I think it is time to reassess my belief that I possess impeccable job interview skills. I've been on three since the big layoff from Disoda-Soda and I'm still unemployed. Of course, I forget to take into consideration that I have only interviewed for coffee shops. Considering that I still like to joke around about the sort of person that works a coffee bar, I probably shouldn't be too surprised that I'm not employed at one.
I interviewed for an independent shop first and didn't even make it past the first round. The girl who interviewed me didn't like my jokes about Arrested Development and feigned satisfaction when I told her about everything I did at my prior stint as a barista.
"Yeah," she said to my friend who works there and scored me the interview, "She just didn't talk about her work ethic enough or promote herself at all."
I suppose that talking about how you have no problem cleaning up after people, taking out their trash, indulging them in conversation, and making special drinks isn't how you promote yourself as a viable candidate for a position in the trendier section of food service. Whodathunk?
I kept this in mind when I did a phone interview for a corporate coffee chain. The initial phone interview was a piece of cake and the in-person was going smashingly until the manager told me,
"I pay minimum wage, but on a good shift you can make it average out to about nine bucks an hour with tips."
She hasn't called to offer me the position yet, but my desire to pay rent will probably prevent me from answering the phone. Plus, this particular branch is sandwiched between an Arby's and a Manderin Express inside one of the high-rise banking buildings in the city and there is no parking.
Coffee Shop #3 was another independently owned shop and, unlike my first stab at independent coffee, I breezed past the first two interviews. I should have known something wacky was afoot, though, when the girl from my second interview said, "Here's a tip for your third and final interview with the owner. She doesn't like people with previous barista experience and I'd arrive fifteen minutes early if I were you. Oh: she's also Eastern European. Good luck!"
I have only ever had two grueling job interviews in my life. One was at a Mexican restaurant. The owner looked me over, and, in a very thick accent, said,
"Sit down. I don't like bitches and I'm not going to take any of your shit."
The second most grueling interview I have ever been on was with the Eastern European coffee shop owner this morning. She told me to order anything I wanted, so I got an iced coffee and took a seat in the corner.
"Hey," she said, joining me. I shook her hand. Firm grip. Really firm. "So, tell me about yourself."
And so began what I thought was going to be a final, easy-breezy interview - except it wasn't. Her interview tactics were similar to this game we play at the improv theater called, "Guess the Crime." In this game, two of the players take a third player outside while the audience decides the crime that the third player committed, what they did it with, and who they did it with. Then they bring the third player back in and interrogate him or her with foam noodles as they drop little hints in order to make the third player guess the crime. I feel like that was what my interview was like.
Things were going well enough until she began to ask me about my other coffee job. Trying to adhere to the advice I was given at the previous interview, I attempted to downplay my stint at Cups Coffee by saying that it was "low key" and that we "weren't too rigid" and that I "didn't stay too long." I also tried to skirt around the issue that it wasn't the greatest job in the world.
"Whoa, I'm sensing some negativity here. And I don't understand what you mean when you say low key. When you say low key, I'm thinking that maybe this isn't the job for you because what we do here is anything but low key. And you just sound like that job was a really bad experience for you and I don't know if it was because of the work or because of your managers or co-workers. So I don't know how to interpret the situation, you know what I'm saying?"
"Oh, no," I said, trying to sound positive, "When I said 'low key,' I mean that we never really wore uniforms or went to coffee school or had this cookie cutter environment that we had to adhere to, do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Well, I don't know how well you'd do here then, because we're very hands on and we definitely teach you how to make all of the coffees. Kind of like coffee school. But I'm sensing that there's something else."
At this point, I knew three things: 1. The owner knew how to read people. 2. She was also getting a little annoyed. 3. This woman was a badass and I wanted to win her respect. Fine, I thought, I'll just tell her what happened.
"Ok," I said, taking a breath, "I didn't really get along with my manager because her ex kept making inappropriate advances toward me and, when I brought it to her attention, she saw me as the bad guy in that situation. That happened about a month into working there and it was depressing because she went out of her way to exclude me and I wasn't ever invited to go out with the girls after work. By the time it was time for me to go to school, I was ready to leave."
"Aha," the owner said. "And there we are."
I didn't know what she meant by that, so I said,
"I'm sorry; I just didn't know if it was an appropriate subject to talk about in an interview."
"Well, you were probably right to hold back, but you just seemed really negative and I wanted to know what was up with that."
She then went on to go over the expectations of the job: how she wanted someone who was fast and could multitask, how she wanted someone who was clearly overqualified and didn't have to be told twice, and how tight-knit the team was and had better remain (subtext: "or else.")
Then, what seemed like hours later, she rapped the stack of papers on the table and said,
"Well, that's it for now. I like you, but as a general rule, I don't make on the spot decisions. I like to think about things and it wouldn't be fair to the folks coming in after you. But we'll be in touch. "
Just like that, it was over. I'm still scratching my head and wondering how it went on her end.
I don't know what's wrong with me lately. Under normal circumstances I would just walk into an audition or job interview brimming with spontaneous statements about my work ethic and personality while I strategically position my face so that they can see my exquisite jawline while I fire out my qualifications. Under coffee circumstances, or now that I think about it, under past-the-age-of-twenty circumstances, that doesn't fly; you have to act like an adult. Well, I tried acting like an adult for the first coffee shop interview and I came across as boring and unenthusiastic. I overdid it for the second one and never got a call. I tried to level out for this interview and came across as indecisive and negative. I'm calling it a third strike-out until I hear otherwise.
My boss over at the theater says that the owner of the gym where he works is planning on giving me a call this week. There's also a temp agency that an actor-acquaintance of mine clued me into.
Something will come up.