#1268: “I tanked a job interview at a place I really want to go back to someday. How do I get over the shame?”

Hi Captain! I hope today is treating you gently. 🙂

Last year, I (twentysomething, they/them) moved across the country to be with my partner. The relationship is good and healthy! The town is friendly, walkable-ish, mild weather, etc. When I visited, I could see myself living here – and more importantly, working at this one specific business. (Uh-oh, right?!

I had worked in a specialized retail shop for years in my previous city. My entire life basically revolved around this particular lifestyle. I loved having conversations about shared ideologies all day and getting to explore products and methods that came up in the environment surrounding me. I’m going back to school to specialize in this field, and want to work in it for the rest of my career.

There’s only one business in this industry in my new, much smaller town, so I applied. They were hiring full-time for several positions to start in a few months and needed someone with my exact experience, so I thought I had a good chance. I had a bit of a time crunch with my lease, so I moved to this new town without securing a job first. (Yikes!)

I went through the lengthy interview process at Dream Business once and then was invited back. But the winter, repeated rejections elsewhere, dwindling savings, and not knowing anyone in town apart from my partner had really put me in a dark place, mental-health-wise. I stumbled through this interview, misspoke, wasn’t prepared enough, got so anxious I frantically emailed the interviewer in the middle of the night about a mistake I had made and had panic attacks about it for days afterward. Unsurprisingly, about three weeks later I got a curt email that basically boiled down to, “we didn’t think you were a good fit, don’t ask for feedback.” It was devastating – I didn’t see myself having any other options in town after this place.

Luckily, I’m now medicated, in therapy, employed (though not in my field), and going back to school – so things have looked up since then.

BUT. I miss this industry – socially, intellectually, ethically. Imagine you’re really into…specialty coffee. And this Dream Business is the only place in town where you can get your…organic, locally roasted, shade-grown beans, and everyone who shares your views and interests also shops here and talks about it constantly. I’m absolutely mortified at the thought of going back in. In my mind, I screwed this up so badly that I can’t ever go back! I’d rather MOVE TOWNS than go inside while my interviewers might be working, but I want to put my money where my mouth is, values-wise. And I miss shopping for my specialty goods, and this Dream Business is my only option locally.

What would you do? Do you or would any readers have any scripts, battle plans, suggestions for full-body disguises so I can go shop without panicking about having to interact with people I feel super embarrassed about seeing?

Hello there!

The final job interview sounds horrible, I’m so sorry!

You can *absolutely* still shop there. Lots and lots and lots of people don’t get hired at businesses – for many reasons – and are still welcomed as customers or clients.

I don’t want to minimize the guts it takes to go back into a situation where you feel vulnerable and ashamed. Those of us with mental health stuff going on do our best to be professional, fit in, and perform to expectations, and it’s scary when we encounter a situation where we feel out of control of our best selves and know that others can definitely see that we’re out of control (even if they don’t understand why). The stigma of being thought of as “oh look it’s that ‘crazy’ person who tried to work here once upon a time” is real because ableism is real. I can’t wave that away; it takes guts to go back.

The good news is that think you have those guts and I think the stuff you are most anxious about possibly happening is unlikely to happen. I ran this by Mr. Awkward to confirm (he of 20+ years of retail experience, including experience returning to jobs after hospitalization for serious mental health stuff) and he agrees: If – BIG IF – the owners & staff remember you or think about you at all, they remember you as the enthusiastic person who aced the initial interview process and then had a bad final interview and got a little bit intense-o with the emails. They could probably tell that something was “off” that week, but they do not know how much you had invested in working at this place, that you moved cities for them like you were Felicity and they were your Ben, or anything else that was going on with you around that time. The weight that was on you about all of this just wasn’t ever on them, so can you try to be very gentle with yourself and put it down before you try to go back?

You may encounter a flicker of recognition as they ring you up that first time you do go back, but that is likely to be all. Consider that they might feel awkward, too, like, you’re all worried that you’ve failed forever, and they are thinking ‘Oh that poor person I hope they are ok and don’t still feel bad about how that all went’ with a side of ‘oh please please please don’t say anything about it!’ It doesn’t feel good to have to reject somebody from something you know they wanted very badly, and unless you have a lot of experience delivering bad news, it gets weird on that side of the hiring desk, too.

The best way to reassure everybody, including yourself is to be friendly and businesslike and quick. Make your purchases, say hello and thank you, and then GTFO. Do not linger or try to discuss anything, you have nothing to apologize for or explain, if you try to make people process your feelings about a long-ago job rejection while they are trapped at work it will exponentially grow the weirdness, not diminish it. If the topic comes up, like, “Good to see you again, hope you’re doing better,” you say “I am, thanks!” and pay for your stuff and, again, GTFO. Don’t try to be special or deeply connect about your passionate history with their product & culture, just be nice and make it easy for the people who work there to ring you up.

Two-three times of doing that? In all likelihood you go back back to “nice normal regular customer” status and can relax.

Here’s another thing about embarrassment and secondhand embarrassment and rejection:

Unless they are deliberately being an asshole at the time, when I see someone visibly fail at something that I was rooting for them to do well at (like a job interview, public speaking, a presentation, an audition, a networking event, a performance, or other stage-fright/anxiety-inducing occasions), the embarrassment I feel when they fail in front of me is mortification on their behalf, not judgment of them. It is 100% “omg are they ok” and 0% “what an imposter!” When I’ve interviewed job candidates, specifically? I want them to ace it. I want them to be the right fit, because if they are, it means I get to stop working on the time-consuming process of hiring somebody.

These particular business-owners may not ever want you to work there (I’d take them at their word about that) but if they feel anything at all about you when they see you shopping it’s probably relief that you’re doing okay now mixed with a slight anxiety that you’re going to be the one who makes them relive The Day That It All Got Weird. If you can show that you can be cool and not reopen settled questions (‘Don’t ask for feedback‘), that will only add to the general relief. Bullies certainly exist, but most people don’t get off on others’ humiliation and these people probably want to move past that embarrassing moment just as much as you do. If they are mean to you? Fuck that place and may their reviews sink and stink like stones that are also made of heavy turds. When you finish school you can open a more awesome competing business on the other side of town.

In closing: Go shop there if you want to! Be quick and polite. The first time will be the hardest time, so give it 2-3 tries and some time before you give up. Use whatever tools your mental health team has shared with you to manage your anxiety before and afterward that will help you leave the feelings (& take the artisanal organic handcrafted locally-made specialty cannoli).

P.S. You mentioned disguises in your letter, there’s probably no time like the masked-up present to go get your favorite gourmet whatever-it-is.

Comments are open, with the reminder that if the LW wanted us to know what the place sells, we’d know, and Awkwardhaus already guessed “craft brewing” and “fancy weed dispensary?” if we want to save time. 🙂


83 thoughts on “#1268: “I tanked a job interview at a place I really want to go back to someday. How do I get over the shame?”

  1. I just want to double down that when someone is having a weird moment or flailing I also am 100% oh no, I feel empathy and 0% the judgement.

    1. Yeah, is there *anyone* who doesn’t aside from a handful of jerks? I’ve only ever felt judgement or schaudenfreude toward awkward people who (a) are being rude or mean at the time of the awkwardness or (b) are people I dislike. Otherwise, I make a crazy amount of effort to ensure that the person doesn’t feel awkward. I’m the guy reassuring the person on the subway that, yes, it is okay to fall on me, you can *always* fall on me, I have surely *not* been inconvenienced by you falling on me!

    2. ContraPoints actually just made a video about this! She talks about “cringe” as a tool of enforcing social norms, for good or for ill, and how there’s an important, different motive behind “empathetic / compassionate cringe” and “contemptuous cringe.”

