Life Doesn’t Always Go As Planned

I hate stories like this. From Liz Ryan’s column:

Dear Liz,

I moved up through the ranks in the insurance industry, starting when I was 22. Now I’m 57, and I’m returning to the workforce after my first-ever break from full-time employment. My mother passed on several years ago, and my dad was living alone until his health started to fail last year.

I first took a leave of absence from my job, then resigned my position to help my dad during his decline. When my father passed away, I took care of his affairs.

It was a grueling task as you know if you’ve ever been through it. When I began job-hunting again, I was shocked at how many interviewers asked me to “account for” and even apologize for the crime of having taken 18 months off from my career.

Three weeks ago I went to a job  interview where I met a woman, the company recruiter, whom we can call Rachel. She and I sat down and she immediately addressed my “employment gap.”

“To start our conversation,” she said, “Can you please fill me in on your activities since leaving your last job?”

That information was right on my resume. It says on my resume that I was helping a family member who had health problems.

“I know you mentioned a family member with health problems,” said Rachel, “but can you please  be more specific?”

I couldn’t imagine why she would care, but I said “My father’s health was declining and I am the only one of my parents’ children who lives in this area. I was privileged to be able to spend time with my dad before he died.”

Rachel said “Okay, but we really don’t consider job candidates with gaps. I’m making an exception even to sit here talking to you. I need to be able to explain to the search committee that you take your career seriously. If you were me, what would you tell them about why you quit your job and took 18 months off, and now want to return to the industry?”

I would like to see the videotape of me reacting to Rachel’s question. I’m sure my jaw dropped open. I tried to keep my voice steady. “I can’t really help you there,” I said. “I just told you that my father was ill and he needed me. If the search committee would prefer that I had told my dad I couldn’t help him, then I’m not the right person for this job.”

Rachel got up and left the room with a sigh. As she walked out the door she said over her shoulder “I’ll be right back.” She didn’t close the door all the way. It was open a crack. I heard Rachel talking to someone in the other room and I heard the words ‘high-strung.’ I took a deep breath, gathered my things and stood up.

When I left the room, there was no one in the other office so I just walked out of the building, went to my car and drove home. I haven’t heard from Rachel or her company again.

Liz, what is wrong with people? When did it become a crime to take care of your family members? I thought that was every child’s obligation and something to be proud of, not to be interrogated over! My mojo was very depleted when I left that building, but by the time I got home most of my equilibrium was restored.

“We really don’t consider people with gaps.” I have to wonder about the Rachels of the world who’s life always work so well that the blips and troubles never seem affect them.  It must be nice to not have to worry about the life problems that strike suddenly and the bad choices that many of us have had to make.  I’m glad that there are people like that.  I hope that it continues to work out for them.

Does that though, excuse the fact that, for some reason there’s seems to be no empathy for those who’ve  had to deal with the stuff that beats you up? Just look at it his way, there may come a time where you have to deal with aging parents or get laid off through no fault of your own. You may be forced to take the first job that comes along and put up with hell just to keep getting pad.  You may be forced to work jobs that you don’t really want to put on a professional resume. Sometimes you try things and they just don’t work. Life is a bumpy road for many of us.

The system though, seems to demand a higher standard for job seekers than the people actually interviewing could ever meet.   It’s all to easy to find fault in others. It’s far harder to discover the great things about them.  I count the number of interviews where I left feeling rotten and disgusted about myself. There’s a limit to self examination that anybody can endure and going through the interview process seem setup to push all the buttons.

The fact of going through the process for a job seeker is pretty straight forward. If you  go through the process you get some essential things pretty slapped in the face. The most import things are that the poor job seeker gets treated like crap and knows it. The ATS screens them out, the HR people act like people in the DMV and Hiring Managers seem determined to verbally torture you if you actually get to the interview. That’s the reality of what today’s hiring has become. When your system is dysfunctional, it’s only going to hire dysfunctional people.

The fact is that hiring is about the future, not the past.  There’s that old clichéd saying that past performance doesn’t guarantee future results.  I’ve found that to be the case in my life.  Self improvement takes real effort.  Those gaps in my resumes are full of attempts to improve myself, including things like this blog. Now is this blog something that is valuable in a work context.  Or the fact that I taught myself “C” programming, took classes on CNC programming and machining, and an online course on programming  micro controllers.  Or learning how to make YouTube videos or work social media.

In my experience that doing things like this typical of scrappers, those  who don’t have the kinds of straight line lives that HR and other corporates seem to like so much.  The scrapper is always looking for opportunities to better themselves, because they know that the only way to keep ahead is to get better at what they do.

The problem is that the current hiring system is geared more toward finding faults and screening out than it is looking for opportunities. All through the “hiring process” which I suppose is like the hog butchering process the system is working to weed out the very qualities that are needed to employment excellence in many of the things that require creative inputs like engineering or marketing.     The system is geared toward finding cogs for the corporate machine rather than employees that help the business grow.

Maybe if nothing ever changes and all work is always the same the cog method would work, but in the real world, that’s not what happens. A business needs to be flexible and antifragile to survive and that’s exactly the thing that the current setup is preventing.  Instead it’s creating an environment where the most likely best employees are weeded out for excuses that have nothing to do with their abilities or the results that they may produce in the future.

