Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thoughts before an interview

I had taken the week off with my family at Cape Cod, (still responsibly checking on and applying for jobs online, I might add), when I got the call. I took the call on my cell phone, in the middle of Nickerson State Park where we were camping, and made the plans to make the interview in two days. Taking the family’s only car, and leaving them stranded with only bikes for transport, I drove the three hours back for what would likely be a two hour interview. That’s due diligence, given the fact that I needed to stop home first, dress to impress, and gather up the appropriate pages from my hardcopy portfolio. Then one stop at MapQuest, and I’m good to go.

The books all say to get to the interview early, to avoid the hazards of a bad first impression. But the worst impression is not finding the place at all. That was my concern as, after a half and hour, of driving around the same four block area, I could not find the street as MapQuest’s directed. Coming dangerously close to missing my goal of showing up ten minutes early, I finally surrendered the male gene and called for directions. So much for the air of complete competency. At least I could show I was more reliable as a designer than MapQuest was at directions. I hoped.

I began to get the sense I was out of place almost immediately. It wasn’t the usual feeling of displacement; being the only dark-skinned face in a room full of WASP-types, something I was so used to it was almost typical. No, this was an out-of-place that spoke to where I should be in his career. I am used to interviewing, not being interviewed. I am used to being sought after, not seeking.

So, I had showed up for the interview on time. This gave me the opportunity to excuse myself to the bathroom and give myself the once-over before returning to the waiting room to fill out the requisite paperwork. Tie in place, check. Hair in place, check. Facilities used, check. Hands washed, check. Face not too shiny from the August heat outside, check. And last but not least, no unwelcome hitchhikers from breakfast on my teeth. A quick stick of gum on the ride over had taken care of the coffee breath quite nicely, thank you.

I flashed a smile at the receptionist, and gave my name again through the opening in the wall. Glass pulled to the side, the window gave the impression of a doctor’ office reception area, not a design firm that handled million dollar clients. The walls all around the room were covered in light wood paneling, giving an anachronistic impression, that was a continuation of the perception outside. This was a large design studio located in an industrial complex; the kind of place I’d been more likely to go for a press check. The idea of a design studio in an industrial park seemed odd, and added to the surreality of the experience. The office, like the day overall, continued to radiate the impression of being something that it was not. Or maybe just wanting to be. Eight chairs ringed the room, incongruously. I wondered if this reception area had ever hosted more than two or three people at once, thereby making the need for eight chairs something of an overkill. Maybe it was a set. Certainly the raised coffee table in the midst of them added to the incongruity, like an area that wanted to feel like a living room, but couldn’t make it much beyond lounge. But then, we all have something to aspire to. Even a waiting room.

t took the preferred paperwork attached to a clipboard, offered by the receptionist. As had happened before, all the information requested on the sheets were covered in the resume I brought. And the fact that I had to fill out one of these forms nonetheless, again spoke to my displacement. would need to fill out before the interview,, the receptionist explained. And I had been through these hoops before. A process is a process. And it often was the same process if the company was interviewing for a shipping clerk or a new VP of Sales. Though neither was the position I was applying for, I sat the board atop my portfolio and took a seat to fill it out.

The paperwork, sure enough, asked the same questions regarding work history and education that are answered concisely and handily in my resume, I stubbornly wondered how much I should actually fill out. Certainly all the pertinent name and contact info. Certainly the work history, which I did as a mental copy and paste. But the next section asked whether I had a car or not, and how many moving violations I’d gotten in the past year, and that stopped him cold. I was applying for a design management position, wherein I would supervise design and production, and press checks, not applying for a delivery position. I was filling out a generic job application form for what I had supposed was a managerial position. The specific line of distinction between the two was clear, at least to me, and usually defined both by level of responsibility and commensurate level of compensation. That’s when it hit home that I was not necessarily filling out a one-size-fits-all application. I was filling out an application for a minimum wage job.

My eyes darted up to the receptionist, where she was busily answering phones and carrying private conversations over her shoulder with the workers seated around her. She didn’t meet my eyes. She wasn’t there for me, clearly; I was neither a client nor apparently a VIP in any way. She knew my name only because I had introduced myself, and it matched the name there in the appointment book for the CEO, with whom I had the interview. I was not yet important enough to get familiar with, and clearly not yet important enough to pay attention to. That sense added to my sense of disconnection with this place, forshadowing that this interview would not go well.

But, hell, I needed the practice for interviewing, anyway, regardless of the outcome. I needed to get used to wearing a tie into a workplace every day again, and keeping my shoes shined and being on time and ready. I needed to get out of the house, away from the blank screen that had been my visor since I lost my last full-time gig, and since I had been trying my hand at the exhausting pace of freelance life. I finished the paperwork, leaving the lines for salary inauspiciously blank. The receptionist reviewed the paperwork cursorily, then beckoned him back over.

“You need to fill out these salary history lines, “ she said.

“I’m happy to provide a range of salary, but I don’t really feel comfortable with specific history.”

“Well,” she mirrored, I know he won’t consider applications without the salary history filled in.”

And so it went.