Most people suffer a variety of insecurities in their lives. It might be the usual--"Does this make me look fat?" or something really obscure--"What if they don't like my voice?" "What if no one likes my book?" "What if no one talks to me?"
There are few situations that are as stressful as interviewing for a new job, especially if you've been out of the job market for a long time. The year before I turned forty, my company shut down and moved to another state, callously tossing me out into a closed job market along with seven hundred and seventy other unemployed workers. Ours was a small county with few jobs and our old company was one of the major employers in the region.
After assessing my chances of getting a job in a different field, I opted to go back to school. For some reason, waving a piece of parchment under an employer's nose is more impressive than just knowing how to do the job. So I took my unemployment check (one third of my old salary) and went to school everyday. The check was totally dependent on attendance at school. And if we were more than twenty minutes late, that automatically counted as an absence.
Things at my house were kind of grim. The househunk had fallen from a scaffold at work so he was on disability. My two sons were laid off the same time I was, but because they were still in high school they didn't qualify for unemployment. So my disability check was very important.
I started school in October. By January I was finished with the course, but with no job in sight I made sure that I kept attending school so that I received my check. One day the househunk and I spent the morning hours under our mobile home repairing a broken pipe. Time slipped away and before I realized it, I was late for school. There was no time to change clothes. I brushed the mud from my sweat pants, threw on a jacket and took off.
That afternoon, our instructor came in very excited and as soon as class was started, she took me to the side and told me all about a job that was available right downstairs in one of the offices at the school. She urged me to go down and ask for an application so I did. It was long, so I took it back upstairs and filled it out. Then, wanting to impress them with my business like behavior, I went back downstairs, turned it in, and asked for an appointment for an interview.
I'll never forget the expression on the secretary's face. She took my application, holding it by the corner between two fingers as though she was going to catch something from me and carried it into the Director's office. There was the buzz of conversation. Then the secretary came out and announced, "She'll see you now."
"But I'm not dressed for an interview!" I protested.
"Yeah, she knows." From her smirk, it was obvious that she'd given the Director a pretty clear description.
Now, I was positive that I wasn't going to get this job so I decided to make the best of things and use it for interview practice. I followed her into the office. The Director took my jacket which led to the mortifying discovery that my t-shirt had a hole in the shoulder seam. Obviously, I wasn't going to impress the woman except in a bad way!
We had a very nice chat. She was gracious and polite and listened intently when I talked. After the interview she mentioned that she would let me know if two days what her decision was as she had two more people to interview. I went back upstairs and thought no more about it.
The next day as I was walking upstairs to go to my class, I heard a woman calling my name. I turned around and it was the Director. "Do you want the job?"
"Well, then come into my office!"
I went back down those stairs so fast I was in danger of tripping. We had another chat. I filled out more paperwork. And she arranged an interview with the Asst. District Superintendent. That was Thursday. On Monday, I started work as the Director's secretary. And that secretary that was so snotty? I was her new supervisor.
I was there thirteen years. About five years after that interview, my boss and I were having a discussion about that interview. She told me why she hired me. "I figured if you could gracefully survive an interview under those conditions, you could handle anything that happened in this office."
So why did I tell you my little story, you ask. Well, I learned something then. I learned that it's not how we handle life when we're prepared; it's how we handle the things that hurtle out of the darkness in left field when we're totally unprepared that counts in the long run. That's what demonstrates what we're made of. We can collapse into a quivering heap and whimper that we're not ready. Or we can face the challenge head on and stare it down into submission. And when we win, we can walk away with our head held high.
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