Editor’s Note: This is more than just one candidate’s story about how a new job totally transformed her life. This is the story of what recruitment can and should be like, period. We talk a lot about humanizing recruitment. This is what it actually feels like from the candidate’s perspective.
Tomorrow, you’ll have the opportunity to read this story from the recruiter’s perspective. Two points of view. One extraordinary story filled with heart — and that gets to the heart of recruiting. Enjoy!
On June 20, 2015, my oldest son drove me to the outer limits of Brooklyn. While he brought me here to start a new life, I came to die.
Being the firstborn to an ultra-conservative pastor in Arkansas and then marrying a man in the same religious group had set me on a path that had left me feeling hopeless and like an abysmal failure. I knew my marriage was very difficult and at first assumed I just needed to learn how to get rid of my pride and how to submit to become the wife my husband needed. Still, I figured that love and forgiveness would conquer all the issues and problems in my marriage.
I had begged my husband for over 30 years to get help, to no avail. So after 32 years, I sought help and advice. It was then that the truth of who and what I was married to began to become clear: My husband was a charming sociopath/psychopath.
People urged me to get out, to get away from him, but the pressure of what I had been taught since birth — faithfulness and obedience — kept me with him another year-and-a-half. Thoughts of death and suicide were like hammers in my mind, and living became something I endured because I could not justify suicide.
One evening, he and I were driving down the interstate when he pulled one of his charming passive-aggressive moves, telling me that I just needed to get on his side and work with him. I snapped, informing him that I had been on his side for 34 years, and then I called him a son of a bitch.
I am not sure who of us was more surprised. Those kinds of words had never crossed my lips. He then pulled over on the side of the highway and, for the first time in our marriage, got in my face, yelling at me things he had never said before.
I opened the door, got my purse as I stepped out, and started walking down the interstate.
Relief, fear, and emotions that I still cannot articulate overwhelmed me to the point that they escaped with deep racking sobs and, as is my habit, a look toward the heavens for help. As I was walking, a car stopped ahead and a woman stepped out. She offered me a ride. Between her and two of my sons, I was able to finalize what I have learned to call my escape.
So here I was in New York. My son and his wife very graciously took me in, and I was with them for a year. I slowly came back to life, and in trying to give them as much time to themselves as possible, I checked out the six Starbucks in the area. After trying them all, I settled on one to become my hangout. I loved its neighborhood vibe, and due to my Southern accent, I became known to the baristas as the “Southern Belle.”
One day, one of the supervisors asked “Southern Belle, what do you do for a living? Are you a teacher?” When I told her that I was looking for a job, she quickly told me to stay right there. She said the manager was in and they would interview me. In two weeks, I was a barista.
After my training, I became an opener and threw myself into learning not only how to make coffee and run the register but learning the names and preferences of the customers as they filed in for their favorite morning liquid. Having been in ministry all my life and missing getting to love on people, I relished the opportunity to greet them, get their order, and send them off with some love for their hard day ahead.
I will be honest. There were many days when I asked myself if serving a cup of coffee could really make a difference in the world, but I felt like I was serving more than a cup of coffee. Still, while I loved the job, I knew I was going to have to find something full-time. After all, after leaving my husband, I had nothing. I was starting from scratch. I had been a housewife, a pastor’s wife, a home educator, but had done nothing that could be considered a career and had certainly never been paid for what I had previously done in life.
My son assured me that my years of planning, catering, and executing events was worthy of a resume. He helped to craft one for me. Afterward, with the help of a friend I made through a Starbucks customer, I sent out over 30 resumes.
Nothing! Not one call for an interview.
Maybe it was because I was over 55. Maybe it was because I did not put down computer skills that I did not have and would not lie about. There was not one opportunity.
