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.

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  1. Baxter, tell me one thing, do you or do you not have your state issued teacher certification?

    If you were applying for a teacher’s job, then at minimum a suit would have been appropriate.

    A phone receptionist– a tie.

    A maintenance worker or office assistant go-fer type — what you were wearing.

    Your response was clever and in certain circumstances, would have impressed a certain type of employer who thinks outside the box like you.

    However, given the dull nature of the interview questions, this sounds like a cookie cutter establishment designed to attract and pump out graduates with a modicum of adequate skills necessary to get an OK job but not great job. Hence, my point is that employers like to hire copies of themselves. Having interviewed from both sides of the desk, I can usually tell within five minutes what the place is like and what type of people work there. If the person who interviews you is a typically colorless and bland worker bee type who asks boilerplate questions and you don’t consider yourself a colorless and bland clockwatching “company man” type, then the place won’t be for you. It’s going to be filled with faint copies of the administration.

    Baxter, from reading your blog, you have the ability to think and articulate reasonably well. You may not always make the right choices, but as you admit, you are willing to learn from your mistakes.

    That’s how you need to sell yourself.

    “I can think, I can problem solve, and I can learn. I can work hard, be punctual, and be a team player. These attributes will make up for my lack of overall life experience”

    Or something like that.

    Some people your age earned a 4.0 GPA, made dean’s list every semester, earned a few awards, interned in some high profile establishment, etc. They will right away get the first crack at the best jobs. You know people like that I’m sure, the ones who didn’t have a life during school, spent all weekends studying, and generally sucked up to anyone whose status rose above theirs.

    Personally, I despised people like that at your age. I overachieved only at the things I enjoyed doing, which rankled my overachieving and business-owning immigrant Jewish family to no end.

    And truthfully, if you do look like a cross between Sidney Greenstreet and John Goodman, then consider dropping a few.

    Statistics show that obese people represent health risks. No one except for those in the most desperate of industries, such as the service industries (restaurants, hotels, retail, etc) will take a shot on you if you pose a greater chance of becoming sick or debilitated due to your weight.

    It’s an unspoken edict in the business world for the obvious reasons.

  2. Baxter, tell me one thing, do you or do you not have your state issued teacher certification?

    I still haven’t heard whether or not I’ll get the chance, so I might not get to apply, or maybe I might.

    … office assistant go-fer type …

    That’s about where I was aiming, what with my complete lack of marketable skills.

    If the person who interviews you is a typically colorless and bland worker bee type who asks boilerplate questions and you don’t consider yourself a colorless and bland clockwatching “company man” type, then the place won’t be for you. It’s going to be filled with faint copies of the administration.

    I’ve heard this before, and I believe it. If I have a preference for jobs that require me to work on my own initiative and on my own deadlines, it’s because that way minimizes contact within the many companies where I won’t fit in, or be naturally happy.

    Personally, I despised people like that at your age. I overachieved only at the things I enjoyed doing …

    We have that in common, and despise is certainly a strong enough word. I’ve known many, many people like that, who will suck up obsequiously even if they do feel wretched. I can’t help but think of of “gain the world but lose your soul,” and all that.

    At the very least, I don’t see it was worth the stress. I’ll survive more happily, if less opulently.

    And truthfully, if you do look like a cross between Sidney Greenstreet and John Goodman, then consider dropping a few.

    Now that I really think about it, I’m probably more of a Jack Black build, but a lot taller — I should still lose a few. Given my current, sparse jobless diet and my miser-like food budget, I probably will, soon.

  3. Well, a “Jack Black” build is certainly scaled down from John Goodman or Sidney Greenstreet.

    I vividly recall Greenstreet from Bogart films and the man was easily over 300 lbs.

    Goodman’s got be at least 250 by now, easily.

  4. I’m around 315 pounds, if not more, but I’m also 6 feet, 6 inches. That evens out somewhere between a tall fat Black and a marginally skinnier Greenstreet, I guess.

  5. At that size, have you considered being a club bouncer?

  6. Usually, people suggest I become a lineman, rather than a bouncer. Either way, I don’t have the muscle to be the hired tough.

  7. Club bouncing doesn’t require strength, just intimidating size.

  8. I guess. I doubt I have the nerves for something like that, but I could always try.

  1. 1 Most Cutthroat Interview Question Ever « On the Tenure Track

    […] school, shirt, slacks, strength, typical, upper, usual, variety, weakness, wide Toward the end of the interview I had no business attending, our potential employer asked all of us in the group interview all of the basic questions. What […]




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