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.

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