Monday, March 22, 2010

The Interview

Interviews don’t happen very often. When they do, you greet them with the frantic enthusiasm of a plane crash survivor after nine days of tree bark and melted snow. You review your favorite advice and conduct imaginary ones. You sizzle. You shine. You’re slaying them.

Then the interview happens.

They’re like the outdoor skating rinks you frolicked on as a child. The ones with the patch of frozen (and exposed) dirt. Everything is going along swimmingly until you hit the part without ice.

Technically, you’re capable of thinking on your feet. You do it all the time at the supermarket. But it’s a different story when you’re sitting in someone's office.

The last interview was in late-February. You girded your loins and convinced yourself you really wanted the job at an inner city blood bank. You were stoked like one of those old coal-fired locomotives.

You cleared the first hurdle, which was not answering the salary question with a number, but by responding that you were open and that it was negotiable. Check.

Next was the waiting. The interview was scheduled for ten, but it’s ten-twenty and you’re still eyeballing the characters shuffling in and out of the lobby. This is a test. Stay focused. You want this. Go get it. Check.

A technician in a white lab coat reads your name off a clip board like she’s reading the ingredients of processed cheese spread: Monosodium Glutamate, Artificial Coloring, La Piazza Gancio.

You stand. You follow the technician through the security doors, the lab and all the way to the back and an office on the right. There, a small man with a limp handshake asks you to sit down.

He starts the interview by asking you to tell him about yourself. Which you do, eagerly reciting the relevant experience of your life, education and work in tidy sound bites John Boehner (R-OH) would be proud of.

You remember to imbue your words with inflections that impart enthusiasm and a positive outlook. Check.

When you’re finished, he looks up from his desk. He asks you if you have any concerns about working with and around blood. Syringes. Stuff like that. Are you squeamish? Will you faint? Are you prone to vomiting?

Hoping to tread the fine line between appearing as a third-rate vampire and as someone with a less-than-stellar constitution, you respond that you are—quite literally—full of it and have a healthy regard for the role it plays in what has been until then your body’s ongoing functionality.

He looks up from the papers on his desk, holds up his hand and says “No joke. No joke. This is serious stuff.” and looks back down. You realize "No" would have sufficed. Strike one.

He goes on to explain the company, the training, and the job. You ask interested questions. He asks about your education again. He asks you where you are currently working, and whether they may be contacted for a reference. You respond that you are seeking employment.

“You’re unemployed? For how long?” You tell him. There is a long silence. The mood in the room is changing. He continues to scrutinize the papers on his desk. The part in his hair is remarkably straight.

Without sounding desperate, you remind him you are volunteering at ___________, and are learning new computer skills while you reinforce existing ones at the local community college. You are keeping busy, staying productive.

It's not enough. This is a deal-breaker. Your words disappear without a trace into a stony, impenetrable silence. The man with the limp handshake is ending the interview.

You hear an umpire call strikes two and three as he dials an assistant on the telephone and asks her to show you the remainder of the lab. Which is just a nice way of showing you the door.

You’re fuming as she outlines the operations. You try and ask pertinent questions.

But your head is swimming. Why didn't the man with the handshake see your resume? Why wasn't the person who set-up the interview the same person who conducted the interview? Why didn't the people involved consult with each other and decide what he/she/they were looking for in a candidate before they wasted their/your time?

Your girlfriend tries to cheer you by noting that working for a humorless paper-shuffler like the man who interviewed you would have been a perpetual struggle. And that anyone so obsessed with one aspect of an applicant is, to put it nicely, a little dim.

All true.

But you’re still jobless. You have no money. You are staggered by the realization that everything you are, everything you have done, pales in comparison to a job gap. This is what defines you. This is what you are. You have adult-onset cooties.

You wish vile and hideous things upon the man who has punished you for being unemployed. You hope he is soon to understand that unemployment is its own reward. That no further action is required.

Most of all, you hope you survive.

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