The ego-busting job search

woman with briefcase
Photo courtesy of Joe Zlomek

A couple of young women I know are searching for new jobs. I remember how it feels. Actually, I have one vivid memory that pretty much sums up how demoralizing going on job interviews can be, no matter how well qualified and optimistic a person is.

The summer I was nineteen, I rode a bus downtown on a sunny weekday to apply for a job as a receptionist at what is now AT&T. Back then, job applicants actually dressed up for interviews with potential employers. If my memory serves me, I’d chosen a belted suit with short sleeves that was made of a cheap, pale blue cotton fabric—a feminine version of something Jack Hanna might wear. At nineteen, very high heels caused me absolutely no pain, so probably I was wearing some caramel-colored sandals with stacked heels. I can remember owning those shoes and wearing them with that blue skirt and jacket.

After the job interview, I left the high rise offices of AT&T and walked a few blocks toward the bus stop. I was thinking of how I’d answered the questions and of other companies where I might be able to submit a job application. As I walked past a construction site, one of the workers—how cliché, but this is true—yelled at me, “What are you doing?” and stood there waiting for an answer.

I was naive and surprised, so I smiled sincerely and answered him without breaking stride. “I’m looking for a job.”

He said, “Come here. I’ll give you a job.”

I was so young that I didn’t comprehend what he meant until I’d walked another block or two. Then I felt my ego shatter.

A few other times in my life I’ve fortunately failed to understand a vulgar insult until I had gained some literal and figurative distance. For each of those occasions, I’m terribly grateful for the protection of my ignorance.

Job hunting is probably the most difficult, demoralizing thing we do, aside from dying. It makes us feel vulnerable, unwanted, and discouraged. But it’s not something most people can avoid.

Let me ask this favor. The developmental psychologist Arthur Jersild said, “Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity.” If you ever find yourself in a position to interview someone for a job, or to offer advice or encouragement to someone seeking work, would you please try to recall what it’s like to feel so hopeful and so defenseless?

Waiting Woman
Photo courtesy of Margarit Ralev

2 Replies to “The ego-busting job search”

  1. Like you, when I was young I had a couple of disastrous job interviews because I was shy, didn’t understand the procedure all that well, and in some cases hadn’t prepared. (Also like you, I even remember what I wore for two of those interviews.)

    But the strangest interview concerned an interviewer who was more painfully shy than I was. I ended up interviewing myself, e.g., ‘I’m guessing that you’d like to know a bit about my responsibilities in my current job?’ A nod, and off I went, before posing the next question to myself. Weird.

  2. Ha! How did you know I didn’t get the job at AT&T? ;)

    I think my disastrous job interviews came much later in life. But I’ve had a couple like the one you describe, with an interviewer who wasn’t prepared and didn’t know where to begin. I don’t think it helps to know more than the person interviewing you. On the contrary.

    Come to think of it, I actually was given a position with the federal government after the interviewer described the job responsibilities to me and I asked if I could add some more if I got too bored. I did get bored. I also got ridiculed for not appreciating boredom and for asking “Why?” a lot. Probably for asking “Why?” at all.

    I got another job even after the interviewer walked out of the restroom and invited me to follow her to her office without realizing she’d tucked her skirt into her pantyhose. I’m not kidding. I’d have been too embarrassed to hire me.

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