I’m going to file this article under “I” for I’ve Been There.
Let me tell you a little story from several years ago. This is a follow-up to a story I posted a few months ago. When we last left off, I had finally reached the breaking point at my company and needed to get out as soon as possible. My resume was updated, the people on my reference list had been contacted, and several job applications were out the door/outbox. The hardest part of any job search is the wait, and wait I did…for a few months. I sent out my first applications in January and hadn’t heard anything by mid-March.
Needless to say, the first quarter of that year took its toll on me both as an employee and as a person (and little did I know that it was about to get much worse). I woke up every morning frustrated and had to drag myself out of bed. I never ever got to work early and did my best to leave on time at the end of the day. I never spent a moment of my lunch hour in the office, even if it meant sitting in my car for an hour. The less time I spent there, the better. I would somehow get through my work day, constantly checking the clock along the way, come home, and dread having to do it all over again. At home, I was irritable, quiet, and generally not a nice person to be around (sorry, loved ones! I hope you’ll understand why now!)
It’s hard for people to understand what’s going on inside a person’s head when they’re stuck in a “breaking point” job. You may be thinking to yourself, “He’s not at work when he’s home. Why is he acting this way?” By all accounts, they should be thrilled when they’re not at the job they hate. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way. These people spend at least a quarter of every week of their lives in a place that they can’t stand, likely with people who make their jobs even worse. 25% of every week is pure torture. When they come home for the evening or for the weekend, that next 8-hours sentence is always looming just over the horizon. The influence of work follows them home, even if they aren’t actually working once they get home. How do I know all this? Because I’ve been there too. As an outsider to the situation, one important thing you need to remember is that you’re only seeing this person outside of their job. You have no idea what went on at work that day, and even if they tell you all the gruesome details, you’ll never be able to understand the experience of the day. The equation
Frustrated worker - work setting = happy worker
just doesn’t work. I wish it were black and white like that, but it’s not.
Back to my job-seeking tale. In late March, I got callbacks for two interviews in April with two very different companies. One was a globally-known brand that everyone has heard of. The other one was a local state community college. The large company interview was an all-day 8:00-5:00 session. Aside from a lunch break/tour of some of the facilities, it was nonstop interviews. My first interview went from 8:15 to 8:45 with one person. At 8:50, two more people came in with a fresh set of questions until 9:28. At 9:30, two different people took over, etc. Grueling as it was, I thought I did pretty well. I got along well with my potential teammates and the environment was certainly a fun one. In the mean time, the interview process at the college was tough in a different way. The hiring was done via committee and as such, I was interviewing with 10 people at a time. This once again gave me no downtime during my interviews. If one person ran out of questions, there were plenty of others in the room ready to fire away. They also asked me to prepare a presentation for them based on prior work I did. During my second interview with them, I also met with the Dean of Administration (the boss’s boss) for an hour. Well, it was supposed to be an hour-long session. We ended up running over by another hour, talking about the school in general and making small talk after the “normal” set of interview questions were over. Needless to say, he really liked me and I was told that I was in the final running with one other candidate.
By May, I was still waiting to hear back from both companies. Then one day, I got the letter from the large company. They decided not to invite me back for the next round of interviews. I was upset, but not crushed. In hindsight, I don’t think it would have been a good fit anyway. I would’ve been right back to the breaking point in no time. Besides, I had the university job that was about to come through for me. I received my rejection letter from the global company in the afternoon. The very next morning, I got an email from the Dean of Administration at the university telling me that they decided to go with the other candidate. The very moment I read that email, something changed inside me. All this time, I was frustrated with my current position and with all the patience I needed to find a new job. Once I read that email, I lost a lot of hope, both in my ability at a job-seeker and in the system itself. I was so confident that I was getting one of the two jobs I interviewed for that I stopped applying for other jobs weeks beforehand. Now I had no active leads. Nothing in the pipeline. I was back to square one and the only constant that stood beside me was the position I desperately wanted to leave.
During this whole agonizingly-long process, one question echoed in my mind over and over again: “Why not just quit if you can’t stand it anymore?” Trust me. I seriously considered it, but in the end I realized that there were too many compelling arguments for me to stay put and rough it out:
1. It’s much easier to find work when you’re already employed.
Even if they don’t admit it, hiring managers subconsciously view currently-employed candidates as more capable and valuable than their out-of-work counterparts. I know it sounds unfair, but unless you’re successfully running your own company or you’re a full-time student/recent graduate, they can’t help but ask themselves the question, “why is this person not currently working?” I’m convinced that leaving my job would have prolonged the search.
2. I needed the steady income.
I tried my hand at full-time freelancing for a while and it’s a very dangerous game to play. When I first started out, I couldn’t believe how much income I was bringing in during my first 2-3 week span. It didn’t last. The money might be great for a while, but I couldn’t handle the droughts where no business was coming in. I needed the stability of a bi-weekly paycheck.
3. I didn’t want a short tenure on my resume.
I had only been at that company for about six months when I reached the breaking point. I typically don’t stay at any company for less than one year unless there are some very unusual circumstances. It’s very difficult to answer “Why did you only stay at this company for a few months?” in a job interview without sounding like you aren’t a committed team player. It’s even harder to answer the question, “Why did you leave this job?” I highly discourage lying during interviews. HR professionals talk to interviewees every single day. They know when you’re telling the truth and when you aren’t. Trust me.
So what happened in the aftermath of my double-rejection within the span of 18 hours? I did no job-hunting for a week or two. I needed some time removed from the job-hunting scene to recharge my batteries and come up with a new plan of attack. It was incredibly refreshing to not have to worry about applications and cover letters for a few weeks. Then one day in May, I saw an ad in the newspaper for a position that interested me. I applied on a Thursday. They called that next Monday for an interview on Wednesday. I went to the interview with the attitude that I didn’t really care at all if I got the job. I even grabbed the wrong suit that morning (an old one that didn’t fit me very well). I must’ve looked awful, but I didn’t sweat it because I didn’t really care either way. Two days later, I accepted their job offer and ended up working there for a few years. Job seekers, if there’s one thing to take from this frustrating story, it’s that you never know what opportunity is just around the corner.
What are some of your experiences with job-seeking rejection? Please let us know in comments!