I've had a lot of interviews. I've experienced situations that are never discussed in the job interview tips articles. I could write a book on real interview situations, some of the crazy (and illegal) stuff that goes down on the job hunt. Forget the ideal interview situations discussed in interview tips articles, if you are honest and experience enough to perform all the tasks required for the job, and you aren't creepy or flaky, and you've practiced answers to the questions most often asked at interviews, you are basically prepped for an "ideal" interview. And if you're lucky, you'll only have to endure "ideal" interviews. But for the rest of us who are in competitive fields where there have been tremendous downsizings over the past few years, well, most job interviews are less than ideal. I have a lot of experience to draw from in the ideal and not-so-ideal job interview realm, so apart from the, you know, "my entire existence is riding on this interview" anxiety, I go into interviews reasonably confident.
Apparently over confident.
Because I had a new experience that brought me down to earth. Literally.
I had an interview at a suburban outpost of a multinational corporation. You know the kind of place, sprawling generic faintly Bauhaus-istic post-modern architecture. Freakishly uniformly green and uniformly trimmed shrubbery, perfectly blossoming ground cover. Several pristine flags perfectly aligned and waving in a gentle breeze. Freshly tarred visitor's parking lot. Sidewalks all leading to one main entrance. Puffy clouds dotting a perfectly azure sky. I thought, "You know, maybe working in the suburbs wouldn't be so awful. This seems like a nice place."
One second I was walking from the parking lot to the main entrance, thinking, "What a gorgeous day! What a great job opportunity! I studied the company info, I memorized the job description and have examples to illustrate how I'm qualified to do this job. I'm going to ace this interview and start working next week!" The next second I was splayed out on the sidewalk, my ankle, knee, hip, back, shoulder and head all vying for attention.
My existing foot and ankle issues have been getting progressively worse. I do balance exercises, but it's clear my foot and ankle issues are growing increasingly worse. If I'm walking for any distance or on uneven terrain I generally use a cane. I've had too many falls in the last couple years to let pride or vanity keep me from using a cane on longer distance jaunts. I still hate it, but, after suffering the aftermath of a couple bad falls with no health insurance, practicality wins over pride. Turns out, pride really does goeth before a fall, but it really goeths after a few falls.
I never, ever use a cane when I go to job interviews. And I dose up on topical pain meds just prior to the interview in an effort to mask any sign of abnormal gait.
In the aftermath of my fall I discerned that unfortunately, a badly protruding section of sidewalk combined with my inability to fully raise and flex my foot resulted in me catching my toe on the heaved edge of the sidewalk which resulting in me falling and landing splayed out across the sidewalk, over the curb and into the parking lot.
Because I was splayed over the curb, the upper half of my body was about 6" lower than the lower half. I was in pain from head to foot. I was like a turtle on its back. The bucolic splendor of the pristine office building now seemed like a sinister ruse, that everything good about this place was a cover for something evil.
Confirming that (albeit paranoid) concern was a maintenance guy trimming the shrubs. I know he saw me fall,
or, at least saw me splayed out on the sidewalk, because while I was on the ground trying to stand up from where I landed when I fell, I saw him pause and look at me for a prolonged period of time, as if he was deciding if I was worth his effort. In the end he decided to make no attempt
to help me and went back to work, ignoring me as I tried to rock and twist myself upright over the curb and onto the sidewalk.
I try really hard to force away thoughts like the ones that occurred to me, but sometimes, for a flicker of a moment, I allow myself a self-pitying moment. If I were 24, petite, blonde and hot, that guy would have been falling over himself to help me. It's a useless, stupid thought, and truly, I don't go around thinking thoughts like that. But. I've seen it played out too many times to pretend it's not true. I recently saw a middle-aged heavier-set woman slip and fall at Costco. The place was packed with Sunday afternoon shoppers. Many of them were young, able-bodied men, standing around bored, nothing better to do than help a fallen middle-aged heavier-set woman. When she fell, they all looked up from their smartphones, and took a look at her on the cement floor, but didn't make a move to help. The younger women didn't help her, either. An elderly couple and I were the only three people in the crowd who helped her. Meanwhile, about a month ago, a young, inebriated, petite blonde girl with what I believe were fake boobs, stumbled, slightly, at an outdoor patio restaurant, but caught herself on the Tiki bar. Men, young, old, and everything in-between, sprang up from their tables to help the poor, helpless drunk girl who almost fell. There were at least 10 men falling over themselves to help the poor girl who almost fell. I know it's just life, and of course it's not fair, and of course it speaks to a lot of social and anthropology issues, but it sucks. Young and/or pretty = help worthy, must save the shining specimen for future use in the gene pool. Not young and/or pretty = you're on your own, lie there writhing in pain until you die for all anyone cares.
