Once upon a time, I was job hunting. It was a year ago, right after I graduated college. In a desperate attempt to get a job in the city and move to an apartment, I joined a few staffing agencies. My recruiters sent me on temp assignments and interviews, hoping to help land me a job. After meeting me, one particularly critical recruiter of mine told me that I needed to appear more professional. She could see my bubbly, personable, laid-back personality, and essentially informed me that I needed to put on one hell of an act if I wanted to get hired anywhere. Did I mention that these staffing agencies work mostly with corporate companies? Because they do. There I was, one of the most creative, expressive young girls in the city, and she was telling me to appeal to corporate employers. Ummmmm.
I tried to take her advice. I eased up on the sun dresses and bought a suit. It was disgusting. I hate suits. I almost threw up in the dressing room trying it on. So. Not. Me. For every interview, I would put on that suit, change from flip-flops to heels in the elevator, and try to convince my employers that all I wanted was to “help people out” as a receptionist at their pharmaceutical or clean energy or financial management company. But no one was hiring me. Despite how hard I tried to charm them, and I really am great at interviews, they always went with someone else. My self-esteem plummeted. Clearly, I wasn’t good enough.
After months of searching, I was fed up. I thought I was doing everything right by appearing professional and eager, but wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I had just joined a new staffing agency, and my recruiter there called me one day telling me he wanted to get me in for in interview the next day. Ugh. I was getting so sick of interviews. However, it takes a lot for me to give up, so I obliged. After researching the company, I learned that it was accounting firm — you know, a creative writing major’s dream workplace. The day of the interview, I put on my suit, but decided that I was done putting so much effort into interviews, only to hear that I didn’t get the job. The outcome of this interview, I thought, would be no different. Why should I put effort into it if I knew how it would end badly? So, I didn’t bring heels with me. I wore my favorite riding boots with my skirt suit, and I didn’t care. It was my small way of taking a stance against the unfortunate economy I had found myself in.
When one of my interviewers came down to get me later that day, I cracked. “I’m sorry about my shoes,” I said to her on our way to the elevator. “I threw them in the wrong bag last night, so I left them at home.”
“I was actually going to compliment you on your shoes,” she replied.
I thanked her, kind of stunned. She liked my boots.
The interview, like all the others, went well, but in a different way. I completely let go and stopped trying to impress anyone; I just engaged in a conversation about myself and the prospective job. Like earlier when I left my heels at home, I had given up pretending and just let myself out. That way, when I got rejected, I would at least know I didn’t sacrifice an hour of being myself.
I left feeling no different than I had leaving my previous interviews. But that Monday, the morning I started my new temp assignment, I got a call that they wanted to me to work for them. I was stunned. There’s a specific feeling when you’ve been putting so much effort into something for so long, only to fail each time, and then you succeed when you give up. It was a good feeling– one of awe.
Over a year later, I still work for that first company to take a chance on me. The woman who liked my boots is now my boss, and we start each of our meetings by talking about our favorite clothing stores. If I learned anything from my job hunting experience, it was that when someone doesn’t hire you, it may not be a reflection of your abilities; you simply might not be a good fit for the company. And that’s ok. Relax at interviews. Wear a suit, but be yourself. Don’t try too hard to contort yourself into the mold you think employers want. Because in the end, they may just want someone like you, and in that case, you shouldn’t change – not even for an hour.