Writing

Interviews for the Long-Term Unemployed

It's an exhausting and degrading process.

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The interview process is an opportunity to play a part in a Twilight Zone episode, except you’re never sure if it’s you or the interviewer who has entered another dimension. For the most part, anyone who has been in the corporate world, or in job search mode, has studied and prepped for interviews. You understand the process: research company, prepare answers for most common interview questions, review your resume to keep accomplishments in the forefront of your mind and prepare a follow-up plan.

You feel prepared and ready. Then you walk out of the interview wondering why you bothered; they certainly didn't. The long-term unemployed could tell some stories. Sometimes I wish they would. Unfortunately there is a shroud of silence surrounding this group, brought on by the attenuate attitudes and the unconscionable subtle shaming that accompanies this dilemma. Even the response to my recent blogging attempts surrounding long-term unemployment has resulted in a plethora of private messages with very few willing to have their stories read in the public comment section. It would expose them to ridicule, pity, and the inevitable narrow-minded condescension of people who believe this plight is invalid since it wasn't their experience. It's tragic, really. A group that could most use a strong support system struggles, alone and in silence, strategically shielding themselves from further pain. It takes energy to revolt against prejudice. Our energy needs to focus on the job search; we just don't have the capacity to fight the right.

Interviews are exhausting. I've sat through interviews that felt like a dissertation presentation. They grilled me on my experience, asking for examples and solutions to problem scenarios. They spent hours creating the most intense environment they could imagine in an obvious attempt to measure my ability to handle stress.

These are usually the interviews that provide testing after the inquisition, sometimes psychological, sometimes task-oriented, sometimes involving the ever-present issue of the ball bouncing on the train that's going 123 miles per hour for the first 12 miles, but 98 miles per hour the second 17 miles. By the time you shake their hands, you aren't sure if you're even human, and you're ready to shove that ball in unmentionable places. You can't gauge their response; you need a drink and a long nap.

Then there are the interviews that clearly overlook HR rules and hiring laws. I once sat through an interview where I had to play fetch with the woman's dog or tolerate the incessant sniffing at my crotch as I spoke. It's difficult to talk about property sustainability when your leg is being humped. By the time she asked my sign and talked about my aura, I wasn't sure if the muzzle I was picturing was for the mutt or the manager.

And yes, I've been asked my age, if I am married or have kids. I've even been asked my weight.

I spent many hours studying Human Resource Management when I found myself training and supervising entry-level candidates in support services for a large corporation. I'm well aware a line has been crossed. Do I take a stand? Redirect? Correct? No matter how I handle it, they will know they've been busted. And I will know the job has gone with the wind. If I report the incident, I’ll be blackballed in the industry. It never results in a positive outcome to "out" the inadequacy of a hiring manager. If my priority is getting a job, I need to stay the course and answer the questions with a positive spin.

I think my last interviewer had narcolepsy. She kept yawning, snuggling into her shawl and leaning back in the chair as if it were a recliner. I was tempted to ask if she wanted to use my purse as a pillow. I refrained, but did make idle chat about it being a long week and understanding her exhaustion. I also yawned. Surprisingly, I still made it to the second interview. Not that it mattered. Second interviews are not about experience or skill. If you've passed the first interview, you've already met the expected criteria for the position. These interviews are all about personality and chemistry. It's usually with the person who will be your direct manager and he or she is looking to see if you will gel with their team, if you can connect with them and respect their management style. During the interview you project the perfect balance of confidence, knowledge and character. They project power, control and vision. The entire performance deserves a standing ovation. It doesn’t assure you will fit into their world once the masks are off and authenticity takes the stage.

Oh, sometimes there's a third interview. Because clearly the position is fundamental to the ongoing success of America and a democratic vote will ensure no mistakes are made. I imagine being rejected after this interview is like that fabulous moment when you followed the rules, put your best self forward in the process and followed your heart on the third date, only to get kicked to the curb after putting out. This game is cheap, and you deserve better.

I've seen people fall into deep depressions after only a few weeks of this process. They line the unemployment offices, bemoaning the injustice, requesting guidance and support. They take additional classes on how to nail that job because clearly something is awry, and something is missing in this puzzle of employment. I took those classes. They are required once you hit the six-month unemployment mark.

I was one of six who spoke English, and as I participated in a mock interview with Jose for an imaginary plumbing job, I thought this might be the reason for plumber's crack. I would’ve gladly mooned them all if it would shine a light on the inadequacy and irrelevance of the training.

"Look in other states for jobs," the instructor insisted. I do that. But I have a car, and a savings account, and the ability to negotiate travel. I should count my blessings; I've just met people worse off than me. Or are they?

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