Monday, November 22, 2010

It All Seems So Familiar

‘Tis the season…and for all of you premature celebrators who are excited about the thought of reading a Christmas-themed entry, NO, I’m not talking about the holiday season…It’s November 20th and for two full weeks I’ve been obnoxiously greeted every morning with a lit tree and garland-decorated bannisters…I refuse contributing to the commercial-driven excess. Before you go all “Bah Humbug” on me, I love the Christmas season just as much as anyone – but I don’t like NFL preseason the first week in August; I don’t like pre-class reading assignments; and I don’t like Christmas music before Turkey me Scrooge…but do so only in November. Now, where was I….oh right, ‘tis the season: the Job-Hunting season. For those seeking traditional MBA-type corporate jobs, you’ve interviewed for the last two months and are now hearing some answers - offers or rejections. As my boy Tom Petty likes to say, the waaaaaaaiting is the hardest part….and, it can really mess with your confidence. As I wait myself, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the experience up to this point. I figure it’s a whole lot healthier to write about it than to sit by the phone and wait for it to ring…in fact, come to think of it, it’s analogous to something we males are all too familiar with…

“Sorry, I can’t go out with you this weekend…I have to dry my hair”. It’s the universally overplayed excuse a girl can give for rejecting a brave admirer. In our family, we often refer to the response heard by Uncle Kev after having asked some lucky St. Peter’s gal to the Saturday dance, “Sorry, can’t do it this weekend. I have to…uh…I have to go to Hawaii”. 8th grade; couldn’t make it up… Both are great examples of the awkward communication exchanged between desperate males and their more selective gender counterparts…and both are perfect metaphors for similarly awkward exchanges between equally desperate and selective job-seekers and employers. Instead of hair dryers and weekend Hawaiian getaways, we hear things like “you’re overqualified” or “you don’t meet the minimum years of experience requirement”…excuses used to break it softly to candidates. And that’s not where the similarities end…

Speed Dating

In MBA-land we call it “Networking Events” or “Career Fairs”. As students, we show up wearing our best ties and most conservative suits going booth to booth to talk with more casually dressed and relaxed prospective employers. It’s really pretty terrible…in a 5 minute conversation, as desperate unemployed students we are trying to make an impression lasting enough to land an interview…you could have a dozen rehearsals of a similar scene… it usually goes something like this:

“Hi, my name is (Candidate).”

“Nice to meet you. I’m (Recruiter). “

Awkward pause as we both wonder who is going to speak first – will it be the recruiter asking about MBA’s pedigree or the candidate trying to sound smart? (a la ‘Singles Night’ at the swanky downtown bar)

Candidate makes first move: “So, as I was reading your annual report, I saw that sustainability is really important to your corporate vision…” (“You have beautiful eyes”)

“Yes, it is…thanks for noticing. Our CEO made it the company’s chief priority a decade ago” (“How original, that’s the 6th time I’ve heard that line tonight”)

Candidate replies as Recruiter’s eyes dart to see how long the line behind him is, “I know exactly what you mean! I agree and think my skills and values would fit in great with that kind of culture” (I’d love to take you out for dinner sometime)

“If you have a resume or card, why don’t you leave it with me and we will be in touch” (I’ll be drying my hair in Hawaii next weekend)

First Date

The first interview can take one of many different forms. Could be a phone call…could be a cup of coffee…could be an on-campus interview. It’s usually hosted by either a rep from HR or an alumn recruiting at their alma mater. For all intents and purposes it’s a screening interview to get to the next level…kinda like a lunch date first to see if it’s worth a full blown dinner date. If you ask her, Emily will tell ya…khaki’s a size too small, a ride in grandma’s Saturn, and lunch at a chain restaurant – I really know how to impress them…once a goofball, always a…which reminds me of a pretty embarrassing first round interview story. A Fortune 500 company was on campus conducting interviews for a highly competitive program. I was very interested in the opportunity and admittedly a little nervous about the interview. In walks my interviewer…

She’s a couple of years older and slightly tardy for her first interview of the day.

“Sorry about being late…it was my husband’s birthday last night so I stayed home to celebrate and had to fight traffic all morning to get here”

“No problem at all”

The interview is mostly behavioral and seems to be going reasonably well…I’m reading some positive body language but, then again, how do you really ever know, right? Things are wrapping up and as we stand up from the table, I try to make a smooth transition and leave on friendly terms:

“Well, your husband is a lucky man….” (as I’m saying the words, I know it doesn’t sound right) She looks confused… (Realllll smooth) “…uhh…because you stuck around for his birthday and suffered through a long commute this morning…” (Yea, that wasn’t weird or anything).

And there you have it – tight green khakis in a ‘94 Saturn to Max n’ Erma’s all over again…I could only hope that, like Emily, the interviewer could see past my inner goofball… She handles it well, politely smiles and doesn’t make it any worse than it already is. Surprisingly enough, I got a second round (and date).

