"Offering him a job, but now he don't want it. DAMN, it feels good to see people up on it!"
- Biz Markie (The Vapors)
I've finally moved from the theater of academia to the starting line of the rat race.
Last week, after the semester ended, I interviewed for HR positions with two organizations. I had decided early last fall that I would likely take some time off from school to focus on finding a "Real Job." The woman who supervises my internship suggested that I apply for everything in sight because I could benefit from the interview experience. I happily ignored this advice because a) I've been on more interviews than Mike Wallace and b) I didn't want to waste valuable time being interviewed for positions that I knew I wouldn't accept. Frankly, at this point, I'd like to think that I'm beyond begrudgingly working a pointless, non-career 9-to-5. After all, I'm not spending evenings and weekends cramming Total Quality Management theory into my skull to work at the Piggly Wiggly.
To this end, I put on a suit and tie and paraded myself in front of two prospective employers like a smiling, agreeable show pony. Because I'm not especially fond of the entire process, I made sure both interviews occurred on the same day - one at 9am and the second at 12:30pm. The morning of, I woke up at about 5:30am to begin my short but necessary pre-interview ritual.
The first thing I do is finalize a list of questions that I intend to ask. Many people overlook this part. I don't. The questions that you ask an interviewer are just as important as those that they ask you, and can differentiate you from other candidates. Also, pointed questions (about the company's mission, future, etc.) establish that you're not just some chump looking for a job.
The second thing I do is pick out some music to listen to during my drive. This part may seem inessential to some of you but I find that I need to listen to something that puts me at ease while I'm on my way to having my worth evaluated by strangers. That day, I chose Amy Winehouse's Back to Black which, despite her propensity for rapid and public self-destruction, is, for my money, far and away the best album of the year (apologies to Talib Kweli and Ghostface).
To make a long story short, I was completely unimpressed by the first place. They kept me waiting (close to an hour!) before they brought me up to be interviewed (I later found out they had me scheduled for the wrong time). Also, they asked position-specific questions about which I was clueless. Finally, I was dressed MUCH better than were the folks conducting the interview, which, to my mind, is inexcusable. If they're mailing it in during the interview process how will they perform if I actually work for them?
The second interview went almost seamlessly. Honestly, except for a minor hiccup, I couldn't have scripted it better. I met with a panel of four. I did my thing: beautifully attached my own personal philosophy to the mission of their organization, answered all of their questions creatively, credibly and without hesitation and floored them with follow-up inquiries. Then, from the Senior Compensation Analyst, came the inevitable "compliment" that white folks just can't seem to stop giving some of us: "Wow. You're really articulate!" I was in a bad spot. On the one hand, I really wanted this position. On the other, I've NEVER allowed white folks to get away with that one. What to do? As is my tendency, I cordially responded with, "Thank you! So are you!" Me and my big mouth.
After I left, I sped home and peeled myself out of my corporate armor. Much to my surprise, I received a call from the first place. Despite my initial feeling about the interview and my inexperience, they offered me the position. Wow. I told them I'd have to consider it and get back to them. Not two hours later, the second place called and wanted me to come in, as soon as I could, for a follow-up interview. I told them I was off the next day and could come in whenever they had time to see me. So, the following day, I met with the HR Director. Roughly three hours after the conclusion of the second interview, I received a call from the recruiter who'd been serving as the contact person for the second employer. She told me that I'd been so impressive that they wanted to hire me at a HIGHER RATE than the range I'd been told of.
Needless to say, I accepted the second offer, but not without certain assurances. I've learned that the manner in which one enters an organization is important. You can't negotiate salary, benefits, vacation, perks, etc. after you start in a position. These things need to be decided beforehand. As a business-savvy friend of mine is fond of saying, "They're not going to rescind the offer just because you ask for more money." So, as awkward as it felt, I told them that my acceptance hinged on my being allowed to take a paid vacation in March. This they found satisfactory.
I'm still smiling as I type this.