The Kindness of Strangers

johnny_automatic_coffee_coupleTuesday morning will be my first day of a new job with a new company after 5 months of unemployment. I am both excited and nervous about what-comes-next and I’m sure it will be the stuff of future blog posts. As I anxiously await these new adventures, I have reflected a bit on what I learned during my “in-between” time.

My family and friends have been awesome, although I pretty much already knew that. They kept me sane, or at least kept me company, during my darker days. My husband, who knew better than to try and tell me ‘everything would be fine,’ showed me listings for studio apartments in Hawaii along with calculations on how we could sell everything, take the cat, and move to paradise. It was never the reality of moving to Hawaii, but the idea of it, that he knew I needed. My friends met me for lunch, coffee, or drinks and did tell me everything would be fine when they saw that that was what I needed. My family encouraged my search efforts by offering either to move in with me and pay me rent or for me to move in with them and pay them rent… Those ‘threats’ were in jest, but I was comforted by knowing that no matter what happened my family had my back.

This experience, and the support I received, showed me what a truly blessed life I live. I have much to be thankful for and any complaints I have are, at their worst, mere inconveniences.

The biggest surprise for me in all this was the help I received from total strangers. One of my strategies based on online networking techniques I learned in my time at LexBlog was to target companies that I was interested in, based on industry (e.g., technology, social media, online marketing) and use LinkedIn to research local contacts within those companies. Once I had a specific name, I looked to see if I had any connection to them through mutual friends or some other common interest. From there I sent out emails that included specific questions I had about their role or their company and asked if they would be willing to meet for coffee. Of course, some of these emails were ignored or my request was politely declined, but I was delighted to find others who accepted my invitations.

These coffee dates were a godsend to me. One of the challenges of job searching is the amount of rejection you have to endure and yet stay positive and hopeful. Applications go ignored, or you talk to a recruiter and then never hear from them again. Not to mention those times when you make it to the face to face interview stage only to have the company go another direction or select a more qualified candidate, or in the case of one interview that went sideways have them re-post the position you applied for the next day. Your self-confidence takes a beating and you start to wonder if you actually have some sort of anti-job cooties.

Unlike interviews, having coffee with someone is more about sharing ideas than evaluating each other. I loved learning about what the people I met were doing, why they did it, what they liked about it, or didn’t like about it. I also enjoyed talking about what was going on in their particular industry. I was able to offer my own observations and sometimes we agreed and sometimes we engaged in lively debate. All of this left me feeling like I actually had something to offer the world. I would come home from these encounters high on a much needed dose of confidence-building.

Aside from the time these people shared with me (and I view time as a precious commodity), I was time and time again taken aback by the generosity of spirit shown to me. I was encouraged, offered free advice, and connected with yet other contacts. None of these people knew me and had no reason to help me, and still they all said yes. There are lots of reasons to be disheartened by the state of the world these days, but I saw that given the chance there are plenty of people who will reach out to a total stranger and offer a helping hand. None of the people I met with asked for anything in exchange, except perhaps to pay it forward. I was humbled by their humankind-ness and I have made a promise to myself to do whatever I can to offer the same to others when the chance presents itself.

Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word. ~Goran Persson
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Recovering from Rejection

job_interviewLast week on Monday and Tuesday I had two ‘final’ job interviews with two different companies. As you might guess from the title of this post, I did not get either job. In one case a candidate with more technical knowledge was selected over me. While disappointing, I can’t manufacture a skill I don’t possess, so that one was an easier blow. In the second instance, however, I did not connect well with the hiring manager’s manager. The tension was palpable and I could see discomfort in the hiring manager’s face. Either because of that or because of reasons, I drew a total blank on a question about this company’s industry. It was a stupid mistake and even though I stammered that I didn’t follow their industry, that wasn’t even true. With the benefit of hindsight I had numerous insightful ways I could have answered the question. But, I didn’t, and in interviews there are no second chances, only lessons learned.

Go back in time to the week prior and I was high as a kite with anticipation, excitement, and some anxiety. I studied, I prepared, I did role-plays in my head of how I would answer various questions. Better yet, I literally agonized over which company I might choose if I found myself in the enviable position of having both places make me an offer. I started mentally spending the money on all the things I’ve been wanting to do when I get my next job like go to the spa, or maybe a weekend getaway for Brian and me. Oh, the hubris flowed, and flowed freely, with a nice dash of false modesty on the side (“Of course there are no guarantees of an offer…” she said with a wink). The universe has a funny way of putting us in our place and God surely laughed at my audacity. I meant well, but my judgment was clouded, or rather my head was in the clouds.

I was blathering on to a friend about why this company wasn’t quite right, but maybe it was better than the other one, or maybe not. She rather astutely observed that perhaps neither was the right job. With the wave of a mental hand, I dismissed her comments and went on along my merry way.

When I got the first ‘decline,’ the stress of having to decide was lifted, so I didn’t spend much emotional energy on it. Of course, I already knew in my heart that the second interview was doomed, but I chose instead to torture myself with false hope until the “thank you, but no” email came a few days later. Intellectually, I could see that neither job was really right for me, nor were they what I truly wanted. I had told myself I was following the advice in Stop Worrying About Making the Right Decision and focusing on how I could make either choice a successful one. I also gave myself the “the right job will come along, you just have to have confidence, believe in yourself” pep talk. And I actually do believe the right job will come along. I just forgot to remember that I’m human and rejection sucks. Fast forward to today. I happened to watch that WestJet Christmas Miracle video and suddenly all the emotion poured out and I started to cry, and then cried some more, and kept on at it well after the video ended. I mean it’s a heartwarming video and all, but I went on and on far beyond the power of even holiday marketing efforts.

Why did I care so much about two jobs that deep down I knew were not what I really wanted? I suppose there is some element of fear around being unemployed (expressed to my husband as “No one will ever want to hire me ever again and we’ll have to eat cat food and/or move in with our parents!” she said melodramatically with hand to forehead.) But I think the larger pain is that of rejection. We always want to be the breaker-upper (“it’s not you, it’s me”). No one wants to be the dumpee. We want to be loved, we want to be accepted, we want to be chosen, even if we don’t want what is choosing us. Maybe that is a control thing, or maybe it’s about fear, or failure, or all of them. All I know is that rejection sucks, baby.

Fortunately, I don’t stay down for long. After wallowing around watching more sappy holiday videos (seriously, it’s emotional blackmail, people), I stumbled across this quote that made me feel better.

Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent. ~Steve Martin

I am, if nothing else, a persistent person. Or at least I know how to be persistent. My job search efforts so far have shown me that I can actually make contact with companies and get interviews. The good(?) news about being rejected is that it’s not fatal. Not being picked does not actually damage you. You’re still you. So, I dried my eyes, took a deep breath and got back on Craigslist…

When you’re following your inner voice, doors tend to eventually open for you, even if they mostly slam at first. ~Kelly Cutrone