Friday, July 25, 2014

You'll Never Interview In This Town Again

Austin’s 5th Best Place to Work

It was a playground, not an office. It was several large open rooms of ping pong tables and old arcade games. Basketball hoops hanging over doors. Lawn chairs spread out along carpet green and crisp to mimic golf turf. Multi-colored walls tricked out with collages of photos from company events: flag football and water balloon fights, Margarita Monday and someone named Roger’s 30th birthday party, which was pirate-themed. Booze and bikinis and blinding white teeth and ironically-thrown gang signs galore.
The Greek chorus in my head began singing their disapproval the moment I walked through the North Austin glass doors of “Austin’s 5th Best Place to Work.” I tried to ignore them and be objective. This place was not awful; it’s only awful for you. For a recent college graduate without a family or attention deficit disorder, it might have been heaven. But I was a 35-year-old mom of two who downed Adderhol every morning just to remember to throw on underwear before leaving the house. I was getting older and becoming more and more anti-social and I didn’t fancy my work place to resemble Pee Wee's Playhouse. 
“At Volmano, we work hard but we play hard too,” I heard from behind me. The reciter of the cheesy, generic slogan all Austin software companies seemed to favor was Stacey, the HR rep I’d been email tangoing with since I first started jockeying for a career opportunity there. Petite, young, blonde, she had the sort of overwhelming enthusiasm reminiscent of actors on Disney cruises. She skipped past an assortment of hula hoops and pointed to a door next to a sign reading, Cupcakes Tomorrow!!! Yum, Yum!
“This is the Never-Ending-Gobstopper room,” she explained. “Across the way is the flamenco bar. Free yoga in the afternoons! Oh, and we have ‘Bring Your Dog to Work Day’ on Tuesday. ‘Come to Work in Your Jammies Day’ on Wednesday. We have Beer Fridays too.”
“Is it on Fridays?” I joked.
“Yes, that’s why it’s called ‘Beer Fridays,’” Stacey replied, missing the joke. She paused to check her iPhone before adding, “Okay, you need to go back to the Astronaut Spin Cycles Room for the interview. Just relax a bit before it starts because our interview process is like, totally hardcore; we take our jobs seriously here. But when it’s over, I’ll show you the Spiderman skating rink in the back! It’s super-duper. So…do you have any questions?” she asked.
Yes. So far I had seen everything in the office except an office. “Where do people work?” I asked.
Stacey’s smile blue-screened.
“You know…work stations?”
The young’un’s face melted into a laugh. “Oh yeah! Work stations. Sorry, took me a minute. Here we call them time-outs. Get it? Ha ha. One of our teams is over there.” She pointed behind the ping pong tables. “I can’t remember if it’s the Sales or the Marketing or…”
I walked closer and knew immediately it was none of those departments. A room darker than the others. Heads leaned over gigantic screens flanked by Star Wars bobbleheads and empty soda cans. MAC laptops repurposed for Microsoft development. Tupperware containers solidified with lunches from weeks ago. Chords strung out like spaghetti across the floor. Combustible levels of snarkiness and introversion tinged the air. Snickering instead of laughter. A Game of Thrones poster taped to the wall, “Brace yourself…Windows 9 is Coming.”
No doubt about it; we were in the Development Team’s lair. 
For the first and only moment at “Austin’s 5th Best Place to Work,” silence fell among the Greek chorus. I knew these people. They were my brothers (and sometimes, less frequently, sisters). We were alike. We bore the same opposing, pathological mix of arrogance and self-doubt only other socially awkward geniuses who feared they’d never reach their potential could understand. We shared the same high IQs—the only difference was, we used opposite sides of the brain to store them. Like a third-world diplomat, I’d spent the last fifteen years translating their language for other mathematically-challenged artsy fartsy types living in the same cranial hemisphere as me.
One of my brothers picked up a toy gun and shot a Nerf ball at another. The rest of my family broke into laughter. Over the intercom, an Orwellian voice announced, “Hi Volmano team! New Transformers movie is playing in the cinema in ten minutes! Be sure to grab your ice cream and candy before it starts!” The room began to clap. Loudly. A dozen more Nerf balls shot up in the air.
You work in Cowslip’s Warren! I inwardly screamed, watching them gallop past for their servings of pancreatic damage. I wanted to stare into each set of squinty-from-reviewing-code-all-day eyes and ask, how can you work here, on the set of Hanana Montana?
Stacey’s pony tail bounced behind her when she turned to me. A wide grin split her face in two. “See how fun it is?” she asked. “Aren’t you just dying to join our team?”
I could agree with the dying part. I pressed my laptop bag close to my chest like a shield. “Looks like a great place to continue my career,” I heard myself say, forcing a grin of my own.
The Greek chorus began to scream.

The Hatchet

Back in May I received an unexpected IM from my boss:
“You should join Linkedin.”
Fear tingled along my spine. I read the instant message again and concluded it could only mean one thing.
My boss was called the “Hatchet” around the office due to the ruthless way he sliced and diced the company roster. When he struck, there was never an announcement. No need for it. Everyone knew. One less participant in the standup meetings. An empty cubicle which just the day before had been occupied with a warm body and decorated with diplomas and crooked grinning pictures of young children. The Hatchet has struck again. For years I had dodged his blow; even so, I knew it was only a matter of time. There were nights when the sound of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” haunted my dreams.
After a few moments of assessing how long it would take to delete all the shady shit off my laptop, I wrote back, “Why? It’s nothing but a database for the unemployed.”
He answered, “Think of it as a way to find a better job.”
I leaned back in my chair, numb with dread. I could see it. My head on the block. The guillotine swinging down. I was fucked.

