I hate job hunting.
I was let go from my last job last November. Beyond the inherent “go fuck yourself” underlying and unspoken message that comes with a company tossing you out on the street just in time for the holidays, this was a bit of a mixed blessing.(1)
I was hired by a small company two years ago, and loved working for them (laid back group, I had a good role, they didn’t take themselves too seriously, etc.). However, that company was bought by a mid-sized one and I immediately didn’t like the new group of corporate overlords (very intense, very serious, and a little inflexible regarding my job and work that requires A LOT
of flexibility). Among last year’s “highlights” were being so busy in a four month period that I worked more weekends than I had in the previous five years combined (not a joke or exaggeration, I calculated this). At one point, I was so busy that I barely slept the night before I needed dental work done
and my dentist practically tied me down and knocked me out because I was so tense from stress and lack of sleep.(2)
Nevertheless, going back out into job hunting wasn’t exactly a preferable choice for me, especially at a point in my career where I crave stability in a volatile job market and economy. My real concern about hitting the want ads again wasn’t whether I’m jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire with a new company, or breaking up an already established and comfortable routine for a new one. Nope, it’s reading/analyzing job ads, submitting my resume, showing up for an interview and discovering that interviewers and companies can be just as freakish as anyone you meet via online dating sites (and thank God I’m out of all of that nonsense these days). Then again, in a way, job hunting isn’t unlike online dating – everything may look kosher in the ad and the company website, but you won’t know for sure until you’re face-to-face with a potential new boss in their office or conference room.(3)
This isn’t the first time I’ve job hunted against my will (layoffs are a bitch), so I have the routine almost down to a science – post resumes everywhere, hunt the job sites with every applicable keyword I can think of, and network through friends and colleagues. Combined with my hatred of wearing suits, visiting strange places and meeting new people is still a bit of a task for me as a bit of an introvert. However, I always maintain that interviews for their own sake are worth it as practice for polishing up your first impression, thinking on your feet and explaining/defending your qualifications and track record skills. In the past, I’ve sat in interviews ranging from ones that went ridiculously (almost easily) well, and one where I was visibly sweating, nervous as Hell and completely out of league for the company and position.(4)
This time around, I’ve had some interesting interviews, and a few of them are experiences worth sharing…The Military Tribunal:
One of my first interviews was shortly before I was out of work (I was already job hunting for something better, I didn’t know it’d become a necessity so soon), with a company founded and run by a group of veterans. I thought I was going in for an hour-long conversation with my potential boss (that part happened as expected), but I was escorted into a conference room with the six executives and subjected to another hour and a half of esoteric and fancy tap dancing questions, as well. In what I can only guess was a set of questions they’ve rehearsed and thrown at others, they seemingly and randomly fired away one query after another, leaving me mentally and physically drained. The follow up with the potential boss afterward was briefly interrupted by one of the execs stopping by, slapping me on the back and offering a definitive and booming “GOOD JOB YOUNG MAN!”
Full disclosure – I turned down their offer because they were relocating, and the new office is too far and inconvenient for comfortably commuting.Sensing a Disturbance in the Force:
Another early-on interview was shortly before Christmas. This was a company that had a fantastic-looking website and a strong history of work and accomplishments. When I arrived at their office, it was in an office park that was more for cozy medical, lawyer or real estate practices – the sort of professional space that more resembled a town house. Walking into and through the office, the energy level was busy/frantic, yet it felt like more of a show. People were running around or milling about without any obvious purpose, I heard people in a meeting talking about their holiday plans instead of the presentation on the wall, and a few people were standing in other people’s offices mentioning “urgent issues,” but sounded more like “where are we going for happy hour tonight?” conversations. My “spidey sense” was detecting a bit of a show for my benefit, and my guard instantly went up. The HR person who first interviewed me spent a lot of the time talking me up about how much they liked my resume and what a wonderful place the company is. The rest of the interview was with what can best be described as a worn out, hopeless and utterly humorless proposal director, and the company’s owner, a shrewd woman who clearly had gone over my resume in microscopic detail. Over the years, I’ve learned to trust my instincts, and while I may not be able to put my finger on why a place, situation or person bugs me, I heed a mental “red flag” when I get one. Something felt very wrong about the company and people I spoke with, and I couldn’t shake it. The interview was in the morning, and by mid-afternoon they called and emailed me with a job offer, which seemed not only way too fast and convenient, but also a bit desperate. Fortunately, this was all on a Friday, so I had the weekend to mull it over. I spent some time researching the company, curiously not finding much on it, then finally one anonymous review from a former employee on a job site. Their account said, in not so many words, “IF APPROACHED BY THIS COMPANY, RUN – DO NOT WALK – AWAY FROM THEM!”
