The soft, leather chair would be sticking to the backs of my legs had I worn what I wanted to instead of what my fiancé laid out for me. She enjoys doing that – laying out my clothes. She says it’s because she thinks it’s fun to dress me; I know it’s because she gets embarrassed by my daily wardrobe of athletic shorts, old t-shirts, and flip-flops. I can feel my pony tail bounce against my suit coat. It makes me laugh a little. It’s the first time I’ve worn a suit to a job interview, the first time I’ve worn one for anything except funerals. I haven’t worn this one to a funeral yet. It’s grey and tailored (another “suggestion” of my fiancé).
The white haired, grandmother looking, secretary is pretending to work behind her large desk. She has picked up the phone twice since I arrived and not said a word. Her behavior would fascinate me, but my focus is on a sales call that I can hear coming from the bull pin – a giant warehouse style room on the second floor of an office building in downtown Stockholm lined with large folding tables and chairs, each manned by four salespeople. The call is in Italian, which I can’t speak, but I enjoy listening to conversations in languages I have minimal knowledge of and trying to figure out what is being said. Best I can tell is the sales-guy is trying to convince whoever is on the other end of the phone to upgrade something or to enlarge something… Although, given that I know this is a sales job I am interviewing for, I could just be educated-assuming.
“Danny, you got here a little late?”
It’s said as both a question and a statement and is the first thing he says to me as he shakes my hand. I explain that I’ve been there for nearly thirty minutes; I leave out that I heard the secretary call him twice (the two acts of actual work she did while I sat in the comfortable leather chair while dropping eaves on the Italian sales call). His hand is sweaty and I can see sweat stains under his arms. It must be hot in the bull pin. My mind starts to wander as we sit and introduce ourselves – can I do this? Why am I here? Do I want to sit in the hot, sweaty, most likely rank bull-pin day after day trying to convince people to buy whatever deal is being pushed that week? Who is this guy? Are the bad reviews of this company that I read online factual?
“I’ll take care of her later.”
He mumbles something else about the poor old secretary, but I can’t make it out. He welcomes me into the small interview room with a glass door, two small chairs and a coffee table. I hesitate as to which chair I should take, but he quickly motions for me to move to the far side of the table, taking the door-side chair for himself. He wipes his hands on his pants and opens one of the two folders on his lap.
I have seen hundreds of job interviews on TV, in movies, commercials, etc… I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. This is my first. My fiance kept me up all night practicing. I run through my formulated, diplomatic answers composed of bullshit and boastful anecdotes. I am actually hoping to hear him ask me where I plan to be in five years. He doesn’t. He starts by telling me that this interview is primarily for him. He stutters and restarts his sentences again and again, always trying to find the ‘best’ way of saying whatever it is he is trying to say. Everything is a sale for him. Even the way he asks “how are you?” is said with a sleezy, hard-handed hint of manipulation. I’ve seen this behavior before, but knowing how difficult it can be to find drugs in Sweden, I assume he is just hopped up on coffee or Red Bull.
“So, Danny, what do you think we do here? No, what is it, what do you, no, what, in your
opinion, do we do, here?”
I start to tell him that from what I’ve researched online, they are a VIP hospitality company that focuses on sports events.
“Danny, what we do here is, what we are, what we do is sell emotion. We are a VIP sports
hospitality company. We only work with the largest, we only work with fortune 500 to 700
companies – companies like Coke-a-Cola, CitiBank, Phillip Morris, Deloitte, have you heard
I hold back the laughter at the ridiculousness of his question. At first, I think it’s rhetorical. But, I nod and say yes. He looks down at the folder that sits in his lap, which, as he adjusts his position in the far less comfortable chair than I had been sitting in prior to entering the interview room, I see his interview script. A cocky smile explodes on his sweat-covered face.
“Really? You know who Deloitte is? What do they do?”
I examine his demeanor. He is uncomfortable. His department store outfit is perfectly picked out and clearly designed by a catalog. He doesn’t have someone to lay his outfits for him, but he cares more than I do. The whole get-up is meticulously put together, right down to the pressed line in the front of his pants, and the slightly modern shirt under his classic, power tie. The only imperfection in the outfit is the large scuff on the inside of his right shoe, most likely from his jittery leg that taps the bag of his foot agains the leg of his chair almost at a techno beat pace. Had I the same intense and sometimes violent malevolence towards such repetitive noises that my friend, Brad, has, I would’ve tied his leg to the chair with his faux-designer tie. His hair is perfectly still, even through the pouring sweat. If it were not for the sweat, he might actually be able to work in an in-person sales position, but with the uncomfortable amount of moisture building just above his lip, under his arms, and, I assume, on his back, no one would be able to focus on the pitch. I am proof of this right now.
I nearly forget to answer his question – because my fiancé had recently applied for a job at Deloitte, I knew the auditing giant quite well. He honestly seems impressed, and, in his excitement, loses his place on the script.
“So, Danny, do you think, no, what would be, no, if we started you today, how would you
sell one of our events?”
I freeze a bit, not knowing if he wants me to role-play or explain. I start to ramble about how selling an event is no different from selling a drink, a running shoe, or a glass of lemonade – it simply takes knowing the person you are talking to and knowing yourself.
