I recently had a revelation surrounding the job-seeking experience within corporate America. Perhaps I was spoiled, having known the hiring managers and most of the team members already at the last four companies where I worked. But there was still a search, albeit informal, and interview process. I still needed to know my shit and sell it, too. Either I forgot how to play that game or I was oblivious to how ruthless and calculated it really is. Other than the time when an HR representative mailed me an actual certified letter (back in the late 90’s) to tell me that I was unqualified – to which my immediate reaction was, “Bitch, you petty” – I had never encountered such blatant dismissal.
A few years ago, I applied for a math teacher position at a private school that was advertised in the tiny newspaper back in my hometown. A very eager and polite woman called me within an hour of receiving my emailed resume and scheduled an interview for the following week. She called me back less than 30 minutes later to change the date to a few days after that so that she could accommodate the acting head of the school’s schedule. The meeting sounded promising.
I couldn’t find the school right away. Throughout my public school years, I had never entered – let alone stood on the grounds of – this establishment, which I’ll call Narrowstream Academy. It’s a private, tuition-supported institution within a rural, low-income area. Very few of its students looked like me when I was a student – mainly because of affordability because what rural black family could pay tuition for at least 18 years of education – or 20+ years later as a prospective teacher as evidenced by the images on the school’s website. But I applied anyway.
I still arrived at the school with 10 minutes to spare, greeted by darkness, dust and heat.
It was a striking contrast against a newer, sleeker and cooler interior I had envisioned, especially a few weeks before the first day of school. I looked at each passing summer staff member to gauge the demographic.
I was the only one.
However, they were professional and friendly and happy to summon the polite lady to the front of the school for me. She was apologetic: the school was undergoing a bit of remodeling and the conference room was still hot since my appointment was in the morning and no one had turned on the A/C yet. I waited in the foyer a little longer until the room began to cool.
Once in the conference room, she and I exchanged pleasantries on opposite sides of a long table until the acting head joined us. She told him about my Praxis I test scores and I added that I had recently been accepted into a teaching residency, which seemed to momentarily intrigue him because he finally looked up from my resume.
“So, usually, we have our interviewees give a mock lesson as part of the process,” polite lady begins.
“But, we actually filled the position,” interjects the acting head of school as he glances at polite lady to back him up, “on, what was it, yesterday? Two days ago?”
She looks back at him, seemingly confused.
“I forget,” he adds with a laugh.
“Y-y-yeah,” she concurs.
He laughs again and tries to placate me with some future accounting clerk position.
I was appalled. The audacity. A bait and switch. A tacky assed one, at that. I didn’t think it was common practice to continue to interview the remaining candidates after they’ve decided to tender and finalize an offer. And if that were the case, I’d think it would be common courtesy to tell the remaining candidates that a stellar new hire was found and there was no need for a continued search. Or at least tell me I was only being considered for another role. But to invite me in, lead the interview for a teaching position and then whisper, “Sike!” with a smile and a shrug?
Oh, hell, naw.
But I should’ve known better because that behavior was characteristic of that environment. It was already difficult for a black person to land a professional position where factories and farms ruled.* Trying to infiltrate a private, majority white space in a community where, in this century, a middle-aged white man has casually referred to my grandmother as “gal?” Nearly impossible so I eventually left.
This time I was in an area about a few hundred miles outside of my hometown and 50 minutes outside of a major, progressive city. Although I wasn’t within the city or immediate suburban limits, I was still confident this employer was above the racial shenanigans.
It was a supervisor position, a role very similar to my last corporate job but in healthcare instead of telecommunications. The billing manager emailed me and set up an interview.
I arrived my customary 10-15 minutes early, partly for mental preparation, partly for observation. I had read the job description; I knew my talking points. I watched my could-be colleagues walk through the lobby to their respective destinations: perhaps to their offices or the restroom or the copy room. We all uttered our cheery hellos and shared our toothy smiles. I counted at least two black folk.
Progress, I thought.
The billing manager was already seated with two of her team members when a third colleague led me into the room. They were all white. All were pleasant but one: not only did she – the billing manager, that is, who was also the hiring manager – not come out front to greet me, but she also didn’t show a bit of personality. I swore she pursed her damn lips!
She was stoic and relentless with her line of questioning and follow-up to everyone else’s questions. But as a former manager from a fast-paced industry who’s also a proponent for implementing systems to make processes more efficient, I’ve had plenty of boardroom experience with white men who normally make the ultimate decision. It ain’t for the meek. I had answers for this billing manager’s interrogation.
Perhaps I was deemed a bit too aggressive or self-assured because I didn’t get the job.
“Now you know [these folk down here] don’t want no [sic] black woman coming in there telling them what to do,” begins one of my relatives, who’s a high-level government employee directly outside the city.
“But everything about me is spelled out on my resume,” I counter.
All my years of experience. My accomplishments. My skills. My education at a historically black college.
My real name instead of my pen name.
“Yeah, but maybe they didn’t know what to expect before you walked in.” My relative was armed with comebacks, too. “Probably not a black woman.”
I thought about it; it’s possible my last name could be…misleading. It’s not common like Jackson or Johnson or Smith. If I Google its origin, my results are circa 1500s English aristocracy. It’s a variation of the Little Shop of Horrors plant assistant and the Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman actress’ last name. It’s so uncommon that the handful of people who share my last name in my hometown are my relatives and every time I run across a black person with the same spelling on Facebook, I immediately click on her profile because I’m willing to bet she’s a distant cousin!
