I completely missed out on the “West Elm Caleb” witch hunt in real time. I saw some references on twitter, had no idea what it was about, but kept scrolling. Today I finally read a piece in The Washington Post about what happened.
The result is a chain of memeification, where the person becomes a metaphor for something larger.Why people choose to partake in this phenomenon often lies in the gray area between wanting to fit in and wanting to hold people accountable, Richards said. With West Elm Caleb being a “stand-in for sucky men,” it made it easier for women to go after a figure “that society doesn’t generally hold responsible” — those, she said, are “very legitimate emotions.”
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week thinking about injustice and accountability, human decency and protocols, laws versus morals, right and wrong.
This Caleb situation felt strangely familiar to me although I’ve been happily married for 21 years. I haven’t been scrolling hinge or bumble, but I have been methodically checking LinkedIn, Idealist, and a few nonprofit and running related job boards. I haven’t gone on dozens of first dates, but I’ve had 50+ interviews over the past two years. The emotions involved in looking for true love and trying to find a new job are quite similar and it ain’t easy.
In the midst of pandemic-related layoffs and the great resignation, many job-seekers are spending hours writing tailored cover letters, preparing for zoom interviews, and waiting. And, for many, the waiting is the hardest part. Especially for someone eager for a new opportunity and suffering from an anxiety disorder.
So many of the emotions I’ve experienced in the job hunt are ones absent in my life for more than 20 years. It’s true that I haven’t had an interview since the 1990s, but I also haven’t had a date. The feelings involved in searching for the one - the one perfect love or the one perfect career - are quite similar and it’s exhausting. It’s emotionally draining to go from excitement to hopelessness, from anticipation to desperation, from confidence to rejection.
I joke that I could probably go into Human Resources now because I’ve learned so much about the hiring process and how to make it fair, inclusive, and compassionate. I plan to explore everything I’ve learned and all my recommendations in future posts, but I feel compelled to get something written about this today because I’m feeling quite raw and writing helps me heal.
1. Do not post a job without including the salary range.
My favorite local job board is the Center for Nonprofit Excellence because of this:
“Effective January 2020, CNE will review all submissions before going live to ensure salary ranges are listed as part of our commitment to equity and transparency.”
I really don’t like to play guessing games. Posting a job announcement without including a salary range is like listing a house for sale without an asking price. It makes no sense and it’s wasting everybody’s time.
Yes, there should be room for negotiation and salary is not the only thing that determines whether or not a position is the right fit, but if an organization or company is not willing to be transparent about salaries then it’s not somewhere I want to work. One of my first employers, AcademyHealth, would give all positions a level with an accompanying salary range and that information was available to everyone including potential applicants. That compensation visibility spoiled me for future positions where everything was a secret.
2. Utilize auto reply.
If you have applicants send an email to apply for a position, then set up an auto reply. Keep it simple and honest. “We’ve received your resume. If your qualifications match our needs, we will contact you.”
3. Schedule interviews with Calendly, Doodle, or similar software.
Nothing feels like a bigger waste of time than sending multiple emails back and forth to schedule an interview when there is scheduling software available to make it easier for everyone.
4. Give an overview of the hiring process with firm dates on when decisions will be made and honor those.
I’ve seen position announcements that include all the stages of the interviewing process with dates and I’ve found that to be quite useful.
Target Date to Hire:
As expected, I’ve had many more phone screens and virtual interviews than final interviews. I’ve learned to ask for specifics about when decisions will be made regarding next steps and I appreciate when these deadlines are honored.
5. Interviews should only be one part of the hiring process.
One of my greatest strengths (and weakness) is my honesty. I really hate interviews and sometimes I am really not very good at them. Often I’ll admit that to a prospective employer even though I know I probably shouldn’t, but it’s the truth. I have an anxiety disorder and sometimes it gets in the way of me making a good first impression. I’d much rather complete an assignment or project to demonstrate my ability to perform the tasks necessary for the role. Yet I’ve only been asked to do something like this a handful of times. I might not always be great at interviews, but I know that the depth of my experience and the quality of my resume and portfolio showcases my creativity, enthusiasm, and strong work ethic. I would take any opportunity to work on a project tailored to a particular position to see if I would make a good fit.
Consider requesting videos or sharing interview questions in advance.
Preparation is a crucial part to my success. One of the reasons I hate interviews is because I never know what I’m going to be asked so I feel unprepared at the onset which causes anxiety. If I ever had the chance to review the questions before an interview, I know I would be more succinct. If a job doesn’t involve public speaking without having prepared remarks, then why do we ask that of applicants? Asking candidates to submit a video with their answers to a few complex questions beforehand is a great way to even the playing field.
