“Here’s the way I will structure this interview. I will speak and ask you questions for 40 minutes. At the end of the 40 minutes, you will have 15 minutes to ask me questions. We then will end 5 minutes early so I can prepare for my next call. Do you agree? Okay, let’s begin.”
And so my first interview for another role within my company began. After 19 years of working steadily for this company, I had to secure another position based on recent consolidations and resource shifts within our organization. In other words, I was interviewing for my corporate life.
This potential new executive I would be reporting to had obviously taken one of those seminars on how to structure an interview. To ask those questions “inquiring minds” want to know. And as a good corporate citizen, he was adhering to a basic rule on the corporate pathway to success… put the other person on the hot seat before you get burned yourself.
Having been around the corporate block more often than I care to admit, up the corporate ladder and even once down for the count… the questions were nothing I hadn’t handled before. Strengths, weaknesses, value statements… this should be a quick 40 minutes. Let the games begin.
And then it started.
“I am going to give you two words. You must indicate which word best describes your management or performance style. You must choose one of the words. I will not accept any answers in the middle. Let us begin.”
“Strategic or Creative? Doer or Enabler? Bondage or Domination?”
Okay, I wasn’t really asked the third question… but I did feel somewhat constrained, and not in a good way. My home office suddenly felt like a white box in a laboratory where electrodes were monitoring my internal tics to see how I reacted. And the reaction wasn’t good.
The interviewer started another round of questions, more obtuse and psychologically ridiculous than the previous set. I now had to define basic technology terms (I am a seasoned high-tech marketing professional) in ten words or less.
Was this a corporate vocabulary test devised by a second-tier marketing manager with too much time on his hands? Someone drunk on the corporate Kool-Aid who wanted to be the cool new kid in company town?
The sands of my company time running out flashed before my eyes.
“What is Cloud?” (cirrus, cumulus and stratus not acceptable)
“Web?” (What kind of tangled one was he trying to weave?)
“Middleware?” (this interview was wearing thin quickly)
After nearly 30 years as a successful marketer, I was being asked to play Wheel of Fortune for my corporate life. Someone with less experience in a better place – and at the wrong time for me – was now in the position to make me jump through hoops and make every shot at me count.
It was like being asked the proverbial $64,000 plus benefits, paid holidays and 401(K) match game question.
And I realized, like hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of men and women (of a certain age over 50), I did not have the answers for the very first time. I was a middle-aged, middle-class middle manager mired in the midst of it all.
Let’s be honest. I wanted to roar against the absurdity of my precarious situation but wasn’t against lying to keep the paychecks coming. I was sick of being meek like a sacrificial lamb to the corporate slaughter but knew that was impossible when you need to put lamb chops on the table. I wanted to scream and shout and let it all out but desperately wanted to be in and not out the door.
Sick and tired of being tired of people like this, but not well off enough to take two giant steps forward and provide some two-word combinations of my own… suck and wind, f*** and off.
With one child just out of college and one more still to go, I would have to play red light, green light, one, two, ten years more. To pay for my daughter’s basketball games, I would have to stay in the corporate game.
Why had I left myself so exposed financially that the thought of being displaced and replaced rocked the very foundations of suburban life? How many men longing to play Saturday links were instead scouring LinkedIn morning, noon and night? Keeping it all under the covers updating cover letters and figuring out ways to cover the bills just in case, just in case…
The very hint of corporate jettisoning felt like primal abandonment and I desperately wanted to scream at my corporate inquisitor… “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” But I knew I was willing to take it for that whole 40 minutes if it meant trying to avoid a month of severance and unpaid vacation pay.
Oprah says live your best life. Suze Orman offers practical financial advice for a rainy day. And I hear it. Platitudes and pundits offering you the tools and tips to weather any storm. But I wonder… have they been asked to define themselves while the corporate clock marks one’s time?
If they have, then I’m listening… in ten words or less. Time starts now.