Round One

As it turned out, it wasn’t the Hatchet behind the ax, but the company itself. The investors wanted out. We were being acquisitioned by a company notorious for downsizing the R & D right at the starting gate.
“The acquisition shouldn’t go through until July,” the Hatchet said. “Just wanted to give you a head’s up. Start looking.”
I have two months to find something else, I thought. No worries. It never took me long to find a job because my background was versatile. I could apply to jobs for tech writers, copywriters, business analysts, even a project manager role if the company was willing to look past the lack of PMP certification (which, IMHO, was the most overrated qualification of all). Besides, I’d just spent the last year querying literary agents and receiving a hundred rejections until finally, the pendulum swung my way. A publishing contract sprung from the ashes of my near defeat. Finding a job should be a piece of cake in comparison. 
I stayed up all night designing my resume. The next morning I sent it out to ten companies. Within 24 hours, six of them had replied back with interest.
My first onsite interview was in Round Rock. The morning of, I fought over whether I should cancel. For one thing, it was in Round Rock. For another thing, it was in Round Rock. But it had its appeal—it wasn’t software. It was engineering, it was testing equipment. Something new, different. Could be fun, I thought. A change of scenery.
My interview was in the afternoon, which meant I had to leave South Austin at dawn if I hoped to arrive on time. The gangly 40-something-year-old mechanical engineer who would be managing me (in addition to 67 other people) greeted me at the door. He was friendly, laid-back. I liked him immediately. He walked me around the office. I wanted to ask, “But wait, don’t you want to talk first? What if I completely suck?” But I would soon learn this had become common practice. Office tours. Let’s spend an hour showing you the office where you may or may not be working. He punched a few numbers into a security box, and the sliding doors opened. Machinery revealed, roghefelters and wigganippjects and bigger gadgets like klonmpuckets and whooping caughnickets. Located in the very back, a cement chamber foreboding enough to make Hannibal Lector’s lips tingle took over an entire wall.
After the last stop at the whatchamacallits, the engineer led me back to his office to show me the reports I’d be writing. Mundane stuff, but I tried to gather enthusiasm. The people there were nice, and I needed a job. Stop being an ungrateful twat, I told myself.
But two days later when the rejection email arrived, relief flooded me. It was only the first week. I didn’t have to settle. I filed the experience away under good practice and shot back an email, wishing the engineer well. I had five other interviews in the burner. I was safe. Or so I thought.
I had no way of knowing those interviews would crash and burn like the first. I hadn’t anticipated the job market had grown fangs over the four years I’d been away, and stood salivating at my door, ready to swallow me whole.  

Inbox Gains New Meaning

My Gmail inbox grew to a new level of importance during the Great Job Search. A potential goldmine for all kinds of possibilities—interview invites, job posting updates, LinkedIn connection requests. Disappointment washed over me when something else trickled through. I ordered my friends and family to stop sending emails. I didn’t want positive reinforcements from people who loved me. I wanted emails from strangers requesting the opportunity to judge the hell out of me. 
I also didn’t want all the SPAM that I had halfheartedly tolerated over the years only because they came from organizations that I once-in-a-blue-moon visited. They were teases. If a new email turned out to be a Groupon or Living Social or Weight Watchers ad, a part of me died inside. I spearheaded an Unsubscribe Crusade. All emails unrelated to job opportunities must perish!
I checked my inbox manically. Even when it made no sense. Especially when it made no sense. “It’s two in the morning on Saturday,” my boyfriend reminded me when he caught me in the act.
“Some people work on the weekend,” I said, refreshing the page.
“Erin, it’s the Fourth of July.”  

Phone Interviews

Two decks of index cards sat next to me at all times during phone interviews. One stack labeled, “Questions I Should Ask Them.” The other, “Answers to Questions They’ll Probably Ask Me.” The former stack, particularly gold. It kept my mouth from opening and exchanging feet. I cursed like a sailor and practiced too often the “To hell with it, I’ll be myself, see if they like me” philosophy (which was stupid since I was me and no one disliked me more than I did). I needed a reference when my actual personality tried to escape—another words, when the temptation to tell the truth came around: 
How do you relieve stress?
“I eat a lot of ice cream and jerk off to porn.”
Why are you interested in working here?
“You have a job opening and you’re not in Round Rock.”
How do you know when your project is successful?
“I never think anything I do is successful. I am a self-loathing asshole.”
Describe the perfect manager.
“One who works offsite and has no access to electricity.”
How did you come about working in the software industry?
“I failed at everything else.”
I never succumbed to temptation, of course. Even the mad ones have a limit. I stuck to the cards, and by my fourth interview, I had that shit memorized. Each time a new chirpy HR voice introduced themselves to me, I’d be ready. Go ahead. Ask me what my failures are. Ask me how I manage insubordinate team members. Ask me how I plan a new project. I double dog fucking dare you.
By the second month, my success rate with phone interviews was one-hundred percent—however, the flip side was a not-so-great time with onsites.
Paranoia consumed me. I knew a girl who was beautiful but not the brightest star in the sky. Whenever we’re at a bar, men flocked to her in droves. They flocked away just as quickly after they realized she was a black hole where conversations went to die. I was beginning to think of myself as the job interview equivalent. Good on the page; lousy in person.

Meanwhile

The termination date of my current job came and went. 

