educator, writer, speaker, devoted family man, amateur philosopher, chess enthusiast, basketball junkie, connoisseur of fine hip hop, and purveyor of wit and wisdom
This is post #1 in my Writer’s Block series. For a bit more info, click HERE.
Writer’s Block – Prompt #1: “Tell the story of a job interview that goes badly.”
After graduating from college (University of Redlands) in 1994, I worked a seasonal job on the east coast from September to December in an environmental education program called Nature’s Classroom. It was temporary, and when I got my first student loan bill, I realized I needed to return to southern Cali and find a more permanent job (something that came with an annual salary rather than the “room & board plus minimum wage” job at Nature’s Classroom.)
I returned to California in December and began searching the employment ads in the newspaper (no internet back then). I figured that my love of math would get me in the door for some bookkeeping jobs. In fact, that was all I looked for…desk jobs that allowed me to play with numbers all day.
After mailing my resume to a few companies with promising job openings, one place finally called me back. It was a small company, and to this day, I still don’t remember what the company actually did. All I remember was the interview itself.
I met with a man in a small drab, boring looking room. There were no windows, and the man had to prop open a door to get some air in the room. He looked over my resume, and then asked me to describe myself and to describe some of my work experience.
I understand that people who are in need of a job are supposed to say whatever they need to say to land the position. But this was my first real job interview, and I was too naïve to know what to do. So I told him the truth about me. I love math, and I love writing, and I needed to start working full-time, and if he would give me a shot, I’ll be the best bookkeeper he’s ever had.
This is when he told me something I’ll never forget. He said “Robert, I really need someone to start right away, and I really want to hire you, but I can’t.”
I was confused, and I asked him bluntly “Why can’t you hire me?”
He told me that I worked as a camp counselor for several summers, I worked for three months with middle school students as a naturalist in a outdoor education program, and, as a teenager, I worked for two years in a library, mostly in the children’s library section. He said that as much as he wanted to hire me, he felt that I would eventually get bored crunching numbers, and begin to deeply miss being around people. He said he needed someone permanently as a bookkeeper, and everything about me screamed “people person” and not “bookkeeper”.
That was the end of the interview, and I left confused and upset and…well, just confused because I had no idea what he was talking about. I felt that it was my worst interview, but looking back on it, I now realize that man was 100% correct. He saw something in me that I couldn’t recognize, and he did me a huge favor by not hiring me.
Two months later, with the help of a good friend named Elvira, I got my first full-time job working in Compton as a teacher for an alternative education program for kids on probation who wanted to get their G.E.D. That was the beginning of my career as a teacher.
So my worst interview turned out to be the best thing for my teaching career.