job interviews, osmosis and other middle-age blues


i had my first job interview in nearly four years this week. i was a train wreck, i tell you.
i have always been uncomfortable about job interviews. in fact, i don't like doing it. i wish i could skip this part and just show up for work and prove to the company what i can do. if they don't like it, they can fire me anytime. no hard feelings.
maybe because i am a journalist, i am used to asking the questions, not answering them. also, i don't know how to answer basic questions like why do you want this job, or why did you quit your job or what are your plans for the next five years. i know any idiot can answer them, even my three-year old niece, but i simply don't have it in me to come up with intelligent and honest responses to these difficult questions. (i know all the textbook replies, but they sound so insincere).
lastly, i am not comfortable discussing salaries, a key part of any job interview.
(i don't know why, despite writing about financial stuff everyday as a business journalist, i am not adept at money matters.  i never like talking about it. ever. i know nothing about investing or putting up a business. how ironic given my profession where i talk about money all the time with fund managers, analysts, investors, ceos, government officials. i only know how and where to spend it)
that's why i never won the ms. universe title, i froze during the question and answer portion.
but this week's interview went quite well. unexpectedly. the interviewer, a former journalist himself and ex anchor of a business show on teevee, had a very calming presence. he handled the interview in a very relaxing manner that i felt like we were just talking like old friends over coffee.
he asked me about the usual things and i think i answered them well, with aplomb. oh, madam stella marquez would be proud!

*****

it certainly feels like starting all over again.
i remember my very first job interview. i was fresh out of college and just bumming around at my parents' house, getting drunk, stoned, sleeping the whole day and getting out at night like count dracula, doing all the things that i missed while busy (?!) getting a four-year degree (i finished it after five and a half years) in business management.
one late afternoon, a college friend dropped by and told me there was a job opening at a government agency that paid as much as 8,000 pesos a month.
i was impressed. at that time, 8,000 was a lot of money, especially for a fresh grad, inexperienced me. he said the agency wanted to recruit fresh grads like us who did well in school with lots of extra curricular activities. i nodded my head, confused.
i mean, what did he mean by "did well in school with lots of extra curricular activities" when all i was good at was passing my subjects without attending classes and the only activities i was involved with was going to discos (this was the late 80s people. we danced and got drunk in discos. remember those dazzling disco balls? madonna?) and arranging drinking sessions at a nearby beach even during school days. then we would go skinny dipping when horribly drunk.
oh yes, i attended an anti-nuclear rally and anti-tuition fee increase gathering when i was in my freshman, but only because i was prodded by a really handsome student leader belonging to the radical lfs (league of filipino students). i was lost though, had no idea what they were shouting and angry about. i was just standing very close to my friend, staring at his sweaty longish, bearded face all the time. he looked like keanu reeves (during his dude, where's my car? days). we were both wearing dark aviators, so i think he had no idea that my eyes were on him and not on the speakers.

*****

despite my hectic domestic schedule, i agreed to apply for the job. (ok it was mostly because of the 8,000 peso monthly pay). i hurriedly typed what passed as a resume that read like a high schooler's slum book (remember this? where you write your name, birthday, age, hobby, the name of your crush and you define love. then you have to leave a message to the owner of the slum book like japan -- just always pray at night. this was our version of face book and it was way way better than fb, i tell you!!).


