I’m going to wear it. No, I’m not. I can get the job on my own. I don’t need any props. I’m smart. I’m qualified. I’m not going to wear it. I’m going to wear it.
This is just a short sample of the internal conflict I struggled with on the morning of a big job interview. I had been out of work for a while and was slightly desperate for a decent salary, which is why I wore a fake engagement ring to a job interview.
The Great Recession hit me pretty hard. For years I toggled between unemployment, underemployment, and full-time professional jobs that only lasted for about a year before those companies ran out of money and fell victim to the recession as well.
And in between there were the job interviews — dozens of them. Professional jobs, part-time jobs, receptionist jobs, temp jobs, you name it, I interviewed for it. Yet a full-time position with a decent salary continued to elude me.
Then a disturbing interview trend began to emerge. After reviewing my resumé and noticing that I’ve written several articles for a dating website, I was asked point blank by potential employers whether I was married. One interviewer had the good sense to catch himself in the midst of his inappropriate question and implored me not to answer. But another, undeterred by the potential threat of a lawsuit, just sat there and waited for a response. I told her that I wasn’t married, and she seemed a little disappointed.
They didn’t just bring up my marital status. “And, of course, you have a family?” a hiring manager slid into one interview. Wait. What? Was that really a question or more of a statement? And what did that have to do with my job qualifications? I told her that I indeed had a family — two parents and one sister. (I’ll admit that the thinly veiled shade that I threw in her direction just before I uttered my response probably contributed to my not getting the job.)
It turns out that interviewers are more likely to hire people with whom they can see themselves becoming friends. And people who are friends tend to be of the same race, gender, and yes, marital status. Granted, I’ve been interviewed by people of every make and model, but the fact that this marriage question kept popping up led me to believe that some employers were viewing my single, childless state as an odd element that they didn’t want in their offices. Was I just focusing on something easy to obsess over? Maybe? But I can’t imagine a hiring manager asking an 18-year-old applicant about her family life. There was no way for me to alter my gender, race, age, or height. My marital status seemed like the one variable that I could control. And there’s nothing like a growing pile of bills to motivate you to find ways to win a game whose rules you did not create. I thought the ring might make me seem a bit more mature, more hirable, more what employers were looking for.
I briefly considered asking my sister if I could borrow her engagement ring for the interview. But I was pretty sure the conversation would end with her asking me if I’d lost my mind. So I decided to head to a tween-centric accessories shop at a nearby mall in search of the perfect fake ring.
The goal was to find something very inexpensive that didn't look like I earned it by cashing in skee-ball tickets at an arcade. I spent about 30 minutes riffling through a sea of sparkly prom barrettes, glittery headbands, and BFF necklaces before I settled on decent-looking cubic zirconia solitaire for $5.50. Sold!
So there I was, being interviewed by a panel of people who were holding the keys to a life with a steady paycheck, with a recently purchased super cheap “engagement” ring resting awkwardly on my left-hand ring finger.
And then halfway through the interview, while I was reciting the reasons why I thought I would be a really good fit for the company, it hit me: This was stupid. Really stupid. Riding-a-bike-in-traffic-with-your-eyes-closed stupid. The interview felt draining to me, and not just the run-of-the-mill tired feeling that comes along with having to be “on” when meeting potential employers. I was drained because I had now forced myself to take on the added burden that comes along with trying to fake it. This involved creating a plausible engagement story (he got down on one knee in front of my entire family on Christmas Eve) as well as an “out” if I did manage to get the job. (If asked, I planned on telling people that I called off the wedding and therefore was no longer wearing the ring.)
In the end I didn’t get the job. The company ultimately decided to hire someone who had been working in the field for 20-plus years and essentially had a resumé that blew mine out of the water. And no one ever mentioned the ring.
In addition to my qualifications that weren’t quite up to par, it’s also possible that the interviewers noticed my overall discomfort, the underlying layer of self doubt hovering around me and perhaps that I might have been hiding something. My “fakeness” may have been showing.
For me, faking it in life proved to be an endeavor that’s best left to professionals like Don Draper. Being myself takes just the right amount of energy and gives me a lot more free time to concentrate on, well, the real aspects of my life. It also takes less rehearsing, and it’s a lot more fun.
Eventually the right job did come along and so did the right man. And I didn’t have to lie through my teeth to get either.