Things I’ve been asked in job interviews

In the months since I started my job search, I’ve gotten interviews with about half a dozen companies in London. I haven’t gotten a job offer yet, but I have gotten plenty of unprofessional questions and comments.

“So what do your parents do for a living?”

They root out class-obsessed bigots like you and educate them on appropriate questions to ask in a job interview. It doesn’t pay super well, but tbh they’ve never been in it for the money.

“I can tell by your accent you’re not from here. American?”

OMG how smart are you!!11!!! But pro tip for the next time you’re feeling super nosy: guess Canadian instead. Canadians don’t like it when people assume they’re American – and who would want to offend a Canadian? Well, actually, you might, you tactless jerk.

“What brought you to London?”

None of your damn business, that’s what. If it weren’t for my accent, this would be the stupidest of stupid questions: One-third of the population live in and around London because this is where all the jobs are. But since I’m marked as a foreigner, you feel entitled to ask about my personal life. And I have to give you a rundown, because I’ve learned that a simple “for personal reasons” won’t satisfy your unprofessional curiosity.

[I briefly explain that my partner is British, so we decided to move here when he got a job, and then, when pressed for even more details, I give an overview of his career trajectory] “Wow, he’s got a PhD! He must be so smart! Maybe he wants to work here?”

I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. But I might. Which is the whole reason we’re all here right now. And if it’s a PhD you care about, that’s great, because I’ve got one too, which you’d know if you’d glanced at the resume sitting in front of your fucking face.

[looking at my last name] “Ooh, where’s that from, if I may ask?”

No, you may not. But now I have to answer, don’t I?

[still looking at my last name] “Ah yes, I could tell it was something Eastern European! All those consonants. Were you born there or did your family move from there?”

We seriously haven’t moved on from this topic yet?!

[looking at the description of my previous role on my resume] “Tell me about your last role – it certainly sounds like a big job!”

No, please, finish your thought: “It certainly sounds like a big job for a little thing like you!” Any other condescending musings you want to get out of the way up front? Or did you want to sort of sprinkle them in as we go along?

[required questions on an online application form]
“Do you consider yourself an individual with a disability?
“Which ethnic group do you most identify with?
“What is your religion or belief?
“Which of the following statements best describes your sexual orientation?”
[only two of these had the “prefer not to say” option]

Shut. The. Fuck. Up. How on earth are are these required questions?!

“Hi dear, lovely to meet you.”

OK, that’s not a question, but I think it fits right in. One (male) hiring manager addressed me exclusively as “dear.” Because he seemed like a nice guy otherwise, and because I haven’t entirely shaken off my socialization as an accommodating, polite young lady, I tried to be open-minded and attribute it to a regionalism or an unfamiliar cultural tic. But when I asked around, everyone told me it was neither of those things, just an inappropriate – though not unheard-of – habit.

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The entry-level MBA, or, Why I don’t even feel bad about not getting an interview

A few weeks ago, there was a job opening at one of the major performing arts organizations in my city. (I’ll call it the Metropolitan Hand-bell Choir.) I would really like to work for the Metropolitan Hand-bell Choir, and this was an entry-level job that, really, anyone with a brain could do. But it was in the industry that I’d like to work in, which I’ll call TPS reporting, so it was a great match.

It gets better: I have some connections at the Hand-bell Choir. I know one of the ringers in the choir (P.), and I know someone on the administrative side (W.) who works with some of the TPS reporters. And I know another person (S.) who knows the head of the TPS reports department.

Nope, still no job

At the time I wrote my last no-job post, I was feeling really down. Now I’ve moved into a much more distanced and objective state of mind, and I truly wonder how it is that I haven’t even gotten an in-person interview.* The unemployment rate in my metro area is about 1% lower than the national average, and both are declining steadily. We all know a college degree doesn’t count for much anymore, but that’s okay: I have a PhD, which you’d think would at least qualify me for an entry-level position. And for every job I apply for, I know I could do the work. And yet no one is responding to my application materials — or even to recommendations from others, which is the thing that’s definitely supposed to get you in the door. I applied to one job a few weeks ago and had two contacts write to the higher-ups in the organization to recommend me. You’d think that would at least get me a phone screen, but I haven’t heard a word. And this is no giant corporation; it’s a modestly-sized nonprofit.

As I mentioned in my last post, the person we hired at our nonprofit doesn’t know her way around an Excel document, but she has a full-time job. What is it about me, or my resume, or my cover letter, or any combination of factors, that I can’t even get an interview?

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The unemployed hiring manager

I was recently in the exceedingly ironic position of hiring  someone while unemployed myself.

The organization I volunteer for wanted to create a new part-time position (5-10 hrs/week). This organization has only 2 (now 3) paid positions, all of which are similarly part-time; the bulk of the work is done by volunteers. We talked a lot about this new position, but no one was moving forward, so I took the initiative to write up a job description, post it for free on local university career websites, and, when that wasn’t working, get approval to post a paid ad on Idealist.org.

Our ideal candidate was someone with an interest in nonprofit management and knowledge of our specific sector. Over about a month, we received 25 applications. They came from a wide range of applicants: there were a few people right out of college, some who were very advanced in nonprofit management, and some who had a good deal of experience in unrelated fields.

I wish I could have written back to many of the candidates with my feedback on their resumes and cover letters; instead, here’s where I turn into Ask a Manager:

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Nope, no job yet

My job search is going horribly.

That first company I phone-interviewed with gave me the silent treatment. The person I spent an hour on the phone with never got back to me, ignoring the 2 or 3 emails I sent. Game over. Fine, I didn’t really want that job anyway, but at least have the courtesy to get back to me and say no thanks.

The company where I had the other phone interview may schedule me for an interview next week. This has dragged out for weeks now, with responses to my emails and voicemail coming very slowly. The hiring manager does seem genuinely interested in bringing me in for an in-person interview, and has been very nice to me, but the hiring process has been slowed down due to client needs and managers on vacation.

The week before last I felt bad/guilty about my very low number of job applications, so I really buckled down on that. I sent out 10 (targeted) applications in one week, which was an exponential improvement over what I had been doing. Then last Tuesday I went to a workshop at my local JVS and was told, not for the first time, that networking was really where it’s at, and job applications are basically useless. So this past week I sent out over a dozen cold-call emails to people, based on the strength of some common affiliation or both being PhDs, asking them if they’d meet with me and tell me about how they got started. I’ve gotten 3 responses so far, which seems pretty low to me.

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“Benign self-absorption”

I just got off the phone with my mom. I mentioned to her that I was going to get unemployment benefits, saying, “I didn’t think I’d qualify, but I do, so that will be really helpful.”

Her response: “Yeah, under Obama everyone gets everything they want, all they have to do is ask. Doesn’t matter if you’ve earned it or not.”

I have been through enough therapy at this point to know that my mom’s personal judgments often come at the cost of civility, and it doesn’t help the situation for me to take it personally. So I ignored her unintentional implication. But I was genuinely confused because I knew she’d made the tortured decision to collect on her benefits a couple of years ago. “Well, you got unemployment too when you were looking for work.”

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