Searching For My First Real Job

This time of year I spend a good part of my day interviewing young men and women for full time technical positions within my group. Many have recently finished college, and this is their first real job with benefits. This is one of my favorite parts of the job.

I try to remember how I felt as a newly minted college graduate walking around Salt Lake City searching for someone who would recognize my potential. Looking back, I wasn’t prepared for the realities of post-college life. I’d spent a lot of money on books and tuition not to mention the Addams Family and Fun House pinball machines.

One afternoon I was browsing the job boards at the University of Utah and noticed a job posting seeking graduates of all disciplines. It wasn’t uncommon for recruiters to narrow their search to graduates with majors in marketing, finance or economics. Although I’d taken courses through the business school, I majored in German which locked me out from interviewing for a number of positions.

I saved up enough money to purchase a blue blazer to go with some dress slacks I already owned. The position was for an editor with a major publishing company with offices in downtown Salt Lake. Although I knew the downtown area well, I arrived an hour early for my interview.

When it was time, I met with the HR manager. She asked me the same basic questions I’d heard from dozen of campus recruiters. One fringe benefit of making it through college was that I became a professional interviewer.  I got to the point where I could predict the questions. Interviewing became second nature.

I interviewed with two women and one gentleman that day. Each of them seemed genuine, and I enjoyed discussing the position and asking questions of them. I felt good about the job and company when I left.  I returned home feeling optimistic. A few days later HR called and invited me back. This time I would meet the managing editor who would put me through a quiz of sorts.

I met the editor who had little to say. She handed me a newsletter and a red pencil and said, “You have 20 minutes to find the mistakes and circle them.”

Seemed simple enough. I went to work finding and circling misspelled words and awkward grammar. It wasn’t long before the editor returned and yelled, “STOP!”

I put my pencil on the table, looked up and handed her my work. She glanced over the first page, her eyes moving from side to side. I was anxious but confident. She moved on to the second, third and forth pages. So far so good.

Until she come to the fifth page. That’s when she grabbed the red pencil and drew a large “X” through the page.

In past blog posts, I’ve written that I’m not a fast reader. I comprehend well. But I don’t zip through books like Kim or my mother. That’s how I’ve always been, and it’s not due to lack of reading. I’m just a slower than normal reader but not to the point where I’d consider it a disability.

“You’re accurate but slow.”

Of course, I already knew that. But it stung coming from the woman who would decide if I’d get the job. As you can probably guess but now, I did not receive a job offer.

It’s been nearly 17 years since I put on my blue blazer and didn’t make it to page 5. But I’ve not forgotten how I felt as I watched the giant “X” was scrawled across the page. When I interview people today, I never want them to leave with the same feeling I left with that day no matter how their skills fit the position.