But my first name? Teronda. Ronda preceded by a syllable. Underlined in red in Microsoft Word because it isn’t in the dictionary. Not male. Definitely not white.
Yet if a recruiter profiles a name and fucks up, is it really fair to throw the entire in-the-flesh applicant in the trash?
Holding on to my relative’s “no black woman” words, I decided to go back to my corporate roots and applied for a position in telecommunications, within sales revenue reconciliation and analysis, within the county just outside the city where a bulk of those industry jobs are.
I found the position on the Bob Whole** recruiting agency’s website. It was a replica of my last job but with a different company.*** From my 15-year experience, I knew that sector was niche because we always had difficulty finding applicants with that exact skillset. We preferred candidates with that particular experience because the work was fast-paced and the learning curve was steep and tumultuous. I thought, “This is my job.”
It was a Saturday afternoon so I had leisurely time to complete an applicant profile on Bob Whole’s website but there was also a telephone number and an actual email address for the recruiter. I refreshed my resume, composed a cover letter and pressed send. I thought, Surely, I’ll receive a call on Monday morning.
Monday morning rolled around and I decided to give the recruiter until 11 a.m., otherwise, I was going to follow-up with her. I called her at 11:30.
I introduced myself but it initially seemed as if my name didn’t ring a bell. So I told her I had sent her my resume over the weekend.
“Oh, yeah, I think I saw it,” she begins.
She seemed irritated as she went into her inbox, or at this point I’m sure it was the “deleted” mailbox.
I’m like Am I not following proper protocol? After all, this is an agency and not an employer who specifically says, “No phone calls, please.”
Mind you, my duties matched the job description, yet she proceeded to nitpick my resume starting with my address.
“I see you’re in [Spotsylvania],” she says. “The job is in Tyson’s Corner.”
I inhaled because the job description listed the location. I wouldn’t have applied if it were problematic. But instead I said something along the lines of I’m aware of the commute, that I’m used to a commute because I’ve never lived in the same city as my job, that everyone down here commutes to the city so that’s really not something that’s unusual or unrealistic. I mean, has she not seen 95, not to mention, as a recruiter, where does she think most of the Spotsylvania, Stafford and Prince William residents work?
In freakin’ DC!
But she still didn’t ask me specifically about my skills.
“I see you’ve been out of work for a while,” she says. I suppose she basically wanted to know if the skills that she didn’t ask about were still sharp, although a common question has been, “So how have you supported yourself?” as if that dictates my ability to perform my duties at that particular employer.
The truth is I took a few classes and wrote for a few publications during my employment gap but I don’t like to conflate the two worlds because 1. My words are corporate-inappropriate and 2. Those classes are irrelevant.
But I still use Microsoft Excel nearly as much as I use Word because that’s where I maintain my annual goals and create my invoices. I sort and merge cells, create functions and formulas not to mention I can still create pivot tables and v-lookups as well as manipulate data for analysis. I tell her the latter.
“My skills haven’t dulled,” I add.
“Well, my client has very specific requirements,” she says, ending the conversation.
I inhale again. I was a manager who built an efficient team of bright analysts. Not once were my stipulations don’t live more than 30 minutes away and don’t be unemployed. In fact, I’ve worked with colleagues who traveled from as far as Baltimore, Maryland, all the way to Reston, Virginia. And I never dismissed someone who took time off from work.
The silence made her add one more thing:
“I can give them a call and run it past them to see what they say. I’ll keep you posted. Have a good day!”
My inductive reasoning skills hadn’t dulled, either. The “Have a good day!” told me that she wasn’t calling me back. But my optimism told me to give her until Wednesday.
I gave her a week.
As a writer, I had to up my research game. Now it’s just automatic. I looked her up on LinkedIn to see what I was working with.
I stared at her work and education history.
For like a minute while I synthesized the few pieces of data on my screen.
You’re in your 20s.
You attended school in Turkey.
And your longest and last job was CEO of a self-employed company.
But suddenly you’re a recruiter, an alleged expert of the accounting and finance industry, shunning my 15-year progressive work history that matched your client’s requirements to a tee?
And I can’t forget that she didn’t even consider me for anything else.
I calmly clicked on my email tab.
Clicked the button to compose a new message.
And I promptly commenced to professionally read that bitch like she was a bad romance novel.
I got my quick follow-up, though.
“Can you give me a call so we can talk?” reads the first line.
No, bitch. I’ll never work with you or Bob Whole again.
I didn’t even open the email to read the rest.
It’s still marked as “unread” a whole year later.
This job-hunting thing sucks.
I totally understand how someone can apply for 167 jobs before getting one yes.
But I don’t want to understand how many resumes a more “seasoned” candidate who also happens to be black and a woman has to send out.
I’m not cut out for this.
I don’t have the passivity that’s required to win a cutthroat game when I know I already have a winning hand but the dealer is cheating because she doesn’t really want you to play in the first place.
*There are professional black folk in my hometown who work in the public education, nursing and social services fields – positions that are plentiful and ultimately open to us black folk. But most jobs are really blue-collar.
**I didn’t get real creative with this alias. I covered it up like the television producers who are supposed to black-out someone’s identity on a primetime news program but the viewers can still identify him because we can still see the anonymous person’s facial features. Y’all we know who that is!
***Telecom is erratic. My last employer shuttered its windows and doors with no warning. In other instances, one company assumes the other (like Sprint merging with Nextel) and the team just moves on to the next one. But what’s really consistent? Those niche positions.