-esteem does suffer. There's a point where you break and don't rebound or recover. I learned that in dating and relationships. Once I admitted defeat and gave up I felt a lot better about myself because I wasn't dealing with continued failure and rejection. And now I've learned it in jobs and careers. This is how and why people give up on finding a job. They break. Or, more accurately, get broken by one too many rejections for jobs which they were perfectly qualified to do.
So, I'm packing the last of my stuff, the remaining essentials I had at my place. Interview suits and work clothes, mostly, a few job-related items, a hair dryer, a few dishes, a lamp, my desk. Now that I've given up I don't need any of that stuff. It seems cruelly comedic that my main possessions are a couple suits, a pair of nice shoes, a presentable attache case, some resumes, a few pair of unratty underwear and a desk.
Labels: job interviews, Unemployment