Always an Applicant, Never A New Hire

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. That’s how I feel in this cyberspace job applicant jungle. If I told you that I have been applying to jobs for the last six years, yes, SIX years, would you believe me? I mean, I’d like to think I’m all that and a bag of chips when it comes to the being the right person for the role, but it doesn’t matter if I am or not, because the bottom line is it’s incredibly rare that the companies ever meet me in person. Half the time they don’t get to see me face to face, feel my positive vibe, and let me speak about how I’d be a solid asset to their team. I used to get incredibly down on myself as to why I was never selected, even in instances when I made it to the final round. I had to figure out the why. It drove me crazy.

Meanwhile, I started talking openly about it with friends, their families, old colleagues, acquaintances, strangers I met at events with my kids, and even co-workers. I was awed over how many of them were in this hunt alongside me. And they were also stumped in their time sapping job searches; time traveling to the future of nowhere.

Prior to the economic crisis in 2008, the process in which one was hired followed a seemingly typical path. You apply to a few jobs of interest, and out of those jobs, you hear back from one or two of the handful you’ve applied to. You pass that initial screen, you are invited to an in-person interview and maybe there is a second and final in person interview that seals the deal.

This is no longer the case. If you are currently a job seeker, take inventory right now in this moment at how much time you have spent applying, having phone interviews, the assignments you’ve been asked to do, and the number of in-person interviews you have been asked to make yourself available for. Is your mind blown yet? It’s probably a scary number of hours, days, weeks, maybe even years.

It is this time spent applying to countless jobs that I will never get back. Evenings that I could have been having connection with my husband, or taking a dance or exercise class, or just plain recuperating and decompressing from the current work day. Instead I was always pushing to get a new gig, thinking that if I wasn’t persistently trying to change my current situation, then I’d be miserable and stuck forever. I don’t like to complain about a situation without trying to fix it.

Aside from trying to fix the problem for 6 years, I often angsted over it taking over my thoughts. My youngest son is four and a half and it’s crazy to think that I have been so focused on this one thing for his entire existence. I have been searching for a new job since before he was conceived, paused the search during my pregnancy, and resumed it right after maternity leave. This was often consuming my thoughts as I was desperate to get out.I know I was not mentally present sometimes during his and his brother’s precious bedtimes; which is the time of day working parents treasure with their children. It was so obvious during that time that I actually wrote about it in Focused on Distraction.

I wanted to be the best version of myself for my boys, but often during these times of job hunting I’m sure they saw and felt my sadness. Always torn between trying to paint on a smile for them, but knowing I wasn’t really feeling it. Kids are like sponges- they soak it all in.

I would like to take this moment to pay homage to all of the single people out there who have been hustling, trying everything they can to meet their mate. It’s comparable to those of us on the never-ending, fruitless job search.  I know how you feel now. We cringe inside every time someone asks how the search is going, just as a single person does when someone asks why haven’t you met anyone yet. You start to feel like something is wrong with you, as though you’re the King or Queen of rejection. You can’t help but feel that people are judging you, and it fuels all of your insecurities related to that one thing that just isn’t panning out.

This is not to say that no one actually gets job offers these days. I have known a handful of people in the last six years that have landed new jobs very quickly. This is incredibly fortunate because this just seems so rare nowadays. I tell these people they have no idea how lucky they are, and they either have Einstein’s genes or should go buy a lottery ticket right now.

I would ask myself, “Is it my resume? Was my spiel about what I’ve been recently doing not short and sweet enough? Was my salary not in the right range? Was it because they figured out I’m a parent and may have to leave right at 5?” The analyzing is endless. I actually really started to doubt my worth in the one area I had always felt strong in. Interviews in the past did not feel like the post 2008 era. Prior to 2008 getting a job felt really easy.

I’m mad at myself now for feeling that way, because my worth is not defined by whether or not a company wants to hire me. If nothing else, please take that away from this article. Your worth is not defined by whether or not a company wants to hire you.

It’s good to be open to advice, there is always the chance you are making mistakes along the way and could use some help. I reached out to my support system and their suggestions were added to my to-do list:  have several variations of my resume, set up a profile on all the job search engines I can find, call recruiters, after applying to a position be sure to connect with colleagues on LinkedIn that are affiliated with contacts within the company that I am seeking employment with,  have at least 2 to 3 references on LinkedIn, create a portfolio of your work and share it, send emails to close friends, acquaintances, and old colleagues to see if they know of any openings, etc. One key thing I learned at the tail end of the six year journey of becoming a professional interviewer was that my salary was above my title. So often when they would ask me what I was currently making, they would quickly get off the phone and say I was too senior. I would say, I don’t think so, I read the job description, and they would say they just didn’t have it in the budget. If I told them I would take the lower salary (which in some instances I did) they never went for it. If only they knew what a great employee I would be. I just wanted to be free from where I was-even if it meant a pay cut.