Signs

Times of anxiety and desperation naturally lent itself to what Joan Didion referred to as “magical thinking.” I began searching for signs to feel like each interview may be the “One.” This company had all four letters of my name in their name—it must be a sign! I was interviewing on the 7th of the seventh month—a sign! This company was located next to a bar where I hooked up with a well-known True Blood actor—a sign!
Do it long enough, and your friends and family get in on the action too. I remember my best friend calling me on the day of an interview. "You know the panhandler at Oltorf and Congress? The one who's been nine-months-pregnant for three years? Well, she's had her baby. Today is the day of miracles! You're gonna get that job!” she exclaimed. 
When I mentioned to another friend that the hiring manager was German, she went all giddified. “Remember that guy you dated a couple of years ago? Wasn't he was German? See, that’s gotta be a sign!”

Also, Karma

What goes around comes around, they say, and I needed only good to come my way. The laws of attraction, I sought to master it. I thought if I became less of a dick in my personal life, it would transfer to my professional one.
Never was I a better member of society than during the Great Job Hunt. The model citizen. I made sure to recycle and pick up other people’s trash, and stand holding the door for the elderly. I even pet and cooed at dogs, and I hated dogs (shut up).
I gossiped less too. Stopped talking shit about my sister’s boyfriend and my ex-husband and ghosts of ex-boyfriends past. I paid more attention when my mother gushed about Downton Abbey or her vegetable garden. When the Church of Latter Day Saints came knocking on the door, I offered them a beer. (Those of you who just scoffed—at least my heart was in the right place!) I patiently listened to my Dad list the same ailments he’d had since the Cold War without cutting him off mid-diagnosis with the excuse that Patrick Dempsey was on the other line. I bought better food for my cats. I played Candy Crush when asked. I followed back all my Twitter followers. I quit harassing Nickelback lovers on music boards. I stopped wishing bad things to the Kardashian’s.
All this while looking up at the universe. “Do you see this? I’m trying.”    

Dressed for Success

Unemployment also meant doing something I never thought I’d do within the Austin city limits: wear a suit.
My first trip in the Live Music Capital of the World looking like Murphy Brown, standing in line at Dominican Joe’s, I heard a man say to another man behind me, “Looks like someone has an interview today.”

Signs You Won’t Get an Offer: Part One

You ask the hiring manager when they’re planning to make a decision, and they wave their hand in front of you and say, “We don’t know. Don’t wait on us. Keep looking.”

Whole Foods

Applying to Whole Foods? Be sure to leave about eight hours open to fill out their biblical amount of online forms. Be sure to have your social security number, driver’s license number, the name of the person who popped your cherry, and the date and time it happened readily available too.
Whole Foods was just one of the dozens of Austin employers who doesn’t give a fuck how much weed you gave your graphic designer friend to help create your badass resume. Their motto was: if you’re unemployed, you have the time to write your entire biography, especially the nuggets of genuinely important information such as the courses you took in college, every grade for each test, and every professor you blew to get that grade.
My favorite sites were the ones that believed they could autofill fields with your uploaded resume. As a result, my first name always ended up being "HELLO!" (the first word in my resume) and my last name, “My” (second word). Work history looked something like this:
NAME OF CURRENT EMPLOYER: Erin.
JOB TITLE: Photoshop.
ADDRESS: Gathered and documented requirements.
MANAGER: January 2007-July 2009
JOB DESCRIPTION: Austin, Texas.
Just once, I’d like to leave the fields as is and see if some HR rep calls me up: “Hi, this is Stacey from Pee Wee's Playhouse. May I speak to Hello My, please?”  

Selective Testing

I love how in Austilicone Valley, background checks continue to be the norm, but drug tests are not "à la mode." Like if you smoke it, snort it, or shoot it, it’s okay—you’re still an excellent candidate. But if you’ve ever been caught smoking it, snorting it, shooting it, or selling it, you’d better catfish someone else’s identity before hitting the application highway.  

One Question That Needs to Stop

“Do you consider yourself detail-oriented?”
This question needs to stop. It’s probably the most dishonestly answered question in the history of interviews (Right next to “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”). I knew a guy who was so oblivious to the world, he wouldn’t know it if he woke up one morning and his apartment had moved across the street. He was recently hired as a BA for a company that rhymes with Bicrosoft. His claim to fame? “I told them I was a detail-oriented son-of-a-bitch.”
Me? I fell somewhere in between. I could nit-pick the hell out of a document, then miss something as blatantly obvious as the wrong release number in a title. I strived for perfection, but like most of God’s creatures, I always fell short.
But if you wanted to know the truth, I was okay with not being Ms. Jane Detail. I’d worked with people whose main asset was being “detail-oriented,” and frankly, I was glad I didn’t fall in that category. I think companies should be thankful the majority of us don’t.
Oh, and on a related note, according to resumes and answers given in interviews, 100% of Americans have terrific oral and written communication skills. It's a wonder how I ever had a job in the first place.

You Don’t Have All the Qualifications We’re Looking For

“I see you’re experienced in MadCap?”
“Yes.”
“And FrameMaker, RoboHelp…”
“Yes, yes.”
“Are you also familiar with Visual Studio, Visio, SQL, LucidChart, Rally, MS TFS, WorkDay, SalesForce, the Microsoft Office Suite, the Adobe Creative Suite, my grandmother’s underwear drawer, Corel, Zoom, SnagIt, WordPress, Google docs, PowerPoint and Media Designer?”
“Everything but your grandmother’s underwear drawer, yes.”
Rejection email stated: “Did not meet all the qualifications.”
Note: The exception was not his grandmother’s underwear drawer, but it might as well have been. The point is this—no one will have all the qualifications you’re asking for, and if they do, they’re probably lying, and if they aren’t lying, they’re probably detail-oriented psychopaths.

