November 5th, 2013
The human resources manager tried to warn me in a roundabout, politically correct fashion that the woman who was about to interview me for a public relations position was structured and by the book. I took the news with a grain of salt because by that time, I’d been interviewing for two months and run the gamut from speaking with everyone from sexual harassers to inept company owners to an entire college board. Besides, I tended to adapt well to different personalities and wasn’t too worried about this particular one.
That thought became the pride before the fall. I knew it was going to be a tough interview the second I spotted her walking toward me in the lobby. Thin and purposeful, wearing a smooth, hair sprayed bob, pink sparkly lipstick that collected in the corners of her mouth, a skirt to the knees, buttoned-up blouse, panty hose and low-heeled navy pumps, she strode over to me, stuck her hand out, and led to me to the conference room without a smile. We sat and talked for a brief moment before she pushed a series of papers my way along with a couple of sharpened pencils, and asked me to complete a grammar test and writing exercise, and edit the provided press release.
It struck me how basic the tests were, and not because I was a grammarian or exceptionally good writer, but because these tests had obviously been ripped from a textbook. Still, I found the pencils charming, because it was 2002 and I hadn’t properly used one for years. I finished the work and waited.
She popped her head into the room and directed me to hand her the tests. I did, and the door closed again. Several minutes later, she re-entered the conference room and took a seat. She tried to smile, but it came out a grimace born from years of not knowing how to relax or properly interact with people. She sternly asked me the types of questions neophyte interviewers ask (what’s your greatest weakness? where do you see yourself in five years?) and didn’t really seem to assimilate the answers beyond this was a routine and she must follow it to the letter. But then, the rest of the interview followed in quick suit: “tell me how you’d develop a PR campaign for our company” “we need eight press releases a month and two articles placed – can you do that?” and “how are you with working late?” The whole time I knew she was analyzing my internal reactions and tangentially – didn’t let people in easily. I fast forwarded my brain to actually working with her and realized it would be a daily struggle to meet her expectations, which seemed misaligned with business reality.
After the interview she attempted to converse, but the interaction was stilted and fumbling. Her laughs sounded staccato like rocks hitting the pavement and she never fully opened her mouth, even though I suspected she would like to at some point. It just showed too much emotion to laugh wide, I guess.
My heart went out to her, and I think her sense of that got me to the next stage.
She finished the interview with, “Just so you know, the CEO is a tough cookie.”
I chose to believe that one and spent a week preparing for another challenging personality. In the interim, I met with all the company principals. Most of these supporting interviews were spent in their offices, awkwardly and standardly, but I didn’t let myself relax. The CEO was tougher. The other tough one told me.
When at last the day came to meet with the company’s owner, I wore a white blouse, which turned out to be a poor, sweaty choice. I swore that my moist shirt was a bad sign and I literally shook in my seat with fear and being tired of interviewing and survival instinct. I needed this job.
I waited in a bigger conference room than the one I’d initially waited in and shrunk in the leather seat. This whole process had taken weeks of preparation and unnatural amounts of nerves. The door opened. A short, dark-haired man walked in and didn’t even shake my hand.
“So,” he began in a British accent. “I hear you’re a writer.”
“What have you written?”
“Well, lots of press releases, and bios and sales copy and…”
“No,” he interrupted. “What have you written?” The emphasis went on the last word.
“Um. I’m writing a book about witches and magic and…”
He stopped me again. “Send it to me.”
Those words marked the end of the interview.
I left dumbfounded, emailed him my creative work in progress, and accepted the public relations position the next day.
What was your strangest job interview?
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