When I was an MFA student at GMU I remember a professor once told my class that if he ran into one of us years in the future and asked about our “work”, he’d expect to hear about our writing, not the job we had at the time to pay the bills.
That comment occurred to me this weekend as I was both an employee and attendee of the Virginia Film Festival. An event that, in many ways, was 13 years in the making. In 2009, when I first attended VAFF, ecstatic to meet Alan Ball, asking him sign my “Six Feet Under” book and telling him the show saved my marriage because it gave us something to share together, I could have never imagined I’d end up being a seasonal employee and have the opportunity to meet another screenwriter, Meg LeFauve, who would inspire and encourage me to tell my stories.
Before experiencing the magic of these five days in November, I had endured 100+ interviews and even more rejections from the countless other jobs I applied for but never advanced past the resume slush pile. I survived two years without permanent full-time employment (except for a three month position that ended with getting fired for the first time in over 27 years) and two years without resolution to a complaint I filed with the Virginia Department of Health Professions against a psychologist I saw over 1,000 times. It’ll take time for me to adequately describe how all of these things are intricately connected, but suffice it to say, it’s about facing shame and regret, needing validation, exploring vulnerability, quantifying worth, defining failure or success, seeking approval, wanting acceptance, and establishing connection. The journey from “I’ll pass” to “We’d like to make an offer.”
This weekend I also recalled the advice from a coach who had said to runners training for a long distance race that the marathon should be a celebration for all the miles it took to get to the starting line. For so many runners it’s the hours on the roads, in solitude or with friends, that brings meaning to the sport, not the actual race. But when you earn the PR you’ve been striving for or finally get to the finish line in a race you’ve been struggling through, the completion of that goal is a feeling of joy and accomplishment that is like no other.
There were so many meaningful and life-changing moments during the festival that as I write this now I don’t even think I’m ready to share all of them just yet. Maybe I can just start with a few of my favorite photos.
I cackled. I cried. I danced. I panicked. I felt awkward. I felt pride. I was alone. I was with friends, new and old. And, most importantly, I shared experiences with my daughter and with my twin.
So I’ve found meaning in all the pain I’ve experienced over the past two years and the memories from this festival are like race medals I’ll cherish forever.
When I started my seasonal position at the Virginia Film Festival I decided to put together a presentation of THE FILMS THAT INSPIRE ME. It was a fun project!
I love documentaries, movies that make me laugh, and films that make me cry.
The last 4 movies I’ve watched as of October 15, 2022 are:
I’m so excited that the Virginia Film Festival 2022 program is finally released! It’s been hard to stay quiet about all the amazing films coming to Charlottesville on November 2-6. I can’t wait to see (in alphabetical order):
Wow, that’s a long list! I probably won’t get seeing all of these during the festival, but I’ll keep them on my watchlist for when they get released on demand. :)
These panels should be really interesting;
I recently interviewed for two positions with job titles and salaries that were not necessarily at the same level as my last full time job, but seemed like the perfect roles for me at this point in my life.
I was eager to join both organizations due to the nature of their businesses and the responsibilities of the positions.
In my follow-up letter to one, I explained that the role was the ideal opportunity for me and I really wanted to work with the team I met. “On paper it might seem that I’m overqualified or perhaps a temporary role isn’t the best career move at my stage in life, but when I first saw the listing I was immediately drawn to it and wanted to apply.”
For the other, I went above and beyond to prepare a presentation before the phone screening with the talent advisor. During the call my presentation was shared with the hiring manager who apparently responded, “OMG get her in for an interview ASAP.” I was thrilled!
That excitement quickly turned to fear as I was incredibly nervous before the second interview. I added 8 more slides to my presentation in hopes of impressing them even more. In my thank you message I wrote:
“I’m looking to join a company where I imagine myself staying until I retire, in whatever role I can do my best work. I’m a loyal and creative person and when I commit to something, I’m in it for the long haul. This is one reason why I’m a marathoner and I spent the majority of my adult life in just two positions.
I prepared a presentation before meeting anyone in your company because I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to the interview process and to show my next-level interest in this specific role. I think it’s crucial to find a candidate who’s willing to efficiently size up your current efforts as well as make recommendations. I began that process, but I have so much more I’d like to share. I’d love the opportunity to discuss my thoughts with your team and to learn more about the decision making process for current initiatives as well as your larger marketing plans for the future.”
Hours later I was rejected, apparently because I was overqualified.