Ominous warning indeed, and thankfully I found a LinkedIn
connection between the one of the company’s former employees and a friend of mine. I emailed him for any insight he could give me, and within an hour he called and gave a carefully-worded-but-insightful account of how crooked the owner is and how they went through employees like toilet paper. In his own words, he “could not condone accepting a job offer from them.” That Monday I emailed my refusal of their offer, and within minutes the owner followed up with an email asking me why and with specific reasons. I made it a short answer of not being in alignment with what I need or want, but I suspect she knows the word is out on her and her company.Stay on Eye Contact:
The old saying is dress for the job you want, not the job you have. One more recent interview (that went extremely well), included a female associate who apparently enjoys wearing sweaters with dipping necklines and a habit of leaning forward to read documents in front of her (e.g., my resume on the conference table). I like to think that I make a good first impression and can keep a professional demeanor, but except for one other instance in an office environment, I’ve never had such a difficult time not staring or even glancing at someone’s “assets.”(5)
I must’ve managed it pretty well because the company is having me in for a second interview.Ramshackle Décor is the New “Shabby Chic:”
Now, I’ve been to companies that can best be described as “startups,” where they have limited resources, less-than-impressive looking office spaces and more casual dress codes (the pros and cons of which can be debated elsewhere). However, this particular interview was for a company with a corporate website that looked as if it was built using 10 or 15 year old programming, and had been in business for about as long. Thing is, the office space looked like they opened up shop last week – cables ran up and down hallways and between offices, no two pieces of hopelessly worn and frayed furniture matched, and the coffee maker sat proudly on top of a pedestal of milk crates (my personal favorite). Further, I’m sitting in their office all decked out in a suit while my interviewer was a man who is at least 10 years my senior and dressed in little more than an old t-shirt and jeans. I haven’t heard back from them, but don’t expect to…in all honesty, it’s not because the interview sucked (it went well), but because I doubt they’ll be in business next week.Who is Selling Who on this Job?:
This recent interview was for a position at a huge company (as in, international). I tend to dislike large companies because you’re a tiny cog in the big machine, along with layer-upon-layer of bureaucracy, and written-in-stone processes and procedures. In this case, the interviewer spent most of the 90 minutes talking about the job and how the company runs, which amounted to “if work comes to our office, then we’re doing it no matter how busy you are, and you will do it our way, just like it always has year after year.” So much in fact, that it felt as if he was trying to convince me to take the job rather than me selling my experience and qualifications for it. In the course of a 90 minute conversation, I think I spoke for maybe 10 of them, and felt as if they had possibly scared away people in the very role I had applied for (or rather, I hoped they had only been scared away).Beware Companies Owned by Married Couples:
A few years ago, I worked at a company owned by a married couple. This couple is notorious for being a pair of hustlers and grifters, constantly scheming for more money and business. At first glance, one might call them sharp and smart, but then you quickly realize that they’re only “street smart” and ruthless (and I’m being generous when I say “street smart”). This particular interview reminded me of that couple because I discovered when I arrived that my interview would be with the company’s owners…who also happen to be a married couple. The husband is a car salesmen-like hey-buddy-let’s-make-a-deal-before-you-c
an-change-your-mind kind of way talkaholic, and the wife a cold and calculating sphinx. The interview was mostly him talking and yammering away or asking me direct questions (and periodically interrupting me as I responded), and her quietly and carefully sizing me up. Although it was a good conversation, I still can’t shake the impression that the more he talked, the less he was telling, and wife has a poker face vibe where she knows far more than she lets on. Having already made the mistake of working for a married couple, I’m pretty sure I won’t repeat that mistake.(1) They did give me a two month severance and even offered to be a reference, so they appreciated what I did for them over the past year.
(2) It’s never a good sign when your dentist holds a drill in your mouth and doesn’t need to turn it on due to your body vibrating.
(3) And unlike meeting an online date for that first date over coffee, you can’t rely on a friend texting you a fake emergency, or excusing yourself for a pretend trip to the bathroom and sneaking out the back door.
(4) True story, I applied for a position that was way over my experience and qualifications, but I threw my resume over the fence just for the Hell of it. My shock of being invited for an interview paled by comparison to how advanced the job responsibilities were. In retrospect, this was well before sites like Facebook or LinkedIn were in use, so I’m relieved that the interviewer probably didn’t Google me or know someone I did (on a professional basis). Of course, if his memory about notable events is anything like mine, he’s still telling that story to friends and coworkers…not that I blame him.
(5) I used to work in an office where a coworker was down on all fours working on a banner during a “casual Friday,” and she not only preferred wearing low-hip-hanging jeans, but apparently wasn’t fond of wearing panties, thongs or any other kind of underwear.