Trust Your Gut
Written by Krysta Scripter
There’s something special about the particular brand of job hunting that comes from a deep rooted place of “I need a job, and I need it now.” It can make us miss warning signs or take jobs too eagerly when we really should have looked more critically. It can also make us fumble, and fumble hard.
Case in point: that time I was interviewed at a local bookstore after returning from an internship. I was especially anxious about finding something soon. I had recently been rediscovering the joy of reading for pleasure, after my college years left little for downtime. I had worked a handful of retail jobs and had plenty of experience dealing with customers, working inventory, etc. I saw this as an insanely fun way to pay my bills, but I also didn’t see this job as being particularly hard.
Heading into the interview, I made my fair amount of mistakes. There were a few things I should have recognized as warning signs.
The first: the Craigslist ad for the job. Craigslist job postings themselves are not always enough to warrant caution, but the wording and hyper-detail in this one did raise my eyebrow a little. A full-page ad, filling most of the webpage: full-time, minimum wage, with a request to dedicate at least a year to the job. There were enough questions to result in me writing a two-page Word document.
The full-time, minimum wage part didn’t bother me; considering I had nothing else lined up, it seemed great. (That and I had so rarely seen full-time work.) But dedicating a year to the job sounded more along the lines of a corporate office job, not a bookstore. Well, retail turnover has always been an issue, I thought. Maybe this was just a way to weed out those who took on jobs and then quit two weeks later because it was “too hard.” They also mentioned two books about their preferred working styles. I remember thinking that was oddly specific, again, for a minimum-wage bookstore job. With every well-meant intention of looking them up later, I promptly forgot about them after sending in my application.
I got a call a few days later. It wasn’t for an interview, though.
“Can you come in this weekend to help in our warehouse?” She asked, after introducing herself as the owner of the bookstore.
Ultimately, I told her I would be out of town that weekend, as I had already made plans months ago. I said I’d be happy to help when I got back, but the owner dismissed me with a quiet “Hm,” and said she’d email me about an interview when I got back into town. I hung up, confused about why she would want me to come in for warehouse work when she hadn’t interviewed me.
You would think that since my last interview snafu I would be more readily eating a piece of that humble pie, but I eventually assumed that this meant I had the job in the bag. The interview later was just a formality, I told myself.
A week later, despite my initial confidence, I couldn’t shake the nerves that felt a little more than usual pre-interview jitters. I had a gut feeling that this may be one of those workplaces that you hear horror stories about, where managers are uncomfortably overbearing and expect you to take the job far, far more seriously than a minimum-wage job should be taken.
I was given a worksheet before my interview started. Alphabetizing, grammar practices, basic math equations and a series of questions. The ad had mentioned needing to have basic math and grammar skills, but I wasn’t expecting a small exam. I told myself it was better to work for a place that was so thorough. Lord knows I had worked at enough places where that had not been the case. This would be a breath of fresh air, I reassured myself. I fumbled my way through the math equation they gave me (20 percent off of $16.99), alphabetized a series of DVD titles (realizing with a tiny amount of terror that I had no idea if they counted “the” when alphabetizing), and went through the grammar as best I could. I knew once I finished the worksheet it wasn’t going to be great. I became a writer to avoid math, I grumbled to myself—while I simultaneously second-guessed every grammar question I was given. When it was all over, I wasn’t told how it was wrong, only that it was. Also, I hadn’t alphabetized how they preferred, although she “could see where I was going.” Also, I had missed one or two grammatical edits.
She almost immediately asked if I could guarantee staying on for a year. While I loved the idea of working at a bookstore, ideally I would be looking for more opportunities in the field of my degree. I tried to tell her I would be committed while I was here, but it didn’t seem to convince her. I was sent out of the office twice, once so the owner could bring in another employee to discuss my answers, and again so the two of them could discuss the second portion of my interview, which included questions like: Do you work out? Are you an active person? What kind of plans do you have for your fitness moving forward? What’s your credit history? Have you ever been late on a bill?
I wish I could have spoken up more, but by this point I was thrown off considerably. I sat with my hands in my lap, praying for a “Tell me how you resolved a conflict at your last job,” or a “How do you consider yourself a good asset to the team?”
Hiring experiences take two, and there’s more than one reason I tanked this interview so badly. When she asked if I had read the two books mentioned in the ad, I admitted I had not. If this interview had taken place a couple of days after I had applied, I could see the excuse of not having the time. But by this point, it had been about two weeks, and there really was no reason I should not have at least researched them a little. That mistake, I learned the third time she called me, cost me the job—among the bad math, failure to dedicate a year and the inability to bench press a box of hardcover War and Peace copies, I’m guessing.
Desperation makes fools of us all. I was so eager for a job I ignored my gut, didn’t take this seriously enough and blew the interview. I was so convinced I had this in the bag, I ignored the basic tenets of job hunting. That’s not to say this interview mess was entirely my fault. The owner asked inappropriate personal questions, wanted use me for labor, and was a little too … demanding.
Then again, this bookstore has stayed open where others have closed—so maybe there is something to say for extremely detailed job ads.
Krysta Scripter is a writer and photographer in Reno, Nevada, where she graduated with a degree in journalism. She drinks a lot of coffee and listens to a lot of video game soundtracks. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.