A few years ago, I was a finalist for a job and was up against one other candidate. I was an internal candidate, already working for this foreign company in their country. The other candidate had never lived abroad and had never been to the country where I was living at the time.
I was the obvious choice. My co-workers loved me, I already knew the business well, and I had already created a local home and life for myself. But during the interview, when the new manager for this position asked me how many countries I had visited, my answer of “twenty” seemed to somehow be the wrong answer. How is that even a wrong answer? And why was that a question in this interview?
I was, at the time, living in my third country outside of the USA. While I had only visited 20 countries, I had spent a considerable amount of time in them, sometimes even years in a single country. Had I not proven that I knew how to navigate (even thrive) living in a foreign country? Was there something I had done wrong?
I later got to see a copy of the other candidate’s resume. While under my job history I had listed my responsibilities and successes for each position, he had taken the space to write things like “visited 33 countries” and “chosen for this position out of 200 candidates” with absolutely no mention to what he had actually accomplished in those roles.
33 countries. He had never lived overseas. Others who interviewed him found that he didn’t even have experience working with people from other cultures- he had spent his entire life in a small Ohio town with a very homogenous population. But, 33 countries. The manager was impressed. 33 countries MEANT something to her.
I didn’t get the job. I was devastated. I ended up leaving the company a few months later.
Two years later, I arrive in my 33rd country. As soon as my passport was stamped, I stood there, expecting to feel something. But that feeling, whatever I was supposed to feel, never came. Leaving the airport I realized that if I turned around and stamped back out, taking a plane to somewhere else, I could still claim that I had been to 33 countries. Looking at the map I discovered that I could actually be at 40 within the next week if I really felt like it.
And 33, 40, even 100, meant absolutely nothing to me in that moment. I’m still bitter about that job, but now I also just feel sorry for that candidate and that manager. For the manager to be so impressed with an arbitrary number probably shows that she herself wishes to have traveled more, and is impressed by those who did. For the other candidate to be so insecure to have to resort to bragging about passport stamps rather than actual professional success was just sad.