“Just a few more questions and you’ll be out of the hot seat!” the interviewer said.
I bet she used that line in every interview. She was being courteous, but without much enthusiasm. I wondered how many people she had interviewed today.
I smiled at her. My face was starting to hurt from all the smiling. The chair had made a funny noise the last time I moved, so I was holding myself stiffly, but trying to look relaxed.
Relaxed but with excellent posture, that is. My leg muscles were beginning to tremble.
She gave me an impersonal smile. Her hair was formed into an elaborate blond swoop on top of her head. I tried not to stare.
“Why do you want to work for this company?” she asked.
Because it’s only a fifteen-minute commute and there’s a Five Guys across the street.
“Excellent question!” I praised, hoping I wasn’t laying it on too thick. “As I’m sure you know, there are several companies hiring right now. I chose to pursue a position at Dynamo Logistics Management because of your excellent community service record. I saw a segment on the news about Habitat For Humanity, and I noticed that your organization was one of the teams participating. I admire companies that give back to the community.”
She lit up. “That’s true! I head a committee that puts together little projects like that for our employees. We also go to the food bank on a regular basis, and we’re always looking for volunteers.”
“Sign me up!”
We both had a little chuckle over that. She was really looking at me now. I had accidentally hit on one of her passions. I felt a little flutter of hope. Maybe I could pull this off after all.
I needed this job. Most of the other positions advertised required a degree, and I didn’t have one. I had enrolled in one of those “universities for working adults” a few years ago, and now found myself thousands of dollars in debt and still without a degree.
In addition, I had a tooth that was throbbing. I was afraid to go to the dentist and find out how much it was going to cost to get it fixed. He was good about setting up payment plans, but I was still trying to pay off a root canal and crown from the previous year.
With the student loan, the dental plan payments, my car payment, and some credit card debt, I was constantly on the verge of being evicted. I was sick of eating ramen every night, and having a panic attack whenever I saw my landlord.
The main attraction of the position I was applying for was the banker’s hours, leaving me free to look for a weekend job. At the call center, my schedule changed every week, making further employment impossible.
The interviewer cleared her throat. “Okay, next question. Describe your ideal work environment.”
Home. Bathrobe. Wine.
Really anything that didn’t involve customers yelling at me for things that were out of my control, or a flashing red box on my computer informing me that I had exceeded my target call time by five seconds, or supervisors that timed my bathroom breaks with a stopwatch. By the time I got off work each evening, I was so wrung out all I could do was collapse on the couch and fall asleep in front of the TV.
“I like an organized workspace, so I can work efficiently and respond quickly in a crisis. I absolutely hate making someone wait while I search for a file. And I appreciate a boss who gives me constructive criticism, so I can excel at my job. I love solving problems, and it always makes my day when I make a customer happy. All I really want is to feel like I’m helping, both the company and the customers.”
“That’s good! We pride ourselves on the service we provide to our customers. In this position, you’d be assigned a certain number of accounts and get to work closely with our customers. Some of our accounts even require multiple representatives. Do you prefer to work alone or in a team?”
Hmm . . . When I work alone, I don’t have to put up with idiots. When I work in a team, there are other people to blame.
“It depends on the project. I love working in a team, bouncing ideas off of each other, and working in a cooperative way towards a common goal. That kind of group dynamic can yield fantastic results. On the other hand, teams can be distracting. Sometimes I like to be left alone so I can really dig into the work and focus. I can get a lot accomplished before I have to come up for air.”
She was nodding absently, making notes in a file.
“And how do you handle conflict at work?”
Like prison. On the first day, attack the biggest guy so everyone will be afraid of you after that. I was a veteran of the cubicle wars.
“I try to take a step back and look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. Sometimes conflict arises from a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding, which is simple to fix. If the issue is more complex, I find that keeping an open mind will lead to a compromise both parties can live with.”
She was nodding slightly, but she didn’t look impressed. I had looked up common interview questions and the best way to answer them. Every other candidate had probably done the same thing, and given a similar answer. What did she expect, with these sorts of questions?
“Some of the companies we work with have offices that are based in different time zones, so they may be at the end of their day when you’re just starting. You’d have to come in each day and hit the ground running. Are you a morning person?”
For a second, I froze. I hoped I didn’t look like a deer in headlights. I hadn’t prepped an answer for that question.
“Truthfully? No, but I’ve learned to adapt. I get up early every day and go for a run. That gets the blood flowing. Then I take the time to make myself a healthy breakfast, and sit down with my tablet to check out the daily news stories while I eat. By the time I come into work, I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”
She laughed. “That’s so good to hear. A lot of people around here are zombies first thing in the morning. There’s always a traffic jam around the coffee pot.”
Truthfully? I was going to be one of them. On a typical morning I would hit the snooze as many times as I could get away with. Then I would tear around the bedroom looking for something to wear while cursing myself for not doing laundry the night before. I usually gobbled a granola bar in the car while breaking every speed limit and praying not to get stopped by a train. By the time I dashed across the parking lot and clocked in with one second to spare, I was wide awake. But ten minutes later when the adrenaline left my system, I would need an extra-large coffee to ward off the inevitable crash.
She was looking at me like she hadn’t quite decided what to make of me. I willed myself not to squirm. I had found the underwear drawer empty this morning, so I was forced to go commando. That didn’t help.
“Do you have any questions?” she asked.
How do you get your hair to do that? And why?
Does this place offer dental insurance?
“What do you like most about working here?”
She leaned back in her chair and considered the question.
“It sounds like a cliché, but we really are a family here. I look forward to coming into work because I enjoy my co-workers. We have a good time together, and we look out for each other. We attend each other’s weddings and baby showers, and we have weekend barbecues or go to karaoke. My husband thinks I’m nuts for wanting to spend so much time with the people I spend all week with, but I really do love all of them.”
I wanted to believe her. I wanted this place to be different. But in my experience, that camaraderie she spoke of was usually among the management types. It didn’t include the worker drones, who didn’t have houses to host a barbecue, or extra money for a splurge like a few drinks at a karaoke bar. We had conversations about the best place to sell our plasma.
But I could almost imagine a future like that. If I could get my debt paid down and finish that degree. If I could get a promotion. If I could work my way out of the cubicle farm and into being seen as a real person. I was sure I could develop a famous potato salad recipe that these people would request for every barbecue.
“That sounds nice,” I said, wistful. “The call center where I work now has incredibly high turnover. Everyone from my training class is long gone. Our breaks and lunches are always at different times each week, so it’s hard to get to know anyone. Even though I’m surrounded by people all day long, it’s a lonely job. I would love to work at a place like this.”
She beamed at me. I hoped that she had pegged me as “her kind of people.”
“We’ll be choosing our final candidates by the end of the week,” she said as she stood and held out a hand. I wiped my sweaty palm on my skirt as I stood. She leaned in closer as we shook and lowered her voice. “Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but expect a call by Friday.”
To my embarrassment, I felt myself tear up. I cleared my throat.
Was she telling me the truth? Or would I spend the rest of the week waiting for a phone call that would never come? I could picture the letter that would arrive Monday: “Unfortunately, there were many qualified candidates . . .”
For today, I chose to let myself believe. I would get this job and it would be the start of a better future. As I walked to my car, I decided to hit the Five Guys drive-thru and pick up a milkshake and fries to celebrate.