You’re Never Too Old For a Bad Interview

We have all had bad interviews. It’s an unavoidable truth. Your hair straightener burned off part of your eyebrow. You got lost and were thirty minutes late. You showed up on the wrong day. You wore polka-dotted undergarments under white clothing. These are minor errors on a regular day, but on a day that you’re interviewing for a job, they are catastrophic. I have never met anyone that doesn’t have at least one bad interview story, and I personally find them hilarious. That’s the beauty of reflection: you can find humor in what once caused panic.

We’re in the midst of hiring season at my school, and I’ve been seeing current colleagues looking for job upgrades, and brand new folks coming in and waiting eagerly in our front office. I don’t envy these people, but it sure does take me back. At the ripe age of 29, I have had quite a few interviews, and they certainly were not all pretty. So if you’ll indulge me, herein lies my most absurd interview experience to date.

In April of 2007, I was quickly approaching my graduation from Wheaton College. I also was gearing up for my first job interview for my post-college life. The rest of my family had gone on a week-long trip to the south to look at colleges for my 17-year-old brother, as it was his spring break. My “fancy clothes” were not stored in my college closet, so I had to take a trip home to get an outfit, and since the school I was interviewing at was closer to my childhood home, than my house at Wheaton, I planned on staying at home for the night, rather than face an hour commute in rush hour traffic on 95 with butterflies in my stomach.

Oh, how I wish I had kept my fancy stuff at Wheaton. I strategically planned my interview for a Friday morning, because as an astute college senior, I did not have classes on Fridays. On Thursday afternoon, after my last class, I drove home. It was raining, and mild outside, as Boston’s Aprils often are. The mildness did not prepare me for the status of my house when I arrived.  I whipped my Rav4 into my driveway (which is easily a quarter of a mile long), and had to slam on the breaks, because the winds and rain that I had not bore witness to from earlier in the week, had knocked a very large tree over and it landed completely across my driveway. To put this into perspective, the tree trunk when laying across my driveway came up to my hips (and I’m 5’8’’). Not only could I not get my car past the tree, I was already contemplating how I was going to get around the tree without having to go into the woodsy ditches that adorned either side of my lengthy driveway. As I felt myself start to go into complete panic mode, I noticed that just beyond the tree there were live wires dangling in a puddle in the center of my driveway. I took out my cell phone and dialed my mom’s number. When she picked up, I relayed to her the scene before my eyes, in a crackly voice, on the verge of tears. The minute I said “wires dangling in a puddle” she told me to hang up and call the police. We then figured out that the power was out because the lights lining my driveway had not kicked on at the proper time. Thus began my first (and only) adventure with firemen.

I grew up in a town that has less than five thousand people. Our fire department consists of volunteers. So when I called the police dispatcher, told her my address, and said that I was in need of assistance, she sounded borderline excited. You can imagine my surprise when I got a phone call back about ten minutes later saying, “Kaitlin, we actually don’t have your family listed as the owners of the house. Did you just move in?” My family had lived there for 7 years at this point, and this woman hadn’t bothered to dispatch anyone to my house, because their podunk records indicated that I didn’t live where I said I lived. My mom then had to call the police FROM VIRGINIA to coerce them into helping me out before the woods surrounding my house blazed into a nice little forest fire. They showed up about ten minutes later, and I have to say, other than their flashlights, I could’ve done it all myself.

The firefighters arrived, and escorted me into my house with flashlights just long enough so that I could grab all my interview clothes and depart. I then had to call my surrogate grandmother to see if I could stay at her house for the night. She quickly invited me right over, but with the caveat that I’d be sleeping on the floor because she was weeks away from moving out of her lovely home into a condo. So, I trekked fifteen minutes to her house, and tried to calm my interview nerves, as well as my “I hope the house doesn’t blow over before my parents come home” nerves. I never fully comprehended the phrase “I didn’t sleep a wink” until that night. My eyes are burning just thinking about it.

While attempting to get over the fact that I grabbed zero accessories for my fairly bland interview outfit, I realized that I didn’t have any directions to get to the school I was interviewing at. 2007 Kaitlin didn’t have an iPhone, and my host didn’t have internet, so I had to call someone to google directions for me. It’s a minor miracle that I didn’t get lost, and that I wasn’t late. I went on a tour of the school, had a fairly boring and uneventful interview, and felt that despite having a hellish 24 hours, I had seemed like a collected individual. Dare I say, I felt confident about getting this teaching assistant position.

I didn’t get the job, and took the opportunity to attend graduate school instead. The following spring I found myself applying for jobs yet again, and receiving an interview invite to the same school from the year before. No, I didn’t have a housing catastrophe before the second interview, but it was, quite simply, the worst interview I’ve ever participated in. The head of the lower school (my interviewer) had promised her advisees a pizza party because they had accomplished a long-term goal. While I was in her office she had Pizza Hut on speakerphone because she was on hold and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to place her order. While trying to convey my growth since the last time we had met, and my new understanding of how to teach reading skills to young people, I had to endure jingles and advertisements from a pizza joint. At one point I suggested that we pause the interview until she could complete her order because I was distracted, and she very sternly told me that we would continue on. I’m not sure if I came off as an unbalanced woman, but I certainly felt like one as I departed her office. It was the definition of unprofessional. I was not offered the position, and proceeded to never apply to that school again.

Every time I share this two-part story with friends, colleagues or family members, they laugh heartily, and then their jaws drop. Seven years later, in April, I’m retelling it. Why? Because in hindsight it’s humorous, and for some people it helps them relax about whatever miniscule faux pas they had throughout their hiring process. This truth I know: for those of you about to be interviewed, I salute you.  It’s like Ms. Morrison said, “if you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.” Here’s hoping our windy days are limited.

Do you have an awesomely tragic interview tale? Please share it! Commiserating is one of my favorite pastimes.