How to Ace the Interview, Part 2: Tell (Some of) the Truth

This is Part 2. Read Part 1 Here.

Last to come in was the COO, with a J not an ‘H’. He seemed vaguely foreign with dark, slicked back hair and an angular face balanced atop a long, bony neck. He wore a crisp white collared shirt which seemed to be sewn into the slim, fitted suit jacket and jeans. I imagined (I didn’t want to look him from head to toe) on his feet were polished tan Ferragamos. “So Betty,” he said, and at first I detected an accent until he spoke for a few minutes more and I realized he had no accent at all.

“What does one do with an MFA in Creative Writing?” he asked, looking down at my resume, “My wife, she is also an artist with an MFA and of her classmates you know, many of them do not actually do art.”
I looked at him, wondering if this was a trick question. But his tone, earnest in a way, told me the conclusions of my snap judgments were but a millisecond delayed and that he had asked out of genuine curiosity. An interview was no place to be a callous ass. He had merely, through his successive career successes, lost sight of realities too far from his own.
He himself started at what is perhaps the world’s most famous startup and after eight years there, moved to another as Chief something or other where he realized he had no interest in B2B. He wanted to work directly with customers because “there is more passion and excitement there.” So now he was here, at this baby bird startup, helping to build the next great disrupter.
“I write too,” he said, and I nodded along, still not having answered any questions. He spoke rather dreamily of writing his family’s history, a passion project of sorts, so that his children might know that they descended from the French who eventually moved to Italy who then came to the States. He spoke at length about his mother’s mother, whom he discovered only on his mother’s deathbed because she had given him a book written by the older woman.
“It was just incredible,” he said, eyes wide and hands wide and moving, “And then of course I had to find out, I had to do all the research and get it all down, and I found – my god – it’s all there on the Internet. It’s wonderful. I just love it and I mean to write much more.”
“That’s great,” I said, “That’s really great.”
“But yes,” he put down my resume and looked at me, as though suddenly remembering that it was an interview, and that I might possibly be someone of use and whom he would see often in the uninterrupted horizon of the open-plan office, “So the MFA, what do you do with it?”
By then the whole interview including time spent with the other young women, had gone well over two hours. I had given the “I’m a writer but I do other things too,” spiel some five times before, not to mention the hundreds of times other people have asked throughout the past two years. But I smiled as though it was the first time, and began again.
“I love writing,” I said, “I’ll always be a writer, but I have other interests and strengths. Coming to New York made me realize how, um, unsavory a life as a freelance writer is and how tough it is to be a teacher. I want to have enough energy at the end of the day to write my own stuff. I’m not saying I’m looking for an easy office job – I’m pretty sure I’m in the wrong place if I was looking for that – but I am, in addition to writing, looking to develop in other ways. I want to keep writing for myself, for as long as I can.”
He nodded, assured that I was saying the right things. “Oh I can imagine it’s hard,” he said, wincing for all the artists out there who hadn’t yet figured out that a steady job wasn’t such a bad thing, a “soul-killer” as some people liked to call it.
He named a well-known writer from The New Yorker who lived in the same building as he did.
“Oh gosh I love him,” I said, because I did.
“You know him?” the COO’s eyebrows went up briefly, “Yes he’s great. I’ve read a few of his articles, but you know, every time I see him I just think, ‘Ooh, it’s got to be hard.'” He made a gesture with his hands clawed and brought it up to his face, to signify that life had taken a toll on this writer’s appearance. The man had not aged well, not even with steady paychecks from the New Yorker, every writer’s dream publication.
“I mean, at the end of the day writing is still…” he searched for the word then looked to me as though it were written across my forehead. Apparently it was.
“…work,” he said finally, “It’s still so much work.” He leaned back, satisfied that his vocabulary agreed with him, “So yes, I see what you mean. That can be a tough life.”
“Does your wife practice her art?” I asked.
He nodded proudly, “Yes she does, full time.”
“Then she’s lucky.”
He looked at me as though this was somehow a new thought, and I remembered the banker I dated briefly almost two years ago. He had been attracted, more than anything, to the idea that I was a writer.
“You’re a writer and I’m a banker,” he would say as we walked away from a nice dinner, “The writer and the banker. It’s such an awesome contrast.”
And I couldn’t fault him for not really knowing why or what I wrote about because I never bothered to explain.
But the COO remembered that it was an interview. Or at least something like it. Apparently a few of the girls I’d already met with had given him good vibes because he was done with questions.
“Anyway,” he said, taking his cellphone out and leaning forward, “Do you know the product?”
“Uh…” was this a trick question? But he was doing that thing where I could have been anyone – he was talking – perhaps the decision was already made and he knew it, or perhaps he gave his underling admins so much freedom they’d make it for him. The important thing was he met with me just enough to give them his two cents.
“Let me show you the app,” he said, “It’s pretty cool.”
I loosened my shoulders and leaned forward. He pulled up the app, which was supposed to show a live stream of his apartment in the Upper East Side. I waited, but the screen remained blank.
“Hm,” he tapped the screen a few times, “It’s not loading for some reason. That’s very odd. Ah well, I’ll show you my house in South Hampton.”
He tapped open another screen and this time a crystal clear live feed came on of the living room of his immaculate and tastefully decorated South Hampton home. It was brightly lit with giant windows beyond which I could almost see the glinting waves of the Atlantic or perhaps a turquoise pool. Architectural Digest approved grey, beige and white tones; fresh cut peonies on a heavy designer driftwood table. A large white plush but seldom-used couch. An alert popped up.
“My housekeeper,” he said, swiping it away. Zooming in with soft, slender fingers, he pointed at a grid of nine white square canvases on far living room wall, each with a large letter painted in the middle. Times New Roman.

“That’s my wife’s art.”

“Ah, wow,” I said, then to say something true, “Your home is beautiful.”
“Thank you,” he said, and we admired it in his palm for a minute longer.

Happy with the way our meeting had gone, he clicked the screen off, put it back into his pocket and stood up.

“Well, Betty, I’ve got to run to another meeting, but it was a pleasure.”
I stood up too, said the pleasure was mine. We shook hands, he stepped out. The HR coordinator, the girl who had emailed me, stepped back in.
We exchanged a few last minute things. When I’d hear back, for instance.
“Pretty soon,” she said, “We’ll have a meeting and then decide about next steps. But thanks so much for coming in. I’m going to walk you out.”
The coolness that accompanies the end of interviews had crept back in. By now more than prepared for this, I smiled and said thank you. On my way out I walked past two of the other girls I had met with, and tapped them lightly on the shoulder to say goodbye.
They smiled and waved. Perfectly friendly. The interview had lasted nearly three hours and I wondered if I’d ever see them again. I went outside, bought a Lebanese sandwich, and ate it on a bench while watching rowdy black high-schoolers bat each other around on the curb with Friday afternoon restlessness.
An hour later I was at home. The HR coordinator had already emailed me.
“The team loved you!”
“Well that’s a relief,” I thought, because with these things, you never knew.
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