Friday, November 20, 2009


So far I’ve sent out resumes for sales positions with Barnes & Noble, Borders Books, American TV and Steinhafels, a local furniture retail store I’ve nicknamed “Steinawfuls” due to the unlikeability of their stock. I’ve applied as a wedding planner with a local hotelier and as a night shift phone family vacation planner for Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor waterpark resort chain headquartered in Madison. Each and every application has been processed through the internet with a series of questions: some necessary, some mundane, and then some down right rude.
Let’s take Borders. They had an impressive sign taped to their window next to the entry, “Now Hiring”. If you’re looking for work, to find someone asking for applicants seems like a good place to start. I parked the car in their enormous but virtually empty parking lot, walked in and went to the customer service desk to ask for an application form. The young bearded man in the wrinkled shirt behind the counter smiled and said, “You need to go to our website to apply. We don’t have actual applications.” new age, new way of applying. I got back in the car, drove home and searched Safari for their site. What first comes up under their banner is an image of a group of smiling faces, all ethnicities and age groups duly represented. They then give you a choice of job opportunities in three areas: home office, in store or distribution center. I negated options one and three, I’m not located near their home office and I’m no good at driving a forklift, all I wanted was a job giving me a little bit of self-respect and a 10% discount. I clicked on store opportunities only to be confronted with a list of possible positions I had no idea even existed: zone vice president, senior district marketing manager, paperchase area manager, what the hell is that? All I wanted was to sell some books. I finally advanced the search through enough pages of job descriptions and fairness regulations to get to the actual application, which I was now informed, would take 15 to 45 minutes depending on the type of application I would be filling out. Thinking I had selected the least elitist position I could find, I assumed I would be at the low end of the time commitment. Let’s see how this goes.
The first eight or so pages of prompts asked for pertinent information: name, address, availability, proof of citizenship, willingness to submit to a background check, the usual. The next page asked for compensation expectations. They started out by suggesting hourly rates at $6.00 or less and finished with rates $12.00 or more. I figured I had a better chance if I picked somewhere in the middle. I went for $8.01 to $10.00. The next section in the application process was called criminal history. They were kind enough to inform me that the existence of a criminal history would not automatically disqualify me from getting a job. Boy, was that a load off my mind. The next section had to deal with my educational, employment and life experience data, geared at helping them decide if I had the appropriate passion for selling their books and advancing childhood education. The best question here asked me to give a life experience that might add value to the customer experience. I thought of many clever responses: I did an interview with the Duchess of York about her children’s book (true), I directed Lauren Bacall for an Italian Trade Commission event (also true), I wrote a book on the history of numbskullery (not true). I decided to go with “I’ve done some traveling”, I really wanted to get the job. The last part of the application was by far the most fun. Thirty-five pages of strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree to questions like: “Are you proud of the work you do at school or on the job”, “Can people tell when you are happy or sad”, “Do you get angry more often than nervous”, “Would you rather not get involved in other people’s problems”, heady stuff. My forty-five minute max turned into ninety as I mulled and faced up to aspects of my personality I wasn’t expecting to have to evaluate for a nine dollar per hour job application. When I finished my hands were shaking, the tips of my fingers raw from typing in my answers and then the waiting for a response set in. I immediately received a do not reply notification letting me know my application had been received and human resources would be evaluating my resume notifying me if I would be asked to come in for a full interview. What more personal questions they could ask me I couldn’t imagine.
Sorry to say, I’m still waiting. I’m not sure if it was the Masters degree or the inability to fill in the line about my last salary that has caused them pause. Maybe I shouldn’t have included a list of past publications but for whatever reasons not a single request for a follow up has come through. I’m not sure how to take this rejection. Am I too old, too crazy or just too overqualified? If we could only go back to the old ways of meeting the person on the other side of the computer, that is if one exists, I think I could do a better job of pleading my case.

The truth about rejection is it frequently has little to do with who you really are. Someone’s pronouncement of your capabilities based on a sheet of paper or a computer fill-in the blank isn’t necessarily the whole story. Sometimes they’re just looking for a blond when you’re a brunette.

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