Surprise! I'm Here For My Interview!

The element of surprise can be a good thing - when it pertains to birthdays, winning lottery tickets and diamonds. In relation to a job interview - not so much.

Tuesday, I trekked to what seemed to be one of the most crowded parts of Manhattan for a job interview, pushing my deodorant beyond all limits of common sense. I dodged confused and tired-looking tourists, running in a dress and Birkenstocks, finally reaching my destination with 10 minutes to spare - ample time to change into the bone-crushing heels dangling from my purse.

This followed an hour's drive and a 40-minute search for on-street parking in an attempt to avoid a pricey lot that would require me to pickpocket the elderly or school children if I ever wanted to see my car again.

Allow me to backtrack for moment so I can share how I landed this coveted interview... I've been doing a lot of reading lately-mainly to break up the crying and reality TV viewing-and I keep happening upon articles that say if you want to get a job today you must know someone.

So... I saw a position I'd like and believe I'm qualified for several weeks ago on LinkedIn. It's at an organization where my neighbor just happens to work, so I thought to myself, "Let me see if this could give me an edge."

I reached out and my neighbor said he'd happily pass along my resume and cover letter, but he also recommended that I still apply online and, additionally, gave me the email address of the human resources person who would be conducting the initial screening so I could send everything directly. Talk about wearing a belt and suspenders! (While he and I had this email exchange the count of applicants on the LinkedIn ticker was rising faster than my blood pressure each time I open our bills.)

Weeks passed and I'd heard nothing until one evening last week when my neighbor told me that he reached out to the HR rep to see if she'd be calling. Expect to hear from her over the next few days, he said.

"Wow!" I thought, "this really works. I've bypassed the other 344 candidates!" (And that's only according to LinkedIn's counter! Who knows how many more of us are actually out there!)

So when I received a call the following day and set up an interview for Tuesday, I was elated...until I tried to figure out how to get there. A major NYC destination, I had never realized all the times I've been there I must've been driven by my dad, taken a cab or walked from some other place I was visiting. To get there via mass transit, I'd have to take a train (for an hour) and then a 38-minute bus ride, provided I could find the correct bus stop and not end up in Coney Island. So rather than prep for this interview, I spent most of my time obsessing about how I'd actually get there. Little did I know, I wasn't the only one who'd be unprepared for this meeting.

When I arrived, I was ushered away from the sweaty masses to the quiet of the third floor human resources department. There, I introduced myself to a friendly woman and told her whom I was there to see. She picked up the phone and called to let the HR rep know I'd arrived. Five seconds into the call, she covered the receiver and looked up at me, confused, "Are you here for an interview?"

Surprise! My heart plunged. This woman had completely forgotten about our meeting. My only comfort was that at least she was still in the building. If I had traveled for close to two hours (longer than it took me to get to college), risked intestinal damage at the hands of my Spanx, and spent over $20 in tolls and metered parking only to find that this person wasn't even there, I'd have gone all Real-New-Jersey-Housewife-table-flippin'-crazy.

"Yes," I said. "I'm here for an interview for the digital editor position." I figured I'd better spell it out before they considered me for a maintenance or cafeteria opening.

"Have a seat," the woman smiled, striking a nice balance between awkwardness and pity.

While I waited, I flipped through a binder filled with job postings and their corresponding pay scales. When I came to the position I was interested in, I quickly skimmed the salary chart. $42,300. Are you serious?? It would cost me that to commute here! Things were going downhill fast!

After a few more minutes, my interviewer toddled out, taking her sweet time while my parking meter kept ticking 10 blocks away.

We sat down in her office and discussed my qualifications, which I ought to be able to do on auto-pilot now. But when I spoke, I could almost see her eyes glazing over in slow motion. "Big lunch?" I wanted to ask. Surely, it couldn't be my scintillating description of my past duties and responsibilities. That's when it occurred to me: She was only interviewing me as a favor to my neighbor.

Still, I answered her questions with all the professional enthusiasm I could muster after this realization. She concluded by saying she'd pass along all of my information to the hiring manager. I told her to contact me if she had any further questions or wished to see any writing samples. She gave a nod that seemed to say, "Please just go, this is the time I drink a cup of coffee, catch up on Facebook, and generally just stare into space."

So, I left wondering: Was that a complete waste of my time or another chance to sharpen my interviewing skills, albeit a costly and time-consuming one? Does knowing someone at a company help or is everything arbitrary? Time will tell, I suppose, but in the interim I won't be waiting by the phone.

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