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 Indeed.com, 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.