What can you learn from being unemployed and how to keep going? My personal story


You may not believe me, but I never thought my unemployment period will become my most rewarding time for personal development and self-growth. One of my friends confessed to me that a thought of quitting her own job to embark on this self-exploring journey has crossed her mind as she could clearly see the change in me. It is true that when we are employed, we are swamped with routine work and are stressed about reaching our deadlines, which does not leave much time for personal growth, unless your manager squeezes it somewhere on your performance plan. During my jobless adventure I have met a lot of people in similar situation, struggling to find a job, who called my story inspiring and cheering, something they needed to hear to keep going. Those currently employed or working with personnel placement, found my story refreshing and admitted the challenges in recruitment process itself. So I thought about it and decided to share my story with as many as I could certain that everyone and anyone, whether you are looking for a job or looking to hire, can all learn from each other.

A week-long interview marathon

My journey begins with coincidental scheduling of five different interviews in one week. I am excited, my adviser from the job-center is certain I am going to get at least two offers, everything seems just perfect. After all, you are often told that getting an interview invitation is the hardest step and from there on it is a piece of cake. Turns out – it is not, and many of you know that. My first interview of the week is arranged by HR representative, who reaches out to me following my previous application to the firm and suggests presenting my profile for the role she currently has. She believes my profile is a bit different from the regular applicants for the position and therefore very interesting and unique. I take a meeting with the hiring manager, who promptly informs me the next day that my profile will not be considered for the next steps and “good luck”. No feedback, no comments. Obviously I am confused as I did not apply for the role and am struggling to understand “why not”. But reflecting back on my discussion with the HR I realize my profile was probably too different from the regular applicants. And after all, not everyone is good at giving feedback when rejecting you.

Next interview is very exciting, it is a new industry for me and I am looking forward to discussing the role. Once the interview begins, I am informed I do not have the right experience for the job. However, my profile seemed appealing and my interviewers just wanted to meet me and see if there is anything else that might interest them to hire me anyway. And just like that this interview turns into a tournament. I showcase my strengths through my best success stories; I share my knowledge on challenges of the firm as I have studied their entire homepage and watched dozens of videos; I ask all the right questions, I am sure of it, since originally scheduled 1 h interview turns into 2 h and according to one of my interviewers “the other meeting can wait a little longer”. Which is a good sign, so I have heard? When it is over, I go home and take a long nap being completely drained. Anyhow, I do not get to continue with recruitment as I do not have the right experience for the role. Probably they did not find what they were looking for. On the bright side, having been invited for an interview where I clearly lacked required experience encouraged me to apply for the roles that were inspiring and motivating no matter what the experience requirement was. I simply left this decision to my recruiters to determine what “experience” is after all.

Interview number three and four is a big surprise. My application for this role was initially rejected immediately after submission, but apparently the needs of the organization have changed, so that my profile makes more sense now. Lucky me! The next two interviews are all about meeting different stakeholders and showing my experience through a case. I did great, received a wonderful feedback, but! the needs of the organization keep changing, so it is another candidate that gets the job. Do not be surprised, we are living in the era of change, where technologies keep changing with the speed of light, such things just happen and it is nobody’s fault.

My last interview of the week is over the phone, which I am very thankful for since I have almost no energy left and can barely remember my own name. Conversation is with HR representative that feels my profile is a bit of a Joker in his pile of applications, but is certain I will be a great contribution to the team. However, a few days later I receive an automatic rejection email, which I honestly thought was a system error. It was not, I discover that the hiring manager had different priorities and did not share similar opinion with his HR colleague. From this day onward, I try to schedule all of my interviews with the hiring manager first. You have guessed correctly, this is not always possible, so I try to make the best of it anyway. For a start, speaking with someone from HR gives you an opportunity to ask questions about the organizational culture and learn whether this firm is the right fit for you.

Being at the wrong place at the wrong time

The week after is very quiet, I have no interviews scheduled which gives me time to recover from all the rejections, confusion and mixed feelings, and slowly change my calendar to next month. I know I have to keep going, so I schedule my next three interviews on the agenda.

I am invited for an interview, which I am still not sure is an interview, because the contact person from this firm calls it an introduction meeting. Confused and not very clear on how to set my expectations, I bring myself to this meeting. I am welcomed by the hiring manager and through our brief warming-up chat I am starting to feel I am way too relaxed for this interview. One lesson learned, if there is something I do not understand, I simply ask. No-one expects you to be a know-it-all after all. Besides, that is exactly a perfect situation to use my favorite line to finish emails with: “If you have any further questions do not hesitate to reach out”. This time I clearly hesitated. As for the interview, I never hear back from the manager, even after attempts to get in touch. Well, anything could have happened, so I move on.

During my next interview I realize I have the wrong people with me in the room, how did that happen? They are not sure when the HR department is looking to hire the new candidate; they cannot explain the main tasks of the job nor its challenges. Basically, I am not getting answers to any of my questions, and I am getting frustrated. I pull out my copy of the job description, I always bring one with me, and ask about specific methodologies and programs mentioned here, and how they are supposed to be applied in the job. Still we are getting nowhere with the answers, and 1.5 h later I leave this firm more confused than ever before. In the aftermath I imagine there might be a lot of things going on behind the curtain I might not be made aware of. However, this experience stops me from applying for any further opportunities at this firm.