“I see. Yes. But, how would you sell our product?”
I stumble a little. Apparently he wants a role-play. I ask what the product I am to sell is, and he realizes he jumped ahead about five questions on his script. So, we backtrack. His sweaty hand slides to the top of the pages, though not very smoothly, as the moisture on his fingers sticks to the paper, and I wonder if it caused the ink to bleed.
We go through some explanation about the company and who he is there. He is an assistant sales manager for this branch. He has been there 18 months, and is very interested in going further. He takes no time to ask any questions. He mentions as many Fortune 500 companies as he can, sometimes in situations that a name drop makes no sense.
“I have been here eighteen months, and I am already working on some big clients. Chase
Manhattan Bank is one of our customers. Not one of mine, but we do business with them.
So, you see, we deal with big names.”
My suit is more comfortable than I thought it would be. I am calm and direct with my answers. I think his neurotic, sweaty style is keeping me calm, and makes me feel that I have the upper hand in the meeting.
I can see his hand is nearly three quarters of the way down the interview sheet. I am surprised, as I feel I’ve given him very little information about myself thus far. Twenty minutes and all I have is a list of companies they work for, a sense of his position, and have started to pick up on his scent. My comfort level starts to waiver, though I am fairly indifferent to this, as I have already decided that this job is not for me. I am already planning the conversation I will have with my fiancé, in which I explain that were I to work under this guy every day, I would undoubtedly kill him or end up just like him.
“Now, Danny, what is more important to you – money or advancement?”
He answers at the exact same time as I do – I say advancement; he says money. Were it not for the difference in length of word (taking me milliseconds longer to say advancement), he would not have noticed.
“Right, money. Wait, what? Well, let’s say money is your interest. That’s what interests
The interview becomes interesting to me again. He’s not even listening to my answers. He has no idea how to react outside of his precious script.
“Danny, this job, no, working here, no, you would get paid a commission rate for each sale
you make. This is a sales job. This is a, no, we will pay you, to start, while you are a
Corporate Sales Executive (yes, that is the starting position title – at which point I
realized titles at this company are equivalent to sizes at Starbucks), Danny, you will
make ten percent. So, if you make a sale for, well you see, our events are priced between
ten thousand and five hundred thousand Euros. So, if you make a sale, a base price sale,
let’s say twenty thousand Euros, what would you make?”
Again, we answer at the same time. Again, he answers wrong. I say two thousand; he says three. He gets confused, and the only place he knows to look for the answer is resting on his lap, covered with half dried sweat marks. He realizes his mistake.
“Three thousand…. Wait, oh, yes, if it was twenty thousand, it would be two thousand, if it
were thirty thousand, it would be three… Now, that is one sale. One sale, you will make at
least one thousand Euros. Let’s say you make two sales your first month – the lowest
prices sale we offer – you would make two thousand Euro, twenty thousand Kronor, in your
first month. We also pay you a base salary, about eight thousand Kronor, so your first
month, you could make twenty eight thousand Kronor. Would you be interest in that?”
He waits for my answer. I don’t answer right away, as I thought it was a rhetorical question. I mutter a simple “Yes.”
“Good. Good. Yes. Your second month, forty thousand. Would you like that? Third month, the
sky is the limit. Is this something that sounds good to you?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer this time. He tears right into an outline of the company structure and how quickly I would be able to rise in the ranks. I have had advanced calculus explained to me in less detail than this sweaty, uncomfortable, perfectly dressed, chair tapping sales-man explains the pyramid scheme that this company is. It takes me about thirty seconds to get the basics of it, but the explanation goes on for what seems like hours. Detailed descriptions of each inappropriately titled position that I will never hold.
My mind wanders again. I wonder what I am going to have for dinner and what movie to watch when I get home. Maybe I’ll drop off some CVs on my way home. I do have to find a job soon. My financial situation is getting fairly desperate. I start to worry about being forced to fall back into my old eating habits – one meal per day consisting of either pancakes or pasta (they are the cheapest meals that fill you up to an acceptable level). It would be good for my physique. Since moving to Sweden and making a decent salary, I have let myself go a little bit.
“Danny, these sales we make, no, what we sell here, it sells itself. You know this.
Everyone likes sports. And we offer the best events – the Olympics, the World Cup, The
Masters, The Champions League. Now, whom do you think we contact at these companies?”
I feed him some BS about contacting the highest-ranking person possible. He cuts me off.
“CEOs. Only CEOs. Do you know why?”
We have a back and forth about who the CEOs are and why they contact them. I am sure you can figure out the reasons without me going into it. Though, he did have some interesting views of these men.
“These are the smartest men in the world. These men have power, money, tickets to
everything. So, how do we get them to buy from us? We trick them. No. We convince
them. We sell emotion. We sell the luxury of it. We offer them five course meals from the
best restaurants in town. Champagne toasts. Private shuttle busses. The best treatment.”
He loses his place on the script again and we get sidetracked repeating the section of conversation about advancement within the company. Though, this time, he adds a bit about me, once becoming a regional manager, that I could choose any office worldwide to work out of. And, if I wanted, I could open a new office.
