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It’s Not You

My first job out of college was at an upscale grocery store (think Whole Foods meets the food section of World Market). That’s what happens when you get an English degree. I started out as a cashier, quickly moved to bakery retail, then to night-shift baker. I climbed that career ladder and I climbed it hard. At the time, I didn’t know if I’d ever find what my parents would call a “real job,” so I was trying to make the best of what I had.

The interview for this job — this grocery store cashier position — was four and a half hours long. Yes, my entire Saturday afternoon. It was a group interview that involved watching videos, making stuff out of construction paper and pipe cleaners, putting together sales displays with a four-person team, answering a bunch of “what if” questions out loud, working together in a group, and listening to my teammates complain to one another about their ex-husbands.

OK, that last one wasn’t officially part of the interview, but I still got to experience it. Lucky me.

It was a strange, grueling experience. Every interview since has been a cakewalk — even the ones where I’ve had to take editing tests on the spot or go through multiple interviews with multiple people. At least I know I don’t have to feign perkiness for four and half hours while I make stuff out of pipe cleaners.

When the interview was done, we were called out one by one and told whether we made the cut. Out of the 12 applicants, five of us were called back. Every employee in the company has to go through this process. What a grind. I remember one of the interviewees seemed to check out about halfway through the interview. She went from being enthused to noticeably unengaged in a matter of minutes.

Not surprisingly, she didn’t it make it past that first interview.

I later found out from a co-worker who was in that same interview that the interviewee thought the interviewer didn’t like her, so she simply gave up right there in the interview.

What a waste.

I mean, this is a job interview, not a cocktail party. There’s more at stake than silent judgment from someone cooler, thinner and more attractive than you. A steady paycheck, a career, a great dental plan … these are things that shouldn’t be given up on quite so easily.

No matter how dismal an interview (or any situation) may seem, you can still manage to fake a smile, act engaged and pretend you care. The worst thing you can do is give up. And if an interviewer genuinely doesn’t like you, then screw them. Be the perfect interviewee and don’t give them a single reason to dismiss you. Besides, our perceptions don’t always jibe with reality. Some people are just naturally more aloof or reserved. It’s not you, it’s them.

And if you still don’t get the job, you can make yourself feel better by silently judging them from afar.