Over the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing a lot of folks for sales positions. Some managers take the interview process very seriously.
They will sit the candidates in the same chair, ask the same questions and stare them down with the same steely eye. There are legendary stories about interview nightmares, like the one about the U.S. president who took a cabinet candidate out for lunch. When the prospect salted his food before tasting it, the president nixed him for making a decision not based on facts.
Me – I’m about as far away from that as can be. Of the people I hired, one I interviewed over the phone long distance. Another walked into my office without an appointment (which is how I like to sell to my advertisers), one interviewed with another employee and never even gave me a résumé until a week after starting the job. Another I met at the bar at Atkins Park in Virginia-Highland. I asked her if she wanted a beer. She later confided to fellow employees that she wondered if it was a test. Would be better to drink a soft drink or to drink a beer as I did? On Fridays at 6 p.m., Atkins Park traditionally passes out complimentary shots of Jaegermeister. She was perplexed. What was the right thing to do?
I guess we learn from our role models. My first job interview was in New Orleans, where I drove in my junior year of college to meet Philip Carter, an editor of a French Quarter weekly and the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Miss. I took all my college articles, a nice résumé and the clearest head I could muster for such an auspicious occasion. When Philip showed up for my interview, he had some friends in tow.
Philip’s wife, Lynn, suggested we all go to their house in the quarter and start the interview there. Upon arrival, as is the tradition in New Orleans, a party started. Somewhere between rounds, Philip suggested he take a look at my articles. We talked a little about journalism, his paper, the job, etc. Then as we shook hands on Bourbon Street, he said I could start my reporter’s job upon graduation the next May.
I was the envy of my college class. Most of the seniors spent the year agonizing over whether they could get a job interview, and here I was with a full-time job in my chosen profession lined up already. On graduation weekend, I decided to join some friends backpacking in Europe that summer, so I called Philip, as I had every few months, to see if I could delay my job start until August.
“August,” he said. “But it will be over then.”
“Over,” I said. “What will be over?”
“Your summer internship.”
I nearly dropped the phone. My whole life flashed before me. No job. No money. No trip to Europe. Here all my friends had spent all year fighting for jobs and I had not given it a thought. Now I would have to start all over again.
“Philip,” I said. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You hired me for a full-time job.”
“I don’t have a full-time job open. How did we get this messed up? We’ve been talking all year since the interview.”
“Well, Philip,” I said. “You remember the interview. Your friends came over and … ”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, laughing. “Let me see what I can do.” He talked to his managing editor. Fortunately, a reporter had just announced she was pregnant and had given notice.
So my career as a newspaperman was safe. My skills as an interviewer, however, may have been permanently impaired.