Two weeks ago, I was rejected for a 12-month contract opportunity with one of the most visible employers here in Louisville (visible in that you can’t drive a mile without seeing one of its stores).  A former colleague of mine told me about the opportunity, and gave me the name and number of the hiring manager who is a friend of hers.  Apparently, my colleague had already told the hiring manager about me because she seemed happy that I called.  I provided my e-mail address and shortly heard from one of the company’s recruiters.

The company needed a substantial overhaul of its instructional design materials, particularly its e-learning modules that incorporated video and voice-over narration:  in short, everything that I’ve done over the past seven years.  They did their work with tools from Adobe’s Creative Suite, as do I.  If there ever was an opportunity that said, “this one’s got your name all over it,” this was it. And it had to be finished in 12 months.

We set up a phone interview with the hiring manager and her team.  Things were happening quickly, which I always take as a good sign.

The interview went very well.  I told stories of challenges I faced and met in my ID experience, was candid about one area where I am weakest (LMS management – but I normally am not involved at that point in a project – basically, I build the bomb and someone else drops it).

At the end of the week, I was told that the team was moving ahead with other candidates in the mix.  The reason?  Not because I lacked a skill or my sample work wasn’t good.  It was because the team was looking for other candidates who would be a better culture fit.

A better culture fit.  What did that mean?

Just after I made initial contact with the company recruiter, she sent me an e-mail with a link to a “personality assessment.”  It was a two-page check-mark instrument where one page you check off words that describe how others expect you to behave, then on the other page you check off the words that you think best describe you.  Little spiderfart assessments like this are normally a red flag to me – how in the hell can you tell how well someone will work out at your organization until you hire them?  But, in the words of Winston Smith, I did it just the same.

Could something in that assessment revealed to them that I’m a borderline ax murderer?  That I’ve got a collection of heads in a refrigerator in my cellar?  That I’ll turn everything somebody says in a meeting into a dick joke?

My wife thinks I asked for too much money.  The recruiter and I did discuss an hourly rate, and she didn’t seem to surprised or have an “are you kidding?” tone in her voice when we discussed it.  Maybe they were looking to get off cheap with this one, hire some low-rate greenhorn or desperate design veteran who will wade waist deep in a lake of sour owl poop for a job – any job.

So I just let it go.  Until yesterday.

A recruiter from a staffing firm contacted me through LinkedIn and told me about the same job.  I replied saying I was passed over because they were looking for someone who was a “better culture fit.”  Her reply back to me had a puzzled tone.  She thanked me for the heads up about the “culture fit.”  Since then, another recruiter has called me about the same job.  I told him the same thing.  He sounded puzzled, too.

Late yesterday afternoon, I read this extraordinary article.  Two paragraphs caught my attention:

Fear is rampant in organizational life. Not every hiring manager wants to hire someone who could perform the job asleep and blindfolded.

You can be as accommodating as you like, and it won’t help you become more acceptable to people who are afraid of your very confidence and life force.

And this!

A confident manager will hire the best candidate. A fearful manager will hire the most compliant one, the person who begs for the job and is happy to crawl over more and more piles of broken glass to get it.

Were my experience and skills taken as a threat?  Was my “confidence and life force” too strong?  Were the members of the hiring manager’s team overwhelmed and threatened by my samples? Afraid I’ll render the two of them redundant? Or is this company culture so pervasive and constraining that anyone not cut from the same stiff cloth gets bounced away?

Or. . .maybe I’m just too sexy for them.

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