Thursday, May 23, 2013

Interview Confessions: Out-Asian the Asian

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The night before I was doing my standard "interview homework"(researching the company website, stalking the interviewer on LinkedIn, googling reviews of the agency, etc.) when I decided that I had this job in the bag.

Reason number one: it was a receptionist position. Let's be honest (and I'm not even trying to toot my own horn here), I'm over qualified. I'm not trying to downgrade the actual profession by any means— I'm just saying that I have a degree, I've answered phones for at least 10 different businesses before, and this was an entry-level job...I can handle it.

Reason number two: even though it was clear the majority of employees at this ad agency were Caucasian, the firm itself was Chinese-inspired and themed. This meaning they frequently tossed around words like "chi" and "zen," and kept Oriental trinkets at their front desk, like fortune cookies. At first this sign of casual racism made me roll my eyes, but on second thought...I had an unfair advantage that I definitely could put to use here: my ethnicity.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I've used my race as an advantage many times before. Why, in college I was practically paid to be Asian. And when I needed a part-time job through school, I sauntered into Thai and Japanese restaurants without so much as a resume, with full confidence that I would be hired on the spot. Surely this would be no different?

The actual day of the group interview, as is typical of L.A., I could not find a single parking spot for the life of me. After circling the office building a total of three times, I finally gave up finding a spot near the office and ended up parking four blocks away at a metered spot by the railroad. By the time that I reached the agency, I was 15 minutes late, my face was smeared with a thick layer of sweat, my kitten-heels were killing me, and I was panting like a dog. The current receptionist that was to be replaced lazily pointed me to the backyard, where they were holding the interview.

As I approached the interview, I was clearly the last one to arrive in the group of five, to my dismay. The one and only male applicant politely offered up his seat at the small picnic table and pulled up another chair. I began apologizing to the interviewer (a posh woman sporting a blazer, blunt haircut and wrist tattoos), explaining the lack of parking situation, when I reminded myself that nobody likes excuses. I was late: that was that and I should just move on.

Once I got a hold of myself and stopped being flustered, I looked around at my competition...and immediately remembered why I hated group interviews. It was like a ruthless Hunger Games— just less death tolls but just as much throwing people under the bus. My other competitors were all African American except (to my irritation) one other Asian girl, altogether ranging from 22-year-olds to probably nearing 30. They all peered at me with a look that said, "Glad I'm not you."

Off to a great first impression.

We were interviewing in what looked like the agency's lunch table outside, complete with overhead trees, a white picket fence, and the remains of what looked like a luau party. The interviewer, whose name I had already forgotten but mentally nicknamed Roxy, told me that she was just explaining the position before I came in, and asked if I had any questions.

After wondering what on earth she could be saying about the position other than the obvious (answering phones), I reassured her that I more or less understood the implication of the title "receptionist," and what tasks that may include. Turning the table around, Roxy said with a huff, "Alright, I'm tired of talking, it's your turn now!" and then asked us to tell us more about ourselves. We went around the circle, introducing our names, past and current jobs, and an interesting fact that we wanted everyone to know.

Out of the group, there was a Hollywood business owner, someone who produced on a web series with Tyrese Gibson, a former employee of MTV, and a Marketing Manager for a distinguished firm. By the time that they got to me, my mouth was agape in shock.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!" I wanted to yell at them, "Do you know that this is a RECEPTIONIST position? Didn't you hear Roxy? Leave this job to someone who needs it!"

In less than 10 minutes, my anxiety about getting this entry-level position that didn't even require a degree had increased from 1% to 99.9%. Almost everyone there sounded like they would have been qualified for a manager position. If I thought I was overqualified for this position, they were definitely overqualified.

I scrambled for things that I had suddenly forgotten that made me a more polished candidate— didn't I answer a phone once? No, I couldn't say that I was Asian out loud... Was that course I took in college in advertising or marketing? I quickly stammered out a pathetic summary of myself, forgetting to mention that I had ever touched a phone before, let alone have past administrative experience. After I ended my poor elevator speech with a sad "and...yeah....," I wanted to run out the door right then and there. Even I judged myself.

From then on things pretty much went downhill. There was no hope for the damage that I had already caused myself. By the time the other Asian girl relayed her story about coming from a poor village in Vietnam and living in a house made of banana leaves, I wanted to bury my face in the nearby bush, right beside the cardboard cutout of a hula girl.

You've GOT to be kidding me, I thought. How was I supposed to beat that?! There was no winning. What I thought was my biggest advantage when I came in turned out to be insignificant. This girl was too good: she managed to convey just the right amount of empathy in her audience that even I felt sympathy for her. I couldn't out-Asian the Asian. Especially one that was "fresh off the boat," as my mom would like to say, as politically incorrect as it was.

After a round of random questions, a team-building exercise and personal essay question, the interview was at long last over. Since I had already given up on my chances at landing the job a quarter of the way in, I was more than ready to leave. I left in a hurry, dodging goodbyes and snatching a fortune cookie from the front desk as retribution for my time in shame.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Interview Confessions: Working under Eeyore

Photo by Wikimedia Commons


I was about halfway through typing this endless list of numbers on a prehistoric calculator called a "10-key" when I realized I would rather slit my wrists than work here.

The concept that how fast and accurate I punched these meaningless series of numbers would validate my value as a employee wasn't just ludicrous— it was downright depressing. I could already picture myself, rejoicing in the few small moments of freedom if I were hired. I would prolong the walk to the water cooler in hopes that I would maybe have to refill the jug— a relief compared to my more monotonous tasks. Or I would spend more time than necessary adjusting the height of my chair, secretly praying that someone will stop by my cube for small talk.

"Is this what I have to look forward to?" I asked myself, while typing in 18,000.91 instead of 180.91.