      Empathetic cringe can actually build relationships and communities in the long run, and she makes a case for the idea that when people feel empathetic secondhand embarrassment, it leads them to reach out to help others, as well as reinforce personal growth (because compassionate cringe often happens when someone’s awkwardness or mistakes remind us of our *own* past awkwardness or mistakes).

      I agree with you, probably most people felt empathetic cringe and are actually rooting for the LW.

    3. I had an interviewee joke about punching me and then later when I asked how he dealt with conflict joked about stabbing people, and I was like 25% uncomfortable being alone in a REALLY RIDICULOUSLY TINY room with a man who, while otherwise entirely non-threatening, apparently couldn’t not talk about violence for 20 minutes and still 75% feeling bad for him for having like the most shitty awkward interview ever.

      Like obviously we didn’t hire him but I do sincerely hope that whatever the hell was going on there got better for him.

      1. TW: this mentions rape

        Oh god.

        Many years ago I was working at a (very toxic and dysfunctional, story for another time) nonprofit and interviewed someone. One of our standard interview questions was how you would handle disagreeing with a coworker about how to approach a project. This guy, no lie, started talking about he would respond if a coworker said that they would “rape his mother.”

        Which. What. My coworker and I were kind of like D: D: D: and then were like…um…no one would say that because we’re a professional workplace and that would in inappropriate.

        I have no idea what he was thinking.

        1. There are never going to be enough bikes for all the yikes I feel right now.

    4. Lucky to all of you who don’t experience or practice that backlash–those ppl who DO hold insecure moments against you exist, and I work with them. It’s a nightmare, especially when it’s your boss and the others on the team follow the lead. Every day sucks.

      So if these are the type of ppl who might do the same, your day-to-day is now 1000% better even though it may not seem so since your current work options are limited (mine too and not just bc of covid).

      They also aren’t giving you another thought on any level unless you must interact w them so the fact that they are now taking up so much of your heart and head space is a lot of self-punishment.

      I get it, trauma (big and little T trauma) makes that happen automatically, really–it’s in your nervous system and no amount of talking yourself out of feeling it can help. Nor even reading about it in a column by a wonderful advisor… your brain splits and the left logical side can’t help the right emotional side where you store that Trauma–the alarm bells are out of whack–not your fault–again, it’s what the body does–and ringing.

      The fact that you are beating yourself up so much for making certain choices for yourself may mean you need another type of therapy specifically targeting big and little T. CBT, meds (just dull it but make it go away), talk therapy don’t help w that. EMDR, Brainspotting, sensorimotor et al help but are much harder to find.

      The good news about covid… telemed is available out of state during lockdown. Meditation helps too but harder to focus. Tara Brach is a good place to start if this is the only option bc she understands the nervous system and brain (she is also trained in EMDR) neuroplasticity.

      Good luck!

      1. +1 endorse on the meditation. I recently went into treatment for trauma (probably a mix of big & little Ts), and the therapist was helpful, but I chalk up most of my recovery to the meditation. It’s true that it’s not terribly targetable, but contrariwise, I’ve found it to be pretty comprehensive, addressing a lot of the comorbities that I hadn’t even thought to check for. The program I found (Free! Online!) actually references Tara Brach specifically in the third week.

  2. I grok the weirdness.

    When I was in my 20s, I took a job before securing a place to live. A friend let me crash for a bit while I got myself together. They worked at the same place. This place does a lot of good and is a good place to work but I was not in a good place mentally. I got really sick physically and the treatments were hard. Emotionally and mentally, it was more than I was prepared to deal with in a new state, a new city with a small social group. I had a breakdown.

    They let me go and I can never work there again, but a couple years later, I started donating to them. I still do. When I am in that city And have reason, I can walk in and not be ashamed. They were actually really kind about the whole thing but the shame was real. It takes work but LW Is incredibly brave for being willing to go in again. I wish them all the best in this and in letting the shame and feelings of failure go. Cap is right. They were most likely rooting for you and felt bad having to say no. Sometimes events cause us to be incompatible with places for awhile and that’s okay.

  3. I’m part of a niche community where people bombing the initial joining attempt is common enough to be A Thing. They come in with weird expectations, try way too hard, or show up in a mental health state that means they NEED what they think we offer but aren’t able to behave in a way that’s safe or respectful of people’s boundaries. And I’ve seen many, many people bounce back from that by taking some time, recalibrating their expectations, and showing up with an open mind ready to move on. “Oh hey, it’s Lady Who Creeped Us Out Last Year, but seems like she’s in much better place now, yay!”… I can’t even count how many times I’ve had that experience, or how many times that person has gone onto become a fixture in the community in some capacity.
    Unless these people are giant assholes, if you show up and give them a clean slate I bet you a zillion dollars they’ll be delighted to give you one back. You’re already doing the right things– you’ve taken some time, gotten yourself together, you’re not looking to convince them to hire you after all or re-adjudicate their decision not to. You just want to be a normal customer and that’s very, very reasonable! Like the people I’ve watched succeed in my community, you’re ready for a new start and you have an open mind about what that will mean. You got this! The first time is the hardest, but if you go in and have a normal, breezy interaction, and then keep doing that at whatever normal intervals is in your specific context, I bet that by time #3 or so, that disaster interview will feel like ancient history.

    1. I agree with this sentiment entirely. I have previously belonged to a niche community, I never personally worked there, but a very close friend was the hiring manager. He had repeat applicants who were customers and failed interviews and came back later and aced them. It was fairly common. He never held previous attempts against them, and was always rooting for them.

      If you’re truly passionate about this community, you should 100% allow yourself to be a customer. They’re a business, and at the end of the day they want business, regardless of previous awkward interactions.

      I’d also say to allow yourself to participate in the community. If you’re in school related to the community, chances are that in your schooling you have run into other customers and possibly employees and don’t realize it. You already are part of the community, the shop owners are not and probably would not consider themselves to be gatekeepers of the community. I would follow the captains advice about not discussing the interview, but I would say to let yourself discuss the community and show your passion as a customer. (maybe not on your first trip in, but eventually when you’re comfortable)

      If you still want to work there and they are ever hiring again (and you’re in a good mental state), I’d say to give it another go. By that time, perhaps you have already established your own place in the community outside of the business and they are familiar with you and your passion outside of the initial interview. You have done great things personally and are different than you were when you interviewed. If they’re worth working for, they will not hold past attempts against you.

  4. Sorry to hear your story, LW, but I think you are definitely safe.

    I’m involved in some hiring for my org, probably 6 positions in last 2 years. One of the first ones the front-runner candidate really tanked the interview. Her resume was strong, her phone interview was great, and she started the in-person with a presentation and crushed it. Then something happened, she suddenly seemed nervous and twitchy, her confidence dried up, and her answers started trailing off. It was weird and disappointing. We had some discussion around her, like, what happened? Is there enough here to put her over the other candidates? (There wasn’t.) Apparently she as well emailed the recruiter to apologize, but in our standardized process we can’t give special chances to candidates, we have to give them all the same opportunities.

    2 years on down the road, I can’t remember her name. If she applied again, and made it through screening, I may recall that disastrous first interview, but it certainly wouldn’t make me or anyone deny her another chance. I sincerely doubt it would in your case as well.

    I would apply again if there were another opening, and if someone asks about the first time, just be honest. “I was going through a rough time and was under a lot of stress. I cracked a bit, but here’s what I would do with Product Line A…” If you don’t belabour it they won’t either!

  5. It’s hard not to take it hard when you bobble an interview, but we all go down in flames at least once in our careers. I went into an interview dehydrated and with low blood sugar and couldn’t do a newbie solution to swap two variables. I nailed the next interview with another team in the same building, and then winced every time I saw the first interviewer in the halls for a couple months. He was cool though and had noticed that I wasn’t firing on all thrusters.

  6. Ugh, the complicated feels of “I really failed to put myself forward like I wanted to”. I’ve felt that mix of shame and disappointment, and to have a large piece of your identity wrapped up in that as well? That sucks.