Require an assignment.
The first time I was asked to create a presentation before an interview I felt liberated. I thought, wow, they’ll get to see my creativity, skills, and work ethic before they even meet me. This is awesome! It was a great learning experience even though I didn’t get the job. When I didn’t make it to the next round, I was offered the option to receive feedback on my interview from the hiring company. The analysis I received ended with the opportunity to pay for Coaching Services. ?!?!?! That seemed rather shady and perhaps unethical, but luckily it was the nudge I needed to talk with my dad, a retired successful strategic marketing consultant, as a free resource for career advice. He’s been a lifesaver!
6. Personalize correspondence with applicants you’ve interviewed and who have completed tasks.
People who are interviewed deserve a prompt response and more than a form letter.
I’ve been ghosted by so many potential employers and even though everyone tells me not to take it personally and that’s just the way it is, I cannot accept that. If you create a connection with another human being by having a conversation with them, albeit a staged professional one, they deserve to be treated with respect and honesty.
I never say I’m going to do something and then not do it. Not in my personal life and not in any of my professional or volunteer roles. Responsiveness and communication are top priority for me and my expectations of others are based on what I give and provide.
“No news is bad news” when you’re in the job hunt, but when I receive a response from a company that never even interviewed me, I feel even more hurt and angry at the individuals who met me, spent time with me, and still never gave me an authentic response and official rejection letter.
True story: I had an interview with someone on the evening before Thanksgiving and although I sent a thank you to multiple emails immediately after and then followed up a week later, the final email I received from the person who scheduled the interview was: “Thank you so much for sharing this information. We will be in touch with next steps.” That was 11/30/21. It’s 1/23/22. Yeah, I know I didn’t get the job, but it would have been nice if someone confirmed that.
I recently had a conversation with my sister about this “pet peeve” of ours - when someone doesn’t follow through on a promise. That’s how I came across this amazing organization: “because I said I would.”
“because I said I would is a social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept. We are changing lives through character development programs and volunteer projects in partnership with schools, juvenile detention centers, prisons and communities.”
This seems like a movement I could have started! I’m excited to learn more and volunteer to help.
People who submit an assignment and/or go through multiple rounds of interviews deserve a personal note.
The reason I’m writing this today is because I just endured a torturous week. On Monday, January 10, I had a second interview for a position at an organization where I felt I would thrive. I completed two group interviews and an assignment and was told a final decision would be made the following week. I honestly thought I was perfect for the role and would get an offer on Monday or Tuesday. When that didn’t happen, I couldn’t take the anxiety of waiting anymore so I sent an email asking “when” a final would be made. Four hours later I received a message with the five most frustrating words in the hiring process: “We will be in touch soon.”
For someone with anxiety, the word “soon” is akin to ghosting. I know there are studies out there documenting how people who know they have to wait x number of hours for something can handle the waiting better than people who are repeatedly given a vague delay without any clear end in sight. It’s why those upcoming train boards on the DC metro almost made commuting less stressful. When interviewing feels like a delayed train with no ETA it zaps the energy out of you and it makes it harder to prepare for other interviews. In a word, it sucks.
I’ve gotten to the point where I can start compiling the pros/cons of any potential offer so that if it never comes I can console myself… to a degree. I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and cartoons lately about imposter syndrome and the pains of unemployment. In a society that asks, “So what do you do for a living?” it can feel quite demoralizing to be unemployed whether or not it’s by choice.
Identity and Acts of Kindness
When I was unable to sleep on Friday night I caught an episode of “Back On The Record with Bob Costas” with Lindsey Vonn talking about how skiing is something she loves to do, but it’s “not who I am. It doesn’t define me as a person.”
And I was like whoa!!!! I had an epiphany. Here I was feeling like a complete loser because I didn’t get offered a job that I really wanted, but that decision didn’t actually change who I am. It doesn’t define me as a person. It’s their loss and maybe it will eventually be my gain because I’ll be available for an even better opportunity. Either way, there are so many things that make me proud of the person I am and what I do for money is not at the top of the list anymore.
When you interview someone and they are honest and raw about their strengths and weaknesses, please treat them with compassion when you decide to pursue another candidate. Including just one reference to something unique to their application and interview would mean a world of difference to someone who’s put themselves out there to be rated and judged.
Sure, it might be easier for you to send out a generic rejection letter regardless of the personal efforts someone made to join your company, but receiving a response full of standard “we regret to inform you” cliches, one that has been cut and pasted and could have been sent to someone you never even met negates any positive connections that were made during the interview. Please take the time to be kind, empathic, and sincere.