Oops. I wasn't even trying anymore. In fact, when the office manager eventually came over to stop me after my alloted seven minutes of testing, I realized that the paper slot of the 10-key had ran out about 1/3 of the way through the list. At first I felt foolish for not noticing that the paper wasn't moving... then I realized that I didn't care.

Fuck the system, I thought.

When said office manager (whom I already had decided to bequeath the name "Eeyore" for obvious reasons) dejectedly told me that I could wait at the desk before speaking with the CEO and CFO of the company, I decided whether or not I should make a run for it. None of the other employees were looking, after all, so sucked in they were to their remedial tasks. But no, I reasoned, the temp agency would surely suspend me forever, and then I might never get a job. So I stayed, against my will.

In fact, if it weren't for the wait there might have been a smidgen of a chance that I still considered the position. As it were, however, I resorted to observing people in the office for the next 20 minutes. I took note of their small interactions (or lack thereof), the work environment and the stationary objects that I would theoretically be staring at and operating everyday. Looking around, I quickly realized that everyone working there was around their mid-to-upper-forties and well past their BMI. Women moved sluggishly to the fax machine with sagging bodies that they had neglected a long time ago. They donned loose-fitting blouses and dark colors like black or navy in hopes of slimming down their figure. Some still had traces of a more exciting youth, like ankle tattoos and pink streaks in their hair. The men were more fit, but had worn down faces— the kind that you see on people who are about to have midlife crises. All of them moved with the weight of someone who has settled for a life that they tolerate at best. Perhaps I'm being harsh— I don't know their lives, after all, but I just couldn't deny the miserable look on everyone's face. All I could think was that if I worked there, I would be middle-aged and overweight too.

The youngest person from what I could tell was a late 20-something with a Jew fro and looked at me like I was an unicorn.

"I didn't know anyone like me existed; please stay," his eyes seemed to plead. I looked away quickly, scared that his sorry eyes would trick me into pitying him and actually listening.

The only one that seemed to evoke any sort of happiness in the office seemed to be the cocker spaniel that jingled and pranced from cubicle to cubicle, asking to be petted and loved. I immediately latched onto her like a magnet— smoldering her with scratches and adoration, any excuse to express enthusiasm and to open my mouth. That was another thing— NO ONE SPOKE TO EACH OTHER. And when they did, they whispered. It was driving me crazy; you could literally hear the moths' wings fluttering by the lamp lights (they also had a real moth problem).

Eventually, the poor cocker spaniel got terrified of my clingy desperation and quickly ran away, looking for someone who was more downtrodden.

By the time I finally got called into the interview, I felt like I was putting on an act. The role: enthusiastic potential employee. The audience: two stern directors who don't really care about the role, but had to put the character into the story out of pure necessity. Before I went on, I was already getting stage-fright. I wasn't in character. I didn't want the part enough. The audience would see right through me.

So in a last minute, half-assed attempt, I tried to convince myself that I did in fact want the position as Administrative Assistant. The office manager that I would work under wasn't actually Eeyore, but a pleasant and inspiring mentor. This wasn't really the drabbest office that ever existed, but the essence of style and glamour. I wouldn't want to jump off a cliff if I worked here, I would be at my dream job. The moment that I sat down in front of the CEO and CFO, I knew they knew: I was faking it.

"Given your education and extensive experience, what is your ultimate career goal?" Director #1 asked me first.

Shit. I racked my brain thinking how I could answer without giving away my true aspirations. I certainly didn't want to be office manager.

"Because of my internships and contract positions, I would really like to commit to a company long-term— somewhere that I can really call home and grow with," I diligently recited. It was word-for-word what the temp agency told me as prep before the interview.

"Yeah, but what position do you eventually want?" Director #2 pressed on, noticing how I had evaded the question.

"Well, I'm a Communication Studies major, and just like my degree, I have skills that are broad and can wear many different hats," I started, "I would be content with a position that actively utilizes my interpersonal communication skills— where I can interact with people."

This was pushing it. I was being vague as possible so that I could avoid excluding "the right answer" that they were looking for. I knew my resume betrayed me: it told them I was an aspiring writer, designer and marketing expert. What it did not tell them was that I was an aspiring insurer of union members in the entertainment industry.

"Well, you will be kind of isolated at your own desk, so there won't be much communication with others," Director #1 said, not putting up with my bullshit.

What was I supposed to say to that?

"He's joking, but it does ring some truths," Director #2 was a little more easy-going, but not by much. "This job certainly isn't going to be as glamorous as your other past positions."

Glamorous?! This is where I drew the line. I would never, ever have described any of my past experiences as "glamorous." But then I realized that almost anything would have been more exciting than this job. After all, the most thrilling thing that I had heard someone say so far was, "Do you have the files for this document that needs faxing?" And that's the sad truth...

Altogether, I was there for a little over a hour and I felt like it had sucked out all the energy I had. I immediately called the temp agency once I got to my car. "How did it go?!" one of the partners asked me.

"There's no way I can picture myself working here for a week, let alone a year," I said honestly.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A compilation of the best OkCupid icebreakers

I thought that it was bit unfair not to have a final blog dedicated to OkCupid before I delete my profile, so here it is: the best OkCupid messages I've received thus far. And of course by "best," I mean "worst."

Oh, in case this isn't enough, here's the real winner right here (FYI, I never gave him my name):

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Love-Hate relationship with L.A.

It's been approximately nine months since I've moved to L.A. and damn, has it been a rocky ride. There's been its ups and downs, but I wouldn't rather be anywhere else than here. To demonstrate my feelings with the city, I've taken the liberty of drawing up this little doozie:

Oh yeah, and Happy May Day!