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Interviews From Hell
Hunting for the perfect position can be Hell. Here is a small example.
[1,450 words]
Jeffrey Lee Williams
[November 2007]
[email protected]
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Interviews From Hell
Jeffrey Lee Williams

“Potential employees must sell themselves to the potential employer, but the employer must show that their company is professional and worth working for. However, it is a two way street, not a one lane highway.”

I have a question. Now this will require a few minutes of thought before answering. Think real hard as if it’s a life or death situation. Ready? Here it is: “Have you ever been on a job interview?” Yes? No? I guess that question wasn’t so difficult after all. Unless you live on another planet or were born into money, you’ve been on an interview. This piece is written by me for you. It was written for those of us who have been on interviews gone horribly wrong. I like to call myself a professional interviewee. I’ve been on more job interviews than I care to remember. My experiences with interviewing have given me the expertise needed to write this piece. This writing is about the ever frequent unprofessional actions of many potential employers. So by all means, let’s get started.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Halloween, 2004, place of interview was a well known and respected advertising agency. I arrived at the agency ten minutes early to give myself enough time to prepare for the interview for an administrative assistant position. As I waited in their reception lobby, I hear a phone ringing. It was a Nokia ring tone that blared and echoed throughout the lobby area. My heart palpitated. How could I be so stupid as to leave my cell phone on? What would I have done had it went off while I was being interviewed? I shuffled through my bag and pockets looking for my phone. After several seconds of panic searching, I pulled out my cell phone and found that it was off. The ringing wasn’t coming from me. The cell phone belonged to Elizabeth, the woman whom I was scheduled to meet.

Elizabeth strolled my way talking loudly on her cell phone while pointing to me with her pointer finger instructing me to follow her to her office. Oh, did I mention that she finally came out to meet me twenty minutes late and without so much as an apology for keeping me waiting for so long? To make matters worse, Elizabeth was chewing and popping gum while continuing her conversation. When she finally decided that I was worthy enough to spend a few seconds out of her precious time, she didn’t even bother to formally introduce herself or state her position within the company.

I was puzzled yet desperate so I played it off as if I wasn’t bothered by it. Deep down, I was insulted by the rudeness and obnoxious behavior from this woman who was chosen to represent her company to me. Elizabeth showed a blatant disrespect for my time and a cavalier disregard for the integrity of the interviewing process. This was my first interaction with such an unprofessional woman in her position. The interview, in between cell phone calls, took under five minutes long! I was livid. Elizabeth asked me three questions, sloppily jotted down some notes in red ink all over my resume then simply looked at me and said: “thank you for coming but we are going to keep looking.” I was dismissed after a twenty minute wait and a five minute formality interview just to ease the pain and anger of being rejected. The rudeness of Elizabeth made me question the entire company as a whole. How could a fortune five hundred company allow someone like her to represent them? I was glad it was over, I was glad I never had to see her again. But my next horrible interview made Elizabeth look like Princess Diana.

It was the spring of 2006 when I went in for an interview at an art gallery in NYC’s trendy SoHo area. The owner was a middle aged, slightly overweight man named Henry. I was called in for the interview after he had viewed my resume through Craigslist. My primary responsibility was to hang art paintings on the wall. Not exactly rocket science. The job description was a breeze so how difficult could the interviewing process be? I went in confident (not arrogant) and with determination to get the job.

I arrived at the interview fifteen minutes early so that I could have time to look around the gallery to get a feel for where I would be working. Jillian, the gallery sales agent and receptionist was so warm, friendly and welcoming; I knew that I would enjoy working at the high end gallery. Jillian made me smile. She made me feel comfortable; she put her best face forward. When Henry walked out of the back area to greet me, he looked as if he could be a bit of a drama queen. After meeting with him, I was disappointed in myself for prejudging him as I had. He was not a bit of a drama queen, he was THEE drama queen.

Henry was a stout figure to say the least. He wasn’t very tall but his massive belly made him appear to tower over everyone. What really stands out about Henry was that he was sophisticated, to a point. His clothing was mildly wrinkled and his handshake was warm and moist, as if he had just sneezed into his hands. It was gross. I was wondering why he didn’t think to wipe his hands with a handkerchief before shaking mine. After I wished for some antibacterial wipes, we went into his damp and clustered office. It was covered with old paintings and books from friends of his. Before I could open my mouth to express gratitude for the interview, Henry told me to remain standing while he sat. He said he needed to see what I was wearing. I had on a pair of black Calvin Klein pants and a lime green button down shirt with a black tie. I looked sharp!

Henry didn’t think the same. He said that I didn’t pay attention to him and that was a bad sign. He told me the day before the interview that I didn’t have to dress up for the interview. He told me it could have been informal. I decided to put my best foot forward. I thought I had done that. After forty five minutes of interviewing me, telling me in many ways that I was not right for the position but he had me in mind to do manual labor work, i.e. hanging paintings, because I was not qualified to be his assistant. He told me that he had thought that I would be ideal to be his assistant, but after talking with me and seeing that I could not follow a simple instruction, I was not qualified. He actually used those words.

“You are not qualified to be my assistant, however you can hang my paintings if you like. The salary isn’t good but it’s a job and you need the job, right?” Like a predator, he sniffed out my desperation and latched onto it. What was I to do, I needed the job. So, I took it with a smile and appreciation. Because I was desperate and lacking self-respect, I took the job. However, Henry and I parted ways after just two weeks because he decided that family emergencies are not as important as hanging his precious and overpriced artwork in his “vanity gallery.” If memory serves, Henry called me into his office and told me in no uncertain terms: “Do you live alone? I ask this because if you are the head of the household, and must bare the brunt off all the responsibilities, this may not work out. I need you here, not tending to emergencies of any kind at home.” I was gone the next day.


This piece was not intended for anyone to feel sorry for me and my struggles to find stable, permanent work. I have found a position, thankfully, that has been pleasant thus far. Rather, this piece was intended to try to get employers to understand that many of us job-seekers are often filled with anxiety and motivated by desperation and necessity to work. We potential employees take our time to apply and come in for an interview with you and all we ask, and expect of you is to be professional, courteous, and kind. When we see that you treat potential employees as “servants” rather than colleagues, we walk away angry and frustrated. There is a distinct difference between professional, no nonsense employers and the Miranda Priestly character played so marvelously by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.”



"This is pretty well written and I assume it is all true. Having interviewed and hired many people in my working career, I agree that Henry was not very professional. However, my experience with people who take time off to deal with personal problems, ESPECIALLY IN THE FIRST TWO WEEKS OF THEIR EMPLOYMENT, tend to have these problems continuously. Let's just say it's hardly getting off on the right foot. I know some of these things are beyond your control but better they should happen later than in the first week or two of a new job. Bad timing? Perhaps, but episodes like this seem to follow certain people and you may be one of them. " -- Richard.


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© 2007 Jeffrey Lee Williams
December 2007

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