That’s right folks. It’s time for the classics.
Over the past months, I’ve been having a great time chronicling the ups and downs and ins and outs of my life as a job hunter in the worst economy since the Great Depression. In that time I’ve had some interesting experiences ranging from good to bad and strange to odd, but all in all new and unique based on the circumstances and placed in the context of my life. The journey continues, which means the experience gets richer.
But why dwell on the heavy intellectual and emotional side of it all? I mean, there have been plenty of times when I’ve had to step back and look at a situation and think, “wow, that just happened.” From the awkward to the absurd, the key to me staying sane has been to look at things through the lens of humor and/or morbid rationalization of irrational events. It’s not enough to shrug things off and say, “it is what it is” while still worrying about what it could be. That’s the foundation of frustration. It’s better to sometimes say, “do you believe this shit?” so that you can laugh it off, shake it off, and keep pushing for another day.
That’s why I’m compiling my list of greatest hits. The interesting/weird/funny/absurd/WTF statements that have come to define my unemployment and ongoing search for a gig. The things I’ve seen or had said to me that have been both head shakers and head scratchers. The times where I’ve thought, “this can’t be life” while giving a blank stare to a computer screen, hanging up a phone or on the train headed home. These are the classics, served up just for you the way they were served up just for me so that you can find the same joy that I do when trying to avoid pain.
Let’s cue up the hits!
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” -HR Manager at my former employer
I would hardly calling letting me go something anyone ever did FOR me. It’s not like they gave me a chance to work from home or were offering me a new way to save money on my commute. No, they were ending my employment which wasn’t the favor I was looking for that day. To add insult to injury, the word ELSE is in there as if to imply that they’d done me more than one favor that day. If there was anything they could have done for me, it would have probably entailed canceling that meeting and having me keep my job.
“I’m looking at your work history over the past year and I want to know, what do you think has been your biggest professional challenge?” -Talent Manager at a big global agency
My biggest challenge? Hmmmm. Perhaps it’s that spot on my resume that says through May 2011 and then doesn’t have anymore work history after that. Everything after May 16th has been a big challenge in trying to get back into my profession.
“Have you talked to the people at *another ad agency* about their openings?” -Talent Manager at a big global agency
Yes, this is the same Talent Manager from the previous line, but don’t mistake her for Tag Team or Young MC, she kept the hits comin’. Who sits you down in their office to interview you for a job there and then suggests that you apply somewhere else… TO YOUR FACE! That’s something that could be done over the phone or in an email, but to make me put on a clean shirt, shave and come downtown to meet you so you can tell me to try to work someplace else is crazy. Oddly enough, I did look into that other place and they said they weren’t hiring, but they did do me the solid of telling me over the phone.
“But what is it that you REALLY want to do?” -Department head at a potential employer
Well, the fact that I came into the office that day and had a few hours of conversation with several people there would lead one to assume I wanted to work there, but apparently my true intentions weren’t clear. I REALLY want to win the lottery, buy a monster truck and go buck wild down Michigan Ave. in the middle of rush hour traffic. I REALLY want to take over a third world country and rule over it as a generous despot with an iron fist under a velvet glove. I REALLY want to be a Navy SEAL and go around the world blowing shit up and generally being a badass. But for right now, I guess I’ll settle for taking a job in a field that I’ve worked in for ten years at a reputable agency on a solid client. Do you have a job as a Navy SEAL available? If not, then hire me for the one I applied for.
“Why did you leave *previous agency* so quickly? Was there something about it that made you want to leave?” -HR Manager at a national at a nationally know agency
What made me want to leave? Why would anyone leave any job after six months? Because it sucked. No one asks people why they quit drugs or left an abusive relationship so quickly, it’s generally assumed that it was something you didn’t want to deal with anymore and/or you found something better to do. Sometimes you take a job and realize that you took the wrong job, just like sometimes you date a woman and realize she’s the wrong woman. If I say “it wasn’t for me” then that should be the equivalent of saying, “she was crazy”. It’s an explanation, not all of the explanation, but you should know what I’m talking about when I say it and move on.
“You’ve worked at a lot of African American agencies. What was that like?” -Recruiter
Well, it was the most amazingly surreal experience ever and kind of like a mix between a church revival, the FAMU Marching 100, an NBA locker room and your favorite video on BET… Oh wait, uh, no. Actually, it was just like any other ad agency I’ve worked at, but with, you know, a lot of black people working there. An agency is an agency is an agency and the color, complexion or ethnic makeup of the people working there don’t negate the fact that we have the same clients to serve, same deadlines to meet and the same shitty coffee in the kitchen. Thanks for asking though.
“I’ve read your blog quite a few times and I like your perspective on things. Do you have any writing samples?” -Department head at a potential employer
Ummm, read that sentence three times and then stare at the imaginary camera to your left.
“Oh yeah, I meant to call you about that. They hired someone else.” -Recruiter
Nothing says “I care” like forgetting to call me and tell me that a job that I may be relying on for the next few years to feed my family just so happened to hire someone else. I know people can get busy and time can slip through your fingers, but you should be able to carve out two or three minutes to remember to disappoint someone that day. I know I do, just ask my wife. I can dedicate large swaths of time to disappointing others. I never forget to do that.
“They didn’t feel like you were really sharing yourself with them.” -Recruiter after an interview
I don’t know what sharing myself means, but that sounds like something that went down at a certain kind of party that was popular in the 70’s. My mother always taught me to be on my best behavior when meeting someone for the first time, so that means I’m not going to share all of my dirty little secrets or intricacies of my life with you. If you want all of the embarrassing details, just call my references. Most of them have been at office holiday parties with me.
And the greatest hit of all time…
“So, what are you going to do if you don’t get this job?” -Talent Manager at a big global agency
I told you she’d be back. She kept the hits a’comin’. If interview absurdity was an actual music chart, she would have been Michael Jackson in 1985. That statement is two sides of wrong. The first side of it is the underlying statement that I wasn’t getting that job; basically asking me if I had other plans for when they turn me down. That’s not a statement of hope or even of interest in moving the conversation forward. Secondly, was there some kind of assumption that, if I didn’t get that job, I’d give up and try my hand at pig farming or become a flight attendant? I think I literally looked over to at the invisible camera on my left and gave it a blank stare. It was a classic.
My point here isn’t to malign or insult anyone so much as I’d like to point out the humor in the things that are said during the process. If you’re out of work you’ve been asked all the same questions over and over and you’ve heard the same things said to you in different ways. It’s the moment that it becomes absurd that you really get to find it funny. It’s the moment that it becomes funny that it doesn’t hurt.
The other thing about all of these statements is that, for as much as I hate to admit it, they’ve actually made me better at looking for a job. Because I can anticipate the most off the wall stuff, I can plan on how to counter it with something rational or something to balance it.
It’s important to laugh at the situations, but it’s even more important to laugh at yourself. When you lose the ability to look at things through that lens, then you lose your ability to keep moving forward. Either with the hope that you’ll find a job or the anticipation of having another great story to tell others later.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep dancing to the hits. Let the music play.