This past week, I had the worst job interview of my life…and it wasn’t all my fault. I swear.
There was a Director, HR position at a relatively well-known Los Angeles Jewish Community Center. No, I’m not going to tell you which one.
I thought this position would be perfect. I applied faster than ever before. I knew I could do great things there.
Within 24-hours, I received an email from the “Pro-Bono” Attorney performing the search. I always get scared when attorneys lead the interviewer process. No offense to my attorney friends, but interviewing is usually not their strong suit. I digress. She told me that my resume was “impressive” and that she would “LOVE” to speak with me at my earliest convenience. I was psyched! The next day we had a regular phone screen. Even as we were speaking, I could tell she was fishing for mistakes, a bit combative, and was testing my every response. The interview lasted less than twenty minutes and I literally thought I had failed the interview. This should have been my first clue not to continue.
It turns out that I knew someone influential on the board at this particular Jewish Center. Gotta love my Gay Jewish community! That weekend, we spoke briefly about my HR skills, Operations skills, and my objectives and goals for the future. We had a great and lively conversation. Once again, stoked!
Well…he must have done something because later that week, I received a phone call from the Pro Bono attorney, with bitterness in her voice, requesting an in-person interview the following week. I was enthused once again! Something inside me, however, told me differently. I figured that if the attorney would be present, things could get interesting. (Note the not-so-blatant foreshadowing).
The Rabbi Room.
I arrived early like every good doobie should AND I had perused the website various times tin preparation. An interesting and alternative man walked up to me and introduced himself as the Rabbi. I thought… what did I get myself into? As we walked down the corridor, we pass by what would be the “Corporate” offices. After enjoying the cushy office spaces of The Guitar Center, Live Nation, and KornFerry, I have to admit, I had a mini-panic attack as I realized the non-profit world would be way closer to my experiences in Mexico than anything else.
We arrive at the Rabbi Room and as he closed the door behind me, he advised me that it will be a three-on-one interview. First rule of interviewing, three-on-one is never a good situation unless it’s in the bedroom. (And, even then, you have to be careful and situations can get sticky). It’s uncomfortable for the interviewee no matter what the setting. Red flag! I tried to convince the inner voice inside which literally said, RUN, that in the essence of time management, they needed to conduct the interviews in that ungodly fashion.
The Pro Bono attorney officially introduced herself and then inaudibly motioned to the random guy to her left. We all sit down and it is UNCOMFORTABLE. They all have my resume in front of them. They all bow their heads as if in a moment of silence and then, the questions begin. And they’re off!
The Wrong Answer.
There were no pleasantries. There were no salutations. It was business and they were out for blood. The Rabbi, quiet for the first few minutes, turned to me in the middle of when I was answering three other questions thrown at me from either the Pro Bono attorney or the Rabbi’s assistant. He inquired as to how I went from Performing Arts and Languages (my major/concentration in college) to Human Resources. It’s a fair question. Here’s more or less how it all started to go south. And fast!
Seth: My parents always taught me while being creative is incredible, you always need to have a Plan B. So, HR became my Plan B.
Rabbi: Plan B? So what’s your Plan A?
Seth: Well…I just wrote and published a self-help book (blah, blah), and as a result I have received three new coaching clients. I’m a certified Life Coach. And…
Pro Bono Attorney (interrupts): I can’t believe you just said that in an interview! I mean, why would we EVER hire you? Here, I’m Pro Bono, but I normally charge my clients $800/hr and you are wasting…
(Is she for real? I cannot believe you just called me out like that? OK. Perhaps it wasn’t the best answer to start with…but I had premeditated a grand finish, to no avail.)
Rabbi: Why don’t we let him finish? Would you stay here long term? I mean, I don’t want you to leave after 3-6 months if your book takes off or… ???
