“Being in a job less than 12 months means you’re sh*t.”
This line is one I will never forget for as long as I live. One of the biggest technology companies in the world had a cowboy mentality to their hiring strategy.
As I told my career story in perfectly square tenures that looked normal, there was the over-sized elephant in the room: my seven-month stint in a company as a leader. It was my most recent role and was no big deal to me.
When asked to explain it, I did so in the most truthful way I could while highlighting where my areas of improvement lie. It was a textbook response to a question so many people just like me get asked. It should have rolled off the tongue, being accepted, and become just another cog in the hiring police interrogation.
That sentence came out abruptly and unexpectedly. The swear word ‘sh*t’ highlighted her displeasure with my answer and made me feel embarrassed, ashamed, upset, and a tad emotional. But I held it together.
She continued on and explained that in the world of Silicon Valley Tech Companies, my resume was going to disqualify me from most of them in secret. No one was going to tell me so nicely the way she did.
Her telling me I was basically stupid was supposed to be doing me a favor.
At that moment, it certainly didn’t feel like it. It was one of many rejections that all lined up like dominos and hit at the same time. Just when I thought that there was light at the end of the tunnel and it was only a matter of time, she reminded me of my seven-month career parking violation.
Let’s go back a few steps. This rejection hurt so much at the time because it was part of a long process to find a new career.
Months earlier, I’d been fired by the equivalent modern-day version of Hitler who wanted people to wear t-shirts that shamed their poor performance and would stand at the lift in the morning looking at his watch.
He was a horrible man but had kids, so there must have been some good in him, which I hadn’t seen but believed existed (perhaps a delusional ideal). Walking away from it all with no goodbyes, feeling like a failure, and making that fateful phone call to my girlfriend to explain to her that I was now unemployed and we’d have to go easy on the budget, were some of the hardest words I have ever spoken.
You think it’s going to be easy and you’ll leave in a blaze of glory while telling Hitler that they’ll get found out. Instead, during these tough career moments, your mind can be overcome by complete silence. You’re in such shock that you can’t even explain to yourself, let alone your family, what has happened.
Your hands tremble, your eyes become moist, and your face goes bright red. Being fired is a blow to your ego and the ones you love the most who depend on you to be able to pay the bills and love them in the process.
When you feel so much shame, it’s hard to love yourself, let alone your family.
Life goes on, though. Seasons change, thoughts take on new forms, outside influences help you to recover and when you’re ready, you go back out there into the big bad world of hiring and hope not to get shot down and be selected in the shortest time possible so you can forget the past failure.
Mysearch was supposed to be easy because I had a large following on LinkedIn and wrote motivational articles online. Apparently, people thought that people like me would be hired in a matter of days. (I believed that lie for a while, just quietly.)
The process started out as being a walk in the park. Within a short space of time, companies that were chasing me for years were now opening the doors to their glass interview offices armed with a list of questions.
When you’re employed, companies can’t wait to poach you.
When you’re unemployed, companies wonder why you’re not employed and you feel like damaged goods.
After completing some interviews, my mind told me it was only a matter of time before I could seek revenge on my former Hitler boss and prove them wrong with my successful (and short) hiring selection by a technology company with barista coffee and blue ping pong tables to match the daring carpet color selection.
I was going to flash my ping pong racket and humblebrag the ceremonious moment for everybody to see — including boss man.
The dream didn’t happen that fast — dreams never do.
It was going to take far longer than I expected and many sleepless nights wondering when it would be over and I could ride the train to work each day again with a smile the way I did when I worked with the Gandhi of finance.
On the day of the phone call, I was nervous. This HR person was introduced to me by a LinkedIn connection who had gone out of their way to get me an interview when perhaps my experience didn’t quite fit the role.
The interview was to occur over the phone but I dressed up all nice in case a surprise video call was selected as the method for me to perform my career circus act.
Ten minutes before, I was rehearsing my career script. There were stories of working in technology, startup failures, a few points on writing to add context and delicate flavor, my strengths and carefully chosen weaknesses and plenty of notes in my phone in case there was a surprise question that asked me about KPIs from a former career (that happened once and broke my rhythm).
My phone rang a few minutes past the confirmed time. I answered in my confident public speaking voice.
Within a few minutes, it was clear that this HR person was someone that got right to the point. Everything I’d practiced had to be altered to compliment her impatience of having to do the job that she was paid to do.
She asked me to start explaining my career from five years back right up to the present day. I went through each role and she seemed impressed based on her tone of voice.
Then we got to my last role.
HR Person: “What happened here?”
Me: “Things didn’t work out. I had a less than ideal people leader and the company is in all sorts of financial trouble. I did my best but I wasn’t a fit.”
It was after this short explanation that she dropped a bomb on my career dreams and brought me to a new low.
HR Person: “Being in a job less than 12 months means you’re sh*t.”
She was trying to be honest with me and disguise her harsh approach as a valuable feedback. When someone is down on their luck, to me, it felt like there was probably a nicer way to say it. But she didn’t.
She told me exactly how it was and the mistake I had made that couldn’t be easily fixed without writing over the top of the seven-month career stint with a fresh five-year block at a different company that wasn’t the one she represented.
As we continued to chat after this difficult moment, she began to turn. Despite my career sin in her eyes, she was willing to put me through to the next round which she said she normally wouldn’t do.
Had I got lucky? Was this the big break I was looking for?
Here’s how that one harsh sentence from an HR person changed my life
I learned to respect myself
After she disqualified me with that one sentence and then came around again offering me a chance, something came over me that had eluded me for years.
I opted out of the opportunity out of respect for myself.
She gave me a chance to advance and help me get a job at this iconic company and I said no. For once in my life, I chose myself and stood up for what I believed in.
I believed that a person shouldn’t be judged so harshly and that failures define people in a good way. This was the first time in a long time that I respected myself and said no. If a company doesn’t respect me in the hiring process and condones cowboy hiring tactics, no matter who they are, they’re not worth it.
You can pay all the money in the world.
You can have the shiniest blue ping pong table known to humans.
You can serve barista coffee in one-liter jugs.
You can claim to be changing the planet and the future of the human race.
But if you can’t respect someone who has had a rough time in their career and is trying to put food on the table to feed their family, then you’re not worth it.
That idea completely changed my life from that point on. Choose yourself and respect yourself above all else.
Being direct doesn’t give you permission to be unfair
When that one line (that was accented by a common swear word) was delivered, an excuse was given to me. It was supposed to be harsh. She said it was her cultural upbringing, he company’s awesomeness and her straight-to-the-point persona that caused her to be so harsh and I should be thankful.
Being direct is fine but to be impossibly harsh to someone who is clearly having a few career challenges doesn’t give a person permission to be unfair and overly judgmental.
Seeking understanding and being compassionate is how we learn to see the career blip for what it is. Your race or upbringing doesn’t give you permission to act like an ass.
Social media found it hard to believe
When I shared the lesson from this experience on LinkedIn, people were shocked. They didn’t believe a person working in HR could be so harsh or would say such a thing.
I didn’t believe it either. It’s only when you go through the hiring process that you see how harsh it can be and how discriminatory modern-day business is. This is not a dire situation but an opportunity.
The point of sharing this story is to help us all be a little more compassionate and be conscious of when we’re judging others a little too harshly.
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