A memory

A friend recently posted about an amusing experience he had on a job-interview trip. It reminded me of something that happened on my first day-long interview. (For some reason this style of interview was then called a "plant trip". Or maybe that only described the subset of such where they had to fly you in; not sure. I haven't heard this term in quite some time.)

I was a senior in college, so I was trying to line up that first post-graduation job and was not being at all fussy during the interview stage. I didn't have strong opinions about geography back then, so of course I accepted the interview offer from a large computer-equipment company on Long Island. I would fly in in the morning, have a day of interviews, and fly home that night. This was my first such trip, so my only clues about what to expect came from the well-meaning but under-informed folks in university career services.

The plane was an hour late but the cabbie drove like a demon, so I was only about 20 minutes late getting there. So I went into this a little flustered (late! not my fault, but late! ack!) I had a morning of interviews with various managerial types, which did not put me at ease. Come lunchtime they introduced me to two people who would be my peers (if I were hired), and those two people took me out to lunch. To this day I don't know if they were just having fun, or if this was part of the test.

We went to a fairly nice restaurant. (I should mention, by the way, that I did not have a lot of experience with this class of restaurant.) The waiter asked for drink orders, turning to me first, and I ordered a Coke. One of the others said "aw, go on; they'll cover real drinks". I guess I paused, because she proceeded to order a mixed drink for herself, as did her colleague. The waiter turned back to me, so I shrugged, pulled the name of a drink I didn't think I'd hate out of my memory, and said "make that a rum and Coke". I had considered ordering a glass of wine, but I didn't think I could do so without sounding stupid ("um, white?"). No one asks you to choose your brand of rum.

(I should clarify that I was not a tea-totler; it's just that in college I was mostly exposed to bad beer, so I was not very educated. This had once previously surprised me in a swanky restaurant when I misunderstood the waiter's offer of an after-dinner drink to mean tea. It was only somewhat later that I learned the magic incantation "what do you recommend?".)

The waiter returned a few minutes later, placing two drinks in front of each of us. In large glasses; my rum&Cokes were in glasses that wouldn't have been inappropriate for Coke&Cokes. I looked quizzical and one of my would-be coworkers said "Thursday is two-for-one day".

Okay..., I said to myself. It's going to be one of those lunches. (I was not, by the way, old enough to drink legally in my home state, though I was in NY.)

We ordered and had what seemed like a reasonable conversation over lunch. (They had stressed that this was "just talk"; they weren't interviewing me. Uh huh.) I was able to get them to chat about what it was like to work there; this was actually the first point in the day when I got information as opposed to giving information. It also gave me time to chew. I sipped one of the drinks slowly, not having any clue how much rum was in it or whether I'd be able to tell. The others finished their drinks; I drank most of one of mine.

I felt a slight buzz from that one drink while walking back to the office. Drinking both of them definitely would have been a bad idea. The rest of the day went fine as far as I could tell. No offer was forthcoming; a part of me wondered whether I had somehow failed the lunch test.

(The lack of an offer didn't much bother me, as I'd seen enough to conclude that this was not the sort of company I wanted to work at. But you have to go and look to learn that.)