© Copyright 2014
The coffee shop calls me two weeks after I submit the application. I’m in the shower when my phone rings, so I have to call them back. The hiring manager who called is unavailable, so I leave a message for him to call me back. I leave three more before I learn he has left the property for the week.
The next week I call to follow up. He tells me he was excited to review my application. My experience in customer service is just what he’s looking for in a shift supervisor. He tells me they’ve already hired someone else, though.
“But we still have positions open for baristas,” he adds. I tell him a barista gig would be fine.
“Come in tomorrow for an interview, then!” he tells me warmly.
I interview the next day. He calls me later in the afternoon and tells me the interview went wonderfully. He adds that he went with someone else for the two open positions.
“Someone with a little more coffee experience,” he tells me, in a measured, manager’s way. He adds artificial gravitas to the phrase coffee experience, as though coffee making is a degreed skill set.
In trying to avoid insulting their workers and applicants, companies now just condescend to them.
“So why are you interested in this job?”
The librarian interviewing me looks almost out of place. She’s very cold and businesslike, more suited to an insurance office than a public library.
I tell her I love books. I tell her I’m a voracious reader and that I’m fastidiously organized. I tell her I’m used to environments that require extensive electronic recordkeeping.
“I notice you have your degree,” she says.
“You know this job is only part-time, right?”
“Don’t you want to do more with your diploma?”
I’d love to. If only there was more available.
“I’m not sure this job is for you,” she tells me. “Frankly, you may be overqualified.”
It’s reassuring to know I’m too smart to feel hunger.
“We went with someone who has a little more bowling experience.”
I hear the dial tones of a computerized answering service. This is the third time I’ve called.
“Due to the extremely high volume of applications, we’re unable to provide any definite figures relating to the probability that you’ll be called in for an interview. We thank you for your call, though, and appreciate your interest in working with our team.”
I’ve spent the entire morning taking computerized tests, role-playing customer care scenarios, engaging in verbal interviews, and filling out questionnaires. This is the fifth person who has interviewed me today.
Customer service reps dutifully answer calls around me. One young man in the next cubicle is doing really well. He’s relaxed and personable, and I can hear customers on his headset. They’re delighted at the end of each call.
His manager comes by, whispers something to him. Whatever it is that she says, he’s clearly bothered by it. He answers the next call in the same artificially chirpy tone everyone else is using. The customers now aren’t nearly as satisfied as the customers before. They’re uncomfortable, put off. They can sense they’re just getting a form routine. No one is happy with the enforced brand standard, except, perhaps, the brand itself.
“We’ve reviewed your file,” the hiring manager says as she walks back into her cubicle. “And overall you’ve done wonderfully. But unfortunately, we aren’t able to offer you a job at this time. I’m so sorry.”
“Was there anything that caused particular concern?” I ask, honestly curious.
“I’m…not really at liberty to say. But…we just don’t think this job is the perfect fit for you.”
“But I’m…I’m qualified, right?”
“Perfectly qualified, yes. To be honest…” She looks around quickly, leans in, says in a low voice: “There aren’t any more training positions open until our next hiring cycle.”
“So…can I possibly apply for an opening for the next cycle?”
“Were these openings already filled.”
“They were, actually.”
“So…why did you people call me in?”
“Company policy is to process employment applications as quickly as possible, as soon as they come in.”
“…even if there isn’t anything left to apply for.”
“So it’s a policy of false hope.”
She laughs. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“I think you people owe me two gallons of gas for driving out here.”
She gives me a sympathetic look. “Your application will remain on file. I’m very sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter if you are.”
She walks me through security. She asks if I’m okay with the stairs, since she’d need her card for the door past the elevators. I opt for the elevators.
“I’m calling about the application we have on file for you. Are you still interested in working for our company?”
“You people pulled this trick before. Have a good day.”
I hang up.
I stuff the lady’s receipt into her bag. She must be a big fan of James Patterson. Or, more specifically, a big fan of James Patterson’s ghostwriters.
Later, in the attached café, she and I talk about a scuffle in Iraq between militant and Iraqi army forces. While I prepare her mocha she asks me, “Are you in school?”
“Got one degree. Hoping for one or two more eventually.”
“Then what are you doing here?” She looks amazed.
“Don’t you want more from life?”
I ring up the coffee drink. “I do. But I also don’t want any less.”