What everyone else has told me is true: the job search can be an emotionally draining and demoralizing process. It’s not that it requires persistence and an inordinately high tolerance for rejection. My background as a writer, thankfully, trained me to remain undeterred by either. I’ve been hunting for a new job on and off for a year and two months now. During that time, I’ve applied for 80+ jobs online, conducted 70+ informational interviews, had 30+ phone interviews, and 10+ in-person interviews. I’ve completed multiple rounds of writing tests for various companies and organizations. I’ve reached out, been referred, and rejected, over and over again.
Writing this now, I feel accomplished, much in the same way I felt after having written 200+ pages of seminar papers during a single semester in graduate school. To borrow from Zootopia: I’m a “trier.” And in trying so hard for so long, I am resilient, talented, and resourceful … right? That is the narrative my friends have been telling me, that is the positive language that I’ve encountered the most when Googling “How to Remain Sane While You’re on the Job Hunt.” It’s the language that I’ve adopted as self-talk, which has taken some work developing and enforcing. In times of severe self-doubt, my mind turns to the interviews that I did manage to land at dream companies, like The New Yorker and Slate. Doesn’t this mean I’m doing something right? Doesn’t this mean I have something to offer? All I have to do is keep going. It’s the positive attitude that makes all the difference … right?
But I’m not sure anymore. The most striking aspect about this entire ordeal has been how irrational it is. I felt this way recently, when a national nonprofit working with underserved youth turned me down for a Staff Writer position. A college friend had recommended me, and since I knew and respected several of the executives running the company (including another college classmate who was in the same year), I had expected, at the very least, efficiency. Spanning two months, the process consisted of six steps in total:
- Application which requested 2 writing samples
- 20-minute phone interview
- In-person on-site writing assignment. HR notified me of this stage 10 pm via text the night before, and sent an email clarifying the nature of the assignment 30 minutes before the writing assignment began at 9:00 am the next morning.
- A weekend writing assignment: 2 pages that required hours and hours of research.
- A 4-hour onsite interview with the CEO and President, which I was informed “may or may not be” the last step in the entire process. (They decided it would be the final stage two days before scheduling the interview.)
- References (who were requested but never contacted)
I’ve had interviewers laugh at me and dismiss me, but this rejection stung because of the amount of time the company sucked up. Looking back, I should have just bailed after step 4, right after they announced a Step 5. There were three weeks of radio silence between steps 4 and 5, and another three weeks of me having to follow up after step 5. Promises to call were never kept. The hiring process felt like it was being made up as we went along (it probably was).
Ultimately, the company went with someone else because I didn’t have the fundraising experience they were looking for–something they had never asked about and something that arguably could have been deduced from a quick look at my resume at the very beginning. (I wish they had said something negative about my writing. It would have justified the length of the hiring process more.) In retrospect, there were just too many moments of failed follow through, indecision, disorganization, and unapologetic lack of consideration. So I may have dodged a bullet. Ha! Who knew that interviewing for a nonprofit job dedicated to “helping people” could be so dehumanizing?
My friend who is a corporate lawyer has always said, “A job is just a job.” I never understood that until now. I once believed that a job was crucial to one’s identity, and so I had to pursue something meaningful–in my case, social justice work or writing. But after reading the New York Times article on the arbitrariness of job interviews (read it!), after going through hoop after hoop for multiple companies, after dealing with silence following in-person interviews … it’s difficult to justify taking the “do what you love” advice, to believe in the positive self-talk and the collective narrative which suggest a company or opportunity exists that will be the “right fit.”
It’s not that I feel entitled to a job–I get it, the applicant pool in NYC is incredibly talented and competitive. No one owes me anything. There are/will be worse things that will happen to me in life. It’s an employer’s market out there. And yes, a job is just a job. But what I do expect is integrity–respect, maybe–towards the job seeker, enough so s/he isn’t strung along for some needlessly long interview process and enough so s/he gets a rejection email after an in-person interview. It’s just manners, or maybe a matter of empathy. Have hiring managers forgotten what it feels like to be on the other side?
The silver lining to all of this has been the opportunity to reconnect with old classmates and make new acquaintances. Reaching out to other writers has been especially healing because our conversations are reminders that we’re all just figuring it out. It’s OK not to be making X dollars or be a manager at some prestigious company.
In spite of all the discouragement, I’m not done fighting yet. If I let other people and incompetent hiring practices stand in the way of my dreams, then that says more about me than anything else. I’m also grateful for my friends and the strangers who have shown extraordinary kindness along my journey. Two days ago, for example, I met someone at a tech company whom I had reached out to for an informational interview. He was not only incredibly responsive, but he also gave me a tour of the company’s offices, introduced me to the CEO and the team I’m interested in working with, bought me tea, was generous with his time and advice, and forwarded my resume. I kept wondering why he was so kind. Over the course of two hours, he told me his story: He had gone through the same painful transition that I did–from academia to the real world–and wanted to pay it forward. When he said “Good luck!” I believed him. I don’t know what will materialize from our interaction, but if there’s anything that I’ve learned from all the suckage that is job hunting, it’s be kind, be kind, be kind.
Featured Image Credit: De Pouco um Toudo. No changes were made.