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The Interviewer

written by: Lorenzo Berardi

 

When people ask me about my job, I keep my answer as vague as possible.
“I'm what you may call a recruiter specialist,” I say, making the international gesture for brackets before 'recruiter' and after 'specialist.' Everyone is normally happy with that. However, there's always someone exceedingly inquisitive who wants to know the name of the company I work for.

“Well, you know, I'm kind of freelancing these days,” I tell them: “I consider myself a professionist of recruiting rather than a professional.” Now, this sounds so standoffish that it actually works. No one is going to enquire any further on what I do for a living. And that's exactly what I want. I don't like to boast around. I'm the same as everyone else. I'm a jolly good fellow and a hard worker.

Let's take today. I wake up at 6 sharp. Kiss Wifey, walk the dog, take a hot shower, have a quick breakfast. Then I drive for one hour in the most horrendous traffic to reach an ugly industrial park in the outskirts of town. The kind of place with empty benches overlooking parking lots and evergreen saplings encircling switched off fountains.

'Heritage House,' the inconspicuous headquarters of the Big Company, is a long low parallelepiped with its main entrance resembling a traditional Chinese gateway. It's a sort of clumsy homage to the origins of the firm that was originally founded in Hong Kong and it never ceases to amuse me. The secretary and security guy in the lobby welcome me with a lacklustre “Good morning.” She pushes a button and lets me pass skipping a row of turnstiles.
Five minutes and a coffee gulped down later, I'm already on duty. At 8:30 I welcome the first applicant of the morning. I meet him in the Brussels Room, where the wallpaper shows the Atomium standing against an impossibly blue sky.

My guy looks too young for the role, too nervous, and sweats a lot. I spot several wet halos darkening strategic parts of the blue shirt he wears (no tie: bad.) Also, he has an irritating way of moving his right leg up and down non stop when he talks. I assume he is either in urgent need of a toilet or an amateur drummer. Fuck knows. When I tell him I'm the Team Leader in the 'EMEA Dispute Resolution Department' and that the role he applied for within it could be a monotonous one, he isn't impressed.

His chief concerns are others.
“What about the bonuses?,” he asks, moving his right leg even faster and leaning on the table thus getting closer to me. “Is it true that they can reach up to 20% of the monthly salary as you wrote in the ad?” He adds, wiping out a droplet of sweat from his left temple. His breath smells bad. Maybe he has got some issues with his liver; given his humble background that would be hardly surprising.

I shift my head a bit to avoid breath contact and smile my famous smile to him: “Yes, they do,” I reply: “And let me tell you something more, Pete: I appreciate that you're adamant about this point. To be honest with you, most of those I've been interviewing for the role are afraid to talk about bonuses. You're not. And that's fantastic. It shows you're goal driven. It shows you're ambitious. This is precisely the kind of ambition we're looking for at the Big Company and in my EMEA DRD Team, you know? After all, at the end of the day, we're all in this tough corporate world for the money, aren't we?”

He nods back to me. He smiles displaying a set of crooked teeth. Awesome. That was awesome. He knew straight from the moment we met that it was clever of his to ask about the bonus in this interview. Now he thinks how lucky he is that his future Team Leader is such a good-natured fellow, a down to earth guy who doesn't believe in business guff and corporate bullshit. He has found someone who speaks his same language, someone who doesn't beat around the bush. Someone who may even join him for his five Friday pints at the roadside pub after work.

Yes, that shy, sincere smile means a lot. For my part, I suddenly realize that those decayed teeth on both corners of his mouth could play a role in that halitosis of his. Or shall I stick to blaming the liver? Anyways, from this point of the interview onwards, Pete does pretty well. He is relaxed, stops sweating on his forehead, even giggles at a couple of jokes I keep as trivial as possible on purpose.

When I shake his sticky right hand, twenty minutes later, telling him: “I hope we will have you on board next week, mate,” I can see he's happy and cannot wait to leave the Brussels Room and the 'Heritage House.' He wants to call his girlfriend from a bench by the parking lot and tell her: “Honey, good news...I think they liked me a lot!” On his way back home he will take a pizza or burgers so that they can celebrate together his successful interview watching 'Masterchef' on telly or their favourite series on Netflix.

