John Bokma

How anxiety got me rejected twice today

June 20, 2016

Today, just after noon I emailed about 60 people if they were interested in hiring me as a Perl programmer. I had attached the PDF version of my up-to-date resume instead of a link for download to save the recipient time. Soon after, sooner than expected, I got my first reply. It was, however, the third one that looked the most promising to me. It was from the director of talent working for a company I knew by name and have been recommending in the past:

Hey John,

Let me know if you have a few minutes today to discuss your application.

As I suffer from what is known as "phone phobia", a form of social anxiety that makes it next to impossible for me to have video conversations using Skype, I wrote back.

Dear [deleted],

Let me know if email or Skype text chat is acceptable. Voice chat is very stressful for me (anxiety issues).

In the past this has never been an issue; people even offered sympathy. Not in this case:

Unfortunately with remote arrangements, especially with newcomers, we need the video conference communications to be pretty frequent. So this will not work.

Best of luck to you.

Of course this reply was a huge disappointment. I don't think not being able to have video conference communications affects my work in any way. Moreover, as eventually requirements have to be written down anyway, why not do so in an email? I document my work using Markdown or Emacs' org mode, and requirements in email make it a piece of cake to just copy paste. While note taking during a phone conversation does not really work, in my past experience.

The whole exchange made me angry and anxious, but I decided not to give up and asked kindly to reconsider. At this time of writing, 4 hours later, no reply..

But things got worse. I got another request for a voice interview by a different company:

Yes, I have perl work available.

Please send voice contact information.

After my explanation that due to anxiety I could not do voice interviews and if email was an option I got the following reply:

Not really, Sorry about your anxiety, but I don't hire any programmers without a video conference interview on skype.

my skype id is: [deleted]

You can connect with me (send a contact request)

If you feel up to it.

Once more I decided to stay polite and explained that it was not that simple, alas.

Hi [deleted]

It's not that I am unwilling, it's just something that's not possible for me. I hope you are able to reconsider. I have been working for over 20 years freelance and this seems only recently an issue while one would expect the opposite.

John

Which resulted in the following reply:

I read your resume, and contacted you for interview.

I cannot reconsider.

Up to you.

Sigh. It's not up to me. I made another effort, but by this time I was no longer sure if I actually wanted to work with this person or not.

[deleted], I probably can't explain this to you, but if it was up to me we would have now a nice conversation on Skype. It's a genuine issue I have, one I have been struggling with all my life and it has worsened over the past decade or so. I even email with close friends, and most of my family because of this (I am a migrant).

Anyway, thanks for your time.

John

Even as a child I suffered from "phone phobia"; I let my younger brother make most of my phone calls. Later, when I started to work freelance I made a huge effort to get rid off it. One day I even cold called 40 companies picked from the Yellow Pages. But a few years after this I often got interrupted by customers while in the middle of work. Each time this caused unwanted anxiety and anger. Getting back to work always took time. One customer even called me at times like 11 in the evening because he had seen me posting on Usenet, and hence I was still awake.

A solution seemed, back then, to make appointments for such conversations. But in nearly each case this ended up in being put on hold. Which made me feel useless.

All this caused a lot of stress and made that I started to avoid voice conversations with customers more and more and made it harder and harder for me to have such conversations, even with friends and family. Now, years later, there are only a handful of people I can have video chats with. I am working on improving this, but it will take time. A lot. Right now it's not up to me; to quote one of my favorite Eels songs:

But I don't think I'm ready yet

Not feeling up to it now

Just not that steady yet

And I don't need you telling me how

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I am a freelance Perl programmer for hire, download my up-to-date resume (PDF).