A Slightly Awkward Job Interview

Spoiler alert: We’d met before

Scott Muska
Apr 23 · 8 min read
Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

She walks into the room, sits down, pulls out a cheap pen with a bank’s company logo on it, smiles, says “Sell this to me.”

I almost shit myself and immediately begin sweating much more than I normally do during job interviews, which is not an insignificant amount. I just barely restrain myself from letting out an “Aweeee, fuck me.”

I wonder if the bank that shills those pens is one of the clients I’d be working on if I joined the team. I table that thought because I’m at the point where I’ll work on whatever, pretty much — even if it’s dull and makes me feel a little dirty.

Maybe especially then.

I’m in a weird place.

“We’ll get to that,” she says, nodding at the pen. “How have you been?”

I nod the affirmative at nothing, avoid eye contact for a few seconds, suck it up, stop looking down and finally meet her gaze. I force a smile.

She remembers.

I was hoping she wouldn’t remember.

I can’t recall a time when I wished harder that someone didn’t remember me.

“Can’t complain, really.”

“Really.”

“Well, except about my other job.”

I laugh at my own joke. She doesn’t.

And we’re off.

She was not on the list of interviewees laid forth in my pre-interview email. I know this because I diligently stalked the LinkedIn profile of everyone I was scheduled to meet with, as one does.

(Relax. I shell out for LinkedIn Premium so I can browse profiles invisibly. I’d be ashamed to quantify how much time I spend lurking around on there, comparing myself to others, even though I know this is one of the worst things one can do, especially when they find themselves often questioning how the fuck they got to where they are, wondering how to change things for the better.)

“Cameron and Bethany aren’t going to make it,” she says.

“That’s a shame,” I say.

“Yeah. Last-minute client meeting.”

“Those happen.”

“All too often.”

“It’s good to see you.”

“Surprising, right?”

“It’s not not surprising.”

“Well. Here I am. Account manager.”

“Then why aren’t you in that meeting?”

“Different account.”

“Would I be working on it?”

“No idea. They just asked me if I could fill in. Because, you know, I’m not busy or anything like that.”

“Well, thank you for taking the time.”

“I didn’t even have a chance to look you up before this, so I’m just as surprised as you. Until today, I didn’t know your last name.”

“You handle your surprise better than I do.”

“Well, I probably also care less, in this situation. Low stakes for me.”

“Fair point. When did you get into the industry?”

“Just about a year-and-a-half ago.”

“That’s great.”

“Is it?”

“Sure. I mean, I’m actively seeking to stay employed in it, so.”

“Yeah. Better pay than in publishing.”

“Same reason I ended up here. More or less. I always say if I had a soul I would sell it.”

“Really? You always say that? In job interviews?”

“One of my many flaws is I don’t interview particularly well.”

“What if you interview with someone who, like, believes in god or otherwise takes offense to that sort of comment?”

“Then I’m probably not meant to work with them.”

“Fair enough.”

“Yeah.”

“Speaking of work, let’s talk about some of yours. How was it?”

“What? Work?”

“That one time.”

“Oh. Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“I can show you, actually. It’s in my portfolio.”

“Let’s have a look.”

“We won some awards.”

“That’s nice. Not generally our focus, unless the award winning work actually somehow works to, you know, sell products or services, but good to know.”

I once left what was (I thought) a promising date to go back to work.

At first blush this makes me sound like a workaholic and also a dick.

I do not deny that I am both of these things, and am the first to admit that I rarely have my priorities straight.

She’d just finished telling me a pretty interesting story about how she’d spent part of her collegiate career living in an RV — which is something I’ve always aspired to, because one of those is basically the size of my studio apartment but it’s mobile and usually has more amenities — when I could no longer ignore the incessant buzzing in my pocket.

I excused myself for the restroom, where I found that I had about 18 Slack messages in different channels, most from two of my superiors who had left for the night to live their lives but wanted me to take care of something urgent for a project we were on that we all thought had hopes of winning some awards, which is something on which most in my industry place a borderline unhealthy value.

I told her straight-up that I had to go back and do the work, and I did.

“I know how it goes,” she said. “I understand.”

This is not to be confused with “It’s okay.”

We won some awards. But I wonder a lot about what would have happened if I had seen that date through instead of putting my career first in such a blatant way. I often ruminate on what my life would be like if I hadn’t gone to the bathroom to take a piss and checked my phone to see those messages.

(Fucking Slack, man.)

