In honor of my appearance on Andy Traub's great Linchpin podcast, where he mentioned he particularly loved this passage in HOW TO FAIL, I thought I'd give it away for free online. It's from Chapter 13 "HOW TO FAIL TO BE NORMAL."
He led me toward his office where we took seats on our respective sides of his desk.
“Your resume just had us laughing our butts off and we knew we had to call you in.”
“Now let's get serious. Tell me why you want this position, Stuart.”
“Stop. Let me tell you why you want this position. Job interviews are as much about us wooing you as they are about you impressing us. And hey, we're already impressed or else we wouldn't have called you in. From the second I met you at the Clinton, I thought: now that kid's special. Not 'special' like retarded, that would be an insult, but special like special.” He leaned in, “But speaking of retards, we do follow the Americans With Disabilities Act here so even if you were retarded 'special,' we'd have to grant you an interview.”
“I'm not retarded.”
“No, you're not! Check in the positive column! But you're still different from the other slack-jawed kiss-ups I've already dealt with, swimming in their cheap suits.”
Yes, I was different. Special. There was nothing wrong with not being normal.
“You ever read those How To Interview For a Job books, Stuart? Heck, you might have read one on your ride over here.” Big Richard pulled a stack of books from the floor and fanned them out on his desk like a blackjack dealer.
301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions, Sell Yourself!: Master the Job Interview Process, The 250 Job Interview Questions You'll Most Likely Be Asked, Winning Job Interviews, Job Interview Secrets, Becoming Mr. Job Interview, How to Turn an Interview Into a Job, and, of course, Job Interviewing for Dipshits.
“Ever read any of these? No, not you. Bet you think these books are jokes. Written by folks with made-up titles used to dupe the public:
Dr. Paul Powers, Interview Psychologist
Bucky Davis, President and CEO Bucky Davis Career Placement Firm
Joanne McAller, Professor Emeritus Occupational Motivation, Washington & Lee University.”
Big Richard flipped the books over to the back covers, again like a dealer. Had he worked in A.C. or something?
“Look how ugly they are. How can we trust them to give us advice when they can't even stay fit enough to not disgust us by their author photos? These losers have never interviewed for a job in their lives. And you're supposed to take their advice?!”
I smiled nervously.
“You read these books, Stuart? They'd have you think a job interview goes something like this:
1. Why are you looking to leave your previous job?
“I'm not an idiot. It's obviously boring or your coworkers are ugly or, most likely, the pay is garbage. But you're not 'allowed' to say these things. You're supposed to say: 'I'm eager to conquer a new challenge.' Ha! Like you're Sir Ed Hillary.”
“Even better. So you desperately need money? Although I know New York state unemployment is quite sweet.”
I nodded in confirmation.
2. What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?
“I'd be happy for someone to say, 'I'll arrive every day, usually not hungover, I won't give 110% because, why would I? Not like I own the company. But I will give around 85% and only surf the internet for about five minutes every hour.'”
I wiped the sweat from my brow.
“As for weaknesses, what a dumb question. It could be reworded as: 'What is an awesome strength of yours you can make sound like a debilitating weakness even though you know very well it isn't?' 'Oh, I'm so embarrassed to admit this, but I'm a perfectionist. I always have to make sure to do everything to the best of my ability even if it takes a little longer.'”
He pointed at me.
“Other 'weaknesses' could include: caring too much about a job well done, devoting yourself fully to the company, and working long hours to the detriment of your social life. So I ask, Stu, give me a real weakness of yours.”
I could only think of one thing.
“I have to masturbate in the office bathroom at least once a day.”
“So do I. Which is awesome because I have my own private bathroom, as you can see. People wrongly assume the rich guys with nice offices don't whack off in them.”
3. Quick! Name the color spectrum from most to least refractive.
“Uh, Roy G. Biv. Red orange yellow...uh, gre-green blue, I for...indigo! Violet!”
“Nine seconds. I was testing how you handle stress. I figure that's better than asking you to relate some anecdote about the time you pulled an all-nighter to finish a project. I gotta say, we've had some decent candidates pass through these doors, but raconteurs they are not.”
4. What do you think the most rewarding aspects of this job will be?
“Don't say something about responsibility, initiative, or motivation, Stu.”
“Very good. I would have also accepted, and I'll say these in bullet points:
- getting to work in this state-of-the-art facility. Have you seen my desk chair? All three wheels rotate at once. You know how fast you can zip through the halls late at night?
- free lunches every day at the office cafeteria. Good stuff too! On Thursdays we have a make-your-own fajita bar. Pollo or carne asada.
