Interview Humor

Lawrence Van Gelder

NY Times, Sunday September 7, 1997, Business Section, page 12.

Full Employment. Politicians promise it. But can it ever be more than a glorious mirage as long as there are job applicants who rearrange the interviewer's office furniture, change soiled diapers on the personnel manager's desk or fall asleep between questions? As the mail indicates, some job seekers are equipped with self-destruct buttons

Fred Siegel, the president of an executive search and human resources consulting corporation in Manhattan, remembers one interviewee in particular.

"We were interviewing for a very senior banking position for perhaps the most conservative bank in the United States, and our prime candidate arrived with no shoes," he writes. "The strange thing was, she didn't seem to notice."

It happened this way. The candidate took an overnight flight from San Francisco to New York and was exhausted by the time her plane landed. Bound for the 9:30 A.M. interview, she got a taxi, took off her shoes and fell asleep during the ride into the city. "She left her shoes in the taxi, and came immediately to the interview, without actually realizing she wasn't wearing them," Mr. Siegel writes.

But Mr. Siegel said his strangest interview was with a person he calls Pill man. A candidate for an investment banking position, Pill Man arrived looking very dapper and carrying an alligator briefcase.

He sat down, and while Mr. Siegel was reviewing his resume, the man opened his briefcase, took out 15 bottles of pills and lined them up along the edge of Mr. Siegel's desk. He then took out three cans of soda and placed them strategically in the line.

Mr. Siegel said nothing.

As the the interview began, the candidate opened a soda and the first five pill containers and started taking his pills.

Mr. Siegel writes: "He never said a word to about the pills and I never said a work to him. Other than that it was a good interview.

In 19 years of human-resources work, Ruth Dorter of Queens has met a number of memorable self-defeating applicants. There was the woman who washed her underwear in the restroom sink. (Ms. Dorter learned of the event when a colleague knocked on her door during the interview and asked that the sink be cleared for normal use.) Then there was the candidate who said he had heard about the job opening from the Shah of Iran. (At the time, the Shah had been dead about 10 years.) And there was the candidate whose cellular phone rang during the interview. He asked Ms. Dorter to excuse herself while he took the call.

People have all sorts of reasons for applying for jobs. Debra W. Haffner has fond memories of the Long Island woman she interviewed for the post of development director of a small nonprofit organization on 42d Street in Manhattan.

Asked why she was interested in changing jobs, the woman replied "I really like to shop. And the shopping in midtown is much better than the shopping on Long Island.

Ms. Haffner writes: "I ended the interview in short order."

The man applying for a high-powered sales position had already indicated to Bette BonFleur of Orlando, Florida, that he was interested in working only about 30 to 35 hours a week. (She had expected him to say 55 or so.) Then Ms. BonFleur asked her next question: "How do you get past a secretary to her boss, the decision-maker?"

"You want the truth? he said. "Of course," replied Ms. BonFleur, who was then abut 45 and working in the news syndication business. After describing some secretaries with words like "battle-ax" and worse, he pointed to his handsome face: "Frankly," he said, "a guy like me doesn't have a problem with most women." He finished the interview with his own question: "So, what do you think? Do I have a shot at this?"

Selby Drake of Sparks, Nevada, outside Reno, remembers the young woman who answered ad advertisement for a clerical position and was called for an interview. She arrived with her parents.

They asked and answered all questions.

The job, Dr. Drake recalls, went to another candidates, who flew solo throughout the interview.

Deborah Hunter of Atlanta has an indelible recollections of the day when she was member of he law firm's hiring committee. A colleague had a habit of asking each law student who applied to describe one thing that wasn't on his resume of which he was proud.

One young man neither paused nor blinked before replying:

"Well, I'm particularly good in bed."

Then there was the applicant who had just completed his first year at a top-20 law school. Ms. Hunter asked, "So how did you do in your first year?"

He replied, "I'm the last person in my class."

Surprised that he didn't sugar-coat his answer by saying he was in the bottom half or quarter, Ms. Hunter asked, "How do you know that?"

He answered promptly, "Everyone who did worse than me dropped out."

Lorin Preston Gill, the president of a small filter-manufacturing business in Rochester, N.H., was interviewing a candidate for a job that combined driving and production work. The applicant explained that he had lost his license and wouldn't be able to drive.

Mr. Gill figured that he could shift some other employees around to handle the road chores, and he arranged for the candidate to have an interview a week later with the head of production. Mr. Gill shook hands with the prospect and off he went.

"A few minutes later," Mr. Gill writes, "I saw him driving away."

Phyllis Sheerin Ross of Silver Spring, Md., has a colleague in the human resources department of a computer corporation who regales her with tales of less-than-ideal applicants.

One candidate arrived with a portable shopping cart filled with groceries and wore his motorcycle helmet throughout the interview. He said he was in a hurry to get home and put his groceries away.

He got his wish, but not a job.

Thomas J. Newman of Racine, Wis., says he has been interviewing candidates and teaching interviewing skills for more than 35 years.

One of his favorite applicants was the fellow who listed his mother as a reference. Mr. Newman called her.

She said, "I wouldn't hire him; he's not very dependable."

Mal Stevens of Freehold, N.J., a recruiter was working for a personnel agency in Manhattan many years ago when a woman arrived and demanded a job that day. The office, however, was about to close early, for a religious holiday.

Informed by a job counselor of the early closing, she grabbed a pair of scissors from his desk and stabbed him in the arm. Then she ran up the stairs to another personnel office, where the manager went through the motions of setting up a 3 P.M. interview with a Fortune 500 corporation while he waited for the police to arrive.

As the woman was escorted out by the police, she called out, "Is this what you call a 3 P.M. interview?"

Mary Federico remembers the flamboyantly dressed, wild-haired, heavily made-up woman who applied for a saleswoman's job some years ago at a telecommunications company that was beset with financial problems. Given the company's precarious fiscal state, Ms. Federico felt obligated to ask the woman, as she had all job candidates,

"How do you feel about risk?"

The woman replied, "Well, I ride a Harley." Then she paused and said, "But I've been clean for four years."

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