If you’re reading this and you’re still wondering just how many jobs I applied to, let me break it down. I realize this opens me up for much judgement and perhaps trash talk, but without vulnerability who are we as people?

On average, I would apply to roughly 1 to 3 jobs a night, about 3 days a week, over the course of six years with a break while I was pregnant. Between 2011 and 2017 I applied to roughly 260-780 jobs. Out of those jobs, I received phone interviews for roughly 1 out of every 15 jobs.  Out of those phone screens, I made it to the next round 50% of the time. I made it to the second round 25% of the time.  Following that, I made it to the final round 6 times and received actual job offers twice. Let me repeat that- out of 260-780 jobs that I applied to, I received 2.5 job offers. I say 2.5 because one was in the works and I shut it down because it didn’t feel right. Out of those other two offers, one rescinded their offer after deciding to split the salary and give it to two college grads.  I turned down the other one due to the amount of travel and the coinciding of another opportunity that presented itself in late 2016 at the current company I was with.  I stayed the course, happy in my new role for a bit until some unexpected internal changes took place, then I was back to work as a late night job seeker.

This never ending cycle of rejection got me thinking perhaps I’m just not cut out for the post 2008 corporate recruiting process? How many more years could this go on? How much longer will I knowingly be unhappy in my professional life while doing everything in my power to try to change it?  Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me to walk away and do something else as a means to contribute to society and provide for my family?

And then rock bottom came. Things at my current job got to a point where I could not balance my personal life and my work life any longer.  It was all-consuming for many different reasons and it was time to do something. In order to keep my sanity, I turned in my resignation. I had been trying to leave for so long and without luck, I had given the new position my all, but could no longer go forward. The mere idea of logging back on to those job search sites made me want to hitch a ride with Thelma and Louise.

Overshadowing my new found freedom was the reality that I’d once again have to boot up and start applying. There is a strong feeling that my courtship with the corporate world is over unless a progressive, family friendly company comes a knockin’.

If you are in this same situation and you are reading this nodding your head and day dreaming of quitting in the same fashion, I can tell you how it turned out. I can tell you what I’ve come to learn from all of this rejection. 1.) Something else will crop up 2.) You, yourself define your worth;not a job, a company, or a person, 3.) if you try like hell to change something and the door of change just won’t open… try a window or another way out- no matter how much the fear paralyzes you. 4.) You will most likely have to make some financial sacrifices. This will not outweigh getting your sense of self back, but you will have to be OK with not living the life you once did for a bit.

Trust me on this. I have no regrets on making this decision.

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Where am I now? Did I win the lottery and go to live on an island or start my own company and become a millionaire – well yes- I did. Just kidding, no I didn’t. However, one month and one week after I quit my job I had a job offer that manifested in an unreal way. I still cannot believe how things unfolded. Life is truly unpredictable.

Embarking On The Unknown; A Career Path

At the age of 16 or 17 most kids have to start thinking about and actually decide what field they want to be in for work. This, of course, is the whole college selection journey that begins with picking a school, a minor, and a major. In the end the hope is obviously that a job will come along in said field. Some teenagers have a solid conviction of what they’ve always wanted to be, but it’s typical to be pretty clueless. It’s only a decision that impacts the rest of your life, but you’ve been on the planet 16 years…so….you’ve got this.  You have to start to hone in on what you think you might like to do all day, while also getting paid a decent wage. Those things don’t necessarily go together, but nonetheless, at the wise age of 16 we dive into our best guess.

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My bedroom was painted royal blue. I had a thing for the color blue back then. The ceiling was smothered with Rolling Stone magazine covers end to end. I absolutely loved Mark Saliger’s photos. I poured over the Rolling Stone interviews imagining that someday I would be the author to many music legend interviews. I wondered what I wanted to do with my life and often stared up at my ceiling hoping I would some day end up at Rolling Stone. I decided that since writing was something I loved and I got good grades in that subject, I’d be best at a journalism. I also remember thinking that whatever I majored in, I’d have to make sure there was as little math involved as possible. Legitimately, that was a concern for me since math never was my strong suit.

I started out at community college due to finances. My dream had been to go to the University of Southern California, but I quickly realized that picking a college simply because I wanted to go there was a luxury that was not in the cards.  When I signed up for our local community college, I felt disenchanted. My dreams of moving away to Cali had been pushed aside. In my mind, I had big plans for myself. One year later, I ended up attending a university in Illinois about 4 hours from home.

One afternoon, I visited the placement office at community college to nail down a major. The office was filled with shelves of books about every possible occupation under the sun. I went and thumbed through a couple, finally settling in on Public Relations Specialist. 

I read the description over and over and looked at the average salary of $70,000 a year.

“Wow, that is SO much money.” The wheels were in serious motion in my head, “I’ll be rich!” I was sure I was going to be poppin’ bottles with P. Diddy and J. Lo. The words in job description bounced up and down on the page with excitement right at me. Media, Radio, Television, Writing, Celebrity, Top Executives, Relationships, Communication. Whatever this job description was selling, I was buying with all of the tip money in my pocket.  It all sounded so glamourous! $70K to my 18 year old self also sounded like a million dollars, ah, how things change…but I digress.

