Tales from the unemployment trenches: The interview

The “Miss America Questions”

These can be fun but are often simply annoying. An organization has a job opening. I send a tailored resume and a cover letter on nice paper. About 10 percent of the time, I get an interview.

I don the official job interview ensemble (which was formerly the official conference ensemble) and arrive punctually with an extra copy of my resume and armed with as much information about the company as I could glean from contacts or the Internet. There are introductions. There is a brief spiel about the job and the company. I try to appear bright eyed, interested and competent (even if the waistband of my pantyhose is snagged on my belly ring).

Often, with no discussion whatsoever of my qualifications for the job, desire to perform such labor, salary involved, hours, etc., I will get hit with a “Miss America Question.” The following are actual questions (no shit):

1. “Tell us, Ms. Kay, if you could have dinner with any historical figure living or dead, who would it be?”

I said Winston Churchill. I have no idea why. When asked why, I babbled more or less articulately having just watched a biography about the charismatic, old and dead geezer. I refrained from commenting on my views that dining with the dead would be quite a party story.

2. “Cee? Can I call you Cee?” I nodded affirmatively. “If your supervisor was embezzling from the company and you knew about it, what would you do?”

I refrained from quipping, “Demand a cut” as I think this question is designed to glean an applicant’s ability to say the right thing from the corporation’s perspective.

3. “Do you think it’s really stealing if an employee steals in order to feed his family?”

Again, I nearly bit my tongue to keep from saying, “Why no. If you don’t pay wages sufficient for someone to feed his family while you’re driving a Lexus, I’ve got a problem with you, Bubba.” Nor did I comment on the inherent sexism in the question that is in no way mitigated by the fact that the masculine pronoun is still considered the default. Bubba, in this instance, was talking to a woman.

4. “Can you pass a drug test?”

Now, honestly, do they expect an answer other than yes? For the record, yes I can, unless they’re testing for alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, or chocolate. I really wanted to say, “I’m a bit hazy on meth, but I’m fairly knowledgeable. So, yes, I think I could pull a C or better.” (This is not strictly a “Miss America Question” but it’s stupid enough to be one.)

5. “Why did you go to college?”

I did not flutter my eyelashes and respond, “To work with children and promote world peace which is why I’m applying for a position in auditing. Can we talk about auditing for a bit?”

6. “Can I trust you?”

I did not wink and whisper, “I don’t know. Whose body is it?” Then there are the power plays where I’m supposed to be convinced, intimidated, impressed or startled into wonderment at how phenomenally busy this person is and, concomitantly, how privileged I am to be one of the chosen. Examples (again, these are for real):

1. “I’m sorry. I haven’t actually read your resume.” (I think it’s wise I did not query, “Why am I here then?”)

2. “I’m sorry, I have to take this call.” (During the course of an hour of my time, I was actually “interviewed” for all of, perhaps, 10 minutes.)

The Group Interview

These usually begin with a suited yahoo (obviously bereft of any wahoo) in front of 40 people on folding chairs. “We find that interest in working for our company is so widespread that we choose to begin with group interviews. Why, shucks, we got 87 resumes that didn’t hit the trash can due to typos.”

Wahoo-deficient Yahoo then clicks on a PowerPoint presentation and strains of “America the Beautiful” fill the air. We’re regaled for 20 minutes about how yahoo’s supervisor’s pawpaw started the company with his mama’s egg money.

The Group Interview on Steroids

Same as above with the addition of 40 applicants with metal-folding-chair-paralyzed-butt syndrome asked to tell everyone a little bit about themselves in two minutes or less. That amounts to 80 minutes of “I’m a people person with a strong work ethic.”

The Serial Interview

Also known as “Survivor: The Bush Economy” – which would be a hoot as a reality show but is substantially less fun as a participant. And, thus far, the prize packages haven’t been all that appealing either.

“Now, of course, this is just a screening interview. We’ll be doing second interviews probably next week. Following that, the top candidates will be asked to meet in Bridgeport for a mud wrestling competition. The top two will then be flown via helicopter to Seneca Rocks where the first candidate down the precipice without running her hose, skewing his tie or using an expletive will be hired. Of course, there’s no health insurance. Good luck.”

The Oddballs

My favorite is the “drive-by interview,” so monikered due to the brevity of the encounter.

The interview was at 5:20 p.m. Not 5:00. Not 5:30. Or even 5:15. 5:20. It was in the form of a modified group interview as at least two of us were scheduled for 5:20. I got there at 5 p.m. I sat in my car (a.k.a. “reliable transportation”), checked my lipstick (tasteful, understated, reasonably well-applied), placed my resume in a spiffy plastic folder, turned off my cell phone, and girded my loins for battle.

I walked in at 5:15. At 5:24, after nine minutes of dueling eye glares with the other applicant, I was beckoned to the inner sanctum and greeted by an office manager who told me to have a seat. She returned a minute or so later and took a Polaroid head shot of me. The doctor, his highness, came in, peered at me and then at the recently acquired photo. He glanced at my resume and said, “You’re Cee?” I allowed as how I was. He paper-clipped the Polaroid to my resume and said, “We’ll be in touch. I left at 5:31.

Then there was the interview which I mostly went on for kicks and because I popped my mouth off.

I’m sitting around, minding my own business, when the phone rings.

Me: “Hello.”

Him: “I don’t know why I’m calling you.”

Me: “Me neither. Want to hazard a guess?”

Him, laughing: “I’m handling this badly. I have your resume.”

Me, laughing: “Well, you’re either calling to offer me an interview or berate me for my temerity in applying to your company.”

Him, laughing: “Well, you’re over-qualified.”

Me: “Raise your standards.”

Fast forward to interview: there was an actual discussion of qualifications <gasp>. I was informed it was a serial interview process <sigh>. This was followed by discussion of a partner who is a problem (anger management, foul mouth, impending divorce, inadvertent tendencies toward sexism, and general nastiness). I asked if I could yell back and was told I could. The partner walks in and interrupts. He picks up my resume and says, “What’s this word? I’ve never heard this word before.” The word in question was “oriented”. Then he says, “Where are you from?” I explain.

I could hear him thinking “Yankee Bitch.” Things progressed until I found myself explaining to Mr.-Problem-With -Women-and-His-Temper that a phrase used in the Great Frozen North and Land of Damn Yankees, is a bastardization of a European language phrase that loosely translates as “lighten up,” Oh. and “que sera sera,” depending on context.

His eyebrows disengaged from his face, hit the acoustic tiled ceiling and landed on his spine which was duly and suddenly straightened by the chaos physics involved with migrating eyebrows. I may have blown the interview. Oh well. He didn’t seem to have any wahoo either.

Today, I sent out resumes to sell office stuff, sell advertising, manage a facility for the incarceration of people guilty only of aging badly and, for kicks, to manage a catering department at a large hotel (I have never so much as flipped a hamburger professionally, much less served one, but it sounded like fun). The way things are going, I’ll probably get an interview.

The jobs I’m qualified for and could do without any real thought processes don’t result in interviews.  I have found that I rather like thinking – in resume speak this is known as “open to new challenges.”

Have you had an interesting experience in the job market? Contact Graffiti and we’ll publish your story.

© 2000-2003 Graffiti Publications

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