The Final Interview
Rituals, rejections and those deadly words of encouragement:
"Keep plugging away."
ANYA LITVAK | My job interview
folder holds seven writing samples, a copy of my college magazine, and 12 copies
of my resume, each printed on slightly different shades of linen paper; some
speckled, some smooth, depending on my impression of the interviewer. Assembled
and confident, I board the Metro North, purchase my $18 round trip and settle
next to the sleepy strangers going to work, leering suggestively at their briefcases,
admiring their life status, the fact of their employment.
Over the course of the past six months, I've perfected the ritual
of the final interview. During February of my senior year at college I began
sending out resumes to newspapers and magazines that posted their ads on widely
used websites. By a few months later, I'd applied to every daily, weekly, monthly
and annual publication I could find. First I allowed myself room to move from
materials that I would prefer to those that I have never read. Next came the
unavoidable abandonment of all political and social beliefs so steadfastly adhered
to by government students. Inevitably, I found myself convincing my parents
that I would benefit a great deal from working for a socialist orthopedic journal...
if only they'd return my calls.
Remember to compliment them on the new re-design, I mumble to
myself. Explain how much you enjoyed the "baby issue" and how clever
to have a baby mobile supporting little facts about baby thermometers. Ask how
many people work for the company, the turn-over rate. My best quality? Definitely
my ability to produce clean copy on deadline. Worst? Well, you see, my friends
tell me that I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I have a tendency to want everything
to be as good for my boss as is universally possible. Yes, it's true, I will
not go home or accept overtime until I finish editing the whole magazine myself,
and of course I'd be happy to release the art department and handle the layout.
In September I took an unpaid internship with a national women's
magazine. I shared my cubicle with an 18-year-old college sophomore whose paychecks
were always mistakenly deposited into my mailbox. She was lovely and told me
that I should get a job as a computer programmer. When I met her for lunch last
week, she told me that my life has depressed her so much that she's now enrolled
in two advanced physics classes in an attempt to dismantle the force of gravity
and pick me up. I was convinced that my experience as an editorial assistant
at a monthly magazine would make me an attractive candidate for publishers seeking
an editorial assistant for their monthly magazines. Little did I know.
In the mornings, around 5:30 a.m., I would browse the most recent
postings: "Seeking editorial assistant with college press and internship
experience. Will give preference to candidates with last name Litvak who were
born in Moldova and have an extra bone in their left foot." Ecstatic I'd
send my resume and cover letter, outlining my Olympic levels of compatibility.
Sometimes I'd get a reply, and sometimes, SOMETIMES, I would be called in for
an interview. And of course the interviewer and I would have a lovely time praising
my qualifications and discussing my future aspirations. And, of course, there's
the priceless advice portion of the meeting. "If you put a colon here,
and then add half a space after this word, that should get things moving a little
faster. You know, a famous editor once said to me, and I'll never forget this,
he said, 'Kid, just keep plugging away'. Now if you'll excuse me, I have about
78 other Litvaks to see today, so PLEASE give me a call next week and we'll
take it from there."
But there's no stopping me today. In accordance with my ritual,
I search the vicinity of the building for a homeless person with an outstretched
arm, vowing mentally that this will be my daily "good morning" friend,
should I get this offer. I arrive at the office 27 minutes early, slip into
the bathroom, straighten my suit, pinch my cheeks and swallow a mint. "My,
do I look hirable today, if I do say so myself." At five minutes to the
scheduled time of meeting, I introduce myself to the receptionist, who seems
to care little about my big day, and politely gestures towards the leather couches.
Perfect, I'll be reading when the editor comes. But I won't read their magazine;
then they'll think that it's my first time seeing it. No, I'll take out my book.
I will sit and stare into my book with furrowed brow.
"I can't BELIEVE they still haven't called you about that
job," my mother would marvel at the end of a phoneless day. "You know,
when your father and I came to this country with no money, no English, and no
roof over our heads, and the only time I took a break from crying was when I
had to intravenously administer adrenaline to your father who didn't have time
to sleep between his 6 jobs, I STILL wasn't as worried about the future as I
am for yours right now."
A few weeks ago, my mother approached me with a suggestion that
I check my email signature. She asked if it's at all possible that along with
my resume, I'm unwittingly sending out a note imploring the employer to disregard
the above information. She later postulated that the same message may also be
freakishly engraved in my forehead, and must shine when I cock my head to the
left, as I often do when I'm trying to look enthusiastic and pensive all at
once. Further theories included offensively straight hair and an inadequate
command of Turkish.
The editor points to a chair upholstered with papers and encourages
me to make myself comfortable. I produce a lightly speckled "rusty cream"
resume and place it on top of her desk. An intense investigative period follows,
one that I am convinced implies the novelty of this item to her eyes. "So,
you freelance for a women's newspaper, tell me about that," she says sitting
back in her chair, prepared to be captivated and enthralled by a whirlwind story
of excitement, romance, and the triumph of the human spirit. The truth is, I
did a few pieces for a local monthly. It was a good experience and I never got
paid. But the story that emerges from my lips confirms any suspicions she may
have had of my unyielding dedication to the pursuit of truth and justice, even
if I am writing about a cosmetics line named after a soap opera star's cat.
She listens, rapt, and then hands me 10 sheets of paper. "This is just
a standard edit test, we give them to all the candidates that interest us. If
you could do this over the weekend and fax it to me by 5 a.m. Monday morning,
that would be great".
Following our interview, the editor takes me around the office
and introduces me to other editors, presenting me by my name, my college, and
my aspirations. Isn't she just wonderful, so eloquently summing up my entire
person in just two casual phrases. "This is Nancy, she's our health editor
and also she's our ambassador to the fax machine." The two colleagues roar
with laughter and I pardon the office humor, telling myself that one day I too
will appreciate Dilbert comics. "And this is the art department, to your
left." As is customary, the art department turns to me in unison and sneers,
outwardly unfazed by my presence and my passing. "Let me walk you to the
door," the editor offers. I exit the building and feel myself being swallowed
by the massively imposing structures all around me.
The job search process does more to defeat your psyche than the
most awkward unrequited sexual advance in Catholic school. I'm convinced that
I would rather relive being bullied by my elementary school adversaries for
eating tongue sandwiches, than respond to another wanted ad. I've concluded
that if employers are not rooting for me, they are necessarily and fervently
against me, not just personally, but in an organized and conspiratorial movement.
Maybe news of my 7th Heaven addiction has leaked to the press, or perhaps the
world unanimously decided to detest blue pinstripes. Whatever the reason, I
refuse to think of myself as a victim of the economy, or attribute my unemployment
to my lack of skills and underqualification. I will not be brought down by earthly
I make it home just in time for dinner and bury myself in a bowl
of borscht, dreading the innocently inane interrogations due to commence. "So,
how did it go?" my parents pry eagerly. We've done this many times. I answer
"well", give them some meaningless details and retreat to my room
to begin my edit test. By this time next week, I will have called that nice
editor twice and will finally be reading a brief e-mail informing me of my utter
brilliance and of their unfortunate choice of a more qualified candidate. "Just
keep plugging away," the e-mail will conclude, but you'll forgive me if
the fuzzy feelings of these words have subsided.
Anya Litvak is an editorial assistant at
the Impact Group and a freelance writer. She lives in New York.