This awareness is the reason why I still enjoy my job, with all of its ups and downs. It makes me feel like a better person, almost like a benefactor. I don't do charity, but I give people like Pete something to look forward to. More than that. I give them hope. And, God, how hope is important to them! They deserve to get a chance in their gloomy lives and I'm the man who helps them getting it. I make them feel at ease. I boost their self confidence. Now call me an idealist, but I believe these people need someone like me in their lives.

Of course Pete won't get the job. He's totally underqualified for the position of 'Junior Financial Representative,' has never worked with SAP and, on top of all this, dared to ask about bonuses during our interview. That's a big no no for the Big Company and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to get it.

I barely have the time to jot down and file my report on Pete in the 'HR & Recruitment' folder, before starting my second chat of the day. This time, I'm going to be the 'NORAM Client Satisfaction Department' Team Leader, a role that I prefer to the EMEA DRD one. I like to pepper my nonsense with chosen American English terms.

Unfortunately, the chubby Italian lady I interview isn't able to appreciate my characterization. Her English is soft-spoken, but flawed by an awful accent as well as by a very peculiar way of ending each and every sentence with a question mark.
“I think I'm very ready to join the Big Company?” She tells me or asks herself.
“No, but the different time zone with US is not a problem for me?” She ponders.
Now I may ignore her looks, accent and odd spoken punctuation, but not the fact she doesn't hold a driving license: “But I will take one soon, I promise?”

I'm sorry Miss, but I don't buy this bullshit. I know your type. Yes I do. You're one of those women complaining that buying, maintaining, fuelling and insuring a car costs too much. You're one of those suffragettes who believe in the punctuality of public transports which is of course something ridiculous in this country. For one thing, there's no such thing as public transports here: we privatized that long ago. And secondly, our buses aren't meant to run on time: as simple as that. Understood?
Look, there's only one bus taking you to this industrial park and it runs every forty minutes on office hours. Hence, if you miss your morning bus or if number 14 is late for any bloody reason, you're pretty much fucked. You know all this. But because you're one of those women, you're going to complain with your broken English on social networks. You will be whining that the bus is late, the service unreliable, the driver a racist or a pervert because he gave you the looks. You will be signing online petitions together with a bunch of other angry commuters asking for the bus service to be implemented and the driver dismissed. You and your lot are actually the main reason why privatized public transport went to the dogs in this country.
Now, I and the Big Company won't have any of this. Why do you think they moved their headquarters from downtown to this middle of fucking nowhere? To discourage lazy bus chicklit readers like you from applying, Miss!

That's one of the cons of my job as a recruiter specialist: I have to keep to myself all that I think about the people I interview on behalf of my partners. I have to smile my famous smile and play the nice guy. Alas! There's no room for honesty in my activity. Even though I believe hearing the truth about them would help these people applying to positions more suitable for their needs. Hence, saving a lot of their time. And mine too.

“It's fantastic you're willing to take a driving license, Miss Farelli. However, you don't need to worry about it. Look, there's a bus stop right across the street and we have a wide range of incentives for the employers who commute by public transport or by bike. I know this well as I cycle to work each day myself, come rain come shine. After all, we must all play our part to reduce carbon footprints and be environmentally friendly, isn't it?”

I spend the rest of the morning interviewing two more people at the 'Heritage House' in my temporary capacities of NORAM CSD TL. Both of them don't have a clue on what kind of role they applied for. I don't know on what grounds they were called up for an interview, but that’s no business of mine. However, I hate wasting my precious time on people who didn't even bother to check the Big Company on Wikipedia before showing up. I feel like my professional recruiting techniques could be put into much better use elsewhere.

At 11:30 I leave the Chinese gateway behind and drive back to town. I eat a sandwich and slurp a latte somewhere on the road. I call Wifey at her work and remind her to take Keynes – our dog – to the vet at 4 pm. Wifey works part-time in the public administration. If I told you the name of her office you wouldn't probably guess what they do there. But, to be honest, I'm not sure I remember it myself. All that I know is that she handles invoices.

Don't take me wrong. I care a lot about Wifey. It's just that, understand, I've been playing so many team leading roles these years and in so many departments and for so many multinationals that there's simply no more room left in my brain. Too many core values to remember. Too many acronyms to memorize. Too many CVs I flipped through.

Do you want to know how I do it? Well, it's no different from acting. Only that my audience is always one person at once. And instead of a script, my partners send me Powerpoint presentations full of facts and figures. My partners are my Point of Contacts within the corporations that want me to lead face to face interviews on their behalf. Do you want to know why these companies do it? Fuck knows! They may not have enough recruiters or, perhaps, their recruiters don't know how to interview job candidates effectively because nobody trained them. Hence, they need a specialist and that's what I am: a travelling interviewer. I'm the intersection between supply and demand. Pardon my jargon.

