Job Hunter Road
A laugh out loud narrative that asks some tough questions about finding meaningful work. A humorous dose of inspiration for those wanting real change.
Chapter 1, "The Interview That Died"
After I finished graduate school, I took some time off to relax and catch my breath. It had been a stressful year, so I took up meditation, and I began reading books about Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. I learned how to touch my toes, and I became a very compassionate and tolerant person. My blood pressure came down, and I almost became a vegetarian. I was present in the moment, and I was very happy. It was a good time in which to be present. But then the money was gone, and it was time to find a job.
The interview I remember most vividly occurred in Midtown Manhattan. It was my thirty-second interview, and I needed the position badly. It was one of those days in late July, when the air is filled with sweat, and you can feel the anxious closeness of the people around you. It was dense and there were too many things happening in one place. Too many things to look at, and too many things to get done. There was noise and honking horns and lots of dissonance, and things happened on the street that had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama, and it was not peaceful. But I needed this job, and I moved through the stickiness and tension that surrounded me on my way to the air-conditioned Human Resources Department of my prospective employer.
Her name was Janet Power. She wore a crisp business suit, and possessed a highly professional demeanor with a handshake that delivered immediate competence. She spoke concisely, without wasting excess energy on smiles or frivolities. She looked very different from the Dalai Lama, and I doubted if she could touch her toes. We discussed my resume, and she frowned intelligently at the things that I had done with my life, catalogued neatly on an 8 ½ by 11-inch piece of paper. She was very impressive, and I wondered if she was impressed with me.
“Your resume is very impressive,” she finally admitted while looking at me with an evaluative glisten in her eyes. I felt the sensation of judgment running throughout my body.
“Thank you. You’re also very impressive, and I was impressed with your handshake a moment ago.” I smiled.
“The previous employee that held this position was terminated,” she announced with a bulletproof look that betrayed no trace of residual humanity. “His performance was substandard, so we eliminated him.” She gazed into my eyes to see if this might be a problem for me. It was in fact a problem for me, and I realized that this was a very different place from what I was used to. But this was the real world, and I had been in school for a long time, and I knew that the real world was going to be very tough, and very cold, and so I had to be tough.
“I’m glad you eliminated him. There’s no excuse for laziness on the job. I hate that. I wish I could have eliminated him.” She nodded approvingly.
“It’s a very dynamic time for us right now, with our expansion into the overseas market, and we’ve been slammed with multifunctional platform integration this year, and we took a big hit last year with the retail buyouts that happened across the industry, which I’m sure you’ve heard about.” I had not. “We need someone who can work in a fast-paced, fluid environment. We’re looking for a team player. Tell me about your work habits.” She leaned back in her impressively large executive swivel chair. Now, it was clearly my turn to be impressive. I did not feel impressive. I felt sweaty.
“I work very hard,” I announced. “I believe in the power of hard work. It’s vital to me. It’s who I am. I am hard work…by definition.” I was nervous.
“I see,” she responded. Her demeanor suggested that she was now less impressed with me than she was a moment ago. The need to impress became that much more palpable. I was now brainstorming about ways to impress her with my next response. She shifted gears, and moved into a discourse on how busy the employees at her organization were. She pointed out that most employees spent the nights in foldout beds adjacent to their cubicles, at least until the busy summer multifunctional platform integration season was over. She also made it clear that she had not taken a day off in twelve years. The office was planning a blowout celebration in two years, once the integration project was complete. This celebration could involve as much as a whole day off for a select number of employees who had acquired enough vacation-minute credits over the course of a five-year period. “Tell me about your experience working with database platform integration.”
I had no such experience. “Yes, in my last position, prior to graduate school, we had many databases. Certainly, we made use of data on a daily basis, and while I did not directly integrate the databases, there was always someone there who made sure that the data was available to us on a regular basis, so I’m sure there was a lot of integration involved. And while I had no direct contact with him, I obviously benefited from the integration that took place. I think we had someone like that. In all likelihood, we most certainly did. So, in this regard, I’m aware of the importance of platform integration, as a critical and vital function.” My confidence was dissipating rapidly.
Ms. Power gave me a long stare, and eyed my resume suspiciously. An awkward silence followed immediately thereafter, during which time I occupied myself by sweating. I don’t remember what was going through my head, but it wasn’t positive.
“Tell me what led you to apply for this position.”
The raw truth of the matter was that they were the only people who had responded to any of the more than five hundred cover letters that I had sent out over the course of the past month. I had prepared for this interview for hours, days even, and yet I had not anticipated this simple question. Why was I here, at this present moment? What led me to this point in my life? Did I want to be here? What was I looking for? I didn’t have a clue. It was time to think on my feet, to be smart and clever and articulate. It was time for brilliance. And all I could do was sweat. I felt heavy and slow. But I needed this job.
“I like people, and I have strong people skills. I’m very good at being around other people. I talk to a lot of people on a typical day, and I’m good at dealing with stressful and difficult people. I can deal with everyone.” I said this while the sweat dripped off my forehead, down into a growing puddle on the floor.
The interview would not end well for me that day. The whole experience only grew sweatier and increasingly awkward. At one point, I removed my shirt. While Ms. Power was gracious and professional as she handed me the towel towards the end of the interview, the awkwardness and the sheer volume of perspiration simply could not be overcome by clever answers. The interview had died.
I said thank you, and then I went home and stood shirtless in front of the air conditioning for two hours as I pondered my future over a glass of ice water. What was the next step? Where did I go from there? How would I ever find a job? I had been unemployed for eight months since graduate school, and nothing was working. This sweaty interview had been my last hope. The economy was awful, my savings were running out, and I could feel the heavy dread of panic rising up in my stomach. I was engaged in a Sisyphean struggle against the very logic of momentum; you need experience to land a job, but of course the only way to get experience was by having a job. How did you hop on this logical merry go round? How did you land that first job, and begin the cycle of getting experience and landing better jobs? And more importantly, how had I gotten to this place in my life, where my only salvation lay in a job I couldn’t have, working in a cubicle I knew I would hate, doing a job I didn’t want. I wasn’t passionate about multifunctional database platform integration, so why had I applied for this position?
It all came down to money; I didn’t have it. But I had always imagined myself doing something more interesting than integrating databases. And what about dreams? What about passion? What about loving your work, and being all that you can be? Had the Great Recession, technology and globalization killed the things that really matter? And what about me? Was there no room for me in this new economy? Was I destined to become another half dead office drone, spending my days in a job I loathed while my true potential wasted away under the weight of the cold economic realities of the early 21st Century?
No. No. No. No.
I simply would not let this happen. Not ever. This new beast – this new monster – this new economy would not get me. I would get it. I would educate myself, empower myself, embolden myself, and then I would attack. I would learn everything there possibly was to learn about job hunting, and I would master every skill related to it. I would become a job-hunting master; a highly trained black belt job candidate well versed in the arts of resume writing, networking, cover letter writing, interviewing, and business attire. Nothing would stop me. Nothing would faze me. I would train myself to land any job, anywhere, anytime. I would find the job of my dreams, no matter what the cost, and then I would share this knowledge with everyone I possibly could.
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Carl McCoy, copyright 2017