Interviewing While Black

So here it goes, at another interview. I traveled far for this interview at a small college in Upstate New York and felt prepared. I got all my notes and questions together the night before. My interview attire is impeccable. I look good, smell good, I feel good! I already had a phone interview with the school, so I already felt like I built some rapport with them.

I sit in the department’s waiting room; a white student was sitting next to me. I smiled at her and had small talk. Her name was Kerry, and she was a health science student waiting to ask a question. I tend to get really friendly with students at interviews. Mostly because I like to hear their perspective on the institution where I am applying.

A person who appears to the Director walks out of her office and has a big smile on her face. I begin to sit up straight and smile at her.

The Director looks past me and goes straight to the student. She then reaches her hand out to the student and says, “Hello, Rachel, I am very excited about your interview today. Please step inside my office.”

Kerry immediately turns red and looks at me puzzled as she hesitantly shakes the Director’s hand. She studders “Umm… actually-”

“Hi, I am Rachel! I am here for the interview,” I say abruptly with a cheerful voice. I was masking my frustration.

“Oh! I didn’t think you were- Um…Nice to meet you. I am BLEEP,” the Director states as she looks me up and down.

“Oh hellllll, nah! No, this bitch did not assume I was white and overlook me,” I think to myself as a force a smile.

Now listen, I was at an interview, and I know my field is small, so I tried my hardest to bite my tongue. But ohhhhh HELL Naw! No, she did not!

People often assume I am white because of my name on paper. But this has never happened so bluntly like in this situation. The woman did not even notice I was in the room until I spoke up.

Needless to say, I was uncomfortable for the rest of the interview. I was appalled because I was clearly profiled.

Never be so blinded by a perception of someone that you can’t see the person for who they are. The woman did not see me! She only saw my name. She saw Rachel, maybe Rachel from Friends. But not this beautiful black queen with bra strap length braids tied up in a bun. She did not see all this, because she did not want to see me.

I had mini-interviews throughout the day. For my last interview, I got to spend time with senior leadership. I was still thinking about what happened earlier, cause like, who can forget that. I had time to process my feeling. So I thought I would improvise for the portion of the interview when I got to ask questions. I decided what the hell, I am definitely not getting this job let me speak up for ONCE! (as I said before, this was around the time where I was just recently finding my voice)

Senior Leadership Interviewers: “Do you have any questions for us?”

Me: “Yes, Actually I do. How do keep you and your staff knowledgeable about implicit bias?”

When I asked my question, I stare straight at the Director; I see her squirm in her chair. She grabs her glass of water and looks to her colleague, and signals them to answer.

I hardly looked at the man who answered me. I just wrote my notes intently. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I do remember the answer being vague. I also remember him talking about multicultural clubs they have on campus. (Side eye)

This place was not for me, and that’s okay. But one thing I did learn from this experience was that people see your name before they see you. People decide who you are before they meet you or even speak to you. I had disappointed the Director’s image of who I am, she was ready to dismiss me during our first interaction.

There is value in being seen.

I also learned that first impressions are everythinggggg! I looked at the school with a different lens throughout that interview because I was treated once she greeted me. There is value in being seen. I knew I didn’t want to work at a place where I was not seen.

I am so glad that I spoke up for myself. I was happy that I spoke for myself. This interaction was one of those times where I used my voice. The old me would have let it pass. But the older me found a way to read them professionally. It is okay to be unapologetically black. Suppose others try to make you uncomfortable for being in a specific space. Make them feel uncomfortable with the fact that you are at peace with who you are!

5 thoughts on “Interviewing While Black

  1. Great anecdote. I know the feeling well of being pre-judged from your name before getting through the door and then getting double-whammied when they saw me. I love this post. Could I link back to it in a future post of mine? If not, I’ll understand. Txs.

    Liked by 1 person

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