On Not Getting the Job (A.K.A. Why It was Clearly for the Best, Part 1)
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
A few months ago, I got into my car after having a great series of interviews with a potential future employer. It was for a position related to instructional design, a field which I don’t have a degree in, but whose skillset is similar to my current job. With all the additional professional development and coursework that I’ve taken in integrating technology into the classroom, I’m more than qualified for the position.
The words mentioned to describe the company culture were exactly what I was looking for: creative, collaborative, candid, future-focused, problem-solving. All in the service to creating educational materials that are learner-focused.
The benefits were good: health insurance, PTO, sick days, tuition assistance, flexible hours. Written into the job description was the expectation that I would continue to learn and attend conferences about trends in educational technology.
The interviews–all four of them–were fantastic. The questions they asked me felt like softballs coming in slow motion. I knew my way backward and forward through topics like adult learning theories, learner-centered instruction, educational digital technologies, and transformative education. I quoted books I read. I mentioned real life examples. I made connections between different disciplines. I talked about my successes, my shortcomings, my research, and my goals.
So I felt good about the whole thing.
Why would they go through so many interviews with me if they weren’t serious about me?
Before I left, the director gave me a business card with her contact info. I turned it over in my hand and ran my fingers over the large quote:
Confidence is success remembered.
I felt good about the whole thing.
There was that voice in the back of my mind… (I think we all have one)
Someone else is better than you. You don’t have the credentials they want to see. You’re too risky. If they wanted you, they would have offered you a job today. They didn’t even want to talk about start dates.
But I was going to be positive. For once, I was going to believe that I could get this job based just on my resume and good interviewing skills. Even if I didn’t know anyone at this company, I knew that I was competent. And qualified.
So I needed to be confident.
Confidence is success remembered.
You got this, I told myself.
Isn’t that what everyone tells you these days? No matter what your chances are, no matter how bleak the outlook, there’s always someone out there in the Facebook Universe who cheerfully memes at you: You Got This!
Until, you don’t.
Thank you for meeting with the team. Unfortunately, at this time, we have decided to go with another candidate.
Master’s degree. 13 years teaching experience in higher education. Frequent professional presenter. Strong communication and collaboration skills. Self-starter. Lifelong learner.
You’re going to pass on me?
And then, from the back of my mind, the voice speaks up.
Of course they passed on you. You don’t have a degree in instructional design. Someone else did. And that one manager you talked to didn’t seem to really like what you said about resolving conflict. Didn’t you notice that? She made a face. You know she did. What did you say? What did you do wrong?
What did you do?
What did you say?
What is wrong with you?
If you were such a catch, they would have found a way to hire you.
It’s a huge company. They have tons of money. It’s not that you were qualified and they didn’t have the budget.
They. Just. Didn’t. Want. You.
You were four years older than one of managers that interviewed you. Remember when she found out that you both graduated from Miami, but then apologized when she realized that it was four years after you did? You missed your window there. Everyone your age at that company is in management, and you don’t have management experience. That’s kind of what people mean when they say stuff like, “she wasn’t a good fit.” It’s a cover for reasons that shouldn’t be stated in a rationale for not hiring someone. Like she’s too young, too old, too educated, or not educated enough. (At least compared to who we currently have on staff.)
Shit. When was I supposed to become a manager? How? There were never any opportunities to become a manager at my current employer.
Shit. I should have left by now. When? When was I supposed to leave?
After I had the first baby? When I had a toddler? When I had the second baby? When I had two small kids?
I stayed because I needed something that I could handle while I was out of my mind being a parent to young kids.
I stayed because of the students. Even though I was underpaid by $30,000. Even as my autonomy shrank and shrank and shrank.
I stayed because I loved what I did. Because I believed that I was making a difference.
This is what happens when you keep putting others before yourself.
How can you feel so sad about losing something that, apparently, you never had?
I applied for and interviewed for other jobs.
In my search, I noticed just shortly after I was turned down from the job I wanted that they had re-posted almost the exact same position.
W. T. F.
What does that even mean? I wondered. Did the person quit already? Did they just not hire anyone and re-open the search?