It listed the majors and minors  for this type of role. And guess what? There was hardly any math involved.  I signed up to major in journalism with a minor in marketing. I felt my planning was thorough since I had a plan A and a plan B. Plan A would be to try to become a writer for Rolling Stone, while plan B would be the PR Specialist gig that had dazzled me dizzy. I knew I would minor in marketing because it had been my father’s major and he had turned out successful, so why not? That was the amount of thought I put into my minor.  I chose it blindly with a whole lot of gusto.

Basically that describes my entire decision making process- from start to finish.

I loved my classes, there was just one smidgeon of a problem. While in my journalism class we were writing about Princess Diana’s death that had been all over the news. The professor went on at length about the long hours journalists put in, the sometimes life or death situations,  and the right and wrong decisions they’d have to make in certain circumstances (case in point with Diana). I was riveted and wondered if my job at Rolling Stone would be that way. I committed in my mind to do whatever it took. But it was something else he said that changed my course right then and there-literally.

“Who in this class loves writing?” He had a deep voice that carried out of the class and into the hallway.

“OK, now who in this class wants to make money in this profession?” His wry smile curled.

This next part I am paraphrasing; I cannot remember his exact words.

“Those who kept your hands up for the second question need to change your majors right now. You will be poor as a journalist. This is a fact unless you strike gold somehow. I will spell it out for you folks- you will barely make enough money to live and you will work like a dog. You have to live, breathe, and die by writing, accepting that you will likely not make much money.”

I changed my major that following week. I had watched my mom work her butt off and struggle as a hairdresser ever since her and my Dad divorced. In addition to that, my Dad had dropped a scary amount of weight when the real estate market took a nose dive in the mid eighties. For many months,  when we’d stay at his condo,  we’d have fish sticks with ketchup for dinner during that ailing time in his career. I didn’t want to live on fish sticks if I had anything to do about it. Money struggles legitimately scared me, and I would need to pick something that was more reliable. So I said goodbye to my dream of writing. I chose to major in Communications and Human Relations, which I was still pretty happy with.

In the end, I feel fortunate. I ended up picking a major that was right for me and has served me well since it lends itself to many career paths (and there was no math).

If I could change one thing, it would likely have been my minor in marketing. I think I should have minored in English Lit or something else specific to writing. Then again, maybe without that emphasis in marketing I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of working for one of the best marketing firms around. It was an incredibly fun learning experience  and was chock full of good people and amazing volunteer opportunities. I do wonder if I didn’t have that minor of marketing on my resume, would I have gotten that job? I remember the head hunter setting me up for the interview (as a temporary receptionist) and mentioning it was good that I had that on my resume. I did end up getting asked to interview for an Executive Assistant role there while temping, which then lead me to an Account Executive role and later a Sr. Account Executive position.  I guess you never know where your path will lead you!

Along the course of different positions I’ve had over the years at various companies, I can say that I’ve pinned down what I dislike: spreadsheets and data entry. Does anyone like this? If you do, bless your heart. I’ve also come to know what I’m not so good at; being analytical. A double whammy of things I loathe was putting analytical data into spreadsheets. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. It felt like I was dying a slow death. Now imagine putting data into a system that was 14 years old that crashed all the time. OK,  I’ll stop now. I can already tell you feel my pain.

What have I learned that I am sharing with you? Ask your teenagers what they like to do, what they could do for years to come without tiring of it, what their weaknesses are, and what they know they despise doing.  It’s impossible for them to narrow it down perfectly since they haven’t had enough life experience or job experience yet, but I do believe it will still help.

If you’ve been out of school now for quite sometime and are looking to overhaul your professional life like I just did-ask yourself those same questions. Realistically, if you’re like me and have a family to support, there will be different variables to weigh in your decision making process.

I’m going to be forty in a year and a half. In my opinion, it took me way too long to figure out the things I should have run the opposite direction from job wise. Lean into your strengths even if it means you won’t get a handsome financial reward. Sure I’ve had to compromise and downsize a bit, but there’s no price tag on happy.

When I think back to what my professor said that day, I wonder if I hadn’t listened to it how things would be different. It’s not a feeling of regret at all, it’s just curiosity. It’s apparent that the writing landscape has definitely changed.  After the 19 years of job and life experience I’ve had since that day, I’ve learned that there are many different options.

It  helps to look into your options, think about them, ask people about their professions, etc. You can still do the things you enjoy without being paid for them.  I am able to be a writer today just for fun.  The fact that writing, people, and creativity are actively part of my life makes me feel richer than ever, even if in the dollar sense that’s not the case.

“The greatest wealth is to live content with little, for there is never want where the mind is satisfied.”- Lucretius