I'll tell you a secret. Sometimes those very big firms out there simply don't need to hire anyone. What they need is to keep the people of their Recruitment Office busy by creating and posting fake job offers. That's why I'm often asked to interview candidates for non existent positions in non existent teams bullshitting on KPIs, SLAs, OPIs and the likes. Does it sound crazy? Well, perhaps it is, but it's also something that makes my job less dull and more creative. I'm actually after Theatre Studies, you know? I attended the National Theatre Academy, no less! Never graduated, though. Wasn't artsy fartsy enough, I suppose. Wanted to become a stand-up comedian, but apparently I wasn't that funny either. Luckily, I found my market niche soon enough.

In the early afternoon I work in the city centre at the Massive Multinational. They are one of my favourite partners. They have 'Fun Corners' with tabletennis and Playstations at every floor. Their cafeteria is jungle-themed and serves unlimited healthy snacks and tropical juices. My Point of Contact at the MM Recruitment is a hot auburn haired beauty in her late twenties named Lena. God, I could spend hours only looking at her when she speaks. Today she wears a tight white blouse that shows...but you don't need to know this. I'm a loyal husband. I love Wifey to bits. Still I cannot help noticing when a beautiful woman is around. Wouldn't you?

Anyways, I had three more interviews scheduled there, but only lead two as one of the candidates never shows up. It happens all the time, you know, and it always pisses me off. I find it so rude, so disrespectful towards your potential employer not to let them know you're not coming. Not to mention how rude and disrespectful is that to me that I have carefully rehearsed the part of your possible future Team Leader.

The two candidates I meet are quite decent, though. Lena isn't only a pretty face, but does know her business. She doesn't invite people to interviews for the sake of it. I believe that one of the two interviewees, a Belgian guy who speaks five languages and plays the trumpet in a jazz band, will be offered the position of 'Key Content Manager.' If that happens, it's just a pity he will only be asked to translate patient information leaflets from English to Flemish and viceversa.

Well, to each their own, I say. What is a polyglot doing in this country, I wonder? And how does he expect to find a respectable job when his first name is Cock? My word! Gosh, I feel for the poor man. And he's even able to joke about that. Kudos to him. I wonder if he's going to be disappointed when he will discover that his Team Leader is actually a Frenchman who enjoys poking fun at Belgians. You know, as the corporate narrative will go, I got a promotion soon after interviewing Cock and moved to Frankfurt.

***

On the road again. I'm supposed to lead two interviews at the Gigantic Business Organization whose clover shaped skyscraper towers above an artificial lake, thirty minutes drive from the city centre. But on my way there I get a text from Robert – my PoC – informing me that they are both called off. I'm not surprised. The GBO has been restructuring itself over the last months. Their big bosses in Indianapolis have probably decided to outsource the Operations Department in some dirty cheap shithole between Romania and the Philippines.

No big deal. I don't like interviewing on behalf of the GBO that much. They're not reliable partners as they always pay late. I check the time on my dashboard: it's just 3:45. I could come back home earlier and make a surprise to Wifey and Keynes. Yeah, why not? I have just started foretasting my sudden freedom, when an incoming call pops up on my iPhone. It's stronger than me: I can't ignore it.

“Mr. Adam?”
(That's me, by the way.)
“Speaking.”
“It's Barbara from The Huge Firm. You may not remember me, but we spoke a few weeks ago during our latest town hall meeting.”
(No memories of that conversation. I told you I'm selective in storing information.)
“Hello, Babs. Of course I remember! How do you do?”
“I'm all right thanks. I hope it's the same for you.”
“Can't complain.”
“Glad to hear that...Are you impossibly busy today, Adam?”
(The Huge Firm is shitloaded with money, Barbara's voice is sexily raspy.)
“Not at all. Not at all, Babs. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Well, yes...I've to ask you a big favour. If you don't mind. But please let me know if you cannot make it. I would understand.”
“I'm listening.”
“Fantastic! The thing is...we have a little emergency at The Huge Firm. We need to hire one person last minute for an important job starting tomorrow. Unfortunately, the person who should have led the interviews called sick last minute. Would you be so kind to take their place? So sorry to ask you now, but It's very urgent.”
“I see. Well, Babs, consider me in. I'm on the A21 right now heading west, but can make it to your HQ in...about twenty minutes?”
“Aw, that would be just perfect! The interviews are scheduled at 4:30ish and you don't need to learn much to lead them. Are you sure you can make it?”
“Sure as eggs.”
“Fantastic. I owe you one, Adam.”
“Don't mention it, Babs.”
I bet Wifey won't object my doing a couple of extra hours. After all, it's for a good cause. What kind of man would I be not helping a damsel in distress?

