So I’ve been looking for jobs for the last . . . man, I don’t even know. Three months? Yeah. Three months. Maybe a little longer. And it’s getting a little frustrating because the first five I applied to back when I was in Arkansas said they were not pursuing my application. So polite. I’d actually prefer they be blunter. “Mr. Shake, we don’t want you.” Four of those employers decorously declined me through e-mail, which is fine by me. The quicker the better, and then I can move on and keep searching. But one place actually sent me a letter. Yes, a letter. Snail mail.
I checked my mail and saw an envelope with the company’s name on it, and for a brief moment—yes, a fleeting moment—I got a little excited. But then that feeling went away because I thought, “Wait, wouldn’t they have called or e-mailed me if they were interested?” And so I opened the letter to see that they had spent forty-four cents on postage just to let me know they, too, were not pursuing my application. Who spends forty-four cents to tell someone that? Why? To preserve the personal touch? Please, there wasn’t even a real signature at the bottom. It just said, “Sincerely, the Such and Such team at Such and Such employer.” I didn’t even get an individual to reject me. I got a whole community of workers. Is that supposed to make me feel good? That they all took the time to collectively voice their communal disinterest in my professional services?
Services. Hmm. Maybe I should take up male prostitution.
Here’s what I don’t like about the job search process, and this actually goes all the way back to high school. Everybody tells you that you need to work real hard in school so one day you can get a really good job. I’m starting to wonder about that statement. Because I did pretty well in school, but none of these job applications want to know what my grade point average is. They don’t care. They want experience. It doesn’t matter that my GPA should communicate I know how to work my tail off. And so, in my final semester of college, I kind of stopped caring about grades because they obviously didn’t matter.
Now here’s where this gets tricky. I no longer cared about grades, but my GPA will dictate otherwise. So even in the off chance that they do look at my GPA, they won’t perceive the real me. This is kind of a microcosm of the whole job searching enterprise and is what bothers me about the entire affair: it perpetuates shallowness.
To assume that my résumé will somehow tell you my story or give you something about me you can really sink your teeth into is quite laughable. Besides, we all know we doctor our résumés to make ourselves look like the absolute penultimate individuals when it comes to our history in the world of employment. To believe someone will be able to get an idea of who I really am just by looking at this piece of paper is such a crock.
But even in the awfully rare chance my résumé actually secures me an interview, I’m going to sit through a one-on-one spiel which will end up lasting about ten minutes—fifteen if I’m fortunate. To think a ten-minute conversation could somehow give this man with hiring power the sudden insight into and keen awareness of who I am as a human being and potential employee is ludicrous. And so, in this ten-minute bubble of chaos which occupies a miniscule portion of my day, I have two options: I can either attempt to sell myself as hard as possible, throwing out mosaics of convoluted verbiage to impress upon him my supposed high intelligence as well as paint a tapestry that will impart to him a detailed picture of my work ethic; or, I can skip any attempts to bedazzle his cochlea with an extravagant lingual ballet, and simply sit there and present myself as I truly am.
I hate shallowness. So, perhaps I could pull off the first option once. Maybe twice if I clenched my anal muscles really furiously. But eventually I would make myself sick. Intestinal distress always sets in for the individual who goes against his own core values. And so, I have found great freedom and satisfaction (but not necessarily liberation) by simply answering interview question with statements of which I’m very proud.
Now, like I said, interviews are nearly impossible to come by with the simple résumé submission, but I’ve had about five so far out of the some seventy-five applications I’ve submitted. My personal favorite came with Aflac. I didn’t even contact them. I got an e-mail from them saying they’d seen my résumé on CareerBuilder and that they would love to interview me. I started to smell the suckupage pretty early on simply because they said in that e-mail how they were “very impressed with my work experience.” You have to understand that my résumé is really not that impressive. To be honest, other than the job I most recently held, nothing on this piece of paper would knock anyone’s socks off, so I could feel the flattery emanating from my computer screen and how it was attempting to massage my ego into the upper echelons of post-grad self-deism. So I ignored their feigned fawning, looked at my calendar, saw I had nothing the day they wanted to interview (an unemployed person’s calendar is always wide open), and e-mailed them back saying that ofcourseohmygoodnesswhynot I’d love to come in for an interview.
I dressed up in a suit and tie because that’s what you do. Or so I’m told. I wore a tie of mine that has a most seductive combination of color: deep, rich orange; navy blue; and a tinge of a sliver of kelly green lines. It’s really quite a trip. This tie is the sort of thing a drug addict on an ecstasy high would look at and just start weeping uncontrollably because of how powerfully the beauty was astounding his mind. So I wear this fashionable noose—my closest thing to a “power tie”—and go to their office building. It’s in Brentwood, so already I was uncomfortable. Big houses built upon the glories of capitalism. You know, the sort of neighborhoods where the only minorities who can afford to live there are Indian or oriental. Any others are in that sphere solely because they cut grass or drive Ford Escort station wagons of maid services.