“At this time, our team feels your qualifications are outside of the parameters of the role. We do not feel it is a good long-term strategy to offer you less than you are worth.”
I know my worth. I know what I want. And when I believe I have value to add to a team, I go for it.
I would never invest so much time in an application if I didn’t feel it was an opportunity I wanted to pursue.
I was at Learning Without Tears for over 22 years. When I left I wasn’t a Senior Manager or a Vice President, I was in a mid-level Specialist/Coordinator role. Those upper management and executive titles have never been my career goal.
I want to do something I’m good at, that I enjoy, and with people whom I like. I’m a “rockstar” not a “superstar” (as described in “Radical Candor”.) I’ve never found it desireable or necessary to climb the corporate ladder. All I want is a role where I can be productive and creative, where I work with people who accept, value, and compliment my true self to achieve a greater good as a team. To me, that is true success.
I never thought that putting so much care and consideration into an initial interview might disqualify me, but that’s who I am and it’s important for me to share what I have to offer. I am intense. Maybe in a way that not everyone sees as a positive, but it’s who I am.
After this latest rejection I searched “overqualified” and found this relevant article:
“What Employers Really Mean When They Say You’re Overqualified (And What You Can Do About It)”
Of course it terrified me to see this explanation of what employers are thinking when they say you’re overqualified:
You’re too old
“Yep… this is the ugly one. Some employers maintain negative stereotypes about older candidates. The law prevents them from discriminating based on age, so “overqualified” is a useful proxy to avoid explicitly addressing the age issue in hiring.“
I’m a runner and race results live forever. I will never be able to hide my age and I wouldn’t want to because I’m proud to be 51.
Luckily, without even knowing it, I followed their advice to address being “overqualified”:
1. Explain your situation
2. Show your enthusiasm for the job
3. Be clear (and reasonable) about your salary expectations
4. Explain how your extra skills will help the employer
5. Network, network, network
I’ll never know if they really thought I was overqualified or if it was an acceptable excuse for some other reason. If I bombed the interview and said something that turned them off, I’d really like to know, but I’ve learned after 100 interviews that no one will really give you the feedback you need even if you ask for it.
Rejection stings no matter what. It’s especially painful when you make an extra effort and expose your own vulnerabilities by being honest.
I know my worth and it’s not dependent on being hired although sometimes it’s hard to believe that.
I’ve only cried a few times during my job search. There have been just a handful of jobs that I felt absolutely perfect for and was extra eager to make a good impression.
It’s terrifying to to be brave enough to communicate what you want with the founder of a business or to share extremely personal details about the difficulties of the unemployment process and what lead to it to human resources.
Being vulnerable is risky, but it’s in my nature. I’d much rather overshare and leave everything on the table than have regrets that I didn’t do everything I could to get the outcome I wanted.
I was inconsolable with tears when I received the email rejecting me for being overqualified, telling me it wasn’t a good long-term strategy to offer me less than I’m worth.
When I applied for the position I was required to put a salary expectation. The amount I shared was actually less than the starting salary given in the initial phone screening. How then could they offer me less than I decided I’m worth?
My desires and expectations about what role I need and the compensation I want have become clearer over the past two years. I’ve learned that money isn’t everything and that I must believe in what I’m doing. Titles have never mattered to me, but success does. There’s no one direct road to accomplishing your goals. It’s the journey and the relationships that matter.
I think I’m an amazing person with so much to offer no matter the position or the company. I honestly believe the next manager who hires me will have no regrets because I will only accept a role that feels right for me and will lead to success for everyone involved.
I will be filing my final weekly claim for unemployment benefits on Sunday. I won’t be able to answer YES to the question regarding having a start date for full-time employment, but I am optimistic about the future.
For the past 25 weeks I’ve poured myself into the work of finding full-time employment and it’s been quite the journey: exciting and arduous, invigorating and demoralizing.
Since February 2021, I’ve had 100 interviews with over 70 companies. I consider that an accomplishment even though all of my efforts resulted in a total of 17 weeks paid work with two different companies and three volunteer roles.
I have wanted to “quit” this job of looking for a job so many times this year, but I persevered and in the process I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve reassessed what I want, need, and desire in an employer and reexamined all my strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve also identified key problems in the hiring process that have left me frustrated, yet inspired to create a better and more equitable system.
One personality trait that has led to many achievements in my life is my inability to see a problem without wanting and trying to fix it. I’m determined to take all the lessons I’ve learned to help others navigate long-term unemployment without losing hope and their core identity. Stay tuned for more information on how I plan to do this.
