Cogito ergo sum
Cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am. If I follow Descartes’ lead and I pair thinking and being, it’s possible to stretch my thoughts beyond any perceived reality in order to become more than I think I am. Or that I can do. Or that I can be. Or that I clearly need to be in a job interview.
Descartes’ well-known quote struck me today as I was performing my daily online job scan – an activity that can leave me feeling excited and bleak, joyful and defeated, all rolled into one entity of emotion. The jobs that were listed on the sites today did not appear to be much of a match for “my skill set.” Pricing processor, jitney driver, glue mixer, surgical sales rep, marketing assistant, lead accountant, aviation systems engineer, upholstery technician. Who knew that our planet is populated by so many specialists doing such varied and technical work?
What exactly am I qualified to do anyway?
All of these jobs reminded me of the many things that I am not qualified to do. Jobs for which I have zero experience or education. I don’t have the skills to crunch numbers in a way that would satisfy a scary audit, and I can’t even imagine the responsibilities of being a proficient and mindful glue mixer. Scary.
While I have a good imagination, a part of me does not allow my mind to stretch a what-the-heck? to I-can when it comes to the Job Hunt. A part of me quails from imagining how to best convey transferable skills from Brand X to Product Y or Z. I am thinking that I could apply my spatial skills and learn how to upholster furniture . . . but why wouldn’t an employer hire someone else with awesome experience and skills before I can figure out what the heck to do with a staple gun?
Skills. Abilities. Experience. Passion. Education. Hunting for a good-fitting job is challenging. There are simply so many jobs out there that prospective employers want to fill . . . and there are people out there, equal in proportion, with the know-how that will convince someone to hire him or her. It is quite the cycle when you step back and look at it: a task needs doing and someone is there to say, without hesitation, “I can do it! Pick me!”
Being Too Honest Doesn’t Always Win Others Over
I went to a recent interview where the interviewer told me in her return email that she was quite impressed with my curriculum vitae. This made me happy to hear. A thought bubbled to the surface, This might be it! This could be a great fit!
Then, in the interview itself, she proceeded to tell me how so many people aren’t all that . . . that what they say on paper is a far stretch from who they actually are. In other words, the next half hour was going to be an exercise in her de-bunking my CV until she was properly satisfied that I wasn’t some kind of con artist.
Or it almost seemed as if it would have made her happier if I was a complete fraud. She picked, probed, and dissected. She wanted a recounting of this and a listing of that. The good news? There were no fibs on my CV. What she saw was what she got. It felt as if she sort of liked what she was hearing, but her skepticism never really left her face or tone of voice. Still, I thought I had a good chance to land the position, given my answers. That was until she asked me why I wanted the job.
This was when I made a fatal mistake. I wasn’t expecting the question, so I told her the truth. I wanted to tell her that since the recent election, I found myself wanting to look for ways to give more back to my community. Before I could elaborate beyond the word election, she abruptly stopped me from saying anything else by issuing the international sign of Stop right there! and raising her hand toward my face. “Careful!” she barked at me, anticipating some long soliloquy from me on the woes of current politics. Which is not what I meant to do at all. Not at all. If I could have elaborated, I would have said that I wanted to use my experience and background to do what I can to give back. To be a part of something bigger than me. To help others learn and be the difference in their respective worlds. Etc. Something along these lines. You get the idea. But she didn’t.
A Warning Shot of Be Careful
That issued order of “Careful!” told me that this position wasn’t probably the best fit for me. That she was clearly overworked. That she was part of an under-funded program that had gotten the better of her spirits over the years. I don’t know anything about her life and I don’t want to presume, but I knew that I had torpedoed by own interview. I thought I could redeem myself when I said that I was good at setting and meeting goals in answer to the anticipated What is one of your strengths? She replied, “I hope that you don’t think you are actually going to change anything here. You’ll come to work and put in your eight hours and do what you can before you go home at night. This job is not about setting goals.”
Which is when I thought, Without a doubt, I just completely and utterly sunk myself. The interview kept going while she interrogated me on each volunteer activity or teaching experience that was listed, and I kept answering as truthfully and completely as I could. After an hour of being grilled and drilled, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
The crazy thing? I was so excited at the prospect of getting back into the field of education that I thought I had a chance at the job. The reality thing? I didn’t stand a prayer. I should have known when I was leaving her office that I should immediately go back to hunting the online sites for whatever other positions I am not remotely qualified for.
But I hoped that there was some way that she could forgive my honesty. I didn’t hear anything, and I waited until after the date she told me that she was going to make a decision. I emailed her and she responded with the going-with-a-more-qualified-candidate response. Which is fine. Now I know that I wasn’t the Yes and now I am back to the hunt.
Be the Yes!
I used to teach a class in which I invited someone from an HR department to come in and talk about interviewing skills to the students. The single most important takeaway from these informative presentations was “Be the Yes! Before you go in to the interview, while you are interviewing, and afterward when you send your post-interview thank you . . . Be the Yes! You would think after sitting through more than a dozen of these presentations I would have known better to not say the word election, but I guess I was so wanting to Be the Yes in giving back to my community that I should have made up some other reason as to why I wanted to contribute to learning.
Which makes me feel a little sad. And kind of glad. And incredibly introspective. Sad because I blew an opportunity for saying something so taboo. Glad because I don’t have to share an office with an overworked cynic. And introspective because I am not going to quit Being the Yes to what I believe and how I want to help others learn.
The lesson I took away? Be myself. Answer questions honestly, rather than answering questions with what I think a future employer wants to hear. Think first and be myself. What a simple concept, right?
Well, maybe not that simple. I am still on the job hunt and looking forward to a future job where I can be both the Yes and Myself. I know that the position exists and, being a true believer in good things, I look forward to my next interview. I will wear something “professional,” offer a firm handshake with a smile, answer the question What’s your biggest weakness? with modest confidence, make eye contact with everyone – should it be a panel interview, follow up with So what’s next in the process? at the end of the interview, get the names of everyone who was involved in the interview, and send the requisite handwritten thank-you note after the interview.
I Would Have Hired Descartes in a Heartbeat
I learned a lot from this interview experience. Descartes’ philosophical proof of existence believed that thoughts lead to existence. “I could feign that there was no world, I could not feign that I did not exist.” World, I am ready to Be the Yes. And to think. And, to be me. And to not “be careful” in interviews. The right job is out there for me. I just know it. Cogito ergo sum!