Was that an interview or a drive-by shooting?

Also appears on the blog, Politics of the Workplace

The “creative talent coordinator” at the agency sounded very enthusiastic on the phone. The job description matched my credentials. I had all the experience they were asking for and more: twenty-five years in publishing; more than ten years as a medical writer and editor. We set up an interview the next day with the “lead recruiter.” It seemed very positive.

Yet the next day I found my suited-up self in a gray windowless cube, across from a woman who was frowning at my resume.

“You don’t have pharmaceutical industry experience.” It was an accusation.

I had come in feeling confident. Even though my resume hadn’t gotten a bite in a while, I do have a good background, and I figured that eventually someone would notice, or someone who had already noticed would finally get the green light and the budget to hire someone like me.

I’d traveled over an hour from northeast Queens to get to Manhattan that morning, had taken twenty minutes to fill out the agency’s ten-page application, and had sat waiting another ten minutes or so for the unfriendly recruiter who was now lecturing me about not having the “right” background.

What do you say when an interview turns out to be nothing like you expected? No matter how much you prepare, occasionally someone tosses you a curve ball.

Trying to maintain my cool, I pointed out what my resume said: “I have more than ten years in medical publishing. I have experience using AMA (The American Medical Association Manual of Style).”

In response, her finger moved down my resume and she said that my last medical editing job was a while ago. Technically, she was right; that job had ended in 2003 and I was a freelance medical writer for a year or so after that. I had worked at a medical publisher more recently, and I had reported on medical studies on my last job, but I was not a “medical editor” in those roles.

“We have people with recent experience at pharmaceutical companies who are applying for this job,” she said.

I wish I’d had the presence of mind and the confidence to say, “I don’t understand why you called me in and wasted our (“our” of course meaning “my”) time if you didn’t think I had the experience you needed.” Instead, I looked at her, unable to think of anything to say beyond, “I can do the job.”

She then said she could submit my resume to the company that was hiring, if I wanted, but she didn’t think it would get very far. Let’s get this debacle over with so I can go find a place to cry, I was thinking. But on hitting the street a few minutes later, I felt not sadness but anger.

What was that all about? It made no sense to me. Someone on LinkedIn suggested that the agency had brought me in to fill a quota, to protect themselves against potential charges of age discrimination. That made sense. I don’t feel very old; I didn’t think I was already at an age where I had to worry about that. But I am turning forty-eight on June 12, so I guess I am at that age.

I had no other bites for a while. There were times when I told myself that maybe I deserved to be treated that way. I’d go through the litany of my past: If I’d gone to a better college, if I’d gotten better grades, if I’d been more aggressive as a reporter when I was younger … and the worst one – if I were smarter — I’d be in some high-level job right now.

Writing about it on LinkedIn helped, and I was gratified to see the number of responses and the number of people who had gone through similar experiences. The incident also forced me to take another look at my resume and find places to tweak it, to better highlight some of the things I had accomplished.

There are days where I tell myself I will never work full-time again, that it’s going to be freelance from here on in (luckily I have a freelance job right now and I’m surviving). There are editing jobs out there, yet so many seem to require skills I don’t have — I’m not a content manager or a search-engine optimization expert. But I imagine that I’ll probably, eventually, get a job. I’ll be overworked and underpaid (we are talking about publishing). If I’m lucky, I’ll get a little respect.

(c) 2011 by Jan Arzooman


About janarzooman

Freelance writer and editor. View all posts by janarzooman

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