The Art of Practicing Compassion: How Heading in the Wrong Direction Guided Me Down the Right Path

This article was originally published on my LinkedIn Pulse, 08/12/2019.

Last spring, I had an interview for a proofreading role at a company in downtown Chicago.

I was weeks out from graduating with my Master’s degree in English, which meant I was submitting application after application in the process of looking for work post-graduation. I knew that proofreading was in my wheelhouse, so I was overjoyed at the opportunity to interview for such a job. I had researched the role and company heavily and prepared for the interview as best I could. I knew there was a proofreading test as part of the interview.

I was ready.

It was a Friday afternoon in May, and I was off of work. I didn’t have class on Fridays either, but I decided to take on a private tutoring session in the morning to make the most out of having to be downtown for the interview.

I tutored for a couple of hours, but I made sure to end our tutoring session with 30 minutes until the interview so I’d get there early enough to breathe easily. It was a nice spring day, so I decided to walk to the company from school (where I had been tutoring). I could have Ubered. I could have taken the bus. They would have gotten me there faster. But I decided to walk.

I was feeling confident in myself, my outfit, and my ability to land a job. I plugged the job’s address into my phone’s GPS and headed out. Now, I’m not great with directions, but I figured I was in the vicinity of the interview anyway, so I went with my gut and trusted the directions on my phone.

After walking for 15 minutes, I thought I found the address: XXX S. Michigan Avenue.

Perfect. I had 15 minutes to spare and I was already where I needed to be. I was a little confused though because none of the buildings around me had addresses on them (or at least not easily visible), typical for downtown Chicago. So I went into the nearest building where the GPS stopped.

I walked around a bit looking for any sign with the company’s name. I looked around for a few minutes, but realized I didn’t know where to go. So finally I asked the security guard what the building’s address was. “XXX S. Michigan Avenue,” she said. Good. I was in the right place.

Until I realized I wasn’t.

Even after rereading the address multiple times prior to plugging it into my GPS, I somehow mistyped it. It wasn’t XXX S. Michigan Avenue…it was XXX North Michigan Avenue.

Well, now there were only 10 minutes until the interview. I panicked. I hurriedly called the recruiter. He didn’t pick up. I called again to leave a voicemail. Sorry, this person’s voice mailbox is full. I emailed him.

I said, “Dear [Name], I’m running a few minutes late as I went to XXX S. Michigan, not N. Michigan. I called, but your mailbox is full, so I didn’t know how else to reach you. I apologize but am on my way.”

So now I was at a crossroads: I could walk 15 minutes down busy Michigan Avenue and be 15 minutes late, or I could call an Uber and probably still be 10 minutes late, but also out $10 bucks as well. What were my options? Waiting for a rideshare that would crawl down the road, or speed walking to the interview to the best of my ability?

I chose the latter.

After rushing from S. Michigan to N. Michigan Avenue, I finally made it to the building. Out of breath and anxious, I went upstairs and tried to regain composure. Upon entering the office, I greeted the receptionist and said I was there for an interview.

Before allowing me to even state my name, he corrected my pronunciation of the company’s name – throwing me off guard. He told me he’d get the person with whom I was meeting and said to wait where I was. So I did.

What seemed like an eternity passed before the woman conducting the interview came out to meet me. She finally emerged, said hello, and walked with me outside of the company’s doors. I figured she’d be taking me to the interview room, maybe to her office. Maybe they took interviewees to a separate location to be out of sight from other employees.

The minute we were back in the hallway, without looking me in the eye, she coldly said: “Sorry, there isn’t going to be an interview today. Timeliness is something we hold in high regard, and you’re late.” She walked me to the elevator, pressed the button, and as I was trying to get the words out of my mouth to tell her what happened, I barely got out an apology before she thrust me on my way.

I cried on my way down the elevator. She wouldn’t even let me catch my breath to explain what had happened. I was upset with myself. I was upset with her. I was upset with the recruiter with the full mailbox who hadn’t bothered to respond to my email or been accessible via phone.

It was an opportunity that slipped right between my fingers all because of going to the wrong address. And I beat myself up for it.

The point of this is that despite doing everything right to prepare for the interview, it wasn’t enough for The Company to give me an opportunity to explain what had happened. I would never have intentionally showed up late for an interview. It’s not in my nature. But the lack of compassion on the behalf of the interviewer, and the blatant disregard of the recruiter to follow-up with me after my email really got me thinking: is this a place that would have valued me as an employee?

What if I had been hired and had a personal or family emergency? Would they be flexible in allowing me to work out issues? Would my future manager be understanding that mistakes happen even when we do our best to prevent them? Would this job care about me as a human being, or only treat me as a number on a payroll?

Over time, I mulled these questions over during the job application process. And eventually I realized that yes, I made a mistake, but being denied the opportunity to speak to my error and properly explain my situation was something that never sat right with me.

If I were in the role of the interviewer and somebody came late, I would give them the opportunity to explain what happened, apologize, and see where we could go from there. If their apology was half-hearted or their excuse illegitimate, then by all means – I, too would send them on their way. But if they had a reason why they were late, whether it was an issue with their family, their commute, or their directions, I would have compassion for their situation. And even if I weren’t able to interview them same day, if I had really wanted to explore their abilities, I would have found a way to reschedule the interview.

I would have shown compassion.

Five weeks after the disastrous non-interview, the same recruiter who decided to never respond to my message sent me an email: “Hi Rebecca, I just wanted to let you know that at this time we have filled our Proofreading position here at The Company. Thank you so much for your interest in the role. Have a wonderful summer!” I scoffed and x’d out without responding.

A few months had passed, and lo and behold, The Company was looking to fill their Proofreader role again. And last week, their name popped up in my “job suggestions” section on LinkedIn.

Guess what role they’re looking to fill?

Today, I work for a company that shows its employees compassion, respect, and understanding. Managers at all levels, as well as coworkers, are empathetic, reasonable, and kind.

As a human first, employee second, that’s all I’ve ever asked for.

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