Thankfully my next interview is very relaxing as it is scheduled in a form of an after-work coffee meeting. After 2 h long conversation I go home with an invitation for a formal interview. What can go wrong? It takes me around 3 h to go through this final round including personality assessment, logical test, two small business cases, meeting with HR and a few members of the team. We part with an agreement that I send my list of references to the firm and inform my former bosses they will be contacted. Unfortunately, it is decided that my communication style does not fit the company and they do not call my references after all. I think I am in shock, I wish it was discovered earlier to avoid getting deeper into the process. Reality is, there are companies you will think are not right for you, same goes for the companies – you may not be right for them. Once I was informed by this company who preferably hired people with more stable profile that I would not be a good fit for them. Following this comment I stopped applying there altogether. No one to blame really, I was just happy to have learned during an early stage that we are not a good fit. Also, trust your gut feeling. I did try to cheat it in the past, went on with the next rounds of interviews believing this is what you should do. At the end it did not do anyone any good. If I can feel something is off and I will most likely not fit in the team, having met them during one of the rounds, there is a high chance your interviewers can feel it too. Everyone is looking for a win-win, you just have to keep looking.

Here comes my interview No. 10, which turns out quite fruitful. I meet a hiring manager, who does not proceed with me as a candidate for the role he is hiring, as there are more experienced candidates, but he gives me fantastic feedback and manages to arrange an interview with his colleague from a different department. At this moment I do realize that meeting someone through an interview is an opportunity to expand ones network. The arranged interview goes well; we take additional time to discuss expectations and the upcoming project, I feel good chemistry with this manager and am certain this is going great. I have to wait for a while before I make my follow up call. I hit a voicemail machine, so I leave a message. A day later I call again and since not getting through I send an email. Time goes by and I send another email, leave another voicemail, but nothing happens. No clue what went wrong, I have no choice but to move on.

Time flies and I am invited to the next company. Before the interview even begins, I can feel there is something in the air and just does not feel right. After a short presentation from my interviewers we end up in an awkward silence. I am not sure if I should take the lead and just jump in, should I wait a bit longer? I slowly count to ten and take the situation in my own hands. I present myself and how I see this role relating to my experience and the information gathered from a given presentation. During the entire interview I feel there is a lot of uncertainty and worries about internal changes in the organization that my hosts are trying to hide. I leave the interview disappointed and frustrated, it does not feel like the right place to be. Luckily I am not the only one thinking this way, so a few days later I am thanked for my time as they move on with other candidates. Relief! is what I felt. Simply saying if it is not right, it is not.

Learning to save energy and take action

New day new beginning. During my next conversation with the hiring manager it becomes clear that this role requires a high level of seniority and a skill to guide a small team of four. All of a sudden I start questioning myself. I am also made aware that the recruitment process will take between four to five interviews before reaching the final decision. At this stage of my journey I start carefully evaluating my energy level. I doubt I will be among the final candidates, obviously imagining more skilled and capable candidates, so I reject the offer to continue the recruitment process. Should I not have? Was that the right decision? It was for me, and I stand by it. I no longer torture myself rethinking this moment trying to picture multiple scenarios how this situation could have turned out. This is about making a choice and I made mine.

Some say Mondays are tough, but I am definitely killing it today. I am on my way to my next interview and while on the bus I get a text message from a recruiter inviting me to come by his office and discuss an opportunity for the same company that I am about to talk to in 30 min. Splendid! I am fully prepared and since it is my 15+ interview I am confident to schedule two interviews on the same day. In between I even book a meeting with my mentor. Today is my lucky day, I can feel it! Honestly, it would be so easy if my story finished here, but I do not want to disappoint my readers, as my journey goes on. As a result, even though the hiring manager is impressed by my energy and willingness to learn, I am still overtaken by more experienced candidate. According to the manager, if she had two open positions she would have hired me. I do not give up, so I offer to hire me anyway. I hear a sigh, something about budget restraints and am thanked for my time and interest in the company. Also, I never hear back from the recruiter even after several attempts to reach out.

My next experience should not be considered a discrimination case or crossing all boundaries situation, for the sake of information I have checked with the legal advisers. To be honest, I always keep an open mind so I truly managed to have some fun during this interview. Instead of being defensive and feeling attacked when asked whether I had any children, I thought about it as an opportunity to simply get to know my interviewers better, so I answered: “No, I do not. Do you? And how old are they?” I am also asked if I am married and have financial support from my partner, since it has been a while I have been employed. I take it as a compliment and say that I studied finance and economics, I am good at keeping budgets, saving and investing, I am creative and analytical, and like to help others if they would like to hear a tip or two. I discuss my achievements and results with a serious face, but I do not hold myself from telling a joke once in a while. By the end of the interview we even get to the point of sharing how each of us had to make a living by washing dishes, packing cheese or selling dog food in the past. The only thing I can hope for is that my employer will accept me for who I am instead of making me fit in the box. After all, it is important to be yourself and be able to have a bit of fun with your colleagues and bosses once in a while.