But I get to their office and fill out some information, the likes of which they could have easily culled from my résumé if they had taken about two minutes to actually do some work, but no. I need to fill it out again because they’re too lazy to actually take a prolonged look at what they saw on CareerBuilder—simply a confirmation to me of how their impressed attitude towards my résumé was just something to make me feel good. In actuality, I began to suspect they saw me as a jobless, recent college graduate who could be suckered into a commission-through-sales position. And that’s exactly what this was.
The actual interview was done in a group style. I and four other individuals sat in their conference room which sported a magnificent view of the hilly Tennessee landscape, but I wasn’t really looking out the window because I couldn’t take my eyes off the walls. No, I do not prefer sheetrock, caulk, and paint over trees, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to see it, for these walls were loaded to the hilt with awards. Sales awards, mind you. And I could not help but notice how the name on each plaque, trophy, glass bowl, crystal Aflac duck, etc. possessed the same name. And it just so happened to be the name of the woman who would be interviewing us. I looked around at my fellow interviewees (do I call them competition?) and asked, “Good grief. What is this? Her personal hall of fame?” I wasn’t actually expecting an answer. I think I said this more to help break the ice and get people talking because we were all awkwardly sitting in this room silently. My attempt failed. So we sat there like pre-blue fairy Pinocchio’s until this woman came into the conference to give us life by thrusting upon us more information about selling Aflac supplemental insurance.
This woman—I’ll call her Candy because that’s her name (don’t worry, she’s not a stripper)—started off the interview like it was a kid’s camp or something. She goes, “All right. How about everybody go around and tell us what your name is, and then let us know what it is you are really good at. What’re your main talents?” There’s about a five-second pause. Nobody’s sure who needs to go first or what. I’m a guy, so I wanted to let the two women in the room go first, but then this guy sitting across from me swallows up the silence very enthusiastically. I’ll refer to him as Adam Sandler because it was frightening how much this guy looked just like the not-funny-at-all comedian.
Adam Sandler goes, “Well, I’ll go first. Um . . . I’m Adam Sandler. And I’d say that, well . . . I love people. And I’m a great communicator. And I want to make sure that people are taken care of. My main talents are just really being able to reach out and relate to other people.” And then he kind of sits back in his chair to impart to us the end of his theatrics.
During the whole time Adam Sandler is speaking, my BS radar is going off through the roof. What a suck-up. Who does he think he is? Or more importantly, who does he think we are? Does he assume all of us have never been in an interview before? Or for that matter, does he think Candy, who has been a saleswoman for fifteen years—and a pretty successful one at that, given the numerous accolades humping the wall—can’t tell when someone is giving the textbook-prescribed answers for “How to Conduct Oneself in an Interview”? It was all so easy to see. I mean, he even had to emphasize and draw attention to the fact he was “going first.” Look at him! He was taking initiative! He’s a go-getter! Oh goodness gracious, if he’s the first to speak when a question is posed to a group, how much better and on-top-of-it must he be in the field of selling insurance? Oh my stars! Let’s sign this guy up NOW! And then his Miss America answers about loving people and being able to communicate and taking care of ahblahfooshoofahquaw. It’s like he was thinking, “Man, what should salesmen be good at? I’ll say that.”
Two other people went, giving names and talents. They don’t try to pull the same stuff as Adam Sandler because I think they saw how disgusting it looks. But still, they were trying pretty hard to emphasize why they had talents capable of gelling well with selling insurance.
Then it came to me, and Candy looks at me and goes, “Uh . . . Nelson! Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?” I noticed that Candy had to look down at her piece of paper before saying my name. Ergo, I was not impressed with Candy. This woman doesn’t even know my name? It’d take a minute in her office before coming into the conference room to glance over the nominal nomenclatures of us five interviewees, but no. She didn’t. So I said,
“Well, Candy,” without looking down at any of my papers, “my name is Nelson Shake, and I love to write, and I know that I’m a heck of a writer and that I can do it well. I love to take the English language and manipulate it to my advantage, and that is where my gift resides. I’m also quite adept at editing, too.” There was some slight silence following this, so in case they were hoping for more, I theatrically swung my head to the left and gave a glance to the girl sitting next to me as if to confirm, “I’m done. It’s your turn, sugar.”
Why would I misrepresent myself? Why say I possess something I do not in order to get a job I don’t even want? You have to keep in mind the whole time leading up my introduction I had been looking at an Aflac packet Candy handed all of us when she walked in the room. And the more I’d been looking that over, the feeling of “this is not me” continued to grow and grow. Not only that, but I distinctly felt an outside pressure of a voice also saying, “Nelson, this is not you.” It was difficult for me to sit there in the conference room and feel good about trying to secure a position with Aflac because I knew I’d be compromising my values, and by that I mean my end goals of becoming a published author. This job with Aflac would do nothing to further the attainment of that goal of nurturing writing into a career. And so I decide to present myself the way I am with confidence. It doesn’t waste my time, and it doesn’t waste Candy’s.