    Be kind to yourself, and shop there like you were just a normal customer. Probably, they will give you the decency of pretending you never interviewed there, because if they didn’t, they’d probably run out of customers quick.

    Best of luck finding a great fit OP.

    1. The Captain’s advice is awesome, as usual!

      I would like to highlight the _extremely accurate_ subtext in Wastelanderone’s extremely accurate comment, “Probably, they will give you the decency of pretending you never interviewed there, because if they didn’t, they’d probably run out of customers quick.”

      (I don’t think they have to completely rewrite history and pretend you never ever even interviewed, but _certainly_ they’ll let it go and pretend it wasn’t awkward!)

      Because, yes, they would run out of customers quickly if they were the sort of people who would Actively Bring Up Bad Memories For Their Customers, because SOOO many of us humans have had awkward public experiences that radiate the lurid glow of cold sweaty shame in our memories. And even more of us have stuff like that which _would_, if the people around us insisted on reminding us of them- just last week I replied “Happy Mother’s Day to you, too!” to the group of presumably cis male older men I met while walking my dog (suitably masked).

      You deserve to get to go buy your “specialty coffee” there . Go for it, friend!

  7. My heart goes out to you, LW. Shame is such a hard thing to short-circuit – particularly if you, like me, maybe struggle with a bit of internalized ableism. When I had a failure that felt catastrophic to me, because of a mental health thing, I was bewildered and challenged by the *absence* of judgment and condemnation by the organization I felt I’d let down. I imagined them secretly thinking terrible things about me for a long time. But, I also forced myself to act as if their behavior (which was unfailingly welcoming and never brought up The Catastrophe) was reflective of their actual feelings, and that allowed me to remain involved with them.

    I hope you can find the strength to try and reconnect – as Cap said, in a way that does not exacerbate the discomfort for either you or them. If they are kind, I hope you’re able to accept their treatment at face value. And if they aren’t, I hope you can believe that they were likely never reflective of this community you love in the first place. You talked about this community’s ethics and ideology – and while I don’t know exactly what that looks like, I would hope it includes grace for people struggling with mental health. Good luck, LW – I hope in time that one embarrassing episode can be reduced to no more than a blip on the radar!

  8. My version of this experience involved having panic attacks in a particular college classroom. Every time I walked by that classroom, I would start to tense up and hyperventilate as part of a conditioned, almost Pavlovian response. I eventually had to re-take the class that I had dropped (because of, you know, the anxiety disorder and the panic attacks), which involved going back into that classroom three times a week.

    I found it extremely helpful to do DIY incremental exposure therapy. I deliberately walked by the classroom, doing the things that helped me stay calm (deep breathing, muscle relaxation, all those things that my therapist wanted me to do, all at once), half a dozen times. When I could walk by it without starting to panic, I went in when it was empty and no one would see me, again doing the things that helped me stay calm, for increasing lengths of time. Eventually by the time that class started up, I had gotten from “intolerable panic” down to “extreme but manageable discomfort,” and I made it through the class.

    Maybe if LW wanted to try a similar approach, LW could walk by the store, then go into the store and buy one thing really quick at a time of day when they’re busy and won’t be paying attention to you, then over time gradually build up to being able to make small talk with the employees.

    However you choose to deal, LW, best of luck to you!

    1. My partner does that (or, well, was doing that before quarantine) to desensitize himself to the places in our city he associates with his abusive ex. He’s gone from having to take 30+ min. detours or having to stop the car to have a breakdown to just tensing up (after 1 year) to not noticing most of the time (after 1 year and a half). And that was a 3-years-long abusive relationship, so I imagine it won’t take so long for the LW.
      He did it like Pear describes, gradually and using distractions or relaxation techniques at the same time. It helped him to take someone with him in the car to chat his ear off while driving through the sore spots, so maybe the LW could consider that? If not actual company, because of social distancing, maybe talking on the phone with a trusted person while they walk past the store?

  9. YES YES YES to everything the Cap’n had to say. Hiring people is really challenging in many ways, but telling people no is THE WORST. We’ve all been on the side of rejection and we all know how crappy it is to not get The Job, and most people don’t want to be that guy who tells you you didn’t get The Job. I also deeply relate to the ‘only place like this that I’m ashamed to go to’ feels. In my 20’s I had a hostess job seating people at the only vegan restaurant in town which, as a queer vegan, meant it was not only one of my only viable eating out venues but was also a social hub. I had some serious mental health stuff happen and 100% no called no showed on two consecutive shifts. I was, justly, fired. It took me months to get up the courage to go back and while my circumstances were different because I had a longer standing relationship and actually hurt people by not showing up, it ultimately worked out ok and I was able to return to my usual tofu scramble brunches eventually. You got this, LW. It will be sooo hard but also – once you’re able to reestablish yourself as Cool Regular Customer instead of Job Candidate who Fucked Up the Interview, you may also have the opportunity to find the community you so crave in this field as well.

  10. Dear LW,

    I suspect that if they remember you and connect your masked face with the person they interviewed, they’ll be glad to see that you’re alright.

    So yeah, become a regular customer again (if you feel up to it).

    I think you’re a brave person.

    Good luck to you.

  11. For what it’s worth, LW, in addition to what the Captain said in her response about them probably remembering you with empathy rather than judgement, I’d also reassure you that they absolutely took this situation far less personally than you. What, in your embarrassment, felt like a curt rejection email, was likely not written with any intended rudeness or ill-will. Their instructions not to request feedback is likely their policy for all rejections, and I’m guessing your interview didn’t stand out to them nearly as much as it felt on your side of the table. You not interviewing at your best and not getting the job doesn’t mean they interpreted your performance as a flaming hot mess. It likely felt like you were very nervous, possibly off your game, but not so different from many others they’ve interview before or since. You just weren’t the top candidate that day, and that may have been because you were having a tough time that day, or that may have been because they happened to have the galactic superstar of specialty retail employees with 500 years of experience and a written seal of approval from the president of the specialty retail association in their applicant pool. In fact, you would have a better sense of the situation so take this with a grain of salt, but I wouldn’t even say their rejection is a blanket statement that you should never apply there again.

    1. What, in your embarrassment, felt like a curt rejection email
      If you haven’t already, reread it and have others do so, in case it merely felt that way. Could it be boilerplate, but you were so raw that a simple “No, thanks” would feel like a shove out of a plane?

      The fact the place being the 1 (one) available makes it the Highlander/Precious works for you, as far as you being part of a myriad of applicants not likely to be remembered as negatively as you feel about it, as everyone says here. It works against you, though, in that something you want is someone else’s to dispense, instead of an offering you can access at your leisure. So, if this is, indeed, your Precious, can you branch out? Do you have any nascent interests you’ve not cultivated, that you can try out and see what blooms?

      1. 99.9% chance it’s boilerplate. If a company took the time to write you an individualized snarky rejection, it’s not the kind of place you want to work,anyway.

  12. I’ve interviewed a smallish number of people, and I don’t think I’d recognize any of them if I met them again. When you are hiring, you read so many resumes and interview so many people that it all becomes a blur really quickly.

    My guess is that you’ll at best look slightly familiar to them. And if this is retail, I’m guessing turn over is high and they’re constantly hiring.

    It’s also pretty common for people to get nervous in job interviews and behave oddly. I was always very cognizant that you’re getting a very small snapshot of a person under weird circumstances when you interview them.

    So even if they do recognize you *and* remember your interview (which is very unlikely) their only thought will probably be, “Oh, that’s the person that seemed like a good fit, but then had an awkward interview. I wonder what they’re up to these days. It’s too bad things didn’t work out.”

    This will probably be nerve wracking for you, especially the first few times. But I think it’s likely to be the sort of thing that feels huge and ends up to being no big deal. (Like the task you’ve put off for months and felt terrible for not doing and then ends up taking ten painless minutes and you realize you spent 1000% more energy agonizing about it than actually doing it.)

