Last Friday I went to my first job interview since I left my last job. A headhunter saw my resume on one of the websites devoted to technical jobs. Along with my resume I listed my skill set and the amount of experience I had with each one. I said that I would go anywhere for a job. The continental United States is my search area with a few exceptions. I don’t think I’d be interested in working in New York City for example. There isn’t enough money in my line of work to make working there worthwhile. But that was moot because a job that was perfectly tailored for my skills popped up right in my backyard, about thirty miles from where I live.
The headhunter called me on Wednesday. I got a quick description of the opportunity and they asked if I would be interested. I didn’t want to sound like I was talking to somebody who couldn’t put two and two together, but I was unemployed and the job was perfect. Why wouldn’t I be interested? I had to resist a sudden urge to throw in a “duh”. The recruiter told me that they’d see if the client was interested and would arrange an interview. The following Thursday day the interview was confirmed. But I had to go to the recruiter’s office to get the final details. I dressed in my best and sped down there for the meeting.
Now when I say I dressed my best I have to admit that although I wore a suit, I did not wear a shirt and tie. I haven’t worn a tie since my interview with my last employer. That was something like three years ago. I don’t even have the remotest clue what happened to that shirt. I was kind of nervous because over the phone the recruiter sounded like someone who was really polished. My fears subsided when the recruiter walked into the lobby and extended his hand for me to shake. He was wearing wrinkled khakis and a polo shirt that probably spent a few days in the clothes dryer a washing. If dude didn’t know anything about an iron I’m sure he wasn’t going to try and judge me as unworthy because I wasn’t wearing a business shirt and tie. But he did suggest that I get one. I was at Macy’s the following morning just before my interview with the client. I took my new shirt and tie home, got them ironed, and headed out to the client to sell myself.
The interview went well. I met with two managers late on a Friday afternoon. I was the last person to be interviewed for the week and the client would be making a decision the following Monday. I pulled out all the stops. I engaged. I listened thoughtfully and drew from my years of experience working as a contractor as well as the experience of my last job. The project that I was being interviewed for was a rush job. The client’s management team had waited until practically the last minute to give their approval for the project and now the interviewers had to rush to find somebody to help them pull the project off. I assured them that I had worked on plenty of projects that were to be rushed and I could hit the ground running like an Olympic sprinter. I had worked with all phases of a project development from conception where I would help interview the customers and put together requirements all the way through to delivery of the project and customer follow up. I could do it all.
The decision was made and I got the word in a phone call on Tuesday. I didn’t get the job. I was told that I was an impressive candidate and the decision was a very tough one. But in the end, the client felt that there was someone else who had a razor’s edge of an advantage over me. I was their “close but no cigar” second choice. When asked if there was anything I could’ve done differently to have improved my chances, there was no suggestion available. The other person had something intangible that made all the difference. I thanked the recruiter for their help and thanked them for letting me know. Although a knife was turning inside my chest, I did my best to sound gracious. The recruiter would keep his eyes open, whatever the hell that meant.
I went over the interview in my mind. I know I had hit it out of the ball park. But maybe there was a question that could’ve been answered differently or I could’ve asked more questions about the project and the company’s needs. But I have to admit, I thought I had done very well. I was their second choice like that knowledge was going to be some consolation to me.
I replayed the interview over and over. But one thing that was interesting was the fact that I was never asked any technical questions. A lot of the questions were more along the lines of, if somebody did something you didn’t like describe how you would handle it. I couldn’t help but start to wonder why so many questions were softballs and how come there weren’t more questions of a technical nature. If the interview was any spongier the questions would go along the lines of, how does the color blue make you feel.
And then I started thinking of how many times I was told that I was the second choice for an employment opportunity. How many times have I gone on an interview, jump through somebody’s hoops, only to be told that I’m a really close second choice. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to brag or boast, but unless the other candidate could walk on water, I feel that nine times out of ten that the choice to go with someone else isn’t because I was the second best by a razor’s edge. It might be my appearance. Not too many people want a black man with beautiful five years old locks for a hairdo working in their janitorial services, let alone on a project that is intended to develop a crucial component of corporate technology.
At least that’s how I feel. If the company didn’t want me, if the company didn’t want the best person for the job and instead wanted something else like the best looking person for the job, then that’s perfectly within their rights. I can’t fault them for not being what they wanted. But don’t tell me I was a close second choice. I don’t believe that for one second. I believe I’m the best person for what I do. And when people make the choice to pass up on the best to get whatever it is they’re looking for, those people deserve nothing less than what they get.