Eventually I managed to get on my feet.
I was going into an interview so my main concern was if I looked presentable. I assessed the visual damage: Right palm scraped and bleeding. Right elbow of suit noticeably scraped/frayed. Shoes scuffed. My knee took the initial impact, and the worst looking damage: Knee of suit pants torn open, revealing bleeding knee.
My interview was scheduled to take place in 12 minutes. I had 12 minutes to figure out how to reassemble myself. I could probably strategically hide the scraped elbow of my suit, and maybe no one would notice my scuffed shoes, but there was no hiding my torn pants, bloody knee and palm.
And I'm not even going into the pain issues. Mind over matter. Interview on my mind, taking precedent over the matter of pain.
This is a first for me. Suffering physical injury at a job interview.
Just when I thought I'd endured every possible scenario at a job interview, this happens.
And in all the articles and books I've read about job interviews, in all the video prep courses and discussions I've had, the subject of falling and ripping your clothes and sustaining bloody injuries while walking into a job interview has, strangely, never been broached.
So I had nothing to draw upon, no resource to tap. I was on my own and flying blind. And I had 12 minutes to figure out what to do.
1) Slink away. Call the person I'm interviewing with and apologize, say I've had an accident on the way to the interview and try to reschedule.
2) Go into the lobby, find a bathroom, try to clean myself up and explain to the interviewer what happened.
3) Call, cancel the interview, lie, say I've accepted another job, lick my wounds (literal wounds), and forget this ever happened.
Option 1 made the most sense to me. I scenarios of me extending a bloodied hand for an introduction handshake, me sitting in a conference room in a torn suit and oozing wounds, and me attempting to smile and conduct an interview as if nothing was wrong played out in my head. Option 2 is definitely a no-go.
As I gathered my purse and portfolio a woman leaned out the main entry door.
"Are you okay? I saw you fall from my window," she yelled, gesturing to the general area of the front of the building.
Oh crap. Someone saw me. Of course someone saw me. The building has windows for walls. Probably everyone sitting on that side of the building saw me. Well then. So much for slinking away unnoticed.
"Yeah, I think I'll be okay," I yelled, trying to convince myself as much as her.
A man appeared behind her in the entry door. He didn't say anything but started to make his way toward me. I thought he just happened to be walking to the parking lot.
I was wrong. He stopped about a yard in front of me, sizing up my torn suit and bloodied flesh wounds. He didn't say anything. I still thought he just happened to be walking to the parking lot.
The woman was still leaning out of the entry door, looking at us.
The man said, "You trip?"
No, I just walk around in a torn suit with exposed, bleeding wounds. Doesn't everyone?
Instead I did that polite thing most of us do when we've sustained an injury in an accident, affected an "oh silly me" tone and affably chuckled, "Yes, I guess I did! It happened so fast...I must have caught my toe or heel of my shoe on the sidewalk," gesturing toward the heaved concrete.
He knelt down to have a look at the sidewalk. That's the first time I noticed he had some papers in his hand.
He surveyed the sidewalk closely, looked at me, and said, "We have some forms for you to sign."
I kid you not. Forms for me to sign.
The thought of, "Lawsuit!! Negligence!!" hadn't entered my mind. But now it did. Not that I would sue over something like this. And even, if I remotely thought about it, my pre-existing foot issues would lay at least half the blame on me, anyway. I was negligent by not using my cane to assist me due to my foot and ankle injuries and resulting balance issues.
I didn't like how quick on the trigger this company was to dispense an accident investigation team, armed with some sort of papers for me to sign, most likely to waive rights to legal action against them.