  13. Best of luck with your shopping plans OP! I bet you’ll nail it.

    From my experience in hiring folks, I have had all sorts of memorable candidates, for reasons both good and bad. Could I tell you their names or faces? Nooooope. At the very most you might get the ‘I know you from somewhere’ face . And having worked retail, I get that a lot, from both perspectives.

    I’m willing to bet though that their only thought on seeing you will be ‘ooh yay a customer!’ Especially in these financially precarious times. Good luck!



      Look, I didn’t want to put this in the OP, but long ago in the 1990s I interviewed someone for a job who excused herself to go to the rest room & didn’t come back. For a while. A really long while.

      I went to check on her and found her unconscious on the floor with her pants around her ankles surrounded by blood clots *the size of oranges.* I got someone to call 911, a colleague and I grabbed the shawl from the back of my door to cover up her nethers, we did some first aid, she went out of there on a stretcher. She was having some kind of horrible cyst-hemmorhage thing and fainted while standing up from the toilet from blood loss.

      a) I still tried to hire her when she was feeling better, she was awesome! She was mortified, but it was like, no, this was not your fault, lady, you had a medical emergency, nobody Looked At Your Business, we just wanted you to be ok, I swear, we will never mention it again if you work here! I completely understand if the traumatic memory was too much. But she was awesome.
      b) I don’t remember her name or her face. If you’re out there, lady, YOUR ORDEAL IS NOT FORGOTTEN BUT IT IS COMPLETELY UNTETHERED FROM YOU. YOU ARE FREEEEEEEE. ❤

  14. Please do go back in when you feel ready! It is lovely to have people who care about the products and the business. Everyone is People, and all people have Stuff That Makes It Hard Sometimes. You’re so very much not alone, and you are welcome to live in the world even if you’ve stumbled or struggled.

  15. I’m in a Very Small subfield where everyone knows everyone else not just locally, but across continents and beyond, so you keep running into people who hired, or didn’t hire, you at some point. I’ve also been on a bunch of hiring committees, and was directly responsible for hiring my current team, which means there are a bunch of people I keep running into who I considered but didn’t hire. So I’ve been on both sides of this.

    After grad school I had two interviews for jobs that I REALLY wanted and didn’t get. Now, years later, I’m involved in several productive collaborations with both the people who passed me over, and people who got the positions I wanted. Was it awkward at first? Sure! But it passes in time.

    Oh, then there was the guy who was supposed to be my co-advisor in grad school, and who dressed me down in an elevator the first time I met him – at my first big conference in my field – over a minor miscommunication. I was so upset and mortified I debated dropping out of grad school and leaving my field! I now work with him on several committees, and when I mentioned once that we were supposed to work together, he had totally forgotten about me and the incident that loomed so large in my mind.

    Then there two examples that come to mind from the other side. There’s one guy who interviewed with us 3 times – once for my position, then twice for positions I was hiring for. He looked great on paper but kept bombing the interviews. But we kept giving him another chance, and he did improve, but both times was outcompeted. I was thrilled when I heard he was hired at another organization we work closely with, and we continue to collaborate without it being weird. Another candidate went through one interview, and she’s still really nervous around me when I see her at conferences, but I 1000% feel empathy for her and hope she finds a good fit. I also – guess what? – collaborate with her on a couple projects.

    So, having been on both sides several times, it’s safe to say that it’s OK to go back to the store, and maybe even to apply again if/when you feel ready! Most interviewers want you to succeed, and may be happy to give someone passionate about their products and mission another chance!

    1. I don’t disagree with people saying the Letter Writer might re-apply for a job some day, but I absolutely do not think it should be top of mind *right now* especially when even setting foot in the place is fraught. The more relaxed & less goal-oriented the shopping interactions are, the less weird it will be for now.

      1. I think the priority should be “become a regular, respected, even store-favorite customer” as a first and maybe only-ever step. Make it so the people at the store are glad to see you when you come up to buy your special goodies. Greet staff by name and a quick “How are you? It’s always so nice to see you!” And do all that AFTER you’ve gone from “shopping at this store makes me rehash all my shame” to “shopping at this store is the highlight of my week because everyone’s so friendly and they have exactly the special stuff that I buy to improve my life,” which will probably be a lot faster than you expect once you’ve been in there a few times and had nothing but pleasant interactions.

        If it never goes beyond that, you still have a new favorite store with products and staff that make you happy, and that’s no small thing. But maybe, in a couple of years, you’ll be in there when they’re looking to add someone to the team and all those nice people who recognize you will thing, “You know, Letter Writer shops here a lot and clearly knows our merchandise and we like spending time with them — is it crazy to think that LW would be perfect for this new role?”

  16. My guess is sex toy shop, FWIW.

    Also, OP, if knowing you’re not alone is helpful, AskAManager has SO MANY posts on dealing when mental health impacts your work life, how to recover from a tanked interview, etc,. it might be worth a browse.

  17. Some “they won’t remember you as strongly as you remember them” for you:

    I memorably bombed an interview at a museum in 2013: my “improv a presentation” was kind of terrible, and the subject matter definitely not sfw (a better fit for their adults-only evenings). I probably also complained too much with my “why are you leaving your current position” answer. I never, ever heard back from them.

    But! In 2015 I started volunteering for the same department where I would have been working, basically working for the person who got the position I had wanted. In my volunteer application I mentioned that I had applied for positions in the past (it was a rote question) so it was possible for the notes on that application to be dredged up. Nobody ever mentioned my bad interview, or the fact I had ever applied, and I even worked a bit with the people I had interviewed with. The lead educator and I got along super well, and I even got accolades for my work there.

    If you had a very distinctive “look” and did something completely over the top, I could imagine them remembering you. But unless you have a neon mohawk AND threw a chair out the window, you’re probably fine. Good luck!

  18. Also wanted to share this from the hiring perspective. I was in charge of filling a new full-time front line position in my office. The position had been part-time, and the person who had the job was wonderful, friendly, skilled, enthusiastic co-worker. We all assumed she’d be right for the new role. HR procedures required us to advertise the position. We did, she competed against some other great folks, and she absolutely was the person we wanted. We offered her the job. She accepted. Paperwork signed. Then, a week or so before she was supposed to start, she called to tell me that some things had come up and she’d need to put off her start date for two months (!!). She had to travel overseas to see family. She had just bought the tickets, and she couldn’t change her return flight without a penalty. Then she asked instead to telework for a few months, or maybe telework part time? From overseas? This was a customer-facing role, and she had done the job for over a year so knew that the position entailed being in the office.

    The whole situation was baffling and stressful. We had several calls, she seemed anxious and apologetic and emotionally shaky and demanding all at once. We offered her an extra two weeks beyond the start date but she wouldn’t budge, and she cried on the phone. It was so hard to go through, mostly because I knew something hard was going on for her, I didn’t know what exactly it was or how to help, and my role had shifted from co-worker to hiring manager. As someone who really liked her, it was heartbreaking to add to her stress. I told her that we would need to rescind the job offer if she couldn’t start on or near the posted start date. We ended up hiring someone else.

    Fast forward 6 months. She stopped by to visit her old friends in the office. It was absolutely lovely to see her. She met the new hire, we all chatted for a few minutes about pleasant topics. She was doing 1000% better. No one brought up the weirdness. I was so glad that she was brave enough to come in and that she seemed to be doing okay. She went through something, she came out the other side. If we ever need to hire a similar role in the future and she applies, I will absolutely consider her.

