by Jon Kaufman
It is day sixty-four of unemployment and friends; I am still desperate and jobless. Like many Americans, I am experiencing the longest period of work stoppage in my fifty-two years on the planet. Had I won the Powerball or inherited a fortune from some unknown relation, I would have considered the last two months a relaxing beginning of my well-heeled sedimentary lifestyle. Absent of any type of windfall, April and May have been a nail biting siege I wish not to repeat in June.
Spending most of my time scanning job sites for prospective employment, I am happy to report that this search has indeed yielded some interviews. Normally, I fare well in face to face encounters; however, many first interviews now begin with a phone call from a human resources person. I don’t mind these types of meetings, although my three hound dogs often opt to sit in on the calls as casual, albeit noisy observers. Three weeks ago, the Windsor Avenue All-Dog Glee Club favored a very patient interviewer with a lovely tune, as she and I discussed my merits as a salesperson. I assured her that my musical accompaniment rarely travels with me on sales calls, to which she flatly replied “good.” There has been no word from her since.
While employed, I have been on both sides of the interrogation table, both as an interviewer and an interviewee. Perhaps the oddest interview I experienced when applying for a job occurred in New York prior to my migration south. The gentleman grilling me was a stern, silent type who stared at me as if I was suspect in the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping. During the session the man would click his retractable pen furiously for a few seconds and abruptly stop, only to repeat the behavior over and over again. Was he sending me some kind of writing implement Morse code? Was he trying to unnerve me? Did he and I need to spend some time working on this annoying compulsion of his? Eventually, I did the only thing I could do; I took out my own pen and clicked along with him. The remainder of the interview sounded like a debate between two San Bushman arguing in Khoesan clicking speech. I didn’t get that job either.
As an interviewer I have experienced nearly every kind of human oddity one could imagine. In one fun filled afternoon in Tennessee, I met a man dressed in sweat pants, a wet suit top and a bow tie, only to be topped by another fellow who would only touch things or people through a tissue. We shook hands with a tissue covering his hand, he drank his complimentary water carefully holding the bottle with a new fresh tissue, and he wrapped my business card with a tissue at the end of our meeting. I often wondered if this tissue business was an obsession, a fear of leaving fingerprint evidence, or, was simply a comment on my hygiene, or, perhaps, all of the above
Typically, I am not nervous during an interview, although some people fly off the scale when faced with such stress. Panel interviews are generally the worst for those who are faint of heart. One is dealing with multiple people, hurling questions at you from seemingly every direction. Sadly, I have seen strong people wither under such scrutiny. One such candidate is a fellow I will call “Joe” who was interested in a Sales Management position in a company where I was one of the hiring managers. There were three people on the panel and we agreed to adopt specific traits and mannerisms to see how the interviewee’s would react. I would be the good cop, a calming influence, smiling and reassuring the subject. Another panelist, Russ, would be a hyper-type person who was both distracted and distractive. My friend Angelique would portray no emotion regardless of the candidates answer, and Tom, the final piece of the quartet would be the bad cop.
The experiment furnished some interesting results. One applicant actually rose to his feet and was ready to rumble with Tom, our lovable bad cop, yet cooler heads prevailed. Several candidates fared very well through the process, and then there was the aforementioned “Joe.” There was no hiding the fact that Joe was a nervous wreck even before the inquisition. Sweating through his button down shirt, Joe took his seat visibly shaking and dripping perspiration from his chin to the meeting room table. Angelique (playing the Ice Queen) led off the questioning in a soft monotone, requesting some specific information regarding Joe’s sales success. Joe, struggling for words, meant to say “I have had a lot of success in the past,” but stuttered out “I have had a lot of sex in the past.” Stunned and stifling a chorus of uncomfortable laughs, Tom, Russ and I stared down at the table and tried regain our composure. Angelique, never breaking character, proceeded as if nothing had happened. Thankfully, we had a true professional in our midst.
I often think of Joe when I am either conducting or the subject of an interview. Despite nearly drowning in his own clothes and unintentionally regaling us with his sexual exploits, Joe completed his task and gained the respect of everyone in the room.
Joe’s struggle gives me some hope that despite barking hounds and a soft economy, somewhere a job waits for me.