Laid off in America

Monday, March 03, 2003

Before I start with this week's passage, I've been doing some exploring on the internet. There are a lot of folks out there busy being unemployed--as long or longer than myself. Not that I wish this on anyone, but I feel like I'm in really good company. I'm putting good links, as I find them, on this page. Thanks to Martin (Where the Hell Did My Job Go) for looking at my site and making some good suggestions. If you know a good site I should link, or would like me to link to your site, let me know!

When I left my job last spring, I was actually optimistic. That very week, I had seen THE PERFECT JOB posting on the web for an organization that I had been wanting to work for for several years but couldn't figure out how to "get in" to the organization and network, etc. I had discovered the organization while I was in my job previous to the one I got laid off from. Although I loved that job, I used to read the job postings in the Economist and dream--some of them sound so exotic. I saw the organization, wrote the website on my hand, and rushed back to my computer to check out the website. The organization is called the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). And I wanted to work there.

I had seen a job posting for the same position earlier that spring, but didn't respond. I was determined to make the job I was in work--I had made a promise to stay a year or two and I am a woman of my word. UNDP reposted the position several months later--apparently they hadn't been able to fill it. It was written for me and this time I was going to apply for it. I sent in my resume to the general posting email and waited. And waited. I got on to the web and found out who the head of the department was and sent my resume and cover letter directly to him. And waited and waited. Then I heard from the guy and was invited in for an interview. I was ecstatic.

I had to fill out this long form--including my height and weight--odd, but the UN and it's organizations don't have to abide by US laws as it is a "NonGovernmental Organization" (NGO). And the interview--how bizarre. It was to be a panel interview--good practice--but they wouldn't tell me who I was to interview with. I had to walk in blind--I usually do due diligence on the organization AND the people. Even more bizarre, I had to write a written essay, topic not given. I found this part to be a little intimidating as well as belittling. I'm midcareer--I can see it for early/beginning career, but a writing test for this level? I took a wild guess at the writing assignment--the job was for succession planning, and the day before I practiced by writing everything I knew about succession planning and putting it into a logical neat order. The day of the interview, I arrived a bit early and sat in the lobby and people watched, I even struck up a conversation with a young intern and added "insider" knowledge to the slue of data I had already gathered about the organization.

The interview started out stiff. I was nervous. Who were these people? Once I warmed up, I was myself. The interview went overtime. I just gabbed and gabbed. I gave two or three behavioral examples for each question they asked. I was able to combine it with my knowledge of UNDP and talk about how I might do things differently in this position. I made suggestions. I gave my vision and dreams. At the end, I had no time to ask questions and boldly asked if I could call early next week to ask them. It turns out I was right on target for the written portion as well. I basically did a big dump of what I had written the day before, albeit in a slightly different order. I left the interview high--I could have done no better. If they didn't choose me, it was due to a lack of fit to exactly what they were looking for. It was not due to me messing up in any way.

I called early the next week and talked to the head of the department. They were really pleased with what they saw. As far as he was concerned, I was the only candidate. I said I had a lot of questions, and invited myself in for a second interview. This job was MINE!!! We had a wonderful discussion. The only fly in the ointment was that I was white and north american. My boss to be was white, male, and north american. His boss was white and north american. Her boss was white, male, and european. The purpose of this organization is to aid developing nations and the HR department was looking a little elitest (and I didn't mention huge and hierarchical for the size of the organization). But he didn't think that would be a problem since I was the only candidate. I was asked in for an interview with his boss.

That interview didn't go quite as well. She showed up late and left early. Given that it takes me a while to get warmed up, she missed me altogether. At the end, it just didn't feel good. My fur felt like it had been rubbed the wrong way. Nothing I could put my finger on, but a red flag was definitely raised. But I was told I would be invited in to talk to her boss. Then I never heard from them again. This was mid August.

I went for job interviews at other organizations--none very exciting, I always had this one in back of my mind. I finally called in early October (Bush had been pulling his usual imperialistic stunts at the UN so I figured everyone was laying low before trying to hire another american). The guy who would be my boss was shocked to hear from me. Had no one contacted me? He would get back to me. A few days later, I received a stock "thanks but no thanks" letter in the mail. I called back for an explanation. He explained that they decided to reorganize the department rather than bring in another north american. Everyone had to reapply for their jobs. It was probably good they hadn't made the offer. Yadda yadda yadda.

It was probably too political for me anyway. Tact is not a strong point of mine. I have a tendency to say what's on my mind--unedited. This was probably not right for me anyway (more yadda, yadda, yaddas...).

Well, I swallowed my pride and have kept in touch. They never filled the position and guess what, it's not getting done. They may bring me in as a consultant. They don't have the same constraints with consultants... Everyone who reads this, please cross your fingers for a second or two for me!

Next week, I'll start to go over some of my learning for good search behavior. They may work for some of you, they may not. Basically, I've learned that you can do everything right, but if there is no job that fits you and vice versa, there just isn't a job. And right now there does not seem to be an overabundance of jobs. posted by Valerie 11:35 AM

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The experience of the new rite of passage among today's professionals: Being Unemployed

Contact me
You can contact me by sending me email at

This blog's mention in the July 2003 issue of Fast Company
Web of Despair.

Other unemployment blogs I have found
Ask your ass.
All about Jen.
Homee's job search.
Get that job.

Some blogs I like but haven't been updated in a while
Where The Hell Did My Job Go.
Invisible Matrix.

Credit problems?

What's keeping me occupied while I'm unemployed?
My husband and my travel photography blog.


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