Apparently this “remember to have fun” interview is a success, a few days later I am contacted by a different team who is also looking for a new member. They believe I will be a better fit with them and would like to meet me. I am super excited, but at the same time struggle to find energy to nail that interview. After all, this is my 20th interview by now. The interview takes place in a room that resembles a lounge room with a tea table, armchairs and a sofa. Such setting would have been perfect for an informal coffee-meeting to keep you relaxed, but right now I am struggling to stay energetic, so it does quite the opposite effect on me. As soon as we start, the project manager jumps up from her seat and apologetically announces that she took a different candidate’s CV by mistake and needs to go get my resume. I try to make a joke about it, but I am definitely off my game today. Long story short, this interview does not result in a job offer. I get very pleasant feedback and some suggestions of what I can do better next time. Obviously by now I have had a lot of suggestions and contrary recommendations for improvements as the number of my interviews. I conclude that different people are triggered by different things, and it does not mean that you have to get your head over heels trying to implement every single one of them. Also the advice you are given, is given from a perspective of this particular person, which means it is not a 100% guarantee for success. You just have to figure out how to balance and adapt those suggestions to your particular situation.

Unexpected discoveries

Next interview on the agenda is the most difficult one. At least that is what I have convinced myself to believe. I am preparing for a case interview and I want to do my best, so I am kind of nervous. In a long time, I actually get to present my work and be evaluated on the basis of presented material, instead of only talking about it. Evaluation turns out to be good. Luckily for me, it is being confirmed that I do have certain knowledge and experience and can present my findings clearly, which means I am no longer considered a junior. Unluckily for me, there is only one senior position and there are candidates who can bring their clients to this firm once hired. Something I have not thought of when applying. On the other hand, positive evaluation of my performance gives me more confidence in myself, which is so important on this journey.

This interview invitation is a little bit unexpected, and puts me in position to think fast and make a decision. I have two options to choose from: come in for an interview in 2 h or wait for the next three to four weeks as this hiring manager goes on vacation. Why wait? So I accept the first offer, and with no time for second-guessing get myself ready. I must confess I was worried about my looks as I did not make it my priority to look good and I know first impressions are important. Remember, these impressions are also formed through a firm handshake, relaxed and confident voice, soft smile, and a steady eye contact. Everything went well, I even earned myself a second and final interview. But to my surprise I discover that personality-based interviews are not my cup of tea just yet. It is true when they tell you these interviews are not pleasant, I could easily wring out my cold sweat from a dress I was wearing to this interview. Somehow it might feel difficult to open up and share with your potential boss how you might mess up and what makes you become emotional in the professional environment. Many companies do not only look at the skills and competencies you possess, it is also important for them to see you as a human being.

Broadening my options even more, I agreed to do an interview for the role I knew I was overqualified for simply because of the project that sounded extremely exciting for me. Luckily they were ready to give me their answer the next day just after one interview, which was unusual for me. I am used to going through an average of three interviews to reach the final decision and be hanging in the process for weeks, even months sometimes. Obviously being overqualified has its disadvantages. The hiring manager was concerned I will not have a chance to grow in this role and will be at higher risk to lose interest and get bored lacking challenges in my assignments. She was not sure whether there was a vacant position at her colleague’s department that would suit me better, but she offered to forward my resume to her colleague including me in the email. Well, sometimes things do not happen the way we expect. On the bright side, in her opinion, I presented myself with confidence and structured approach, and there is nothing else I could have done better or differently to get this role. Listening to this feedback I have realized that after my 30+ interviews I have finally learned how to present myself during an interview.

In summary, I can say that looking for a job is a full time job and those who had never experienced being unemployed might never understand your challenges, frustrations and fears. It might seem like vacation, but for some this vacation can easily turn into a 24/7 nightmare, constantly thinking of options, new ideas and strategies. It is true that every single rejection might feel like a slap in the face, but I did not take it that way, I did not take it personally. I felt I was searching for the right fit and simply have not found it yet. Both my potential employer and I have some requirements we wish to fulfill, and once both sides are satisfied there will come an offer. I rejected ones opinion that there is something wrong with me, well there is definitely something wrong with all of us and it is normal, nobody is perfect. I stopped being scared of another potential rejection as I consider each interview an opportunity to meet new people, learn about new industry, new culture, become familiar with the challenges of organization and think of how I could tackle them. I did a lot of tests and assignments for the interviews and could guide and coach some of my friends through the process, which I did. I turned this experience into learning by doing, certain that one day, when I am a career coach and a mentor, I will be able to speak from experience and relate to challenges young generation is facing during unemployment, under-performance and constant failure. I have learned to be more patient, reflective and determined. Multiple times I was told I appear as a person who knows what she wants, and knows where she is going. At the end of the day, every experience is valuable. Getting the job is not the only result you can obtain in this process, but developing and shaping yourself is definitely one of them.

Good luck in your journey!

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