In the meantime, I’d like to make a huge plug for davidolenick.com whose illustrations and designs speak to me every day! THANK YOU for making me smile during difficult times.
Here’s my new mantra to calm some of the anxiety I experience before interviews:
“I have no one to please and nothing to prove. I don’t even know if I want this job yet!”
I found this quote after googling “I hate interviews will i ever get a job”. Seriously.
The article, which includes tips on overcoming interview anxiety, stated the obvious:
“A job interview is a very artificial situation.“
Perhaps the key to improving the interviewing process is taking steps to encourage a more authentic conversation rather than to have a static test.
Having endured nearly 100 interviews over the past year, I know that the best ones happen when the script is ditched and real personalities are revealed.
I strongly believe that if you have a set list of questions you want to ask prospective employees during an interview then include that as part of the application process.
Requiring applicants to answer specific questions when submitting a resume helps both you and the applicant by weeding out those who are blinding submitting generic cover letters to dozens of employers (full disclosure, I’ve been guilty of this!).
It’s immeasurably helpful for me to understand exactly what a company wants when they put the extra effort into creating a more equitable process for hiring. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating.
I plan to examine more lessons learned from my own experiences, but in the meantime, here are some useful resources I’ve found online.
Just tell candidates what you’re going to ask ahead of time.
It's time to make transparent interviews the new normal.
TIPS ON OVERCOMING INTERVIEW ANXIETY
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS TO ASK EMPLOYERS
I think I’ve applied for at least 500 jobs (more than half of those via LinkedIn’s Easy Apply feature which makes it super quick and simple).
Although I don’t keep a record of every single job application, I do have an extensive spreadsheet with data on all of my interviews, including the rejection letters.
Since I’ve turned 50, I’ve had conversations with over 50 companies and the vast majority have sent me generic and impersonal rejection letters, often only after I followed-up asking for an update.
The more templated form letters I receive after interviews, the more I find this to be completely unacceptable and unnecessarily demoralizing.
I’m not a HR expert, but I’m a human being and I know that I share a lot about myself and my experiences in every interview. It would mean so much to me if I would receive a message referencing something positive and unique about our interaction rather than an impersonal template letter.
I strongly believe that if you meet with someone for an hour, especially if it’s more than once, there’s absolutely no excuse for a generic rejection.
I’ve actually received better rejection letters from companies that I never spoke with than I have from places I met on 2-3 separate occasions. In retrospect, I’m grateful that things didn’t work out with companies that aren’t kind in the interviewing process. It’s usually a sign of bigger human resources issues.
I believe the best systems for responding to applicants is to have an automatic email reply to all submissions that explains that they’ll only be contacted again if they are selected for an interview. It never feels good to get a rejection letter weeks or months later from a position. you never interviewed for and you almost forgot you applied.
Dear [first name],
Thank you for your interest in career opportunities with [company]. We are pleased that you have considered our organization as a potential for your future career endeavors.
Our team is currently reviewing your credentials for the [job title] opportunity and will contact you should there be an interest in discussing your qualifications further. Otherwise, your information will be kept on file for future consideration.
Again, we appreciate your interest in [company]. We wish you much success in your job search.
After my most recent rejection, I searched for resources on rejection letters to find that there are plenty of professionals who agree with me on the importance of being personal in a letter to someone you’ve met for an interview.
Here are some highlights:
Offer some positive aspects about their qualifications or interview
To leave a good impression with the candidate, choose one or two qualities that you liked about them. Describing these positive aspects can also help them better understand the strengths that they can highlight more moving forward.
Personalise the rejection letter
Too often, generic templates are sent to unsuccessful candidates where they not only sound robotic, stiff and dishonest but display a negative and poor representation of the company and recruiter.
When sending rejection letters, personalise it by mentioning something positive you noted during the interview, and make sure their name is spelled correctly; attention to detail shows you made an effort. Of course, it’s understandable that recruiters may be dealing with 50 job openings at any given time and managing hundreds of candidates waiting for a response. But try and see it like this: your candidate could one day be your client, consumer or employer.