Or maybe I was wrong, maybe he was from HR and figured I was there for the interview and he just happened to be carrying application forms when he heard the news about a woman falling in front of the building. I admonished myself for jumping to the worst conclusion.
"Forms?" I said, questioning politely.
"Standard waivers, releases."
So much for admonishing myself. Go ahead, think the worst. Because apparently this company, or this guy assumes the worst of me.
The interview remained omnipresent in my mind. I decided to ignore him - and his forms.
"I'm here for an interview, I need to call Jane Stevens and let her know I'm going to be late, or reschedule my appointment. Excuse me."
With my non-bleeding hand I fished my phone and the number of the interviewer out of my purse as a sign of dismissal to the guy with the release forms.
The form guy stood there watching me. The woman was still leaning out the main entry door. It was probably paranoia, but, I "felt" like lots of eyes were watching me through the window walls of the building.
I got the interviewer's voice mail. I left a message saying I had a little accident on the way to the interview, that I was running late or maybe we could reschedule.
As I ended the call and slipped my phone back into my purse, I noticed another woman at the entry door. The guy with the forms said, "There's Jane."
Oh great. No slinking away to lick my wounds in solitude.
The form guy started toward the door. I didn't know what to do. I made a couple cautious steps and pain shot from my ankle up through my bleeding knee to my stinging hip and to my throbbing shoulder. It was probably 75 feet to the door but it seemed like 75 miles. On shards of glass.
The newly appeared woman, Jane, who I presumed was my interviewer, was now walking toward either the form guy or me. She stopped to talk to the form guy, and the had a brief exchange. Her gaze never left me.
So I thought, "What the heck, I'm obviously the topic of conversation, I might as well just limp on over there instead of standing here looking pathetic and paralyzed."
As soon as I started walking toward Jane and the form guy, Jane resumed a hasty pace toward me.
"Hi, I'm Jane Stevens." She smiled and offered me her hand to shake. I didn't want to offer her a bloody palm so I gave an apologetic glance at my hand, introduced myself, apologized for my appearance.
"I heard you fell. I'm sorry that happened. Come on in, you can use our ladies room to clean up. We can reschedule your interview, or, if you'd like we can talk in a few minutes."
I raced through the options and thought it would be weird to conduct a job interview under these circumstances. And there was a bigger issue nagging at me. The job I was there to interview for was a client-facing role and I knew they were appraising me not just for my qualifications, but also for my fitness to interact with clients. Behavior at the interview, a first meeting, is often seen as a mirror as to how a candidate will behave when meeting clients.
My mind was racing to figure out what the "right" thing to do would be if this were a client situation. If I'd been on my way to meet with a client, fell and injured myself in their parking lot 15 minutes before the meeting. I realized I haven't explored this topic before, either. And didn't recall reading or hearing about this sort of thing in relation to client meetings, either.
Note to self: I can't be the first person to ever fall in the parking lot on the way into a job interview or client meeting. Google this and figure out what the best "solution" is for this so I can have it in my artillery for the next time I trip and fall on the way to a job interview or client meeting.
But in the there and then I couldn't come up with the "best" solution. If I went along with the interview it would show selfless enthusiasm, can-do spirit, and focus in the face of disaster...but tarnishes the polish of the image. If I rescheduled, it would show concern for image, but disregard for others involved.
I did some quick reputation math and opted to go inside, clean up and go through with the interview.
The form guy and the original woman leaning out the main entry door were gone. It was just me and Jane. She led me, at a fast clip, into the lobby and key-carded me through a glass door and down a hall adjacent to a sprawling cube farm. My ankle and knee were throbbing and I could feel blood dripping down my leg from my wounded knee. I was struggling to keep up with her. She said she was taking me to a private bathroom, but any bathroom would have been okay, the closer the better.
