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Let’s pretend you’ve been unhappy at your job. You’ve been mulling over what a career is, whether the position you’re in contributes to your eventual goal. You slip into the normal existential wanderings of Career Thought: what’s the point? capitalism sucks. 9-5 til I die with a small amount of savings and a lot of resentful family members. rinse & repeat.

So, you scour job sites — LinkedIn is the go-to, Indeed will work and yes, let’s work on that USA Jobs profile. Hours of the work day become devoted to streamlining your resume to each job and rewriting cover letters at such a rapid speed that you don’t notice the stray “G” in the margin of one. (To my New Yorker executive assistant cover letter, this swan song’s for you. I’ve half convinced myself the reason I didn’t get an interview was because of that slight of hand technical glitch!!)

Then, a call from a blocked number that you nearly miss. Are you available for an interview later this week, a falsely cheerful HR person asks. You nod silently, vigorously as you say, yes, I am, thank you 🙂 ! You press the iron to the collar and sleeves of a button down you forgot about. You wash your hair and you fix yourself to look as little as yourself as possible. We’re taught to achieve a clean, sanitized professional alter ego. It’s sort of horrible.

The initial interview goes well and you’re left with a renewed sense of want. You can do this. The job description was tailor made for your skills, they’ll be crazy if they don’t hire you, your friends say as you wring your hands over a happy hour beer. You say, yeah, yeah, yeah. But I’m going to keep applying.

A few days later, a Friday, the HR person calls and says, congratulations, we want another interview. This time, we want you to do something extra for us. Right now, you’re hungry and willing and any type of new work makes you feel like you can do your current job. So you respond with a few too many exclamation points and aim to complete the test before the time limit is up. (Because you do efficient AND quality work!)

The test ends up taking way longer than expected. You dart through two more interviews with more members of the team. You feel a bit like a circus animal, performing your best tricks in front of a captive audience of a few in a vast, nearly empty arena. You’re aware there are other people doing the same thing, but you can’t see their tricks. You’re only aware of your singular performance and the dangle of a treat at the end of it.

And then, the treat’s gone. I’m so sorry, they say. It was between you and one other performer, I mean person. But, we’d love to keep in touch. Would you like to take an even lower paying position? You smile through gritted teeth and a bruised ego. Yeah, of course, you say, your smile becoming increasingly stiff. And you go back to the listings page and you scroll, scroll, scroll until your hand is numb and your wrist is sore and you can’t stop chasing the feeling of being professionally courted. Rinse & repeat.

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