Please. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. But I doubt that you have, so . . . nevermind.
Anyway, I figured the headline was the best way to introduce a blog post about fear and confusion during the initial job interview.
What do I know about jobs and job interviews? Quite a bit, as it turns out. I’ve had plenty of jobs in different fields and have even taught career choice classes. How ’bout that?
Besides, you can trust me. I’m a (retired) counselor.
To help you in your job quest, I’m going to describe a mostly true situation where I experienced fear and confusion as well as quite a bit of amusement both during and after an initial job interview. You can choose to follow my behaviors (which I really do not recommend) or ignore them completely and use them as a sad and cautionary tale about the awful things that may await you once you’re invited in for that face-to-face interview.
It all started with me getting a call from a person named Michael that I’d supervised for his master’s degree clinical internship. He wanted to invite me to lunch in order to update me on his career progression over the last five years. I felt honored and told him I’d be happy to meet him for lunch to catch up on his professional life. We met at a local diner that he liked and ordered our meals. Right away Michael began telling me about the positive experiences he’d had since getting out of graduate school, including his first professional job at a local mental health agency. I asked him if he’d had much difficulty finding a job following grad school.
“Some,” Michael replied. “Therapist or counselor jobs were pretty scarce around here four years ago. Agencies mostly wanted social workers or psychologists. But I relied on one particular tactic you taught me to use during my job interviews . . . and it resulted in me getting a couple of job offers.”
“Oh, what tactic was that?” I asked.
“You told me to be myself. Don’t you remember?” he said.
I had kind of stopped breathing for a bit and clenched my jaw. “Oh yeah, be yourself. I remember now,” I said. “So you say it worked out well for you?”
“I think it made all the difference. Interviewers saw me for who I am. I didn’t have to pretend I was some know-it-all newly-minted therapist. I could show confidence and humility at the same time.”
We continued our conversation about Michael’s job and how my retirement was going. The server brought our salad and iced teas. As we ate, I found myself relieved that my advice about being himself had worked out well for my young friend. I thought back to an initial job interview of mine when being myself wasn’t such a good idea.
It was in the fall of 1976, I was 23 years old, and I was going to move to Sioux Falls after living in Rapid City for most of the previous year. I was engaged to be married to my first wife (That marriage was just one of many bad decisions I would make over the next 20 years.) I thought I wanted to work for an advertising agency and Sioux Falls had several of them. Making the rounds of those businesses I met some interesting and very creative people who I still keep in touch with. However, there was one ad agency where my experience wasn’t so good. It was on the top floor of what was then called The 300 Building. The agency was fairly small and had only three people working there: a graphic designer, a secretary, and an account executive/copywriter. I was to learn that the agency was small because it was a branch of one in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They also had offices in Waterloo, Iowa and Columbia, MO. The boss of the Sioux Falls office was the account executive/copywriter. His name was Stan. The secretary’s name was Deanna. I never met the graphic artist, nor did I learn his name. Deanna said he was out with a hangover.
I sat in the small reception area that included a few chairs, Deanna’s desk, a small table with a Mr. Coffee on it, a four-drawer filing cabinet, and several posters of the agency’s print ads. I noticed that all the ads were for agricultural products: seed corn, fertilizer, farm machinery, etc. I also noticed that Deanna was quite well-endowed and was wearing an exceptionally tight, low-cut sweater. After about 10 minutes of sitting in that waiting room, reading farm magazines and casually keeping an eye on the secretary, I asked if I was going to see Stan soon.
“Oh, I forgot to tell him you were here!” she said. “I’m so sorry. I’ll go tell him right now.”
With that Deanna stood up and walked into Stan’s office, closing the door behind her. She was in there for about five minutes before coming out and telling me that Stan would be with me momentarily. Deanna stood behind her desk then reached way across to retrieve a small note. In order to accomplish this, the secretary had to briefly bend over towards me. At the same time, I bent towards her, trying to gain a more favorable view of her ample bosom. Just then Stan came out of his office, looked at me and smiled slightly, arching one eyebrow. He motioned for me to follow him into his office.
I thought to myself, “Oh shit, great work dummy. Now he thinks you’re some kind of a pervert.”
Once in the office, Stan had me sit directly in front of his desk across from him. Stan looked to be in his forties and he was considerably overweight. He wore his hair stylishly long and sported a dark mustache. He had on a white button-down dress shirt and gaudy tie. The shirt was definitely too small for him — at least a size or two anyway. The shirt collar pinched his neck tightly forcing the pink flesh up and over the collar like water slowly gurgling out of a hose pointed upward. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The man’s face was red and beaded with small dots of sweat. “Probably from working too closely with that secretary,” I thought.
Stan began asking all the standard questions about my background and I answered them confidently. I took out my portfolio and clips and placed them on the desk. I noticed that Stan licked his lips to moisten them periodically. Every now and then his pink tongue pushed way out of his mouth, and there, on the tip of it, was a pink bump — a wart. Stan would rub the wart back and forth over his upper lip as if polishing it after wetting it first with his tongue. He didn’t do this all the time, only about every four minutes or so. I guess it was when Stan figured his upper lip needed a wart shining.
