Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dear Sir or Madam: I am a grownup.

I have a job interview tomorrow - my first face-to-face interview, for anything, since graduating college nearly fourteen months ago.

Today I reached into boxes and dusty closets for my grownup interview clothes, makeup, and iron. I have not taken a second look at the clothes since I bought them (no need when the closest I have come to getting a job thus far is one phone interview with an HR woman in Florida somewhere). I have not applied makeup in four months - since my sister’s wedding, in fact, for which I was the maid of honor - and ironing my clothes today marked the first time I had ever ironed anything.

While it may be pathetic that I have never used an iron, I never had occasion to. Every job I have had thus far has involved one of the following: my normal, day-to-day clothes or my current food-service uniform of polo shirt and khakis. And considering I wear low-maintenance clothes and lack an eye for detail to begin with, the dryer takes care of about as much wrinkle removal I would ever need in order to be satisfied. I almost considered not ironing the clothes, as the shirt has a bunch of pleats under the seam that kind of blends in with any stray wrinkles, and the pants were about 90% wrinkle-free. But then I reconsidered, and then the resultant thoughts brought on an intense mental argument I had with myself, as if I were a cartoon with a devil talking to me from one shoulder and an angel in a business suit countering on the other.

Devil: Maybe I can get away with not ironing the shirt. It doesn’t look bad. Maybe the collar. I mean, I wouldn’t notice that.

Angel: You lazy asshole. Of course you need to iron the goddamn shirt. You can’t go by what you would notice. What if the interviewer is an insane neat freak who picks lint off his wife’s blouses and couldn’t get past a sloppy collar? You have nothing to gain from not ironing the shirt, and everything to gain from looking reasonably presentable. Those wrinkles could make or break your career!

D: Jesus. Lay off, drama queen. I’ll iron the shirt, but you’re making an awfully big deal out of something someone with a GED and light computer skills qualifies for.

A: What’s with the attitude? What if you go in there with an “anyone can do this job” outlook and the interviewer picks up on it and decides you think you’re too good for it? Besides, *how* many interviews have you had in the last year?

D: Well-

A: Exactly.

D: Quit getting me so worked up over it. If anything, that will show on my face. I don’t want to come off as a caffeinated spazz or over-eager brown-nose.

A: Any more than you want to look like a lazy, directionless college grad with no real ambition?

D: Dickhead.

A: Tool.

…and on and on they went as I smoothed the wrinkles out of the collar on the towel-covered dresser/makeshift ironing board.

I told my boyfriend I was nervous and dreading the interview. He, like every other guy I have ever dated, does not feel exceedingly uncomfortable in interview situations and cannot justify my anxiety.

“Just talk to them,” he said with a shrug.

“But I have to sell myself. I mean, you know, not sell myself…” He got the point.

He held out his hand, palm facing down, and told me to shake it. I grabbed it and gave it a firm shake, like I was taught to do in sixth grade by my Language Arts teacher when receiving a plaque at Honors Night. He shook his head.

Apparently, some in the corporate world will hold their hand parallel to the floor to show dominance, and one is supposed to take the hand from underneath, gently rotate the superior’s hand 90 degrees, and shake. I have never heard of this, but he had an internship at one of New York’s largest ad agencies, and that is what he learned there. He qualified with the admission that my interviewer would probably not do this, but he wanted me to be aware of it.

Unfortunately, this mini-lesson did pretty much the opposite of make me feel calmer or more prepared. It seems there is an endless list of little things employers will look upon favorably or use against candidates, or maybe I have been reading too many articles and accepting too much advice from too many sources. I thought of the tip I heard about corporate interviewing when food is involved, for example: taste the steak before adding salt and pepper, so as not to show over-impulsiveness or disrespect to the restaurant and/or provider of the meal. While I don’t believe I will be applying for any jobs fancy enough to involve fine dining at the interview any time soon, my frustration remains at hearing such “helpful“ little tidbits. Does the manner of one’s consumption of beef tenderloin signify who they really are? (Readers, this is a rhetorical question.)

The application, interview, and hiring processes appear, paradoxically, rigidly straightforward and arbitrarily subjective at the same time. Given what I have seen, heard, and read, it seems that access to good jobs (one’s capabilities of performing at said good job notwithstanding) is a secret club into which only the “right” people are allowed - that is, those who have somehow come into contact with successful individuals (family, classmates, etc.) with such pearls of wisdom to impart. It must also be said that I come from a white, English-speaking middle-class family, where we spoke with “proper” grammar in a dialect with which most potential employers are comfortable, and that I attended college and got career advice from dozens of professors and counselors. If I already have that much of a leg up in spite of feeling clueless, imagine the exponentially higher chances of someone whose father happens to be an attorney or executive, and who has therefore learned to emulate ideal characteristics for those careers.

I don’t want to get overly political or stray too far from the subject at hand, but to summarize how I feel about this whole trying-to-get-a-job thing: meritocracy is bullshit. While this does not signify my lack of willingness to use whatever advantages I have (and believe me, I am glad to know the difference between “good” and “well” and have successful, put-together friends and family members to guide me), I can’t help but look around and wonder whether drive, education, ability, socioeconomic status, and success are always as positively correlated as some are content to let the world believe. I will likely continue to ruminate on this as I attempt to cobble together some sort of career in the next few years.

Anyway, back to being scared shitless over one little interview. It’s incredibly sad that I’m so passive and terrified of people I consider authority figures, such that I’m already intimidated by someone I haven’t even met yet. I keep repeating all the things I know intellectually to be true: that this is just one person on one day, that it is an opportunity for practice, that one, ten, or a thousand rejections mean nothing once one person finally says yes. This is the angel inside of me talking; (s)he is rational, patient, and optimistic. But the devill - that irresponsible, idle, self-loathing creature - is still screaming all the reasons I can and likely will fail.

I wish they would both leave my head. I find the angel incredibly annoying, and I am not superstitious enough to believe in those simplistic “positive thinking” platitudes. Conversely, that devil is a real asswipe. If they would both just shut up for five minutes, maybe I could concentrate on being myself and convincing this dude that my face is the one he wants to see every morning.

I even plan to put on the makeup (gasp!) to prove it.

4 comments:

  1. Good luck!! You will do fabulous-ly. Yes, it's a word :)

    I make Jay iron all my clothes. My lack of ironing skills are pathetic. I don't even understand the concept of starch. The first time (and last time) I tried to iron in front of Jay, he rolled his eyes and said, "Let me do that." Works out for me!

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  2. Good luck! If it's a dude interviewing you, unbutton your top a bit and show of some boob ;-)

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  3. if u get the job what happens to all the douche customer posts?

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  4. Rachel - I LOVE gender role reversals like that.

    Jennifer - At last, we now know how you landed your job!

    Anonymous - Douche customer posts may have to turn into douche co-worker/douche client posts. Or maybe I'll start being nice and liking people (not likely). I'll find SOMETHING to bitch about.

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