I apologize for not blogging for a few days. Another good friend of mine has passed away. He was full of life, a gifted athlete well into his forties who set new standards for his sport that still stand today. A talented artist and analyst, he was the full package, left and right brains hitting on every cylinder. Successful at everything he tried, this guy founded and ran two profitable businesses for more then 20 years after graduating Sigma Cum Laude from the Lone Star version of an ivy league school with a design engineering degree. But in the wake of the Great Recession, those businesses collapsed. He hung on for a few years, unable to find even a living wage, slowly losing everything. Finally, he took his own life, completely alone and no doubt feeling utterly abandoned. It sounds like they didn’t even find the body for awhile — I could be wrong but from what I can piece together, they only found him because the landlord checked his cheap, shitty apartment after August rent didn’t show up.
I’m not sure exactly what happened, the grisly details, but I might know how he felt. I know it every day and I get emails from people who feel it too. It just goes on and on for those of us who are middle aged, out of work highly trained professionals. It happened to me again in the last few days. Two weeks ago I interviewed for a job, an easy job well within my skill set and track record. And I still have no idea what happened. Because that’s how it works nowadays. Just for fun I sometimes try to imagine what might have happened to a job I thought I had.
Imagine you’re me or any of the millions of those like my friend who’ve been relegated to obscurity, placed on the economic version of the no-fly list; you don’t know how you got on or how to get off. It may not be easy, but try. Imagine that despite suffering a fluke widow maker heart attack and life threatening complications that took a year to over come, you’ve fought back by sheer grit. You busted your ass to get in shape, you had the discipline to follow a Spartan diet and consistent workouts, losing over forty pounds, getting buff and turning a beer gut into an abs cut like segments of a Hershey bar at age fifty. You did this mostly on disability pay, less than two-thirds of 12 bucks an hour, and eventually lost even that due to the grueling recovery process, landing without any health insurance, a stent in your heart, and no money for critical prescribed meds or follow up care.
You are tech savvy, a blue-chip experienced software and network support guru plus a veteran sales exec who has sold over a billion dollars worth of product over the phone. You apply for a job that only requires a high school degree and “some sales experience preferred.” After learning about the job you realize it’s so easy it will be like shooting fish in a barrel. Your competition mostly consists of kids who might have a semester or two of community college at best and were in middle school on 9-11. You are the highest rated producer in your last two jobs — with years of high end sales success — in the entire company and most of your competition maybe worked a year or two at Verizon or AT&T customer service. You ace the phone interview and are given praise, you then score a 100 on the preemployment test. They call back all smiles and happy faces; it’s clear they want you. You know and they know they would be lucky to get someone like you. All that stands between you and employment is merely a formality, a face to face interview to make sure you’re legal to work in the US and a simple criminal background check.
But then you walk into the interview and the person conducting it is another 24 year-old kid. She doesn’t even make eye contact with you, the entire interview lasts all of seven minutes, during which time she’s messing with her phone like a ‘tweener. She takes no notes on you, doesn’t seem very engaged. But she does ask if you have your residency documents and confirms you would be available starting Monday the 11th. You agree, she says everything looks great, she’ll contact you on Monday the 3rd, Tuesday at the latest, and confirms your email and phone. And of course Monday rolls around and you hear nothing. Tuesday goes by, nothing. So Wednesday you send a friendly email and hear … nothing. You call the next day, twice, and are transferred to voice mail both times, leave a message, and hear … nothing. And now it’s Sunday, the day before you were supposed to start, almost a week after she was supposed to contact you, and you haven’t heard a peep. So what happened?
I can only guess. But my best guess would be this person didn’t even remember me. She didn’t make any notes on my file and had a dozen or more interviews that same day alone. Later on when she went back through her prospects’ files, she didn’t know who I was and skipped right past me, sent offers and received acceptance from those she did notice, and by the time I jogged her memory it was too late. She just hopes I’ll shut up and go away.
Or maybe they don’t want to hire someone who had a health issue. Which would be odd because I stated it all clearly on the original app and discussed it at length in the phone interview before being told I was exactly what they were looking for, before being set up for an aptitude test, and before being invited in for the interview. And you have to be honest, you have to assume they’re going to check and you can’t have it come back that you lied or downplayed the reason you left one of your recent jobs.
Or maybe she just didn’t like me; she’s a kid and kids have a hard time relating to older folks sometimes. Or maybe she thinks a 52 year-old must be a loser for applying for an entry level job making $18 to 20 an hour. That would suck, because it would mean the mere act of applying for the job automatically disqualifies you from getting it.
She doesn’t have much to lose by screwing up or missing a great pick. No matter how many people she hires who can’t hack it or stop coming to work after a week or turn out to be a heroin addict or convicted felon, in this labor environment there’s always more applications in the queue. If she’s incompetent or over-loaded at doing final interviews, who’s going to know? It’s not going to show up visibly in any obvious, measurable way.
But this is what happens, over and over to people like me. And it may have happened over and over to my good friend. The difference being he apparently hit the end of the road, he had no more money, no margin for error left, no family to speak of, or maybe he just lost hope and gave up. As best I can tell, none of us, his friends, knew how bad it was for him, maybe he didn’t want us to know, or maybe we made it way too easy for him to conceal it by not wanting to know. Either way, now we’ll never know, he’s dead and gone.