I went to my very first second interview on the largest college campus in Los Angeles and was berated by an employer who was very adamant that I was not serious about looking for a job. She had a very sour face and she kept asking me, “Why do you want to work here?”
No matter what I answered, it was just not good enough and the question was repeated and answered to a blank stare that would not relent, would not take, “I think I have a lot to offer” as an answer. So I walked away having my first odd, very horrible experience on an interview. But looking back at it, I feel as if my willingness to work anywhere blinded me to the fact that I had dodged a bullet that was aimed right at my sense of well being. I could have been stuck working for this person who still haunts my nightmares, sending shivers down my spine and weakening my resolve—but only while I’m asleep, because in my waking hours, I am older, stronger and more jaded, and I would have simply walked away with nothing more than dirt on my shoulders to be brushed away with a hair toss—but then, it devastated me to no end.
My introduction to humiliation didn’t end there. I had an interview in Westwood, an interview I believe I got by substituting my more ethnic sounding first name for my more neutrally-based middle name. When I got to the interview, the interviewer was very impressed, I think, but then it took a turn for the worst… A very similar turn as that unfortunate experience with that troll who guarded the gates to that Los Angeles based UC. This one kept saying that my job, the part time job I had that was barely keeping me afloat as I lived with my mother, my mother, (it begged repeating), was a good job, and why would I leave.
His refrain was, “But this sounds like such a good job.”
To which I replied, assuming that it was a question, “I am a very good résumé writer.” Maybe I should have said, “It’s part time job, you idiot,” but I couldn’t get over how he couldn’t get over the position that was sales and not at all what I had spent 4 years pursuing. Then at the end, and this was a couple years before the crash of the housing market and total devastation of the economy, he said, “Well this is such a bad economy,” and I never heard from him again. I don’t know why someone would advertise a position and then say that the economy is bad and that’s why they would not be offering me the position, but I knew I was finished as soon as he said that. I had experienced something similar at the old Robinson’s May a couple years earlier.
This position was in Orange County, and I was eager to get something off campus that would be fun and offered me a little financial help, as I had to work my way through college because I had no rich parent to count on. I was called to an interview, and once I showed up, I noticed this woman was very put aback by my appearance. I was dressed professionally, as much as an 18-year old with limited experience in World could be, and I was clean. I had a résumé, and I know for a fact that most 18-year olds, even now, did not and do not.
After asking me some basic questions, this woman told me that they were not hiring. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t get it then like I’m getting it now. I never saw The Man standing above me, desperately trying to hold me back even now. I had hope, and I knew that I would always find what God had planned for me, but each time I meet someone who looks past my qualifications, and not only passes me up, but makes an obviously untrue excuse for it, I begin to question the idealistic view I have of the World.
But that was then, and this is now. There really is a horrible economy and I am really facing people who have been in my industry for years, while I have just recently graduated from yet another college, with yet another degree and not much experience. I drag behind me my incredible sense of urgency, very strong work ethics, and a loyalty that is unwavering. And I try to express that in my interviews, but it doesn’t seem to be working. As of this year, I find myself in the position of job hunter again. Here’s my sorted tale of apply, interview, and rejection.
I began my job search three months ago with an updated résumé to include my most recent experience and an unusual amount of optimism. As a budding accountant and bookkeeper, I was ready to conquer the World and put my stamp on a company with which I would work until I died. No really, I hate looking for work, so I am hoping to spend the better part of forever working with one good company.
I set out on craigslist.com and indeed.com because I have found much luck with one over the other, and I was determined to put myself out there in every venue possible. The first interview I had was right up my alley. I had worked with a nonprofit before. In fact, I was working for a nonprofit at the time; it was just not for pay. The interviewer was sweet and knowledgeable. She spoke of her organization with a passion that impressed me, but it was part time, and I was worried about my finances.