You’re Not Technical Enough

I answered an ad for “Technical Writer.” The hiring manager called me, “You don’t have any experience with Ruby-on-Rails, do you?”
“I’m a technical writer. I write documentation, not code.”
“What about Java? C++?”
“I’m a writer…”
“ASP.NET?”
“Look, I’m familiar with these languages. But I don’t code. I'm a writer. It's not my job to have the skillsets required for a full implementationit's my job to have a finger on the pulse of people who do."
I wasn’t technical enough, the rejection email stated.
When I called my mom and told her the news, she had a different theory, “They’re full of it! You’re as technical as a writer can get. They’re just afraid because you are, to quote Warsan Shire, terrifying and strange and beautiful...something not everyone knows how to love.”
Sometimes a mother’s lie is the only magical thinking a person needs.

You’re Too Technical

It was a marketing copywriter position. This one hurt because I really wanted it, and not because the company was that great or the pay was good, but because it was only a block away from my house and in Austin, it was like striking gold.
They went through each job I had ever sweat for and asked the same questions: “What was your biggest failures? Biggest successes? Challenges?” You get the picture. Every question they asked, I had to give an example that involved a load of geek speak for which they were unfamiliar. I made sure to remind them over and over, “Listen, I know I sound really technical, but believe me, I don’t have to be in a technical position—I’ve just lived in this world for so long, all my experiences revert back to it.”
The interviewers—both girls—smiled and nodded reassuringly.
The rejection email read, “We love your writing but we’re afraid you’re too technical.”

Must Be Process-Oriented

The Lead Developer in this one company: “We have two products that use three different team project sites and we say we’re Agile but some of our methods are Waterfall. Our developers have to switch between projects a lot and our user stories aren’t ranked and we don’t always plan the project with enough time for a full regression testing because no one thinks of creating a risk management plan beforehand.”
The whole spiel made me cringe. If the Hatchet was this guy’s manager, he’d be in serious trouble. The Hatchet was a process-lovin’ fool, and he had turned me into one too.
But I didn’t talk too much about process. I didn’t want it to seem as if I’d step into the company on the first day—this silly tech writer—and get all Process Nazi on them.
The Lead Developer invited the rest of his crew to interview me. When they were through, it was the QA’s turn. Then the project managers and their wives and husbands. Then the CEO showed up long enough to explain everything the Lead Developer had said, but at greater length and with less eye contact.
I walked out feeling like I’d just played the girl in a 50-guy gang bang.
When the rejection email came, it said, I-shit-you-not, “We liked you okay, but we need someone as process-oriented as we are.” 

Signs You Won’t Get a Job Offer: Part Two

At the end of an onsite interview, when you hand the HR your list of references and they shake their head and say, “We don’t need them.” 

Women and Age

I’ve noticed more women are in upper management positions, doing interviews. I approve of this change.
One change I can’t help but feel terrified over, however, was no one over the age of 40 seemed to work in Austin anymore. Every office I toured, I was met with shiny, fresh faces. At 35, I felt like the Crypt Keeper.
When did Austin become Logan’s Run? 

Austin’s 7th Best Place to Work

It was voted Austin’s 7th Best Place to Work (Who did the voting anyway? A call center in India?).
Going in, I already knew it was a long shot because it was for a Project Manager role, but I had survived three HR phone interviews and was hanging in there. During my vacation (planned and paid for before the roof caved), the HR chick called, bouncing off the walls with excitement (Little known fact: HR reps and recruiters are responsible for half the crack sales in Austin.). She squealed into my ear, "The hiring manager is ready to schedule a phone interview with you!" 
“Are you sure?” I wanted to ask.“I mean, I’ve only been on three interviews with you guys…aren’t we going a little fast?” I thanked her and we planned the Next Great Judgement on the day I returned to Austin, at 4:00, two hours after I was scheduled to arrive home. Plenty of time, I thought, obviously having learned nothing about life.  
I didn’t get the official announcement the plane would be delayed until after we had boarded and after I had (stupidly and accidentally) packed my phone in luggage that was later identified by a menstruating airline representative as a perfect candidate for gate check-in.
By the time we landed in Austin, it was 3:42. My apartment was only ten minutes from the airport, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was waiting for them to unload my checked luggage, then maneuvering around the other passengers, then running down a nonoperational escalator without knocking over a blind man and his Seeing Eye dog, then finding my boyfriend’s car amid a sea of other cars in the arrival lot, then slipping past the Wehrmacht airport security to plop into my car, then convincing my boyfriend to hand over the driving reigns so we could go faster than his usual 20 mph through always-a-pleasure Austin traffic. It was asking the impossible, but somehow I did it. I was running up the stairs to my apartment when an oncoming call sent my phone into a seizure.
“Hello?” I answered, pretending I didn’t know who it was. Pretending I didn’t just manhandle a blind man and almost commit vehicular manslaughter to answer the call.
“Hi, is this is Erin?” a voice asked.
Damn straight it was. “Yes, it is.”
“Hi, this is So-And-So from <Banking Company in North Austin>. Look, I’ll be honest—I think HR flubbed up on this one. You don’t have the right qualifications for this position, okay? But look, I wanted to talk to you anyway because I read your LinkedIn profile. I thought it was brilliant. I was hysterically amused!”
I took a deep breath and tried not to punch the phone. I also mentally apologized to all the human lives I had risked for nothing.  
A week later I happened to find out from an inside source the name of the person they thought was qualified for the position. I knew him. We used to work together. He was a nice enough guy, but not a manager type. He’d been dropped into software in much the way I had—by accident. Like me, he couldn’t make it doing what he really loved, which in his case was music. He was more inclined to know the every ACL set list from the past ten years than the skills and planning it would take to drive an implementation. I realize these two things weren’t mutually exclusive—especially in Austin—but trust me, in his case, it was.
I guess it was my turn to be “hysterically amused.”  

