The kids have successfully started third grade and middle school. The morning routine is somewhat ironed out and Mama’s ready to rejoin the working world (sort of). A dozen years of freelancing has allowed me tremendous flexibility to keep my baby toe dipped in the professional pool. Mostly, though, I was a public servant volunteering my free time for the good of the masses while my family gradually slid sideways financially. Time for a “real” job.
All my practicing The Secret and visualizing a high-paying, part-time position without a commute beyond the nearest Safeway did not produced one. I started looking for full-time work about the time the job market plunged, so that bought me a good year’s worth of earnestly applying to anything writer or editor-ish but not getting anywhere.
Then a former client of mine, who has recently switched companies, recommended me for several positions in her new group. All at once, I was faced with the possibility of an actual steady paycheck accompanied by a regular (dreaded) commute from the sunny ‘burbs to the blustery San Francisco financial district. It wasn’t a done deal. There is, it seems, a process we all have to endure known as the job interview.
Truth be told, I’m generally too tired to try to dazzle anyone with my ancient experience or sell my qualifications. (I was once a fairly competent and confident corporate communicator in my twenties and early thirties -- the exact right time to care about such things.) These days, I feel like an imposter any time I talk business.
Interviews themselves are not so terrible, really. People are just people, I always tell myself before one. You describe what you have done and either you are a good fit for their job opening or you’re not. But dressing for a job interview is another story.
So it went like this. I was to meet a woman named Edith at a well-known financial institution on the 40th floor of an office building in downtown San Francisco at 2 p.m. I spent the morning rifling through my closet looking for something professional to wear, dead set against purchasing new clothes because they might look too new. My usual uniform is shorts, T-shirt and sandals. In northern California, this ensemble can take you from March through October. The rest of the year, switch shorts to jeans and trade sandals for tennis shoes. Voila! Momwear is so easy.
I try on about seventeen variations of dark slacks and a sweater set. No matter what color the sweater or what accessories I add, there is still no disguising the barrel-shaped post-partum bod. Not that I’m ashamed of being middle aged, I’d just rather not have a cascade of flesh around my “comfort waist” pants be the focal point during the interview.
So I dig through my “special” dresser drawer – the one that has become a holding cell for all the supportive undergarments I’ve accumulated over the years to make attending reunions, weddings and family portrait sessions bearable.
Do I go with the body suit that hooks between the legs but has the general affect of sausage casing? Do I look slimmer with all my lumpy bits squeezed into one smooth cylinder? Maybe I’m better off with the industrial underwear that constricts everything from my upper thighs to my rib cage, adding a healthy rim of fat to my upper back. Paired with a spandex camisole over an underwire bra, I might be able to pull this off.
After shimmying into various configurations of supportive garments, finally I have assembled something closely resembling a wet suit for deep sea diving -- minus oxygen tank and flippers.
Add black pants, grey sweater, silver earrings and black boots and I’m good to go!
I manage to make it into the city where I walk up and down Montgomery Street looking as bewildered and out of place as Marlo Thomas in the opening credits of "That Girl." But instead of a colorful parasol, I'm clutching the old brief case I had to dust off with baby wipes earlier. The scuba gear has made me sweaty by the time I locate the correct building, but I was so paranoid about getting there late that I have an extra 40 minutes to spare until my scheduled interview. I spend it sitting at one of the five Starbucks within view of the lobby, looking at my old writing samples.
Just before 2 p.m., I am all coffeed up and prepared to talk about myself confidently yet modestly. After some confusion, the elevators finally deposit me on the 40th floor where I use the phone to ring Edith, who comes to greet me.
By now, I have sucked down a non-fat Latte and a bottle of guilt-free “ethos” water. I have to pee something fierce. Plus there’s the nervous poo. Does everyone have a dramatic colon-cleaning experience when they are feeling jittery? Unfortunately, this is the business district, devoid of public restrooms on ground floors. You must be admitted to an upper floor to do your business. In this case, with an escort.
As Edith guides me into a cold and sterile hallway, she asks if I’d like coffee or water before we begin. “No thanks, but will you point me in the direction of the restroom?” I ask. She says “Sure, actually I have to go, too.”
Now I have read about psychological evaluations being a big part of job interviews these days. I know some companies will keep candidates waiting in the lobby just so the receptionists can assess how they use their time. Picking their teeth, chatting on their cell phones, or reading the Wall Street Journal?
As I enter the first stall, I’m wondering if the interview has already begun. Is my stall choice a factor? Will restroom etiquette be an indicator of what kind of employee I am?
I peel away the multi-layered wet suit, careful not to make any snapping sounds of elastic against thighs. Should I make sure my restroom companion hears that I'm using the crinkly Protecto sanitary shield on the toilet seat?
Never before have I been so conscious of my urine stream. Somehow, in my analysis of this situation, I have convinced myself that matching my flow to my interviewer's will be seen as an indicator of compatibility. I become aware that I’m trying to synchronize the force and steadiness of my tinkle with Edith’s, timing it out so we finish at approximately the same time -- without letting out an involuntary fart. Forget the colon cleanse. It’ll have to wait. There is no way stinking up the 40th floor will enhance my chances at landing this job.
All this angst and I haven’t even washed my hands yet! (I do so extremely thoroughly, rubbing my hands vigorously to demonstrate highly-sought sanitary qualities.)
We make it through the bathroom portion of the job interview and now come to the part where we will actually talk. I'll have to save that for next time, however. Believe it or not, I must go assemble the wet suit for an obligatory anniversary party my husband and I are attending tonight. Really wish I could wear the face mask and regulator to this one. Until next time, keep sucking it up and sucking it in!