Standing On A Chair

Telling it like I see it…

The Job Interview

Job interviews are sometimes just awful, humiliating, painful experiences and I hate them.  I can’t even count how many I’ve been on. 

But there is one in particular which stands out in my memory to this day.  It was the first interview I had after two years of not working.  I was a thirty-year-old newly single mom to a 22-month-old baby girl.  And I was broke and desperate. 

It was February 1978.  I had a background in stewardessing, sales and marketing, but I was looking for office work for the first time.  I needed a steady 9 to 5, which would allow me to be home every night, and give me a guaranteed salary plus benefits.

The good thing was, in those days, jobs were plentiful.  Especially in Los Angeles.  And you went to head-hunters (employment agencies), where they assisted you with your resume, analyzed your qualifications and set you up on interviews.  When you got hired, your new employer paid the agency’s fee.

“But Jill, you have no background in office administration,” the head-hunter told me.

“What’s to know? I can type!  I can read!  I can learn and follow instructions!”

“Let me send you out on this nice customer service job I’ve got,” he said.  “Oh and here’s one for you.  Receptionist.  High end law firm downtown.  They need somebody to dress up the front desk, keep the clients coming back. And you can answer phones, I’m sure of that!”

I told him I wanted something that could at least give me some opportunity for growth. 

“Growth?” he said.  “A woman like you?”

Back then, if you were under 30 and were even halfway decent looking, they just assumed you would marry (or re-marry), quit the job and go home to have more babies.   

This man did not know me.

So I persuaded him to send me on an interview in Santa Monica, close to home but located on San Vicente Boulevard in the business district.  The position was at the corporate office of a business office supply firm.  They wanted a person who could type, file, learn new systems, and eventually the job could grow into executive assistant to the president/owner of the company.

* * * * *

“More than a Woman…” the Bee Gees falsettoed through the crackling, worn out car speakers.  John Travolta had just discoed to new fame in “Saturday Night Fever.”  I was on my way to a job interview, driving through a downpour with windshield wipers that didn’t work.  And the guy behind me in a baby-blue Ferrari stuck out his hand and flipped me off while honking his horn.  I’m sorry, but when it rains, I drive really slowly.

Anyway, I finally found the high rise office building I was looking for and pulled into the underground parking garage.  As I took the ticket from the attendant and looked around for a place to park, I hoped to God they validated.  I probably had about a dollar on me.

I entered the lobby filled with fichus trees and hopped on the elevator, pushing the button for the 11th floor.  This was a noon interview, with a woman we’ll call Toby, who I guessed didn’t get to take lunch breaks.

I got off the elevator and walked past several suites to the end of the thickly carpeted hallway.  Through the opened, top-half door I saw an attractive, curly-haired brunette woman sitting at her desk, taking a huge bite out of an oversized deli-sandwich.

I waited for her to stop chewing, which felt like forever, and then I said, “Um, excuse me?”  I had to raise my voice so she could hear me over “Stayin’ Alive” booming out of the overhead speakers.  I swear to God, everywhere you went, you heard the Bee Gees.

“Are you Toby?  Is this…” I looked down at the introduction card I held in my hand.  “Is this TrueHell International?”  The guy at the agency had atrocious handwriting.

She grinned widely, exposing bits of ham and red onion.

“Ha!  I’d say that’s a more appropriate name!  True Hell…that’s what it is, all right!”  Laughing and chewing at the same time, she reached behind her to turn the music volume down and motioned me to come in.

“This is the place you want, honey.  Are you Jill Miller?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh God, please don’t call me ma’am.  I’m not that old.” 

She pointed with a mustard-stained finger.  “Come sit here in front of my desk, Jill.  And it’s TrueTel International.  I’m Toby.  Great to meet you!”  She thrust out her hand to shake mine, and in so doing coated my palm with what felt like a mustard/olive oil mix, and a tiny sliver of lettuce.

“Thank you,” I said in my most professional voice, careful to smile winningly and make direct eye contact.  I sat down and offered her my resume.  I waited while she looked it over.  She took another very large bite from the sandwich, put it back down on the foil sheet to the right of her calculator, and then sucked noisily on the tip of each finger as she struggled to chew the huge wad of sandwich that bulged her cheeks out like a blowfish. 

I had to hand it to her.  The woman was certainly comfortable with herself.

Stay Tuned for Part Two…

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March 1, 2011 - Posted by | Jobs | , , ,

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