Signs You Won’t Get a Job Offer: Part Three

When the company where you interviewed calls your former co-worker and asks him for an interview for the same position. When your co-worker asks if there’s anyone else they’re considering, they say no.

Sometimes I Can’t Breathe

The panic attacks began around Week Three of Unemployment. They arrived in the middle of the night, creeping under my ribcage like bandits thirsty for oxygen. Awake at the kitchen counter, one second pouring a cup of water; the next, floor-bound, knees hitting the tile, sucking in air, heart like a hammer in the chest. In the backdrop: son wandering into the room, rubbing sleep from his eyes. Stopping to stare. “Mommy?”
“Go back to sleep, baby,” I whispered, and he did.  I called out for my boyfriend, who promptly awoke and walked into the kitchen.
His mouth formed an “O.” “What happened?”
I gave him the bad news, “I’m dying.”
He took a paper bag out of the cabinet and pressed it to my lips, ordering me to breath. “You’re not dying, Miss Theatrical,” he said. “You’re having a panic attack.”
A panic attack? That couldn’t be! I was an Assassin of Panic! A Vanquisher of Stress! Millions of cartons of ice cream could testify to this. “How can I stop it?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Find a job, I guess.” 

Suck a Bag of Dicks

I could look back on most interviews and add a Pollyanna spin to them: it wasn’t the right one, everything happens for a reason, I’m thankful for the opportunity, I got a free pen out of the deal, at least I got my annual trek up to North Austin out of the way. There were a few interviews, however, that cannot be saved by positive thinking or even Jesus Christ himself. These were filed permanently under, “Companies that can suck a bag of dicks.”
Her name was <Ms. Name Undisclosed> and his name was <Mr. Name Undisclosed>. He was the CEO, she was some sort of HR/Marketing/Project Manager hybrid. They called for a phone interview an hour after they requested one. I barely had a chance to pull my index cards from out under my cat’s butt before my phone started shaking like a crack addict suffering from withdrawal.
My being caught off guard in addition to the hangover I was nursing did not a good interview make. But I liked them and I wanted a second chance. I wrote to her and asked for an onsite interview. I promised I would create a demo marketing plan and kick-off meeting visual graphic if she said yes. She wrote back and agreed, adding that <Mr. Name Undisclosed> would be around too, and if I had a chance to meet and impress him, it would help me “get a loooong way ahead of the pack.” Challenge accepted. 
I only had five days to create something that normally took a month to produce—and that was being optimistic. I spent the 4th of July weekend in my comfort zone (writing) and out of it (graphic design), to the detriment of everything else. While I studied different marketing plans of competing companies and reached out and interviewed people in similar fields on LinkedIn, my kids were creating signs and hanging them over the balcony: “Please Feed Us. Mommy Too Busy.” Dishes went unwashed; clothes went unfolded. My office chair declared a state of emergency. On the fourth day my boyfriend gently suggested I could use a shower.
The night before the interview, I emailed the presentation to everyone I’d ever known, asking for opinions. My friends and family thought it was astounding; my fifth-grade Social Studies teacher recommended a different font.
The morning of, I was ready. I donned my newly purchased business wear, printed out my resume on sheets of cardstock paper, filed everything in my laptop bag and headed out. When I arrived, <Ms. Name Undisclosed>, a pretty, blonde lady with the quick, anxious mannerisms of a bird, ushered me into a conference room. <Mr. Name Undisclosed> soon joined us. He was younger than me, and handsome, but with manic eyes typical of execs—empty and troubled all at once. “Without further ado,” I said, and took a deep breath.
Here it was, my presentation. The last 120 hours of my life all pointing toward this moment.
The most wasted 120 hours of my life, as it turned out. The minute my mouth opened, it became apparent all my hard work was for naught. I had starved my kids and developed bedsores for nothing. The <Names Undisclosed> pair were about as interested in my presentation as Richard Simmons would be in a titty bar. <Mr. Name Undisclosed> spent the hour checking his iPhone. <Ms. Name Undisclosed> chewed on a hangnail and looked over to see what <Mr. Name Undisclosed> was doing. Midway through I wanted to pick up my things and run, not walk, out of there—but not before telling them both to suck a bag of dicks.
I rushed through the last half and when I was through, no questions were asked, but <Ms. Name Undisclosed> did offer to take me to lunch, which foolishly I believed meant I still had a chance.
“I would go,” said <Mr. Name Undisclosed>, his eyes still dipped over his phone, “but I want to get back to wireframing. You know, I like getting into the wireframe, put my headphones on, listen to music, get lost.”
I warmed a little, touched by what I thought was him confiding in me. I tried reciprocating. “I know what you mean,” I said. “I had Grizzly Bear on repeat while I was working on the presentation—“ All Fourth of July fucking weekend, I wanted to add. “It’s crazy how music puts you in the zone.”
 <Mr. Name Undisclosed> finally looked up from his phone. “Grizzly Bear?” he asked, snorting. “You like them?”
I went cold again.
<Ms. Name Undisclosed> and I drove to a sushi place nearby and to her credit, she paid, even though I offered. “At least you can expense it,” I said.
“I’m not expensing it,” she replied, which should have been a sign. This was not a working lunch. This was a take-pity-on-the-girl-who-tried-real-hard-but-won’t-get-the-job party.
<Ms. Name Undisclosed> spent the next hour confiding in me about her life. Normally, this wasn’t something I minded because I was prone to extraversion myself, and also, I was a writer, which meant for as long as I could remember, people have felt naturally drawn to tell me their stories.
The circumstances surrounding why we were having lunch, however, made things awkward. She began describing in great detail her failed marriage, the controlling ex-husband for whom she spent $50 k to divorce, her kids who didn’t know their dad was a monster (“When do I tell them?” she asked. "Never," I advised.), and her new boyfriend whom she wasn’t prepared to introduce to her kids.
I liked her, I did, and I could relate, but in the back of my mind I was thinking about the severance package which would run out in two weeks, and the 120 hours, and my starving kids, and my smelly armpits, and the lack of enthusiasm she and <Mr. Name Undisclosed> had shown toward my presentation. The lunch was my last hope in punching through the wall. It was all I had.
I tried bringing the conversation back to the task at hand. “So, the presentation. Liked it? Disliked it?"
<Ms. Name Undisclosed> cracked an edamame open and slurped the soybean out of its shell, shrugging. “I liked that you used our company’s colors. Do you like our orange? I don’t like the orange. My ex loves orange—”
“What about the Kick-Off Meeting video? Did you like the Mission: Impossible theme?”
Her eyes looked up, trying to remember something she didn’t watch. “It was cute. You’re very creative. I used to be creative too, but the ex sucked it out of me. Among other things. The bastard. When we met in college I told him—“
On the way home I convinced myself today had been a test. They wanted to watch me squirm, see how well I performed under uncomfortable circumstances, like when someone ignores the hard work I've done or shits on my musical tastes (a sacrilegious offence in Austin), or invites me to lunch and fills me up with heavy morsels of their life’s sharpest pain.
Yes. That’s what it was. A test.
But I didn’t really believe it. When the rejection email arrived, I was expecting it—what I wasn’t expecting was the reason behind my non-acceptance.
 “We don’t think you have the right background.”
I blinked, unbelieving.
The right background? The right background?
THE RIGHT BACKGROUND?
Note to Any HR Rep Reading This: Please confirm that you and the hiring manager review a candidate’s background BEFORE the phone interviews, before agreeing to allow them to create a presentation for you, before taking them to lunch for an hour and telling them your life’s story. 
I balled up my fists and hit the table. Over and over. When lucidity reformed, an Andrea Gibson line floated above me: Do you think that anger is a sincere emotion or just the timid motion of a fragile heart trying to beat away its pain?
Then Maya Angelou, “In times of adversity, go ahead and thank God for the rainbow that you know is gonna come.”
Then Louis CK, “Suck a bag of dicks!”
Finally, my mother, “You can be frightening and extraordinary and beautiful and original…something not everyone knows how to appreciate.”

