“This is cruel and unusual punishment!” I said to my mother as a solitary tear streamed down my face. The year was 2004 and I was exactly 16 years and 8 hours old. My mother was enthusiastically taking me to pick up job applications early one Saturday morning.
“Can we go home? I am 90% sure I am suffering from a severe case of dehydration and 4th degree car sickness. If I don’t go home and lie down, my condition could become critical” I had played every card in the deck at this point and the “my condition is becoming critical” card was my last hope to escape what was quickly becoming the worst Saturday ever. I leaned my head against the window and uttered a loud Oscar worthy sigh. My mother’s face, cold and expressionless, made me question her ability to feel empathy. I was clearly suffering and it meant nothing to her.
A few days later as I was heading to school, I noticed a bright hand-written yellow sticky note attached to my lunch box. Somebody from the local smoothie joint had reviewed my resume and wanted to interview me. If I was being forced into employment, it better be somewhere classy and as far as I was concerned, there was nothing classier than the Smoothie Shack. The establishment was the epicenter of the who’s-who from the local high schools and working there would put me smack dab in the middle of the social scene.
That evening, I dialed up to the internet and typed “sample interview questions” into Ask Jeeves. I prepared for a solid 8 minutes before the lure of Myspace overtook me. Later that night, after realizing my preparation was probably not adequate, I pondered my strengths. Could I leverage my wrist flexibility as a skill-set for blender operation? I mentally noted examples of how my extreme attention to detail and process could avoid another food processing accident that claimed the pinky finger of an 11th grader the year prior. Later that night, I optimistically drifted into sleep imagining what I would do with all the extra money I would be making.
To this day, that interview haunts me. Here is a play by play of what went down:
I arrived 15 minute early, 4 copies of a freshly printed resume in hand. I walked up to the first employee I saw, told her why I was there, and was then directed to stand in line with about 6 other interviewees.
I sized myself up to all the other candidates, an exercise that proved futile. Finally it was my turn and a veteran smoothie associate led me down a dark, long, and twisty corridor into what can only be described as a labyrinth. The door creaked steadily as I slowly turned the knob.
There in front of my eyes, sat the same guy my aunt had hired to be the clown at my 5 year old nephew’s birthday party just two weeks prior. Part time clown, full time general smoothie shack manager. What is my number two all-time fear you ask? Clowns. That fear is only eclipsed by being alone in a room with a clown. Had I not watched 4 other people emerge from his office unharmed, I would have deemed it unsafe to be alone in a dark dingy back room with the man I only knew as Bam Bam.
My heart raced, my palms became sweaty, and I felt my blood pressure dropping dangerously low. Deep breaths Kari, deep breaths! I repeated the mantra and introduced myself as calmly as I could. The fact he wasn’t in full clown garb didn’t matter; he had that unmistakable clown energy that sent chills down my spine.
“Thanks for coming in, have a seat.” Bam Bam was obviously unaware we had met before. “Let’s begin; if you could be any household tool, what you would be and why?”
Bam Bam’s question propelled me back into reality. My mind went into Window’s screen saver mode, a galaxy of starts steadily racing into a void as I came to the realization that I had never used a tool before. I wracked my brain.
“I would be a staple gun so that I can staple my future together with this great job” I stammered after a long pause. The minute the words emerged from my lips, I regretted them immediately. The horridness of the answer hit me like a ton of bricks.
Bam Bam looked up at me for a long moment, lowered an expressionless face towards his notebook and scribbled the word STAPLE GUN in all caps, clearly in shock over that answer.
“High school can be a difficult place, Kari. What is your biggest regret so far?” These were not the questions I had expected. Where were the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” questions. The ones I had been prepared to answer were nowhere in sight. I froze.
“Could you repeat the question?” I whispered trying to conceal my panic. He obliged.
I quickly debated the merits of telling him about the time I almost ran over our school’s gym teacher during driver’s education, but decided it could paint a picture of recklessness. Hiring a reckless person whose primary job is to use a commercial grade blender isn’t a wise choice. Instead, I launched into a well crafted story about how I fell down two flights of stairs carrying my friend’s golf clubs in front of what felt like everybody. The story ended with “so, I completely regret helping her!”
Oh no, strike two. I regretted helping a fellow student. At that point, I might as well have said “ There is no reason to hire me, I’ll probably go crazy with the blender, cut off a few fingers and run the place into the ground”.
Bam Bam asked me a few more questions, which were clearly pity questions designed to keep my pride intact. Ending an interview after 2 questions can only wreak havoc on the psyche of a 16 year old.
While it would have given me great pleasure to say I banked that job, was promoted in three weeks, and now Bam Bam reported to me. In reality, I didn’t get a call back, not even a “we decided to go in another direction” e-mail. The only thing I received was the painful memory of my first disastrous job interview.
A few weeks later, while staring into the abyss of my bedroom, loathing in self pity over my unemployment, I realized that Bam Bam taught me a valuable lesson. I hadn’t given him a reason to hire me. In fact, I had given him a lot of reasons not to. Bam Bam’s interview style wasn’t conventional; but neither was he. He had designed an interview to gauge my ability to think quickly and communicate clearly. Both tasks were essential to the job and I quite miserably demonstrated my inability to perform these basic questions.
Interviews aren’t always going to be predicable and preparation is key; knowing your strengths, accomplishments and what you bring to the table is incredibly important. That being said, a great resume will only get you an interview. Separating yourself from the pack is what the interviews are for. So take my advice as a former interview-bomber-turned-professional-recruiter; prepare yourself, practice interviewing and expect the unexpected.
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