It was 2004. I was wrapping up a masters degree in “GeoScience” at Central Michigan University. Married, and with a young son, I wanted badly to lock something, anything, down before graduation. I had a faint but growing sense of urgency, having heard nothing back from the hordes of resumes and applications that I’d been sending out for months (in hindsight, misspelling “attachment” in all my cover letter emails was a poor introduction).
Scanning the GJC.org website, as we all did then, I saw something that looked too good to be true, and somehow managed to secure an actual interview. An interview. A massive pizza chain was hiring for a Geographic Information Systems technician. Or something like that. What a perfect pile of challenges! An industry hinged fully on location, steeped in franchise territories, site suitability analysis, routed delivery estimates (and expensive guarantees). What’s more, it was in Michigan! Glorious Michigan. I wanted it so badly.
Two days before the interview I sunk the tip of a chainsaw into my right foot while cutting up a downed tree at my grandma’s house. The side of my shoe exploded. But in that long couple of first bloodless and painless seconds I harbored hope as I dropped the saw and stared down wide eyed at the chaos of my instep -wondering if I had escaped injury. Then it was like a Dixie cup tipped over, spilling its full contents. I had not escaped injury.
The global headquarters of this pizza chain is a (maybe?) half-mile long building in the pastoral countryside near Ann Arbor. Actual bison graze in a pasture out front. There’s a nearby petting zoo. It was a sunny late summer day, and I wore my massive prescription aviator sunglasses, stowing my eyeglasses in the glove box. Danielle drove, and I rode shotgun along with my borrowed crutches and a wrapped foot about the size of a ski boot. She dropped me off at the entrance noted on my interview invitation packet, wished me (us) sincere luck, and drove away back up the long approach, to take our three-year-old boy, Bear, to the petting zoo while they waited.
Unfortunately, the building was undergoing some renovations and the elevator inside this entrance was closed. I walked the full length of the building looking for another option or someone to ask. I eventually found some construction workers who pointed me back to a second, functioning, elevator around the corner from where I had entered. At this point I was swimming in adrenaline and generously coated in sweat, owing to a convergence of some key factors:
- Limping for the better part of a mile, with the overwhelming…
- anxiety of potentially being only on-time for a golden interview, to which I wore a…
- poorly-fitting, seasonally inappropriate, thick wool sport coat borrowed from my dad, jammed into my raw armpits by crutches, muted only by…
- a substantial quantity of mildly reality-altering prescribed pain killers, not completely numbing the throbbing pulsing pain of…
- a grizzly laceration whose strained stitches tugged threateningly along the full height of my pooling, turgid, water-balloon of a foot.
I eventually made it to the sitting room, checked in with a polite but obviously taken-aback receptionist, and flopped down -mercifully- into a chair. I had made it with minutes to spare.
I was still wearing my massive, buzz the tower, highway to the danger zone, sunglasses.
My actual, and very necessary, glasses were bum-bum-bum parked in a petting zoo an eternity away. In my icy horror I frantically called Danielle on my Nokia 5110, hoping against reason there would be time to retrieve them. Just then my interviewers walked into the room. I whipped off the 3 lbs sunglasses.
I suppose they would have seen a disheveled, sweaty, stammering kid jamming something into his pocket and struggling to get up -a mess of crutches and papers.
I don’t know what they looked like. Besides blurry. There were three of them, two men and a woman, I could tell that.
They guided me into the dark room and took seats at the other side of the table. Fuzzy silhouettes against a bright window. They politely never asked about my injury and went on to ask some probably really great interview questions. I don’t know. I don’t remember a single thing they asked or what my responses were. I do remember that my clammy face felt cool and drawn, and I was hyper aware of the air moving over my skin. They probably tried to get a sense for my experience with spatial networks and geoprocessing. I don’t know. But I do remember devoting much of my diluted resources to determining which blob was speaking so I could hold my myopic and obviously unsteady, glassy, gaze in that general direction -certainly missing their eyes most of the time. They probably asked what sorts of software I was familiar with and what projects I’d worked on. I don’t know. But I do know that I was failing to form my mouth so that I could make ‘s’ sounds and the corrupted sounds I was making reminded me of those I might make with three quick drinks in me.
After what I imagine was a short but memorable (for them) question and answer session, I was led to a small, very dark, room with a dozen or so computers, each seat with a privacy frame like you might see when voting. Time to assess some skills in Microsoft Office.
I waited until the door was closed, then put on my heavy, thick, reflective officer Cartman aviator sunglasses so I could read the monitor, and dug in. I was understandably relieved to be anywhere other than that interview, and lost myself in my assigned tests, actively suppressing the blossoming awareness that I was elbows deep in an undeniable disaster. But maybe I could really nail this Excel exercise, blowing them away and landing a dream job -be able to support my small family. Maybe it wasn’t so bad -they had extended me these tests. So I optimistically began sorting columns and summing tables.
The door opened. “I’m just popping in to see how everything is go-” She stopped mid going as I, startled, jumped in my seat and turned around to quickly face her. My face awash in the glory of aviator sunglasses in this dark room. My interviewer, probably drawing the short straw, had returned to check on me (only now, as I write, do I suspect that I had probably been in there longer than it had seemed in my unfortunate state). Her eyes grew wide with the unexpected sight of this, already strange fellow, in a dark room, wearing the largest Kenny Loggins sunglasses available on the market.
“Oh, I, uh, it’s not -I know that it’s weird, I just, I had to see the screen and…” I was not successful in my attempt to coolly explain away the perfectly logical situation.
She never blinked; her raised eyelids never lowered. Her polite smile remained but was now clearly an effortful mask. She took slow steps backwards out of the room, never turning. “That’s just fine, oh no, don’t worry, ok…ok.”
I slipped my sunglasses back into my coat pocket and, for some reason, completed the tests, squinting and leaning into the monitor. I don’t remember completing and leaving the test room. I don’t recall being led back to the waiting room. I don’t remember being picked up by Danielle.
We had arranged to have lunch after the interview at a nearby Big Boy, with Danielle’s mom. I had a poor appetite, and did my best to politely describe that it didn’t go very well and that nobody should expect for me to get any offers. Danielle’s mom was, regardless, optimistic and thought that it probably wasn’t so bad as I felt it was. It was that bad. She went on to describe some of the neighborhoods in the area, weighing which might feel the best for us and what the housing markets looked like.
Believe it or not, I did not get that job. Some other person got it. I’m sure they were great and went on to have a rewarding career, these twelve years. But, if they have interviewed since then, they likely do not have the warm blanket of assurance that they have already had the worst interview possible. They probably aren’t comforted with the sage-like peace that comes with knowing that any interview -ever- is going to be a comparably wonderful experience.
My foot healed, I eventually got a job, and then another one. I love what I do, and who I’ve worked with. But getting there was an adventure of good interviews and bad. I’ve even had the opportunity to interview others. And I always take with me the context of how hard that situation is, with or without physical pain, impossible eyesight, or disheveled appearances. It helps.
I’ve had a bad interview.