We all need our lessons in humility; it’s good for the soul and puts hair on our chest. Though I’ve never been the kind of person who’s too big for her britches (in fact, I generally need a dose of self confidence more often than not) there are some aspects of my life that I tend to regard with a level of self assurance. In the past this has namely involved my career and my professional accomplishments. I generally felt secure in what I could do and what I could offer and never doubted for a minute that I could keep accomplishing one thing after another.
This outlook was immediately readjusted when I began looking for a job here in Chile in May of this year and I have since then learned a great deal about the job search process in my new home, all the while learning to reassess my strengths and weaknesses in relation to my career objectives. This year has already been chalk full of lessons in humility and picking myself back up again, rejection after rejection.
Let me rewind and clarify that during this process I’ve been fortunate enough to continue working for the company that employed me back in California, something I’ve referenced on a few occasions in this blog. I’ll always maintain that I am beyond grateful to this company for the opportunities they extended to me, including the possibility to work remotely when I moved to a foreign land (i.e. Chile) so that I could marry and be with the love of my life. I’m sure this sentiment of gratitude will not waver. What unfortunately did waver back in May was my sense of stability when, due to the economic downturn and other reasons I’m sure I’m not familiar with, the company I work for downsized. Suddenly I was in the dark and had no idea if I had a job, who was left at the company or even who would be my new boss (sadly, my former boss was let go.) Ultimately following the massive changes that took place, a level of normalcy was once again reached and I learned that I indeed continued to have a job, (thank God). However that feeling of uncertainty didn’t waver. In fact it began to consume me – how much longer would I have a job? What if the business in Latin America doesn’t grow? What if this market becomes completely incapable of generating income? What if they move the management of the territories in-house? In plain English I realized just how fragile my situation was and though I had years of experience working with the Latin American teams, I realized that in the blink of an eye, anything and everything could change, JUST AS IT HAD FOR MY COWORKERS WHO WERE NO LONGER THERE.
There is no sure-fire way to guarantee job security. G and I discussed that his situation was just as fragile as anyone else’s and he’s fortunate enough to head a department at his company. True, no matter the situation, I could never be guaranteed a job for an unlimited amount of time. However, I rationalized that I could help the cause by securing a job here in Chile. That way, should the worst case scenario someday catch up with me (i.e. unemployment) I would at least have Chilean work experience under my belt. So it was decided and the Chilean job search began.
I’ve used this anecdote on various occasions when describing the general process here in Chile. Take, for example, a fruit stand in search for a tomato seller (yes, someone who sells tomatoes.) The fruit stand will post an ad that specifically asks for candidates with tomato selling experience. They will ask that this candidate have a degree in Botany, specifically with emphasis in Pomology. They will stress the importance of having graduated from X, Y or Z university and they will punctuate their need for someone with experience selling in fruit stands. As a candidate, you will be overlooked if you don’t have experience with tomatoes. Yes, you may have experience with lettuce but hello moron – a lettuce is NOT a tomato! And forget about applying with experience in bananas – banana’s aren’t even ROUND! How could the two possibly translate? How could you know ANYTHING about selling round products when your bag of tricks only contains banana experience? You also need not apply if you happen to fill the tomato selling requirement but have only done so in supermarkets. What part of fruit stand did you NOT understand? Oh you have a degree in Pedology? Yeah, that won’t do.
Once you are able to find something that somewhat fits your work experience (tomatoes!!) and education, the next step involves the Headhunter. This is the team (or person) that places the ad for the company and proceeds to do the narrowing down of candidates. Narrowing down means calling you in (once your resume and experience has been screened, of course) and asking you the typical questions one expects of a job interview. The frustrating part is that the Headhunter doesn’t work at the company you’re applying with and usually has a very top-line idea of what the position involves and demands. Further, many times the Headhunter won’t even tell you what company you’re being reviewed for until your 2nd meeting with them. It’s happened to me on various occasions that I’ve gone in, met with the Headhunter, didn’t satisfy and to this day I have no idea who the companies were that were looking to hire! In the off chance that you pass the Headhunters screening and you make it to the actual company for interviews, expect a series of interviews (something like 2-4). Also expect, in many cases, having to prepare a case study related to the position you’re applying for (as was my case with the searches I was involved in.) One thing is certain: of all the resumes the Headhunter receives for any particular opening, in general, only 3 candidates pass on to the company itself for further interviewing. So if you make it to that, congrats! You at least beat out a plethora of candidates before you! Note that if you’re a woman, you’ll most likely the ONLY woman passing on to the next level. Rarely have I found myself in the top 3 with another female.
During the interviews, they want to know everything – literally EVERYTHING – about what you did, what you’ve done, what you want to do and how you do it. They want to know about your significant other and they want to know what you do in your free time. They want to know where you see yourself in five years and they want to know what your supervisor would say about you and your working style. They want you to take them through your typical day at work and they want to hear about a time when you faced confrontation and how you approached it. In my case they’ve wanted to know how I would feel working with a team, outside my home, adhering to “office hours.” They also wanted to be sure that I was here to stay and not about to hop a plane back to CA at the drop of a hat. And finally, one of the most shocking things they want to know about you as a woman is if you’re thinking of popping out any kids some time soon … if so, that could immediately disqualify you as a potential candidate.
Somewhere along the lines, either before making it to the company itself for interviews or shortly thereafter, comes the biggest twist of all when it comes to interviewing for jobs here: the psychological assessment. Otherwise known as the “B*tch-better-not-be-crazy” test. I’ve been scrutinized, analyzed and prodded with inkblots (“tell me what you see here, first thing that comes to mind”); color selection (“of these eight options what’s your favorite color? Next favorite? After that? Next favorite? What’s your least favorite?”); drawings (“draw a picture of a person in the rain”); handwriting analysis (“write a letter about anything you want”) and finally, S.A.T. style logic tests that serve to give an indication of your math and problem-solving skills. Needless to say, in the last six months I’ve become a guru of psychological tests.
The verdict is still out on whether or not I’m crazy. However, I’m happy to share that despite the difficult selection process, the daunting psychological exams, the torturous waiting game and the devastation of defeat, I’ve finally landed a job here in Chile – after six months of searching. It’s actually more than a job – it’s definitely a career builder and an important stepping stone to whatever lies ahead for me professionally.
I’ve never been through so many series of frustrating events in my life. I’ve never worked so hard to make something happen for myself and I’ve never learned more about adaptation than I have with the experiences of the last few months. I’ve learned humility and patience as well. It took me SIX MONTHS to find something, with a few near hits along the way that ultimately didn’t pan out. I had to learn how things are done in this system and I had to mold myself to fit into their processes. After all, I’m looking for a job in their market – who am I to parade around thinking that just because I’m American they should be chomping at the bits to hire me? The fact is that they aren’t chomping at the bits to hire me just because I speak fluent English. Chileans are better prepared in universities than we are back home and if you add post-graduation work experience to that, they are BY FAR better candidates than many of us out there. Of course circumstances vary. One could be a recent college graduate, looking for an entry level position and entry level pay and that person may very well have a much easier time than I did. If that’s the case for anyone, awesome!
Ultimately though I think that this experience taught me to truly define what it is I wanted to do with myself professionally, where I want to be now and where I want to be 5, 10 or 15 years from now. It also made me slow down and truly think about the kinds of companies I’d be best suited to work for. Where would I excel and where would my skill set be most valued? I think the wait was worth it because I learned a LOT. I’m excited about this new career opportunity, the company itself, my future role in the company and the compensation offered. Yeah I’ve been dragged through the mud in this process but then again, keeping my eyes on the prize turned out to be the best strategy I could have possibly adopted.