Flower face

I Am Not the Person You Are Looking For

I felt moderately optimistic for this phone interview. You see, for the past four years, I have been trying to shift from a web management to a design-focused career. Many conferences, volunteer stints, and informational interviews later (more on this below), I was at the same job. But this time I felt a twinge hope, which my pessimistic self promptly tried to stomp out.

You Suck Self: Why do you even bother? These interviews never work out.

Oprah Self: But, this recruiter saw value in me and my skills. And this is an industry I have over 15 years of experience in. I think I have a good shot at this!

You Suck Self: Uh-huh.

During the pre-interview pep talk, the recruiter mentioned that the woman I’d be interviewing with was very direct and thorough.

“The other interviews she’s done have taken a hour,” he said, “Call me as soon as you’re done. Good luck!”

 

At 2 p.m., my desk phone trilled. I hit the speaker phone icon on the second or third ring, plastered a smile on my face (I’d read somewhere that people could sense smiles over the phone) and chirped, “Hello! This is Evonne!”

After introducing herself and the other interviewer, she launched into the questions.

“How many years experience you have?” (English was not her first language).

I wondered why she asked if she had my resume in front of her, but I responded “about four to five years.”

“What is your greatest strength?”

I spoke at length about my ideation skills and creativity. I thought I sounded pretty impressive until she interrupted me to ask who designed what I had ideated. When I said I’d passed my sketches to our development firm’s designer.

“You didn’t design it?” she asked.

“Well, I saved the company money by starting the process and gathering requirements,  identifying key tasks, doing some user testing, and creating the wireframes,” I said defensively.

“You sound like a project manager, not a designer,” she stated.

Silence.

“Tell me about something that you designed,” she probed.

I told her about a few recent projects and about my organization’s recent rebrand and how I implemented the design across our website, social media, and print platforms.

“Did you design the logo?” she asked, her voice rising at the possibility of my having any skills she valued.

“No,” I told her. “An outside designer created the logo.”

Awkward pause.

“Listen,” I said, “I don’t think that I am the person you are looking for.”

She laughed in relief. “No, I am sorry. You are not the person we are looking for.”

My interview had lasted maybe 20 minutes. My You Suck Self chuckled. Told you so.

 

At least she told me that I wasn’t the right person to my face. When I was a young twenty-something interviewing for positions in the early 2000s, companies had the decency to call back and let me know if they’d gone with a different candidate. In 2018, ghosting is de rigueur: I make it through the phone interview never to hear from the company again. Ditto with face-to-face interviews.

I take that back. One time, I was called back for a second interview with Other Important People, which went well. So well, that I’d started cleaning out my office because I was SURE they’d hire me. Then I received an apologetic call saying they’d decided to “hire from within.” Another time an agency rescinded a job offer after I’d asked for more than a few days to decide, because I’d just learned that I needed a biopsy after an unusual mammogram (everything turned out to be fine except for my job prospects).

When I share these stories with my friends and family, they say kind and supportive things like, “You dodged a bullet! You don’t want to work for a company like that!” And I suppose I don’t, but for once, I’d like SOMETHING to work out.

Lest you think I’m only spamming companies with my well written cover letters and resumes, I have also dragged my introverted self out there to do the following things:

  1. Network. Schlep to events after work, slap a name tag on my  blouse, grab whatever perspiring cheap beer or warm, over-oaked chardonnay the organizers have on hand, and hang on the perimeter of a group’s conversation all while having flashbacks to middle school when I entered the lunchroom on the first day of school and realized that everyone had friends or someone to sit with except for me. When asked what I do, I talk about all the great things I’ve suggested, designed, or written (not mentioning that they haven’t been implemented because the organization doesn’t value my ideas).
  2. Ask for informational interviews with people who are more successful than I am. Treat them to coffee while talking to them about their career path and how all these doors opened for them at the right moment. Feel all puffed up and shiny like a balloon at a kids birthday party after the interview, vowing to change my attitude, to follow up with other folks they recommended I talk to, and take on shift projects to try out different careers. Wake up the next day and get swept away by a tsunami of my responsibilities as a working mother with two children, daughter of a mentally ill elderly parent trying to escape from her nursing home, and owner of a rescue dog who prefers to poop on my new wool rug instead of outside.
  3. Offer value to whomever you’ve met. Do they own their own business? Maybe I could pitch their service to my supervisors. Then again, my organization will never hire them because they only value ideas that come from senior management.

“I’m tired of this job thing,” I told my husband as we sipped skinny margaritas at the bar while waiting for our table on Date Night. I love my husband, but I also hate him because he can code stuff, so recruiters and companies constantly sidle up to him on LinkedIn and purr about how great he is. “I’ve been trying to change jobs for years, and I’m still in the same place. It’s getting embarrassing.” I licked the salt off the rim of my glass, took a sip, letting the cool, sour liquid slide down my throat, and looked at him. “Should I try to do something different?”

He looked at me, his dark eyes softening. “I’ve always seen you as a writer,” he told me.

A writer. Hmm.

 

 

 

How T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock Articulated My Feeling of Alienation and Helped Me Identify Myself As a Writer

In response to the Daily Prompt, My Hero

We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.

—Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

I don’t remember exactly when I first read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” but I remember my state of mind. The melancholy. The dislocation. It was around 1990 and I was 16. I felt there was no one with whom to share my thoughts, my fears, or my dreams. My father whose idea of spending time with me involved going to NASCAR races or RV shows never knew how to connect with his sensitive, literary daughter. My schizophrenic mother was not in this world and spent her days muttering to herself and scribbling notes in the margins of the New York Daily News. The friends with whom I felt so close just a few years before were morphing into creatures who listened to angsty indie crooners like Morissey and only wore Doc Martins. Where once we talked easily, I became less interested in their conversations and numbly smiled and nodded at the appropriate moments. In AP classes full of kids groomed to attend Dartmouth and Boston College, I only opened my mouth when called on. I walked the halls of my high school and my life playing my part but feeling as though there was a pane of glass separating me from everyone else.

There’s something desperately wrong with me, I told myself. Perhaps I would become schizophrenic like my mother. The books and articles that I read about my mother’s illness indicated that 17 was often when the voices would begin whispering in my ear. And I DID feel as though I couldn’t connect with anyone. I craved closeness and intimacy, but I didn’t know how to achieve it and I was afraid to try.

Then I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I absorbed his words and whispered them to myself again and again. This narrator, paralyzed by doubt and indecision, lived entirely in his head.

…There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

 

…And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair…

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

And when I am pinned and wriggling against the wall,

The how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?

How did he know? How did T.S. Eliot in 1921 write a poem about a middle-aged man  that articulated the very alienation I was feeling? The same fear of judgement?

For once I felt understood. Prufrock gave voice to my fears and I knew I wasn’t alone. The poem also helped me understand that writing, and poetry in particular, could be a way to explore and give voice to doubts swirling in my head. The poem also gave me permission to not be confident. Eliot painted a portrait of a man wracked with doubt and turned his voice and feelings into art. Could I do the same? While I had always been a reader, experiencing Prufrock helped me recognize that writing could be my way of connecting to myself and connecting with others. Through writing, I could show people what I was thinking, construct a narrative for myself, and claim an identity: I am a writer.