Why I Learned To Appreciate The Interviewer Who Laughed In My 'Unqualified' Face

by Julie Woodruff

I was 23 years old, a very impressionable age. I’ll never forget sitting in that swivel chair looking at a panorama of downtown Denver buildings and mountains from the 15th floor while the man across the table sat laughing at me.

Like most fresh college graduates, I didn’t take etiquette that seriously when preparing for this interview. I showed up in a purple polo and a khaki skirt, and I had spilled nail polish on a corner of the skirt before leaving my car parked on the side of a city street. I brought my résumé, but that’s about all I did right.

The interviewer was CEO of a recruiting firm. Armed with an English degree, a few internships and one year of call center experience, I asked him to hire me as a recruiter. I had weighed my career options and writing didn’t pay enough.

Sales was terrifying, administrative work seemed dull, I wasn't smart enough for consulting firms and almost no one was hiring.

Someone said I might make a good recruiter, and I figured if I couldn’t make money as a full-time writer, the exciting world of recruiting sounded like a good option.

The man sitting across from me wasn’t as hopeful at the prospect. For every small accomplishment on my résumé, he saw a disheveled, young and inexperienced worker lacking know-how.

He wasn’t interested in being the potter who formed the potential clay into a fired pot, and after a painful 20 minutes of questioning, he told me I didn’t have what it takes; I lacked assertiveness and confidence.

I was humiliated, but had enough pride to not cry. As intense as my experience was, I don’t think most are immune to rejection. With all the graduates pouring out into the “real world” this time of year, there is some inevitable rejection ahead, even if it’s not as direct.

Here are a few things to remember as you get started applying (and getting rejected from) real world jobs:

No one person should define who you are and who you aren’t.

This man who I hardly even knew impacted me in a deep way. For many months after that meeting, I continued my job search, trying to carve out a path for myself, despite his opinion echoing in my mind.

I tried to brush it off and interview elsewhere, but his words became a resonating voice in the back of my mind: “You’re going to fail.” Because his interview was my first experience with the real world, I had few reasons besides the kind words of family and friends, to believe that maybe, even if only a little bit, he was right.

Some people get lucky and get hired. They are in that percentile that did everything right since age 8: went to prep school, went to an Ivy league college, come from trust fund money, and upon college graduation, get a Goldman Sachs job because they were groomed for it.

For the rest of us, climbing the career ladder to the top can be uncertain, scary, full of hard work and maneuvering around difficult people. It can be confusing and even depressing.

As much of a slap in the face as rejection can be, it is only rejection. It’s a person who can’t see the same things you see, or someone who doesn’t want to; it's not someone who has the authority to determine what you are capable of doing. No one should get that last say but you. Enough said.

Closed doors mean open windows.

Had that CEO hired me when I interviewed, I’d still be a recruiter, but I’d possess much less creativity and persistence than I do now. By slamming the door in my face, I was forced to seek out other opportunities, which I couldn’t see at first.

After that interview, I interned for a little while, learned how to use social media and write emails void of grammatical errors. I applied and applied and applied for jobs and went on many interviews until one company finally decided to take a chance on me.

I knocked so hard on that closed door that it finally opened. All the interviewing and trying to get a job taught me what I never could have learned on the job. I learned that wearing a suit to an interview is a sign of respect, versus self-expression.

I learned that you shine your shoes to show that you care, and résumés are printed on heavier paper than printer paper. I learned that getting a job is sometimes beyond controllable factors, but if you get in front of enough people, someone will eventually take a chance on you.

Doors that slam are opportunities down the line, even if it’s 24 tries later.

Adversity can’t stop determination.

With every small success, I became stronger and was more deeply convinced that I could do what I wanted to do. I became confident, assertive and as the time passed, I changed. I didn’t start out as whom I wanted to be; I grew into that person.

If I had never encountered that man, at times I fear I might have become a flat and lifeless character in the world. I would have been no deeper than a piece of paper, incapable of facing the challenges that are inevitable for anyone starting a career. Perhaps his rejection inspired the determination to become who I wanted to be.

For that, I’m grateful.

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures/Horrible Bosses