Ed. note: “The Miss Jobless Chronicles” is a weekly series written by Caitlin O’Toole. Read the rest in the series here.
I’m just coming down from the interview from hell.
A popular celebrity weekly is looking for a staff writer, and, with my tabloid experience, I totally fit the bill. The prospective candidate must be driven (check); live and breathe pop culture (check, check!); able to wear many hats (check); deadline oriented (check) and have a killer sense of humor (check, check, check!)
I dress in my Sunday best — suits are so outre, so I opt for black pants, a black vest, and a light blue shirt with silver turtle cufflinks — because who doesn’t look good in those? And weird crocodile loafers that my mom bought me. They’re peculiar, but I figure if the prospective employers are looking at my feet, my troubles go way beyond my shoes.
I buy a copy of the magazine, study the masthead, the sections, the ads, its writing style and try to figure out the target audience. I research the editor, the magazine’s history and its changing faces. I do everything by the book. I dust off my portfolio and insert the latest copy of my resume — which I just paid $25 to be reformatted in InDesign, albeit poorly. I put my strongest clip in the front (a photo of Guy Ritchie and Madonna circa 2005, accompanied by an Enquirer article that singlehandedly landed me my job there). I anticipate questions, and try to prepare for potentially difficult and un-warm and fuzzy interviewers.
I like to arrive in the general vicinity of the interview as much as 45 minutes in advance to have time to get lost, be on a delayed train, get shot, get coffee, relax, and put finishing touches on my “presentation.” I arrive an hour early, which is a bit excessive, but I work with it. I hit the nearest Starbucks, get an iced venti Americano (liquid crack), and sit down with the Times (I really just read the weather and complain to myself that there are no horoscopes and no color pages.) I text message my friend Laura, who wishes me luck. The man next to me decides it would be a good idea to unzip his pants. I move. I am totally calm, cool and prepared.
Or so I thought.
Everything’s OK at first… I arrive at reception, and the woman behind the desk welcomes me warmly and takes me to a conference room, where I am told to wait for the big cheese. Five, ten minutes pass and I’m getting antsy. Finally, he walks in, frazzled. He’s been on a conference call with “the coast” and is sorry for the delay. Two scary and intimidating-looking people follow him: the managing editor, and the staff writer, whom I could potentially be replacing. The editor is bald and all I keep thinking to myself is that childish old joke: “Is that your head or is your neck blowing a bubble?” My internal funny forces an appropriate smile on my otherwise uber serious face. We sit around the table, shake hands, blah blah blah, and make the obligatory small talk about the weather. I pass out my resume and hand my book of clips to the editor. Everything’s smooth so far. And then I freeze.
“So, Caitlin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?”
THE dreaded question. Because where do you start? What I kept thinking was “Hi, I’m Caitlin, and I’m an Aquarius.” Then I want to start with my early childhood, bringing to mind my mother, whom we tease about telling everything with far too much backstory. (‘As the planet cooled,’ we tease her.) What I say, awkwardly, is “Well, I went to NYU.” Okayyyyyyyy…. so? So far: awkward, I need to spice it up. “But I bet you’re not interested so much in that, right?” Oh god, did I really say that? I don’t even remember what else I said, it was like I heard my voice on a slow speed while the group looked on, sooo uninterested. Then they begin firing off questions, and everything else they ask seems to bleed together and ends up sounding like Peppermint Patty’s mumbling teacher (blahblahhhblahblahblahblah).