Will She Call?

OK, so you’ve made it past the awkward meet n’ greet. You managed to not screw up the first round… no fatal mistakes anyway. Now, time for a round of on-site interviews. If close enough to drive, great. If not, “call our travel department for a flight and hotel”. You might be the only interviewer that day and it might be with a lineup of people from the local office. Or, it might be a conference with 70 candidates and hundreds of interviewers all trying to match just a handful of open jobs. Either way, in all likelihood, a decision will be made soon after your performance that day. This is the four course meal and dinner date. The thought pattern as you walk out of the first interview goes something like this:

“Killlllllllled it. Man, I thought that went great…hmm, I wonder if it goes that well with everyone they interview…he was really nice and clearly a good salesman otherwise he wouldn’t be a chosen interviewer for the job…maybe everyone walks away feeling like they nailed it….maybe I should’ve answered that greatest strength/weakness question differently…who wants to hire a guy who’s greatest weakness is that he’s ‘toooo hard working’....yea, good answer moron....crap, I forgot to ask for his card…now I can’t send a Thank You email later…they’re going to think I don’t care…Sonnnnuva- I blew it!…The world needs ditch diggers too…maybe the cemetery is hiring…NAHHHHH, forget all that stuff - you killed it… I’ll hear good news in a couple of days…”

Not that different from what the thought pattern can be after a big date:

“Stuuuuuuuud. She was digging you all night…hmmm, I wonder why she didn’t take me up on post-dinner ice-cream…maybe I shouldn’t have been so chatty with the waitress…do you think it was interpreted as too flirtatious?...I wanted her to know I can relate to the commoners (thanks Constanza)…why did I do all the talking?....Why didn’t she confirm another date…shoulda kept that road rage in check…Maybe she WASN’T all that interested… NAHHHHHH, she’s just shy. You’re the man. She’ll call in a couple of days like she said she would…”

4 weeks later, no callback.

Maybe the firm’s not really hiring due to a “budget freeze”. (she has a boyfriend and what I thought was a date, wasn’t a date at all)

Maybe you blew the interview and they were just too nice to let you know it (You misinterpreted the body language and she just wasn’t that in to you) – this thought always followed by the question: ‘Well, why didn’t they just call and tell me already?!’

Orrrrr maybe, just maybe, they have been really really busy traveling or with day-to-day work that they haven’t been able to respond yet. They actually did like you and maybe you just need to be more proactive and call THEM back to make sure they know you’re still interested…(this can sometimes result in anonymous phone calls from a random land-line with a quick hang-up before mustering up the courage to actually ask where you stand and risk rejection…we’re all insecure (desperate) job candidates (men) deathly afraid of rejection.

Either way, the anticipation takes the shape of a bell-curve – in the days following the date (interview), you wonder if they’ll call right away (after all, you were great). After a reasonable amount of time passes (say a week) you expect the call any second and can’t leave the cell anywhere (crap, the battery’s low!!!)…anticipation now at its peak …Slowly, the anticipation begins to fade…and fade….and fade…(that haircut was a bad idea).

Your family has stopped asking if you got the offer. (Your boys have stopped asking if she’s called yet).

The Courtship

The self-doubting is extinguished - they finally called and offered you the job! (Of course I didn’t forget about you. When can we go out again?) Awesome news.

You thank them for the offer.

They tell you they’re so appreciative of your time and interest in their company that they’d like to fly you to a destination resort on the beach so you can ‘get more comfortable’ with the culture.

“But I haven’t even accepted yet”

“Yea we know but it’s still an honor to be considered and we’d like to recognize you for it”

“Well OK, cool. See you next weekend” Come on…who, wouldn’t take a free weekend at the beach in November when the alternative is South Bend?

For a day and a half, you drink Kool-Aid from a fire hose and are brainwashed with subliminal messages about, “work-life balance” (a myth) and “corporate responsibility”. The tables have turned…now THEY want YOU…this is great. You’ve got leverage. Geographical needs, start-date preferences, Relo packages – it all seems negotiable…they’re actually interested in hearing what you want.

The analogy – “Ohhhh what’s this fantasy football thing all about…neat…tell me who I should root for…I never knew football could be so much fun” - She’s the coolest…

Months later you’ll find yourself grinding out 80 hours a week on the reg….annnnnd apple-picking at some remote farm on a Sunday. It was supposed to be just 10 minutes down the road but is actually an hour away; it’s noon, there’s no cell reception and you’ve got three bye weeks in your starting lineup: “Stop whining about your make believe sports - get over here and hold my hand”…ahhhh, the ol’ bait and switch…well played.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE: This is not reflective of personal first-hand experience and is, instead, a combination of mostly second hand stories and exaggerated wide-spread societal norms.

‘Tis the Season…Happy Hunting