  19. I have been an interviewer many times – in group interviews where 5 or so of us all discuss the candidates. It is also common at my place to have people rejected for one position come back and interview for one or more other positions. OP, I think you’re overthinking this! When I see a rejected candidate around my thought is, “I remember her! She was great, but ya, that other guy was just a bit better” or “yea he was amazing in the Round 1 interview….I wonder what happened in Round 2? He must have had a bad day” or “He connected well with those of us on the 1st panel….he must not have clicked with someone in Round 2” I assure you with my whole heart NO ONE is jumping right to “Wow. They must have some kind of crazy mental health ADD psycho issue going on.” No one. Most people will assume it was something regular like you just had an off day, didn’t sleep right, were distracted, or got a case of the nerves. So go to the store! Shop with abandon. Make small talk with other customers. If anyone does mention it, shrug it off with, “Yea, I was having an off day when we spoke last. I sure hope you won’t hold it against me. ” Only a jerk would!

  20. Sad to hear about the job interview. I once messed up a job interview, and then ended up getting sent to that place again (I was working for an agency and they just sent me wherever) and yes I did run into the person who didn’t hire me, and she was all Oh hello! – and someone was all Oh have you two met? – and i was all Yes I interviewed for a job here once! [smile] – and it felt weird and awkward and sad, but I managed to be bright and cheery and not go into it more than that, and then I got to go home and it never mattered again.

    The difference with you is that, if you want to, you get to be a CUSTOMER. You will be the reason the business exists. It’s nice that you want to support the business. Go forth and hang out there and have fun.

    1. I once did a teaching job interview and didn’t get the position – just wasn’t the shiniest candidate on the day – and got sent back to teach there by the supply agency the *next day* lol

  21. I was a retail manager for some years and did many rounds of recruitment, I can assure you that you would have had to have done something truly, spectacularly weird to still be remembered for it many months later. I’m talking pants-on-head bizarre. Retail workers see 100s of faces daily, if they recognise you they probably won’t be able to remember where from.

    1. I was a retail manager as well and I agree. I had many people do and say many weird things in interviews, and I really did not remember any of them for very long. There were just so many faces, so many interviews, and so many customers, that you would have needed to have set my hair on fire while dancing a jig to make any kind of lasting impression on me. And like so many have said, even if I did recognize you if you shopped in my store, I would simply be happy that I didn’t lose a paying customer.

  22. One thing Captain didn’t mention that may apply here: You may not have bombed the interview as bad as you think you did. Those kinds of situations often *feel* way worse on the inside than they look on the outside. I have to remind myself of this every time I do anything that remotely resembles public speaking, interviewing, leading a meeting, etc. I can walk away from something like that *feeling* like the Biggest Bumbling Idiot Ever, only for people to tell me I was so great and I’m like “huh?” Allow for at least the possibility that it wasn’t as bad as you think, and you may not have been the right fit for some other reason.

    Consider also the possibility that they tell every rejected candidate not to ask for interview feedback. Perhaps their legal counsel has recommended they don’t give feedback, to avoid the risk of saying the wrong thing (such as an accidental indication of discriminatory hiring practices). Perhaps the hiring manager had a bad experience with giving a rejected candidate feedback on the interview and has chosen not to do it ever again. Who knows?

    I very rarely notice the timestamps on every email I receive. It might have looked a little weird that you sent it? But you don’t know for sure that was a deciding factor, or that they noticed the time, or .. anything really. And there’s the rub! Getting rejected for a job often involves a lot of uncertainty. You rarely get to know why you were rejected, you don’t get to see a playback of how bad you bombed (or didn’t), you don’t get to know who got the job instead or why she was better…

    The bright side is: I think retail businesses are so freaked out right now, that the most likely reaction is “Phew! A customer! A customer in a mask so I can’t quite tell who they are.” Consider that they may not be thinking about the bad interview anywhere near as much as you. Perhaps not at all.

  23. I also want to say, LW, that you can also apply for a job there again. Aceing the first interview and hecking up the second or third is not uncommon. Applying and interviewing multiple times to get a position with a company you like is not uncommon. Depending how big the company is and whether the hiring manager/interview panel has rotated staff, you (and your second interview) may get forgotten and you can apply anew. And if you are remembered? The story of “this applicant seemed like a good fit and was clearly passionate, but the second interview was not good” is very common, and it’s still a story where you seemed like a good fit and were clearly passionate!

  24. ok definitely projecting my own experience here so take that as you will… I think another piece of this that might be worth thinking about is the difficulty and loneliness of moving across the country to a small town with no job, how that impacts all of us negatively and makes everything higher stakes. It sounds like this wasn’t just about a job but about finding a community and belonging in a new and scary place. Of course it felt like life or death!

    if you are like me, you probably are very hard on yourself bout this. can you forgive yourself for taking it very seriously and wanting something desperately // not being a good fit at that time in your life? i mean this sincerely!

    also – jobs are important and can do lots of things for you, but they are not the same thing as community. Go to the yarn store/herbal medicine shop/coffee company/game store / artisan kangaroo care store etc as a customer, and you can actually join the community of people who go there and not worry about job performance / raises / shitty management / that one customer who ruins it for everyone. join their classes or meetups or whatever Zoom equivalent they have going right now. maybe one day this will be a career. you already have experience and are planning on going to school for it – take this moment to enjoy it disconnected from putting food on the table.

    passion is great and can’t be taught; getting through interviews is a set of skills you can master, i promise. ❤

  25. I will add my voice to the chorus of people saying that this is much bigger in your head than in the rest of the world.I have interviewed a ton of people and while I can remember some really interesting circumstances, I wouldn’t remember the person’s name or face except that it might look familiar. And the late night email wouldn’t bother me a bit – I would honestly be thinking that at least this person knows not to call at 3am.

    And the rejection letter sounds like a form letter to me. Otherwise they are real assholes. Telling everyone not to request feedback is likely a matter of not fielding dozens or more phone calls asking why they didn’t get the job when sometimes it really is that they were just outshone. Also, 3 weeks? Sounds like they may have deliberated for a while. I know it’s incredibly difficult but try and give yourself credit! You likely did much better than you think and you were at your worst. And while I agree with Cap that you should not be thinking about this job right now – don’t take a rejection letter as a permanent rejection. People grow and change and evolve as do business needs. So a bad fit today could be just what the business needs a few months from now.

    I am going to tell this story of one of my more memorable interviews. I interviewed this woman for an analyst job and she was horrible at the interview – asking inappropriate questions, wanting lots or reassurance, no confidence in her abilities, meandering all over the place. I asked her to rate herself on some technical skills and she gave herself a 5 out of 10. And then nailed all the follow-up questions. I pointed out to her that lots of people didn’t know half the stuff she did and rated themselves far higher than a 5. And she says, with a lot of passion, “Well I don’t want to compare myself to the LOSERS!” I fell in love with her that instant. But I couldn’t get my boss to do it – I made every argument under the sun but he insisted she would be an HR nightmare. And it still makes me sad because I see these women come through interviews who are setting the bar so fucking high on themselves and not realizing what they have to offer and not realizing that sometimes interviews are pretty much crapshoots. It also frustrates me in every job I hold because I keep trying to emphasize that we are not trying to hire the best damn interviewee but the best person for a particular job so they need to look beyond the polish and practice of some mediocre candidates and overlook some rough edges in other candidates.

  26. I’ve been involved in a few hiring processes and I know that I had one interview where it finished and I was like, I could tell very early on that it wasn’t going well. But I can’t remember anything else! Not what the behaviour was, not what the person looked like (literally nothing, there is a blank space there), what the job was, exactly when it happened, whatever. That’s why my organisation insists that you take notes during interviews.

    So I’m sure the details have already faded from their minds, OP, and I am sure they would love to sell you their products in a chill way. I suggest you spend some time with your existing products that you love, and talking online (if possible) so you have some positive experiences at the forefront of your mind before you go shopping. And hey, you can always buy online for a bit and then buy in-store, you’re not locked in to one course of action. Wishing you the best.

