A Hand's Writing

Words from a hand are words from the heart.

Trust the Hiring Process

This summer, instead of living the life of a carefree black girl you’d normally spot frolicking through festivals on the ‘Gram, I spent hours closed-up within the four walls of my father’s guest bedroom. If these apple green walls could talk, they’d tell you I’ve watched an unhealthy amount of Grey’s Anatomy for one lifetime. They’d whisper all about how down on my luck I seemed. They’d agree that I shouldn’t ever be without my antidepressants in times like this. They’d be remiss to not mention how many times I’ve revamped my résumé on a whim. See, I spent much of my summer trying to make something work. (Me. That something is me, guys.)

Do you know why people stick with jobs they cannot stand? It’s because, for some of us, nothing can be worse than actually looking for a job. The most toxic company culture can seem more tolerable than enduring a long-lasting search for employment in this messy job market. It’s no wonder why so many millennials are stressed, depressed and un(der)employed. We are tasked with having to stand out to HR algorithms that don’t have the computerized competency to recognize human potential. And yet, we’re supposed to “trust the process” and have faith that things will somehow work out. Forgive my pessimism when I call bullshit on the whole process. I, for one, am tired of the process.

I have trust issues and rightfully so. Once upon a time, I had great faith in myself, my degrees earned, my potential, and my work ethic. That often feels like a distant memory since applying to nearly 100 full-time jobs since the year began. Discouragement is an understatement. “Trust the process,” they say. “Claim it! Speak it into existence, and that job will be yours.” Friends text this from their cushy cubicle after a free lunch in the conference room. Of course, they mean well, but it’s much easier said than done.

If you want to be real about it, educated Black millennials are likely to experience bouts of unemployment more than any other group in America. We’re more likely to have a harder time successfully navigating online application processes, what with all the non-human, human resourcing practices. According to the Black Youth Project’s study on “Black Millennials in America,” we’re far more likely to experience discrimination while on the prowl for suitable positions.

Fun fact: Black women have it the hardest in the employment pool (I’ll pause for your shock and awe).

An International Business Times article from 2014 suggested that Black women bear the brunt of unemployment statistics. Today, however, the Department of Labor shows that brunt has fluctuated between Black men and Black women; in March of this year the rate for unemployed Black men reached 8.2% versus Black women’s 6.6%. In June, Black men saw a decline in unemployment at 6.3%, compared to a .2% rise in joblessness for Black women. It’s also likely that Black women face an unemployment number twice as high as their white woman counterparts, which recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will confirm.

When you think of it, this could be the factor most likely contributing to mental health issues among young Blacks today such as perpetual depression, increased anxiety and exacerbated cases of imposter syndrome. Coming up short in this rat race makes us question all the hard work we put into four or more years of higher education, including years post-baccalaureate studies.

Submitting, say, 25 applications a week will get you a response from one, maybe two real people who’d like to take a chance on you, if you’re lucky. Those slim odds are as discouraging as they are laughable. Is my résumé read? Skimmed, even? What about that not-so-optional cover letter? Did I slave away over a hot-ass laptop to have my well-crafted correspondence overlooked because human resourcing is a process of e-scanning and mass elimination? What are we breaking our necks for anymore?

It’s a bitter and brutal journey. Indeed the monsters are real as you scour through job boards. Companies with the intent of hiring someone from the inside are obligated to share its vacancy with the public. Poachers posing as staffing agencies are ready to throw your hopes up high and shoot them down with smug pride. “Look at you peasants,” they revel. “You are no match for this role. Dance, puppets! Dance for menial labor!” In their defense, they are far too busy cackling in the twilight at the dismay of hundreds to respond to all our applications.

Just think about it: we flip and scroll through pages of classifieds and job boards like the morning news. One university wants a part-time instructor to teach no more than two courses per semester for $2,000 per class; somehow, a terminal degree is required. Your local inner-city public school system wants to pay you, experienced educator, $32K a year to teach life science at the alternative middle school that was recently reopened after a slew of student riots. One company wants a fresh-off-the-stage B.S. graduate with at least six years’ work experience for a whopping $25K; late nights and weekends are non-negotiable. Another post has an entry-level opening for a copywriter with a Master of Arts in Communications — not English, not creative writing, not rhetorical studies, or journalism — communications ONLY, with experience in health administration, a background in business, and knowledge of basket-weaving management for $17 an hour, part-time, no benefits. Hell, even 50% of medical students have a tough time getting into a residency program on Match Day. Tough break, kid. Ooh! Here’s one mid-level position that’ll pay you, a high school graduate, in peanuts if you put your life on the line by sticking your head in the mouths of rabid lions. At least you won’t be mining coal, I guess.