“Now, Danny, how long do you think we give these CEOs to decide if they want our product
or not? How long?”
He is so excited to give me the answer, I decide to make him suffer and think out loud for a minute. I wouldn’t want to give them too much time, as they are powerful men and could probably call in favors, shop around, etc.… I would say at most one day. But, I don’t know. He smiles the sleaziest smile I’ve seen yet and accompanies it with a cocky, bouncing nod.
“Ask me how long we give them.”
“Ask me how long we give them?”
“Ask me how long we give them?”
I nearly tear out his larynx. Just as my friend Brad has violent outbursts towards repetitive background noises, I cannot stand being told to repeat exactly what someone has said. But I oblige him. How long do you give them?
“One hour. That is all. One hour.”
He tears into a well-rehearsed monologue about why they only give one hour. I listen to some of it. I am too busy holding back the steam from shooting out of my ears at his false sense of power and charm.
I can still see the comfortable chairs through the window in the door, and I can’t help but wish I was still sitting in them, watching the aged secretary act like she’s working, and listening in on sales calls. I refocus on the interview, which has propelled forward. He is in the midst of telling me about his rise to power, which he seems to think has taken a long time. I consider four promotions in eighteen months to be quite fast. I am temped to take this job just to show him what I could do with it.
He reaches the end of his script. He flips it over and realizes there is nothing on the back. So, he places it back in the folder and drops the folder on the table between us.
“Danny, let’s change direction now.”
You may notice he uses my name a lot. He did. Another thing that grinds my gears. We are the only tow people in the room. There is no need to affirm that what you say is being said to me. If you were talking to someone else, that would be strange and would require a name affirmation. To me, just say it.
“Let’s talk about you. Tell me, Danny, what kind of person are you.”
Finally. The hours spent practicing with my fiancé will be put to use. “Well, first and foremost, I am a people person. I am a worker –“ He interrupts me.
“Danny, are you a worker or a hard worker?”
Clearly inflection is lost on him completely. I confirm that what I meant by worker was, in fact, hard worker.
“On a scale of one to one hundred percent, how hard of a worker are you?”
I assure him that I will be there every day giving one hundred percent.
“Ah. No. You see, I want to hear you say you will give me one hundred and fifty percent.”
I hate people who say they give one hundred and fifty percent. It’s not possible. It’s not. No matter what you say, one hundred percent is the best you can give. That is everything. At least on a scale of one hundred it is. I explain this politely.
“But, you see I want someone who will give more than everything.”
Again, I oblige him, “I’ll give you one hundred and fifty percent.”
“Good. Now, we’re talking.”
I continue to feed him what he wants to hear, as I realize he isn’t interest in someone who is above the pack or even different from the pack. He wants a drone. And, I am too tired of this interview to be anything else. I feel him diplomatic BS and put on a larger fake smile than had been smacked across my face since entering the building. And, he eats it up. Every answer he likes is like a small needle in my side, but I just keep going.
When he asks if I am after a job or a career, I don’t waffle or bobble the question with rehearsed answers my fiancé worded, such as “I am looking for a place where I can grow professionally, creatively, and personally. A place that will allow my life to become everything I want it to, thus making me a part of that company.” No. I simply say, “A career.”
“Great. Because we are not looking for people who just want a job.”
I am amazed he can handle these questions sans script, but he seems to be holding his own. And, before I know it, I see him shift forward in his chair, hinting that we are about to stand. It’s over. It’s finally over.
He stands up and hands me a folder. I am to take it home and study. To talk it over with my fiancé. And, if I am interested in the job, to call him at nine o’clock sharp the next morning to tell him if I want to join the team. I reach out to shake his hand. In my excitement of the interview being over, I forget about the sweat, and my hand is greeted by a physical anomaly. There is a lake sitting vertically in his hand. It should be dripping all over the floor, possibly on his shoes, but it remains, tightly tucked into his palm. And, now spilling into mine.
I assure him he will hear from me the next morning at nine o’clock.
“Good. Good. Danny. Dan. Dan the man.”
My teeth grind when I hear it. Teachers and coaches used to call me that, and I hated it then. I wonder if his saying it is his admitting that he knows I am not going to call, that I have no interest in working for this company that I have read awful things about online, that he confirmed how awful of a place it is during this interview, that I would rather drag myself through dish rooms, cleaning peoples dinners than work in that bull-pin, that he is an awful, sleazy man, or it could be that he is just a douche. Either way, I plan on calling him. I plan on taking this job. I plan on succeeding in this job. I’ll move up the ranks faster and with more finesse than he has. I will rule this company. I will have my own table, my own office, by the end of my reign selling “emotion” by way of luxury sports events, I will own my own damned building… Or, I’ll drop off some CVs on my way home and find something else.
On the way out, I hope to see the grandmother behind the large desk, pretending to be a secretary reach down into her purse, which is laid at her feet, and pull up an apple pie or maybe some hard candy. Instead, she picks up the phone as my interviewer walks by, pretending to be busy. I can still see her as I get on the elevator. As soon as he is out of site, having not said a word, she lowers the phone from her ear, looks around, and hangs up.