Clueless College Grad’s 1st Interview in the Business World
“I have a college degree,” I said.
And she said, “That’s nice. What can you do?”
It was my first grownup, post-college job interview in the business world. Here’s how it went.
I was ready to launch my career in business. I’d never worked in an office before, but I knew that’s where the jobs were, so I made an appointment with a staffing company.
The day of my interview, I got dressed in my new pink dress with red cuffs, and matching red shoes and purse. It was the perfect outfit, and my hair looked great. I was ready.
I stood at the door of the office for a minute to gathered my courage, and went in. A nice woman at the front desk handed me my very first job application. I took it and wrote down the name of the middle school where I’d taught for two years. (I’d been hired over the phone without an interview.)
I wrote down the two departments at the University of Georgia where I worked throughout college. I didn’t think she needed to know about my two-day career as a cashier in a grocery store.
“Let me explain. I was not cut out for the high-pressure work of cashiering. When you don’t hit all the right buttons on the cash register, you have to start over. And it takes a lot of time when you have to do a whole cart-full of groceries over. And I was supposed to remember the prices for beans, and carrots, and parsnips, all at the same time. It was hard to remember anything when the line of customers was getting longer and longer. And I didn’t even know what a parsnip was.”
I finished the application lickety-split (I hoped my quickness would impress her), and gave it back to the woman. She buzzed someone on the phone, and another woman came out and took my application, and me, to a room with a desk and two chairs.
As she read through my application, she made what I took to be little encouraging comments.
“Hmmm, okay. Good.”
She tapped her pen on the application.
“I see here you were a teacher for two years. How fast do you type?” *
“Yes. Uh…I don’t type,” I said.
“Didn’t you have to type your papers in college?”
“No. I paid another student to type them.”
“Did you ever work in an office at all?”
“No,” I answered.
“What were your jobs during school?”
“My first year I worked in the audio-visual department of the school of education. It was in a classroom,” I answered, relieved to say I did something.
“What did you do?”
“I taught students to use the film projector, change film, and splice film. The next year, I changed to work in the file room of the dean’s office. I filed forms.”
“Hmmm,” she said again. “The A-V department sounds more interesting than filing. Why did you change?”
“The films we used for training were World War II training films. The army made them for paraplegics, quadriplegics, and amputees to teach them how to use prosthetic arms and legs, and to show how many things they could do without arms or legs. After I watched them for a while, I preferred filing,” I explained. Then I added, “I wasn’t very good with the mechanics of the projectors anyway.”
“Uh huh,” she said and wrote something on my application. “And in the dean’s office, you never, ever typed anything?”
“They let me type names of books on index cards, but I had trouble loading the cards into the typewriter. But she said they didn’t have to be perfect.”
“I see. Did you answer phones?” I sensed she was on my side and trying to find some usable experience.
“Once I think I did. No, twice, and I took a message!” I said, brightly.
“Yes! I almost forgot. I collated too.”
“Okay, then. Let’s see what we have for you.”
She opened a five-by-eight file box and thumbed through it. She pulled out a card. In spite of my lack of qualifications, she had an interview for me.
“But,” she said, “first, you need to sign this agreement that you will pay the fee if I place you in a job.”
“I thought the employers paid the fees.” (I’m sure she was thinking I’d be lucky if some employer let me buy a job.)
“Many of them do, but you can’t type and you really don’t have any experience. There aren’t as many jobs for you. Go ahead and go on the interview. You don’t have to take the job if you don’t want to. Sign this, in case you decide you do want it.”
“But what about the ad you posted for a college graduate?” I asked. “It said no experience and the fee was paid.”
“Oh, I’m sorry for the confusion. That job is for a man.“
“Go to the third floor of the Bryant store at 1420 F Street and see Mrs. Jones. She said she is willing to train and she doesn’t need you to type.”
I found the Bryant store between two boarded up buildings. It looked scary, but I went in. A gigantic elevator took me to the third floor. The whole floor was one big room with dusty wood floors and a wall of filing cabinets.
Mrs. Jones sat at a metal table under a single lightbulb that hung from the ceiling. She had a pencil pushed through her bun and another one in her teeth, and she was clanking away at a calculator, with its tape flowing into a paper pool on the floor. She saw me, took the pencil out of her mouth, and dropped it.
“You’re from the agency? For the interview? She sent you? This is a record-keeping job.”
“Do you have any experience?”
“I worked in college and taught middle school.”
“This would be your desk,” she said, and my eyes got big.
I didn’t say anything but I smiled and nodded. She looked me over, from my new interview suit to my cute shoes and matching purse.
“I’m going to do you a favor, Hun. I’m going to let you leave.”
So, I left, and returned to the lady at the agency to learn what else the world had in store for a non-typing ex-schoolteacher.
*At that time, there was a typewriter on every desk instead of a computer.
Read my next post about my second interview experience where I learned why men should be paid more than women.