This Job Interview Feels Like an Obstacle Course

This Job Interview Feels Like an Obstacle Course

Now that employers have the power, brace yourself for a tougher screening process.

I am not facing the person the recruiter told me I would meet. I am not even in the right department. And this is not how I imagined conducting myself as a high-powered executive on an interview. The hiring manager asks, “Do you know what job you’re interviewing for?” I answer, “No.” He then explains what the company does, something having to do with Internet security. I have no idea what he’s talking about. I decide I will use this opportunity as an exercise in charm school. At the end of the interview, he tells me he is surprised to say that he likes me. He also tells me I dress a little too fashionably (all black) for the company.

By the next round of interviews, which I learn is for a business development position, I have read up on the company, enough to know just how much I don’t know. I even spend two useless hours on the Web studying PKI (public key infrastructure). I meet the only woman in management. She dresses like a man and makes football analogies. (Note to self: Ask for tips on how to fit in with the guys.) I also meet a marketer with an engineering degree from Caltech whom I can’t imagine as someone who stays late to read marketing copy. (Note to self: Set him up with my friend — the combination of marketing and engineering may mean a man who can cry about a broken sink and then fix it.)

It’s freezing cold and hailing on the day I interview with the CEO. I wonder how is it that his hair is perfect while mine is a mess. I decide early on that he is gay. He wants to talk about my sales experience. Now, a business development job is mostly a sales job, and the only sales job I have ever had lasted six months because I hated sales. I spin this experience into a scenario in which one client liked me so much, he hired me away. But I’m careful to relate the story in about 50 vague sentences, because that one direct sentence is too obvious a lie. The CEO says, “So you like selling at the operating level.” I say, “What?” I know what the operating level is, because he told me. But all I can think of is that board game with the naked patient and tweezers.

I am surprised when I get called back for a fourth round of interviews. At this point, I am convinced that this company is perfect for me, because it operates in two business areas: Internet and software. This is good because if the Internet should ever become hip and cool again, I will be able to talk about this company’s Internet play. But for now, when profits are important and no one’s ramping up, it’s great to be able to say this company has a fast-growing software business. It is hard to admit that I will not run another company anytime soon, that I will not control the purse strings when considering a foosball table for the office. But I tell myself I will learn a lot.

The next time I meet with the man who would be my boss, I wear Bloomingdale’s clothes that look straight out of an L.L. Bean catalog, because I remember that he has a yacht. At lunch he says, “You seem more relaxed this time.” And then, “You think you have this job, don’t you?” He tells me he is considering two other candidates, that many people do not think my sales experience is strong enough, that I need to sell myself to him at this lunch. He digs into his spaghetti.

For my seventh interview, the HR person gives me a personality test. I capitulate because I know Carly Fiorina took one to get the HP job. I hope Carly didn’t study beforehand. And I hope the eighth interview includes handwriting analysis because I have studied this beforehand. Based on my extensive research, I have given my letters the slant of a leader, the spacing of a manager, and the sloppiness of an innovator. But the eighth interview is with an ex-McKinsey consultant who has a daughter my age. I tell him I think eight interviews might be excessive. He takes pleasure in telling me that the job market has changed, and companies not desperate for money are also not desperate for candidates. He also said he had had lunch with the dean of Harvard Business School, and they had wondered what exactly it was that dotcommers claim to have learned on the job. But what he really was saying was, “Shut up, you spoiled brat.”

So I do not negotiate when I sign an offer letter that includes a salary 25 percent lower than what I was making a year ago. I receive stock too: Whatever.

I know I should be happy. My friends would kill to work at a company like this right now. But the outrageously-high-salary part of my life is gone, and all I have to show for it is a $20,000 stereo and a BMW lease that’s about to expire.

Posted by on April 16, 2001