On a tip from an acquaintance, I heard that a local correspondence school was hiring and had a roundtable interview scheduled within a couple of days. She said she had just been hired, added that her job pretty much involves answering phones. For a candidate with negligible work experience, phone-answering sounded just fine. I touched up my resume, and, after calling ahead, I went off to the interview.
I ended up showing up half of an hour early — I wrote down the wrong start time — in my dress shirt and slacks. Phone answering, I reasoned, doesn’t warrant suit and tie. Other interviewees started showing up not three minutes after I arrived, promptly quashing that hypothesis.
One of the first to arrive was a loud, brash man at least 24 years my senior. Then, the quiet, demure lady with elegant pearl earrings and a dark-colored pantsuit who was a little older. There was, in a classy pinstripe, the confident but subdued gentleman old enough to be my father. By the time we moved our group into the smallish classroom, we numbered 20 or more, and all but two or three had graduated college before I entered high school.
I assessed the situation.
I’m a little out of my league, and I probably don’t have a chance. Still, since I’m here, I might as well stick around.
Besides, as one of the other, few youngsters told me:
I hear they’re interviewing for a “wide variety of positions.” I’m not sure what that means, but I need a job.
I hoped that it involved answering phones or being a receptionist, but I wasn’t sure.
All things considered, the interview went as well as it could have. Between questions, there were a few presentations — lectures — about the specific business, and how it gets run, and how it outperforms its competitors, and what positions were available. How it wants flexible go-getters willing to take orders and to do what it takes to close a sale.
Low-level openings involved selling the college to interested candidates and screening applicants — probably still out of my reach.
I stuck around, believing that the very worst that could happen was that a meteor would crash into the Earth, obliterating all forms of life except the cockroach. I also believed that the worst thing that could realistically happen was that I’d remain jobless this summer, but with more practice at interviews.
Improving the quality of this practice, the interviewers asked the typical interview questions, and I was prepared.
What’s your greatest strength, and what’s maybe a potential weakness?
I started with a weakness.
I’ll start with a weakness, because I think it’d be hard to evaluate me as a job candidate without considering it — it’s my youth.
The room, normally filled with muttering and whispered chattering, fell silent. I took a breath to calm the nerves; I continued. Paraphrased:
I don’t have the years of experience at the job or in life that a lot of other candidates in this room have, and there’s this impression that everyone my age thinks they know everything. Maybe that’s true for other kids my age, but it isn’t true for me. I don’t think I know everything.
You spoke for a time about wanting employees who are flexible, and who want to learn how to do it your way. That’s me, in part because of my youth and relative inexperience. I don’t think I know everything, and that’s probably my greatest strength.
That’s the speech I had in my head, and, redundant as it was, it was even more galbred in the translation. I could tell that the message got across, though, and I believe it was the right message. As Randy Pausch said, quoting his father:
If there’s an elephant in the room, introduce it.
Not that my introduction helped: I still didn’t get the job. There’s always next time.