In many ways successful hiring has to be as entrepreneurial as any of the other driving parts of the company.  Hiring and employee development  need to be forward looking, not backward looking. Hiring involves risks, but it also involve the potential for great rewards.  Great people can make a company great. In the current way that companies hire, the likelihood of finding the great people is as likely as finding a purple squirrel.  Companies shouldn’t gamble on miracles and phantoms because they will be disappointed.

For more on the dysfunctional economy click Here or on the tag below.


  1. MishaBurnett · July 20, 2016

    I suspect that the recruiter would respond very differently if one of her own coworkers took a year and a half to care for an aging parent, and most likely it would never occur to her that she was behaving inconsistently. I have noticed a mental schism in corporate culture between what I call “family” and “hired help”.

    I saw it first working for a family owned locksmith company. I had young children at home and my wife had called me in a panic because one of the children was sick, so I had called my dispatcher to say that I had to leave work to take my child to the hospital. (As it happens, the illness was not serious.)

    The next day when I came into the shop the dispatcher (who was a member of the family that owned the company) harangued me at great length about my leaving work. I was told in no uncertain terms that they had no use for an employee who couldn’t be counted on to get the job done no matter what. While I was standing there taking it, because I needed the job, another locksmith (one who, like the dispatcher, was a relative) interrupted us to say that the job board looked pretty clear so he was going to take off for a few hours. Not asking, just stating it. The dispatcher looked over, said, “Sure, no problem” and then went right back to castigating me for leaving to take care of a sick child.

    I was, honestly, stunned, and even more so when I realized that the dispatcher was not aware of what had just happened. The locksmith who was part of the family and myself were not members of the same class of items, and the dispatcher simply didn’t draw a parallel between how those two classes of items were treated.

    Since then I have seen it in businesses that were not family owned. There is a disconnect between the employees who are seen as people, for whom reasonable allowances should be made, and those seen only as resources. What’s more, once one goes from one class to another (a line worker promoted to management, say) not only is the new employee “family”, history is rewritten so that that new employee was always “family” and prior violations of the rules for “hired help” simply disappear.


    • CeliaHayes · July 20, 2016

      I ran for the hills, metaphorically speaking, when I was temping at a whole number of small companies, whenever I heard someone say, “Oh, we treat our employees like family!”

      Yeah, an abusive and viciously dysfunctional family.


  2. Keith Glass · July 20, 2016

    I **REALLY** dislike HR types. They always tend to be the type that WANTED to be a Cheerleader in High School. . .but failed to make the cut, and ended up as a Majorette or other Baton Twirler.

    I’m dealing with one on an employee issue. Nothing can be said straight out, it’s always “what are your thoughts on this ?”

    It got FAR worse when “Personnel” became Human Resources, and has trended towards intolerable now that we’re starting to have “Chief Human Capitol Officers”,

    Sorry, the head of Personnel is NOT a C-suite job. . .


  3. carlton mckenney · July 20, 2016

    Look at who is running the company. If the founder or someone like him is still running it they tend to hire cats and promote cat herders. When the bean-counters take over, they hire cogs and promote those who keep the wheels turning smoothly and evenly. The cats and their herders end up out the door. the company stops outperforming its competitors and becomes one of the run-of-the-mill with slow to no growth and nothing to separate it from any other. If it doesn’t get a leader/cat herder back in charge it eventually merges, is bought out, or closes its doors. Don’t get me wrong, bean-counters are as necessary to the vehicle of a company as brakes on a car, but they are not the steering or the engine, they just think they are.


    • jccarlton · July 20, 2016

      That’s the perfect description of my last employer. The Company had recently put the CFO in the top spot. Look up Robert Freil if want an interesting lesson in business buzzspeak. The problem is that far too many companies no longer have individual major stockholders and are far too vulnerable to takeover by bureaucratic PC beancounters.


  4. Barb Caffrey · July 23, 2016

    I agree with you completely. I’ve had a very odd thing happen to me in an interview in the past year…I’m partially disabled (walk with a cane), and I had to “prove” to the hiring manager that I could walk down stairs even though I was applying for an office job where I’d never have to do that. (It was, specifically, an editing job. I’d be in a cubicle lal day.) They also asked me, even though it’s on my resume that I’ve kept my late husband’s writing alive, “What was the toughest challenge you’ve ever faced in your life, and how did it relate to your work?”

    Now, this last made me want to cry, but I didn’t.

    Instead, I very politely told them what the toughest thing has been — losing my husband at way too young an age, which has affected me in every aspect of life including writing and editing (as I wouldn’t be as good of a writer without him, and wouldn’t be an editor at all, either) — and then asked them, “Don’t you do your research?”

    I didn’t get the job. But I thought to myself on the way out, “If this is how they’re going to behave, when I’ve been up-front…and when I’ve discussed my late husband’s influence on me not only on my blog, which is publicly accessible, but in the initial telephone interview that got me to this point…well, to Hell with them.”

    And I seriously hope you understand why I thought this.


  5. Barb Caffrey · July 23, 2016

    Damn. Make that “all day.” (Typos are a PITB.)


  6. Pingback: Job Stuff 46 | The Arts Mechanical

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