An Interview: The Other Side

He arrived wearing an ill-fitting suit, sweating profusely. He forced himself to smile and the handshake was just short of being firm.

I led him into the conference room and asked him to take a seat. He managed to squeeze his considerable bulk in the chair I indicated and smiled as he mopped his brow. I asked if I could get him a glass of water but he said he was fine.

I had an HTML version of his resume in front of me and asked if he had a clean MS Word formatted version of the same. But he couldn’t have given it to me if he tried, he had arrived empty handed. And my request for it made him even more ill at ease.

I tried to allay his fears and gave him my business card asking that he send me one as soon as he got home. Then I asked him to talk to me about his work experience. He started his story from the time he was a desk clerk at a major national newspaper, seventeen years ago, and ended with the senior manager position from which he was downsized seven months ago. He was extremely proud of his accomplishments and even grew misty-eyed as he spoke with pride of the increasing levels of responsibilities with which he was entrusted over the years. Several awards, rewards and certificates later he had been told that the company no longer required his services.

Nothing in his experience was commensurate with the kind of job I expected my ideal candidate to be able to do. I searched long and hard for similarities but was hard-pressed to find any, especially since he had already stated that he wasn’t a “numbers” person and the person I needed had to be able to write MS Excel macros in his or her sleep.

So I decided to tell him about the company, the job, the prerequisites and then asked him if it sounded like something he could do. This sympathetic question, however, served as a trigger for a catharsis of sorts. He told me,

“Look, I’ll do anything! I am a quick learner. I haven’t done any of what you described but I am confident I can do it. I have been job-hunting for seven months now, there is nothing out there for me. This newspaper was the only employer I had ever known. I never thought they would discard me in this manner. But I am certain I can do this job. I’ll need training, but please, I can do it!” Desperate promises, heart-rending in their intensity.

My heart went out to him. I wanted to say, “Here, the job is yours! I’ll train you. You’ll do well, I am sure!”

I had been in a similar situation myself, my unemployment had lasted six weeks and I was hired back by my former employer. But those six weeks had made me feel like I had entered the bowels off hell. I had lost my sense of purpose, my self-esteem and my sense of self-worth. I must have appeared like desperation and anxiety personified, it surely must have overshadowed every other personable trait I had. Sweating, yes. I remembered sweating, the fine beads forming on my skin inside the formal interview jacket I wore, could they smell it? No I couldn’t smell it on him it was masked by an overpowering cologne.

But I couldn’t as an employer, do what my heart told me to do. I couldn’t hire someone who didn’t know the job, who would be “grateful” for the opportunity. I don’t know how long gratefulness lasts and try as I may, I couldn’t ignore the fact that he was downsized by his former employer, why him?

I asked him if he had any questions for me and instead of asking about the job, the company, the structure, he asked me about the salary, the benefits and the vacation schedule! Exactly the things one cannot ask at a first interview. Clearly, he had no experience interviewing. His former employer had rendered him unemployed and unemployable.

I bade him farewell with a promise to call after we had interviewed other candidates. I returned to my desk, feeling awful, breathing in the traces of desperation and hopelessness, intermingled with that cologne, that his handshake had left on my fingertips.

Holidays? Well this is the holiday season and I met him again at a publishing industry get together. He was nursing his beer in a corner of the room, many of us had skirted around him after a quick nod of greeting. I couldn’t even bring myself to do that.



  1. Hi Pragya,Its just the way life goes on,isnt it? After maybe a lifetime invested in some company(or a relationship),one really drains his abilities to such an extent that he has a very difficult time restarting again.touched a raw nerve somewhere.facts of life,irony of living.nice,

  2. very touching post. I m a student presently & wud be goin through interviews in jst an year or two .. and thus i knw wht it takes to be in an interview .. and to present urselves. but its part of life. If uarent appropriate .. u arent meant to be there . It hurts though . but times have changed .. havent they ?? nice one. jst visitin ur blog for d first time.

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