The headquarters of The Huge Firm are located in the mandatory post-industrial wasteland so abundant around town, next to a former regional airport. Years ago, my parents flew to Malaga and Antalya from this very place. Good Lord! It seems ages ago. Back then, I was just a penniless student with a huge loan to pay back. Now the airport is long dead and you can actually see what once was its apron from the windows of The Huge Firm. The tar is overrun by weeds and littered with broken glass shards flickering in the afternoon sun. Already discoloured graffiti depicting a monstrous toddler flying a paper plane cover the facade of the former air terminal. So much for the future of this accursed country. Thanks God we still have the service industry or whatever remains of it.

Regrettably, Barbara turns out to be less stunning than I pictured her at the phone. Far less stunning, to be honest. The one and only thing she has in common with Scarlett Johansson and Maggie Gyllenhaal is that sexy raspy voice that dragged me here. Silly silly me. I am given a quiet musty office and only thirty minutes to familiarize myself with the role I will have to play.
“Take your time, Adam. And thanks again,” Barbara whispers as she shuts the door behind herself leaving me alone.

Yes sure, Miss Last Minute Offer. No rush at all. As I flip through the papers of my Project Manager script scratching my right sideburn, I feel like I smelled a rat. This is something rather unusual even for my much flexible standards. Interviewing candidates for a job that is supposed to begin the very next day. How can you do that? When it comes to strategic planning The Huge Firm must be in dire straits. And what about all of this paper? Are we back in the 1990s? But, again, that's no business of mine. All is well as long as they pay on time.

“Are you ready, Adam?” Barbara caws, opening the door at 4:22.
“You bet I am, Babs,” I answer standing up and boasting my usual pre-interviews self-confidence. But deep inside myself – and not so deep inside myself – I despise her. You better make sure you won't play this trick on me anymore Miss Sexy Raspy Voice. I'm an established professional in my field and I deserve to be treated as such. Anyways, I keep these thoughts well hidden. I smile my famous smile and follow my PoC out of the room adjusting the knot of my tie.

“So, how many candidates you have for the role?” I ask while we walk down a brightly lit orange carpeted corridor that won't be out of place in 'The Shining.'
“Not so many. Not so many, Adam. Actually, there's only one.”
“What do you mean by that?” I reply, suddenly alarmed.
“What I've just said. We called a single candidate for this interview.”
“You must be joking. Why would you need to interview this person if you desperately need someone to start the job as early as tomorrow? For fuck's sake, just take him or her and then fire them if they are incapable!”

I know I shouldn't lose my temper, I know my partners and PoCs come always first, but that doesn't mean they're always right and now I'm seriously pissed. Who do they think I am? Some moron who doesn't know how to kill his spare time? To her credit, Barbara keeps cool: “It's not that easy, Adam,” she says as we walk passing countless identical doors placed at regular intervals on both sides of the corridor.
“Well, right, as far as I can see it's not that easy: it's super easy.”
“That may be so. Perhaps you will make it super easy,” she draws in a deep breath before adding: “All I can say is that you will soon find out why I called you and the reason why we need you so much.”
“Well, I hope so, Babs.”

The moment I say it, we stop. We're standing by a door that is indistinguishable from the dozens we left behind. “Good luck, Adam!” Barbara tells me, shaking my right hand with hers. It strikes me that her fingers and palm are so incredibly warm and yet not sweaty at hall. As if she's been carrying a frying pan by a defective handle all day long. I'm still registering this odd piece of information when Barbara is already gone turning at an invisible corner of the corridor. The muzzled pitter-pattering of her short heels on the carpet fades away in a few seconds. What an odd specimen of woman.