“Hmm, what else could that wart be good for — besides polishing his wet lips?” I wondered silently. I surmised to myself that if it was firm enough, Stan could probably use it to pick food out of his teeth. “Yeah,” I figured, “that would be better than a toothpick — but not as good as floss — but certainly more stealthy than a toothpick or floss! And, I’ll bet dollars to donuts he could use Mr. Wart to flick things out of his stupid mustache. Like food particles and pieces of paper and . . . boogers!” There could be other things a wart on a tongue could be good for, but my mind was drifting into dangerous territory.
I was quick to learn that Stan’s wart wasn’t the worst thing I noticed about him that fall morning.
Right there, in the middle of the right side (his left) of his mustache was an enormous green and white booger! And I’m certain it was too far up for his tongue wart to reach. That was disappointing because I would have liked to see ol’ Stan shoot his tongue out of his mouth just like a lizard, then up over his lip and thwack or slurp that booger out of my sight.
Stan and I continued to talk about his agency and all the ag advertising awards they’d won. But between the tongue wart and the mustache booger, I became significantly distracted. I wondered if I should tell the guy about the booger, but thought better of it, especially since we were so far into the interview and he would realize that I had been letting him drone on with the booger hanging right there for me and the world to see. No, that would be impolite, I figured. And I certainly didn’t want to offend him. But the fact was, that booger was offending me. It was all I could think about.
Then suddenly I stuttered “boo–boog–booger!”
That stopped Stan in mid-sentence. “What’d you say?” he asked.
I swallowed hard and said again, “Booger. I mean creating advertising for some of these ag products must be a real booger.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It sure can be. Especially trying to come up with something new to say about sunflowers that hasn’t already been said.” Stan asked me about time management and how I handle stress.
At that point, I decided to be myself and exhibit some of my sense of humor. “Well, in my current job in Rapid City I work a lot with a couple of people from another department,” I said. “We always joke that when the stress gets too bad that we’re just gonna lose it and go running out the door. One guy and I have this running joke that we’re both gonna go up to the top floor of the First Federal building where the Pyrenees restaurant is. It’s pretty high up. Well, we’ll make a pact that we’ll open a window and jump out. Except, the window’s too small for us both to go at the same time, so I convince my buddy to go first. He jumps first and about a floor down he looks up and sees me still standing inside the window.
“Hey!” the guy yells. “Aren’t you going to jump, too?”
“I would have,” I say, “but you know how badly I procrastinate!”
To this, I start giggling and laughing until I notice Stan isn’t laughing. Instead, he’s frowning. But he doesn’t say anything. So I keep on going.
“You know my work pal told me he always has had an impulse disorder. He says he’s got a faulty pre-frontal cortex. That’s the part of the brain that manages impulses, you know. I guess he needed to send his pre-frontal cortex to management training!,” I said digging myself deeper and deeper into some kind of hole. By now I was giggling and snorting at the same time.
At that point, Stan sighed and took out a pocket comb.
“Yes!” I thought to myself. “Stan’s gonna comb that booger right out of that stache.”
But it was not to happen. Instead, Stan combed his hair with the comb. He then peered at the implement for a few seconds, sniffed it, then tucked it back in his shirt pocket. Much to my relief, Stan also decided it was time to end the interview. We shook hands with me smiling and thanking him for his time while staring at that evil green and white booger, still in his mustache, taunting me. The Bastard!
I couldn’t understand if I had offended Stan with my stress jumper joke. Surely I could have offended him more if I pointed out the booger to him. Oh well. I decided I’d send him a thank you note for taking the time to interview me and to let him know I found our conversation interesting. It said:
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me recently about a copywriter position with your agency. I enjoyed our conversation very much. While I don’t know a lot about agricultural products or the marketing of them, I’m a quick learner and could be well educated about the area in a matter of months.
Once again, thanks for considering me for a copywriting position.
Gary L. Dickson
P.S. I forgot to mention to you during the interview that you had a pretty large booger in your mustache. It remained there the entire length of our meeting.
I was eventually hired by a small advertising/public relations agency owned by a 50-something-year-old woman named Dolores Harrington. Dolores had a marvelous sense of humor. I eventually told her about my experience with Stan, his wart, his booger, my attempt at levity, and my thank you card (which I kept a copy of). After telling her the joke she started laughing so hard tears were running down her face.
Years later, after I had returned to graduate school and Dolores the ad agency owner had retired, we went out for lunch.
“You wouldn’t have known this going into that interview with Stan,” she said, “but the previous manager of that agency was also Stan’s mentor and best friend. One day about three years before you met with Stan, he lost a major advertising account. To top it off his wife decided to leave him because he was having an affair with that big-boobed secretary. So the guy walked up to the top floor of the National Bank building and dived off! No wonder Stan didn’t find the humor in your story. Holy crap that was funny!”
My concentration was drifting back to my lunch partner and former supervisee, Michael. As we were winding up our pleasant meeting, I told him I was pleased and impressed with how his career had taken shape and where it seemed to be headed.
“There’s one more thing I learned from you, Gary, about job hunting,” Michael said. “You told me to always, always send a thank you letter after an interview. I found it really makes quite an impression on the people I meet. I even send thank you notes after meeting with referral sources.”
Yes, Michael, it makes an impression. What kind of impression is up to you.