Help Unwanted

But Enough of Your Qualifications;
What’d You Do If the Sky Were Red?

For millions of Americans, Friday is not so good anymore: what used to be a time for excitement, the beginning of the weekend, TGIF and all that, now has a dreadful feeling. Another week is over, and it’s almost sure no one will call you back with a job offer today.
In fact, one of the travesties of unemployment is that it inverts things: suddenly, Mondays actually don’t seem so bleak. Neither Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and even Thursdays, although that’s already pushing it. At this point, frankly, who needs any more time off?
You can’t afford even a lousy Latte, and the prospect of spending any extra time with the now unrestrained frustration of your mate can’t be good for your cholesterol. All you can think about weekends these days is that the better rest of the nation is out, deservedly enjoying the mild winter, while you’re inside, feeling miserable.
So in solidarity, we’ll tell everyone a little of what you and the millions of jobless in this country have been facing out there. It’s about a bizarre world ruled by sadistic interviewers who strive at tossing one outlandish question after another at you, just to throw you off and keep a pile of resumes they’ve received to a manageable size.
There are many categories in the guise of a method for this madness. There’s the hypothetical specialist: “Sell me an invisible pen.” (P&G) The sophisticated mathematician: “Twenty-five racehorses, no stopwatch, five tracks. Figure out the top three fastest horses in the fewest number of races.” (Facebook)
The deranged sport-buff: “What is your strategy at table tennis?” (Citigroup). The teasingly insane: “Would you be okay hearing “no” from seven out of 10 customers.” (Enterprise). And the certified psycho: “If I was a genie and could give you your dream job, what and where would it be?” (Pottery Barn)
These are actual questions, asked in job interviews and reported to, an online job community that encourages people to anonymously share an inside look at companies. Which, honestly, sounds like another exercise in pure mental abnormality, but anyway.
By now, at least 15.5 million of that desolate crowd have heard at least three times over that this kind of question is designed to gauge the candidate’s ability to “think on his feet.” Or to show his “thought process.” Or it may be just because the recruiter is, indeed, deranged.
In fact, another reason for anyone to wish they had already lost their minds is the amount of career advisers and job

counselors and resume specialists, who’re eager to give you pointers that mainly would confirm how far off the track you may be from getting a job anytime soon. And that will be $49.99 a month, thank you very much. Guaranteed to help, heaven help us all.
If you could describe Hershey, Godiva and Dove chocolate as people, how would you describe them?” (Lubin Lawrence). “How would you market a telescope in 1750 when no one knows about orbits, moons, etc?” (VWR International). And the now classic, “If you walk into a liquor store to count the unsold bottles, but the clerk is screaming at you to leave, what do you do?” (Diageo North America).
Human resources professionals love to have this arsenal to prevent the barbarians (that means you, the job seeker) to penetrate their citadel, of course. It also helps that they usually have no idea what kind of professional you really are, or what means the specifics of your training and expertise, so they’d be lost if had to actually inquire about your qualifications.
It’s also deviously fun to relate the question to the company that is asking it. So Google, the search engine giant that’s trying to pulverize Facebook, couldn’t come up with anything but, “You are climbing a staircase. Each time you can either take one step or two. The staircase has n steps. In how many distinct ways can you climb the staircase?” They are obviously interested in actually hiring a teacher to help their own sixth-grader to solve math problems they have no clue about, no doubt.
Down at Capital One, they’re asking: “How do you evaluate Subway’s five-foot-long sub policy?” certainly thinking about cutting down the time their staff takes in their lunch breaks. And at Gryphon Scientific, they’re going for the kind of drinker most alcoholics despise, the exotic-concoction aficionado, with, “How many cocktail umbrellas are there in a given time in the U.S.?
Back at those advisers, who once must have been on your exact same position, and either developed a program they now successfully sell to headhunters or published a self-help book that pays for their bills, the word is, looking for a job is a full-time job. Subtlety is, obviously, not their forte, but who cares? They surely have what it takes for being hired by HR professionals.
Ready for more? Brown & Brown Insurance is most likely thinking about having you as a client, not as an employee: “How would you rate your life on a scale of 1 to 10?” Merrill Lynch seems to have a lot of time on its hands: “Tell me about your life from kindergarten onwards.
And UBS is apparently trying to be ready in case another near-collapse hits its global industry: “If we were playing Russian roulette and had one bullet, I randomly spun the chamber and fired but nothing was fired. Would you rather fire the gun again or respin the chamber and then fire on your turn?
We’re not going to insult your intelligence, repeating what you probably have heard hundreds of times, about what to do in this or that situation. We won’t even ask you to take our advice and run counter wise, just because we’re convinced that if an interview is not designed to evaluate your professional abilities, then they may be asking something blatantly personal and illegal.
But who are we to argue with these people? They obviously solved their own problems, and that’s why they’re the ones behind a desk, not you, telling you they will call you eventually when you know damn well they won’t. Then again, we’re also at this side of that desk. But help us god if one day we should stop seeing them for what they really are.
After all, that’s all we got, and we owe to ourselves to tell us, mentally, of course, these people are only as concerned about losing their own jobs as you are about getting one. In the big scheme of things, if they really believe in this garbage, it’s their problem. But you know what they’d say to that, right? Exactly the same thing you suspect they say, the moment you leave the room.
And there’s nothing you can do about that either. As there’s not much you could do today. Wise people use to say that if the advice was so good, it’d be charged, not offered you as a gift, but we’ll go ahead and give you one anyway: relax this weekend. Go to a park, lay on the grass, take your kid to the movies on borrowed money.
In other words, do everything we’re trying really hard to do but haven’t been able to yet. You have our blessing. Deep down, we even understand our mate’s murderous feelings towards us. We may not have ourselves in the high echelon of esteem right now either. But we haven’t given up thinking just yet. That’s all. We’ll be right here, thinking.

* This article was published originally on Colltales July 15, 2011.

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