Knocked Around

Thursday, August 13, 2020 / 9:55 PM

The first time I made a direct hire at work was in 2015 – and there's a moment during the process that I still think about a lot. 

I had been working with a wonderful recruiter at NBC who had identified the resumes and cover letters of about a dozen candidates to interview. She did some screening calls and then set up in-person interviews for me with the candidates (and phone calls with those based outside of New York).

There was one day we set aside where most of the interviews were scheduled to happen. That morning, with my makeup and hair on point, I pulled on my royal blue Calvin Klein dress I wore for my most professional encounters and a pair of nude pumps. Because here's the thing: I was 26 years old, and I knew I looked – on average – 5 years younger than that at first glance. But here I was with an important job and title and looking to hire for an important second-in-command. I wanted to make a strong first impression. 

The interviews were going well, and the recruiter and I were winding down in the conference room we had booked. There was just one person left and the recruiter went to get them from the guest area of the lobby. 

The interviewee walked in. I stood up to shake his hand and then sat down while the recruiter sat down next to me. 

I began my job interviews the way I always try to begin them: a little bit of small talk ("Did you find your way here OK?" "How's your day been?") before diving right into the interview part. 

"So let's get started with your most recent job experience," I said. "Can you walk me through what you've been doing?"

The person looked at the recruiter and then back at me. "Wait, who are you again?" he asked.

I looked at him, confused. 

He looked at me, confused.

I re-introduced myself the way I had when we first shook hands: my name, my title, the fact that I was the hiring manager. 

"Ohhhh," he responded. "So you'd be my boss?"

I didn't immediately react. But the way they had said it – "you'd be my boss?" – told me everything I think I needed to know about him. 

The recruiter jumped in and took over from there, trying to shift the focus back on the job itself – reiterating what the position was, what the expectations were, etc. But I could see that his body language had changed from when he had initially walked in and sat down. Now, he was slumping and not really making eye contact. As the actual interview went on, he didn't really give full answers. It was like he suddenly wasn't interested. 

After he left (and that was the last I heard from him), I turned to the recruiter and asked her what she thought happened. Was it my age? My gender? But we had interviewed a lot of people that day who varied in age and gender. In fact, this person wasn't that much older than me. (He may have even been my age, or just a year or two older.)

I thought about that interview for a long time, even after I ultimately hired somebody for the role. Part of me wanted to sit down with him again, ask him off the record why he checked out after he took one look at me. I wanted to call him out. 

But I also knew that wasn't productive. "I think we've just gotta let this one go," the recruiter had said to me when I ranted to her about it. "There's always going to be one in the bunch that we miss the mark with."

I got where she was coming from, but I was still mad. "We didn't miss the mark," I said. "He did!" 

There were already so many people inside the building who didn't think I deserved the job and didn't think I was capable. People I looked up to as mentors who told me I didn't "look" the part and that I didn't have the right kind of name recognition to get respect. And suddenly there was a stranger in front of me, looking at me and reminding me that I was out of place. I hated it.

And I know I've let it continue to get to me, even to this day. It's a lot easier to shake my confidence than people might think. On paper, I've got this career that people tell me is great, but I've always had a hard time seeing it that way because of moments like that interview. For every step forward I've taken, it's felt like there's been a dozen hands that have pulled me further back. (In the case of this pandemic, it's more like an entire ocean has washed me away.) 

I guess I'm putting this out there, not to give some pep talk or life-changing piece of advice about how "everything ends up working out!" – but instead to say: if you've ever felt knocked around in your career because of things out of your control, you're not alone. I'm right there with you. Let's keep trying to figure out how to get back up together.

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  1. Dang you dodged a bullet with that guy. He showed you his true colors right away instead of hiding his biases until he got the job. He really missed out on a greqt opportunity to work and learn from you.