High rise, thirty-third floor. Fortune 500 and climbing company. Here in my sincere suit, shined shoes, ass-kissing smile, party-line patter, prepped for job interview one hundred and eight.
Fifteen minutes early. Read Wall Street Journal, today's. Watch white, twenty-something, starlet, receptionist avoid eye contact or any hint of a human connection with me.
Tall, white male, early forties exits inner office, ignores me, smiles at and shakes hands with the receptionist, wishes her well with her fun run. She responds warmly, turns cold as an iceberg as the door closes behind him.
Female, ethnic, Eastern Europe, forties, hard face, strong features, below the knee dark skirt and jacket, with white top, severe haircut, steps out of the inner office, checks with starlet for messages. Turns to me with a grimace, a cold, bony hand, challenging eyes. A surprisingly strong handshake.
"Hello, Mr. Collins. I'm Petra Bello, the Chief Human Resources Officer. I welcome you to our interview with Senior Vice President Allen Schulz, the Chair of our panel, and our Senior Assistant Legal Counsel, Martin Sommordorft. Please have a seat. We're glad to have you with us today. We'll be recording our interview if that's acceptable to you."
I translate from Corporate Speak to plain talk: How the fuck did you sneak into this interview? We're very important people. You're wasting our time. Didn't you get the hint in the reception area? We don't want you here.
Schulz's the heavyweight in the room, mid-fifties, played college football, tackle or guard, tries to stay fit. Irate at having to do these interviews, and angry that he's not a chief of something. Doesn't try to hide his irritation.
Sommordorft, blond, good looks, good build, great hair that he finger combs every few minutes or so. Delighted to rub elbows with a senior vice president and the CHR Officer. Not too bright or he would be doing something important.
Schulz launches his gruff, assault before I'm seated. "Collins, why should Mycroft Sanders Industries hire you over other candidates?"
Translation: I'm not going to call you mister. You don't deserve it. I'm in a hurry. Please be brief in your answers and speedy in your departure.
This is a lost cause. No way. Not today, or ever. I can at least have a little fun. I lean back in the chair, wrinkle my brow, gnaw my lip, concentrate past the time for reasonable consideration of the question into the dead zone where my questioners are wondering about my hearing or comprehension.
Schulz's growing red around his collar.
Bello's snatching glances at me as she takes quick notes on her tablet computer.
The attorney surfs his fingers through his golden waves.
I motion to the water service on the table.
Bello responds. "Of course. Please. Did you hear the question from Vice President Shultz?"
I pour a full glass of water and turn to Bello. "Senior Vice President, right?"
There's a lightning flash of anger in Bello's eyes, a trembling in her chin. "Did you hear Senior Vice President Shultz's question?"
I smile at Sommordorft as he runs his fingers through his golden mane, again.
"I don't know the qualifications of my competitors, so I'm unable to answer that question." I pause and lean toward Schultz. "I know you didn't create that question, but doesn't it seem like a poorly designed question and a guaranteed waste of time?"
Shultz frowns, gives me a closer look.
Bello jumps into the pause. "These are standard questions developed and approved by Human Resources and have been used in hundreds of --"
Shultz cuts her off. "What would be a better question, Collins?"
Sommordorft gets in the act. "I can assure you that these questions have been approved by Legal and --"
Shultz waves Sommordorft to silence. "A better question, Collins?"
I turn to face Bello. "This job's about predicting, avoiding, and resolving cultural conflicts in business settings. A better question would be to ask me to give some examples of how I have dealt with these issues."
Bello snarls back. "We have these questions later in the interview for candidates who advance that far in the interview process." There're a distinct growl and a clear threat in her voice.
"You do? I'm sure you do. Do you use poorly conceived questions to screen out candidates from the better more job-related questions? That's a rather odd approach."
All three of us are watching Bello. I feel a just a tiny bit sorry for her.
Bello surprises me. She gives me a long hard look before she responds. "These questions and the structure of this interview are, are, in need of reevaluation and have been for a while. I will make that a higher priority." She holds eye contact with me.