Signs You Won’t Get an Offer: Part Four

When you spend 120 hours on a presentation that doesn’t even result in a nod of acknowledgement from its intended audience.

How’s the Job Hunt Coming Along?

I was determined to kill the next person who asked me this question.

Signs You Won’t Get a Job Offer: Part Five

When you interview and you don’t hear back from them for over a month.
This was what happened at Volmano. After my grand tour, I was taken into the Lollipop Magic room or whatever and grilled for three hours by two tech writers, two development leads, the CEO, the PTO, a pirate, a monkey, and the sanitation manager. At the end I was handed a bag of party favors (apple jolly ranchers and a pen with the company logo) and a ticket good for one free spin at their skating rink.
When I didn’t hear back after a week, I figured they were probably busy with their company strength building meeting in Cancun and would get back to me after everyone had recovered from tequila poisoning. By the two-week mark, I had forgotten about them altogether—except in my nightmares, when I’d sometimes dream of a grim-faced Ned Stark staring down from his heavenly poster at a sea of geeks shooting Nerf balls into the abyss.   
Stacey called me six weeks to the day I interviewed. “Sorry,” she said. “But it’s a no.”
I filed the rejection under, “No shit, Sherlock.”

Mostly I Can’t Breathe, Part II

Days crawled into days and the panic attacks worsened.
They loved attacking during interviews, especially interviews in South Austin where the position up for grabs matched me to a T.
My heart went wild five minutes after I sat down. Lungs did the opposite. They shut down altogether.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, sorry. I just—can we open a window?”
“It’s a hundred degrees outside.”
“I know, sorry. Do you have a plastic bag—”
“A what?” Chuckling. “Why, are you going shopping?”
Days later, their email arrived. I clicked on the subject, heart pounding.  My son was sitting nearby, spooning chocolate pudding in his mouth.
Dear Miss Peterson, thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider you for employment—
“Mommy, are you okay?”
—We have reviewed notes from your interview and find that you are not an appropriate fit for our company—
“Mommy?”
 We appreciate your interest in our team and wish you every success in your job search
“Mommy! Stop breathing like that!”
--Sincerely—
“MOMMY!”