  27. I once sent a horribly embarrassing cover letter to an office I desperately wanted to work for as an intern (I sent them the cover letter for another job and didn’t catch it until after it was sent, and then was so embarrassed that I just didn’t correct it). No response, for obvious reasons.

    I then re-applied to that organization repeatedly when I was looking for a job post-graduating law school (they essentially run all the legal aid law offices on the entire western half of the state, so all the jobs I wanted were through them or a subsidiary). No response. I was sure that I’d been blacklisted from the entire place and they weren’t even looking at applications with my name on them.

    I got an email from the director of the organization about a month after accepting the job I have now: they remembered me and wanted me to apply for a position. I couldn’t accept at the time, but I know now that my catastrophic cover letter wasn’t a barrier and won’t be a barrier in future. My point is: you can apply to that job later and it would be fine. No one is going to care (and if they do, you don’t want to be in a job that makes fun of past applicants like that).

  28. Most rejection letters are form letters, and it’s very unlikely they customized it in any way to suggest “Don’t ask us for feedback because you freaked us out.”

    I’ve been interviewing people for years, and I remember very few of them. The only bad interviews I remember are the people who were domineering in the interview (not a quality I was looking for) and the one lady who said she was looking for work because her psychiatrist thought it was a good idea (which is ok, but not information I would offer in an job interview.) She also told me a LOT about her awful divorce. And even at that, it’s not like I would remember these people if I saw them again.

    Definitely be a customer at this place! Be cool and polite and pleasant and after you’ve been there a few times they will probably just remember you as the nice customer who’s new in town.

    1. Good point about the form letters. If they send a canned response at all or in a reasonable amount of time. I interviewed for a job I was told they wanted “to fill right away” and heard nothing back until six months later with a form letter rejection. Another job I applied for and never got called for an interview, so I thought that was the end of it — until I got a vague, canned rejection email over 8 months later! 😂 Makes me really wonder about some of these places!

    2. Yes! This was what I came here to say! It is EXTREMELY likely that “don’t ask us for feedback” is a standard part of the form letter (probably added after someone would. not. go. away.) and not actually directed at you or your experience in particular! Lots of organizations, including mine, do this so we’re not swamped with requests from rejected candidates about what they did wrong.

  29. Virtual and safe hug! You are okay, you are a human who did a human thing. We’ve all messed up and embarrassed ourselves, sometimes when the stakes were high, sometimes in front of people whose good opinion matters very profoundly to us. One thing you can be sure of–the event made a much deeper impression on you than on anyone else. Go be part of your world. If anyone who interviewed you says anything about the interview, which is highly unlikely, you can say something vague and neutral like “I was not at my best that day, was I,” and move on with your day and your life.
    It will only be weird the first time. You’ve got this.

  30. Also in some niche businesses discretion is a necessary business practice, so this might be just the best possible group of people to Not Make It Weird About That Thing That Happened.

  31. Oh my god, I’m getting flashbacks of the time I insisted at least twice that I wasn’t a serial killer in an interview for a real estate admin. To be fair, they made me take a personality test, so joking about my results seemed less weird but why did I bring it up again?? Ugh lol I didn’t get that job either.

    1. I have a theory that Tourette’s Syndrome, specifically the type where people involuntarily say the worst possible thing at the worst moment, is just a magnification of something human brains do naturally. We don’t want to think about pink elephants, so dainty rose-coloured Dumbos trot past our thoughts. We don’t want to be rude so we get all weird and awkward.

  32. I am an unfortunately judgy person, in a I-am-in-therapy-to-not-be sort of way. For several years I did HR for a video game company. As judgy as I am now, it was way way worse then, and even so, I never, ever judged someone who hecked up a job interview. They are *hard* in ways that few other social interactions are. Even the worst of our candidates, even the ones bad enough to be memorable, even the ones who had files with DO NOT HIRE written on them, no longer have any names or faces attached. Most didn’t after about six months.

    Even if your interview was as bad on the outside as it feels on the inside (and we so often magnify these things), unless one of the interviewees is just a rotting hot dog of a person, they don’t think badly of you. It’s hard and it sucks for sure, but we’re all just trying our best, and even the people who don’t think that (ahem past me) probably realize that a job interview is the worst place to make anything other than an immediate job-level opinion of a person.

  33. I know this is easier said than done but sounds like this business needs a town rival. LW sounds passionate and knowlegable; my take is they are way too good for this place. Cinematically, I want LW to open a same business across the street from the place and totally dominate the market.

    Perhaps changing perspective from ‘they are the only source of what I want’ to ‘how else can I get what I want’ would be one way forward. I’m certain there are other people in town who don’t particularly like this store but only shop there because it’s the sole outlet. I bet they’d be happy to patronize your exciting fresh-faced alternative.

  34. I was a hiring manager for 10 years. Interviews are tricky for both parties. At times I took a chance on someone who did not give a stellar interview and was pleasantly surprised. Other times I took a chance and was burned with an employee I wish I hadn’t hired. Most of the time, the hiring manager makes decisions based on very little knowledge. Anyway, I believe it would be difficult to interview a second time for a position at the same place.

  35. I worked at a small business many years ago and we occasionally had clients apply for jobs, or applicants we didn’t hire come on as clients. Unless they made a horrendous scene, it was never a problem. I recall one who was a notoriously difficult client for a long time and who were were 100% sure was applying in an effort to get access to medication, but everyone else was basically, sorry, we had a stronger candidate and only have one open position, no hard feelings.

  36. Captain is right. Go in, be pleasant, buy your thing and leave. If this is a business where tipping is the norm, tip well and you’ll soon become That Awesome Customer Who Makes Up For the Crappy Ones instead of That Awkward Job Candidate, assuming anyone even remembers you as the latter. (FWIW, I have been on hiring committees. I don’t remember the candidates who stumbled, were anxious or came across as unprepared. The ones I do remember climbed into the Rocket Shop of Fail and zoomed straight for the Planet of Why Did You Think That Was a Good Idea. You don’t come close.)

    In fact, if you act naturally and let your relationship with the staff develop organically, maybe one of them will recommend you next time there’s an opening: “Hey, boss, Awesome Customer who comes in here all the time seems cool and really knowledgeable about our product, maybe they would be a good fit?” Sure, the boss might say no for myriad reasons, but the boss might also think, “Eh, maybe they are worth another shot.” The opinion of a valued colleague or employee can make a difference.

    I’m not saying you should frequent this business with the goal of still working there, but I don’t think the path has automatically closed for you. In the meantime, I’m glad you are employed elsewhere, and I hope that as you settle down in your new town, other opportunities come your way, even if they weren’t ones you ever expected.

  37. LW, there’s this thing that happens sometimes where people get all wrapped up in their fears and anxieties and worries and shame and they believe that everyone is staring and them and judging them and, and, and….

    You get the idea. That’s basically where you are. Here’s the thing. Unless you did something really, truly terrible (kicked a puppy, screamed at a toddler, killed someone, etc), most likely, the other people do not care. They don’t actually care about you. People, in general, care about themselves. They are self centered. Other people? not so much. Random other people frequently will barely notice you, or will notice you in passing then forget it 10 minutes later. It doesn’t feel good sometimes to know that you are pretty much a harmless bug in the bushes, but it is the truth.

    So while you’re stewing about this situation which for you was pretty terrible, there’s a very good chance that they only vaguely remember you. They don’t know you, they’re not emotionally invested in you, and they, frankly, do not care about you. As long as you can be pleasant and “normal”, IE, not make things awkward for them, you are fine. And all this stuff you’ve built up in your head? Is just you. Your anxiety, your depression or whatever, making you feel like crap for no good reason. You’re in therapy, you’re on meds, so maybe this is something you’ll want to discuss with your therapist to help untangle all the emotions.