We eventually made our way to what must have been the executive offices. She slid her key card through a reader on an inlaid wood door and, it was like arriving in Valhalla. Or a very swanky ladies lounge at a very swanky hotel. She held the door open long enough for me to enter and said she'd be right back with Band-aids and first aid cream. She reappeared shockingly fast, I'd barely made my way to the sink to wash my hands and assess the damage to the rest of me. She came over to the vanity and set down an industrial sized box of Band-Aids and a huge tube of antiseptic ointment, a small perfunctory first aid kit and a couple safety pins, then motioned to a reception desk and told me to talk to Joyce when I was ready. Then she left me alone to tend to my wounds.
My shoulder and hip weren't aching as badly. That was the one positive aspect. My wrist was swelling, my knee looked like something from a flesh eating zombie movie, and my ankle was swollen twice its normal size. I briefly pondered the difficulty of getting my shoe off that foot after the interview and forced the thought away. My leg and arm were already turning blue with welts and bruises, so many that it was difficult to find non-bruised areas. Great.
I checked out the first aid kit. Basic supplies, including iodine. Hmmmm. Iodine. I could end this all right here, right now. Open wounds. Severe iodine allergy. Bottle of iodine. One quick swipe of the iodine across my knee or palm and I could end this all, right here, right now, in this swanky ladies lounge in the suburbs. I thought about Jane finding me convulsing on the floor and decided I didn't need to do that to her. So I cleaned my knee and hand with hand soap, put the antiseptic cream on them, and began laying a patchwork of Band-Aids over the 3" diameter wound on my knee. I had Tylenol with me, but nothing to wash it down. I comforted myself with, "Later you can take the entire bottle and wash it down with vodka and end this misery once and for all." I stepped into a huge toilet stall, took off my pants, folded the torn edges and safety pinned the tear as tightly as I could with three safety pins on the inside so they wouldn't show. I returned to the swanky lounge and combed my hair, reapplied some lipstick, took several deep breaths, summoned all my reserves to pretend everything was normal. "You can deal with your injuries later, just pretend everything's normal for the duration of the interview. Rise above, Trill. Mind over matter."
Joyce and a couple other women huddled around the reception desk stopped their hushed conversation as soon as I appeared in the doorway. Great. I haven't even had the interview, yet, and I'm already the topic of office gossip.
The approach to the reception desk was paved with shiny, slippery tile. With my good ankle now swollen and screaming and pain, and my bad foot/ankle its usual unstable self, I had no solid footing and the inability to gain any traction on the slippery floor was only adding to the obstacle course this interview had become. I decided to manage this interview one task at a time, not think too far ahead. Right now, the task getting my full concentration was not falling on the slippery tile approach to the reception desk...while trying to look like I was walking normally. Mind over matter. Fine! Everything's fine! It's a beautiful day and I am feeling great! Enthusiastic! Friendly! Mind. Over. Swutting. Matter.
Other than the receptionist, the women evaporate. Joyce has one of those heavily spackled make-up jobs that hide all emotion. She smiles but the rest of her face doesn't move. Might be more than just make-up preventing her face from moving or showing any sign of emotion. She greets me with a hello, as if I had entered like anyone else, without bloodied and swollen limbs. Professional. This woman is a pro at this. Good for her. I like that in a receptionist. She can gossip all she wants, but when she greets people, which is her job, she should be void of any emotion other than delight at greeting whomever stands at her desk. In spite of the gossiping, I decide I like Joyce. Old school receptionisting is a dying art. I respect her obviously well-honed skills.
I return her smile and tell her I'm here to see Jane Stevens, she calls Jane and asks me to have a seat. I ponder this. If I sit down I may not be able to get back up again. I back away from the reception desk, getting out of Joyce's "space" and clearing the way for any other arrivals she may need to greet. As I ponder whether or not I can manage sitting down and getting back up again, Jane appears.
Okay, here we go! It's showtime!
"All cleaned up, I see?" Jane asks.
"Yes, thank you very much for the supplies."
"None to worse for wear, I hope?"
"Not too bad," I lie through what I hope is a sincere smile.
Jane walks along at a fast clip, leading me to a conference room. There are three people already seated and waiting for me. This I am prepared for. Never, ever assume that just because they don't tell you you'll be facing a group of people for an interview that it will be a one-on-one interview. I am not thrown by the extra people or the huge conference room environment. I am no stranger to conference rooms. I am comfortable in them. Even steaming hot conference rooms like this one. Oh Jane. Jane, Jane, Jane. That's one of the oldest tricks in the book. Turn up the thermostat in the room where the interview will take place. Child's play.
