This is going to surprise some people, but even though I've worked for myself for nearly 12 years, I've had a couple of occasions here and there to interview for a regular job. Sometimes you see an opportunity, realize that the money's not bad and the benefits might be great and, well, if it's local that can add to it.

Thomas Shahan (and a Salticid) on NBC's The Today Show!
Thomas Shahan via Compfight

Unfortunately, things haven't gone well with either interview. Actually, that's not quite accurate. Things went great with the first interview and not so great with the second interview. Not getting the position either time had nothing to do with me and yet did have something to do with me. Those hiring made assumptions that I couldn't overcome. Both left me with assumptions about them that I can't overcome. Let's look at them.

I had all the qualifications needed for the first potential job. I had a phone interview with them because it would have been a traveling position, though my home office could be, well, at home. The interview went for 45 minutes. It was great as far as I was concerned. I was able to easily respond to every question, I was engaged with the lady who was doing the interview, and when it ended I felt like at the very least I had earned a second interview, if not clinched it outright.

A week later I received an email saying I wasn't qualified for the job. What the hey? Of course I was qualified for the job. The resume had said I was qualified; the interview proved I was qualified. What went wrong? Turns out the company wanted someone who'd been a consultant for a large company, not an independent consultant.

I was informed of that by a recruiter. I said that was on my resume, so why did they still interview me. She said she didn't know, but it might not have been on the initial list. Time wasted, and I was left with a bad taste in my mouth and an assumption of the type of person large consulting companies might want.

The interview for the second position went much differently. Once again, I easily had the qualifications for the position. And in this case I knew people who worked at the company. Human resources called me and booked the interview time; truthfully I have to admit that I didn't expect to get the interview, even though I knew people there. You'll soon see why and understand where assumptions come into play.

I showed up for the interview 10 minutes early; it was at 8AM. I walked in, gave my name, and sat down. It was 25 minutes later when someone came to get me, and as she greeted me she was calling me by a different name. I said that wasn't my name and she said we'd clear things up when we got to her office. Once there, she looked at her paperwork then asked if I was there for the housekeeping position; if you don't know by now, I'm black.

I indicated the position I was actually there for and, though things were cleared up, I knew I was in trouble. It wasn't a leadership position but an independent position that would have some authority. I knew going in that there was no black leadership working there; I can't even say if they've ever had any.

The interview proceeded and it seemed to be going okay. Then I was asked to watch a video to tell me more about the hospital philosophy. As I watched this 4-minute video, my mind kept repeating the same thing over and over: "no black people, no black people, no black people..."

Once that was over I was told to go to another location so I could meet the person the position would be responsible to. I drove over there, parked, and went inside the building. There was a woman at the greeting window doing something; I'm not sure what. I stood there for 3 minutes; yes, 3 minutes. She never looked up and I felt, once again, ignored.

This isn't something that everyone will deal with in this fashion in their lives, but there are times when, being the only minority in the room, you know people are working hard "not" to see you. Well, I'm 6-foot tall, was wearing a suit and tie, and I'm big enough not to be able to miss. And, this is the greeting window after all.

I finally said something and she looked up saying she didn't see me standing there... no comment. Then she called the person I was supposed to meet and I went up the elevator to meet this person. Turned out we had met, though we couldn't identify where. We went into her office, after she introduced me to the other people in the office and showed me where I'd be if I got the position, and it began.

It was a strange interview. She told me what the position was, then told me her thoughts about what she hoped the position would be. I told her that's what I always thought the position should encompass anyway.

Her first question to me was why would I be interested in that position when I'd done so many other things. I answered it best I could, but I already knew where things were going. For the next 10 minutes or so she asked questions and posed scenarios as if she was trying to discourage me from being interested. I knew I wasn't being considered, even with all my background and series of accomplishments. This was confirmed as I was leaving when she told me there was a strong candidate who was already employed elsewhere; c'est la vie.

Finnish TV @ SF City Hall
Steve Jurvetson via Compfight

I knew I wasn't getting that position, though it took them 2 weeks to tell me so. I'm thinking I don't have to tell you what my assumption was as to why I didn't get it, but I also believe I've shared enough of the story so you can see what their overall assumptions about me had to be.

I didn't write all this for sympathy, but for the lessons it teaches us. All of us make assumptions, good or bad. My assumptions going in was that I would have a fair shot at both positions and that my resume and background were at least the equal of any other person's background. The assumptions that others had were their preconceived notions of what they wanted, at the exclusion of anything else. And my assumptions at the end of each left me with negative impressions in the fairness of companies and their processes sometimes, as well as... well, I don't think I have to write it down to go there.

If you're making assumptions to be exclusionary, stop it. It's not fair and it can be detrimental to you or your company in the long run. If someone fits general criteria that's set up to make sure you get qualified candidates, that's one thing. Once you have qualified candidates, if you don't give them all a fair chance then you've failed as a leader and as a human being.

Frankly, I couldn't live with myself if I did it; can you?