    Now, go get your coffee, and enjoy it 🙂

  38. Confirmed, whenever I’ve had to reject an application from a regular, the next few times I see them my thoughts have been 1000% self-centred, (what do I say if they bring it up, am I acting friendly enough to show it’s not personal, please don’t bring it up I don’t know what to say).

  39. LW, might I suggest that there could be a bit of the Geek Social Fallacy thing going on here? People who share our interests don’t necessarily share our values, and it might be that although these people run a business centred on your special interest, they’re still not particularly, well, nice.

    You’re putting it all on yourself for having messed up the situation, but it might not all be on you. The interview was clearly awkward and you were a bit intense, but then again their response was rude and unhelpful. Maybe that was not about the size of your mistakes, but the size of their unpleasantness and/or an indication of a fundamental mismatch of styles?

    I think what I’m trying to say is that when you do go back, don’t look at them solely through the lens of “ideal employers against whom I committed egregious interview faults”. Balance it up with “former potential employers who were really curt and refused to give feedback”. They are not the sole arbiters of whether or not you are Ok.

  40. Do you know for certain that the reason you didn’t get the job is because you stumbled at the interview? I ask because I’m pretty sure the answer is no. I’m pretty sure you don’t know why you didn’t get the job. I take a lot of comfort in not knowing. It’s entirely possible that someone else got the job because she was better qualified, or he had connections that you didn’t, or they ended up flipping a coin. It’s entirely possible that they’re thinking that they made a mistake, that the person they hired is okay, not doing anything fireable, but not really great either. A manager that says “we didn’t think you were a good fit-don’t ask for feedback” lacks tact– or at least is letting past bad experiences color future decisions. Better if she had said “we had another candidate who was a better fit.” (Maybe she’s been annoyed in the past by people who nagged for feedback and was trying to nip that one in the bud, but she shouldn’t have. Better to wait to see if you were going to bother her about that.) I’d also bet that when it comes to spending money in the store, they take one look at your money, decide it’s legal tender, and accept it.

    Particular tactics on how to walk in the store: Practice. Go into another store that’s not so fraught and observe what you do. You spend this much time looking at merchandise, you make your selection this way. You answer “may I help you” this way when you don’t want help and don’t want interaction with the staff, and you answer this other way when you don’t mind saying what you’re looking for. Never noticed before how you carry merchandise and put it in front of the cash register. Never noticed before eye contact, reaching for your wallet, paying by cash or card. When you have a bit of practice, follow your same movements in Special Fraught Store.

    1. I agree whole heartedly about the response from the hiring management. It’s possible they meant it the way they did, but I also see more and more people in business that are sloppy with with their choice of words and phrasing than those who take some care in crafting what they want to communicate. Who knows?

      I love the plan to observe & practice shopping tactics!

    2. This last tactic. Almost exactly what I was going to say. But in a more cohesive manner. And also talk to your therapist about it and see if they can help.

  41. Hi LW!
    I once had a very similar incident in a job knte5. Mental health stuff and stress had gotten the better of me so by the time the interview rolled around I tanked it. I even remember the exact moment where during this panel interview I felt the energy shift and I knew it was over even though we all still went through the motions.

    Anyways, as humiliated and frustrated with myself as I was- it was my dream job and so once I was in a better place (about a year later), I reapplied. I even mentioned I had previously applied but due to some struggles in my life-it hadn’t been a good time and I’ve grown so much in the last year.

    And guess what- I got the job. I’ve know been at the job through multiple years, pay raises, and responsibilities.

    So, you don’t have to go back- but I just wanted you to know that you can go back. You can go back as a customer and if so desired you can re-interview.

    Sending fierce 💙

  42. LW, to make the first shopping trip easier:
    – Have a short list of what you want to take care of, and focus on that as your mission for that trip.
    – Consider planning the visit between closely spaced tasks or errands. Not too close that you are crunched for time, but to have less free time for your brain to start ruminating, overanalyzing, etc.
    – Keep your expectations in check, and aim for interactions to be polite, positive, and friendly but with some distance. Interact with employees like you are shopping at a business you don’t feel emotionally invested in. (I’m assuming you are a positive customer/client with all the places you shop!)

    Like many people, you seem to also be participating in the “Live your dream/perfect job/[insert text here]!” ideal, which is really a prettied-up version of “What you are paid to do for a living is what and who you are.” We are all brainwashed with this from a young age, so it’s not an accusation or a negative judgment. What we are never told is that few people have a reasonable chance of getting their dream job or work life, unless your aims are fairly low; our economic & social systems are not set up for the masses to achieve self actualization through paid work. The other thing they never tell you: you get into your perfect job and the other people already in it fuck it up. Actual, functional, positive workplaces are few and far between, regardless of field or area. People get petty, political, and self-interested even in the most altruistic of organizations, and it takes a lot of awareness, organizational safeguards, and constant vigilance to keep it at bay.

    To sum up: you could have gotten the job, and it might have sucked for reasons you don’t know. The embarrassing interview is over, but try to let go of the idea that it ruined everything. Also, whatever work you do to survive is NOT who you are. The things that drive you, that you are passionate about, that mean the most to you are always a part of you, regardless of if you get paid to promote them at this specific business or any other.

    Hold your head up high and go enjoy your shopping trip!

  43. I own a small specialty retail shop that people get very enthusiastic about, so I can speak very specifically about this situation.

    I’ve had a number of people apply and not get the position for any number of reasons, and most of them I would not recognize. As a retailer, I interact with a LOT of people, and do come to recognize my regulars, but someone who interviewed? Possible but unlikely, and I definitely don’t think it’s weird or uncomfortable if they come back and shop. In fact I’d prefer it if they did! Most of my staff (though not all) were customers first, and having that experience helped in the interview, because they had direct experience with our approach and philosophy.

    As for the rejection letter, please don’t take it too personally. I know that’s hard and it always stings, no matter how nicely the employer words it. It’s likely that they tell everyone not to ask for feedback, either because they aren’t well set up to provide it, or because they have tried in the past and gotten burned for it. Sometimes candidates will ask for feedback and then get upset and hostile when it’s not what they want to hear.

    I have also hired people who didn’t get the position on their first try, but did the next.

    When you feel up to it, please visit the shop again! They will be nice and they won’t bring up the interview, if they even recognize you in the first place. And then it will get easier and you will feel so much better without this anxiety hanging over your head.

  44. Craft breweries and weed dispensaries are much more likely, but the whole time I was reading this, I was picturing the company as Hot Topic. 😀

    1. I went to comic book store; witchcraft supply; and homeopathy/acupuncture/wellness-adjacent stuff.

    2. I know what I’m missing right now because my first thought was “knitting shop”. Even before Covid my closest one moved out of town to somewhere you need a car to get to, and I’ve been knitting like mad lately so I’m very conscious of how far away the nice things are (regardless of the fact my stash is enough wool to last me many more years of knitting before I /need/ to go to a shop)

  45. It took them three weeks to send LW a rejection email- not an hour, or a day or a week but three weeks. If LW had done as badly as has been imagining they would have known in one hour or one day that they weren’t interested. Three weeks is long enough to go through the whole interviewing everyone, sifting the top candidates, making a choice & an offer & having the offer accepted process. It’s possible (not certain, but possible) that they saw past whatever gaffes happened& thought LW enough of a possibility that they were waiting for a preferred candidate to accept before sending a rejection. Often it’s the 2nd best candidates who have to wait the longest to know they didn’t get the job.

  46. Having worked retail, one key thing that looks really obvious but can be hard to remember if you don’t actually do it for a living:

    This is their business. It’s how they feed their families. If it’s a small business in a specialty field with a lifestyle attached, then it’s probably even more than that: it’s somebody’s dream, and not just OP’s. Somebody made the business out of their heart and soul, and the only way it survives is to make money.

