Some experiences take hold in our memories and seem like they will always be with us. Once in a while, those scenes pop up to replay in our minds — and many times we’ve grown new skills or a stronger backbone or seen more of life to where that old scene would not play out the same way with who we are today.
One example is The Job Interview. It was many years ago when, admittedly, a woman’s place in the workforce was not even as secure as it might be today. I had mad skills as executive-level administrative support and was looking for work. My sister-in-law loved her many years as a legal secretary, so I answered an ad for the same type of job in the town where I lived.
The office had two attorneys, a woman in her 50’s or so, and a man of uncertain age. The woman interviewed me first, and we got along quite well. Conversation was easy, questions and answers flowed comfortably in both directions. She went and got her partner, and the scene changed at once.
He seemed a bit older than she, with an angry, bitter temperament. His face was marked by years of scowling, eye contact was infrequent. He was loud and clearly unhappy. I knew immediately that I would not be offered that job.
He preached at me as though he was in court about the serious nature of confidentiality in the law office. My resume included several references where discretion was required but he either didn’t bother reading it, or felt it was still a necessary point to make. He continued on as if I were a high school student.
At one point he pointed at a particular window which had the blinds open and a view of the street. “See that window? When we have a client in here, those blinds must be drawn every time! We can’t have people on the sidewalk see our clients and start rumors about them being in a lawyer’s office or start gossip about why. Confidentiality is a very high priority here!”
And here, friends, is where “what really happened” departs from “what should have happened.” I knew that sour, unhappy man wasn’t going to hire me. It didn’t matter how well I got along with his partner — or perhaps it was because of how well I got along with his partner. In any case, it was clear that I was only still there to politely finish out the interview. What I thought about his window rant, and what I really wish I would have said to him, was “So why aren’t the blinds drawn now?”
He would have looked at me blankly, his partner would have stifled a guffaw. No, I wasn’t a client, but I was sitting in their office, visible from that window to anyone walking by. There was no sign in the window saying “She’s here for a job interview.” Nothing in the scene would have indicated that I was anything other than one of those clients he professed to protect.
Older now, more seasoned now, I wish I would have called him on it. He was rude, condescending, and pompous. Beyond just his attitude, he was wrong. He tried to make a point about confidentiality to someone who passed that benchmark years before, and in the process he showed me that he was not a global thinker. He missed the obvious factor that passersby would not be able to know why someone was in his office, and that if he wanted to provide a secure environment, he needed to do so for all visitors regardless of why they’d crossed his threshold.
I daresay he would not have appreciated my observation. He was already full of himself, as though interviewing a mere office worker was a waste of his time. I had visions of explosive anger in light of his already poor attitude simmering. I had nothing to lose, and yet I lacked the strength to speak out. I lacked the courage to risk him having a full-on tantrum, or to gamble on being thrown out of his office.
So instead, I just chuckled to myself. I finished the interview and left their office. I didn’t get a call-back, and I would have declined the job even if they did call me back. The experience though, rich and colorful even decades later, is a great take-away. It’s a good example of how not to treat people in your environment. It’s a statement of people working together whose values and perspectives are so different as those two attorneys’ were. And it’s about fear controlling the moment, when really there is little at risk. Given another opportunity to shine light on a dark and imbalanced situation, I will find my voice.
(c) 2019, J. L. Cools