Jane makes the excuses for me to the assembled team.
"Trillian had a bit of a tumble on the way in today. She wants to continue with the interview as scheduled so we've got her cleaned up." Jane smiles somewhat ingratiatingly as she says this. It may be paranoia, again, but I get the distinct impression Jane would have preferred me to have left instead of soldiering on with the interview.
She has no idea who she's dealing with. She has zero clue that I have been mugged, assaulted, shoved down train station stairs, worked for a moronic bully, worked with a team of sycophantic numbskulls incapable or original thought, diplomatically handled last minute bizarre requests from all manner of clients and have suffered more weirdness and insults from men in the dating realm than most groups of 20 women have suffered collectively. She has no idea what I've endured in 2 and a half years of job interviews for every type of job I'm remotely qualified to perform, or that I've lost everything, my possessions, my home, everything to the crappy economy, the crappy job market, the crappy housing marketing and that since the age of 10 the Universe has been mocking me with weird obstacles and horrible timing. So. Bring it on, Jane. Bring. It. On.
I take a seat next to Jane and we're off!
The interview proceeds as if I didn't look like I just came off a battle field. The team, who are in varying degrees of noticeable perspiration, rapid fire questions at me. I respond by citing quantified examples of similar situations I encountered in the past and how I managed them. I volley by asking questions about their company, their clients and their goals and strategy to obtain them and what someone in the open position will bring to help them reach those goals and manage the strategy. They try, oh how they try to throw me off course by tossing in what they think are off the wall questions, but they're not off the wall to me. I've been asked much weirder, much more illegal questions in interviews. What team sports did I play in school? What's my birth order? What's my favorite color? Come on guys, you gotta do better than that to jar my confidence.
One by one the openly sweating team leaves the room and finally it's just me and Jane. Her perfectly applied makeup has gone from dewy to all out sweat, she tried to affect an overly jovial tone, "Well, thank you! That was certainly an informative session."
"Thank you, Jane! It was a pleasure to meet the team and learn about your company and your future plans for the department."
And then she found a way to throw me off course. From out of her notepad she produced the release forms the form guy wanted me to sign on the sidewalk.
"There's just a small matter of the release forms from your, uh, 'fall' out front."
I want this job. I do not want to sue them. The fall was as much my fault as it was theirs.
If I sign the forms I might have a real shot at this job. If I don't sign them, there's no way I'll ever hear from them again.
There's not an option. I briefly read the forms and signed them. Which seemed to please Jane. The ingratiating smile reappeared.
And I asked for copies.
Which seemed to annoy Jane. The fake smile was replaced by a terse pursing of her lips. "Yes, of course," she said very formally, "I'll be right back."
The second I was alone in the conference room every wounded part of my body screamed for attention. It was as if my body knew it had to leave me alone during the interview, but now it could make demands of me. I'm not sure if it was nerves or the pain or the extremely hot conference room, but, now I was also feeling sick to my stomach.
I started fantasizing about a huge bottle of Tylenol and shoulder to foot ice packs.
Making copies of three forms seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time.
Jane finally reappeared with the form guy from the parking lot.
She introduced me to him as "Bob," said she'd be in touch and left the room. "Bob" gave me a forced smile and asked me how I was feeling.
You were there, "Bob," you saw me out there, torn suit, bleeding, shaken from falling. "Considering I fell on the sidewalk," I said, trying to hide all traces of sarcasm. I don't know what "Bob's" role in this company is, but, better to not get on his bad side.
"Oh yes, right," Right. As if you forgot all about that, "Bob." "Jane told me you signed the release forms. Did you have a chance to read them before you signed them?"
I was fairly certain "Bob" is the company's legal adviser.
"Not as thoroughly as I would have liked, but they seem like standard release waivers."
"Yes, yes that's what they are. We are concerned about your well being, of course, but we want to be clear that we agree that we are not negligent in any way."