    All this is to say: they want you to shop there. They want EVERYONE who has the remotest interest in their products to shop there. They’re urgently seeking customers, because that is what businesses do, and if you go in and appear prepared to 1) buy something and 2) not be a dramatic jerk to their staff, they couldn’t care less whether you blew an interview to work for them a while back. They only need a few people working for them, so they can be picky; but the approach for customers is entirely different. Of those, they need as many as they can get… or else their business, along with that piece of their heart that went into building it, goes under. They are always going to be aware of that, and that means that their reaction to pretty much ANY potential customer walking in the door is going to be a quiet inner rejoicing.

    Keep imagining that joy in the owner’s heart at the thought of one more customer showing up, as you walk in and do your business there. It’s very real, I guarantee you, even though they may not be on duty at the counter that day (or any day, depending on how the place is run), and thinking of yourself as someone they want very much in the role of a customer — even if they decided against you in the role of an employee — may help to calm the nerves about being there.

    Good luck!

  47. Hey, all. LW here.

    I’m so blown away by all your wonderful, beautiful, helpful & compassionate comments – I nearly cried with relief when I saw my question had been chosen and definitely cried with happy-overwhelm reading all of your kind, kind words. Thank you. Thank you so, so much. I’ve been so afraid of losing this one piece of contact with ~my community~ that I had in my previous home that it just built up in my mind until it turned into this Big Scary Monster. Anxiety, amirite?

    I feel so comforted by all of you and I’m so grateful. ❤

    I'll mask up, practice, make a list, and try the get-in-get-out while being polite but not linger…and see what happens. If anyone wants updates, I'll give you the news!

    1. If you feel comfortable leaving an update it would be great, LW! Go forth and be smooth and polite and quick and awesome. :)I hope it goes swimmingly for you and you come out of it feeling stronger.

    2. That’s great LW! I’m so happy it helped. I would love to hear an update 🙂

  48. Wanted to belatedly comment and echo that the letter is probably boilerplate.

    I’ve been on a bunch of interviews, don’t remember anything particularly egregious that I did, but still got a fair number of letters that said something to the effect of “Due to the number of applicants we interview, we are not in a position to provide individual feedback.”

    Now, I could be Dunning-Kreugering myself, but I mostly suspect one of two things is going on any time a company sends that. The first is that they really do have more applicants than they can provide feedback for, especially if it is a quirky/cool industry. The second is that the Gumption People–the Boomer-types who talk about cold-calling companies regarding jobs and “making your resume stand out” with flashy fonts and going to drop it off in person–advise rejected applicants to ask for feedback because it Demonstrates! Initiative! and it Shows! You! Care! and all of the other HR buzzwords that make me want to brain people with a shovel.

    As with the other Gumption People advice, this has made companies pre-emptively take measures to avoid it.

  49. I would like to mention that I have had weird first encounters/interactions with a person and then gone on to see that they were off somehow on that day and they are actually quite lovely. The first interaction after the weirdness makes me consider that perhaps it was just a one off, and every non-weird interaction after that reinforces that belief until the weirdness is just a blip on the radar. A thing that happened once when said person was probably having a lousy day. I sincerely hope that others give me the same benefit of the doubt when my weirdness manifests. If they do not, I probably don’t want to invest any time in building that relationship anyway. Best of luck to the letter writer. People being passionate about their thing is always sort of a delight. I hope that you find your niche and are able to follow your passion!

  50. Ahhh, I feel for the letter writer so badly! I’ve screwed up so many job interviews, and it especially sucks if you feel invested in the business and also a bit desperate.

    Think of it this way though – every single person has cringe moments they play over and over in their brain. But how many moments do you actually remember with other people being awkward? I’m guessing even if you can recall some now, they don’t have the same precision and clarity as the memories where you screwed up. Truth is, most (normal, kind) people are thinking way more about their own lives to judge you for living yours.

    Alternatively, just clap your mental hands over your ears and shout ‘LALALALAAA’ in your brain whenever you remember something unbearably cringey.

  51. LW, I’m also going to encourage you to play a little game. Let’s say you absolutely did flame out in that very standard way people flame out of interviews (not polished enough, too nervous, some mistakes), and their reaction was a big old “ew” in the vein that you perceived. Like, instead of blaming jerkbrain and nerves, let’s say you were right about your perceptions here.

    Can you imagine being on the inside of that company and feeling comfy and confident and competent? Knowing that their reaction to slight deviations from Total Confidence and Perfection was basically to recoil and go “ew David” like Alexis from Schitts Creek, can you imagine the mental gymnastics and work you’d have to have done to get your sea legs under you at that place? We forget that the interview process also gives us information about them – their values and communication style – and something that feels like this could also be read as a red flag *for you.* You are not the right fit, right now, to work there. That’s fine! You can still get your shade grown beans and be friendly with the barista and feel connected to your knowledge community. Good luck!

  52. Hi, OP! I hire people for my employer and I’ve turned down tons of great candidates. Maybe we had limited positions available, maybe someone else had a really specific skill we don’t train for, perhaps other candidates had a bit more experience, who knows? All this to say that not getting the job doesn’t necessarily = they think you’re a huge weirdo and never want to interact with you again. The rejection letter? Yep, ours are pretty similar. The no feedback part isn’t for you- it’s for the guy who sent me an invoice for $200 for wasting his time during the interview process. (Spoiler alert: I did not pay.)

    I’ve run into several people who I didn’t hire before and the ones who are pleasant and professional make me hope they apply again. They might land at the top of the candidate pool this time.

    You sound like a pretty cool person, OP. I wish you all the best!

  53. As someone who worked retail for 6 years, 5 as a manager, I can assure you, LW, that the only thing the store employees are thinking is “let me get this person rung up and happily leaving, hopefully with a side of not breaking social distancing!” If, after a few visits, they start chatting you up, you can follow their clues and talk about shared passion for the industry (I always enjoyed chatting about product with customers if I wasn’t slammed and they weren’t being invasive), but they will have seen so many people every day, I virtually guarantee they won’t be focused on remembering your job interview. You can do this!

  54. I had a very odd experience applying for a paid job that was offered to me that I still can’t quite resolve. And in my case it keeps me from
    Volunteering there again. Or even using their services myself. After over a decade of work, the director started telling me I should be her assistant.
    At first I was very wary. I have no tangible office skills. But literally every Friday after work she would talk up how great it would be and so
    I began to believe it. I was told that as a city job, it had to be listed but she requested a limited listing to the public and really there would be
    No competition and emphatically I did not need to learn a specific program for the computer. A skill for which there was ample time and interest on my part to acquire . So I interviewed , I was friendly , light hearted even slightly amused to be questioned by my work mates on topics that seemed
    Made up to pass the time. Then I found out 5 people had applied .i suspect office skills were top priority . And the decade long friendly to me, director? Changed her tone, her voice and even her posture when she talked to me. In fact she used the unpleasant stiff fake persona she had for clients ( difficult clients ) I was stunned. 6 months. Every Friday. Then that week I was suddenly diagnosed with an urgently failing heart valve. I could barely cope.
    I wrote a polite resignation letter
    From my current job volunteering , explaining my health situation. They never called for a wellness check as is their custom.
    Nor wrote a card , another community kindness and frequent activity
    I participated in myself while there. I was just ” gone”. It’s a small town. I see the director in the market. I suspect they believe I faked the heart
    Issue even with the large highly visible chest scar ? It was a delightful volunteer job. While I do check once a year to see if that person has retired
    Because I could volunteer there again now that I am well, I won’t go in because her desk is central and I do know small town gossip abides.
    But as was alluded to above, I may have escaped a terrible work situation based just on the bosses two faced switch up.
    So I volunteer elsewhere and don’t use their varied community services anymore.
    Thank you for reading this and thank you for all the kind comments to the OP, it was encouraging to me also.
    I vote for it being a yarn shop. Or sewing ? We need more of both!

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