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I’ve had a lot of friends looking for jobs lately since we all graduated around the same time.  It’s funny, but this is actually the first time that I’ve been in this situation, since I’ve been hiding my head in the sand of grad school and cavorting almost exclusively with students for ten years.  Now I’ve run into something that I never anticipated, and find both odd and insulting in this whole interview process–when the interviewer has preconceptions about you and you can’t change his or her mind.

I first became aware of this when Wise Lawyer Friend was going on a lot of job interviews.  She graduated a semester before me, and I got to learn all about this hateful process from my safe nest of “one more semester.”  She was interviewing all over the country, jetting here and there, and even though the interviewers had thought her serious enough to fly out, feed and put in a hotel, some also seemed to not believe that she would actually relocate, and told her so (very carefully so as to not break any laws) in the interview.

A similar thing happened to me last summer, when I interviewed for a cafe job and the interviewer seemed convinced–through no action on my part, that I must just be biding my time and saving up enough cash for a U-Haul back to the Midwest.  I could do nothing to persuade her otherwise, and got a clipped email within a few hours of the end of the interview telling me that I wasn’t a good fit.  Jewish Friend actually landed a job a very commutable distance from her home, but now her co-workers are chastising her for not relocating.  One even went so far as to try to sell her a condo.

Penelope Trunk wrote a blog a while ago about long-distance job searching where she basically said that unless you tell an employer you’re already planning to move somewhere, as in “I’m packed and waiting for the movers to show up”, you will not beat a local candidate.  That’s disheartening to someone who likes to move around, but I guess it makes sense.  In the case of the cafe job–I’m already here, but I couldn’t beat a local candidate because everyone seems to think I should be planning to go back to where I’m from.

The problem, in my case, is that I’m not really from anywhere.  I grew up in two states, and moved among five different towns.  Since my first major move was at age one, I’ve spent my whole life being told, “you’re not from here.” When I lived in Hallock, Minnesota until age 12, I was from “somewhere else.”  After moving to Cavalier, North Dakota, I was “from Minnesota.”  Once I moved to Fargo, I was “from Cavalier,” and now that I live in Rhode Island, I pick and choose whether to tell people I’m from Minnesota, North Dakota, Fargo (always mention the movie to give people a frame of reference) or just generic Midwest.  If I want a bit more street cred, I mention things like “30 minutes from Canada” or “damn cold” but for the most part, I don’t go into detail unless requested.  My parents live in a town they moved to while I was in college and my small extended family (who I’m not close to) is scattered across Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.  Where I’m from, doesn’t matter.  Short of telling someone that entire story, I don’t know how I’ll be able to convince anyone.

I thought we lived in an increasingly nomadic society where you have to widen the net when doing a job search, but it seems harder and harder to convince people you’re serious about relocating.  Now I’m hearing you have to pick a town, move there, and hope you’ll find a job.  There has to be a better way.

providencebannerI’m finding an odd new trend now that I’ve graduated–everyone seems to think I want to leave.  I came to Rhode Island, got my education, and now certainly must want to high-tail it back to the Midwest.  This should be an easy enough misunderstanding to rectify, but I’m having a hard time convincing people.

I’ve been job hunting all summer, and the hunting has resulted in a few interviews.  The first interviewer was a very brusque woman who looks at my application and said, “You moved here from Minnesota? What brought you out here?”

As this was a job in a cafe, I was hoping to avoid discussing my masters degree since it seems like a huge black mark against me, but as I really have no other reason for being here in Rhode Island, I had to admit, “I moved out here for grad school.”

“So do you want to move back? How much longer are you staying here?”

“I don’t want to move back.” I assured her, but she sat expectantly waiting for me to answer the second part of the question. “I don’t know for sure how much longer I’ll live here.”

“A year? Two years?”  This woman was not letting it go.  So finally I had to play the card that I really really hate playing, but seems to be the only way to convince people.

“My boyfriend is in a PhD program and has at least three years left.  If I want to keep him, which I do, I can’t really move.  Also, I love it here and have no desire to move.”

She wrote something down, “So you moved here because of your boyfriend?”

“No, I moved here for grad school, I didn’t even know him then.”

It was at this point in the interview when I realized that there was simply no pleasing this woman, and I would probably not be getting this job (also the fact that I told her that I only wanted to work part-time seemed to offend her in some way).

She followed up with asking me how much time I would potentially take off over the holidays to go visit my family, and when I told her “none,” she seemed to not believe me, and also think I was an ingrate/terrible daughter.

“I always work on Christmas,” I told her, “I worked in television for five years where there are no days off, and because my family doesn’t really do Christmas, I volunteered to take that day each year because it was more important to other people.”  I didn’t mention that traveling at holiday times is also A. way too expensive and B. my idea of hell.

“Well, we’re obviously closed on major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.” she told me, “but if you wanted to take off three weeks in December, that would be an issue.”

Needless to say, that was an interview FAIL, but in subsequent interviews I’ve also noticed a bit of the “what are you still doing here?” vibe.

Most people are more reasonable about it. When I tell them that I love it here and don’t want to leave, they seem to understand me without me having to denounce my family, and cling to my boyfriend, but they still seem vaguely suspicious.

Living in my parent’s basement and refusing to look for work anywhere that I couldn’t walk to seems like it would be more acceptable than just saying, “I know this state is in shambles and jobs are hard to come by, but I’ve made a life here and don’t want to leave, so I’m going to stick it out.”

Also, I realize that interviewing and hiring is a tedious and unpleasant process, but I don’t think I should have to promise in an interview that I will live here for the next ten years.  If I take a position and then want to leave it because I’m moving back to the Midwest, moving to India, found a box of money, hate the job etc., that’s my business.  I’m not signing any kind of contract.

No one ever asked me why I was still in Fargo after I finished grad school there, even though the only reason I moved to that town was for college. Quite the opposite, people seemed confused and horrified as to why I wanted to leave.  Even going back for a visit this past spring a former co-worker said something like, “You’ve got your degree, you might as well come back.”

Come back to what, though?  I don’t have a job there any more than I have one here.  Just because I know all the staff at Fargo Public Library doesn’t mean they have a position for me.  Most of my friends in Fargo moved away long before I did. My parents left the town I went to high school in before I even finished my undergrad degree and now live in what I call a “Stepford Village” of identical duplexes that I hate visiting in a town I’ve only seen a handful of times.  From my perspective, I actually have a full life here.

A while ago, I read the New York Times article entitled Towns They don’t want to Leave, which listed Providence and Fargo as being in the top five of US cities where college grads wind up staying–so I’m not even that strange, the New York Times has proclaimed me completely regular, why all the questions?  Also, I know that I’m not even alone among my fellow library school graduates who have come here from “somewhere else” and want to hang around a little while longer.  I’m wondering if they are getting these questions too.