This sort of thing always gets me to thinking about the “Death Bed Quotient,” which is when I remind myself that I’ll be really fucking pissed if I end up dying alone spouting off stories to whoever is around about how I had once made an advertisement that convinced several people, at the behest of their young children who were more affected by the ad than anyone, to visit a theme park situated in the swamps of Orlando.

(I can almost guarantee you the one that first came to mind is not the one I was working on. Not at the time, anyway. I’ve had the strange pleasure of working on several clients that call that strange tourist trap home.)

I figured I would never see her again, which was probably a fair assumption because telling someone you have to go back to the office to address a pressing work matter instead of spending the evening getting to know them usually ends up with their chalking it up to a complete waste of time and never speaking to you again. At best, you might get a message saying they don’t think things are going to work out, which you will potentially then acknowledge with a slightly surprised “Thanks for not ghosting” reply. You can ask for a second chance in these types of situations, but shouldn’t really be all that surprised if and when you aren’t granted one.

(Unless you’re something like a surgeon or OBGYN and things that actually happen in your professional life can be called genuine “emergencies.” Nobody worth their salt or a doctor’s time is going to scoff all that much or take offense to someone having to bail to help deliver a new life into the world. Now, if you give them another chance and the same thing happens, you might start to question the validity of their claims — though you still might feel guilty for doing so because what if you’re actually wrong? How fucked up is it to think someone would lie about delivering a baby to get out of a date? How fucked up would it actually be to do so? How many times has this actually happened out there, though? ANYWAY.)

I wrote her after the date to apologize.

I never heard back.

(Okay, that’s not exactly true. She accidentally texted me once and said she’d put more than one “Ezra from Bumble” into her phone and had mistakenly chosen my number for an inquiry related to tapas. She realized her mistake, if it really was one, before I was able to finish typing out “I don’t know who you think you’re talking to but I don’t do shared plates.”)

I should have started working on my work/life balance back then, but instead I continued to pour most of my effort, energy and emotion into whatever job I found myself at. Hard as it was, it seemed easier than romantic vulnerability. I couldn’t get over the notion that part of me actively wanted to leave that date and go back to the office, because burning out at a desk seemed somehow less difficult than a conversation days, weeks or month down the line where a conversation to call off a relationship (or the prospects of one) came about.

“That was a really good idea,” she says.

“Thank you. We worked a lot on it, but it paid off. I have to say it wasn’t my idea initially. But, you know, I really helped bring it to life, I think.”

I briefly think about punching myself in my own dick as the words “helped bring it to life” come out of my mouth.

I walk her through some more of my work. She asks me some menial questions. I close my computer and say what I assume we’re both thinking:

“Can you imagine us seeing each other five days a week?”

“Sure. But around here it’s more like six or seven, most weeks.”

“Are you saying it’s a sweat shop?”

“You’d fit in well,” she says, nods in my general direction.

It’s not lost on me that I haven’t stopped sweating since we started speaking.

“I mean, is it, like — would it be too weird?”

“Not for me.”

“Okay.”

“It was one date. Half of one, even. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“I know. I didn’t mean to — “

“I know.”

She checks her watch, says something about how our time is about up and she has another meeting — that the next person on the list, actually from the list I was given, will be in shortly.

“Do they have a lot of meetings here?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says. “But we don’t take all of them seriously. Sometimes I’ll get up and leave right in the middle of one to go do something else I think is more important.”

It’s a good burn. I laugh.

As she’s getting up, gathering her belongings, I hand her her pen back.

“Thanks,” she says.

“How was tapas?” I say.

“What?”

“That one time.”

“Huh?”

“You texted me — nothing. Nevermind. I was trying to make a joke. A not good one.”

“Your discomfort just intensified.”

“Sure did.”

She stops at the door on her way out, turns around.

“Was it worth it?”

“What?”

“Going back to work that night. For the award, ultimately, I guess.”

“I don’t know. And I guess I probably never really will.”

“Yeah.”

“Statistically speaking, it was unlikely that it would have really gone anywhere serious.”

“You don’t seem like someone who falls back on statistics all that often.”

“I’m not, and that’s why I’ll always wonder.”

“Well, good luck with the rest of the process.”

After she closes the door I realize I didn’t even try to sell her the pen.

Scott Muska

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copywriter // unreliable narrator who has completely lost the plot // work has appeared on my parents’ fridge // srm5082@gmail.com // www.scottmuska.com