Interview stories (MySpace blog from 4.25.07)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Interview stories (very long, take a bathroom break before reading)

A friend had a job interview recently, and just *knew* after a few questions that the whole thing was going to be a waste of time. They were a “young” company that wouldn’t have the money to pay him what he deserved, and they arrogantly questioned him on some of the choices he had made in his work.

Thinking back, I have had some amazingly bad/horrifying/sublimely ridiculous interviews in my career. Mostly because of the interviewERS, but once in a while the fault was with the interviewEE.

“FISH BONES” = At a dinner interview, I was having a meal with my prospective boss, his wife, and the woman who would basically be my creative partner. It was one of those “small home turned into a trendy restaurant” kind of places, where I feared my simplistic taste would not find a suitable selection. Luckily, there was some sort of relatively plain-sounding fish with shallots entree.

So there I am, discussing my career and goals and all that happy horsebleep, and the food arrives. We all dig in, and I continue talking between bites. I decide to take a large mouthful, and no sooner do I put it in my mouth that I realize it’s mostly bones. Yes, bones. With maybe one or two small shallots.

Rather than spit out the entire thing, I smoothly tried to pick one small bone at a time from the side of my mouth. All the while nodding or shaking my head at various questions, collecting these bones in my napkin, and trying not to look like some savage who was clearly not worth the $10K raise in salary that i was asking for.

Eventually, I cleared my mouth of the bony debris and continued with the interview. I probably could have tried to play it off–“Wow, that mouthful was mostly bones!” but played it as cool as possible.

EPILOGUE: Got the job, but the experience I had there was worse than some sort of Sisyphus-like eternity in Hell where my mouth was constantly filled with small fish bones, no matter how many I removed.
“NOT NEW YORK” = A much shorter story, this one. Basically, sat through an entire interview with this creative director at a small, southern New Jersey agency not far across the Delaware from Philly. Throughout the interview, I kind of get the feeling that he’s a pompous ass. Nothing major, just a feeling.

So after an hour or so of talking, the guy proceeds to drop this on me:

“Well, we’re really looking for someone with a ‘New York’ kind of experience, so we’ll let you know.”

SUMMARY: This jagoff (whose agency is still basically the same exact thing it was–which was a “nothing” even on the sparse Philly ad scene) epitomized the stereotypical Philadelphia-area personality. In other words, “yeah, we’re not as cool as New York, but we’re close by!” Dude, if you wanted a NYC writer, you should never have wasted my time–or yours, for that matter. And by the way, I’ve talked with people who say that New York doesn’t necessarily have the best creatives in the world. Argh. Didn’t get the job, but definitely a good thing.
“THE BASEMENT” = Sounds more like a horror movie, I know. (I’ve considered doing a screenplay loosely based on this experience.) This guy with a very small (like two or three people) agency near the Main Line (Ed. Note: For non-Philly types, this is the expensive mansion-type area near Villanova University, etc.) invited me to his home/office for an all-day interview/tryout/audition.

I show up bright and early, and the guy leads me to the basement office. (See, this sounds creepy already.) Down there is a pretty basic workspace, with one desk occupied by an art director named Steve. (I still wonder about Steve sometimes.)

Anyway, the boss tells me he’s got a meeting to get to that will have him back in the middle of the afternoon. He hands me a brochure, doesn’t really tell me what to do with it–but tells me that if he likes what I do, he’ll give me $100 for the day; if not, he’ll give me $25. Then he leaves me alone with Steve.

So in between trying to re-type in the brochure, I chat with Steve. (His reek of desperation still haunts me.) At lunchtime, we headed to the Wawa (Ed. Note: For non-Philly types, this is a regional convenience store with a cool/funny name) for hoagies.

Eventually, the boss returns and reviews what I’ve done. It was clearly not to his satisfaction, so he wrote me a check and sent me on my way.

EPILOGUE: Didn’t get the job. And from the looks of Steve, that was a blessing on the level of “Hey, I found a crinkled-up $1,000 bill in my pocket!”
“THE EARRING” = I had been on countless interviews in the months following my college graduation. I started going to grad school, figuring that at least I’d be advancing my career before it began–and I doubt my parents wanted me hanging around playing NHL ’96 in the basement all day every day for years to come.

So I had a big interview with a guy in the PR department of a venerable Philly agency. We go through the usual stuff, and he’s one of those “obsessed with being professional to the point of being an anal-retentive, antisocial nerd” guys. Who, by the way, was actually a pretty nice and good-hearted guy.

We found that we had a shared love of the AP Stylebook and all things word. So he said they’d talk it over and get back to me.

Soon after, he called and invited me to a lunch meeting. We met at his office, then walked down Chestnut Street to a place called Michael’s (which I think is long gone). So we’re sitting there, sippin’ on soup, and he gives me the grave look of a coroner who has to tell the family that their six-year-old girl was torn to pieces by a pack of wild wolverines.

“Um, well, the thing is, and this is not my opinion or input or anything, but, um, we’re prepared to make you an offer…but they’ve given me this ‘condition.'”


“Well, see, they want you to not wear your earring to the office.”

I paused for about a nanosecond. I had already dealt with this kind of thing in college, where the baseball coach had a “no jewelry” policy. And I knew that the salary offer was going to be better than any temp job I could find. And that it was a “way in” to the communications field.

“Hey, that’s not a problem at all. I had to take it out when playing baseball in college, so I can take it out for work.”

The look of relief swept across his face like a tornado heading from Abilene to Fort Worth in mid-April. Probably because he knew that I would be his greatest (and only) ally in the building.

EPILOGUE: Got the job, got my start. Lasted 10 months before an agency contacted me about a job on the ad side, and I bolted. Sadly, I heard through the grapevine that my boss got fired soon after I left. I was glad to hear a few months later that he landed a gig–actually near my new agency. We met for lunch, and I wore my earring. We had a chuckle over it.
There are other stories, but these are my “favorites.” I hope you enjoyed them. If not, you have just wasted a minimum of five minutes, and I apologize.

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