By this time, my son and his wife were being transferred to New Mexico for my son’s job, and I had a decision to make. Only two of my seven children were speaking to me at this time, and my other son who had assisted in my escape suggested I come live with him in Arkansas. Logically, it made sense. He was not married and lived in a two-bedroom apartment. I processed what this would look like and realized that I would be moving back to Arkansas and would have to find a job in a town where I was born, went to college, and married; a town where both of my son’s dad and both of his granddads had pastored and where I was known by hundreds of its residents.
It would not matter where I’d work. I would be known as the pastor’s wife who ran away.
I didn’t think I could go back into that world and survive, so I made a more terrifying decision. I moved into a homeless shelter with 30 women in one room, 30 sets of bunk beds, and two showers. We were herded like cattle in a straight line through the building every evening for dinner and for my ten-minute timed shower. Of all the things I had ever thought could possibly happen to me, this was not one of them. It was hellish, but it was there that I learned some profound truths that would allow me to thrive and become a confident woman.
I was also now working four jobs at a time, all of which came from my Starbucks customers. I was seasonal help for a craft store, an afternoon nanny, sold jeans, put together temporary tattoo packages, and was even a dogsitter one weekend. (It took me three times to learn how to walk some extremely smart dogs and not become tangled in their leashes.) These jobs were all within a three-block stretch on Smith Street in Brooklyn. I was called the mayor of Smith Street — someone had even asked if I owned the businesses I worked for.
As I tried to figure out how to find a full-time job, it hit me that I should tell my Starbucks customers that I was looking for one. After all, they were the ones who saw me and my work ethic. They were the ones who offered me the other part-time jobs. I only told a few of my favorite customers and one of those was Eric Pliner.
Eric always walked in with a smile and a kind word. I loved his whole family! One day a man came up to my register and announced with a smile that he was Eric’s dad. “Well hello, Eric’s dad!” I got to enjoy some conversation with him before another customer arrived, but I was touched that Eric had mentioned me to his extended family. Eric always found a way to be encouraging, and over the course of time I shared a little of my life.
When I decided to put the word out that I was seeking a full-time job, I told Eric. I had no idea what he did, and I was not asking to work at his company. I just asked him to be an ear for me out in the world and to mention my name to people who were looking to find a hard-worker for their company. Eric was very gracious and gave me his business card. He told me to send my resume and that he would be glad to keep his ear to the ground for me.
I was surprised when he emailed me to tell me to expect a message from the HR lady in his office. When she and I connected for the phone interview, she asked what Eric had told me about the job. I told her I didn’t even know what job I was applying for, but that I wanted to know.
I did not get that job, but I was told they wanted to keep in touch for a possible other role. I thanked her and figured she was just letting me down kindly. But sure enough, I was so pleasantly delighted when I received another email asking if I would be interested in applying for a different role. I immediately said yes and felt like the job was more suited for me.
On January 28, 2019, I became the HR assistant for YSC Consulting! I was thrilled, terrified, but determined.
Today, over a year later, I have learned, grown, and become confident that I am going to become a corporate woman with a southern twist. Meanwhile, Eric has gone from being the managing director of the Americas to the global head of the company! It is amazing to me that even though I had lost everything I had ever known in life, making the decision to serve a cup of coffee with love and respect could lead to a great friendship, a career opportunity, and life-changing experiences.
To truly articulate my experience, let me tell you about a recent conversation with someone I was interviewing for an open role in the company. (Yes, now I was the interviewer!) At the end of the phone interview, when I asked if she had any questions for me, the candidate replied, “Yes, I know YSC does a lot of work in the D&I field, and while this means you have received an invitation to the dance, how does YSC let their employees dance?”
I smiled and told her that we had recently had a global conference in London and had become a TEDx site. The company take submissions and then lets their employees dance on the stage. She probed further: “But, Detra, how do they let you dance?”
Even though she could not see me through the phone, my smile became the brightest as I told her that I had submitted to speak and that I had been accepted. “I stood on stage in the Science Museum in London and told my personal story.”
“Not only does YSC let me dance,” I added, “They clap for me while I dance!”