It's a little discouraging that the they're so aware and concerned about negligence and litigation that they have a legal adviser and release waivers ready and waiting to pounce on any situation that could be construed as negligence. Sure, Jane gave me Band-Aids and a first aid kit. They offered to let me reschedule the appointment. They did some due diligence. But, it was clear from the moment "Bob" came rushing out to the sidewalk, release waivers in hand, that their first and primary concern was that I would sue them. I'm sure there are people out there who would do that. I'm sure there are people out there who would orchestrate the situation for the sole purpose of suing. But. I am not one of those people and I resent being treated like one. I know, I know, "Bob" and Jane don't know me and don't know what my motivations are. But still, c'mon, after the interview I gave? I was clearly there for and focused on the job interview. Do they really think an eager candidate like me is going to ruin her chances at the job by suing them?
I'm unemployed. I'm basically homeless. I can barely pay my cell phone bill. I don't have money to even make a phone call to a lawyer, let alone hire one to take on a negligence law suit where I was equally negligent.
No, "Bob" and Jane don't know any of that. Looking at it from their perspective, I could be months of litigation in the making. Or at least that's what they seem to think of me.
I finally said, "I tripped and fell. It was an accident. And I want to get home and get some ice on my knee and ankle."
"Of course, of course," "Bob" said through a clenched teeth smile. I noticed beads of perspiration on his forehead. The conference room was so hot it's impossible to say if he was worried or just really hot.
He wordlessly stood up and walked to the door, made a sweeping gesture to me and said, "After you."
He escorted me past Joyce, through the cube farm and to the main lobby. He made a move to shake my hand, so I gave him a feeble bandaged handshake.
"Nice meeting you. Jane will be in touch. Have a nice day!"
Have a nice day? Really? Really "Bob?" Have a nice day? Play the game, Trill, just play the game.
"Thanks! You, too!"
When I got home and did a full body assessment the damage was, indeed, shoulder to toe. I'm reasonably certain my ankle is sprained. Pretty much the entire right side of my body was blue with bruises. I contemplated filling the tub with ice and laying in it, but I was afraid that once I got into the tub I wouldn't be able to get out. So. I made a bed of ice packs and laid on them all afternoon. My knee stopped bleeding the next day and a week later, the bruises have
turned from blue, to purple and now yellowish/brownish. My hand still hurts, but the scrape is healing. I'm on the mend.
The suit was irreparable. The elbow wasn't just worn and frayed, upon closer inspection it, too, was torn. Fortunately I have a couple interview appropriate suits, but that was my favorite one. Straight to the trash. Nothing to salvage.
I sent a thank you note to Jane and the team members, but haven't heard a word from them.
I'll give a follow up call this week but history has taught me that if the interviewer doesn't contact me within a few days of the first interview, they're focusing on other candidates. I thoroughly expect a form rejection email by the end of the week.
And that's okay. I'm used to rejection. Just another drop in the bucket. But. This one's different because of the whole "tripped on their sidewalk" and "release waivers" thing. Are they not hiring me because I stayed to interview while I was bleeding through a torn suit? Are they not hiring me because I tripped and fell on their sidewalk? These are not questions I usually have after an interview. And there's very little info about this sort of thing. I read a few synopsis where people have been injured during job interviews and attempted to sue. So. It does happen. But interesting that it never comes up in discussions and interview prep drills.
A few of my friends admonished me for signing the forms. "You waived your rights! That was stupid! You know better than to sign anything in that kind of situation!" "They are negligent! They failed to properly maintain their property!" "My brother knows a really good personal injury lawyer!"
I was kind of surprised at their reactions. I didn't realize my friends were so litigious.
My only response was, "I wanted that job. I need that job."
My friends don't understand that. They counter with, "Exactly! You have no health insurance! You have no money! That's exactly why you should sue them!"
All I can offer is a meek, "I don't want to threaten them. I need that job." It sounds really pathetic when I hear myself say it. Especially in my swollen, bruised and scabbed state.
And that's when it occurred to me: Maybe I've finally hit bottom. I doubt there's much more I can endure in the name of securing employment. I'm pretty sure I've now experienced every worst case job interview scenario.
Nowhere to go but up, right?
Labels: job interview, Unemployment