On the day of the interview, I woke up, nursed my twins, showered, put on makeup (I barely remembered how) and got dressed. I don’t have any business suits; I don’t think I ever did. The dress code was always business casual at my past workplaces, and at my last job I often wore flannel pajamas, since I worked from home. So I put together an outfit with what little I had on hand: a modest black dress, a black cardigan, black tights and black boots. OK, so it was a little dark, but that's what I've worn for years, even before living in New York.
As I drove to the interview, my heart grew heavy. It had been four years since I had a 9-5 job and the prospect of re-joining Corporate America after a prolonged absence was daunting. Before leaving the workforce, I was riding a crest in my 25-year career that had seen me with almost as many jobs.
I started working as soon as I could in high school and then worked full-time through college. My first job was at an Orange Julius in the same mall where my mom worked. In fact, she got me the interview. Even though I was pretty sure the interview was a formality, I was terrified of being rejected. But I made a good impression, and eventually worked my way up to manager.
This cycle of starting at the bottom and moving up repeated itself almost everywhere I worked, and after college I started my ascent up the corporate ladder as a temp. By the time I left Corporate America, I was a tough-as-nails negotiator and expert in strategic sourcing and procurement, pulling in a salary you’d have to be dumb to walk away from. Or just be me.
The office where I was going to be interviewed was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothingness, and as soon as I set foot in the place, it screamed out to me: "Run away! Run away before you get sucked into our lifeless vortex of stale air and fluorescent lights!"
I arrived early, checked in at security and took a seat. My interview was scheduled for 1 p.m., so I watched as employees returned from lunch to their cubicles. They trudged in single file, almost in lock-step and completely silent, like lemmings about to jump off a cliff. Not a single expression could be seen, and I imagined that this is exactly what prisoners must look like as they’re being led from the yard back to their cells.
At 1 p.m. on the dot, I was ushered into a conference room where I met the woman who would possibly be my boss, as well as a gentleman who would be my counterpart. I guessed they were ten or so years older than me, past the midpoint of their careers. Although I hadn't been gone from the workforce all that long, I felt I had somehow matured quite a lot, even if the experience on my résumé had remained the same. At the same time, the thought of returning to work intimidated me, at least until the questioning began.
The interview was unremarkable except for two things. First, they asked how I would feel about a job at which I'd be bored most of the time. Um, excuse me? Who's going to want a job that's being sold like that? What answer could I possibly give that would make sense? “I love to be bored”? “I hate being bored, but I'll play Candy Crush to make the time go by faster”? There was no intelligent way to answer such a stupid question.
Then, at the end of the interview, they asked if I had any questions. I usually have a few prepared, but this time I had only one. I asked my would-be boss how she would describe her management style. She looked momentarily stunned by this. And then she said, as if I was insulting her, “Wow. I have never been asked that before.” Who was she interviewing all these years if she'd never been asked that question? And why did she seem so threatened by it? Clearly, her management style was a complete lack thereof.
As they walked me out, she showed me that there were four entrances to the building and exclaimed, “Isn’t that great? You can park anywhere around the building and get in easily!” I suppose being able to exit the building in the event of a fire is a good thing, but it’s not exactly what I'd call a perk. And yet this ideal parking setup made my interviewer almost giddy with delight.
A week later, the human resources rep called me with the great news that they wanted to invite me to a second round of interviews with some higher-ups. She also told me she had some constructive feedback to share from my would-be boss. First, she reminded me to dress appropriately and that business casual would be fine. M'kay. Secondly, the would-be boss thought I was too comfortable in the interview. She didn’t give specifics, so the HR rep and I were both flummoxed by this.
This feedback – constructive or otherwise – was the last data point I needed to know before I politely decline the invitation to a second round of interviews. There might be a job in Corporate America for me, but this was definitely not it.