zaterdag 23 november 2013

Cautionary Tale: What I Learned During the Worst Job Interview Ever (Overig)

If a job offer nearly makes you burst into tears, you may have applied for the wrong job.

This seems like a self-evident sort of truth, but I had to come to this realization through experiencing my worst job interview ever. This is a cautionary tale about how desperation to land a job made me lose all common sense.

The job ad caught my eye because it promised an entry level marketing job with training provided. A solid job and an opportunity to learn a new skill? Why not! No matter that I didn’t have much interest in marketing. And no matter that the job ad was strangely vague. By this point, I had been unemployed for about three months, and I was becoming unfashionably desperate. I had started out with some concrete ideas of where I wanted to work, but as the days and weeks and months passed, and as the prospect of getting up to another aimless, unpaid day became harder to bear, my search became more frantic.

My resume and cover letter got me a quick call for an interview, which was very soothing to my ego. But once there, my internal alarm bells started going off immediately. It was an anonymous-looking office with anonymous too-new furniture and a single motivational poster on the wall, something about loyalty and soaring bald eagles. The employees also looked too new, as if recently unpackaged. My interviewer had an unnaturally chiseled jaw and shiny pomaded hair. I could smell his cologne from across the expanse of the polished conference table, on which he kept reshuffling papers without glancing at them. The “interview” couldn’t have lasted more than 15 minutes, and was less a conversation than a bombardment of questions, drill-sergeant like, except in corporate-speak. Am I ready take on a new challenge? How did I feel about public speaking? Was I ready to “give it my all” for the “team”? I don’t think a single specific job duty was discussed, and I was too blindsided to ask.

And yet, despite a strong gut feeling that something was not right, when they called me back and offered me a second, full-day field “interview” with one of their employees, I agreed.

Still not fully comprehending what I was to be doing, I was paired with an individual with a winning smile and calculating eyes, who drove me to a bleak industrial town, all warehouses and shipping businesses. This wasn’t the start of a traditional horror movie – we were to do door-to-door sales, it turned out, attempting to foist printer paper subscriptions through cold calls – but the rapidly escalating dread throughout that day certainly felt that way. At first, my companion hid behind the smoke screen of corporate cult phrases. My head began to throb with each repetition of the words “teamwork,” “results” and “win-win.” He actually used the phrase, “We breed superstars from within,” which reeked of pod people. And like any horror movie villain, my companion gradually revealed himself to be a small-minded, misogynistic and racist young man. As we continued going door-to-door in this mostly minority neighborhood, the corporate platitudes slowly became replaced with blanket statements about women, minorities, minority women, and the general inferiority of “these people.”

Then he asked if I was dating anyone. I had been trying, up to this point, to convince myself that door-to-door sales were preferable to unemployment, but this was the last straw.

Returning after this draining day to the company office, I had a final boardroom meeting with my original perfumed interviewer and the young protégée I’d spent the day with. With great gusto, they offered me the position, adding that they thought I would be a great fit for the team. I nearly burst into tears. I had no interest in sales, but what really stung was that I had apparently faked it well enough to be considered a fit for the toxic company culture. I had figured out, through the too-casual comments over the course of the day, that the “culture” involved ruthless competition, sexist and racist insults masked as jokes, and a general attitude of entitlement and apathy about the world apart from work.

I declined the position, still partially doubting myself. Only then did I have the idea to go online and figure out what I could about the company, and why it made me so uneasy. I immediately felt equal parts relieved and idiotic – it was obvious that I was not the only one who’d experienced the old bait-and-switch by this company and its similar offshoots. It wasn’t a scam per se, but it was so deeply unethical and exploitative that it may as well have been.

I’m still embarrassed by this fiasco. But as with any terrible experience, there are lessons to be learned.

No. 1: Do your research. A simple Google search for the company’s name would have saved me a day I will never get back again. It would also have made it obvious that this job had nothing to do with my career goals.

No. 2: Pay attention to the people. Even if I were a natural at door-to-door sales, even if I loved it, there is no way I could have faked fitting into the company culture long term.

And No. 3: Trust your gut! I knew something was off even before the ominous mention of “after-hours team building exercises,” but quashed my feelings because of fear and insecurity about being unemployed. Wrong. All my worst suspicions ended up being confirmed. Trust your feelings, and you’ll know the right fit when it comes along!
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