Shortly after that interview, I was called into another interview at a furniture supply company. Most of the furniture was imported from India, but the distribution was based in America. They seemed to like me. Hint: even if they don’t post the hourly wage, don’t state a price for your services. I had them in the palm of my hand. I was charming, I was honest, I was sweating in my slacks and modest blouse with very minimal makeup and a great attitude. To be honest, the attitude comes standard. I’m a great catch, if you can look past the sweat stain on my soul. That’s when it happened, right as everything I said was received as cool.
“What’s your salary expectation?”
I should have said, I am comfortable with us discussing it, but instead I gave them an amount that was out of the range that they were offering. With my aggressive training, as limited as it was, I am sure that I priced myself out of the market. Don’t bother answering this question because they have probably posted it in the plethora of postings that you have responded to and they don’t understand that without the company name on the post, you couldn’t possibly remember nor distinguish one post from another. In this economy, one my mentor says is an employer’s market, they don’t want dozens or hundreds of calls, so they have the option of eliminating their identity altogether—and they do. So don’t answer, try to dance skillfully around it if you have to.
The interview that followed left a very distasteful taste in my mouth. You see, they don’t have to tell you if you aren’t “the one” anymore, they can simply move on without you and you will never know. I was called early in the morning and asked to show for a very urgent interview at a company that was run out of a house and circulated their pamphlets through the mail. There was no time, no build up; I was simply summoned to a house where I had to wait for almost minutes for one of the owners to show up.
I was asked questions that I answered with some skill, expounding upon the experience that I just had at that one company with the crazy owner who was just a little racist. I was told after I left that she kind of didn’t like my kind. I didn’t tell them that though, I just smiled and joked along as they implied that whoever would have the job, would be well, me. Don’t buy it. They are saying things like, “you would,” nowadays. It doesn’t mean that it’s you, it just means that they don’t know how to explain the job without adding you into the mix.
After the interview was over, and they seemed more than impressed, they asked me to send my references, but alas, I never heard from them after that. It was fine. My optimism was on 10 and I wasn’t about to let some business in a house kill it. So onto the next. Of course, the next was not that great either. The only thing that I can say is that you have choices because not every place is for you.
I walked hurriedly to my car and got in. The time of day was early, but the California sunshine beamed down on my skin as if I was in a microwave on high. I try not to wear jackets, my slacks and sensible blouse would have to suffice. It was hot out there, and a sweater or jacket would make me panic just enough to lose my place in my well-worn story of jobs past. On my way to this interview I practiced nothing in my head; instead I cranked up the radio. I was already well rehearsed. The truth would have to be enough. And I am smart, still. That hadn’t changed.
When I got to the location, several miles from my house, away from the suburbs, all the way into the heart of Los Angeles, I sat in my car for a while thinking, wondering if I should even go in. Something about the parking, the possibility of getting ticketed, and my own inner voice made me want to go home, but I was no quitter, so I went in. As I walked in, I noticed that the inside did not match the outside. The neighborhood was all industrial but clean. The inside was crowded and parts of the ceiling were hanging uncomfortably above my head. There were boxes of electronic items strewn about the place with no care at all. Clutter didn’t belong at the front door that much I had learned from my mother. The person at the window was busy with whatever it was that she did there, and I waited with some trepidation.
When I was finally able to draw her attention and tell her what I was there for, she answered me in an accent that led me to believe that I was in a place where anyone could get a job even if they didn’t have full command of the English language. Okay, so I thought sweatshop right off the bat, and I might have been wrong; however, it wasn’t the place for me. As soon as the very agitated and overly stretched man came to the inner door and motioned me to follow him, I was sure that I was not impressed and suddenly got filled with a sense of fight or flight.
I was led a very short distance to an office space that looked as if it was simply a storage area for a hoarder who had not been very organized. He sat down in the mess as if it was the most normal thing ever. After having me explain my experience with bookkeeping, he began the job. It was a low-skilled job that I was sure not to like. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. His speech went on and on, then he asked about my skill at creating invoices. I told him that I created invoices and had only done a few away when I was forced to transfer money from one account to another. He stopped me, much to my delight, and stated that he thought that this job would require the creation of a few dozen invoices per day, and that he thought that I was both under and overqualified.