She went on to describe how different Aflac packages work, and she kept coming back to her key mantra, which was, “It’s important that you believe in these products.” Makes sense. I agree with her in a way. If you’re selling something, it helps to actually believe in the benefit of what you’re peddling. She tried different tactics here and there to woo and seduce us into believing that a career with Aflac would be very profitable. Ideas like “potential of seventy thousand a year salary” and “company retreats to Bermuda for top salespeople” and other high-calorie words were thrown at us, and I felt insulted. How stupid did she think we were? No, I’ve never been in sales, but I’m well aware that a commission-based job is not going to yield a whole lot your first year or two, unless you’re just an absolute wiz of a prodigy. Usually, you’re going to have to build up that clientele base, before seeing any significant return. I just graduated from college, Candy. I didn’t fall off that turnip truck, to use the now aging adage. And all through this we’re being reminded to “believe in these products.”
We came to the end of the group interview, and Candy wanted to close by letting us have the last word by giving us another kid’s camp routine. She wanted each of us to say what word we believed best described us as well as what facets of our personality—now that we know more about the products and whatnot—really mesh well, in our opinion, with a career with Aflac. Of course, Happy Gilmore went first, saying,
“Well, I’ll go first.”—yes please let us know you’re going first, especially to Candy; Candy’s slow; Candy needs a head’s up; Candy’s not quite all there, Little Nicky, so thank you for telling us (but especially her) what your game plan and itinerary is for the words you’re about to speak—“I’d say I’m dedicated. And I want to see that people are provided for. That they have the things they need. Like you’re saying: gotta believe in these products. And these can do a lot of good for people, and that’s what I aim to do.” The only thing keeping me from rolling my eyes to the ceiling of foam board tiles and groaning, “God, are you KIDDING me?” was my desire to not look like an immature seventh grader. So I sat there with an unmistakable twinkle in my eye, aiming to communicate how ridiculous I thought this guy’s charade of artificiality was.
The other two went before me. As usual, they were not as heinous as the Wedding Singer was, but they were still trying to win over Candy. Then it came to me, and it wasn’t my intention to undermine everything Adam Sandler had been saying, but in retrospect I now realize that I did.
“Candy, I’d say that I’m hard-working. Give me something I believe in, and I’ll throw myself at it. You’ll get your money’s worth with me; or, rather, I guess my clients would get their money’s worth with me. As for what aspects of my personality fit well? Honestly, Candy, I just want to serve people and take the opportunity to treat them as a human being and do well by it. And, through serving, giving people something they don’t have. So if it’s these products, great. Let’s set ‘em up. But if they know that’s not what they want, awesome. Then that’s it. It’s not about employing intimidation tactics or lording over somebody to try and strong-arm them to my side of the issue. If I’m in their shoes, that’s the last thing I would want someone to do to me, so I’m not about to do that to any potential client. I’d say I believe in people first and foremost.”
Now, to the casual reader, Adam Sandler’s comments and mine may seem very similar. You have to understand the body language, though. Billy Madison over there was hardly ever looking Candy in the eye when he was speaking because he was trying to hard to pull words back out from the recesses of his brain. In other words, you could tell he’d been rehearsing that morning what he was going to say and was desperately trying to replicate his best material in the conference room from memory. I, on the other hand, sat back in my chair relaxed and looked Candy in the eye the whole time because I didn’t need to remember anything. I know what’s important to me and, thus, was fully capable of winging it.
So based on what I said, I’m basically looking at Candy as if she is holding in her hand a platform upon which are resting the values she previously described and the idea of how we need to “believe in the products.” And I guess with my words I intended to shoulder a bazooka that fired my values upon hers and completely obliterated the very thing she believes is most important. Basically me going, “No, honey. This is what’s actually important to me and should be to you also.”
There was an interesting dichotomy to me and Adam Sandler. We both sat on opposite sides of the conference table. We’re both different ages—he around thirty, and I just having graduated. He was dressed in a short-sleeved buttoned shirt, and I was in a suit. His external (dress and physical appearance) did not denote “playing the game” while his internal (words, beliefs, etc.) very much did. I, on the other hand, sit there in a formal suit but also occupied the chair in a very relaxed demeanor and posture. I wasn’t slouching or anything, but you wouldn’t have been able to look at me and say I looked uncomfortable being there, either. My words, though, were extremely transparent, seeking to pull no punches whatsoever.
And so I wonder, between the two of us—me and Mr. Deeds—which one of us made the better impression. I believe honesty of emotion can shine through any other façade, no matter how many layers of pretense are lathered on by the wearer, and so I hope that my donning of the suit and the seductive “power tie”—Candy was weak in the knees; I could tell—when coupled with my verbal sincerity showed glaringly my statement of, “Hey Candy, this suit? Yeah . . . I can play your game, if you like. But know that if I’m here, I’d be well aware that I’d be playing a game the whole time.”
That interview was on a Thursday or a Friday. I don’t remember which. She said she’d call us back for one-on-one interviews on Tuesday if she decided to pursue our applications further. I never got a call. And I even held the door to the conference room to let Candy walk out before I did, being the last person out. Ever the gentlemen, but not the victor. So unemployed I continue to be.