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January 10, 2007

Filed under: journalism»writing»career

The Career Guidance Center Didn't Prepare Me for This

My B-SPAN coworker and I were talking about job interviews the other day. We're both on our way out of the Bank this year, and we recently finished going through the interview process for replacements. It was, as I've said before, a really educational process to be asking questions instead of answering them. My coworker, who I think ended up in the Bank practically straight out of college, asked what my worst interview had ever been.

So I was working at the American Diabetes Association my last year of school. It had its high points (my coworkers were good people who liked me) and low (the pay was terrible, the work itself was tedious). I started looking late for anything that would pay me to write, even though I had little in my portfolio at the time. Three months later, although I didn't know it, I'd be working at the Bank doing office work as a temp, a gig that eventually gave me an in for my far-more-satisfying position at WBI. In any case, while at the ADA, I got a call back from a wild resume submission I'd made: a high-end chocolate/confectionary supply catalog located in Rockville, Maryland. Taking an afternoon off, I drove up the beltway to go to the interview.

I hate driving in Maryland anyway. The state's department of transportation takes a sadistic glee in placing street signs behind trees, buildings, and other signs, making it hard to find where you're going. And Maryland drivers are, for one reason or another, among the worst on the face of the earth. Anyone who lives in Northern Virginia for long is familiar with the experience of watching someone do something truly boneheaded in traffic, invariably accompanied by a set of Maryland plates. So I was already nervous when I pulled up to the offices. They were located in a run-down commercial district that looked like a neutron bomb had hit, although inside they were quite nice. Since I was early, they sat me down with a copy of the catalog to look over--it was one of those pretentious "catalog with interviews," like a Skymall for people who need 50 pounds of sculpted, pulled sugar ribbons.

Finally, they called me into the interview room, and a harried-looking man sat down across from me. He introduced himself as the manager, and then he cut right to the bone.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

Now, I confused this with a standard interview question, like "Why do you think you should work for us?" I had a prepared joke ready for it. "Well," I said, "according to your web site, you're importers for the best Swiss chocolate in the world. Why wouldn't I want to work here?"

No laughter from the interviewer. Awkwardly, I segued into an explanation of how I wanted to be a journalist, and while they weren't doing news writing per se, I thought it would be an interesting place to build experience. And besides, I said, although I'm not a chef myself, I do love food.

The man looked at me. "I just don't understand," he said. "I've looked over your resume, and you don't have any experience with the food industry. I don't understand why you're here, since you're not qualified."

Then why did you make me drive up for an interview? The whole thing lasted about five minutes. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the worst interview I ever had. It's too bad. I think I would have been good at it.

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