Source: Job Adder
The Effect of Different Rejection Letters on Applicants’ Reactions
Organisations appear to pay little attention to rejection letters, considered a special form of organisational communication, despite a growing body of literature that shows they play an important role in terms of employer branding. This study aims to empirically test how applicants’ perceptions are affected by differently manipulated rejection letters. In detail, a sample of 138 rejected candidates filled in an ad hoc questionnaire on perceived selection procedure fairness and satisfaction, after receiving a rejection letter where we had manipulated time latency, the politeness formula and customisation. Results suggest that providing a timely, customised and informal notification is something agreeable, which is able to affect, above all, fairness perceptions and intention to re-apply. In detail, the time latency in giving feedback appears to affect the relationship between fairness perception and organisational recommendation and acts more as a mediator rather than an antecedent variable. Considering that providing feedback is a relatively low-cost activity that at the same time has a big impact on job applicants, our results show that organisations should be sensitive to negative feedback communication, especially in relation to response time, in order to support their employer branding.
Source: behavioral sciences
The candidate took time out of her week to prepare for your interview process, so if you were impressed by her during the interview, it could make a huge difference to let her know. Simply include one strength of hers you remembered from the interview process, like "Our team was particularly impressed with your writing skills."
To truly add value, however, you'll also want to include constructive feedback to help your candidate understand areas she can focus on improving. Take detailed notes during the interview, and when you reject your applicant, provide one or two areas of improvement. Your feedback could help her career success in the future.
Personalize your rejection
Templates make things much more manageable and assure that you address everything that you need to in each rejection. Leave sections in your templates for personalization. Mention the candidate’s name in the opening and sign the message with your own. Take ownership over the rejection, rather than just hiding behind your company’s name. If you’ve spoken with them or they’ve gone through the process, mention something from your conversation if you can. Providing personal details helps the candidate feel like they are more than just a number to you and can soften the rejection blow.
Give them feedback
A lot of companies don’t give feedback as a policy to prevent themselves from possible lawsuits. However, a little goes a long way, and you don’t have to be incredibly specific to give the candidate something of value. However, if you want to go the extra mile, tell them why you chose someone else and why they were not a good fit for the role. Good candidates will appreciate the opportunity to better themselves professionally. Plus, reading an “it’s not you, it’s us” type rejection letter can help soothe the ego hit of getting rejection after rejection. You never know, it could be the very thing that pushes them in a totally new career direction!
Spending a little time reflecting on a candidate's experience can make the jobseeker feel your decision is considered and fair. A rejection with no explanation can lead to confusion, frustration, and upset.
Here are upcoming pieces I intend to write. I’m sharing now so I can hold myself accountable for all my ambitious ideas.. :)
Things to do:
If I had 3 wishes:
I can’t stop ruminating about the job hunt. So much of it makes absolutely no sense and it preys on all of my insecurities and anxieties making the recent weeks of unpaid unemployment seem like a never ending mind***k. I really do hate to use vulgar slang so early in a post (hey, at least I didn't use "Mind***k" as the title!), but that’s the most accurate word to describe my current perceptions. Yes, I've developed amazing connections and clarity about my life goals as I navigate this process, but at its worst, interviewing has become “a disturbing and extremely confusing experience caused by deliberate psychological manipulation”. Of course my logical self knows that no one is actually consciously going out of their way to make this the most painful process possible, it’s just the way I’m experiencing this flawed system when I feel at my most vulnerable (which sadly is more often lately).
My dad told me that he could tell within three minutes of meeting a potential client whether or not they’d actually implement his strategic marketing plans if he were to consult. He walked away from a number of lucrative opportunities because he had a gut feeling that his talents and time would ultimately be wasted.
I don’t quite have the radar fine-tuned for immediately detecting a lack of integrity or a solidly good fit. At times I’ve been disappointed at unanswered emails late in the search process by people who initially seemed smart and kind. I’ve also been surprised at my ability to connect with people in positions I wasn’t initially that excited about.
I’m learning how important it is for me to be upfront about my need for honest communications with clear expectations and a timeline. I’ve had interviews that lasted only 20 minutes, but I was immediately asked to come back for the next round. Other times I’ve made it through 2 or 3 hour long interviews yet have to send multiple emails to finally get a rejection letter days or weeks later. (Sidenote: I’m still waiting on that rejection from an interview before Thanksgiving. Ugh.)
There seems to be something inherently wrong with the way most companies go about hiring and I’m still trying to determine the best way forward for me. I’ve had friends ask if I’ve thought about using a headhunter. It would be appealing to feel like a potential employer is recruiting me rather than me being at their mercy for an opportunity. The imbalance I’ve consistently sensed in many interviews has taken its toll on me. Yes, it’s true that I’ve taken both jobs that were offered to me immediately without any negotiation, but that doesn’t mean I’m desperate. Employers have to know that everyone you interview probably has submitted resumes to dozens of other companies. The competition is real for both sides. Employers need talent. Jobseekers need offers. In the end, everyone is playing the game, but we don’t all get to know the rules or see the scoreboard.
