I'm going to tell you about the worst job interview I've ever had. But first you should know that I'm not a very good interviewee. Never have been. I suffer from social anxiety, which, in official settings that don't allow for jokes, becomes ratcheted up to severe levels. In fact, I'm pretty sure most of my jobs have either come from knowing the boss or my disarming ability to weasel into things (which, sadly, is not a marketable skill to put on the ol' résumé).
Before I worked at CityBeat, I interviewed with a prominent political blog based in San Diego. It was the second interview for the same organization, actually. The first interview went swimmingly—I met with two of the editors and we professed our mutual love of Wordpress and Trader Joe's. When I got the callback, I expected a roomful of high-fives and bro-y half-hugs.
Instead, they brought me into a room full of no less than six people, two of whom were the founders of the company who'd traveled from out of town. These two men had the qualities of a stereotypical odd couple: One was short and shrewd; the other was large and lumbering. Both were equally intimidating Type A's. They held dominion over the room and had leather satchels that screamed "Power!"
They made introductions. I did my best impression of normal, but my palms were sweaty, and I was already pitting out. Wearing light colors is always a bad choice for me.
Their first question: "So, what have you been reading lately?"
Because this was the second interview, I expected that there could be some hardball questions. This was also during the run-up to the 2012 election, so I figured I'd do a little homework to impress these politicos, which meant reading a couple of articles on the New York Times and CNN websites.
"Well, I'm very interested in Mitt Romney," I said. "I'm from Utah, and it's crazy to see the spectacle surrounding him and how he's handling it."
(Side note: You will not impress hardcore politicos with a superficial interest in the leading candidate for the Republican Party. It's like professing your love for live music.)
"Plus," I added, "I had a friend in high school whose mom is personal friends with Mitt."
"Did she sleep with him?" the short owner asked. He sneered. A round of ugly laughter trickled around the table like the last kernels of an overdone bag of popcorn.
"Huh huh, yeah, probably," I said.
Huh huh, yeah, probably.
Looking back, I know exactly why I gave that response: I was nervous. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be in on the joke. I wanted that job so badly that denying that short man's validation seemed like a preemptive act of insubordination. But that doesn't make my reaction any less awful. His "joke" now seems like a subtle act to establish dominance. It worked, and the effect was immediate.
I failed the rest of the interview, not even spectacularly. My answers became mumbled, and my hands visibly shook. They asked a question about whether they should keep running stories about Ron Paul because he attracted high Internet traffic, and I simply said: "I don't know."
"Well, I think we're through then."
Before dismissing the editorial team, the large owner told me to stick around. His face softened. "That was painful," he said. A paternal effect took hold as he assured me that my résumé was good and that I just needed to practice my interview skills. He gave me his card in case I had any freelance ideas. I left and threw his card in the trash.
Driving home, humiliated and on the verge of tears, I knew that entire experience would be forever engrained in my consciousness, a traumatic memory signaled by the sound of slow-motion helicopter blades if this were a war movie. For months, those events replayed in my mind, and I would anguish over what answers I should've given, sometimes convincing myself of my own ineptitude and cowardice, other times staging intricate revenge fantasies.
But you know what? I've come to terms with how I act in those situations. If my neurosis saves me from working for people like that, all the better.
And also: Fuck those guys.
I pitched this monthly column to document my many awkward experiences, which are often the result of an over-analytical, anxious brain that turns everyday events into a stream of misadventure and inappropriate hilarity. Too often, mainstream media present a voice of snarky confidence and swagger—a voice that doesn't ring true for me. I suspect that I'm not alone with feeling this. I wanted to write a column that articulates frustration of trying to fit into an increasingly disconnected, compartmentalized and lonely culture.
Don't get the wrong idea: It's not a terrible existence. I love my nervous, sweaty life, but sometimes the hysteria of daily routine cannot be ignored. Sometimes, life needs to have its shit called out. We live in a contradictory culture that puts so much value in presentation over content, that rewards fitting in and acting normal, and where rich men think that a job interview is the appropriate time to make jokes about your friend's mom fucking Mitt Romney.
A couple of weeks later, I got suckered into interviewing with American Income Life, an obvious pyramid scheme that preys on the desperation of underemployed people. By all measures: a terrible company. But to their credit, at least they weren't dicks.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @theryanbradford