So I did something I wouldn’t have done ten years ago. I emailed the same director that I had originally reached out to and told her I was going to re-apply. I truly thought, in my gut, that she had been impressed with me. But that maybe I was interviewing against some candidates that had degrees in instructional design.
She responded. She said that they did have another position open up, but they already had some “highly qualified candidates” for it. However, she would still like to “get to know me outside of an interview situation.”
That sounded promising. Maybe she did see my talent and creativity. Maybe she really was impressed with me. Maybe she had read some of my posts on LinkedIn that highlighted articles that I had just published. Maybe we could talk about how my particular area of expertise could help out her company. I came with some ideas. I didn’t over-plan. But I prepared some ideas.
After all… She wants to get to know me, I thought.
When I finally sat down with her weeks later, we started with some small talk and I mentioned that I was still interviewing for other jobs (which was true) and that I thought it was going well.
And then, her truth started coming out.
It turns out, she thought I didn’t interview well.
She thought that my training and education were lacking because I didn’t mention the word “objectives” when I answered her question about how I would design an online course.
Sitting here now, I recall that I talked about conducting a needs assessment and considering how learners would interact with content, with each other, and with their teacher, and how the course would progress from beginning to end, and how I would incorporate interactive and engaging content using learning apps to deepen knowledge connections.
But I didn’t mention the word “objectives.”
She wasn’t sure I knew what objectives were. She wasn’t sure that I actually knew how to design and implement a class.
What words can I use to describe how I felt in that moment?
Utterly shocked, comes to mind.
She thinks I’m not competent, I thought, my fingers digging into my coffee cup, my expression freezing on my face.
SHE THINKS I’M NOT COMPETENT!?!?!
I clarified that yes, it’s possible I didn’t mention the word “objectives,” but that I thought that given the fact that I have a Master’s degree in teaching and that I’ve been teaching for 13 years, that I could assume she knew that I knew what objectives were. I told her that I chose to focus on the more interesting parts of the online class that would show where I really shine.
My mistake. Because, in her view, you cannot rely on a person who has been a teacher to know what objectives were.
Which is actually a pretty good representation of how American society sees teachers.
Thanks for that, America.
But fine. Point taken.
And then I understood the problem: I made assumptions. And she did not.
She interviewed for the lowest common denominator. And I thought I was having a conversation with a fellow professional in the field.
In her view, as a person who didn’t know me, I had to start from the basics.
I gripped my coffee cup and nodded continuously, being respectful. Because that is what you do when you are talking to someone in a powerful position who might be able to offer you a job someday. You don’t tell them that their measures of assessment are incredibly archaic, not to mention ineffective. And you don’t say, You know, I actually do know what objectives are! Because that seems incredibly inauthentic, and who would actually believe you now, after you had been told of your error?
She just wanted to share this information with me because as a woman, she has been feeling more empowered recently to help other women out who are in difficult positions. She was just like me, trying to break into another field, and she wished that someone would have told her what it was that kept her from getting a job.
So there it was: She was saving me.
This White, affluent, high-level corporate executive who had “made it” was sharing her wisdom with someone less fortunate. She drove 20 minutes from work to meet me at a coffee shop, during her busy Friday, to let me know that the reason I didn’t get the job wasn’t because I didn’t have a stellar resume.
It was because I didn’t say the words that she wanted to hear.
Completely, obliviously unaware that she was participating in the same esoteric practices that keep good potential employees from breaking into new career paths. The lack of self-awareness involved in the conversation was truly difficult to process.
Just wanted to let you know, she explained. Because I’d want someone to do the same for me.
To this day, that same job has been re-posted and re-posted several more times. What floors me about this whole process is how she doesn’t realize that I’m not the one who lost.
I have the skills, the knowledge, the creativity, the experience, and the drive that she should want in a candidate.
What kept me from getting the job was her strict adherence to the old-school interviewing techniques of not asking many follow-up questions. It was her reticence to engage with me as a colleague, and her assumptions that I couldn’t be trusted to know certain fundamental knowledge. It was her disregard for the meaning of what it means to have a Master’s degree.
In any case, I didn’t get the job.
And it was clearly for the best.
Why would I ever want to work for someone who saw me through those kind of eyes?