It’s been a week since I was fired.
It feels like everyone has moved on. I am trying to. But I haven’t yet. There are days when I’m still sitting in that office with my silent boss and two HR people worried that I’ll go postal. There are times where I’m still on that curb feeling like a sack of laundry, crying about my stupidity, but those times are getting shorter. And a touch of my swagger has come back. Not a lot, but a touch. Folks are still uncomfortable around me, hoping I’m not contagious. Some are angry about my situation and others are ambivalent. Others have found that they should explain to me the rules for corporations and how I should logically just get over it. I usually just listen in silence. It’s cool. I’m not a performer and they’re not my audience. I’m fine with folks avoiding me.
The process of looking for a job hasn’t changed much from 2009, the last time I looked. But even in this one week, I’ve been completely humbled. This process can make you feel like a complete loser, whether you are one or not. You sit at the computer, deciding what in your life is important to tell to someone you’ve never met. You look at the computer and wonder if you can create some sort of magical spell that will make your resume stand out over someone else’s. You look up the relevant person to send your resume to. You research salaries so you don’t come in too high and look like a jerk. You line your references up and hope that they’ll be home or at their desks 24/7 if someone happens to call. You even wonder if you’ll be able to afford a suit. And you revise, revise, revise, and throw away scores of resumes and cover letters because they aren’t what Forbes, About.com, or even Cosmopolitan says is relevant for the job hunter.
What I’ve learned this week about job hunting is that the question isn’t, “How do I get a job?” it’s really “Am I relevant?” Ouch. Proving your relevancy to someone, who probably has just as many insecurities and issues as you do is heart breaking. Your mind races if you get called for an interview or even a phone interview. What will I say? Will it make sense? What if they’re having a bad day? What’ if I’m having a bad day? Is 4 the only time they can talk? Where will I stash my three kids who are usually running around at that time? What will I wear that won’t make women hate me, and men disregard me? Will I be comfortable in the interview chair?
But I think the resume is the hardest part. Not because I can’t write up my accomplishments to fit a job description. I can, and I will. I have a ton of accomplishments, that are all true by the way, that can get me a well paying job. But the resume is a funny thing. There are all these lines where you’re supposed to put what makes you the right candidate for the job. Where you have to prove your relevancy.
But relevancy doesn’t mean important. And I don’t think I’m being subjective about this point. In order to find a job, you must split yourself into two, your personal and your corporate self. But I’m not sure if there’s more than an hour where I’m not a mommy. I’m not sure how it works for dads because I’m not one. But for most of the women I’ve spoken to and worked with, the mommy channel is 24/7. (Even when their kids are adults). The jobs my corporate self is qualified for has never allowed for my resume to reflect the other side of my life. On my resume there’s no line for successfully taking a shower while taking care of a 4 year old and an infant. There’s no line for getting dinner together and taking care of math homework and driving to Michael’s Craft store at 8:45p to get that thing your 12-year-old told you about at the very last minute that they need in the morning. No lines for cupcakes made, or laundry washed, or coupons cut, gathered and distributed. No lines on your resume for the counseling sessions for your family member who is having a hard time. Or trying to help manage your father who has Alzheimer’s from 500 miles away. I’d like a line for making appointments and managing extracurricular activities while sitting in the carpool lane. Or arguing with the financial institutions your parents bank at right before the three parent-teacher conferences.
I did all those things sometimes while having had surgery, a torn meniscus (that I still have), having pink eye, and recovering from a hysterectomy. I did those things while I worked outside the home almost non-stop whether it was checking emails outside company office hours, to talking to a client on my own time, to working when should have been on disability. Saying all of that on my resume would make my resume 20 pages long. My relevancy would be obliterated. (Now I know a lot of you will say, “Erica, you just have to finesse those skills into your resume.” Call taking care of three kids with pink eye, “Managing an in-house children’s ward.” Or when cursing out your dad’s doctor in New York you could say, “Managing the day-to-day operations of a private care patient.” And when you have to ask your parents for a loan to fix your car you could say, “Negotiating a private line of credit for transportation investment.”) Look, I get it. You have to put a little shine on the shinola, but I don’t want to get it. And I’m sure the women who have children (and those that don’t) don’t want to get it either. They’d love for their organization, administrative (permission slips for every trip come to mind), and financial acumen at home to be counted for something exactly the way it happens. That way the people who are interested in hiring folks would see all of me as relevant and wouldn’t compromise my career after I was hired when I had to take care of a sick kid, or fly to New York unexpectedly or see elementary STEM project at 8:45 in the morning.
I’ve been thinking that as interviewers and interviewees that we might be asking the wrong questions, and setting the wrong structure for job hiring. What if what was more important was not your accomplishments but your failures? And what you learned from these failures? I think that’s a damn good interview question,
Interviewer: Ms. Woods, what have you learned from your failures?
Ms. Woods: I’ve learned to never take anyone, anything, or any situation for granted. I’ve learned that the only moment that matters is right now, and that the only way to live your life is through grace, compassion, and empathy. Without those characteristics you’re sleepwalking through every relationship whether corporate or personal you’ll ever have in your life. I’ve also learned that when you fail, you’ll be alone in that failure; but the good news is that you can rise from it and become the person that you always dreamed you’d be with or without folks.
Interviewer: Well, your answers were concise, intuitive, and creative. Most importantly they were relevant to the kind of person we'd like to have with us. You’re hired!