Though You Were a Strong Candidate, We Decided to Go With Someone Else

Every interview that goes well lets you fall in love, just a tiny bit. You’re flushed and high off the rush of saying all the right things at all the right times. There is common ground, there is laughter. The answers you trot out every time feel organic, like you actually mean them. The interviewer has stopped checking her phone during your long-winded monologue about how you wound up in advertising when you studied Post-Colonial Lit, and is actually engaging with you. The frantic tap dance with teeth bared and jazz hands flying relaxes into a slower, smoother groove. The interview is over, but you have already picked out your desk on your way out to the lobby. You follow up, you wait, you start to Google Map the commute in-between refreshing, and then: nothing. Silence. You simply shift that projected future over to a pile of things that didn’t work out.

Looking for a job is not fun. If anyone tells you that it’s “fun” or “fulfilling,” please offer to switch places with them so that they might spend a day combing the same leads, writing different versions of the same cover letter while attempting to convey a sense of disaffected cool. Looking for new work means grappling with the concept of rejection, turning it over in your palm, getting to know its edges and sides, and finally, learning to live with it. Looking for a job means realizing that the rejection that you may experience is not a reflection of who you are as a person. This is one of the hardest things to work through.

The first time I met with a job recruiter, I was 23, and thought that a solid interview outfit was my cleanest pair of black pants and a shirt that didn’t show too much cleavage. I sat in an office deep within the bowels of an anonymous office park somewhere in the East Bay, across from a smiling blonde woman. I was nervous, but hopeful in that weird, clingy way you are when you’ve been on a string of very bad dates but find yourself sitting in front of something that could be really, truly great.

She took one look at me, studied my resume, and then walked to her purse.

“My husband’s going to kill me,” she said, “But, I’m writing you a check. You need to buy yourself a suit.”

The check was for $100. I stared at it, watching it grow legs and sprint towards a waiting electric bill, towards a fuck-you-recruiter-lady-I’m-doing-fine dress, or maybe just a succession of very cold beers at a nice bar by myself, where I could stare at my resume and figure out a next move.

I took the check. I thanked her. I got back on the BART, and blinked back hot tears on the phone to my mother. I went to Loehmann’s and bought a houndstooth suit that I would trot out every time I interviewed, knowing that because that lady thought I looked like a schlub, this was the way I should be.

I wore the suit on interviews where I didn’t get the job, fidgeting under the shoulderpads of the jacket. It was San Francisco in 2006. I often found myself sitting in the lofted living room of a weird apartment somewhere in SOMA in front of two dudes in cargo shorts, telling stories about how I was really, truly passionate about advertising or digital storytelling, exuding desperation. The suit was a constant reminder that someone believed in me, but was moved by pity to do so.

The last time I wore the suit was at the interview for a job I finally got after my first bout of unemployment. I was hungover, I was hungry, I sat in a conference room for three hours, talking to people about my passion for progressive news—mostly, a lie. Something worked. It might have been my willingness to work for an extremely small salary, or a weird confidence that I had cultivated after being laid off for three months and spending a lot of time browsing the shelves at the library. I got the job.

I could say that not knowing is half the fun, but that would be a lie, because when it comes to financial security, having a clear, eagle-eyed view on where your next paycheck is coming from is the best thing in the world. The one thing that is kind of gratifying, in a way that I am now just learning, is that once the cover letter is sent out and the interview is over, it’s entirely out of my hands. There is simply no point in worrying over things that we can’t control. Someone sitting at her desk may open your email, look at your email, shove your email off until Friday at 3 p.m., or start writing a bunch of responses to your perfectly fine and beautiful email, and get distracted halfway through, only to return to her desk at 6:30 p.m., late for dinner, or the gym, or just ready to go home. Someone may decide that you’re perfect for the job, but then can’t hire you because there is simply no money, or because their boss went on maternity leave and Rhoda from HR is a real pain, and forgetful to boot, so that resume you sent in got swept into the recycling bin with those unsolicited faxes the all-in-one printer keeps spitting out. It’s irrelevant. The reasons are beyond your ken. All you have to do is persevere.



Megan Reynolds lives in New York.


19 Comments / Post A Comment

bgprincipessa (#699)

Oh god, I have to go buy a suit, don’t I?

garli (#4,150)

@bgprincipessa It has to depend on where you live. I’ve never owned a suit nor have I worked somewhere that people wore them.