Then he said to me, “I don’t want to waste your time.”
I think he said other things, but I didn’t hear because I got up before he finished the sentence, grabbed my bag, and rushed towards the exit. I think I almost knocked him over as he reached past me to open the door. I’m sure I said, “I agree,” but I can’t be sure. What I was sure of, is that I had grown up just enough to know that I shouldn’t try if I’m not satisfied. And let’s not forget that I had a very positive outlook on the whole job searching adventure. This was not going to slow my progress at all.
A couple of days later I was emailed to go to a job interview for yet another accounting job. Of course, as I had found out earlier, sometimes they say accounting, or even described accounting work, but what they meant to say was “data entry” or “administrative assistant”—hell, I was about to find out that one meant “personal assistant”. I was overqualified, and yet, I was invited in. I won’t even go into it. I will only say that I am frequently confronted by people who called me in, but were very surprised at my résumé once we were sitting face-to-face.
Onto the next… The dream job came out. At first, I was not that optimistic at all. I had had some very awful interviews and I was not looking forward to this one because it was part time, and I was really not looking for part time. I applied for these types of jobs as a way of stacking my numbers. I figured that no one was reading my résumé anyway; therefore, if I thought I was qualified and I applied for everything, chances are I was bound to get work. Once I walked in, I was a little happy that I had braved the traffic. It was in a high-rise building in almost the same area as the sweatshop but nicer. There was even shopping close by.
The people were young and filled with that sugar that would slowly leak from them once they weren’t surrounded by other such people or once they were forced to do work they found beneath them. It was refreshing. The interview went well. It had come after a phone interview, and I was more than sure that I could do the work. I had done some version of it over the years, but it wasn’t until the salary came up that I got that twinkle in my eye. They were going to pay me almost close to what I thought I was worth. The numbers reflected the salary one could receive 10 years earlier before employers figured out that they had the upper hand. I was happy that I had put my best foot forward.
This was the job for me. I would take it and work my hardest to prove that they didn’t make a mistake picking me… but I would never get the chance to. A few months earlier, the boss who had left that horrible company I had just left, somewhat following suit, had promised that he would give me a reference. So when the time came to offer references to this amazing job at a startup, I quickly and confidently gave them his contact information. Much to my chagrin he had changed his mind without informing me. Never had I experienced such disloyalty in my life. He said that he loved my work, but I had room for improvement and that this assessment would not help me to get a job. I went limp for a few hours, right after emailing him almost begging for him to at least speak to them, giving them honest answers to the questions they had for him. I explained that I had already used his name as he had told me to, and it was too late now to back out. He agreed, but I didn’t trust the man who I had worked so hard for. I had turned my 9-5 job into a 9-9 job, with some weekend hours, trying disparately to dig this company out of the mess that had been made years before my arrival.
I gave them the HR manager’s information instead, and he did exactly what an excellent HR person would do. He gave them the basics. They wanted to know if I could handle the job, but all they got were the particulars about start and end dates and salary history. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I would be disappointed once more after this as the owner of this company told me that he chose the other applicant because he had met her a day earlier and that she lived 3 blocks from the site, but nothing had left the mark as that first betrayal.
With that situation, I only had myself to blame. Hint: when they ask you to come but provide you with 3 options, pick the first day. Show up early. Dress in your best. Bring extra copies of your résumé, print out your references, and bring those too. Send thank-you cards if you like them enough and really want the job, but most of all, don’t let anyone belittle you, back you into a corner, or waste your time. Know your worth. Don’t take a job just because you don’t have money. Take it because you love it.
I am still looking for work. I get online every day and crank out résumés in my search for the right fit. I just hope that I land where I’m supposed to be and I hope that I can help you do the same with this story and subsequent others.