my first post-college job interview.

Years ago, when I was fresh out of college embarking on my career in public relations, I ended up going to a couple sketchy interviews. This was back when you scoured the classified ads of a newspaper to find jobs. While it seems self evident now that an ad that reads, “ADVERTISING! Degree or no degree!” and lists only a phone number is sketchy, when you’re young and motivated/desperate, you don’t spend a great deal of time examining the details.

I was about three or four months out of college, working as a server at a restaurant, making enough money to pay my bills and have enough left over to get beers after work with my brother (with whom I lived at the time).

So I dialed the number and inquired about the position, which was posted as advertising/marketing/public relations. In my early-20s brain, I’m thinking it’s some sort of advertising agency, where we’ll be mocking up ads, storyboards for commercials and writing snappy copy.

The reality: door-to-door sales. But it wasn’t until I went “in the field” that I learned what was really going on. My “interview” was really nothing more than a fast-talking manager with greasy hair (he looked like Michael Scott…really) checking to see if I had a pulse and knew how to properly tie a tie. This led to a second “interview” where I was paired up with a “marketing associate” who drove me to a neighborhood on Indianapolis’ south side. And we proceeded to walk door-to-door, selling coupon books at $40 a pop.

This associate whose name escapes me was about my age. He was a college graduate and had been doing this for a little while. I asked him about base salary. There isn’t one. I asked him about benefits. There aren’t any. I asked him how he made money: he gets paid a commission on each sale. How much: $8 per sale.

By the end of his shift, we drove back to the office, which was teeming with activity. All the sales guys were there, either commiserating about the day or doing whatever paperwork had to be done. Ther were a few of us “interviewees” in the mix, too. We all were the same: young, stupid, naive. I was offered a job that night and I accepted. I guess hearing someone say, “we want to hire you” was too much to turn down.

Shawn (my brother) was pretty clearly against the idea. My mother was pretty clearly against the idea. My dad was pretty clearly against the idea. At first, I was mad at all of them for not being happy for me. Truth is, they were all looking out for me.

It wasn’t until Shawn and I went to BWs in Broad Ripple when the Stockholm Syndrome wore off. I did the math at the table while eating chicken wings and drinking beers, realizing just how much I’d have to sell per day to have enough to pay my bills. Even going out for beer and chicken wings would depend on how many tchotchkes or whatever the hell they were selling I moved that day. But what I remember the most while sitting there was my heart was beating like I was running a marathon. I hadn’t even started and the stress of it all was already taking a toll on me.

The next morning, I went over to the office to tell them in person I wouldn’t be taking the job. I found the guy I shadowed. He was in a conference room, setting up for the morning’s sales meeting. As I told him “thanks, but no thanks,” he never even bothered to make eye contact. He just said, “okay,” and that was it. I walked in there, thinking it was going to be some sort of difficult scene. When I left, I realized he probably gets this a lot. See, for these guys to move up into salaried positions, they have to recruit ‘x’ number of salespeople. Once they reach a certain level, they become “sales managers.”

Of course, the whole thing is a joke and pretty close to a complete scam; I realize that now. But I also looked around the room that night I was in there after spending all day shadowing a guy practically begging people to buy these coupon books and they all looked the same: a bunch of early-20s shlubs in khakis and ties, practicing their golf swings while thinking they’re going to make a million dollars any day now. They were all young, fast talking and full of shit. I’m not even sure they were aware of it, honestly.

Oh yeah, you may be wondering: how did my sales guy do on the day I shadowed him? He made one sale. You heard me. One. He spent an entire day driving his own vehicle around, knocking on doors, cold-calling complete strangers, trying to sell them a book of coupons. And made a whopping $8 for his efforts.

