Rants On Losing (and Finding) a Job

by King, Dan Wednesday, July 11, 2007
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A little courtesy, is that too much to ask? Apparently, yes -- and nowhere is this more evident than in the job search process.

You can spend countless hours, days, perhaps weeks, crafting the perfect resume, tailoring your networking pitch, grooming yourself for the big interview -- only to be interrogated like a two-bit huckster.

  • Why should we hire you?

  • What can you do for us that someone else can't?

  • What have you learned from your mistakes?
It's like being on trial. You’re cross-examined in a succession of interviews by a jury of your potential peers. While the jury deliberates as to whether they like you or not, you're back home awaiting the verdict, placing your faith in Stuart Smalley's daily affirmation, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

As the experts suggest, you fire off a thank you note, emphasizing your enthusiasm about the next step in the process. But on a good day, the next step is the receipt of your rejection letter telling you how impressive your qualifications are.

Most of the time, there is no follow-up response at all. Why is the job seeker expected to send a thank you note, when potential hiring managers don't even feel it necessary to return phone calls?

Anyone who has suffered the humiliation of searching for a job these days knows what I'm talking about. The process can be especially dizzying when combined with the indignity of a recent layoff or firing. Anger, frustration, fear, sadness -- it's a roller coaster ride that won't end.

A while back, Hugh (not his real name) arrived at my office hoping I could help him find his next job. It seems his boss, the CFO, had decided to give him the boot, for reasons still unclear. But rather than discuss the dismissal with him, he found it fitting to just stick a note on the windshield of Hugh's car in the parking lot, telling him not to come back tomorrow. Unbelievable enough, but it gets worse.

As Hugh returned to the building to retrieve his belongings, his security pass card wouldn't scan correctly. He couldn't get in! After three tries, an alarm summoned the security staff, who bluntly informed him that he would need an escort in order to get back to his own office. Frustrated and defeated, Hugh returned to his car and drove around for two hours trying to muster the composure he would need to explain all this to his wife and their 15-year old daughter.

In the case of Alison (name also changed), her boss stopped talking to her for two weeks. When she asked if something was wrong, he told her that she needed to speak to "HR." The human resources representative, assuming that the manager had told Alison that she was terminated, pulled out a severance agreement for her to sign. Quickly realizing Alison's confusion, the HR rep proceeded to lambaste the boss for "pushing his dirty work off on her." Alison, trying to maintain a shred of propriety and professionalism, didn't need to hear the blame placing. She needed a little compassion.

If these seem like extreme situations, they actually happen more than you might think. Some managers don't communicate effectively, especially where conflict is involved, so they frequently botch termination discussions. Sure, tough decisions sometimes need to be made, but all too often truthfulness trumps tactfulness, bluntness bests benevolence.

As living, breathing human beings, one of our most fundamental needs is to be treated with respect and dignity. Most of us are fairly resilient. We can take bad news, however unpleasant, but we want to take it standing up. It’s hard to hold your head up high when your spirit is broken.

How can Hugh and Alison "put on a happy face" and impress interviewers with confidence and composure? They must present themselves at their best when they may be feeling their worst -- a daunting task, exacerbated by the incivility within the job search process.

  • Why did you leave your last job?

  • How would your boss describe you?

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
Why do interviewers ask where you want to be in five years, when they can't tell you if the company (or your job) will even exist in five years? When you're just trying to stabilize your career in the present, the question just sounds pretentious, if not a little patronizing.

Hugh and Alison? Both were fortunate to have strong personal and family support systems, which enabled each to restore a sense of self-worth and dignity. After six months of searching, Hugh accepted a senior financial role with an international consulting firm.

He believes that, in retrospect, the loss of his previous job was a blessing in disguise. Happier than he has ever been, he admits being a bit anxious whenever he finds a flyer slapped on the windshield of his car.

Alison accepted a temporary contract position with a small engineering company, while continuing to look for a suitable position.

Just last week, she called me to say that she had received (and accepted) an offer to return to her previous employer, at a level higher than her former role. In a strange turn of events, she's replacing her old boss. Doggone it, how great is that?