Seth: (Pro Bono attorney glaring at me — wide-eyed, ready to pounce) May I finish? (I inhaled a couple deep breaths, taking what felt like three minutes but was actually more like 10 seconds to compose my thoughts). I love HR and when I spoke to the “Chairman,” (who I mentioned by name), he intimated to me that down the line a bit, you might be hiring an Operations Manager. (Blank stares everywhere). I am most interested in learning how to run a treatment center like this one, because that’s one of my 5-10 year long-term goals. And…
Pro Bono: So why aren’t you applying for Operations Manager positions? Why HR? Why are you even here? (Probably seeing RED!)
Rabbi: (trying to calm her down); It’s okay…let him answer.
Seth: I wanted to get in here. I wanted to start with HR and prove my value and worth, eventually perhaps taking over the administration of the center. That’s what I really want to do long term.
Pro Bono: Okay. I mean, I understand, but I still cannot believe you just admitted that in an interview about an HR position. Listen, we need to get to the scenarios guys. I mean, I don’t even know if we should continue…
Rabbi: Let’s continue. (turning to me) I really like your honesty and authenticity. Kudos to you for that! (turning back to them) Let’s see if he knows his stuff.
(It was as this point that I should have thanked them kindly and graciously walked out of the room. Instead, I shockingly re-considered saving face and, especially, since my acquaintance was the Chairman, I respectfully remained in my hot seat. That was the first time I wanted to leave. I lovingly want to interject here that I am, more often than not, a great interviewee. I always respond with thoughtful and intelligent answers and my demeanor is happy, easy-going, and authentic.)
Granted, I may not have started off the previous answer correctly, but I was definitely NOT prepared emotionally for what was about to happen. Within a second, the Pro Bono attorney starts to throw out situation-specific scenarios to see how I would handle them. It started with sexual harassment, then employees showing up drunk to work, and lead to employees embracing other employees at work.
Being from a more corporate environment (save Mexico), I knew the answers to their questions. However, given the rehab/community center atmosphere, depending on the environment, the precedent of the situations, and the policies of the organization, appropriate measures might vary. I answered the questions cautiously, making sure to take into consideration the rehab center/community center aspect. Well…they didn’t like cautious or inquisitive at all. I thought if I drew on my experiences to say how I had dealt with similar situations in the past, they would be satisfied. They were not down for that. They were not happy no matter what I said.
Pro Bono: Jeez, can you just answer the question already? Under California State Law, how would you handle this situation?
Eventually, I would answer their question satisfactorily, and then they would move on to the next scenario. They probably tested me with about six to eight various scenarios. Each time, I would inquire about their past handling with certain situations and each time, they would shoot me down and ask for . It was not fun. It was not amusing.
I must admit, when I finally did answer their every-day scenarios, they seemed to be impressed by my knowledge and ease with the answers. Listen, I’m a straight shooter and I know my Employee Relations issues. I didn’t survive two years in Mexico on my good looks! (Although they helped, I’m not gonna lie!)
The last one is for the record books.
Rabbi: What if you encounter a manager who swears all of the fucking time? How would you handle people who complain?
Pro Bono: Yea. How would you handle that situation? What would you do? Huh? Huh?
Seth: (staring at her blankly…really?) – Has the precedent been established that he curses all the time? And everyone knows it?
Rabbi: Yup…all the fucking time. And Everyone knows it.
Seth: If that’s the way he operates, then that’s the way he operates.
Pro Bono: Okay, so maybe you knew your stuff.
To Be Continued…
Next week, find out more about the potty-mouth Rabbi, my crazy confession, my polite correction of the Pro Bono attorney with regard to one of the California State Laws, and what was The Most Uncomfortable Moment in Any Interview…EVER! I was ready, once again, to pick up my stuff and leave the room. It was horrendous. Stay tuned.
1) Still doing my best to figure out how to afford my awesome tax bills. I’m making strides every day!
2) This Friday is my ligament repair surgery. It’s all going down at 12pm. I wish my family were here. Sigh. Send good vibes my way, please!
3) Sometimes the only way through anger is through your anger. The other side of anger is acceptance and embracing. Feel the anger. Express it. Then, move on!
A Smile From The Inside Production 🙂