This “Indeed” Happened


Picture yourself in this situation:
You and your children drive three states away to stay for a week with your parents. It’s your Dad’s 68th birthday. The day you arrive, the holy mother of software companies calls to say they want an onsite interview. It has to be this week, they say, because they need someone ASAP. You’re confident that someone will be you. You’ve already passed two phone interviews, two written tests, a blood test, a driving test, a sobriety test, the like. You are close. You can feel it. You can’t stop now. You break the news to your dad. “I have to go back to Austin.” He’s disappointed but he understands. Your children are less sympathetic. Your daughter doesn’t speak to you for a day. Your son ropes his arms around your legs and stays there. The morning you leave, he asks you to hold out your palm. You do. He sets a loom ring inside. Four bands, pink, green, purple, blue. “I made it for you. It’s a good luck ring,” he explains, excited.
Two magical thoughts occur right then: You’re interviewing on your dad’s birthday. You have a lucky ring. Nothing can stop you now. But just in case, you pray with your mother beside the statue of Saint Anthony, and although you’ve never been a person of faith, somehow her faith latches onto you. A peace. And you think, maybe for the first time in weeks, you’ll be able to breathe through an interview.  
You arrive at the office located off North Capital of Texas Highway ten minutes early. You are given a tour. It’s a diluted version of Volmano, but you think, it’s all right. You can work with it. The HR girl directs you to a room where one by one, over the course of five hours, the judges stop by to assess you. Some enter with the written tests you’ve already taken, some enter with new tests, some with both. They are male, they are female, they are nice and friendly and to different degrees you like them all. You nail each of their questions and you shoot questions back to them and they answer starting always with, “That’s a good question...” You feel wonderful. Move over Charlie Sheen, you’re the one winning now. You never say you're missing your dad’s birthday to be there, or mention you left your kids two states away or bring up the $300 you spent on a plane ticket that you really couldn’t afford or describe how horrible it feltlike being murdered slowlyhearing your son cry, “Mommypleasedontgopleaspleaseplease,” at the security checkpointbecause it’s tacky. But it sits inside you anyhow, under all the wonderful, and when you begin to feel fatigued, you reach down to touch it. Don’t lose steam now. You’ve almost got it
At three o’clock you realize it’s over. You stand to leave when the HR girl walks in and asks if you wouldn’t mind interviewing with one more person. “He’s the Development Lead,” she explains. You say it’s fine. Her smile flickers to suggest you’ve made a big mistake but she says nothing and leaves, and he walks in—a short, wiry knob of a man. Actually, more boy than man. He doesn’t so much offer you a handshake as much as extends it, and you have no way of knowing that by taking it, you’ve sealed your own fate. He has every test you’ve taken under his arm and he places them on the table and asks you without making eye contact to take one more. You agree and crack a joke that doesn’t make him smile. He sits as far away from you as humanly possible and faces the table as he recites the conditions. The test is to write directions for running a script used for A/B testing. It’s more technical than any tests before it, and he is less communicative and unwilling to guide you than anyone before him. Sometimes he doesn’t even answer at all, but sits stone-faced, jotting down notes each second you stop to breathe. When you make your suggestions, he provides you with no feedback, but drills you harder.
Why would you organize this description here? There? Why? Explain this to me. But wouldn’t it..?
By the end of the sixth hour you’re not sure you’re speaking English anymore. You twist the lucky loom ring your son made for you hard around your finger, and attempt to gurgle up another recommendation that might appease him. It doesn’t. He asks you why. Because wouldn’t it make more sense..?
You’re vaguely aware of the sensation of your body deflating, hope shedding its last breath before evacuating from the layers of your skin, not unlike the feeling of watching someone you thought you loved moving in slow motion away from you. You can’t mourn yet, however, because he’s still waiting. Cold eyes spinning cobwebs across the desk. Your chances, circling the drain; it tempts you to ask for mercy.
Please, please. I can do this. I’ve been doing it for years. Please. I just need a chance. You have no idea what I gave up to be here.
But self-respect joins you for the final death lap, and you mumble something about not eating much at lunch. You admit to him you’re not sure why you suggested what you did—
—To which, at last, he smiles.
You’re lucky, you make it to the car before your eyes begin to water. Before you stop breathing altogether. You’re back in control minutes later when your dad calls to ask how it went. Your voice is steady when you lie and say it went well. You think, you are doing him a favor. One more night he can sleep believing it was worth it.
When the rejection email arrives in your Inbox two days later, you send it to the Trash unread.

The Week

I spent the rest of the week signaling in the darkness. In Europe, planes were falling out of skies. "You lost your job, they lost their lives," Boyfriend reminded me. "You don't have the market cornered on human suffering."
“I don’t want him to think it didn’t work,” I said, motioning to the loom ring on my finger.
“It did work,” Boyfriend said. “They would've offered you the job otherwise. You may have had to work with that asshole.” 

