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Querying is like looking for a job

You feel the nervous sweat. Your voice quivers along with your hands. Your mind goes as blank as it did when you faced finals tests you weren’t quite prepared for. Or worse, you spit out some rote answer that doesn’t quite meet the question asked.

If you have ever interviewed for a job you really want, or worse, really need, these are just two effects that overtake your ability to remain calm.

If you are a teen looking for a part-time job at McDonald’s or Dairy Queen, you might feel this way. It is more your lack of experience that brings this on. And by the next day, you are on to the next opportunity.

But, if you have been out of work for a long time, you are trying to get yourself back on your feet, you are trying to figure out how to pay your bills and debt, these moments are more impactful. These moments of stress can feel like they are eating you up. I have been there. Bills piling up. Fridge empty and the debt collectors calling. And day after day, you send out resumes hoping for the rare interview to discuss your potential with a company. Then when that 15 minutes to one hour chat happens, you fret and worry over every detail. You hope you are dressed correctly, that your answers meet the interviewer’s needs, that you somehow wow them with some magical dust to get you out of the predicament you find yourself in.

I have also been on the other end of the equation. I have interviewed hundreds of job seekers. I have watched their angst dictate their answers and behaviors. I have felt for them as they search their memories for the words they believe will convince me to hire them. Knowing how painful this process is, I have often explained to a job seeker that the only answers that count are honest ones. In short, they don’t know what answer I was looking for, so honesty is all we both had together to see if the fit was good.

Regardless, the overall process of finding a job is unfair to the job seeker. You have to hope that what is on your resume somehow finds its way to the top of the pile, that it grabs the recruiter’s attention with just the correct wording, that you are able to answer their questions in person in a way that makes them consider you and finally, that the company and you match expectations.

In the end, a lot of singular moments of serendipity have to meet for success. Sadly, it is also a situation in which ALL of the power is in the hands of the hirer. Any misstep by the applicant, whether it be a typo in the resume, an incongruence of expected experience, or an answer that is never fully explained, and that applicant is left to continue looking and wondering.

In short, the power of the process is in the hands of the gatekeeper behind the desk.

Querying is a lot like that. You work to put a resume together for your MS. You hope that it grabs the attention of an agent at the time they are actively looking. You wish they could just meet you and discuss for more than a thirty second review of your letter that what you have is worth taking a chance on. That somehow you hit the moment of your own Big Bang where everything comes together like magic, and you get to see your chance to get your words read by the great wide world. Like job seeking, any misstep spells doom for any chance with that agent.

What are you left with as a writer, looking for a chance?

To keep plugging away and hope that someone will take that step with you and your work. Because what other choice do you have?  Just like the aspiring job seeker, the lock at the gate is out of your hands. Certainly, it is difficult to get a handle on the emotional roller coaster this journey takes us all on. But the control of the effort is mostly in your hands. You can quit or you can continue to send out the letters, refine them to try to grab the attention of the recipient, all the while continuing to hone your craft.

As my wife said to me – “Hang in”.