I was recently on a search committee for my job to find a new colleague. It was an interesting process, perhaps especially so since I just went through it myself a few short years ago. In fact, I spent two grueling years trying to find the “right” job, and while I think I found it, the process was at times frustrating, intimidating, depleting and quixotic. There didn’t seem to be a lot of rhyme and reason in some situations for why I was overlooked, or how final decisions were made, and now that I’m on the other side, I can confirm that to be so. While there certainly are some objective components of the search, when you’re working alongside others to find a new colleague, the subjectivities run rampant. While I tried to hold mine in check as much as possible – I’m sure I’m guilty of trespassing against that reason in some instances – I know for a fact my fellow committee member were unable to, which is frustrating in its own right. Know this, all ye who look for jobs, your life is in others’ hands, and you will not always be treated fairly. Sorry.
Now, this isn’t to say we engaged in any sort of discriminatory hiring practice, but just that when you bring five minds together, each starts off with their own idea of what they want. There may be search parameters to follow, but those are all relatively loose. There is no rubric, really, and if there were, it could easily be distorted. It’s funny, really, how people often only see what they want to see; how people make up their minds before any objective data is presented; how regardless of the facts in front of us, we can spin anything to meet our rationale and criteria. I witnessed outright blatant disregard for protocol and letting personal relationships dictate hiring decisions. Yet somehow it was all within the lines of acceptable hiring practices. After all, we had HR and many higher-ups checking us, thankfully, but they were less in tune with the “boots on the ground” that the search committee wore.
I remember my first onsite interview of my recent career (i.e., the first one I got past the phone screening). There were only two candidates, myself and one other guy who strangely I kind of knew, and after the 2-day interview process had passed, I really thought I’d nailed it. I started to make plans in my mind for relocating and my new life. I was willing to jump headfirst into a new area, one that really wasn’t that desirable, for a job that really didn’t pay that well, all because I wanted into this field. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand why not. I knew the other guy, knew what he brought to the table, or more accurately didn’t bring to the table; it was baffling. My search drug on for another year; at many points during that time I felt beyond defeated. Later on I’d heard that guy didn’t quite measure up either, so there was a bit of schadenfreude on my part. They got what they deserved. Eventually, I got what I felt I deserved: a (better) offer.
Over the course of that year I looked and looked, refined myself and my qualifications, learned more about the search process, probably became a better applicant. In the end I had almost twice as many interviews over that second year than the first, and I had a handful of offers. Maybe it was just luck, maybe timing, who knows. While the process was grueling, I think I learned how to navigate it; what to do, what to say, how to act, how to work the system. All of the people that interviewed me, I’m not sure that all of them were entirely competent at what they were doing – each and every one wore their subjectivities on their sleeves. All I had to do was see that and respond accordingly. My message changed with the recipient, I learned to speak to multiple different audiences when they were all in the same room. The funny thing is, if I keep this job I’ll never have to apply that knowledge in the future. Seems odd to learn all that to only have to use it once and never again. Wish I could bottle it and sell it, but alas it is nonessential to me now. Except for when I see others applying to work with me.
This is something I don’t think many of the other four colleagues got so much, or at least that’s the way I interpreted it after we’d made our choice. I was voted down 4-1, but since their top choice was capable of doing the job, I didn’t argue one bit. I guess you have to learn to pick your battles. I do wonder if somewhere down the line I’ll wear a smirk that reads, “I told you so.” I certainly hope not because this person is going to be my colleague, but we overlooked a lot of waving flags. To be fair, they probably overlooked a lot of waving flags in hiring me, too. I hope they’re glad they did. Therefore, I hope to be proven wrong, I’m certainly ready to be.
Everybody wants to be themselves, to be heard, to be respected, to be right. That last one is what gets us, each and every time. I think we missed out on the most well-rounded candidate, and hopefully that will be to her advantage in the future, but I’m somewhat satiated that we got one who can at least figure it out. She certainly has her own toolbox of skills to bring to the table, so it is entirely possible that I’ll be proven wrong: maybe all those subjectivities I saw were actually insights; perhaps I was the one looking through a hazy lens.
I don’t have any desire to be on the job market again. Therefore, I better bust my hump to keep my job, to prove my worth. And I will. And I do. But that search, considering it from both sides, is fraught with error and subjectivity, with a lot of complexity, and with an awful lot of human touch and twist that doesn’t make it truly fair. But what is “fair” anyways? Life sure isn’t. So why would the job search be? I guess I’ll take stock and solace in the fact that, much like the “perfect” match in our love life, the “perfect” match in our work life is as much a crapshoot as anything else. Like the Stones sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” I hope we got what we need, and I hope those other candidates find that as well.