I love research and gathering data to make decisions. I can get easily frustrated when someone spends 10 minutes telling me stuff about their company that anyone who spent 10 minutes on their website could figure out - I want to learn something that is not common knowledge. That being said, sometimes I don’t want to hear about how great it is to work somewhere if I’m not even going to make it past the first screening. I also don’t like it when it feels as if I’m the only one who needs to give the elevator pitch. Why shouldn’t a potential supervisor feel compelled to share with me why they are an ideal manager/director? In other words, I’d like to flip the switch: Why should I choose them rather than why should I convince them to choose me?
I’ve made so many mistakes in interviews, especially when I’m caught off guard and triggered by a particular question, comment, or reaction. It usually results in me nervously oversharing to the point where I probably come across as being too intense, emotional, and quirky. Despite having had at least 50+ interviews, I’ve only withdrawn myself from one application process. The short version of the story is that someone who wasn’t from Charlottesville and had never lived here referred to the place I consider to be my home as one of the most racist cities in the country. I thought it was an inappropriate thing to declare as fact in an interview (most significantly because it’s just not verifiably true) and I couldn’t see myself working with a person who’d say something that seemed so inflammatory for no useful purpose when we didn’t even know each other yet.
This week I had four wildly different experiences in my job search. I only wish I could have compiled the best of each into one perfect interview.
The first was for a part-time social media specialist position with a local nonprofit. I immediately cliqued with the person interviewing me and it was an authentic and intimate conversation. The only real drawbacks were that it’s only part-time and it’ll take at least a week to find out about next steps. I can’t stand the waiting! I do believe I could make a substantial impact in this role because it’s so similar to other work I’ve already excelled in.
The second call was a screening for a volunteer position with a nonprofit I contacted back in November via Instagram message. I stumbled across their page during my research on early literacy and was amazed at their product and team. It’s important for me to find a worthy place to implement all the ideas I developed during my research on the literacy crisis over the past year. Money isn’t my only motivation or measure of success. I’ve volunteered time for causes that matter to me for most of my adult life and I want to continue that even though I’m also looking to pay the bills. ;) The call went so well I immediately scheduled another with the founder. We spoke for nearly an hour and it was the most refreshing and inspiring conversation I’ve had in weeks. I’m so excited about this opportunity and can’t wait to learn more when I meet with them again this week.
The third call was for another nonprofit education related position. The call was only 30 minutes and it felt like a third of that was taken up with an overview of the company which I already knew about because I was familiar with it. There was a hard stop so I didn’t have the opportunity to ask more than my top priority question on what are next steps and the timeline. It didn’t help that I rambled, so the whole experience felt like a waste of everyone’s time.
My fourth meeting was a group interview for a running-related position that seemed like a dream come true opportunity. Sadly, I failed the most in this particular interview by making critical errors that, in retrospect, I whole-heartedly regret. If I could do it over, I would. After talking it over with my sister, who overheard most of the call (thanks to thin walls in a small townhouse!), I now realize I was actually self-sabotaging the interview by having absolutely no filter and being way too honest. Maybe I was hoping that my experience, resume, portfolio, and personality would carry me into the next round or maybe I was so afraid of getting to the next round only to be rejected that I gave them an easy out. Could it be both? All I know is that for the first time ever I received both a prompt response and a detailed explanation for why I would not be receiving an invitation to a second interview. I really respect that because it’s been nearly impossible to get the same from other potential employers, even those who I’ve met multiple times and provided assignments for review that took hours to complete. It’s possible that this role really isn’t the right fit for me now and I saved myself future disappointment by not investing myself too much into the process. I do know that I appreciated the candor and responsiveness.
So all this is to say: I need a break. Actually I need two breaks — I need a break from interviewing and I need someone to give me a break by offering me a position. I’ve had multiple interviews every week since my part time job ended in early January and it’s emotionally draining. I need to hit Control-ALT-Delete to reboot. Taking a week without scheduling any interviews will give me time to reassess and energize. I also would love to be able to have some assurances made with my next offer, however long it takes to get one. I am looking to start working in a place where I see myself staying for 10+ years. I’ve never had the desire to jump from job to job to advance my career. Loyalty and dedication are important to me and I feel like onboarding takes time. No one can ever fully realize their potential if they aren’t given a solid amount of time to adjust to a new role and grow.