But wait, there is a job for you. It suits you perfectly! A match in skills, qualifications, and you have the experience from your internship days. Perfecto! Your hopes are up as you start the application process. You enter all of your personal information: your full name, birthdate, driver’s license number, demographic info, mother’s maiden name, and whatnot. Then there’s the job history page. Here you are, entering all of the information that’s already detailed on your beautifully crafted résumé. You provide hire dates; duties; job titles; your most recent supervisor’s name, birthday, and social security number, email and home address. But wait, there’s some missing information: You failed to add your reason for leaving your first job from 11th grade at Subway; you must start this page over. You write a solid cover letter, and before you attach it to the application, you catch that one typo. Whew, that was close! You upload your résumé, provide reliable references, and hit submit on the whole enchilada.

After getting through the eight-page online application, you receive the obligatory form email: “Thank you for your interest in our company. We will be in contact with you in the coming weeks. In the meantime, login to your account to check the status of your application. Sincerely, Human Resources.”

And then you start the process all over. You submit more and more and more applications — day after day. You’re now accustomed to this routine, but that doesn’t mean you’re not drained by it. Now you’re averaging seven applications a day, each one accompanied with a tailored cover letter to each respective company. You’ve done your research on so many mission statements it makes your head spin.

As each day goes by without a single word of interest, your high hopes come crashing down in a fiery meteor shower of discouragement. Some unknown LinkedIn users check out your profile every now and then, and randoms who post unprofessional content try to add you without good or relevant reason. Your applicant account on the companies’ websites show that your application is still “under review” or “in progress”…okay.

But there’s a beacon of hope — a phone call from an unsaved number. You put on your best phone voice to answer the call. It’s an automated message from a credit agency. (Fuck!) More emails about overdue bills and student loan defaults flood your inbox. Life looks bleak. A week and a half later, there’s another unfamiliar number calling you. This time, it’s Joe Doe from that one company’s HR department. You’ve been selected for a Skype interview. Woo-hoo! You Carlton dance around your bedroom for five minutes straight.

Days later, you interview with Joe and the rest of the hiring committee. They seem almost as enthusiastic as you are. This must be a good sign. You dazzle them with your wit, your expertise. The other ethnic interviewers nod in approval at your obvious ability to codeswitch. You answer all their questions with careful ease. You ask questions about management structure and their expectations of the new hire; they seem rather impressed. You close out of the interview feeling like a million bucks (or at least $55K, the average hiring salary).

As more days go by, you follow up because that’s what serious and persistent applicants do. Days turn to weeks with no word. You send an email to ask about your status. You just want to know where you stand. You’re dying to know because for the past two and a half weeks you’ve been praying and hoping for, and dreaming about this job. It’s like a blind date that you thought went really well, and the guy or gal doesn’t call you afterward. Not even a follow up text checking to see if you got home safely.

A month has passed and your blood is hot. You haven’t heard a word from Joe Doe and company, and they left you with no preferred method of contact. I thought we had something special. I thought what we had was real. They never gave a courtesy call, even to say it’s just not going to work out.

More weeks pass. Weeks turn to months so quickly when you’re waiting for a job offer. But you still go at it relentlessly, because that’s what a diligent applicant does. That’s what good millennials do, not just wait around for something miraculous to happen without action. We don’t quit, even in the face of blatant and constant rejection.

Three to six months later, while you’re still answering redundant application questions, your email tone chimes. Among the all the many newsletters, there’s an automated message thanking you yet again for your interest in a position you applied to more than thirteen weeks ago. “We have decided to move forward with another candidate.” And then another rejection email follows. DJ Khaled’s voice rings in your mind as yet another one comes through your inbox. After weeks of numerous employers rummaging through the interwebs and their prized HR systems, and interviewing, at most, about five applicants, your particular potential goes overlooked, like you’re the short girl at a sold out concert in Madison Square Garden. You did everything you could. You met all the requirements. You possess all the skills and required years of experience, and you’re still not taken seriously. You’re still somehow not quite good enough. Do you know how infuriating that is? (Don’t answer this, consistently employed people. We don’t need your rebuttals right now.)

What are we supposed to do? We end up feeling so alone in this process, so neglected, so useless, so broke(n)! All we’re looking for the right one. Someone who’ll look deep into my cover letter, all Ryan Gosling-y and say, “Hey, I see something special in you.” I feel like Meredith Grey in season two: “Pick me, choose me, love me,” sweet McDreamy job. Except Derek dies almost immediately after expressing interest.

This must be some twisted round of a dating game. Or an off-beat, modern tale of The Tortoise and the Hare. Somehow there are hoards of hares that keep claiming victory over carefully-paced, hard-earned steps that are supposed to ultimately win the race. What a crockpot of slow-cooked malarkey! It’s a sick, sad circle of life, and it moves us all to tears. I’m dizzy and weary just thinking about it.

Again, this special brand of heartbreak is almost certainly the cause of stress, anxiety and depression among millennials today, or at least one. Not to mention a skewed vision of our own worth in a society that would rather not take a chance on a name that looks too difficult to pronounce. Let’s not even throw in other stress factors such as the need to provide for families, the inability to pay off debts, and trying to keep up with healthcare costs, or any other stressor facing our generation. Seems like the answer to older generations’ gripes about our “laziness” is far more complex than simply to get up off our “entitled asses and get a job.” Got any other bright ideas?

(Originally written and shared on Medium, July 2017)