after waiting for around 20 minutes (that was already too long then. i was so impatient and restless in my younger days that i could not stay seated for more than 10 minutes. this was the reason why i was always absent from class.), my name was finally called.
the interviewer was the head of the government agency, a gorgeous woman in her early 30s. she was tan, skinny, wearing mini skirts, transparent loose blouson, huge dark glasses placed on top of her head like a turban, high heels and glossy red lipsticks.
after a few introductions, came the difficult questions. (if memory serves me right, this was how it went):
her: why should we give you this job? what are your qualifications?
me: (after being quiet for an eternity, i answered stammering.) well, my friend said this job will entail a lot of meetings with people in far-flung barangays to inform them about your agency's loan program that they could use as capital for small businesses. well, i am good at organizing events and talking in public. (then i lied). i am a skilled debater and orator.
her: what would you tell them?
me: that they could borrow at really low interest rates. (i smiled. i thought she was impressed.)
her: (poker face) this job will require you to stay in these far-flung areas for as long as six months. are you willing to stay there? most of these places have no electricity, no nice places to stay, no discos.
me: (hesitant) why not?
her: won't you get bored?
me: i will organize dances on weekends. parties at the beach or the river banks. i am good at it.
her: hmmm...(she took notes). where do you see yourself five, ten years from now?
me: ah..ah..
her: married, with children, with a stable job? driving a car?
me: ah...ah...
her: or single, still staying at your parents' house, with no job?
me: ahhhhhhh......i don't know. i don't make plans.
her: (stood up) we will call you.
(i stood up also and we shook hands).

*********

they did not call me. my friend got the job.
after six months, i got a letter from him. i was already in the city, reviewing for the cpa (certified public accountant) examinations at that tiny school along espana street in front of the esteemed university of sto. tomas.
my friend said i could have gotten the job because the agency head was impressed by my guts (plus the fact that i topped the written exam given by the agency to screen hundreds of applicants).
the only downside was during the interview when i failed to answer the part about my plans in the next five to ten years. the agency head told my friend during a party when they were both tipsy that it was important to show prospective employers that you have plans for the future and that you were ambitious.
then he added that he just bought a new motorbike, paid for in cash. oh wow!
i did not write back.
i was green with envy.
here i was sleepless, neck deep in reading all these accounting text books, memorising accounting and business theories, analysing financial statements, hardly had time to eat, get drunk or watch a movie, and there he was having a grand time in his brand new motorbike and enjoying an 8,000 peso monthly pay!
i soooo hate him.

*******

since then i promised myself that i would brush up my interview skills.  i read, researched, learned the basics before showing up for an interview. being prepared is the key. research the company, the position, the interviewer (it helps to learn something about him. it comes in handy during awkward moments).
so i mastered all the textbook answers that interviewers ask job applicants (their questions were also culled from textbooks). i practiced with a friend first a day before the interview.
"why should we hire you?" = because i am the best there is. i came from  a very poor family so i learned the value of working hard for long hours without complaining. we just do what we have to do.
"how do you see yourself five or ten years from now?" = successful, with my own family, living in a nice house, driving a brand new car, taking my children to school and my wife to work. hopefully, i will be managing people too, just like you now.
"how much salary are you expecting?" = if it's possible, i don't want to quote any amount. i want to prove my worth first to this company before putting a price tag on my ability and skills.
it worked. everyfreakingtime.



people are always impressed by a man in his early 20s, well-dressed (i always wear a tie when showing up for interviews, shiny black leather shoes, dark pants, blue long-sleeve shirt, and hair well pressed with gel), idealistic, ambitious, eager to please and work hard, brimming with confidence, smells good (i always wear a perfume, even it it's only lord wally.) and can speak decent english.
of course, i have charlie sheen in that wall street film as a role model.

******

now, i wonder if i can pull this off 20 years after, when i am in my early 40s, still aimless, jaded, battle scarred and has long discovered the truth that in life, it doesn't pay to be idealistic all the time. that some soft of compromise is always needed to get to where you are, to get what you want.
that sometimes, you need to lose to win. idealists are shot in luneta or end up in jail. they are a vanishing breed.
(meanwhile, my role model, charlie sheen is wasting away his life and talent on drugs, alcohol and porn stars.)
having said this, i haven't compromised enough to the point that i would lose my self respect, that i would be ashamed of myself. luckily, i have always been ambivalent about money. i was never obsessed by it, so i could proudly say that i never prostituted my job.
i never twisted the truth in my stories in exchange for money.

*****

looking back, i am also lucky to be surrounded by people (reporters, officials, public relations practitioners, sources) who believe in the same things.
what do they call it again? osmosis.

(some pics are from the internet, except for the last one about a chimpanzee which was taken from the zoo.)


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