he’d put coat and tie on over a fitted shirt

Going on an interview can be nerve-wracking. I found it helps to break it down into steps.

  1. Fill out an application Buy new shoes. I have vague memories of deciding that my old black dress shoes were too wounded to live any longer. I could have sworn they survived the move to Somerville, though. But the only time I can remember wearing dress shoes since is Hawver’s wedding, and those came with the tux. So I could have easily lost them or thrown them out.

    I had just enough time before the interview to go to Filene’s Basement and rifle through their measly stock of dress black size 13s. I found a pair of Kenneth Coles that fit well – better than any pair of dress shoes I’ve owned straight out the gate, in fact – and took them with me.

  2. Fill out an application Find parking. I interviewed at the Arsenal Building in Watertown, which has a seven-level parking garage adjacent to it. Every single spot in that garage was full, however, and drivers were inventing new spots at the corners of the lanes. Swearing and checking my watch, I parked on North Beacon St and hoofed it through snowmelt.

    I love snow the day it happens but not afterward. Everything’s wet and sticky and gritty and staining. I was painfully conscious of the cleanliness of my shoes and trouser cuffs as I sloshed my way around the curb and crossed the street.

  3. Fill out an application. Pretty simple – just duplicating all the same info as on my resume. Except for this last bit: “three work references.” I can probably count on L___, J___ and S___ to talk me up. I just … phone numbers? I don’t know their phone numbers! Their phone numbers are in Outlook! You know, where all phone numbers live? Why does it never occur to me to write these down beforehand? All right, L___’s number you know … and anyone can ask for J___ off the main number, so I’ll just put that down. Is our main number an 888- or an 800- ? Fuck. Shit. No, it’s cool.

    Shit.

  4. Meet with potential managers. I had three back to back interviews with the team managers. My secret to getting along with people: infinite flexibility. I adapt whatever tone they’re using and mirror it back at them. This isn’t some secret verbal jiu-jitsu; this is my absolute inability to deal with human beings except as a party game of some sort.

    So with the friendly first manager I’m friendly; with the formal second manager I’m an attentive listener; with the casual and jokey third manager I sling a lot of wisecracks and self-effacing remarks. I’d rate the interviews as “great; good; superb” in chronological order.

  5. Take a test. As if the great pressure of adulthood, the Job Interview, wasn’t enough, the new company also arranged for the great pressure of childhood, the Timed Exam, as a follow-up. It was a skills assessment of my writing ability, my Excel proficiency and my knowledge of HTML.

    Writing: trivially easy. Four years of experience breaking bad news to managers and sales reps helped me to draft mock e-mails with ease. I had to flag the HR lady over at one point to ask for help (“this sentence in the instructions doesn’t have an, um, predicate?”) but otherwise had no problems.

    HTML: not too bad. Multiple choice, so any areas I was fuzzy on I could narrow down through the choices in front of me. Which of the following codes would change the background color on a page? How would you reference a stylesheet? They threw in some questions about Java which stumped me, but I made some educated guesses.

    Excel: I sweated the most here. Not because my Excel game is weak – you know better – but because this test had the least margin for error. Writing’s graded subjectively and the multiple choice HTML quiz let me make educated guesses. But if I missed something obvious in the instructions and entered a formula wrong in Excel, I wouldn’t know it. And these were spreadsheets full of gibberish, so I couldn’t rely on my sixth sense to tell me “those numbers don’t sound right.” Double- and triple-checking everything calmed most of my fears.

If I did well, I have a follow-up some time next week. Keep your fingers crossed.

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