Ahhh… Washington, D.C. Land of social handshakes, “consultants” who can’t tell you what it is that they actually do, and the ever charming “Here, let me give you my card!” Home of the worst kind of frat boy– the post-college political frat boy!– sporting side-swept bangs and a powder pink polo bulging over his belted khaki pants as he scans the room for bright-eyed lady interns to impress.
Don’t get me wrong, D.C. has its strong points, though it took me four years to find them. This city is smart, worldly, progressive and even exciting at times, and there are fantastic music, arts and foodie scenes to be found for those who care to look. But for a 20-something, quasi-alternative aspiring writer who can’t seem to find a job, carving out a life in the District can be little more than a heinous clusterfuck of frustrations.
You might call me a professional job seeker. I’ve applied to almost 100 positions over the course of the last few years and actually interviewed for approximately 20. I’ve got a Master’s degree, 4 cover letter templates, 3 resumés tailored by industry, 2 suits varying in conservativeness that I keep spotless and pressed, and 1 DAMN impressive phone demeanor. And though I currently have no full-time job, I’ve learned something very important about interviewing in this town. Namely, almost all interviews here will fall into one of three categories:
A) The interview that feels like a criminal interrogation, complete with difficult, irrelevant questions that make you feel mentally disabled
B) The interview that resembles a creepy happy hour, minus the cheap booze (expect to be asked what you do to “blow off steam”)
C) The interview that is so unbelievably awkward and boring that you’re sure, nay, positive that you will be offered the position, and that the universe will then laugh hysterically at the tragic irony of your life.
I experienced the last kind this morning. I drove all the way out to Arlington, Virginia at an ungodly hour to interview for a position I didn’t especially want (because, let’s be honest, I didn’t move into the city only to reverse commute to Vanilla-Burb* every day). The woman who greeted me– let’s call her Sandra, the Queen of Vanilla-Burb– is middle aged, has medium brown eyes, medium brown, medium-length hair, and was wearing a solid oatmeal colored outfit. She lead me through the silent, white halls of the office (it’s being repainted, so please excuse the chemical smell!) and into her own single-window cubicle.
“So did you have a difficult time finding us?” Sandra asked in a low-volume, monotone voice.
“Well, no. I mean a little, the number was not clearly printed on the building. But I was able to infer from the numbers on the street signs…”
“This job is very exciting,” she said, clearly bored with my rambling. “We get to work with science text-books.”
She stared at me blankly, and I stared at her back, equally blankly, anticipating her next move.
“Oh,” I finally said, after about 10 seconds of excruciating silence, “Yes, science text-books. What would we do without them?”
She shuffled through a pile of papers and slid one over to me. “Here is the job description. I think I e-mailed it to you yesterday. It’s mostly administrative, but you also get to do some light copyediting, which is exciting.” When she said the word “exciting” a second time, I felt obligated to react.
“Fantastic!” I exclaimed, looking around the room for a sharp object with which to cut myself.
She blinked twice. “So tell me. Why are you interested in this position?”
“Yes. That’s a good question,” I replied. “Well, I have a passion for writing and editing. I have several years of book publishing experience, and I would love to be a part of an educational organization.”
No reply, so I kept going. “Sooo that’s why I applied… you know, for this job.”
Still no reply. I decided to let her stew in her awkwardness this time until she could come up with another brilliant question.
The rest of the conversation proceeded in the same way. When one of us finished a sentence, the other just sat there in mental anguish, until finally, I said, “Welp! Thank you for meeting with me!” and stood up.
When I reached out to shake her hand, she looked at my hand like it was a used piece of toilet paper and opted not to touch it. Instead, she thanked me in return, led me to the elevator and said she would be in touch. As the doors closed, I half considered ripping all my clothes off and peeing a design onto the floor to make up for the half hour I just lost from my life.
I’m going to be offered this job. I just know it.
*So as not to offend my Arlingtonian friends, “Vanilla-Burb” refers only to Clarendon and Ballston, not the entire city or county of Arlington.