Graduating from college sucked. It’s not that I wanted to stay there longer, it’s that I didn’t know what to do next. Unlike my friends who studied accounting or education, I had no clear concept of what my degree in French Commercial Studies meant. When they suited up for job fairs the spring before graduation, I sat on the couch watching General Hospital and eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I felt like the last kid on the playground, kicking a ball against the wall after all the other kids got called home.
After graduating I moved back in with my parents for a few months. It worked out pretty well, except for when they asked how the job search was going. How DARE they? It was a touchy subject, mostly because I had no idea what kind of job I wanted or was qualified for. Thus my approach to seeking employment was like trying to win a stuffed bear at the carnival — little chance of hitting the targets and not sure what I’d even do with the bear if I got it. I made a list of companies with French names like L’Oréal and mailed them my resume and cover letter. This is an excerpt from my cover letter, “I am confident that as a hard-working and enthusiastic individual I can contribute to your mission in some capacity.” In some capacity, which is great because it leaves the door open for anything from translating documents to brushing crumbs off the CEO’s lapel.
Needless to say, L’Oréal and Nestlé didn’t bang down my parents’ door. I gave up on the French connection and started scanning the classified ads for any suitable full-time job. One day I saw an opening that seemed promising. The words “marketing” and “no experience necessary” jumped out at me. I called the number and was able to set up an interview over the phone. My dad was right — sometimes you just have to pick up the phone to make things happen.
The day of the interview I wore my new sage-green suit from the Limited with chunky boots, because this was 2002. I remember my outfit because it turned out to be an unforgettable day. When I arrived at the suburban address that I’d been given over the phone, I was reassured to see that it was a legitimate office building. I still didn’t know the name or mission of the company, but the structure itself lent an air of legitimacy to whatever went on behind those opaque windows. After checking in I was told to have a seat in the reception area where a few other candidates were waiting. When my name was called someone led me to an office where a guy asked a few cursory questions about my resume before letting me know that the next part of the interview would take place “out in the field.” I was a little put off at the idea of a Part II, especially since it was entirely unclear what he meant by “the field”, but I didn’t want to appear unenthusiastic so I said I was interested.
My interviewer introduced me to his “teammate” — let’s call her Wendy — and said that I’d be going with her. As Wendy led me and a few other candidates to her car in the parking lot, I started to suspect that I wasn’t going to like what came next. Where were we going in Wendy’s Chevy Cavalier? What would we do when we got there? Despite my misgivings, I got into the backseat and we were on our way.
Our way, as it turned out, was south on I-294 and east on I-55. It was a beautiful day and the windows were rolled down so nobody was talking. I didn’t mind the silence, but Wendy had yet to tell us anything about where we were going or what we were in for. As we cruised down I-55, getting ever farther from the safe, stationary office building, it set in that I had no control over what was happening. Even though we’d gotten in the car willingly, Wendy was our abductor. The other candidates looked as uncomfortable as I felt but we were all avoiding eye contact with each other. Was this because we didn’t want to admit that this was totally weird? And that if we had been abducted, we were just a bunch of easy victims in ill-fitting suits?
Eventually we ended up in a residential neighborhood with quiet streets and neat bungalows. By then the apprehension that I’d felt earlier had officially become a bad feeling. Wendy parked and told us to follow her lead. We lingered behind on the walkway as she marched up to the front door and rang the bell. We then looked on in dismay as she spieled off a sales pitch for a $20 coupon book to the elderly man who answered the door. She had dragged us down here to sell fucking coupon books. Door-to-door sales would have been on my top 10 list of things you couldn’t pay me to do, and here I was doing it for free. I wanted to click my boots and disappear. What kind of an idiot thinks they’re going to find their dream job in the classifieds? Who doesn’t know that “marketing” and “no experience necessary” are code for “giant red flag”?
As you can imagine, the rest of the morning was terrible. Maybe some people enjoy door-to-door sales. I do not. I’m shy, don’t like to bother people, and definitely don’t like to push things on people. Most of the people who answered their door that day were older retired folks or cops and firemen trying to sleep off a night shift. Wendy made us come with her to several houses before splitting us off into groups to cover more ground. I got stuck with her, which was good because she did all the talking but bad because I was stuck in direct marketing hell. I was perspiring in my suit and my feet hurt. If I’d known I’d be pounding the pavement I would have worn sneakers. Wendy actually seemed to enjoy it, and did a good job of ignoring my despair. She explained that they worked on commission so she was motivated to sell as many books as possible. Me and the other sucke–, I mean, candidates were the free labor required for some asshole to make a buck selling overpriced coupons to Granny from the block.
We mercifully got a lunch break, so Wendy took us to buy ourselves sandwiches. This was the first time I had a chance to talk to the other candidates. Or, if you prefer, fellow cult recruits. We all felt the same way — we’d been duped, and would we ever get to go home? Could we make a run for it right now? Was there a bus that would take us back to HQ? We realized that was a long shot, and we were stuck here until Wendy decided it was time to go. I wish that one of us had had the balls to confront her and make her take us home. I think we were too bewildered and ashamed of our naiveté to make waves. We’d get through the day and never make the same mistake again.
I don’t know about the other candidates, but after lunch I decided to cope by dissociating from reality, so the rest of the afternoon is a lost memory. Wendy finally drove us back to the office building, this time in dejected silence as opposed to nervous silence, because the worst was over. Of course, when we arrived in the parking lot as the sun was setting she told us to come into the building for Part III of the interview, the debriefing with the bosses. Oh no, she didn’t. As soon as she turned off the ignition I jumped out and headed for my car. Somewhere, buried beneath my shame and sweaty suit, I did have one shred of dignity left.
In the grand scheme of things, was this the worst thing that has ever happened? No, but it’s definitely the worst interview I’ve ever been on. If anything good came out of that day it was a healthy dose of skepticism and a sense of empathy for the aimless post-graduate job seeker. The former came in handy later that year when an associate tried to recruit me for a pyramid scheme. The latter helps me keep it real now that I’m wildly successful in my chosen career.