“Please come in,” someone says from behind the door. It's a male voice that sounds strangely familiar and yet that I cannot quite place. I know that it doesn't belong to any of my PoCs, but it does have that business-like inflection, that fake amiability I got so much used to. Barbara could have told me that someone else is here. I'm a practical man. I don't like surprises and from the moment I came to The Huge Firm there have been way too many. Anyways, let's see who's there. I grab the handle and pull it down. The door opens smoothly at my touch. A dark room unfolds behind it. In the dim azure light coming from an open laptop placed on a desk, I spot a chair, two bare walls making a corner and nothing else.

“Good afternoon,” I utter in a strangely shaky tone. The situation is odd and makes me uncomfortable. Darkness doesn't suit me.
“Welcome, Adam. I was waiting for you,” the voice says casually. “Please take a seat.”
I oblige. As I sit down, I realize that no one sits at the other side of the desk. I am all alone in the room. The voice talking to me comes from invisible speakers:
“I hope you won't mind my not being here, Adam. Anyway, I guess you're pretty familiar with VOIP interviews.”
“I am. But this is something entirely different. Whom am I speaking to? I'm afraid cannot see you.”
“I see your point. And of course you're right. I'm sorry for the inconvenience. I swear it will all become clear in due time. Now, let's start talking business. What...”
“Excuse me, Sir, but I still don't know your name. Nor your role within this company. Nor what all this preliminary talk is supposed to mean,” I interject, suddenly bold.
“You're absolutely right, Adam,” the voice replies in an almost jovial manner. “Once again I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Brad, the Head of the Alternative Strategic Partnerships Department at The Huge Firm. We call it ASPD, I'm sure you'll soon get used to it. As for my surname, it's a complicated one and not that important at this stage.”
“Nice to meet you Brad, albeit not in person.”
“Yes, that is certainly regrettable. And I do apologise for it. Also, I'm awfully sorry for our last minute call. It's fantastic and incredibly appreciated that you came here on the spur of the moment.”
“No probs. My pleasure.” The very last thing I need to hear now is the same unnecessary congratulations Barbara delivered a few minutes earlier.

The voice of Brad ignores my irritation and goes on.
“Adam, the reason why you're here is that we chose you for a very specific task.”
“Yes, I read the papers you guys gave me, but...”
“But, allow me to interrupt, those papers don't have anything to do with it. They were, so to speak, a diversion.”
“A diversion? A diversion from what? Brad, what's going on?”
“To put it simply, today you're not going to impersonate any Colin Westgate, Project Manager of Direct Marketing Campaigns.”

Well, this is unheard of! Then what the hell do they want from me here? To be honest, the whole thing looked kind of dodgy from the beginning, but now sounds like a scam. Like the kind of cheap candid camera joke they play on blokes on TV. I stand up. I won't stay in this bloody dark room a minute longer.
“Wait!” The voice of Brad commands.
“And why should I?” I reply.
“Because there's an interview to attend.”
“Really? And whom shall I interview? And in what capacity?”
“Yourself, Adam. Just be yourself.”

Seriously? I've had enough of this madness. Be yourself, an invisible voice has just told me. Well, it's time to say what I think about the whole bloody business.
“This is not the way I work, Brad. I don't play myself. In case you don't know it, I'm a specialist of a different sort. I just don't exist in this field under my actual name. Yes, Adam doesn't exist! Keep it in mind. I can be Roger, Leigh, Simon, Ian, James, Damon. I have three kids and none. I'm married and divorced. I'm straight and gay. I graduated in History, Biotechnology, Law and I left university to volunteer for five years in Cambodia. I love cats and am allergic to their fur. I enjoy reading poetry and shooting rounds at the range. I'm dozens of people at the same time. I'm whoever my partners ask me to be. Except Adam.”

That's it. I've said what I wanted to say. I've set the record straight. The voice of Brad is now mute, no doubt taken aback by my directness. To hell with it, the ASPD, and The Huge Firm! I will make sure to have nothing to do with these clowns in the future. I kick the chair back and walk to the door in the empty room. Wifey and Keynes are waiting for me at home. And even dealing with the rush hour traffic on the A21 won't be as bad as being stuck here. As my hand tries to grasp the reassuring shape of the handle in the darkness, I hear it again.
“Adam?”
“What?”
“That was impressive. We need people like you here,” my voice says: “Congratulations and welcome aboard. You can start tomorrow.”

Lorenzo Berardi

Lorenzo Berardi

Lorenzo Berardi is a thirty something fellow hailing from Italy and living in Poland. He works as a freelance journalist and as a copywriter. His English written poems and short stories have been published in American, British, Canadian, and Polish print and online magazines.
Lorenzo Berardi

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