Valley Girl Job Skills

A sentimental look at networking odds, the lost art of immediate feedback and hiring manager etiquette

Do you remember your first real job interview? I’m not talking babysitting or lawn mowing gigs, but a legitimate sit down, fill out an awkward application that had spaces for teeny tiny penmanship and then talk about your next five years type of adventure?

Well I clearly remember mine. It was way, way, way back in 1982. I was a high school sophomore attending an all-girls college-prep high school in Woodland Hills, CA. To non-Californians, it is simply “LA” but back then, it was the San Fernando Valley enjoying the newfound celebrity with the “Valley Girl” song and then subsequent self-titled movie.

Networking was alive and well in high school. My classmate Carol already landed a spectacular job at Chuck Burger On the Square and she referred me. It was a sweet afternoon job at a corner burger spot in the food court at the Topanga Mall. The menu wasn’t that expansive, but there were many perks – most of them included cute boys, cash in our pocket and a deep discount on the food.   

I landed a job interview within days of turning in my application. I was poised to nail it. The owner’s son sat me down in one of the food court tables, amidst the hustle of the mall and briefly highlighted the menu of burgers, cheeseburgers and French fries. I figured how hard can this be? I was already a referral. This job was mine! Then the seasoned nepotistic son pulled out a few dollar bills and an assortment of coins.

WHAT?

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The next phase of the interview involved delivering change back to the all-knowing hiring manager. I was way over my head at this point despite being enrolled in Geometry (that really came in handy that day) and unfamiliar with role playing without a calculator.

Needless to say, I bombed the cash back exercise. I had already been daydreaming about future purchases at my favorite clothing store, Contempo Casuals and break time Orange Julius splurges…now my passion project was a complete bust.

What I still remember to this day is that the owner’s son was honest with his feedback and let me know that I would not be hired based on my miserable lack of mathematical skills. My thoughts and self-criticism – not his words. He encouraged me to practice at home and re-apply when I was ready.

Today, I wish there was more Chuck Burger On the Square goodwill and communication. Am I alone in this sentiment? Why can’t managers give candidates real feedback? What are we afraid of? Lawsuits? Reputation? Or is it simply too much in a typical work day to spend a few minutes and let job seekers know their fate?

Here are two recent examples regarding job positions that I was vying for:

The first was an interview on Dec. 21st. The hiring manager asked my availability during the holiday break which I confirmed. She said she was poised to have me come in and observe and then get me on the schedule before New Year’s. After the interview, I immediately emailed her a thank you. Her response: “This is terrific, thanks for sending the info.”

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I never heard back.

Hiring managers should not let their exuberance mislead the candidate. It may be terrific, but if you use that word, it gives a false sense of hope.  

Just this month, another hiring manager interviewed me on a Friday. She advised there were four final candidates vying for the job. She promised a call the following Tuesday to advise of next steps and where I stood with the competition. I handwrote a thank you note and placed it in the mail. This was a dream job syncing with all of my interests.

Well, on Tuesday there was no call. No email.

Maybe short term memory loss? Why the specific promise but no delivery?

I miss Chuck Burger On the Square honesty. I’ve been practicing cash back skills for 37 years now. I’m ready to re-apply.

Interview FOMO

When a job seeker’s passion exceeds the actual interview experience

Two months ago I applied for a fundraising/development role. I didn’t hear back until last week. In a job application lifespan, that’s 7 years – just like a dog’s. Needless to say, I was beyond ecstatic to receive an email invite for an initial interview. It was like finding an orphaned $20 bill in my jacket pocket.

When I called the HR contact, her first response was “are you accepting or declining?” My giddiness could not be contained, “I’m accepting – and I’m so excited to receive your invitation!” I heard a subtle chuckle as the HR rep started writing down my name and offering a time slot for the interview.

The week of preparation for the interview was underway. Hair appointment – check! Dress and suit jacket dry cleaned – check! Shoes – what shoes? Not too high as I’m 5’10 and heels on a first interview can be a deal breaker. I decided on a 1.5 inch block style – check! Review my resume again – check!

The interview was going to be different than others before. It included a panel that reminded me of a civil service style format, entirely one-dimensional since the team  simply took notes and read questions off a prompt. It was not interactive where answers naturally developed into another realm of inquiry.

To quote a former colleague of mine, “it was a show up and throw up” type of meeting. If I had known beforehand, I would have brought Saltines and Sprite.

After listening to myself for more than a half hour, the verbal vomiting had ended. The hand gestures could rest. The eye contact and nodding for understanding was over. My notebook closed, but the handouts confiscated. (So you don’t share with other candidates, I was told.)

The organization would be whittling down the choices and having final candidates back the following week, I learned. As the new work week began, I was tethered to my cell phone and obsessively refreshing my email inbox. I felt like a teenager waiting for the house phone to ring. antique close up cord dial There was no activity. Pouting ensued and lurked around for a few days until the reality of my new hair and block heel analysis was for naught. But was it?

That’s when my interview FOMO kicked in. For readers unaware of this phenomenon – it’s the acronym relating to a “fear of missing out.” My mini-retreat of pity had concluded, but now I wanted to know who the final candidates were? (You know the ones I was supposedly going to share my interview notes with). What did they talk about in the panel interview? I imagined these phantom candidates having a more lively discussion, filled with laughter and entertaining stories about the culture there and what the available position holds. They probably talked about their hobbies, their pets and the taboo area I was warned about for years – their children. And then they fist pumped at the end in celebration.

Since I was bursting with excitement about the initial interview, naturally I shared my news with everyone beforehand. “How did the interview go” was a favorite greeting. When I explained I didn’t make the second/final round, I was supported with well wishes about my next opportunity and how it “simply wasn’t meant to be.”

But FOMO does zap the gift of time. If interview FOMO is creeping into your psyche, tell it to politely leave. If that doesn’t work, just scream at it. (The garage, shower or the car are good locations). Find an outlet to delete it from your current state of being. Take your dog for a walk. Drive to the beach. Visit a favorite store and simply browse. Buy an indulgent hamburger and chocolate shake. Eat it selfishly and alone. And make those irritating choking sounds with the plastic straw as you reach the bottom without worry from the Manners Police.

And then start applying for jobs again.