Blondsak (#2,299)

@bgprincipessa If you plan to work in corporate librarianship, I would say yes, go for it. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s expected. My experience has been that librarians are generally a pretty easygoing bunch when it comes to formal dress code.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@bgprincipessa Please don’t because then I might have to.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Blondsak yes! I’m loving this advice. I feel like you are my Billfold guardian angel.
@honey cowl Good news! Maybe I’ll just get a nice blazer that actually fits me unlike the 2 I have now?

andnowlights (#2,902)

@bgprincipessa I haven’t worn a suit to my last two interviews and I got both jobs (one in healthcare administration and the other in university admin)- both times I wore a business day dress and a blazer. The blazer makes it look suit-y without being a *suit.* I’m 27 and I feel really uncomfortable in a typical skirt or pants suit, and the last thing you want to be in an interview is even more uncomfortable because you feel like you’re playing dress-up!

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@bgprincipessa you certainly don’t have to if you don’t want to. That said, jobs in which you wear a suit generally pay more. In corporate IT, which is where I work, you should wear a suit to the interview to have a chance.

shannowhamo (#845)

@Blondsak I cannot seem to find something decent to wear on my millions of job interviews (public and academic libraries.) What should I wear? I’ve almost always worn suits because that’s what I’ve always been told is what you wear to a job interview but I guess I’m freaking everyone out, looking like I’m going to a formal funeral and that’s why I’m not getting the jobs? That’s going to be my new theory at least.

Beaks (#3,488)

@shannowhamo I wore black slacks, black pumps and a red blazer when I was interviewing. I work in a “creative” field, where the dress code from company to company ranges from “we wear jeans and shirts without holes in them” to “we stopped requiring women to wear hose with skirts last year.”

Slacks are good because you don’t have to make the hose/ no hose decision. Blazer still says “serious,” coordinating but non matching pieces means you’re still dressed up but not wearing a suit. Pumps usually read more formal flats- if you’re dedicated to flats I’d maybe shop around for a really formal looking pair.

I like Corporette for women’s work attire- it skews more formal but the archives have a pretty wide range of stuff and advice.

And if you were looking for advice on men’s interviewing attire, I have no idea. Probably a suit.

Crabtree (#774)

@bgprincipessa I’ve worked in public, government and corporate libraries. I always wore a suit for my interview and usually a skirt suit. It will depend on who is doing the interviewing , but lots of people do appreciate you looking fancy and serious about the job. That’s just me though. It has helped me but that’s not data. I would say that you can be a lot more funky in terms of accessories for public libraries and whenever I interview for children’s librarian positions I wear something that I wouldn’t have a problem crawling on the floor in but still looks nice – solid work pants with a cardigan.

cawcawphony (#2,990)

@shannowhamo I’ve worn the same outfit for the last 3 jobs interviews I had (for public library positions): black slacks and a nice, cotton top. I got all 3 jobs. These are midwestern libraries, and we tend to dress a little more casually than East coasters, or larger cities like Chicago. I wore a blazer for a couple interviews, which I almost never do in “real life,” and I felt uncomfortable. I think that discomfort was probably obvious.

Kitty_JH (#5,839)

@bgprincipessa Librarians themselves are fairly easy going but interviews are so often conducted by HR personnel, or managers without specific library backgrounds, that I’d always err on the side of caution.

I always attend interviews suited. I usually get offered the job.

For me I’d much rather be over dressed than ever, ever, EVER risk being under dressed.

shannowhamo (#845)

@Kitty_JH Thanks everyone! All very interesting. Good point that alot of the time it’s not just librarians in the interview, and you just don’t know until you get there usually! I’ll probably stick to my skirt suit just to be safe, good to know that it’s not that odd and I’m not freaking people out with my formal attire! I have alot of phone interviews lately and of course hoping they turn into in-person interviews and I shall feel more confident in my outfit!

“…a weird confidence that I had cultivated after being laid off for three months…”
This. After I’d been unemployed for six months and resigned myself to the fact that I would be doing yardwork/petsitting/housesitting for my family and friends of family for the rest of my life, I finally got a job. Though I don’t know what it says about my boss that she hired the person who truly didn’t give a hoot and whose “interview” pants were covered in cat hair.

Tuna Surprise (#118)

In the last 18 months I have participated in the hiring of 5 people for my office and I’m here to assure you that it’s really hard! Some people are perfectly great candidates but for whatever reason they don’t fit your exact need at that moment. Good luck to all the unemployed. I wish I could hire you all!

samburger (#5,489)

I put together a flawless interview outfit when I was unemployed, Theory blazer that fits like a dream and effortless Italian leather shoes etc etc.

My boss hired me over the phone.

So there’s that!

lalunamel (#5,836)

Oh man, I’ve been interviewing for internships recently and have gotten rejected from all but one. Sometimes I ace the interview and sometimes I don’t, but they’ve all given me the polite “we’re pursuing other candidates at this time” schpiel. It’s a very disheartening thing to hear “you’re not good enough” over and over again.

heyderpette (#5,837)

@lalunamel “At this time, we are not moving forward with your application. I understand that this is perhaps not the news you were looking for.” Direct quote from my last rejection letter.

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