Describe Your Ideal Work Environment

The company was located downtown, in the heart of 6th Street. I strolled out of the car and into the humid day in my trusty business suit, laptop bag at my side. The same props were there, but over the course of two months, I had changed. Gone was any trace of arrogance, or its nicer cousin, self-confidence. I walked with shoulders slumped and my head facing the pavement, watching the sidewalk instead of cars.
The office almost hidden, sandwiched between the Alamo Ritz and a pizza café, I climbed up two floors and asked the front desk for the hiring manager. A moment later <Private> walked around the corner—slender built, hippy, longish hair. “You must be Erin?” he asked with a Californian accent. A month ago I would have said something like, “Last time I checked,” or “Ursula, actually, but you can call me Erin”—but humor was beginning to fade with self-confidence, and I was tired. Very tired.
I simply nodded.
“Cool, let’s go back here.”
I followed him into a well air-conditioned room in the back. Small space, furniture sparse but new. Employees tucked in corners, separate but not alone. I liked it, but I decided not to like it too much. Don’t overthink it. Just do your thing and get it over with, I thought. Because I had come to believe that I would never be employed againinterviews had become my job, I was doomed to forever roam the highways and byways of Austin with only a laptop bag loaded with resume printouts and index cards to remind me of the career that once existed.
“So I have to tell you,” <Private> said, “my wife has read your work.”
“I’m sorry,” I uttered before I could stop myself.
<Private> laughed. “You’re funny. Don’t be sorry, she really loves them. Especially the zombie book. Kind of serendipitous you applied for this tech writer position. It seems beneath you.”
“Nothing is beneath me,” I answered quickly.
He laughed again and looked down to review my resume, indicating the interview had officially begun. The usual questions were asked, the ones which answers I had come to memorize: discuss a project you thought was successful, describe your favorite type of assignment, name your top five best qualities.
Everything was going fine, smoothly. I was breathing rightly. Then he said, “Describe your ideal work environment.”
A question for which I had never found a perfect answer. I answered differently each time—sometimes going the “a place that is open and collaborative” route, sometimes saying, “one that is nurturing and open to ideas.” But the moment had opened wide just then, and still frame pictures flipped like a slideshow in my mind—the warehouse offices and the playground offices and the big rooms and small cubicles and everything in between. The kind engineer and his medieval devices and Stacey and her hula hoops and <Ms. Name Undisclosed> biting her hangnail and the stone-faced Development Lead with the no doubt microscopic-sized penis (sorry, but I had to go there).
Then I thought about my last company, where I spent half the time in the office and the other half working remotely. I was happy there. Why?
My head facing the floor, I began to think aloud, “An ideal work place for me doesn’t have anything to do with the ‘culture’ (I was starting to hate that stupid word) or the way the offices are arranged or the company perks. It has to do with the people. I have close, strong relationships with everyone from my last company, and it didn’t come from how far apart we sat from one another or lunchtime ping pong tournaments or being forced to sit through some boozy social event inspired by the CEO's fraternity days or mass birthday parties. When it was my boss' birthday, I knew it was his birthday because I knew himno one had to post his birthday on a wall for me to remember. And that kind of relationship, it developed organically, over time, through hard work and team cooperation and just being there for one another. Knowing he could count on me to work the late hours or the holidays or weekends if necessary, and me knowing  he would make time to properly point my efforts in the right direction (when he wasn't firing people, I thought privately). Same goes for everyone else. We became close from doing our job." I paused, then added, "When you have that kind of trust and respect, you can work just about anywhere. I could have worked on a Ukraine landing strip with them and it would have been ideal. I would have—and still would—take a bullet for any of them. That’s my ideal work environment. Working with people you would die for.”
I finished and looked up. <Private> was grinning at me. When I grinned back, it didn’t feel forced at all.

Terrifying and Strange and Beautiful

I stepped out of the office’s Plexiglas doors and into Austin’s summer death rays. On the way to my car, I decided instead of driving home immediately to perform my daily job-hunt-a-thon, I’d treat myself to Amy’s Ice Cream. I couldn’t really afford it—both financially and calorie-wise—but I didn’t care. I drove the distance from Congress up to Lamar, to where pancreatic damage awaited me in twelve different flavors. I ordered, and the tall, goateed kid who looked as if he had been spawned from a “Keep Austin Weird” bumper sticker fully hipsterized like Athena from Zeus’ head fully armored, dumped a slew of gummy bears onto a splatter of amaretto cheesecake ice-cream and began beating the shit out of them.
He looked up from his candy genocide. “How’s your day been?”
“Not bad,” I said. “You?”
“Not bad. You interviewed for a job today?”
“How did you—” Then I remembered. I was wearing my suit. “Yeah,” I relented.
His grin grew wider. “Think they’ll make you an offer?”
My hands instinctively fell to my hips. I looked down. “I have no idea. Who knows anymore? The job market is—” I stopped, and listened to my gut, which had been right all along, every time I’d magically thought I had something in the bag, it had said differently. Hope and intuition, always at odds with each other. But today was different. Today they were in agreement.  “You know something?” I started again, looking up. “I think they will.”
He handed me the cup of ice cream with the mutilated gummy bears. “I need a new job,” he begins, then proceeds to tell me his story. Amy’s was only a stepping stone. His real passion was photography, he was saving money, and so on and so on, and I listened, because I’m a writer and that’s what I do. A human recorder. Biographies, user’s guides, horror novels, API work, it’s all by-products created by the same chemical brought on by the same need: the desire for us to record what is or what was or what we wish existed. To pass it on, to continue, survive. To thrive. To mean something.
I cracked open the door just when the ice cream artist yelled, “Hey! We’re hiring. You want an application? Just in case.”
A red gummy bear missing half its face was staring up at me. I closed the door and stepped back inside. “Sure,” I said. It couldn’t hurt.
You've just read an excerpt from Erin's upcoming memoir, You'll Never Interview In This Town Again. If you have your own Austin-based shitty interview story, we'd love to hear it! Email us at info@erinpassons.com
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