- getting a corporate card you will use to buy drinks at least once a month for your buddies. That's not allowed but our accounting department is full of idiots so they'll never catch on. Heck, after a few months here, press your luck and start doing it twice a month!
- the chicks here are hot.”
5. Ooh, this is an important job interview question: Why do you want to enter this field?
“The books say you're supposed to spew out pablum about the industry being in line with your passions, your calling in life. Let's be honest, you don't really want to enter this field, you just need a job. Like a kid applying to work at Burger King or Best Buy. Maybe you'll be excited for the first few days, weeks, even months, but you'll eventually hate this job like you've hated every other job you've ever had. Yeah, me too. I hate this job. But I like being rich. I like laughing all the way to the bank.”
“Lately, I've been meeting a lot of people with that same hobby.”
6. What are your goals?
“'Facilitate' is a word you should say no matter how you answer this question: 'To facilitate the growth of the mergers & acquisitions department.' 'To use my position to facilitate a relationship with overseas markets.' 'To facilitate intercourse with the hot girl at the front desk.' Let's get real, your only goal should be to not lose your job, maybe occasionally get a raise. Aside from that, fuck facilitating goals at this place.”
7. What kind of salary are you looking for?
“We hope you're an idiot and want something lower than we're gonna offer. You want something too audacious, we don't want you. You'll be too hard to control and we'll assume you're always looking for something better.
“Here's a pen and Post-it note. Write the salary you're looking for, fold it in half, then slowly slide it across the desk. The books say I shouldn't embarrass you by making you say anything aloud.”
I wrote an audacious number down, 300% larger than my previous salary and 500% larger than my unemployment “salary.” Big Richard held the Post-it just under his eyeline.
“I'm going to look at this but I'm not going to offer any comment, good or bad. Instead, I will make a series of histrionic facial expressions which you will try to decipher in order to figure out what I think of your request.”
Big Richard looked at the Post-it. His expressions over the next ten seconds went, in order: curiosity, slight shock, concern, thoughtfulness, confusion, anger, sadness, happiness, elation, post-coital sleepiness.
“Good. We'll fly that up the HR flagpole and see if anyone salutes it. Now one final question:
8. Do you have any questions for me?
“Long as you ask a question you pass. A normal person would say, 'No. Think you covered everything' because, indeed, I did cover all the bases and only a moron would still need to know any thing. But job interviews are about finding the smartest moron. So ask any question you can so I can tell the big wigs—not the big Whigs like Zachary Taylor—that you asked a question in the 'Do you have any questions?' portion of this interview. Ask about accrued vacation days, our profit sharing program, health care benefits (please see Footchapter 13-A: How to Be a Hypochondriac Without Health Care)...”
“Where did you get your tie, Big Richard?”
“That's a question! Had a question mark at the end of it. If we were Spanish it would have an upside down question mark. It would be acceptable on Jeopardy! You pass. It's from Lord & Taylor. The Pat Sajak Collection. I like your tie too. Macy's? Phil Jackson Collection?”
“Century 21. Annie Lennox Collection.”
Big Richard reached his hand across the table to shake mine.
“We really thank you for coming in.”
With each handshake pump, Big Richard brought me to my feet like I was a car jack lifting up a flat. When I was fully erect, he walked me to the door.
“You did a great job today.”
I had barely spoken.
“Don't forget, the second you get home, write me a thank you note. Classy stationary, never e-mail. I won't read the card and will just throw it in the trash, but it's a must you send it. It'll do nothing to facilitate you getting the job, but don't send me a note and these books tell me your chances of getting hired will be irrevocably scarred.”
“Note. Noted.” I nodded.
“You'll hear from us by Monday.”
“I'm lying, of course. You'll hear nothing from us by Monday. Tuesday or Wednesday either. You'll get nervous, start second guessing yourself. 'I guess I screwed the pooch. Guess they didn't like me.' You'll start consulting your job interview books, asking your friends, 'Should I contact them? See what's up?' 'What could it hurt?' your friends will say. 'If you don't have the job, no big deal. If they're still on the fence, you'll have shown initiative and they'll admire that.' These clowns never consider a third option: we do want to hire you, we've just been too lazy to go through with it. Bugging us on the phone just makes you look needy. We hate needy and I hate answering the phone. Please don't bug me, I assure you, you will be contacted. Or not.”
Big Richard opened his office door.
“Now hurry outside to call your mommy to dissect everything I said.”
If you enjoyed that I think you'll love the rest of "HOW TO FAIL" too.