Friday, June 13, 2008
stupidity history lesson: the electronics repair shop interview
Once upon a time there was a chain of repair places in the area called Martha Lake Electronics. They would take most anything in, mostly TVs but whatever required electricity and needed fixing, and they were based out of Lynnwood (where you find, duh, Martha Lake) but had a shop on 38th in Tacoma. They were hiring for counter people, so I turned in an application and was called up to Lynnwood for an interview. I got dressed up in my interview clothes and drove Sputnik there to meet the owner of the company.
The first thing I noticed about this champion of industry was that he had a very tall bookcase in his office that was completely filled with management books. Some people are born leaders, others need a little guidance, and then there was this guy who had a hundred or so different manuals on how to lead people. Knowing that no two management books give the same advice, in fact some give contradictory advice, I suspected that this guy knew a lot about management but did not know how to actually do it cohesively. But hey, I've just met the guy so let's just see what kind of interview questions, likely culled from said manuals, he throws at me. He started with the standard ice-breakers about past experience and education, threw in the interview oldie of "where do you see yourself in five years?", and after this period of getting to know all about me as a person and student he then picked up my résumé to go over my work history.
One of my previous jobs, which lasted all of two weeks but I put on the list anyway because it was one of the only things I'd done parallel to what I was applying for (that and my seven months at Radio Shack, their competition), was with a computer store in Olympia. The owner brought up this job and asked, "what was the manager's name again?" Since it had been awhile, I had forgotten the man's name so I said something that was pretty close -- "Rhinegeld" became "Ringgold" -- and the owner said said slyly "Oh, yeah, I know him," before asking me more about my duties. Okay. You lose the Jedi mind game, sir. I figured that this was a trick from a management book, that if the interviewee thinks the interviewer knows a past employer personally the interviewee isn't going to tell any lies. Which is true, if the interviewer doesn't blow all credibility by proving he doesn't know the person by not catching the name error.
So his next manoeuver is to ask me to do this personality inventory, the kind that requires filling in ovals with a #2 pencil on a scan sheet while reading a thin quiz booklet. This is the kind of test where you know what the answers they expect are ["If you found a $5 bill under the till and the money in your till was balanced, would you: a) keep the money, b) report it to your supervisor, c) put it in the till, d) leave it under the till"], but you're a horrible person if you either answer every question "correctly" or if you answer them completely honestly, because either of those reactions proves you're a shifty untrustable dishonest person. He told me that the results would come in later because he would have to fax this answer sheet to Chicago. Okay. You're now full of shit. I've administered enough of these tests during my stint as a tutor to know how an overlay answer key works -- put this stiff paper with holes across it on top of the answer sheet, line up the dots, and mark on any spaces that aren't filled with pencil lead, then tally up the marks. That, and there's no way a faxed copy of anything is going to be gradeable with a scanner.
The final nugget was when he leans back in his chair and says something about me applying for a management position. Hmm, no, the sign said counterperson and I was by no means (at that moment) qualified to supervise a store. He wants me to agree to apply for a management job. The catch, though, is that if I don't make the cut to be a manager, I am removed from consideration for the job that I was qualified for and had applied for. Interesting double-or-nothing situation there. I figured this was another management trick, looking for the people with leadership ability and aspirations, which seems counterproductive to me because why would you want a whole building full of people who think they should be in charge? As the old and totally un-PC notion goes, "all chiefs, no braves." Someone's gotta quietly do the work, you know.
So I left the interview after being told it would be a couple hours before the personality test was graded by someone in the Windy City, so I went to an abandoned house on the Martha Lake waterfront, sat around on the dock for a long while until some construction guys showed up (and since I was dressed in business uncasual, I strode out without a word like I was a Realtor or county building inspector and no one said a thing about me trespassing), then went back to the office to be given the expected bad news that I failed my personality test and thus could not work in any capacity for Martha Lake Electronics.
They went out of business within a year. [contents of the auction of their assets in 2001]
That guy sounds like a character from a movie instead of a real person. I'd put him in the overly anal category for running you through the ringer for a behind-the-counter job. It's like you were applying for some ultra important job upon which all life on the planet depended.
Good grief! Working for that guy had to be pure hell.
You'd have been analyzed to death.