I think for the first time since we met she actually sees me, recognizes me as human too.
Golden boy adds his two cents. "Petra, just let me know what legal support staff you need --"
Schultz runs rough shod over Sommordorft. "Damn it, Collins, what experience have you had with job-related intercultural problems?"
I turn to Sommordorft. "If you have a labor law specialist in-house that would be a tremendous help in revising the interview process."
Golden boy gives me a golden smile. "I think --"
Bello cuts golden boy off this time. "We're off track here, I think --"
What goes around comes around. I cut off Bello and address Shultz.
"I thought you would never ask. Just today I went on a job interview, and in the reception area, I saw a difference in how one person of color, me, was treated by the receptionist and a member of the interview panel, Ms. Bello. They were very informative incidents."
The temperature drops twenty degrees.
Bello's face's a stone mask.
Shultz's red-faced, his hands are fists.
Golden boy's staring open-mouthed.
"So, what I know from personal experiences and oodles of studies and crap like that, is that the receptionist and other public contact staff represent and reflect the attitudes of those at the top of the organization."
Bello interrupts. "You were mistreated by Ms. Craig? What exactly are you saying here? What did she do?"
"Excuse me, Chief, but I'm trying to respond to an interview question here. I hope you'll grant me the courtesy of completing my answer."
Bello's stone face goes two shades whiter than new snow. Her sturdy hands are squeezing her tablet so hard I think it will crush the computer.
Golden boy's angry. "This is not the proper forum ... we have a formal complaint --"
I turn to the attorney as he once again finger combs his pride and joy. "Please, Martin, I hope you don't mind if I call you Martin, I expect more respect for the party that has the floor from you, as an officer of the court."
Golden boy blinks and combs his hair with both hands at once.
"So, to continue, when I stepped into the interview room the Chair of the interview panel, that's you, Schultz, was rude, and failed to address me respectfully. However, I'm unsure if that was a reaction to my race or color or ethnicity, the Chair's personality or some other personal issue."
Schultz's standing, leaning over me. "Bullshit! That's so much bullshit!"
Bello tries to restrain Shultz. "Allen, sit down, please."
Schultz's not listening. "Who the fuck do you --"
Golden boy tries to help by again racing his fingers through his well-combed locks and taking a decisive action. "This interview's terminated. You --"
Schultz grabs the startled lawyer by the throat. "You and your fucking hair! You fucking pansy --"
Bello's voice has the impact of a rattlesnake's rattle. It's a low hissing sound that grabs everyone's attention. "Allen, leave now. Do it."
Shultz turns his face to Bello and starts to speak, as Bello crosses to the Senior Vice President and points to the door, "Out!" Shultz tosses the golden boy back in his chair, glares at me, and storms out of the office.
Golden boy's rubbing his throat and gasping for air.
Bello turns to dismiss me, but I'm quicker.
"Wow! Really? This place's a hotbed of intercultural conflict, isn't it? I'm glad this interview's being recorded. Aren't you?"
* * *
Well, I didn't get the job, not even close. I'm sure I'll never be invited back to Mycroft Sanders, Industries. I may even be banned from all of their many properties.
However, the interview was not a total loss. Mycroft Sanders Industries agreed to pay me seventy-five thousand dollars for my "recorded" demonstration of intercultural conflict in the workplace. They wanted to avoid having to produce our interview recording in court. I think that was fair compensation for my fifty-eight minutes at their headquarters.
I called Bello a few weeks after agreeing with golden boy on my "consulting fee" to check on her progress on evaluating the interview process. Surprisingly she took my call, and even more surprisingly she emailed me evidence of her progress.
"Bello, are you free for dinner tonight?"
"Mr. Collins, in light of your relationship with my employer, I think that's one of the all-time super bad ideas. Why would you even ask me that?"
"Is it a terrible idea? I asked you because you have a firm handshake, you kept your word, you took control of that disaster of a meeting, and you were rocking that black skirt."
There's a nearly thirty-second pause.
"Mr. Collins, Scott's on the Boardwalk at 6:30, would that work for you?"
It works just fine for me.