Go to The Interview: Part I and read it first. Then it will all make sense.
I stood up once my name was called and followed the nicely dressed man into a larger office. Once inside, I was instructed to sit down at a circular table in a very squashy leather chair. There were papers scattered across the table and bookshelves lining the walls. These people were serious about food stamps interviews.
Another woman was inside the room, sitting across the table from me. She was sharply dressed and emanated a no-nonsense attitude. The man sat down behind his large desk. He looked tired. The lady’s face was puckered in what I assumed was disdain and disapproval. I didn’t know why. Yet.
I became very aware that the atmosphere in the room was intense. My insides did that unsettling thing where your stomach twists and turns and you know you’re about to be uncomfortable. Like when you didn’t really study for a test and then you get the e-mail that the grades are posted and you have to force yourself to check your grade. Or like when your phone rings and it’s your dentist and you suddenly remember you had an appointment scheduled for ten minutes ago and you’re sitting at your desk at work.It felt like that. Except a little bit worse.
A good many seconds passed by before anyone spoke. The nicely dressed man then began speaking, hesitantly, and he stated he would like to describe the requirements for the job I had previously applied to.
Everything clicked into place. The suits and dresses and weird looks and my feeling of discomfort and the people waiting and the nice office.
This was a job interview.
My mouth fell open and I struggled to find the words to explain myself. The man, I think, continued to talk but everything sounded like buzzing, like the room was filled with mosquitoes (not again!). My hands started sweating and I started shaking like a drug addict needing a fix. I could smell myself, I was sure of it.
I interrupted the man, against my better judgment, because it’s rude to interrupt someone and as it turned out I was in the beginning stages of an interview. I informed him that I was under the impression that this was an interview for food stamps. Looking incredulous, the pinched-face lady asked me if I was joking.
I explained the situation as best I could. And there really was no great way to say, well, I am struggling and applied for food stamps and now, here I am,dressed in raggedy clothes that were washed two weeks ago and oh, also, that things that you smell is me. I was perspiring like I was outside in Alabama in mid-July and I was focusing all my energy on getting my legs to stop shaking and my hands to stay still.
After the embarrassing words finished tumbling out of my mouth, I was asked if I would like to continue the interview. I remarked that I would have to answer all the questions incredibly well to be considered for this job now, and the lady laughed and said that was true.
It occurred to me that I had two very simple options: run out crying and never look back, or go through the interview and then run out crying and never look back.
I decided to go for it. I was already there and these people clearly thought I was an idiot. Their faces were set in disbelief and pity.
I had not prepared one second for any of the questions I was asked. I had not researched the job, the boss, or the requirements. I had not practiced my answers to what my best quality is and what I did when I got into an argument with a co-worker.
I was also interviewing for a position for which I had no previous experience. At all. So, when all was said and done, I couldn’t even pretend to know what I was talking about.
The interview lasted a while, though. The lady didn’t say much – I assume she was highly disappointed in me overall. Once I felt that we were winding down, I threw out one last pitch. I told them that anyone who could handle the extreme humiliation of what I had just gone through could surely handle any sort of work-related issue that would arise from this job. I tried to turn the situation to my favor, explaining that only someone with the utmost confidence would continue an interview looking as I did.
I didn’t think they bought it though. A total strike-out. They thanked me for coming in and shook my hand. (I assume they immediately used hand sanitizer after I left.) With another sinking feeling, I realized I would have to exit, in front of all the other people in the waiting room, looking like a disaster.
I walked out of the office with my head held high. I’d like to say it’s because I actually do have the utmost confidence in myself, but I really didn’t want to see the other interviewee’s shocked and disgusted faces.
Once I was back in my car, I immediately called my sister and explained what happened. She laughed, of course, because these things tend to happen to me, although she admitted this was one of my worst humiliating stories. At least it’s over, she told me.
I got home and the boyfriend asked how everything went. The story exploded out of me and he, too, looked amused. I felt the tears sitting in the corners of my eyes as I tried to paint him an accurate picture of the degrading experience.
I remember eating some Spaghettio’s and sitting on the couch, feeling dazed and disappointed and upset at myself for blowing an opportunity to get a better paying job. I knew the man and the lady were telling their families at dinner that evening about the sweat-stained girl who thought she was getting some food stamps but ended up interviewing for a job.
A week went by, and I still thought of the situation with shame, but I thought of it less each day. I would never see those people again. The day would come where this was a distant memory.
After about a week and a half, when the boyfriend and I were driving back from buying a small amount of groceries, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number on the screen.
I answered, and it was the man from the interview. I immediately wondered if he was calling to make sure I wasn’t actually battling a drug addiction and to see if maybe I needed some help.
He offered me the job on one condition: that I wear different shoes to work.
I stayed in that position for a year and a half before making another career move. But that interview will always be the one I look back on to remind myself that sometimes great things can come from awkwardness.
It’s not as if I could forget it, anyway. It’s become a family favorite and I can only hope nothing more embarrassing happens to knock it from the number one spot.