Because I didn’t learn my lesson, I got suckered into one more interview for another fly-by-night sales company before I completely wised up. To be fair to myself, this one was a much more refined operation. Their classified ad was sharper and seemed more legit. It had an address and everything! But I did completely miss the red flags. I can’t lie about that. The first red flag was when I spoke to a woman about an interview. She was <i>WAY</i> too peppy and <i>WAY</i> too complimentary to me. She knew nothing about me and already had me pegged as her shining star.

Because I’m a fool, I agreed to an interview and, once again, strapped on the blue suit and made my way to their office. Upon informing the receptionist I was there for my interview, she directed me to a seat, “with the others.” I turned to find about five other people who looked just like me: forlorn, suckered, exasperated, annoyed. But we were all dressed up nice, so there’s that.

The five or six of us were ushered into a conference room, where we sat, blank stares, closed mouths. Then a young-ish female broke the silence. “Is this a pyramid scheme?” she asked the room. “Sure feels that way,” someone else said. For at least three or four of us, it was clearly not our first time down this rabbit hole. Just as we all were ready to revolt, in walks a manager, that peppy woman with whom I spoke on the phone. She had red hair and a distinct South African accent. She seemed nice enough, but was pleasant like an over-medicated housewife or something; just too much of everything.

Anyway, she was so motivated to tell us all about this exciting opportunity and our earning potential blah-blah-blah and was taking us to a seminar to learn all about the products we’d be “marketing.” As we were being ushered into the seminar — like cattle on the killing floor — that youngish female from earlier piped up. “I don’t think this is for me,” she said to the peppy woman before crossing the threshold. Ms. Peppy tried to rein her in to no avail. The youngish woman gave her the slip and headed for the exit. I watched with envy. “Take me with you,” I pleaded…with my eyes, but it was too late. I was past the point of no return. I was in the seminar room.

Dejected and defeated, I took a seat in the back row and studied the room. It was like the Island of Misfit Toys. The room was teeming with all sorts of weirdness. Strange clothes, Strange hairdos, lots of cologne in the air and what struck me as WAY too much excitement for what was about to be unleashed upon us. I didn’t say a word to anyone. I sat in silence and studied the room. I locked onto a woman near the front. She was wearing some sort of gold-and-black ensemble. Was it a dress? Was it a jumpsuit? I don’t know, but that wasn’t the weird part. She wore glasses and had short, blonde hair, which wasn’t styled badly or anything. What struck me as odd and captivating all at once were the bandages that she had all over her face and head. She had Band-Aids across the bridge over her nose, the tops of her ears and I believe she had them on her lobes and her chin, too. I could NOT STOP STARING!

I spent the remaining minutes before the formal presentation trying to figure out what in the hell happened to her. My best guess is her pet capuchin monkey turned on her and tried to gnaw her face off. What else could describe the randomness of her injuries?

Anyway, the room was full of sales-type people who were about to learn about this great product we’d be given the opportunity to sell. It was sort of like watching a live infomercial. The first speaker was a woman two or three years older than me who’d apparently achieved sales riches and was explaining how we could be just like her. The product we’d be selling? Water purifiers. To drive it home, they played a video from their national spokesman: Kenny Loggins.

That was our closer. Kenny freakin’ Loggins. While some of the Kool-Aid drinkers in the audience ooh’d and ahh’d (I’m not making that up), i could barely contain my laughter. Kenny Loggins? It certainly made me forget out the woman who was mauled by her capuchin monkey, I’ll say that much.

Afterward, Ms. Peppy ushered me back to her desk to offer me a job. I was not buying what she was selling. The moment she realized she was on a dead reckoning, her mood went from peppy to surly in about two seconds. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to say no,” I said.

“Well…” she said, with a pause. “That’s…just…great.” I got up and ran out the door, mad at myself for wasting two hours of my time on this shit show.; mad that I didn’t say, “she’s my ride!” when the woman left before the presentation.

That was more than 20 years ago, if you can believe that.

It would be a few more months before I landed my first “real” job. I got it the old-fashioned way.

My brother got me the job.

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