What I Learned From the Job I Didn’t Get

A red cardinal bird sitting on a tree branch.
Don’t dangle the carrot in front of a job applicant who is a “maybe”. I was a “definitely not”, who needed to be put out of my misery much sooner.

For five weeks I put all client work on hold, went food and sleep deprived, and put on my Jessica Jones shoes and Super Woman mind-set to chase a job that was out of my reach.

Nevertheless, I pursued this job and set up a direct, ongoing dialog with the Universe about my progress. If I saw one of the red cardinals living on our country farm three times, that would mean I got the job. (Spoiler alert — He appeared twice.)

I have been a consultant since the day in 2002 when I was laid off from my job as a Software QA Usability Engineer and hired six hours later as a sub-contractor to test a call center software application for AT&T WorldNet. From that moment on, I powered through any barrier presented to me to learn whatever I needed to complete any job I was hired for.

Other than the two years when I accepted an invitation to work at a company that wanted help with offering usability services, I have been self employed and working from home. I am extremely disciplined working remotely. In fact, I’m on call 24/7 and holidays and routinely work overtime to meet deadlines. I haven’t taken a vacation since 2008.

It was a risk to apply for the position because the last three times I tried to leave consulting ended in confidence shattering disasters. In one, I was over qualified and knew more than the people interviewing me. For another one I needed a design portfolio. I perform site audits and test web sites and online applications. I even sketch mock-ups. Somebody else codes. So that was an interview fail.

Another try was to conduct accessibility testing for a series of apps. I spent a week creating example test plans, but the role went to a larger company, who I heard later quit.

Dream Job

Finally there was this dream job that appeared. I have a specific set of criteria that are needed before I consider a full time job. It must be remote. I want to be encouraged to learn new skills and the team needs to be as passionate as I am about the work.

This last attempt to jump into a full time job was with a major global corporation for a job I desperately wanted. I wasn’t hired.

The first reason was exactly what I had tried to convey to them all along, which is that I am not a product designer with a portfolio I am allowed to show. It makes no difference how many famous websites I’ve tested, audited or redesigned. They are all under confidentiality contracts as work I performed as a sub-contractor. I couldn’t prove that I know what goes where, why, how, when and for who without a way to demonstrate it.

I started the process on January 16. The final interview of a series of several was on February 14. On February 15 I knew I didn’t get the job. However, it was not until February 21 that I officially heard back. For a week I waited for the red cardinal to give me hope.

Applicants are given access to an online job tracking system where they can submit their resume, track the jobs they apply for and check on their status. The position I applied for was removed during the interview process and re-posted back to the public the day after my interview. Waiting for the official word, while seeing the answer online, was agony.

Of the 8 people who interviewed me, one was someone in the field that I admired and hoped to learn from. I wondered if that was a critical mistake on my part.

In addition to not having the required design portfolio proving my worth, the other reason I was given for not being offered the job was not having direct experience with a methodology specific to development cycles that as a consultant I’m not part of. I knew I needed the portfolio, but was surprised at the second reason because it was not in the job description.

As time went on I realized that I needed an advanced level of skills for a role where I was hoping to gain experience and the chance to learn and apply those advanced skills. My legendary passion for inclusive user experience design was never going to be enough.

Observations from The Field Less Followed

1. There isn’t a job role called “over achiever”.

2. There isn’t a job skill for “works too much”, “dedicated”, “passionate”, “bat shit crazy”.

3. Companies waste money hiring for projects that are not properly thought out.

4. If one person on the interviewing team doesn’t want you, that’s the end of the ballgame.

5. Not having a portfolio is like gambling with no money. You’re perceived as clueless.

6. Believing that you are of lesser importance than those interviewing you is wrong.

7. Never allow an interview process to go on too long.

8. Don’t dangle the carrot in front of a job applicant who is a “maybe”. I was a “definitely not”, who needed to be put out of my misery much sooner.

9. I learned what I didn’t know that I didn’t know and enrolled in courses to get the shiny newer knowingness.

10. Don’t put all your hopes in the red cardinals.

In some circles people know me. That happens when you own a global community for 20 years for web designers, as I did, or write columns or speak at conferences, as I did.

I’m nobody when I look for a job to advance in my career. Every job opening that interested me, that I was willing to leave consulting, my brand, my friends, my community, and my clients to chase after, presented me with all the new people that I hoped to get to know and work with.

I may never have the courage to try and do that again.

Originally published in Medium, Feb 25, 2019

Photo by Rose Elena on Unsplash

What I Learned From the Job I Didn’t Get
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